It was on the evening of August 5, 1984 that I exposed this photo in the tradition of Richard Steinheimer, Jim Shaughnessy and the legendary Mr. Link.
I’d admit it was a long day, but that never stopped me. Bob Buck and I had set out from Tenants Harbor, Maine in the morning. As per tradition, we’d called into Northern Maine Junction and signed releases with the Bangor & Aroostook.
The railroad was very friendly and advised us of a northward freight heading to Millinocket. This had an F-unit in consist (number 42, just in case you needed to know).
We spent our daylight hours making photos along the way.
Then in the evening we returned to Northern Maine Junction.
My father had lent me a large Metz electronic photo strobe. I was perfecting my night flash technique, where I’d carefully blend existing light with strategically placed strobe bursts.
I was particularly interested in Bangor & Aroostook’s rare BL2 diesels.
This view focuses on engine 54, while the famed American Railfan, engine 557 that had been repainted into its as-built scheme, lurked in the darkness beyond.
A few key pops with the flash sorted that out.
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As I approached the Tenneyville bridge in Palmer (that’s the Route 32 bridge in modern parlance), I heard two CSX trains talking to each other. It was obvious a meet was in progress between CP79 and CP83 (east and west ends of the signaled dispatcher controlled siding).
When I crossed the bridge, CSX Q293 (westward empty autoracks) was easing along below me. The signals at CP83 had just cleared and the sun had just peaked above the horizon.
In a matter of moments, the engineer on Q293 would begin to accelerate. I needed to act quickly.
With my VW, I can accelerate faster than a long freight train, and I was lucky that the roads were clear of traffic.
I drove to a known photo location near the location of the old Boston & Albany freight house (demolished in 1989). This has the advantage of being open, while providing a long view on the tangent track through Palmer yard toward the rising sun.
I arrived with just enough time to set my FujiFilm X-T1 and expose a series of photos of the train rolling west out of sunrise. Soft morning clouds dampened the harshness of the direct light.
Here I’ve included both a long telephoto view, and a wide angle to give you a sense for both the lighting and the location. The wide view required a bit of contrast control and exposure adjustment to make for a satisfactory final image.
On July 10, 1993, I spent the day on Donner Pass, focusing my morning efforts in the famous Coldstream Canyon west of Truckee, California where Southern Pacific’s former Central Pacific line winds nearly three miles up the canyon, turns on a tight horseshoe curve at Stanford Flat to continue its ascent on the far side.
The area is rich in history. Yet, it can be a challenging place to capture in photographs.
Having thoroughly explored this area on foot on earlier visits, I’d located this angle at Andover that shows SP’s double track line on two levels. The tracks in the photograph are less than a half mile apart as the crow flies, but about five miles distant on the timetable.
Helpers had gone downgrade a while earlier and met a westward GJWS-Q (Grand Junction to Warm Springs ‘Quality’ manifest, ie a carload train) at Truckee.
In this view the freight is in run-8 (maximum throttle) roaring up the canyon. More than ten minutes would pass before it reached the upper level.
I exposed this photograph on Kodak T-Max 400 black & white film using a Nikon F3 with Nikkor zoom lens fitted with a yellow filter.
Key to the success of the image was shading the front element from the sun with my notebook to minimize flare.
Another subtle element is SP’s twin headlight arrangement on the leading SD40T-2: this had been a trademark of SP’s diesels, but by the mid-1990s very few locomotives still carried both headlights and it was getting relatively rare to find one leading.
This is one of my favorite black & white photos that I exposed on Donner Pass, and reminds me of the work of the late Richard Steinheimer who had been photographing in this canyon decades before I made my exploration.
I consulted my notes from that year, and found that I’d photographed extensively on that day! (Hooray for my old notebook!)
At the time I was about a week away from completing my course work at the Rochester Institute of Technology, where I earned a BFA in Photographic Illustration, and I was making good use of the fine Spring weather in Western New York State.
That day I began my photography on the Water Level Route at East Rochester, and worked my way eastward toward Lyons, New York.
I was particularly fascinated by the abandoned truss bridge over the old New York Central west of Newark, New York. This had carried the Newark & Marion, which had served as part of the Pennsylvania Railroad. [See: AbandonedRails.com for more about this line. ]
On an earlier trip, I’d photographed this bridge on a dull day using a 4×5 camera.
On May 13th, I worked with my Leica M2 exposing Kodachrome 25 color slides, and featured Conrail trains passing below the bridge.At that time SD50s were standard locomotives on many of the railroad’s carload trains.
Later, I explored other vantage points along the busy Conrail east-west mainline.
Thanks to Ciarán for encouraging this foray into my slide archive!
On the day, steam locomotive 461 had done the honors for the paying passengers.
After the train arrived back at Connolly, freshly painted Irish Rail 071 (class leader) tied onto the empty carriages to bring them across to Inchicore.
I exposed this view at the end of the day using my Nikon F3 with 24mm lens. Using my perfected chemical recipe, I processed the Fuji Acros 100 film in Kodak HC110 then toned the negatives with selenium solution. Finally, I scanned them and made minor adjustments in Lightroom (mostly to remove dust spots).
Why black & white? Why film?
I’ve always exposed film, and while digital photography tends to dominate my image making, I still expose the occasional roll of B&W or color slide film.
Rochester & Southern’s yard at Brooks Avenue was just a ten minute drive from the Rochester Institute of Technology.
When I was in college, I had an open arrangement with the railroad to make photographs, and during the late 1980s I often dropped by to exercise my cameras.
In April 1989, I made these photographs of Genesee & Wyoming Alco C-424M 62 on the Brooks Avenue scale track.
The Alco Century’s well-balanced cab design made these among my favorite classic diesels. I’d photographed the C-424Ms on Delaware & Hudson, Genesee & Wyoming, Guilford, and finally on Livonia, Avon & Lakeville’s Bath & Hammondsport line.
Here I’ve worked the yard office into my composition that makes for nice juxtaposition of shapes. Black & White film handles the backlit situation well and retained detail in shadows and highlights.
Back in my Pentrex Publishing days (in the mid 1990s) I wrote an editorial about the ultimate demise of the searchlight signal.
Even then, this style of hardware was out of favor for new installations, yet thousands of the old signals still remained.
Today they are fast disappearing, and at many installations they are already gone.
Two weeks ago, when traveling with Bob Arnold and Paul Goewey, we opted to photograph an outbound MBTA train passing these General Railway Signal searchlights on the old Boston & Maine west of Ayer, Massachusetts
I wanted to feature one of the new HSP-46 diesels passing the vintage signals to show the contrast in technology. The window for making this type of photograph is rapidly narrowing, as these searchlight’s replacements are in place and will soon be cut in.
It was 2:48pm, when I made this image of Amtrak train 63, the Maple Leaf approaching Ivison Road—named for the Ivison farm at the center of the photograph.
I’ve allowed the road to occupy the dominant portion of the frame; yet the train remains the subject. At the time, an Amtrak F40PH with Amfleet was just about as ordinary as it got and I wanted to put the train in its environment to make for a more interesting image.
Yesterday, November 20, 2015, I located my notebook from August 1990. I opened it at random, trying to find some information on photographs I made on Donner Pass that year. Instead I found this observation dated August 7th:
I think digital photography is the future of photography in several areas, but to some extent silver photography will always exist.
Today, I processed two rolls of Fuji Across 100 that had been sitting on my desk for more than year.
Among the photographs was this self-portrait I exposed at Connolly Station, Dublin on April 21, 2014.
A westward van train raced along the Water Level Route, its horn sounding for the North Lake Street Crossing—the blaring Doppler effect announced its passage. For a moment it captured everyone’s attention.
CLICK: I exposed this frame of 35mm black & white film at the decisive moment when the lead GP40-2 was visible on the crossing. A fallen bicycle on the sidewalk, turned heads, and the hint of motion blur of the train tells a story.
Twenty six years passed before this image saw the light of day (or that from a back-lit computer screen). I’d processed the film at the Rochester Institute of Technology and sleeved the unprinted negatives. Recently, I scanned this roll of Plus-X and found on it this photograph.
We were heading for Ayer. We’d heard some non-descript chatter on the radio about Pan Am’s POED (Portland to East Deerfield). I had the MBTA schedules on my lap. The sun was shining brightly.
Bob Arnold was driving, Paul Goewey was riding shotgun, and I was in the back.
“There’s freight cars moving west!”
“It’s the POED, turn around”.
“The new SD40-2s are in the lead!”
These were the coolest engines in New England as this moment in time, and they’d handily presented themselves in nice light.
Our opportunity was narrow and before long we were saddled with waddler (a slow moving car that impeded our forward progress). However, the freight was only ambling up the grade, and we began to overtake it.
I rolled down my window, set my FujiFilm X-T1 to ‘turbo flutter’ (continuous high) with a 1/60th of a second shutter speed to ensure the effect of movement, and made bursts of images of the shinny blue engines on the move.
Despite the frustrations caused by our less than quick progress, we were soon ahead of the freight. At Shirley, Massachusetts the road and the old Boston & Maine are parallel. Bob asked “where should we stop.”
“Pull in short of the new signal bridge. . . Here, it’s open and clear.”
It was a fire drill as we bailed and assumed photographic stance trackside. POED was bearing down with its diesels roaring. We only a few moments.
I set my camera’s focus position, readjusted my shutter speed (to stop the action), set my zoom to a wide position to allow for more broadside on the engines, and looked to minimize poles, wires and extraneous brush. My shutter setting was still in ‘turbo flutter’.
I waited until the locomotives were close and exposed a prolonged burst of images, while aiming to position the lead locomotive nose at the upper left of the frame for maximum visual impact.
It is always a delight to stumble upon something relatively unusual and have the foresight and knowledge to make the most of the opportunity.
The old Boston, Barre & Gardner was among the railroads gobbled up by the growing Boston & Maine during the golden years of American railroads. The line primarily extended from Worcester to Gardner and beyond to Peterboro, New Hampshire.
Historically, the route crossed B&M’s Fitchburg line on a set of diamonds in front of the Gardner station. Back in 1880, three passenger trains a day served the 27 miles between Worcester and Gardner.
By the 1950s, one lonely train covered the run, and this made its final journey on March 7, 1953. Check out Robert Willoughby Jones’ book Boston & Maine: Forest, River and Mountain for photos.
These days, the line between Worcester and Gardner is operated by Providence & Worcester, and I’ve featured it on several occasions on Tracking the Light, while a short vestige of the north end of the route extends from a connection with Pan Am Southern in Gardner to a shipper a short distance away.
Last week, Bob Arnold, Paul Goewey and I were photographing in Gardner when we noticed the flange ways were clear on this rarely used stub branch. ‘There’s got to be an engine up the line,’ I said, and we went to investigate.
We found our quarry, and waited for the locomotive to return.
As I explained to a friend later: this operation might happen every Monday, or only on odd number days following a full moon in months ending in the letter ‘R’, but in more than 30 years of photography in the area, none of us had ever seen it before.
Hooray for fortuity!
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RJED—Rotterdam Junction to East Deerfield, a good ol’ fashioned carload freight.
Yesterday (Monday November 16, 2015), I heard the train working at Hoosick Junction and set up at Hoosick Falls. After a bit of a wait, I was rewarded by the roar of diesels.
The 3rd locomotive in consist was one of the former Quebec, North Shore & Labrador SD40-2 in fresh Pan Am Railways blue.
A batch of these handsome locomotives arrived on the property just last week, so I was keen to catch one, even if trailing.
The Boston & Maine west end is an old stomping ground, and I’m well-versed with locations and the chase route, so I made the most of a clear sunny afternoon. It helps to know where to go, where to park, when to zip ahead, and when to relax.
Fresh Pan blue paint, that’s pretty cool; and a freight with all EMD 645 diesels, sounded great!
The other day, New England Central 611 was struggling. The train had departed Brattleboro, Vermont with a heavy consist. Complicating matters was that the locomotives weren’t cooperating and the rails were damp with lots of freshly fallen leaves.
While this made for a tough morning’s work for the 611 crew, it provided ample opportunities for me to make photographs (and gave good sound show too).
The sun was playing late-autumn hide and seek with the clouds, but at Leverett, Massachusetts I was rewarded by burst of sun.
Many years ago, before my time, there had been a grade crossing a Leverett. Today, Route 63 crosses on a modern concrete overpass fitted with narrow-mesh fences (no use for photography.)
I opted for a location below the bridge (near where the old grade crossing had been) in order to frame up the train in a tree that was still clinging to its rusty leaves.
This was one of burst of exposures I made with my FujiFilm X-T1 Digital camera.
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Sunday, November 8, 2015, I learned that an AEM-7 was working Amtrak train 163 from Boston to Washington DC.
A year ago this event wouldn’t have been noteworthy, but now it is. Amtrak’s AEM-7s are getting rare and engine 939 was the only one I saw working on that day. The last I heard there were just ten left in traffic.
My philosophy is that every photo I make of an Amtrak AEM-7 on the move may be the last one.
Last week I’d noted this locomotive at Cedar Hill Yard in New Haven, Connecticut as I was driving south on I-91.
‘What’s that?’ I wondered, having noticed the colorful paint livery, but not having the ability to inspect it.
As fortune would have it, I was able to inspect the locomotive a little while ago.
Yesterday, Tracking the Light follower and fellow photographer, Paul Goewey, alerted me to the fact that GMTX SD60 9000 had been interchanged by Providence & Worcester to New England Central at Willimantic, Connecticut.
Last night I was attending the photographic opening by Roger Ingraham at the Three Graces on Main Street in Stafford Springs, when New England Central freight 608 rolled north through town. Trailing was GMTX 9000.
This morning, I called into Palmer and made these photos. I expect, the locomotive will continue its northward journey on NECR 611, but that’s just an educated guess.
Siemens-built ACS-64 640 zips along with Amtrak train number 160 at Milford, Connecticut on the former New York, New Haven & Hartford Railroad.
The other day, I made this image from the far end of the station platform. I set my shutter to 1/1000th of a second, pulled the zoom back to its widest position (18mm), and had the drive set to ‘CH’ (continuous high)—which allows for a rapid burst of images.
This arrangement of settings allowed me to catch the locomotive very close and in sharp focus.
Early November is a great time to explore the Ware River Valley. The trees are largely bare, yet a few colored leaves still cling to higher branches.
Vestiges of old industries survive, as the old Boston & Albany branch meanders up the valley. This is a railroad that was left for dead nearly 40 years ago, and only survived through the dedication and hard work of a handful of local people.
At least once every autumn, I make a photographic study of the line.
Using my FujiFilm X-T1 I exposed these views at Gilbertville— a village in the town of Hardwick, where the old B&A station remains as a restaurant.
Late Autumn in a familiar place: on October 31st, I met Rich Reed & company at Palmer for a visit at Palmer Hobbies and lunch at the Steaming Tender. Rich was dressed in costume as one of the Blue Brothers from the early ‘80s film.
Afterwards we observed New England Central’s freight from Brattleboro, job 611, that arrived at the Palmer diamond led by tunnel motor (originally an EMD SD40T-2, now designated an SD40-2) number 3317 in Genesee & Wyoming corporate paint—colors that are remarkably well-suited for the day: orange, yellow and black.
From Palmer we traveled up to West Warren to roll by Amtrak’s westward Lake Shore Limited against a backdrop of late-season foliage.
On October 1st, 2015, I arrived at Mons, Belgium by SNCB Train from Brussels. It was my first time in this southwestern Belgian City, and my impressions were skewed by the fact that the entire railway station was a construction zone.
Mons was only a brief layover for me, as I was traveling to Valenciennes, France (just over the frontier) to give my talk on railway photography to the European Railway Agency.
My host Mauno Pajunen explained that the Mons station had been under construction for several years and that the classic old station building had been demolished to make way for a modern facility.
Since I had a few minutes, I made a few photos of the railway at Mons, but with very little context to guide me; it seemed to be just a jumble of catentary masts, wires, temporary platforms, cranes, cables, concrete and steel.
A week later I was back in Monson, Massachusetts, after some complex and intensive travel involving four countries, a half dozen trains, a fair few trams, two aeroplanes, several buses, and a bit of driving.
55 years earlier my father and Jack May had visited Mons on their wanders around Europe. On arrival back in Monson, I searched the slide collection for some context. Here is one of the slides my father exposed on Kodachrome.
This is an old favorite location with a great name. How can you go wrong with a street called Wisdom Way? Much better than Losers Lane.
The other day, Norfolk Southern/Pan Am Southern symbol freight 14R was on its way east. I was struggling to find a suitable place to make a photograph, and the best I could come up with was old Wisdom Way.
The light was ‘wrong’ (is that possible?). So I opted for an unusual angle.
Notice that I’ve made the most of the vertical framing by allowing the length of the freight to run diagonally from the top right of the photo to the bottom of the image. This culminates with Norfolk Southern’s emblematic horse and ditch lights on the point of the common General Electric wide-nose cab diesel.
While the locomotive is dominant, my down-on angle emphasizes the machine’s angular shapes from a decidedly different perspective yet includes the freight behind it. Where does your eye fall first?
My aim is to show the power of the machine, the length of the train, and yet capture the atmosphere of the autumnal scene. Notice the dead track to the left, that’s the old eastward main, long out of service.
Would this have worked as well if I was at ground and level with the train using classic ‘over the shoulder’ three-quarter lighting and common centered composition?
Common on the Class 1 carriers, but still relatively rare on regional and short line roads; North American Safety Cab diesels.
On October 30, 2015, I exposed these images of Providence & Worcester’s symbol freight GRWO (Gardner to Worcester) working south at Union Street in Gardner on the old Boston, Barre & Gardner line.
Cross lighting favored the ‘widenose’ cab, which is brightly lit against a backdrop of late season autumn color. The dark shadow of the train makes for stark contrast and helps draw attention to the main subject.
Since the train was moving relatively slowly, I had ample time to compose several views of it, working both in the horizontal and vertical formats.
Would views from this angle have the same impact with the older styles of locomotive cabs?
My recently published Railway Depots, Stations & Terminals highlights railway architecture around the world, including Helsinki, Tokyo, and London.
As an author, I always like to add a personal touch to my books, and when possible include items of local and special interest. If you scour my pages, you’ll often find photos made in Palmer, Massachusetts and Dublin, among other favorites.
Among the topics covered in the recent effort is a small section on the former Boston & Albany station at East Brookfield, Massachusetts. I’d photographed and researched this building over the years. Sadly, it was destroyed in an arsonist attack five years ago.
On Pages 82 and 83, I discuss East Brookfield and its demise as part of greater story on lost stations. In my text, I mention that a period photo of the old station still hangs in East Brookfield Pizza, a few blocks from CSXT’s former B&A mainline.
My friend Dennis LeBeau has helped preserve East Brookfield’s history, and has a collection of glass plate negatives exposed by William Bullard, a local photographer working from the 1890s through the World War I era. Several Bullard photos appear in the book.
The other day, I called into East Brookfield to give Dennis his contributor’s copy of Railway Depots, Stations & Terminals. We went down to East Brookfield Pizza to show the owners and staff the book, and I had Dennis and company pose with the Bullard photo of the station.
Pan Am Railways and Grave Yard, East Northfield, Massachusetts
November 1st is celebrated as The Day of the Dead in Mexico, and as All Souls Day in some European traditions. For the Celts it is Samhain.
In honor of these holidays, I present a pair of recent views of Pan Am Railways symbol freight EDBF (East Deerfield to Bellows Falls, Vermont) passing a grave yard near the Boston & Maine Connecticut River Line at East Northfield, Massachusetts.
Low sun accentuates autumn foliage and allows for a glint effect on the side of the locomotives while making for stark silhouettes of some of the grave markers.
I exposed these views with my FujiFilm X-T1. In post processing I adjusted the camera RAW files in Lightroom to balance the contrast and warm up the color temperature.
In addition to the digital photos, I exposed a few color slides using my Canon Eos 3 with a 20mm lens..