A short segment of the Pan Am Railway’s Boston & Maine Greenville Branch extends northward from Ayer, Massachusetts.
While photographing around Ayer the other day, Bob Arnold, Paul Goewey and I had been discussing the branch, where it crosses Ayer’s West Main Street on plate girder bridge.
“I always wanted a photograph there.”
As luck would have it, a little later in the day our wish was granted.
Although like wish granted by a Genie in the bottle, this one came with caveats. The train went up the branch in very dull light, with the ugliest leased engine available and long hood first, with one car.
Beggars can’t be choosers, to quote the cliché. So we worked with what we had.
On Saturday January 30, 2016, I exposed hundreds of photos while trying to capture the atmosphere and personalities of Amherst Railway Society’s Big Railroad Hobby Show at the Big E in West Springfield, Massachusetts.
This is just a preview photo. Stay tuned for more.
If I captioned this post, ‘23K passes Shirley’, would you have looked any way?
The other day when Paul Goewey, Bob Arnold and I were photographing trains at Shirley, Massachusetts, I exposed these views of the daily westward intermodal train symbol 23K that originates a few miles to the east at Ayer.
The Lovely Trees: These two massive trunks have fascinated me for years, and make for an excellent means to frame up a photo. Here, in the first view the intermodal train is almost incidental to the scene.
Which of these views of Norfolk Southern/Pan Am Southern’s 23K do you prefer?
This photo was product of one of dozens of trips I made to the old Boston & Albany west end in the mid-1980s.
The west end is the railroad west of Springfield over the Berkshires of Massachusetts toward Albany, New York.
On this morning I waswest of Chester, Massachusetts perched on the top of an rock cutting that dated to the time of the line’s construction circa 1839-1840.
This Conrail eastward train was slowly making its way east. It was serenely quite in these hills and I’d hear the freight making its descent of Washington Hill miles before it finally appeared.
Imagine this setting one hundred and forty years earlier when it was the old Western Rail Road (precursor to the Boston & Albany). A time when one of Winan’s peculiar vertical boiler 0-8-0s would have led a train of primitive four wheel freight cars over this same line.
Here’s an old print. I exposed this years ago. It shows an Amtrak train in the snow someplace. If I had to guess, I say it was made somewhere in New England in the mid-1980s/early 1990s based on the equipment.
Except I don’t need to guess. I know that it was exposed on the morning of January 16, 1984 and shows Amtrak’s late-running Washington D.C. to Montreal Montrealer passing South Deerfield, Massachusetts.
In the caption I was trying to do was convey the vital information. At the time, I’d hope to send this to a magazine. Catching the Montrealer in daylight was a real coup! (Or so I thought at the time.).
I find this photograph interesting for other reasons too. As regular viewers of Tracking the Light may be aware, I’ve made several recent views of Amtrak’s Vermonter at this same highway crossing (North Hillside Road) and so this makes for an interesting comparison view.
The primary reason I’ve posted this today is to provide an example of how a simple caption can solve many mysteries. Instead of a generic image of an Amtrak train kicking up snow, we instead know many of the crucial details; what, when where and why.
These details make the photo more relevant, and potentially more valuable as a record.
These modern locomotives have been on the move in New England for a few months now, but they managed to elude me. Or my camera anyway. (I saw one in Worcester some weeks ago.).
The Tier 4 are the most modern high-horsepower freight locomotives offered by General Electric. They are designed to meet EPA’s Tier IV emissions standards.
While similar in appearance to other late model GE freight locomotives, they have a distinctive large capacity radiator and vents at the back. This provides increased heat exchange area in the radiator cab is required to meet the stricter Tier 4 exhaust emission requirement using by using Exhaust Gas Recirculation
On Tuesday, January 26, Bob Arnold, Paul Goewey and I found CSX 3308 working symbol freight SEPO (CSX Selkirk Yard to Portland, Maine) at Ayer, Massachusetts.
I always like to catch new power on the move and we caught this freight at several locations.
What about a classic three-quarter ‘roster view’ you ask? Well, I exposed that on color slide film, of course!
I work with photographs almost every day. Often, I’m faced with drafting captions for historic images and too often I find historic prints without adequate information.
Back in the day some conscientious photographer made the effort to preserve a scene. When they went out the reason for their photograph was often brutally obvious (to them).
Maybe a new locomotive was working the daily express, or the local passenger train was running late. Perhaps an old machine was nearly ready for the scrap heap, or something special was on the move.
Or maybe it was just a nice day to be out, and the photographer wanted to document the railroad action.
Holding an un-captioned photo may present many mysteries that could have been easily answered at the time of exposure. But the photographer passed on and the significance of the moment has been forgotten; the railroad was merged out of existence decades ago and the location has changed beyond recognition.
And so here I am trying to solve a mystery. Often, I can figure things out. But not always.
There maybe clues, but will they help? If you could find the location today, you might see that the double track line in the old print was reduced to single iron and the old station was bulldozed years ago, the mills in the distance are now the site of a shopping plaza, and trees have grown up everywhere.
A captioned photograph is vastly more useful, more valuable, and more relevant than an uncaptioned print. Never assume that the viewer, or even the photographer himself/herself will remember the details. The passage of time tends to blur those things that once seemed obvious.
A solution for future photos: take the time to write information on the images photos you make. If you caught something special, explain in detail. Never assume.
Be sure to include specifics regarding locations. Avoid potentially cryptic abbreviations.
Don’t make things up! Try to be as accurate as possible without wildly speculating as to important details such as date and location.
Don’t wait until you have 100,000 photographs that span 25 years to begin your task.
Beware: some time ago, an archivist told me that un-labeled photo collections are considered to be of low value to the historian. (His words were a bit stronger and involved trash receptacles).
A few final thoughts; when labeling old prints consider the type marker you use. Colored felt-tip pens are a very poor choice. For RC prints, consider a thin black permanent marker that won’t bleed, or a black ball-point pen with good action and ink that doesn’t smear. For paper prints a light pencil is a good choice, but don’t press down so hard that you damage the image area. Paste on labels are not good, eventually the glue will dry up (and fall off) and also the glue may bleed through. Digital images need captions too, but that’s a topic for another day.
More examples and more mysteries soon!
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The other day down in the valley I heard the roar of a train ascending the old New London Northern grade to State Line.
EMD diesels working hard.
“Hmm. That’s odd. Daylight move on the New England Central?”
In recent months, New England Central’s freight south of Palmer, Massachusetts has been largely nocturnal.
I thought I’d best investigate, I hopped in my car and headed south to intercept.
Driving toward Stafford Springs, Connecticut I heard a telemetry hit on my scanner. (That’s the FRED—the end of train device the sends a signal reporting air-brake pressure from the tail end of the train to the engineer’s cab.) I knew the train was close.
Then, chatter on the radio: engineer to conductor. They were working the ground. The train was switching.
I altered my path and went to the south switch at State Line siding at Crow Hill Road, Stafford.
There I found the train: An NECR local freight from Palmer putting cars in the siding.
Sixteen loads and five empties.
At one end was a GP38 that’s nearly as old as I am. At the other end was NECR’s Tunnel Motor, engine 3317. A former Southern Pacific engine.
That’s neat. I’d never seen NECR’s Tunnel Motor south of Palmer before.
Sorry, did I mention that New England Central’s reporting marks are NECR?
In August 2011, I exposed this vertical (portrait oriented) interior view of the famous Cincinnati Union Terminal. The station is an architectural masterpiece designed by architects Fellheimer & Wagner.
I was visiting for the annual Summerail event (due to be held this year in Marion Ohio).
Cincinnati Union Terminal’s art deco styling lends well to semi-abstract images. I especially like the enormous flag, which helps anchor the photo while providing both perspective and context.
Cincinnati was inspired by one of my favorite Scandinavian railway terminals—also featured on Tracking the Light. Do you know which one?
Back in March 1984, I wandered down to Palmer with my dad’s Rolleiflex Model T loaded with Tri-X.
It was a miserable day; typical early of early Spring wet, clammy and dark.
Yet, Conrail was running trains. A westward midday freight (remember those?) was blocked at the diamond for a Central Vermont train.
Using the Rollei’s square format, I composed some interesting images. Conrail’s Boston and Albany was still a directional double-track railroad back then. This was before the modern signals and single tracking that began in 1986.
I took the negatives home and processed the negatives in the sink, as I often did in those days. I was using Microdol-X for developer. I was cheap, and my developer was rather depleted by the time I souped this roll.
The result; unacceptably thin negatives that wouldn’t print well, even when subjected to a number 4 polycontrast filter.
It was a just a dark day in Palmer. Conrail in 1984 was common for me, so I sleeved the negatives, filed them away in an envelope and that was that.
Until a little while ago, when through the improved tools available to me through Lightroom, I was able to finally get the results I desired from these old photos.
After nearly 32 years, they are looking pretty good now!
As a contrast to this morning’s frosty portrait view of a tightly cropped SEPTA Silverliner reflecting the snow on its inbound journey over former Pennsylvania Railroad rails, I thought I offer this summer evening’s view.
Like the earlier photo along the old Main Line (so-called because from the old ‘Main Line of Public Works) this depicts a Silverliner heading toward Philadelphia 30th Street.
However, this was a glorious summer’s evening with warm low sun in the western sky and fresh green leaves on the trees.
The camera and lens combination were also similar. This morning’s tightly cropped image was exposed with my Canon EOS7D with a 200mm telephoto, while this view used the same camera body but with a 100mm telephoto.
Anyway, if the weather today has you longing for the warmer months, here’s something for which you may look forward!
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It was exactly two years ago; on this day, January 23, 2014, I made this tightly composed portrait-view (vertically oriented) photograph of a SEPTA Silverliner IV at Overbrook, Pennsylvania.
Over the years I’ve made many photographs along the former Pennsylvania Railroad Main Line, and more than my fair share of views at Overbrook.
SEPTA’s Silverliners are common enough, so I tried something a little different. Using my Canon EOS 7D with 200mm telephoto, I composed a tight vertical image of the SEPTA train as it glided through the station.
As a follow-up to Wednesday’s Tracking the Light post featuring vintage Ektachrome slides of Boston’s MBTA Mattapan-Ashmont PCCs from the late 1970s, I thought I’d present some of the images of this classic transit operation that I’ve made in the digital era.
I’ve featured this colorful trolley line about a once a year in Tracking the Light, but since the topic is timely as operation of the historic cars now appears to be under threat, I thought a Mattapan-Ashmont PCC review might be of interest.
Recently, the TRAINS Newswire published a story on MBTA’s Mattapan-Ashmont Trolley line warning of the possible demise of the historic PCC cars and possibly of the trolley line itself. (The ‘bus’ word was uttered!)
So, the word is out, if Mattapan-Ashmont Trolley is something you want to see, DON’T Wait.
I recalled an early visit to this line with my father on a May Sunday in 1979. This was back when former Dallas double-ended PCCs dominated operations on the line, and the cars were largely painted red to reflect their operation as an extension of the Red Line.
Today, I find it fascinating to look back on these photos. I couldn’t have anticipated back then that more than 36 years later, old PCCs would still be working the line, albeit with different cars.
However, from strictly a photographic point of view, what is now most interesting to me is that I knew virtually nothing of the ‘rules of photography’ , other than a rudimentary understanding of how to work my father’s Weston Master III light meter and translate the settings it offered to my Leica 3A.
No one had ever told me about three-quarter angles, or where the sun was ‘supposed to be’. Front-lighting, back-lighting, and side-lighting were foreign words. I was blind as to the relative importance of foreground and background, and I didn’t known that ‘good’ photos were only made with Kodachrome, and I knew nothing about the compositional ratios of 2/3s, or any of the other stuff that later influenced my photography.
Honestly, as record of the scene, my raw unfettered, uninformed approach has a great appeal to me today. Had I known those things, I may have exposed less interesting images.
What you see here are the inspired views of an enthusiastic 12-year old exposed using a Leica with a 50mm Summitar lens on Ektachrome film.
Sometimes a review of ‘out-takes’ will reveal a few gems. This is a lesson in how the passage of time can make the commonplace more interesting.
On the morning of September 7, 1989, I spent several hours around South Norwalk, Connecticut, making photos with my Leica M2 on Kodachrome 25 slide film. My primary subject was the old New Haven Railroad and the passage of Metro-North and Amtrak trains.
Since that time, the Metropolitan series cars that once dominated Metro-North’s suburban service have been all but replaced. But back then many of these cars still had a relatively new sheen to them.
More striking have been changes to the South Norwalk station. The scene is very different. Among the changes has been construction of a large multistory parking garage, which now occupies the space to the north of the station.
Yet, I also made a few photos of the town and passing road vehicles, which help give a flavor for South Norwalk in the late 1980s now more than a quarter century gone.
The best of the photos from this morning are held in a different file, and these are merely what I deemed at the time as ‘extras.’
Last week, I wrote about violating one of the cardinal rules of good railroad photography, that is aiming directly into the sun. In question were some views along the Ware River Railroad, er . . . sorry, rather the Mass-Central, as it is now known.
It may come as a shock to some readers of Tracking the Light, but this was not my first time aiming the camera toward the sun when photographing trains!
What I present here is an unusual image. Not because it is a trailing view of an Amtrak Turbotrain racing through North Chili, New York (rhymes with Dubai rather than Silly Hippie) on its way to Grand Central. (Yes, the Turbos went there back in the day). But, because I’ve opted to make a mid-morning silhouette in an unlikely way.
A thin layer of cloud had softened the morning sun. I was working with a Linhof Karden Color B 4×5 view camera fitted with a 90mm Schneider Super Angulon lens and Tri-X black and white sheet film (manufactured nearby in Rochester, New York).
Photographing moving trains with a view camera is no easy task, and on this day I had the camera firmly set up on a heavy tripod.
However, one advantage to the view camera is the ability to lift the front plane of the camera. This allowed me to keep the camera level while obtaining more sky area without causing unnecessary distortion to the train.
I’d set up the camera well in advance of the Turbotrain’s passing. Back in 1987, when I made this image there were no cell phones nor Julie to provide me with schedule updates.
Behind me was the Union Road grade crossing (long since replaced with an overpass). I had only one shot and I wanted to place the rear nose of the Turbotrain such that it didn’t intersect the trees to the right or the silhouette effect would be lost.
Another advantage of the 4×5 media is the ability to capture much greater amounts of information than possible with smaller film formats. As a result, I was able to capture superb tonality across a wide exposure range.
Admittedly this black & white negative had always vexed me in the darkroom. However, I scanned it the other day, and using Lightroom found that the contrast manipulation I was unable to achieve chemically, was easily accomplished with digital adjustment.
I just scanned this old negative a few minutes ago. (If you’re not viewing this on Tracking the Light, you’ll need to click the link to get the full effect of the image.)
Back in late 1996, friend Doug Moore (and Tracking the Light grammar and fact checker) had lent me a Baby Speed Graphic (sorry I don’t recall the specific model.).
This camera used a roll film back and featured both a leaf shutter and a focal plane shutter, which made it useful for exposing railroad photographs.
Among the images I made was this view of a westward Conrail freight from the bridge at West Warren. Tracking the Light viewers will likely recognize the location as I’ve often posted pictures from here.
Using Lightroom I was able to make some simple contrast and exposure adjustments that greatly improved the overall appearance of the photo.
I made this detailed telephoto view of Guilford Rail System’s former Santa Fe SD26 621 at East Deerfield yard.
The SD26 was a peculiar looking locomotive that featured a classic arched roof cab, slanted nose, with a humpbacked hood section and air reservoirs located on top.
Light and shade: By sculpting with low afternoon light, I was able to emphasize the SD26’s shapes while minimizing other elements of the scene. Notice the effects of reflections in the windows and off the cab nose.
Over the years, I made many photographs of these locomotives on the road. For me this unusual angle captures the distinctive shape of the SD26, two of which soldiered on in road-service into the mid-2000s.
A few minutes ago I scanned this Kodachrome slide. When I went to caption the file, I thought,
“Jan 14th 1989. Wow, that’s exactly 27 years ago.”
So, there you go.
I’d been photographing Conrail symbol freight BUOI-4X (extra section of Buffalo to Oak Island Yard, New Jersey). This freight worked the old Erie Railroad route and picked up re-built New York City Subway cars from the Morrison-Knudsen plant in Hornell, New York.
I made this view at the old Erie Railroad East Hornell Yards that was mostly used for storage of old freight cars. (And yes, I do have some nice photographs of the old freight cars).
Stop for a moment and gauge the passage of time and your relative perception of it.
I made this photograph about 1980. I’d been fascinated by the New Haven Railroad, and what I saw here I viewed then as a relic of times long gone.
The old railroads such as the New Haven were those that my dad had photographed back in the days of sunny Kodachrome.
At the time, I made this view of old New Haven cars at New Haven, Connecticut, I was 13. Conrail was then only 4 years old (formed on April 1, 1976), yet for me even its predecessor, Penn-Central was already a foggy memory.
Looking back now, to me it doesn’t seem so long ago that Conrail vanished (Its operations ended in 1999). And yet, for point of comparison Conrail been gone almost four years longer (17 years) than I’d been alive at the time I made the photo.
What is interesting? What seems old?
In a high-school math class, I once remarked to my teacher, Mr. Ed Lucas, “Time and your perception of time are in inverse proportions to each other. The more time you experience, the faster it seems to go by.”
He replied, “That’s awfully profound for someone your age!”
Before Christmas, I related this story over dinner. However, I was stunned to learn a little more than a week later that Ed Lucas passed away on New Years eve.
It doesn’t seem so long since I sat in his class, and yet in another way it also seems like the dawn of time (or my perception of time)!
(If you are not viewing Tracking the Light, please click on the post to see the variations from Dark to Light.)
Kodachrome was a great film but it had its failings. It’s spectral sensitivity tended to render blue too dark in relation to the other colors.
An unfortunate result of this sensitivity was that at times of high sun, when there is a greater amount of ambient blue light, Kodachrome was both less sensitive and produced an unacceptably constrasty result that over emphasize the already unflattering light of midday.
For this reason, I often put the camera away during midday, or switched to black & white.
This slide is an exception. On June 29, 1989, I photographed an eastward Conrail freight with C32-8(a model known colloquially as a ‘Camel’) passing the old Boston & Albany station at East Brookfield, Massachusetts.
I have many better photographs of these unusual locomotives and superior views of the old station, both of which are now gone. Yet, I’m glad I made this slide.
For years, it remained in its yellow box as returned to me by Kodak. Although sharp, it wasn’t up to par with my slides from the time and so I’d deemed it unworthy of projection.
Today this is a pretty interesting image and through the comparative ease of digital processing, I can compensate for some of the failings of the film.
Using Lightroom, I’ve been able to adjust the contrast, exposure and color balance to make for a more acceptable image.
I’ve presented three variations: the above image is the unmodified scan (scaled for internet presentation); the other two have various levels of adjustment aimed at producing a more pleasing image.
Sometimes small operational anomalies on a railroad will combine to benefit the photographer by opening up different angles or opportunities.
Last Wednesday, delays on Mass-Central’s northward run (owing in part to congestion at Palmer Yard that resulted in a later than usual departure) combined with operation of engine 1750 with a southward facing cab opened some different winter angles on the old Ware River Branch.
I was traveling with Bob Arnold and Paul Goewey and we made the most of the variations in winter lighting along the route.
As I mentioned in an earlier post, over the last three decades, I’ve made many photos along this line. So, I’m always keen to find new viewpoints of this operation.
Low clear sun in January makes for rich colors and wonderful contrast, but also posed problems caused by long shadows.
It is true that carefully placed shadows can augment a scene, but random hard shadows too often do little more than add distractions and disrupt a composition.
Below are a few of the more successful angles I exposed on this southward trip.
While on the roll with Mass-Central, I thought I’d present some more of my latest views. Made over the last week or so, these portray the railroad and its environs in the Ware River Valley.
In my photography and writing, I believe that providing context is an important component of telling a story.
Not all these photos depict trains, but together they are intended to paint a picture of modern railroading in this historic New England valley.
Since Mass-Central’s history is closely tied to the geography and industries that once-populated the Ware River Valley, to relay this story, it is important to capture more than just pretty pictures of the locomotive engine.
The old textile mills, villages, mill-ponds, and local highways all play an important part of the greater story.
Tomorrow, I’ll take a slightly more focused approach and highlight Mass-Central’s southbound run to Palmer. This will feature a variety of classically inspired views in low winter sun.
Someone once said, ‘never photograph by aiming directly into the midday sun’. And, this advice has been melded into the cardinal rules of good railway photography.
The other day, while photographing along Mass-Central’s former Boston & Albany Ware River Branch at Gilbertville, I opted to violate this basic premise of good photography.
Over the years (35 of them) I’ve exposed a great many images of the Mass-Central on its former B&A branch. (A fair few of these images, I feel are indeed quite good, and perhaps border the category of ‘above average’.) So, if I end up making a bad photo (or two), who cares?
My 12mm Zeiss Touit lens is an unusual piece of equipment. Owing to the nature of its design and exceptional high quality glass, I can make photos that frankly wouldn’t work so well with more conventional equipment.
By selecting a very small aperture (f22), I can create a sunburst effect in a clear polarized sky while continuing to retain shadow detail.
So, are these photos good? Will I be fined by the aesthetics police? That’s up to you to decide!
But, honestly, what else would you have me do with a northward train coming directly out of the midday sun? I could have made no photos, but that wouldn’t make for a very interesting post, now would it?
Winter is an excellent time to photograph Mass-Central former Boston & Albany Ware River Branch.
The lack of foliage and a dearth of heavy underbrush opens up angles for photography obscured during the warmer months.
My challenge is to find new views on this railroad that I’ve often documented over the last 35 years.
On Monday, January 4, 2016, I made these views of the southward Mass-Central freight descending Ware Hill on its return run to Palmer.
Here I present two of the sequence of images. Compositionally, I feel the first image works better as it allows the eye to wander from the locomotive at right to the other subjects. The second image places too much emphasis on the left side.
Which do you prefer?
Tracking the Light Explores Photographic Technique Daily!
It was rare glorious sunny day back in September 2015. Irish Rail had a full complement of trains on the move. Catching clean 071 class diesel 077 with the second IWT Liner was a bonus.
I exposed these photos along the Dublin-Cork line at Hazelhatch (about ten miles southwest of Dublin). Special thanks to John Cleary, who advised me on the day’s program, provided road-based transport and suggested some angles.
Photos by the rules:
Sunny day; tick!
Sun at least 30 degrees above the horizon and over right shoulder and positioned for evenly-lit three-quarter view; tick!
Rolling stock nearly free from shadows; tick!
Polls and wires minimized; tick!
View of railway wheels; tick!
shutter speed fast enough to stop the action; tick!
Trees and fences safely in the distance; tick!
Bonus qualifications: nominal elevation, clearly identifiable location and clean equipment.
Points subtracted: zoom lens used instead a prime ‘standard lens’. Digital used instead of film. Colour used instead of black & white. Evidence of people in some of the photos (minus two points, Tsk!)
Everyday Tracking the Light presents new material (qualified and otherwise).