Conrail in 1984 or Fixing the Dark Side—Thin Negatives Improved!

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.

Poor show! These negatives were thin and very hard to print. At the time it wasn't worth my time to mess about with them. Thankfully I saved them for more than 30 years. Despite under processing, most of the essential information necessary for an acceptible image was retained in the original negatives. This is the unmodified file.
Poor show! These negatives were thin and very hard to print. At the time it wasn’t worth my time to mess about with them. Thankfully I saved them for more than 30 years. Despite under processing, most of the essential information necessary for an acceptible image was retained in the original negatives. This is the unmodified file.

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.

A few easy adjustments in Lightroom and I was able to extract most of the detail I saw back on that March 1984 day. Now I have some suitable dramatic images from a favorite period on the railroad.
A few easy adjustments in Lightroom and I was able to extract most of the detail I saw back on that March 1984 day. Now I have some suitable dramatic images from a favorite period on the railroad.

After nearly 32 years, they are looking pretty good now!

Conrail_Palmer_March1984_Brian Solomon_581495-2Conrail_Palmer_March1984_Brian Solomon_581496

Tracking the Light Fixes Old Negatives!

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4 thoughts on “Conrail in 1984 or Fixing the Dark Side—Thin Negatives Improved!”

  1. Re (2): Got a chance to check out the H.H.Richardson station in Palmer today. No need to look at plans or ask anybody – there are plenty of doors on the B&A side, and they look original. Their framing in stone is similar to the window framing and enhances the design as a whole. In fact, with the canopy gone, the masterful design of this side of the station is quite clear. Sort of like clearing out trees for a better view.

  2. Thank you for your response. (4) is a serious issue, of course. I don’t think media will be a problem if files are copied to the new types of media every x years. Spinning disks, or anything mechanical, will become obsolete and be considered primitive for the storing of bits. The interpretation of the bits is a more serious problem, but I believe programs will be developed to retain an understanding of how to interpret the bits in the same way that there are now emulators of obsolete operating systems running under current operating systems. Standards will help, and that’s the crux of the problem, since most manufacturer’s RAW file formats are proprietary and have to be reverse engineered for use in post-processing programs. For example Nikon keeps its NEF format proprietary. Anyway, there are plenty of people worried about these problems and working on resolutions.
    Re (2): Next time I get to the Steaming Tender (could be as early as next weekend on the way to or from the Springfield show) I’ll be sure to check out the floor plan or ask Blake or Robin, since they will know.

  3. Do you have any photos showing the entire B&A side of the Palmer station before the canopy was removed? Were there doors on the B&A side of the station for quick access to the trains?

    On another subject, would you agree that photographing in RAW these days would give the best chance of rescuing photos 30 years from now vs originals in jpg?

    1. 1) Yes, I have a variety of photos of the Palmer station on the B&A side before the canopies were removed in 1986. All photos were made in the Conrail era, and so the old station building was not functioning as designed, but as a lunch-counter/pool hall.
      2) Off-hand I don’t know if there were doors in the station on the side facing the B&A tracks that went directly to the tracks, but I suspect at one time there were. However, if you visit the station (now the Steaming Tender) they have an old building plan floor inside on the wall. There also may be one in Oschner’s book on the Architecture of H. H. Richardson.
      3) regarding RAW and Jpg. RAW always gives you more data than Jpg, so whether you need to rescue a photo 30 seconds or 30 years after the fact, there is more date to work with in the RAW format. A JPG is a compressed file, typically extracted from the RAW. While you can adjust the relative exposure of the JPG, as far as the data recorded, what you see is what you get (more or less depending on your means of display). I generally shoot both RAW and JPG at the same time.
      4) Will you be able to find software to read your RAW file in 30 years? Will the media you have your RAW or JPG file be sufficiently stable to last 30 years without massive data loss? In both cases, I doubt it. But I can’t foresee the future, I can only guess.
      If I drop my 30 year old negatives on the floor, and you drop your hard drive the same distance, who do think will have a better chance of extracting the data from the respective media? I always make 3-4 copies of every file that I intend to keep and store them in different locations.

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