Processing Old Film; Union Pacific in the Blue Mountains.

So what do you do when you find an old roll of black & white film? A roll that has sat, exposed but unprocessed, for years, for decades.

You could throw it away. But that would be a dumb thing to do. There is another option.

Back in July 1991, my old pal TSH (a regular Tracking the Light reader) and I made an epic two and half week trip across the American West.

On that trip I exposed dozens of rolls of Kodachrome 25 slide film using my Nikon F3T. But I also brought my Leica M2, and exposed a few rolls of black & white film.

While I processed some of the black & white shortly after the trip, for reasons I can’t justify, two rolls of Ilford FP4 remained unprocessed.

These have followed me through the years. I had them so long that I’d forgotten when I’d exposed them. They were mixed in a bag with other unexposed film.

July 23, 1991, a Union Pacific unit train ascends the Blue Mountain grade toward Kamela, Oregon, passing a location known Bodie. I processed this film in May 2017 using my customized process. The results would have been better if I hadn’t waited more than a quarter century, but they aren’t bad considering. One of the defects of the long process time is an increase in grain size.
Union Pacific SD60M at Bodie, Oregon Jul 23, 1991. Leica M2 with 50mm Summicron.
At the back of the unit train were a pair of SD40-2s working as helpers.
Some great sound from these locomotives.

Several years ago, I worked out a special process for getting good results from old black & white film. I’ve processed rolls up to 40 years after exposure and found presentable images on them.

Although the latent image remains in the film’s silver halide crystals for decades, simply processing the film in the ordinary fashion won’t yield desirable results.

I’ve found it necessary to work with multiple stage development, which requires unusually long process times. Key to making this work is a carefully measured antifogging solution. I will detail this process in future posts.

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5 comments on “Processing Old Film; Union Pacific in the Blue Mountains.

  1. Manikandan Venkataramanan on said:

    A Fossilized impression from the sands of time! Amazing

  2. Skip Cubbedge on said:

    Very nice! I hope you will share the rest in some fashion some day. Were those photos taken near Pinecliff, CO?

  3. Wow! TSH

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