Forty years ago I had a fleeting glimpse of Mexico City’s streetcar system.
By the time of my December 1979 visit, all of the traditional streetcar lines in the downtown area were out of service. However, PCC cars remained in service on a pair of peripheral lines on the south-side of the city that connected at the end of a Metro Line.
I regret not having the opportunity to travel on the trolleys, but at least I got to see and photograph them.
For me this sunset view of Mexico City street trackage is a symbolic photograph, and yet one that has haunted my imagination for decades. Technically speaking it is a poor photo; under exposed and the last frame on a roll of Kodachrome with the right side effectively cropped by the tape used during processing. I’ve cleaned up the slide a little for better presentation here.
Sometimes those scenes we only glimpse stick in our imagination more than those that we were immersed in. Do you remember that 1960s song recorded by Vashti Bunyan ‘Some Things Just Stick in Your Mind’?
My memories of riding the Metro City Metro with my uncle Mark 40 years ago contrast sharply with these photos that I made during that same visit.
Having grown up traveling on the New York City and Boston subways, I was astounded by the crush-loading in Mexico City.
I recall being swept along a platform holding my uncles hand as tightly as I could as we squeezed into an already sardine capacity train.
In reality, those conditions weren’t conducive for a 13 year-old Gringo to make photographs.
In retrospect, I’m amazed that I got anything at all.
Apologies for the relatively poor condition of these images. My negatives were hand processed without concern for archival concerns and stored in a paper envelope in an attic for the better part of four decades. I scanned them last month.
I scanned some negatives the other day. These were exposed with my Leica 3A on Ilford FP4 and processed in D76.
I’d driven to Chester, Massachusetts where I photographed several eastward Conrail trains on the Boston & Albany line. This was before Conrail single-tracked the route and it was still directional double track with automatic block signals under rule 251.
This view shows an eastward TV (trailvan) freight waiting for a green signal after crossing over from the westward to the eastward main. It had just come down the hill, against the current of traffic, on the westward main to Chester, while a test train led by SD50 6703 had worked east on the eastward main. (Parallel eastward moves).
Conrail’s GE-built C30-7A (6594) and C32-8 (6614) diesels were less than a year old.
The test train (not pictured) was a ballast train with caboose that provide a load for SD50 6703 equipped with flange lubricators which spent several months working back and forth on the B&A route.
So what’s the tragedy?
My negative envelope has minimal information; just the locations and ‘April 1985’. I have my notebook from 1985, but this trip isn’t mentioned. My photo album is also scant on the details from the day. I believe the specific note-page from this day has ‘gone missing’ and so I’ve had to recall the details from memory. This is a problem, since I cannot recall the exact date, and I’m unsure as to specifics such as train symbols.
On cool winter afternoon, three CSX General Electric diesels idle at CP64 in East Brookfield, Massachusetts.
These locomotive had worked an eastward Q264 and are waiting to return with its westward counterpart, working westward across the Boston Line to New York’s Selkirk Yards and beyond.
I exposed these digital images using a Lumix LX7. Working with the camera-RAW files in Lightroom, I lightened the shadow areas improved the contrast and made a slight enhancement to the overall saturation.
Christmas Day 1979, I embarked on a great adventure. At age 13, I flew unaccompanied from JFK in New York City to Mexico City to visit with my uncle Mark.
I exposed this view using a Leica 3A from my window on an Eastern Airlines L-1011 as it taxied for take-off at JFK.
My notes on the negative strip simply read ‘Airport 1979’.
I exposed hundreds of black & white and color photos on this trip, although not all of them remain in my collection. I also made detailed notes, of which only a few pages survive. After takeoff, I wrote:
“There was a really good view of New York City, New Jersey, etc. We flew past Philadelphia but I didn’t see much account of the clouds”
One photo inspires another. A few days ago my friend Wally Hill posted a view from the back of Conway Scenic Railroad’s Gertrude Emma—1898-built Pullman open observation—featuring steam locomotive 7470 passing former Maine Central 501 on its march toward the North Conway, New Hampshire station from the coal dock.
His photo inspired me to make similar images, and so working with my FujiFilm XT1 with 90mm lens, I stood in Wally’s footprints and made these photographs.
In my younger days, I wasn’t very enthusiastic about the Montreal Locomotive Works M-420s. I viewed them as ugly derivations of my favorite Alco RS-11s and C-420s.
That irrational bias never prevented me from photographing the M-420s at work. Since both Central Vermont and Providence & Worcester operated M-420s, they seemed common enough to me when I was photographing in southern New England in the 1980s.
I found this P&W M-420 getting ready for a day’s work near the diamond crossing at Plainfield, Connecticut in June 1986.
I exposed this view on Kodak black & white 120 size film using my father’s Rollei model T.
In a world of splashy announcements, bold publicity stunts and loud pronouncements, occasionally subtlety, allusion and understatement still have a place.
Also, I’m always curious to learn who’s paying attention and who just looks at the pictures. (Sometimes the long posts with allusive titles offer the most important messages).
Yesterday, as I was standing in the snow to record Boston & Maine F7A 4268 that was brought out of Conway Scenic Railroad’s North Conway roundhouse for a spin on the turntable, my friends Dave and Rhonda Swirk quietly announced that I was taking on a full-time position at the railroad in Marketing and Event planning.
And there’s the surprise twist!
Clear signals for exciting things coming down the line! (Bigger bolder pronouncements later).
On August 5, 1984, my late friend Robert A. Buck gave me an unforgettable tour of the Bangor & Aroostook in central Maine.
Among the stops on our trip was a brief visit to the disused tower at Lagrange. If you look to the right you can see Bob and his famous green van through the weeds.
I exposed this photo on Kodak Plus-X using an old Leica 3A with a Canon f1.8 50mm screw-mount lens. I processed the film in Kodak Microdol-X and stored the negatives for 35 years in an envelope. Last month I scanned the negatives using an Epson V750 scanner.
In January 1994, my father and I paid a visit to Perris, California, where I made some photos of this pair of rebuilt Santa Fe EMD diesels, along with the railroad station before proceeding to the Orange Empire Railway Museum.
Santa Fe 2725 was a GP30u, which lost the characteristic semi-streamlined cab roof when rebuilt from a GP30 in the early 1980s.
Does anyone remember the spoof newspaper ‘Not the New York Times’?
Anyway, at first glance this nocturnal photo might be mistaken for a mid-1950s view of a New York Central EMD GP with a Bangor & Aroostook boxcar.
Of course there are lots of hints to the contrary. If you look carefully, the GP9 in this view has ditch lights (a feature of the 1990s and later). The paint scheme, while inspired by the ‘New York Central’ lightning stripe, isn’t really like anything actually used by the railroad on a GP9. And, of course this engine has dynamic braking grids (just barely visible at the top of the long hood), , which as everyone knows(to quote a phrase) isn’t representative of New York Central’s GP9s, since none had dynamic brakes.
Just imagine the roar! Conrail C30-7 6600 leads three former Erie-Lackawanna 20-cylinder EMDs!
So far as I can remember, this was the only time I caught an SDP45 (second unit) hard at work on the Boston Line.
I made these views of an uphill BAL (Ballast train) at Middlefield, Massachusetts on a day’s photography with my old pal TSH on a beautiful spring evening in June 1984. I was a week away from my high-school graduation.
My only regret is that I didn’t have better photography skills and better equipment.
Yesterday I scanned this 20-year old slide of an eastward CSX freight passing the signals at CPRJ—Rotterdam Junction, New York.
I’d exposed the slide using my first Nikon N90S on Fujichrome Sensia RA slide film.
I made great use of the Nikon N90S, and when I wore out the first one, I bought another.
Oddly, when reviewing my slides, I find that my work with the N90S wasn’t as refined as the photographs that I made with either my Nikon F3 (with which I used the same lens pool as the N90S) nor my Contax G2 rangefinder that had its own lenses.
I can’t really explain this phenomena, but I wish I’d recognized it sooner.
Last month I made this photograph of a down Irish Rail Intercity Railcar paused at Newbridge on the Dublin-Cork mainline.
I was changing trains on my way to Sallins.
Exposed using a Lumix LX7, file processed in Lightroom and scaled for internet presentation. To make the most of the nocturnal setting, I set my camera to overexpose by 1/3 of stop (+ 1/3 on my exposure compensation dial). This compensates for the specular highlights which tend to skew the camera meter toward underexposure.
In this situation under exposure would result in the image appearing too dark.
It was April 26, 1984 when my brother and I embarked on big tour of the New York City Subway in Queens and Brooklyn.
I made this view from the front of an outbound train on the Astoria Line. On the middle track was an RR train heading toward Queens Plaza and beyond. This was during the era when the subway was still covered in grafitti.
Notice the article ‘a’ rather than ‘the’. For today’s Tracking the Light, I am posting a view literally made from across a pond, rather than taking a metaphorical view from ‘across the pond’ (used as an ironic understated allusion for the North Atlantic Ocean).
You know, just in case there was any confusion!
This photograph was exposed last Tuesday afternoon, on Providence & Worcester’s former Boston & Maine Worcester to Gardner, Mass., route, and features the daily northward freight heading for interchange with Pan Am Railways/Pan Am Southern at Gardner.
Interestingly, I was traveling with Mike Gardner (no relation to the town), and this represented the fourth railroad I’d photographed on that Tuesday, November 26, 2019. Pretty neat! And with a cool pond too!
Using my Leica 3A, I made this view from a NYCTA city bus in The Bronx circa 1980.
I don’t have any notes at all from this trip.
In all likelihood, I was using a 35mm Nikkor lens with a screw-mount designed for the Leica 3 series cameras. This was a favorite of mine at the time because it required an adjustable external viewfinder that made it easier to compose than the tiny window on the camera body.
The primary subject of the photo was the subway train on what I think was the White Plains Road elevated line. At right is my brother Sean. We were traveling with our grandmother from Fordham Road toward Co-op City as part of a shopping trip.
This photo has been quietly hiding, unprinted and unseen in a glassine negative sleeve for nearly 40 years! (Try that with your favorite phone photo.)