Wrestling with a Tripod in the Rain.

New York’s Canisteo Valley was among my favorite places to photograph in the late 1980s. The lure of the Erie Railroad and the old Union Switch & Signal Style S signals had captivated my interest.

On the morning of July 19, 1988, my old pal TSH and I were on one of our annual summer rail-photo adventures. We had started before dawn, and picked up a westward Conrail OIBU rolling though the Canisteo toward Hornell, New York.

Trains moved right along on the former Erie Railroad mainline and racing ahead of it in a Dodge Dart, I parked and leaped out of the car at a preselected location at milepost 320 (measured from Jersey City) and began to set up my photograph.

I was working with equipment I borrowed from my father. The Leica M2 loaded with PKM (Kodachrome 25 professional) was mine, but the 200mm Telyt mounted with a bellows on a Leica Visoflex viewfinder and positioned on a antique Linhof tripod were his.

In our hasty chase, I’d cut my set up time too fine. It was lashing rain and I was struggling to set up and level the tripod, while trying to focus the camera using the Rube Goldburg Visoflex arrangement. My exposure was about f4 1/8 of a second.

Conrail’s BUOI came into view before I had time to refine my composition: this imperfect photo was the result. I recall the frustration of fighting with the equipment as the roar of the train intensified and the rain obscured my vision.

Let’s just say, that at the time I wasn’t impressed with my image. I’d cropped too much of the foreground and the whole image is off level. So for 30 years, it sat in the Kodak yellow cardboard slide box that it had been returned to me from lab in.

Last year, I scanned it. Ironically, this damp-day silhouette closely captures the spirit of Conrail’s Canisteo Valley that had captivated my photographic interest. The reflection of the headlight on the glossy codelines is the finesse that I didn’t manage to capture in most of brighter-day photography.

I’m glad I didn’t throw the slide away.

This morning I cropped and leveled the image in an effort to correct for my failings in 1988. I’m not sure I improved it any.

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3 comments on “Wrestling with a Tripod in the Rain.

  1. david A Cook on said:

    Brian, stop kicking yourself. This is a PICTURE, not just a photo. It is superb! Atmospheric! Look at the head-light glint off the code-lines, the rail, and the base of the opposite signal. The purplish gloom tells us everything about a soaking summer dawn. The head-light flare also emphasises the sodden morning. As wts above says, DON’T level the picture and keep the black frame at the bottom. I am archiving this picture until I can find my ‘Quiet, Please! Recording!’ cd track of a Conrail freight doing just this, climbing the Canisteo Valley. It’s a long and atmospheric track and I shall put up your picture and sit back and listen! As the British Army RSMs say, ‘Well done, that man!’

  2. Other than the lens flare in the upper right of the original, which is easy to get rid of, the original is far better emotionally in telling the story. Leave the purplish sky alone – turning it blue makes the sky boring. Leave the black frame on the bottom since it raises the rail accentuating the headlight reflection on the rail. And, most importantly, do not level the original photo! The original is exciting: the train is coming down right out of the picture towards you. The leveled train is just another train in the rain.

  3. Tom Warger on said:

    I like it. It says what’s magic to every railfan: “Man, here it comes!”

    The light glinting off the signal lines really makes it.