It was more than twenty years ago, back on March 4, 2000, that I exposed this view of Irish Rail 141-class diesel-electric 159 racing northward on the Northern at Donabate.
Denis McCabe, the late Norman McAdams and I were out for a bunch of special trains coming down from Belfast. I wasn’t expecting it, but this light engine was a bit of a bonus.
I was working with Sensia II (ISO) in a Nikon N90S fitted with a manual focus Tokina f5.6 400mm lens that I’d bought second-hand from my friend Doug Moore several years earlier.
Yesterday when I scanned the slide, I thought there was excessive dust on the emulsion and so rescanned after considerable attention with a can of compressed air to clean it. It was only on close inspection that I realized that the ‘specks’ in the sky were, in fact, birds, and not dust!
Although Conway Scenic Railroad is presently prevented from opening public excursions owning to restrictions necessitated to contain the Covid-19 outbreak, last Tuesday, May 26, 2020, we organized a special work extra led by GP9 1751. This was a training special to give our engineer trainees an opportunity to learn first-hand how to operate a locomotive and train under the supervision of Conway Scenic Railroad’s Road Foreman of Engines and Train Master, Mike Lacey.
As the railroad’s Manager for Marketing and Events, I helped plan this extra train, and organized several media stops during the runs in order to film and photograph the train for the company’s media archives. These stops and run-bys gave our trainees experience in using the air brake system to control the movement of the train and bringing it safe stop.
We made three runs from North Conway to Conway and return on the former Boston & Maine Conway Branch.
I made video with the company’s Sony video cameras and exposed still digital photos using a FujiFilm XT1 with 18-135mm lens. In addition, I also made a few 35mm color slides on Provia 100F using my old Canon EOS-3 with 40mm pancake lens.
The weather provided some ideal photographic conditions. During photo stops, the train’s conductor assisted me with train positioning.
I deemed the day as a great success. Here are a few of the digital still photos.
Back in 1990, I got a good deal on a 100 foot roll of Agfa 400 speed black & white film. I took quite a few photos with this, mostly of street scenes in San Francisco, and processed it in D76 1-1, much the way I would have processed Kodak Tri-X.
That was a mistake.
Fast forward 30 years and I thought I’d give Agfa 400 black & white another go.
This time I used a more refined process.
On April 12, 2020, Kris Sabbatino and I visited St. Johnsbury, Vermont, where we made a variety of photos around the former Maine Central truss bridge, located at the far west end of the old Mountain Division. I worked primarily with 90mm and 50mm Nikon lenses. The light was dull April overcast, which I thought would be a good test for Agfa 400.
Since I didn’t have access to my processing equipment and chemistry, I wasn’t able to develop the film until recently, but last weekend I finally souped the Agfa. I decided to try Rodinal Special (NOT to be confused with Rodinal) which is formulated for higher speed emulsions.
Before introducing the Rodinal Special (mixed 1-25), I presoaked the film for 5 minutes at 70 F in a very dilute bath of HC110 (mixed 1-300 with water and a drop of Photoflo-wetting agent). This was followed by the main development using my Rodinal Special mix for 4 minutes 30 seconds at 68 F; stop bath; twin fixer baths; rinse; permawash; first wash; selenium toner mixed 1-9 for 8 minutes; rinse and final wash.
There were a few hiccups in the washing. And as a result I ended up with precipitate on the negatives, so I ended up repeating the wash cycle yesterday morning, then soaked the negatives in distilled water with a drop of Photoflo before re-drying and scanning.
Now for the judgement. . . .
These are straight scans; only scaled for internet and without alterations to exposure, contrast, or sharpness.
Last summer I interviewed career railroader Mike Lacey on his experiences working for Erie Lackawanna and Conrail as part of my ‘Conversations with Brian Solomon’ podcasts with Trains Magazine. This is episode 39 in the series.
Mike is a fifth generation railroader.
You can listen to my Trains interview:
I have the pleasure of learning from Mike, who is now the Road Foreman of Engines and Train Master at Conway Scenic Railroad.
I made these photos in the last week of Mike in the cab of locomotive 1751, a former Baltimore & Ohio/Chesapeake & Ohio GP9.
Mike is also featured in my June 2020 Trains Magazine column.
The tracks are in place. The famous ball signal still stands. But it has been months, years perhaps, since the last revenue train visited the old Boston & Maine line through Whitefield, New Hampshire; longer still for the former Maine Central, which has become overgrown.
These lines remain on the periphery of the American general network; but for how much longer?
On April 25, 2020, Kris Sabbatino and I visited Whitefield on a trip exploring Coos County. I made these photos on Fuji Acros 100 black & white negative film.
Saturday we processed the film in Agfa Rodinal Special (not to be confused with ordinary Rodinal) for 3 minutes 45 seconds, then following regular processing and washing, we toned the negatives in selenium solution for 9 minutes and rewashed following archival procedure.
Last night I scanned the film using an Epson V600 flatbed scanner.
The old Beechers Falls Branch was a vestige of Maine Central’s foray into Quebec that survived on Maine Central’s system in later years as a truncated appendage accessed by trackage rights over Boston & Maine and Grand Trunk lines.
After Maine Central gave up, various short lines had operated the trackage. Today the line to Beechers Falls, Vermont is a trail.
Beechers Falls itself is a curiosity on a narrow strip of land wedged tightly between New Hampshire and Quebec.
On Saturday (May 23, 2020) Kris Sabbatino and I explored this abandoned line.
I made these photos where the Branch crossed the upper reaches of the Connecticut River at Canaan, Vermont.
Working with a Nikkormat FT with an f2.8 24mm Nikkor lens, I exposed Ilford HP5 400 ISO black & white film.
Although I intended to process this in Ilford ID11, yesterday, I realized that I was all out of that developer, so instead I worked with Kodak HC110, which I mixed as ‘dilution B’ (1-32 with water). Before my primary process, I mixed a very weak ‘presoak’ (1-300 with water and Kodak Photoflo) and soaked the film for five minutes, then introduced my primary developer for 4 minutes 30 seconds.
Last night Kris and I scanned the negatives using an Epson V500 flatbed scanner with Epson’s provided software.
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Clearing the big fill on the approach to North Conway yard has opened up some excellent photographic potential.
However, since the railroad is closed because of business restrictions imposed by the State of New Hampshire to contain the Covid-19 pandemic, I have had to organize a few special moves (without passengers) over the fill to make photos/video for Conway Scenic marketing purposes.
I exposed these views last week in cooperation with Conway Scenic operating crews.
This morning bright sunny skies and a cool breeze reminded me of California.
So I scanned this Fujichrome color slide using a Nikon Coolscann5000 slide scanner.
Working with VueScan software, I set the color brand to ‘Ektachrome’ and the slide type to ‘E6’ and the color balance to ‘Landscape’, while under the ‘Input’ menu I selected ‘fine mode’ and ‘multiple exposure’ to obtain the highest quality scan.
After scanning as a hi-res TIF file, I then imported the file to Adobe Lightroom to scale the image for internet presentation. This is necessary because the original scan is 116.8 MB, which is far too large to up load for Tracking the Light. Why make such a large scan in the first place? When I take the time to scan a slide, I aim to capture as much data stored in the original in order to archive the photo long term.
The primary subject is a former Sacramento Northern four-wheel Birney Safety car that was operating at the Western Railway Museum on the day of my May 2008 visit.
Yesterday, May 19, 2020, we started up Conway Scenic Railroad GP9 1751 to work the North Conway Yard. This was the first time this engine has turned a wheel since the conclusion of our Snow Trains at the end of February.
It was glorious sunny day, with a cool breeze and warm weather; ideal conditions for photography!
I made these views using my Lumix LX7.
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In addition to my own Conrail photos, this features the work of a dozen talented photographers.
I exposed the cover photo at Becket, Massachusetts in October 1997, using a Nikon N90S with f2.8 80-200mm lens and Fujichrome Velvia 50 color slide film.
This was on an epic Conrail adventure with Mike Gardner, during which in one day we caught the Ringing Brothers Circus train, a Conrail Office Car Special with E8s, the track geometry train and six freights led by clean EMD SD80MACs.
On the evening of August 22, 1986, I exposed this pair of Kodachrome 25 slides on the Maine Central’s Rockland Branch at Wiscasset, Maine.
At the time traffic on the branch was almost nil.
I used a 21mm Leica Super Angulon lens which offered a distinct perspective of this rustic scene. My interest was drawn to the two rotting schooners in the westward view, while in the eastward view I was aiming to show the vestiges of the piers for the long defunct Wiscasset, Waterville & Farmington 2-foot gauge.
Over the years I’ve spent a lot of time studying railway imagery, observing and analyzing hundreds of thousands of individual photos.
Among the most striking are the works of Japanese photographers.
Some of their most successful photos cleverly use focus and depth of field to place the railway in its environment. In some situations this is accomplished with a single image; in others with a sequence of photos.
Last week, I emulatted the style embraced by my Japanese counterparts to produce this sequence of images at the Swift River Bridge on Conway Scenic Railroad’s Conway Branch.
Here I’m working with three primary subjects; the truss bridge, Budd rail diesel car Millie and a flowering tree. All were exposed digitally using my FujiFilm XT1 with 18-135mm zoom lens.
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The common-carrier Maine two-foot gauge railroads vanished from the scene many moons ago.
A couple of months back, Dwight Smith pointed me to photo hanging on the wall of the North Conway ticket office that shows himself on a Bridgton & Harrison train. “That was taken of me eighty years ago when I was 15.” Well that sort of puts things in perspective!
So on a recent photography adventure with Kris Sabbatino, we paused at Harrison, Maine, the most northerly point on the defunct Bridgton & Harrison. Using my smart phone, I summoned a vintage USGS topographical map from the University of New Hampshire collection and used this to locate where the railroad had been.
We checked a few locations, before I spotted this old causeway and bridge abutments.
In the June 2020 Trains Magazine my monthly column features an interview with career railroader Mike Lacey, who started with Erie Lackawanna in 1968 and cut his teeth at the former Erie yards at Meadville.
I made this view on a visit to Meadville with fellow photographers Pat Yough and Tim Doherty on October 12, 2008.
Western New York & Pennsylvania’s former New York Central C-430 3000 was working the yard with engineer Chris Southwell at the throttle.
Exposed with Fujichrome Velvia100F using a Canon EOS-3.
On May 10th 1892, New York Central & Hudson River 4-4-0 with engineer Charles Hogan at the throttle raced special section of the Empire State Express westward toward Buffalo. This was no ordinary train, but a publicity run dreamed up by the railroad’s propaganda mastermind George Daniels.
On a downgrade tangent near Corfu, New York, Hogan sped the engine to bone shaking speed; reporters on-board watched the telegraph poles along the line blurred by ‘like a picket fence’, while those timing the run using stop watches claimed that the train hit a ridiculous 112.5 mph!
It was a great story and often repeated as ‘the fastest any engine had gone up until that time’. Papers around the nation reported the feat as fact bringing fame to New York Central and its locomotives. Daniels basked in the glory of his publicity stunt, which numerous railroads have sought to emulate and exceed.
I made these photos of the famous locomotive on visit to the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry in December 2018.
On the day of its fast run, 999 was equipped with much taller drive wheels than seen in these photos. Big wheels were key to fast running.
If 999 had been numbered 38, would anyone care?
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I’d left San Francisco in the wee hours of the morning and drove to the Sierra.
In the early hours of July 14, 1991, an SP eastward freight ascending Donner Pass had stalled near Alta. This resulted in a pair of following eastward freights being held; one at Colfax and one near Alta.
This was the second of two following freights, which developed its own difficulties at Gold Run when the train went into ‘emergency’.
I made the most of SP’s difficult time, by photographing the procession of trains at various points on The Hill (as Donner was known).
As the summer sun approached midday, I drove to Troy, where I’d previously scoped out this high vantage point with a commanding vista.
My project for the day was to find ways of suitably using the harsh high light in the Sierra, conditions that had been vexing me.
This was among my more successful images. Working with my old Leica M2 with 50mm Summicron, I exposed Ilford FP4 that I later processed using Edwal FG7 developer. At the back was a two unit helper. The sounds of EMD 645 diesels toiling in ‘Run-8’ (full throttle) was impressive and not soon forgotten.
Many of my other images from the day were exposed on Kodachrome 25, some using a circular polarizing filter as a means to mitigate the effects of Sierra high light. I’ll save those for another day.
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This is the first railway photo I remember making.
My father, the late Alan Schreibeman and I were exploring Penn Central’s Shoreline route near the East Haven, Connecticut tunnel—probably about 1971. I was about four years old.
I was fascinated by the ‘yellow over red’ approach aspect on the searchlight signal east of the tunnel and so using my Dad’s Leica, I made this Ektachrome slide. It was dusk and I didn’t have any understanding of exposure or shutter speed—but I caught what interested me.
I scanned this slide in 2018.
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This morning I was sifting through a file on a hard-drive titled ‘Misc 120 B&W negatives’.
This contains a group of 120-size negatives that I exposed with my father’s old Rollei Model T in late 1986 and early 1987.
Unfortunately these were unlabeled because at the time, because I’d fouled up the processing and deemed the negatives ‘unprintable’.
There were multiple failures on my part during development;
1) I was using stainless steel tanks, which had the unfortunate characteristic of leading to an edge effect when the room temperature was substantially different than the developer temperature. In this case, the darkroom at college was too warm, and so the short-edges received more processing than the center of the image area.
2) I had my developer mix wrong and too cool, so the overall result was under processed leading to these negatives appearing very thin (light).
3) The combination of ineffective agitation and relatively cool developer combined with the warm tank sides resulted in streaking and low contrast.
Because I was dissatisfied with my results and at the time I felt the subject matter was ‘common’, I simply put the negatives away. (But Ididn’t throw them away.)
While I have detailed notes from the trip, those notes are stored in Massachusetts. I am in New Hampshire.
If I recall correctly, this was late December 1986 (Dec 28?) and I was traveling with Norman Yellin and John Peters: we had photographed at Conrail’s Cedar Hill Yard, Amtrak’s engine facility in New Haven, before proceeding west along the North East Corridor. Late in the day, we paused at Fairfield, where I made these images along with some 35mm color slides.
It was a gray December 1997 day when I exposed this telephoto view of a Washington DC Metro train and Union Station’s Tower K using my Nikon N90s with f2.8 80-200 Nikon zoom lens.
Really it was the rows of colored position light signals displaying ‘stop’ that caught my attention.
Although the f2.8 8-200 lens offered convenience, and was both fast and sharp, it had its failings. When used wide open it tended to vignette slightly (darker exposure in the corners), but more serious was that it made me visually lazy. Instead of seeking the best vantage point and an optimal composition, I could get a pretty good angle by merely adjusting the focal length of the zoom.