As I write this I am in the final stages of preparing my latest book on steam locomotives for Kalmbach Media.
This is tentatively titled, “Steam by the Numbers” and examines the development and application of steam locomotives in America organized by wheel arrangement.
While many of the illustrations for the text are historical photographs, I have scoured my collection for appropriate photos that I feel provide dynamic illustrations of steam locomotives at work.
Among these is a photo that I made nearly 25 years ago showing doubleheaded former Rio Grande three-foot gauge 2-8-2s at Cumbres Pass, Colorado.
I’d scanned originally this slide in 2010. However, on critical examination of the scan, I found that it wasn’t up to my current standards. Scanning, like so many aspects of photography is an art, and requires patience and experience.
Rather than suffer with a substandard image, or cut the photo from the book, instead I located the original slide and re-scanned it.
I didn’t record the details of my original scan. However with my recent re-scan, I used a Nikon LS-5000 (Coolscan) slide scanner powered by VueScan 9.8.04 software.
I used the ‘fine’ setting and set the scanner to 4000 dots per inch, while using the ‘Auto Levels’ color profile setting. I then imported the scan into Lightroom for postprocessing, which included lightening shadow areas, warming the color balance, and introducing some sharpening.
Below are examples of the original scan and the improved re-scan.
In its day, the Budd-Metroliner was America’s answer to the Japanese Shinkansen. This fast electric train (MP85) was built for Pennsylvania Railroad and some briefly carried PRR-Keystone heralds before Penn-Central assumed operations of PRR’s lines in 1968. The Metroliner service was introduced using the Metroliner cars in the early years of Penn Central.
In 1971, Amtrak assumed operation of the Metroliner and continued to use the former PRR/PC trains for fast services on the former PRR between New York and Washington D.C.
The Metroliner body style was the basis for the Budd-built Amfleet cars that were introduced in the mid-1970s, and which remain standard for many Amtrak trains today.
Amtrak later assigned locomotive hauled Amfleet consists to its Metroliner services. In their waining years as self-propelled electric trains the former Metroliner train sets worked Amtrak Keystone services to Harrisburg.
Today, some of the much modified old Metroliner cab cars survive on Amtrak’s five-car push-pull sets, many of which are assigned as standard consists to the New York-Philadelphia-Harrisburg Keystone trains. Until 2014, these consists also routinely worked the Vermonter when it was still routed via Palmer, Massachusetts.
I made these views of Amtrak’s former Metroliner cab cars passing Gap, Pa., a couple of week ago.
At various stops along the way, I made digital photos using my old Canon EOS7D with a 28-135mm lens.
Although I’ve previously published some of these photos on Tracking the Light, for this post I’ve re-edited my selection and made a variety of up-to-day post processing adjustments using Adobe Lightroom, which I didn’t use back in 2013.
We found a shady place to park in Harrisburg’s Fort Hunter Mansion Park over looking Norfolk Southern’s Rockville Bridge.
We were hoping to catch a coal train. Instead, an eastward autorack freight came rolling across the bridge. As this was passing, a second an eastward train crossed the bridge on an adjacent track—and was blocked from view by the autoracks.
I made this view using my Z7-II fitted with a 70-200mm lens.
Staying in the shade of the trees in the park helped to reduce flare from the sun in the western sky.
Over the summer, Kris and I have been photographing Strasburg Rail Road’s late weekend train, the 1900 departure, which is a favorite of mine because it catches the low sun on its return to the East Strasburg Station.
I think that this past weekend might have been the last opportunity to work with the sun on this train for a while.
I made these trailing views at Esbenshade Road near Strasburg, Pennsylvania.
The evening began with dissipating fluffy clouds. As the sun sunk in the western sky, I anticipated a colorful late summer sunset.
We drove to Strasburg, where I made this sequence of photos of Strasburg Rail Road’s J tower, and various equipment on dispay at the Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania and in the Strasburg Rail Road’s yard using my Z7-II with 70-200mm Nikkor Z-series lens.
The days are getting shorter. You can see it in the evening sky.
Yet, the sunsets are vivid.
I’ve been looking for ways to better feature the color position light signal at milepost 64.5 near Greenfield in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.
I made this view with my Nikon Z7-II and Nikkor Z-series 70-200mm lens of Amtrak Keystone train 653 racing west by the signal. This train had Amtrak’s ACS-64 electrics at both ends; locomotive 621 was leading westbound; and 668 was at the back.
I’d guess that something was amiss with the former Metroliner cab car at the westend of the train.
In this instance because the signal is the subject, I picked a trailing angle and selected a slower ISO setting and comparatively slow shutter speed to allow the train a little bit of motion blur, while keeping the signal sharp.
When I try this again, I may zoom in tighter on the signal.
On Sunday Norfolk Southern runs local H29 over the old Pennsylvania New Holland Branch to it’s namesake.
Last Sunday, Kris and I wandered out along the line, looked at few crossings, and upon reaching New Holland, PA found a pair of GP38-2s with a few freight cars. The crew was just performing a brake test,
We drove a west and parked in the lot at the New Holland post office and waited.
This location offered a relatively unobstructed view the tracks.
After a few minutes the westward local came along and I made a series of photos with my Nikon Z6.
There aren’t too many place in the United States where you can pull up to a rural grade crossing on a Monday and roll by a steam locomotive .
That’s just what I did the other day on my drive through Strasburg.
I made these photos using my Lumix LX7. The scene is timeless. Consider; a Mogul type hauling wooden-body passenger cars, and there no wires, no automobiles, no cell-phones . . . well all that is all behind me-literally.
Amtrak Keystone 656 departed Lancaster, PA on time.
We drove to intercept it along the Main Line at Gap.
This time of year evening trains at Gap are coming directly out of the sun. This can be a challenge or a feature, depending on how you make your photographs.
I like to work with contrasty evening light. In my black & white film days, I’d adjust the contrast in the processing and use a relatively weak (dilute) solution of a highly active developer at comparatively high temperature with minimal agitation.
With my Nikon Z cameras I can achieve similar results in color with post-processing adjustments of the RAW files in Lightroom.
During our visit to the Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania, Kris lent me her FujiFilm XT4 with 16-55mm Fujinon Lens.
I had with me my Nikon Z6 with 24-70mm Nikon Z-series zoom
I made a series of unfair comparisons of similar subjects using both cameras.
Since the Fuji had a crop-sensor and the Nikon a full-frame sensor, the two lenses provided equivalent focal length ranges. However, while I tried to make similar photos, I didn’t make perfect matches for angle and compositions so there might be slight variations that have little to do with the cameras. The may be minor differences in metering as well.
Why are they unfair? To obtain the maximum data, each of the cameras have different ways of exposing. The Nikon tends to make Jpgs that seem too dark (under exposed) but these can me easily lightened in post processing for a visually appealing image. By contrast (pun intended), the Fuji makes wonderful JPGs right out of the camera.
However, I’ve opted to show scaled versions of both camera’s RAW files.
For this unfair comparison, I have not implemented subtantive changes to adjust the appearance of either cameras files.
It was a pleasant evening. So we drove to Leaman Place to roll by Amtrak Keystone 649 on its run from Philadelphia to Harrisburg.
I made a sequence of photos with my Nikon Z7-II. When I reviewd the images I wasn’t 100 percent satisfied.
Yes, the sun was perfect. The sky was clear and cloudless. The train was running locomotive first and clean. The foreground was free from obstructions. My camera performed flawlessly. The lens was sharp and the autofocus was spot on.
So what’s wrong? For example in the first photo, I’d like to see the locomotive slightly further in the frame to block the shadow to the left of engine nose . And, I wished I’d shown just a little more of the catenary mast on the right. Just little picky details.
On refection, I thought, what if that had been a Pennsylvania Railroad GG1 electric with a classic passenger train? Well then I’d be absolutely delighted with these photos! So there’s that.
In June 2009, I made my first visit to the former Philadelphia & Reading arched bridge over the Susquehanna River at Harrisburg, Pa.
At that stage, I was still using film exclusively, and using my Canon EOS-3 loaded with Fujichrome, I made some photos of the bridge sans train.
Kris and I paid another visit to the bridge in March of 2022, Again, I made photos of the arches, but no luck catching anything on the move.
Toward the end of July, I made my third visit. This time fortune favored me. Not long after I parked on South Front Street, I heard a horn to the west and soon an eastward Norfolk Southern train came rolling across the arches.
I made these images using my Lumix LX7 and Nikon Z6 cameras.
I had the Z6 set up with my 1980s-era Nikkor f2.8 180mm prime telephoto. While a very sharp lens, this is operated manually, which makes focusing a little tricky.
Two weeks ago, Kris and I accompanied Wayne Duffett of TEC Associates on a detailed tour of railroad equipment, artifacts and models displayed at the Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania in Strasburg.
This is just a great place. I’m never bored amoung the beautifully restored and displayed engines and cars. Everytime I visit, I find something I’d never seen before. and I can never tire of seeing a magnificent GG1 electric dressed in the classic Loewy stripes. (And recall the New Year’s morning 43 years ago, when my dad, brother and I inspected this very same GG1 on the ready tracks at New Haven, Connecticut.)
We spend several hours gazing in awe at all the great relics of railroading past.
The airbrake training car was a real treat. I never knew that this restored in fully operational condition!
Somehow, I made more than 300 photos, working with my Nikon Z6 and Kris’s Fujifilm XT4.
I made a bunch of side by side comparisons between the Nikon and Fuji cameras, but I’ll display those images in a future post.
Last Thursday morning, I photographed four trains in 45 minutes. Three were scheduled.
I caught eastward and westward Amtrak Keystone trains at Gap, Pennsylvania, then made a short drive over to the Strasburg Rail Road, where I waited for the 10am scheduled excursion to Leaman Place. As this steam hauled train approached Blackhorse Road, I could hear a second horn to the west.
I surmised that Strasburg’s local freight might be following the excursion. My guess was close; Strasburg’s SW8 diesel was leading a ballast hopper toward Leaman Place where it would clear for the excursion to return.
I can’t recall any time in the recent past in America where I caught electric, steam and diesel trains over such a short span of time.
Last Sunday morning, Kris and I were heading to breakfast. Rather than jump on the four-lane, I decided to stick to the two-lane roads. As we drove toward the Greenfield Road grade crossing in Lancaster, PA, the crossing flashers lit.
I was surprise to see Norfolk Southern’s New Holland local approaching. We didn’t know this ran on Sunday morning.
After pulling in the clear, I grabbed my Nikon Z6 and fired off a photo of the approaching freight. Unfortunately, in my haste I’d set the auto focus-point incorrectly and my result wasn’t worth the price of the exposed pixels. (It was garbage).
From this mistake, I decided to delay breakfast and we turned around, and zipped up to the Willow Road crossing, just a couple of miles down the line. Here I had ample time to set up and frame some photos. I’d sorted out the auto focus. Kris filmed a video with her iPhone.
I was pleased with these images. We’ll need to head out on a Sunday morning again soon!
This is a follow up to Thursday’s post. After photographing coal empties on the Port Road at Washington Boro, PA, I followed the train by traveling compass northwest on highway 441.
Norfolk Southern’s Royalton Branch is a former Pennsylvania Railroad line, once electrified, that allows an alternated routing through the Harrisburg area for freights using the Port Road.
Beyond Marietta railroad routes divide, with one line crossing the Susquehanna River via the Shocks Mills bridge to reach Enola Yard. The Royalton Branch runs toward Harrisburg on the east bank of the river.
I’m just learning this territory, so as of now, I’m not completely fluent as the modern names for the junctions and timetable directions of the tracks. However, I know that trains have a choice of routings, so last week I took a chance that the coal empties would run via the Royalton Branch. Previously, I’d scoped out a location near Middletown not far from the famous Three Mile Island.
Fortune favored me, and I arrived with ample time to set up and change lenses. Instead of my 70-200mm Z-series zoom, I was traveling with my 1980s-era Nikkor f2.8 180mm ED fixed focal length manual focus telephoto, which attaches to my Z-series mirrorless cameras using an adaptor.
This is a traditional piece of glass and offers a classic quality, especially when used wide open (f2.8). However, its tricky to set the focus while trying to expose manually.
I made a series of photos with my Nikon Z6 and 180mm and a frame with my Lumix LX7.
The village of Wanamaker, Pennsylvania reminds me of rural German villages in north Central Germany.
I exposed these photos with my Nikon Z-series mirrorless cameras on our visit to the Wanamaker, Kempton & Southern a couple of weeks ago.
The pastoral former Reading Company Lehigh & Schuylkill branch makes for a lovely setting. Although it isn’t very long, the WK&S is a lovely tourist line with rural charm and a laid back operation reminiscent of branchline railroading of another generation.
Their little World War II era GE seemed a bit out of scale compared with the former Lackawanna coach it was hauling, but the train made for an interesting subject.
I wonder what it will be like in Wanamaker in another 60 years? WK&S celebrates it’s 60th anniverary of operation in September!
Over the course of recent weeks, Kris and I have explored locations on the Norfolk Southern’s Port Road Branch. This is a portion of former Pennsylvania Railroad that follows the Susquehanna River between the Harrisburg area and a connection with the Northeast Corridor at Perryville, Maryland.
PRR electrified the route in the 1930s, and it handled electrically powered freights until the Conrail era. The old electric catenary supports are evidence of this by-gone era. It has been more than 40 years since electric operations ended on this portion of the former Conrail system.
Daylight freight moves on the Port Road seem to be relatively rare, owing to an Amtrak daytime curfew on the Northeast Corridor route.
Last week, I left Lancaster very early and made my way to Columbia, PA where I picked up the Norfolk Southern Port Road line. In the morning glow, I found that home signal was lit ‘clear’ for a train movement toward Harrisburg. Expecting a train, I proceeded against it on the parallel highway to Washington Boro, PA, where I scoped a suitable location near a local park.
I waited for a few minutes, and soon heard the approaching freight.
I set up with my Nikon Z6 with 24-70mm lens and exposed this sequence of an NS empty coal train rolling up river.
Since the train wasn’t moving more than about 25 mph, I followed it along the adjacent highway. Stay tuned for more!
Last week Norfolk Southern hosted an event at its Harrisburg, Pennsylvania yard geared toward training first responders on the details of railroad cars and locomotives, and focused on how to handle a variety of different tank cars carrying hazardous materials.
Representing Trains Magazine, I accompanied Dan Cupper and Rich Roberts on invitation from the railroad.
We were met by Connor Spielmaker and Mike Pucci from NS Corporate Communications, who gave attending journalists a safety briefing.
“Everything at NS starts with safety.”
Key to the event was NS’s special assembled Operation Awareness & Response safety train than makes annual tours of the NS network.
We spent several hours observing the first responders and their trainers, with opportunities to ask questions and make photographs. While I gathered material that may be used in future articles.
I made these images using my Nikon Z6. Some of the telephoto views were exposed using my 1980s-vintage Nikkor f2.8 180mm ED manual focus fixed telephoto lens.