RDC at Bellefonte, Pennsylvania

Saturday, October 28, 2023, Kris and I drove to Bellefonte, Pa., to see the first runs of the Bellefonte Historical Railroad Society’s recent restored Budd-RDC.

Bellefonte was hosting its Talleyrand Fall Fest and the traffic around the town was a bit intense. Also tickets for the train ride were completely sold out, so rather than travel on the car we settled on rolling by the RDC at a grade crossing near the station.

The trackage is operated by North Shore Railroad’s Nittany & Bald Eagle and historically was part of the PRR system.

The group’s RDC is car 9167, originally New Haven Railroad number 40, which makes it a sister car to Conway Scenic’s number 23 Millie (originally New Haven number 23), which I’ve often featured on Tracking the Light.

For more about the Bellefonte Historical Railroad Society and their restored RDC see this recent article on the Trains News Wire by Dan Cupper: https://www.trains.com/trn/news-reviews/news-wire/after-18-years-rail-group-resumes-rdc-runs-in-bellefonte-pa/

For the society’s site and ticket information see: https://bellefontetrain.org

I made this sequence of photos using my Nikon Z-series mirrorless camera.

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40 Years Ago Today!

Ok, so now I feel old.

On October 29, 1983, I had only passed my 17th birthday a few days earlier. On that morning I traveled from The Bronx to South Amboy, New Jersey for the final day of operation of the former Pennsylvania Railroad GG1 electrics.

At the time, I had built a model railroad focused on South Amboy.

I made this photo to resemble the setting of my HO scale South Amboy.

New Jersey DOT’s GG1 4877 had been repainted in PRR’s tuscan five stripe and I wanted to make the most of the retro-look.

At the time, I was working with my 1937-vintage Leica 3A loaded with Kodak Ektachrome 200.

New Jersey DOT's GG1 4877 had been repainted in PRR's tuscan five stripe and I wanted to make the most of the retro-look.
South Amboy, New Jersey on the New York & Long Branch. October 29, 1983.

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Big Steam on Reading & Northern—An Autumnal March.

October 21st, Kris and I paid another visit to the Reading & Northern to photograph 4-8-4 No. 2102 in action.

This is such an awesome locomotive in every regard.

We arrived trackside at Hamburg, Pennsylvania just after 9am. This is on the old Philadelphia & Reading’s original mainline.

After less than half an hour we heard the whistle and anticipated the passage of the great machine leading an Iron Horse Ramble on its march toward Jim Thorpe.

What is really cool is that 60 years ago, my father was doing the same thing! I grew up looking at Pop’s Reading Company slides. There’s a lot of history around locomotive 2102 and that’s part of the draw of the engine for me and a lot of other people.

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Norfolk Southern SD40E 6340 on the New Holland Branch.

I was on my way to intercept Amtrak’s westward Pennsylvanian. As I cautiously approached the Jefferson Road grade crossing in Lancaster, I looked left and spotted the headlight of Norfolk Southern’s New Holland Branch local freight in the distance.

That’s some good luck! I had enough time to park the car and pick my spot.

In the lead was Norfolk Southern SD40E 6340—another former Conrail SD50. In its original incarnation, this had been Conrail 6722.

It’s great to live in a neighborhood where you can see trains at random times, and find them by happen-stance.

Now to find that photo of 6722 in blue!

These photos were exposed using my Nikon Z7-II with 24-70mm lens.

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Meeting at Black Horse

By design, this day last week I caught up with Dan Cupper and railroad artist Craig Thorpe at Black Horse Road in Strasburg. We planned our meeting to coincide with the passing of the hourly excursion.

I made photos of the train and my friends.

Craig had brought with him a print of painting that he made of Reading & Northern 4-8-4 2102 at Nesquehoning that he created from still photographs that Dan had made.

After Strasburg 89 passed, we walked up the hill to Carpenters Cemetery and photographed the return run. In the meantime some Amish farmers were working a nearby field with an impressive team of draft (draught) horses.

These views were products of my Nikon Z-series mirror-less digital cameras.

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A Visit with Kurt Bell to Strasburg, PA.

A couple weeks ago, I caught up with my friend Kurt Bell at the Strasburg Rail Road, and later we went across the street to the Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania. These are two institutions with which Kurt has had decades-long affiliations.

Kurt is a Railroad Collections Archivist in Harrisburg with the Pennsylvania Historical and Museums Commission and the author of a book about the Strasburg Rail Road.

It was a beautiful autumn day and we wandered among the antique trains, visiting with people and taking in the majesty of the railroad environment.

I think one of the highlights of the day for Kurt was seeing his old favorite engine, Strasburg No. 31 (a former Canadian National Railways 0-6-0 switcher) ‘in kit form’ in Strasburg’s shop, where it has been undergoing restoration work.

Kurt had a story to tell me about everything we saw and everyone we met. I learned a lot about tourist railways and railway museums that day!

I made the photos with my Nikon Z7-II.

Thanks Kurt!

Kurt with the cab of Strasburg Rail Road No. 31.
At the Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania.
This is perhaps the museums newest exhibit inside the main building.
The cab signal display inside of PRR G5 5741 is desgined to be in sync with the position light signal to the right of the locomotive.

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Last Ride over Mount Holly

October 23, 1983: I traveled with Bob Buck to Bellows Falls, Vermont for the last run of Steamtown in Vermont.

Canadian Pacific Pacific No. 1246 and all three Green Mountain Railroad RS-1s were assigned to an epic consist that ran over Mount Holly to Rutland and back.

On the westward climb to Mount Holly, I made this view from the window of the train using my Leica 3A.

I was impressed by the large number of chasers on Route 103 in hot pursuit of the train.

The day had started out bright, but soon turned wet and windy.

Kodachrome 64 exposed on October 23, 1983.

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Autumn Sunset at Greenfield

In the summer, the sun sets to the north of the old Pennsylvania Main Line at Greenfield. And during the long days, Kris and I made a number of photos of Amtrak trains on their way to and from Harrisburg under wire.

Now into autumn, the sun is in the southern sky, which lends for a new dimension on this Greenfield location,

I made this photo of westward Keystone train 667 zipping along the old Pennsy with a nicely illuminated autumn evening sky.

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Across a Vast Expanse

In March 1997, I was traveled from California to Denver with photographer Mel Patrick. We were returning from WinterRail ’97, which was one of the great rail-photographic venues of the 1990s.

A decade earlier Mel had published some memorable photographs of the Western Pacific in the pages of CTC Board magazine and on this trip he and I revisited some stunning locations.

This view looks timetable-west on Union Pacific’s former WP main line. We were perched atop a hill near West Wendover Nevada/Utah to photograph an eastward Union Pacific intermodal train inching its way across the vast expanse of desert in eastern Nevada.

For point of reference, the headend of the freight is just over three miles from our vantage point. The near row of mountains is at least a dozen miles away, while the distant snow-crested mountains, including Spruce Mountain were about 60 miles distant.

I made the photograph on Kodachrome 25 using a Nikkor 105mm telephoto.

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Keystone at Bird-in-Hand

Bird-in-Hand is a classic Pennsy Main Line location.

The 1920s-era grade separation with concrete stairwells over Pennsylvania Route 340 is largely intact.

The once four-main railroad snakes through a gentle curve, which can make for a dynamic setting. I caught eastward Amtrak Keystone 670 shortly after its Lancaster, Pa., station stop.

The zebra striped cab-car works well in the autumnal scene.

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Seeing with a 300mm.

In September 1990, I made a trip over Donner Pass.

What was special about this trip was photographing the familiar piece of railroad on Donner in new way.

Between Autumn of 1989 and Autumn 1990, I made dozens of trips over California’s Donner Pass to photograph Southern Pacific trains. What was visually significant about the Sept 1st, 1990 trip was that I’d borrowed a Nikkor f4.5 300mm lens from Brian Jennison, with whom I was traveling.

Over the course of a long weekend, I used this novel focal length to take ‘new’ photos of familiar places.

Among the variety of 300mm views, was this photo that I made at 7:37am on September 1, 1990 of SP 6713 west at Yuba Pass, California. It was one of several from a fixed tripod sequence.

The novelty of the extreme telephoto compression had caught my interest and I made the most of this borrowed lens. Up until that time, the longest lens in my camera bag was a Nikkor f4.0 200mm.

It was only on reviewing my notes from this trip did I realize how much this telephoto had impressed me on that trip. Ironically, a new Nikkor 300mm was completely out of my price range at the time.

It is interesting to see how working with this one lens influenced the way I made photos on that trip.

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‘Strasburg Freight’ Rhymes with ‘SW8’

Strasburg Rail Road operates its freight on weekdays between the East Strasburg Station and the Norfolk Southern interchange at Leaman Place Junction (pronounced like ‘lemon’), in Paradise, Pennsylvania.

My friend Dan Cupper featured Strasburg’s freight operations in the October 2023 Trains Magazine in his article titled ‘The Strasburg Rail Road You Don’t Know.’

He tells the history and inside story in this well written and illustrated feature.

Most of the time I’ve photographed Strasburg’s freight has been by dumb luck. On this occasion, I paused at Black Horse Road to roll by a steam excursion, when I heard the bark of a diesel horn approaching Cherry Hill Road crossing.

On this afternoon, the freight led by SW8 8618, was working ahead of the passenger train , so I walked down the hill from the Black Horse Road crossing and made these photos using my Nikon Z6 with 70-200mm lens.

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Clear Morning at Jefferson Drive

Clear autumn mornings are one of my favorite times to make photographs.

The other day, everything came together: the weather was perfect, and Norfolk Southern’s New Holland Branch local was right on time. This featured classic EMD diesels back to back, and I had just enough time to get into position at Jefferson Drive to catch the train in lush setting.

I made this sequence of photos as the train squealed through the curve on its way toward New Holland, Pennsylvania.

Nikon Z7-II with 24-70mm Z-series zoom set to 46mm; f5.0 1/1000th sec, ISO 200.
Nikon Z7-II with 24-70mm Z-series zoom set to 24mm; f5.0 1/800th sec, ISO 200.
Nikon Z7-II with 24-70mm Z-series zoom set to 30mm; f5.0 1/800th sec, ISO 200.
Nikon Z7-II with 24-70mm Z-series zoom set to 32mm; f5.0 1/800th sec, ISO 200.

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Steam Pan at Paradise Lane

Strasburg Rail Road’s Mogul No. 89 was sprinting toward the East Strasburg station near the grade crossing with Paradise Lane.

I wanted to capture the spirit of the moment and the motion of the engine. The backdrop of Red Caboose Motel and flags flapping in the wind was a bonus.

I like the burst of steam from the whistle.

Nikon Z7-II with 24-70mm set at 70mm, f10 1/40th of second, ISO 100.

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Amtrak 448 at the Warren Crossovers—1983.

This was a just a routine scene from 40 years ago: Amtrak’s eastward Lake Shore Limited (Boston section) train 448 at the Warren Crossovers.

Back in the days when Conrail’s former Boston & Albany was still operated as a traditional directional double-track mainline (under rule 251), there were manual cross-overs at strategic locations, including Warren, Mass.

Historically (pre-1960), the Warren Crossovers also served the Warren Yard and the long unsignaled eastward running track from West Warren that had allowed slow moving freights to keep out of the way of faster eastward trains.

These crossovers were removed after Conrail installed TCS signals and single-tracked the B&A east of Palmer in 1986.

I made these photos on Kodachrome using my Leica 3A during the second week of October 1983.

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Classic Chrome—Cass Street Hornell

Here’s another classic K25 slide from that wonderfully perfect autumn day on October 14, 1988.

I’d been following Delaware & Hudson PLMT (Pittsburgh & Lake Erie-Mount Tom) unit coal train that was rolling east on Conrail’s Southern Tier (former Erie Railroad) main line.

The old Cass Street Tower had controlled the Junction where the original Erie Maine Line that went west via Andover, New York diverged from Erie’s Buffalo Line that went via River Junction and Attica, New York. By 1988, the Buffalo Line was the preferred route for most freights.

Delaware & Hudson had trackage rights on Conrail between Buffalo and Binghamton, NY. By mid-1988, Guilford Transportation Industries had relinquished control of the D&H, and New York, Susquehanna & Western was the court appointed operator of the line.

NY&W had acquired a fleet of former Burlington Northern SD45/F45s that it assigned to road freights.

I was fan of the SD45, and when I caught this coal train slogging east on the old Erie, I did my best to keep up with it, making photographs with my old Leica M2 along the way. This view at Cass Street was one of just 16 places I photographed the train that morning.

Cass Street, Hornell, New York at 10:30am on October 14, 1988. Leica M2 with 50mm lens, Kodachrome 25 f4.5 1/250 sec.

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2102-Majesty of the Machine in Motion

Reading & Northern’s class T-1 2102 is an awe inspiring locomotive.

On October 1, 2023, Kris and I were poised to photograph this machine as it worked former the Central Railroad of New Jersey line near Nequehoning, PA.

Rich autumn sunlight and a hint of autumn foliage made for excellent conditions.

The locomotive crew made a show of steam and smoke as the engine passed us.

Nikon Z-6 with 70-200mm Z-series zoom set to 200mm; f5.6 1/250 sec ISO 200.
Nikon Z7-II with 24-70mm Z-series zoom set to 45mm; f4.5 1/640 sec ISO 200
Nikon Z7-II with 24-70mm Z-series zoom set to 24mm; f4.5 1/640 sec ISO 200

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Indian Summer for GE’s Genesis™

Amtrak’s General Electric Genesis™ diesels are reaching the end of their useful lives.

Yet, as of this writing in October 2023, these 1990s-vintage diesels still regularly work the Pennsylvanian between Philadelphia and Pittsburgh.

During the high midday light of summer, I didn’t expend time to photograph the passage of the Pennsylvanian, Amtrak trains 42 and 43, which normally pass one another not far from where we now live in Lancaster, PA. However, last week, I picked a bright afternoon to photograph both trains at Gap, similar to what I had done back in January.

Amtrak train 43—the Pennsylvanian—westbound at Gap, PA.
Amtrak train 43—the Pennsylvanian—westbound at Gap, PA.
Amtrak train 43—the Pennsylvanian—westbound at Gap, PA.
Amtrak train 43—the Pennsylvanian—westbound at Gap, PA.
Amtrak train 42—the Pennsylvanian—eastbound at Gap, PA.
Amtrak train 42—the Pennsylvanian—eastbound at Gap, PA.

Both trains were captured using my Nikon Z7II with 24-70mm Nikkor Z-series zoom.

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Leola and the Local

Over the last few months, I’ve paid several visits to the old station at Leola, Pennsylvania on the old PRR New Holland Branch. In 1914, there were two scheduled passenger trains in each direction on the branch that stopped at Leola.

Westward trains from Downingtown stopped at 950am and 358pm, while eastward trains from Lancaster stopped at 530 and 1110am. The line no longer goes east of New Holland, the passenger trains are long gone, and these days train movements are fewer and less predictable.

So while I’ve made few photos of freight on the branch, until last week, I hadn’t managed to catch a train at the old station .

I was delighted to find that Norfolk Southern’s New Holland Branch local had stopped just short of the Maple Ave grade crossing by the station, and I parked and made these photos using my Nikon Z7-II.

Although this location is nice and open, high-voltage electric lines run parallel to the railroad which make for a compositional challenge.

Is it better to try to exclude or minimize the lines, or accept them as part of the environment and include them in the photographs?

Of the three photos, I like this low-angle view the best.

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Reading 2102 with Pumpkins

Near the Church Road crossing in Hometown, PA, we scored Reading & Northern 2102 passing a pumpkin field.

I made the wide angle view of the steam locomotive using my Nikon Z7-II with 24-70mm set at 40mm. For the telephoto view of the former Milwaukee Road Super Dome, I used my Nikon Z6 with 70-200mm lens set at 135mm.

Bright sun and an early autumnal setting made for some wonderful photos of Reading & Northern’s Iron Horse Ramble!

40mm view with Pumpkins.
135mm view.

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September Views from Marian

Early in September, Kris and I went for an evening spin to Leaman Place aboard Strasburg Rail Road’s well appointed First Class parlor car Marian.

The sun was low, the scenery was pastoral.

At Leaman Place locomotive 475 ran around the train.

The world seems different on the train than it does from lineside.

The line seems different during various times of day and in the fours seasons.

Photos exposed digitally using a Nikon Z7-II mirrorless camera.

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Stainless Steel, Platinum Mist and the Silver Lining to a Puffy Cloud.

Amtrak Keystone 650 was running a wee bit behind the advertised.

I was set up at Leaman Place, east of Lancaster, Pennsylvania.

There had been brilliant bright sun light— and there still was all around me—but in the interval between when the train was scheduled to pass my location and when it actually raced by, a puffy cloud had found its way between me and the sun.

There’s an (unmentionable) phrase for this.

Anyway, my going away (trailing) views made use of the softened directional light, which treated the metallic train nicely.

I made these photos with my Z7II and 24-70mm lens set at 40mm; ISO 200, f4 1/1600th sec.

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NS Local at Horseshoe Road

Leaving the supermarket, I heard an engine sounding for Greenfield Road.

It was about the time I normally hear Norfolk Southern’s New Holland Branch local heads toward its Pennsylvania namesake.

I drove via Hartman Station Road and spotted the train with an NS SD40E running long-hood first.

Turning onto Horseshoe Road, I continued in the direction of the local freight’s eastward path.

I arrived at the Horseshoe Road grade crossing with enough time to set up a shot looking across freshly mowed grass.

That’s old Conrail SD50 number 6729 (built in 1983), reincarnated as Norfolk Southern SD40E 6312!

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Iron Horse on the roll!

Reading & Northern’s recreated Iron Horse Rambles are real throwback to the early 1960s.

Sunday, as we stayed well ahead of former Reading Company 4-8-4 No. 2102 as it worked toward Tamaqua and Jim Thorpe, Pat Yough led us to inspect several locations on the old Reading Co.’s Little Schuylkill Branch. These are places that I recognized from my father’s photos of Reading’s Iron Horse Rambles of 60+ years ago.

We settled on the popular location at Reynolds (near Atlas), not far from South Tamaqua, Pennsylvania.

Many photographers were set up for a classic 3/4 angle. Having followed that formula on previous trips, this time Kris and I opted for a broadside view where the BIG 4-8-4 would be lit by the morning sun.

I made this sequences with my Nikon Z7-II with 24-70mm lens and Nikon Z6 with 70-200mm lens.

Nikon Z7-II with 24-70mm lens
Nikon Z7-II with 24-70mm lens
Nikon Z6 with 70-200mm lens.
Nikon Z6 with 70-200mm lens
Nikon Z6 with 70-200mm lens

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Saving an old Chrome

It was a cosmic moment.

At 9:35 am on September 5, 1987, I was standing on the old bridge over Conrail’s former Erie Railroad mainline at Carsons, east of Canisteo.

Heavy fog over New York’s Canisteo Valley was lifting as the late-summer monring sun peaked out from behind some clouds.

A westward empty Delaware & Hudson coal train from New England led by Pittsburg & Lake Erie GP38/GP38-2ss was roaring west, as a Sealand double-stack with New York, Susquehanna & Western former Burlington Northern SD45s glided below me.

I had my Leica M2 loaded with Kodachrome 25. In my haste to capture the scene, I’d failed to take into account the effects of fog and bright morning sun. The result was a very over-exposed color slide. Since the very nature of the Kodachrome process linked saturation with exposure, my photograph has a bleached look to it.

For more than 36 years this languished in a file of rejected slides. I nearly pitched it in a purge of my collection back in the early 1990s.

The only reason I kept it was because—despite its technical flaws—it had captured the spirit of the moment.

The other night, I scanned the image and then imported the hi-res scan into Adobe Lightroom for some necessary posts processing corrections.

Whoops! I missed my exposure altogether.

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New Oxford Station

Driving west on Highway 30, Kris and I passed the old Western Maryland station at New Oxford, Pennsylvania.

On the way back, we stopped for a few minutes to walk Boomer-the-dog and make a few photos of the historic station and environs.

Someday, I’d like to return to catch a CSX freight rolling by the old station.

Photos exposed using a Nikon Z6 with 70-200mm Z-series zoom.

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Reading & Northern T-1 2102 on the move—October 1, 2023.

Sunday, Kris and I joined our friends Pat Yough and Tom Kline and followed Reading & Northern’s famous 4-8-4 2102 on its run from Reading Outer Station to Jim Thorpe.

The light was perfect—clear and sunny; the locomotive highly polished. Pat lead us to some great line-side locations. Our first was at Hamburg, PA, near where the old Reading Company mainline passes beneath Highway 61.

I made this sequence using my Nikon Z-series cameras.

Nikon Z7II with 24-70mm Z-series zoom.
Nikon Z6 with 70-200mm Z-series zoom.

More photos to follow over the coming days!

Amtrak 915 in Delaware

In the fading of sun of December 22, 1992, I made this Kodachrome slide of Amtrak AEM-7 915 slowing for its Newark, Delaware station stop on its way toward Philadelphia and New York’s Penn-Station. In the distance is a Conrail local freight.

Nikon F3T with Nikon f4.0 200mm lens.

Working with glint light was always a challenge. And I’d made a series of exposures of the train. This is probably my darkest; f8 1/125 with K25.

Greatly enlarged section of the same scanned slide.

On Wednesday, I stopped by the Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania to continue research for my next book, and paused to make these contemporary photos of old 915 using my Lumix LX7.

I also featured 915 then and now photos on Tracking the Light back in April. See: http://briansolomon.com/trackingthelight/amtrak-915-1981-and-2023/

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