All posts by brian solomon

Author of more than 50 books on railways, photography, and Ireland. Brian divides his time between the United States and Ireland, and frequently travels across Europe and North America.

Tracking the Light Reaches 1500!

This is the 1500th Tracking the Light posting since the blog began in July 2012.

All 1,500 posts are in the archives and available for browsing.

Once I posted the pieces to a puzzle and I was disappointed when my theme proved so opaque that no one figured it out!

Today I try again.

I don’t think this one is as difficult as the last.

FYI: Tracking the Light’s official posting time zone is Eastern Standard Time (New York, Boston, etc).

Conrail, September 1989. Exposed with a Leica M2 on Kodachrome 25.
Conrail, September 1989. Exposed with a Leica M2 on Kodachrome 25.
South Shore at sunset near South Bend, Indiana. October 1994.
South Shore at sunset near South Bend, Indiana. October 1994.

To the first reader that sends me a comment attached today’s posting with the correct answer to my puzzle: I will send you a free book. As Wally says, ‘Free!’

I will accept a one word answer (if correct), but a little explanation as to why would be nice.

Please note: the first correct answer must be sent as a comment attached to this Tracking the Light post (not to the homepage or any place else); to clarify, any answer sent by Email, or left as Facebook comments, tweets, comments to Google Plus, Tumbler or sent by snail mail or phone cannot count for the free book.  No ties, no second place. Sorry, but those are the rules.

Tracking the Light has posted 1500 individual stories! 

Amtrak F40PH Heritage Locomotive-Finding an Angle.

So often I hear the following excuse:

“I don’t photograph trains anymore because I don’t like [fill in the blank here]”

In the 1980s, I thought Amtrak F40PHs were just about as dull as it got.

I didn’t mind the F40 per se, but the platinum mist livery with narrow stripes, black cab and black trucks didn’t do it for me. And these engines were everywhere!

They were the ubiquitous face of Amtrak: found on the Lake Shore, the Zephyr, the Broadway, etc.

I photographed them anyway. In black & white and in color.

Looking back, some of the photos have aged well.

Yet, the other day at when I was at Claremont Junction, New Hampshire to visit the traveling Amtrak Exhibit train, I still found it hard to get overly enthusiastic about an Amtrak F40!

None-the-less, I made this view on Fuji Neopan Across 100 using my old Leica fitted with a 21mm Super Angulon.

June 18, 2016, Claremont Junction, New Hampshire.
June 18, 2016, Claremont Junction, New Hampshire.

You know, it doesn’t look so bad now.

Tracking the Light offers daily insight into photography.

Sundays too!

Special advisory notice: Tomorrow’s Tracking the Light is a special post and will appear later than normal.

Amtrak Special at the Bellows Falls Tunnel.

The benefits of familiarity; knowing your locations.

Take the Bellows Falls Tunnel on the Connecticut River line. Back in 1988, I’d photographed a southward Boston & Maine (Guilford) freight in the afternoon and noted that late in the day, when the south portal was in shadow, a shaft of light illuminates the train on the north side of the tunnel.

The location and effect were filed away for future reference.

A couple of week ago, on June 18, 2016, Pat Yough and I were following Amtrak’s Exhibition Train on its way south from Claremont, New Hampshire. At Bellows Falls, Vermont the train paused to refuel, and this resulted in the leading locomotive, Amtrak F40PH 406, pulling past the grade crossing near the station.

I noticed it had gone just far enough to bask in the window of sun near the north portal of the tunnel.

This opened up opportunity for photography.

Below are a examples angles exposed from the south portal, a location reached by a narrow street from the center of town. I like the relative abstraction of tracks and engine appearing to float in a sea of darkness.

The classic Vermont setting of the Bellows Falls Tunnel fascinates photographers and model railroaders.
The classic Vermont setting of the Bellows Falls Tunnel fascinates photographers and model railroaders.
A 2006 Volkswagen Rabbit gingerly takes the turn on the road that leads to the tunnel portal. Exposed using a FujiFilm XT1 digital camera.
A 2006 Volkswagen Rabbit gingerly takes the turn on to the road that leads to the tunnel portal. Exposed using a FujiFilm XT1 digital camera.
This could almost pass for an early 1990s view of Amtrak's Montrealer. (Except that the train was scheduled to come through Bellows Falls in the middle of the night). I like the inky darkness. Exposed manually using a FujiFilm XT1. Careful metering and examination of the histogram will aid in correct exposure of scene such as this one. Most automatic metering systems will ten to try to compensate for the dark tunnel portal which negates the intended effect. Focusing can be tricky too.
This could almost pass for an early 1990s view of Amtrak’s Montrealer. (Except that the train was scheduled to come through Bellows Falls in the middle of the night). I like the inky darkness. Exposed manually using a FujiFilm XT1. Careful metering and examination of the histogram will aid in correct exposure of scene such as this one. Most automatic metering systems will tend to try to compensate for the dark tunnel portal which negates the intended effect. Focusing can be tricky too.

Tracking the Light Posts Every Day.

 

Connecticut’s Shore Line Trolley Museum—June 19, 2016.

 

Back in the day, summer always meant that my father would bring my brother and me to one of the New England Trolley museums. Back then we’d ride back and forth and Pop would read the Sunday newspaper.

I’d make photos with my Leica.

This year for Father’s Day, I brought Pop to Connecticut’s Shore Line Trolley Museum located near East Haven, Connecticut. We used to know this as the Branford Trolley Museum (it is operated by the Branford Electric Railway Association).

FujiFilm XT1 photo.
FujiFilm XT1 photo.
Lumix LX7 photo. Pop remembers Johnstown Traction Company 357 from its days in Pennsylvania.
Lumix LX7 photo. Pop remembers Johnstown Traction Company 357 from its days in Pennsylvania.

Pat Yough, visiting from Pennsylvania, joined us and we all made photos. Turns out that fathers are admitted free of charge on Father’s Day. So that was a bonus.

Pop used his vintage Rolleiflex, which prompted a comment from the motorman,

“You’re still using film?”

Pop responded, “Sure, and you’re still running a trolley. Today is my ‘retro day’”.

They even had an old IRT Subway car on the move. (Pop said, “these aren’t ‘old’, I remember when they were new!”).

Lumix LX7.
Lumix LX7.
NYC subway car interior. Exposed with a Leica 3A with 21mm Super Angulon. HP5 processed in HC110.
NYC subway car interior. Exposed with a Leica 3A with 21mm Super Angulon. HP5 processed in HC110.
Lumix LX7 photo.
Lumix LX7 photo.
Connecticut Company 775.
Connecticut Company 775. Exposed with a Leica 3A with 21mm Super Angulon. HP5 processed in HC110.
Exposed with a Leica 3A with 21mm Super Angulon. HP5 processed in HC110.
Exposed with a Leica 3A with 21mm Super Angulon. HP5 processed in HC110.
An unlike combination; streetcars from Atlanta, Georgia and Montreal, Quebec. Exposed digitally with a FujiFilm XT1.
An unlikely combination; streetcars from Atlanta, Georgia and Montreal, Quebec. Exposed digitally with a FujiFilm XT1.

Tracking the Posts Daily.

Boston Green Line Déjà vu.

After a long interval (33 years), I took a spin out the full length of MBTA’s Commonwealth Avenue Line.

On this most recent trip, my father and I rode from Park Street to the end of the line, made a few photos and returned to Copley.

The trip was longer than I remember; did the trolleys always crawl along the way they do now?

Here are two views from the front of the cars, exposed 33 years and a couple of blocks apart.

View from the front of a Boeing-Vertol LRV on June 19, 1983. Exposed on Ektachrome using a Leica 3A.
View from the front of a Boeing-Vertol LRV on June 19, 1983. Exposed on Ektachrome using a Leica 3A.
View at Boston College on June 25, 2016. Exposed using a Lumix LX7.
View at Boston College on June 25, 2016. Exposed using a Lumix LX7.

Hmm.

Today, Tracking the Light Looks Back!

Amtrak’s Vermonter at Brattleboro.

It’s Amtrak’s Vermonter in Vermont (although those hills in the distance are across the Connecticut in New Hampshire.)

On June 18, 2016, Amtrak P42 number 106 leads train 57, the southward Vermonter. This view is from a parking lot immediately south of the passenger platform in Brattleboro. Exposed with my Lumix LX7.
On June 18, 2016, Amtrak P42 number 106 leads train 57, the southward Vermonter. This view is from a parking lot immediately south of the passenger platform in Brattleboro. Exposed with my Lumix LX7.

Vermont’s relatively clear air and elevation compensate for the harsh visual effects associated with summer high light (when the sun is nearly directly overhead).

On June 18, 2016, Pat Yough and I were exploring locations on the Connecticut River line in preparation for photographing the Amtrak Exhibit train that was on display in Claremont (see: Amtrak Display Train-Claremont Junction, New Hampshire; June 18, 2016. [http://wp.me/p2BVuC-46w]), and was expected to make a run south toward Springfield, Massachusetts later that day.

Stay tuned for some of those views!

Tracking the Light explores railway photography every day.

Acela Coming and Going; Alternative Views at Madison, Connecticut-June 23, 2016.

On a previous visit to Madison, Connecticut, I noted that a long lens would work well in the curve east of the Shore Line East station.

In earlier posts, I presented examples of Amtrak’s Acela against a sunset sky; and a wide-angle view of it blitzing the station. See; Acela Sunset: Miracles of Digital by working with a RAW File and Amtrak Acela at Speed; when one thousandth of a second isn’t fast enough.

The other day Pat Yough showed me some examples he made with his digital Nikon of trains glinting in the curve at Madison. Since to emulate this effort, I’d require a longer focal length lens than I have for my FujiFilm X-T1, I opted to fire up my Canon 7D with a 200mm lens, and joined Pat for another evening’s photography on the Shore Line route.

Often I find that by making repeated trips through the same territory will allow me to make the most of my photography. I can learn where the light and shadow fall, how the railroad operates, and how to work with the various elements at hand to make the most effective images. If I miss something or make a mistake on one trip; I learn from it and armed with this knowledge try again.

I made this dramatic glint photo using my Canon EOS 7D with a 200mm lens. The camera's smaller sensor size which contributes to the telescopic effect. Using 35mm film camera, this view would required a lens length of approximately 280mm.
I made this dramatic glint photo using my Canon EOS 7D with a 200mm lens. The camera’s smaller sensor size contributes to the telescopic effect. If I were using a 35mm film camera, this view would required a lens length of approximately 280mm. [Update; I’ve been given a revised figure of 320mm based upon Canon’s conversion 1.6 factor.]
A trailing view of Amtrak's Boston-bound Acela (train 2168) at the same curve in Madison, Connecticut.
A trailing view of Amtrak’s Boston-bound Acela (train 2168) at the same curve in Madison, Connecticut.

In this situation, I needed a longer lens to make the image work. However since the sun is only sets on the north side of the tracks here for a few weeks, I needed to act while the light was right.

Tracking the Light posts daily.

Why I Liked Budd RDCs—four photos from the lost image file.

It looks to be Spring of 1979: My parents drove my brother, Sean and me to Springfield (Massachusetts) Union Station to catch Amtrak to New York.

At that time most Amtrak services on the Springfield-Hartford-New Haven run were operated with vintage hand-me-down Budd Rail Diesel Cars, the much loved RDCs.

I always liked the Budd Cars because I could talk our way into a cab-run, which was vastly superior to sitting on the seats.

Bummer about the post; but I made this view from the head-end of another RDC at Springfield Union Station in Spring 1979 (April, I think.)
Bummer about the post; but I made this view from the head-end of another RDC at Springfield Union Station in Spring 1979 (April, I think.)

On this day we were treated to running ‘wrong main’ (against the current of traffic) because of track-work south of Springfield.

Nothing finer than a forward view. The top of Sean's head is just visible in some this trips images. He was only nine at the time.
Nothing finer than a forward view. The top of Sean’s head is just visible in some this trip’s images. He was only nine at the time. Here we are looking westward at Springfield. Our train will take a hard left before reaching the Connecticut River and follow the former New Haven line toward its namesake.
We were running wrong main because of a track gang on the normal southward track. Note that this is traditional section gang, not a tamper in sight!
We were running wrong main because of a track gang on the normal southward track.
Approaching the Connecticut River bridge between Enfield and Windsor Locks, Connecticut. This span dates to about 1906. Today it has just one track.
Approaching the Connecticut River bridge between Enfield and Windsor Locks, Connecticut. This span dates to about 1906. Today it has just one track.

At New Haven we changed trains for an electric-hauled run toward New York City. At that time, Amtrak served Rye, New York (rather than New Rochelle as it does today) where our grand parents would collect us. I always hoped for a Pennsy GG1 leading our train from New Haven, but usually had to settle for a boxy General Electric E60.

I made these views from the head-end of the RDC using my Leica 3A with 50mm Summitar lens. The train crews were always friendly and on this day the engineer gave us a detail running commentary about the line, much of which I’ve either forgotten or melded in with my general knowledge of the New Haven Railroad.

Back then all photos were film photos (except for Polaroid, I suppose). If could you make photos like this now with your phone, where do you think you’ll find them in 37 years?

Tracking the Light posts every day.

MBTA at Mansfield; Photographing LED displays—five images.

The MBTA platforms at Mansfield, Massachusetts feature modern information displays.

As with many modern signs used by passenger railways these use light emitting diodes (LEDs).

You may have noticed that although LED displays seem clear to the eye, in many instances they do not photograph well and appear in your pictures as random spots rather than full letters and words.

This occurs because many LED systems pulse on and off at a rapid rate. You eye cannot detect this pulsing and so you see a steady light, but when a photograph is made at higher shutter speeds, the exposure may capture an LED during the ‘off’ portion of the pulse sequence.

Since the LEDs may not be synchronized with each other, the result sometimes appears as a random collection of spots (each is an individual LED) or if they are synced the pulse may be coupled with a scanning effect that results wide gaps of LEDs in the ‘off’ portion of the sequence. (Such is the case at Mansfield).

This unfortunate effect is especially pronounced when the message is scrolling laterally.

One effective way to expose images of LED displays is to set your camera to a slower shutter speed. This will allow the shutter to stay open for a full pulse cycle.

I’ve found that shutter settings of 1/60th of a second or less will usually work effectively. (It helps to test this, as display pulse rates vary).

Below is a sequence of images that I made at various shutter speeds to demonstrate the effectiveness of slower shutter speeds in regards to the LED display. In each situation I’ve used an equivalent shutter speed/aperture combinations to allow for uniform exposure between images.

Exposed at 1/250th of a second. Notice the black line as the result of high frequency on-off pulse combined with a scan effect.
Exposed at 1/250th of a second. Notice the black line as the result of high frequency on-off pulse combined with a scan effect.
At 1/125th of a second the effect is less pronounced but still annoying.
At 1/125th of a second the effect is less pronounced but still annoying. Please note that the bottom part of the message is scrolling from left to right.
1/60th of a second works well instance.
1/60th of a second works well in this instance.
This final view was exposed at 1/30th of a second.
This final view was exposed at 1/30th of a second during an interval when the scrolling bottom line of the message was not displayed.

In this instance the MBTA train was stationary as it discharged passengers.

Obviously, using slow shutter speeds with rapidly moving trains will present other problems. No solution is perfect.

Tracking the Light posts daily.

Amtrak’s Montrealer at South Norwalk, Connecticut—30 years ago today.

On June 25, 1986 at 7:18 am, a trio of Amtrak AEM-7s lead the Southward Montrealer (Montreal, Quebec to Washington D.C.) over Metro-North at South Norwalk.

My pal, T.S.H. and I were trackside from 6:50 am. Our primary objective was to catch the venerable former New Haven Railroad FL9s on the move.

Three AEM-7 electrics lead Amtrak's Montrealer. All pantographs are up. Now, how cool is that?
Three AEM-7 electrics lead Amtrak’s Montrealer. All pantographs are up. Now, how cool is that?
Exposed on June 25th 1986 using a Rolleiflex Model T with Zeiss 75mm Tessar lens, loaded with Kodak 6043 (120 size Tri-X); f5.6-f8 (f6.3) 1/500th of a second. Processed in D76.
Exposed on June 25th 1986 using a Rolleiflex Model T with Zeiss 75mm Tessar lens, loaded with Kodak 6043 (120 size Tri-X); f5.6-f8 (f6.3) 1/500th of a second. Processed in D76.
The Budd-built Heritage Fleet always looked nice behind the AEM-7s.
The Budd-built Heritage Fleet always looked nice behind the AEM-7s.

The late running Montrealer was an added bonus. We knew this as ‘The Bootlegger’—a prohibition-era term relating to the train’s cross-border activities.

Today, this photograph seems doubly appropriate because Amtrak’s AEM-7s made their farewell trip just a week ago.

 

Tracking the Light Posts Daily.

 

 

 

 

Old School at Old Saybrook or Amtrak’s Acela and a Cotton Candy Sky.

 

After reviewing my black & white negatives from the 1980s, I decided it would be productive to use my old camera for some modern photography. So over the last couple of weeks I’ve exposed several rolls of 35mm film and processed them in the darkroom.

Last week I made use of my old Leica 3A at Old Saybrook, Connecticut.

While the passing trains were the primary subject; it was the fleecy cotton-candy sky that really caught my attention.

Successful black & white photography often makes use of texture and contrast. Here the sky worked well.

A New York bound Amtrak High Speed Train (working as an Acela service) blitzes the station at Old Saybrook, Connecticut. Exposed with a 21mm f4.0 Super Angulon. I exposed for the sky, allow other elements of the scene to remain in relative shadow.
A New York bound Amtrak High Speed Train (working as an Acela service) blitzes the station at Old Saybrook, Connecticut. Exposed with a 21mm f4.0 Super Angulon. I exposed for the sky, while allowing other elements of the scene to remain in relative shadow.
Sometimes wires are a nuisance; here they are integral park of the scene. Also rather than emphasize deep rich shadows, I've exposed for the sky to allow this textured area to draw the eye. Old Saybrook, Connecticut.
Sometimes wires are a nuisance; here they are integral park of the scene. Also rather than emphasize deep rich shadows, I’ve exposed for the sky to allow this textured area to draw the eye. Old Saybrook, Connecticut.
Amtrak ACS-64 600 David Gunn pauses at Old Saybrook, Connecticut. Here I've used a Nikkor 35mm lens on my old Leica. Notice how this lens treats the contrast of the scene. Every lens is different, and choosing the best lens for the circumstance is more than merely selecting the desired focal length.
Amtrak ACS-64 600 David Gunn pauses at Old Saybrook, Connecticut. Here I’ve used a Nikkor 35mm lens on my old Leica. Notice how this lens treats the contrast of the scene. Every lens is different, and choosing the best lens for the circumstance is more than merely selecting the desired focal length.

These images were exposed using Fuji Acros 100 negative film; processed in Kodak HC-110 at 1:32 (with water) for 4 minutes 30 seconds with continuous agitation.

Final image processing was done following scanning with Lightroom.

Tracking the Light features photography daily

 

The Happy Twinkle of Glint; CSX catches the Morning Light—June 2016

[Click the link to Brian Solomon’s Tracking the Light for the full effect!]

The long days of June offer distinct lighting. In the morning the sun rises earlier and further north than the other times of the year, and this makes for photographic opportunity if you know where to look.

These days much of the Boston & Albany route east of Palmer is a tree tunnel, but West Warren has a nice vista with characteristic 19th century New England mill buildings complete with a mill-dam on the Quaboag River.

As long as I’ve been making photos on the old Boston & Albany mainline, there’s been a westward intermodal train that passes through the Quaboag Valley early in the morning.

In Conrail times it was symbol TV9 (TV=Trailvan; Boston to Chicago). With the transition to CSX operations this became Q119. Now with revised intermodal terminals and changes to train symbols, I think this morning train carries the Q019 symbol (which runs from Worcester, Massachusetts since the closure of Boston’s Beacon Park yard a few years ago).

Sunrise at West Warren, Massachusetts. CSX's Q-019 has just entered the scene. For me the mist on the river adds a delicious element. June 2016.
Sunrise at West Warren, Massachusetts. CSX’s Q-019 has just entered the scene. For me the mist on the river adds a delicious element. June 2016.

In the 1990s, I’d identified West Warren as a place to catch this train on the long days; where the sun rises on the north side of the tracks for about 10-20 minutes. This only occurs over a span of about three weeks, and provides the backlit glint effect that offers a distinct view at this classic location.

The other day, all the pieces came together. The weather was perfect; I was in place at my location with cameras at the ready at the moment the sun illuminated the north-side of the tracks; and CSX’s westward intermodal train passed at precisely the right moment.

Exposed using a FujiFilm X-T1 with 18-135mm lens and graduated neutral density filter to hold sky detail.
Exposed using a FujiFilm X-T1 with 18-135mm lens and graduated neutral density filter to hold sky detail.

Tracking the Light posts daily.

Tracking the Light Extra: Irish Rail 076: Two Views Ten Years Apart.

Click the link to Tracking the Light to see both photos.

I made these views featuring Irish Rail 076 in passenger service using Fujichrome slide film.

The top view was made on 28 April 2006 crossing the River Barrow at Monasterevin; the other was exposed on this year’s IRRS Two Day Tour at Kent Station Cork (9 April 2016).

Irish Rail 076 roars down road across the River Barrow. In modern times, the tone off of 076's 645 engine is slightly different than the other 071 diesels owing to a replacement engine installed circa 2002. This has a different turbocharger, which I'm told is actually the original style of turbo used on the 071 class. I could always tell when this engine was getting near because of the sound.
Irish Rail 076 roars down road across the River Barrow. In modern times, the tone off of 076’s 645 engine is slightly different than the other 071 diesels owing to a replacement engine installed circa 2002. This has a different turbocharger, which I’m told is actually the original model of turbo used on the 071 class. I could always tell when this engine was getting near because of the sound.
Irish Rail 076 is surrounded by fans, photographers and curiosity seekers at Kent Station Cork.
Irish Rail 076 is surrounded by fans, photographers and curiosity seekers at Kent Station Cork. How many photographers were using colour slide film on this day?

Funny thing; I didn’t see lots of people at Monasterevin that day ten years ago!

Tracking the Light posts every day—sometimes more than once!

 

 

Details Revaled: Slug Set over the Connecticut.

On June 15, 2016, I posted two views of Pan Am Railway’s leased Slug Set working in East Deerfield hump service and paused on the Connecticut River Bridge east of the yard.

I asked readers to voice an opinion on their preferred image, while explaining that one was exposed on black & white film the traditional way and the other exposed digitally as a monochrome image.

I’ve weighed the comments, email and Facebook messages and found that the response was more or less evenly split, with a slight leaning to the top image (film). One respondent voiced a dislike of both images (see comments).

Below are the two vertical images with details of how they were made.

Number 1; exposed on Ilford HP5 black & white negative film using a Leica 3A with Nikkor 35mm lens. Processed in Kodak HC110 developer.
Number 1; exposed on Ilford HP5 black & white negative film using a Leica 3A with Nikkor 35mm lens. Processed in Kodak HC110 developer.
Number 2. This digital image was made using my FujiFilm X-T1 in a monochrome mode. I altered the output through the addition of a digital 'red' filter, that slightly darkened the blue areas of the image including the locomotive on the bridge.
Number 2. This digital image was made using my FujiFilm X-T1 in a monochrome mode. I altered the output through the addition of a digital ‘red’ filter, that slightly darkened the green and blue areas of the image including the locomotive on the bridge. This adjustment was made in-camera, not in post processing.

Both images were scaled for internet presentation using Lightroom.

Tracking the Light publishes everyday.

Amtrak Acela at Speed; when one thousandth of a second isn’t fast enough.

Madison, Connecticut: until June 2016, I’d never made a photo there in my life, and as it turns out I was there twice inside of a week.

This isn’t really a coincidence; having scoped the location on June 7th, I returned a few days later to make the most of light on the long days.

I exposed these views from the Shore Line East station of Amtrak’s westward (southward) Acela train 2173 flying along the former New Haven Railroad Shoreline route.

For this angle, I employed my FujiFilm X-T1 fitted with a Zeiss 12mm Tuoit and a graduated neutral density filter (to retain sky detail). My shutter speed was 1/1000th of a second.

I had the motor drive set on ‘CH’ (continuous high), a setting I descriptively call ‘turbo flutter.’ This automatically exposes a burst of images in rapid succession.

Normally there’s only nominal differences between the frames, but in this situation the train’s rapid motion combined with my super-wide angle perspective resulted in considerable changes in the relative placement of the head-end.

Amtrak Acela 2173 at Madison, Connecticut.
Amtrak Acela 2173 at Madison, Connecticut.
Amtrak Acela 2173 at Madison, Connecticut.
Amtrak Acela 2173 at Madison, Connecticut.
Amtrak Acela 2173 at Madison, Connecticut.
Amtrak Acela 2173 at Madison, Connecticut.

Also, as it turns out, 1/1000th isn’t fast enough to stop the action. Maybe next time I’ll try 1/2000th.

Tracking the Light Posts New Photos Daily.

Conrail-Looking Back; Anticipating Change.

I was on my way to New London, Connecticut in late 1996 when I first learned of the news that CSX was to make a bid for Conrail.

It was a big surprise to most observers. Ultimately CSX and Norfolk Southern divided Conrail.

Armed with the knowledge of Conrail’s pending split, I made many images to document the final months of Conrail operations.

Step back a decade: In the mid-1980s, I’d photographed  the end of traditional double track operations on Conrail’s Boston & Albany line.

Long rumored, the B&A’s conversion from directional double-track (251-territory) to a single-main track with Centralized Traffic Control-style dispatcher controlled signaling and cab signals began in late 1985. It was largely complete three years later.

A year or so before the work began, I was sitting in an engine cab and a Conrail crewman pointed out to me that the railroad had re-laid one main track with continuous welded rail while the other line remained jointed.

“See that jointed track, that’s the line they’re going rip up. Better get your pictures kid.”

Sound advice. And I took it to heart. By anticipating the coming changes, I made many prized photographs of the old order—before the work began.

I continued to photograph while the work was in progress, but that’s not my point.

Conrail's C30-7A and C32-8 diesels roll east with tonnage at milepost 84 in Monson, Massachusetts. In this view, I'm looking toward the Palmer diamond, and in the distance we can see Central Vermont cars for interchange. At this stage Conrail was still operating the B&A as a traditional directional-double track railroad, much the way it had been operated for decades. Yet, it was only a matter of weeks before the old westward main (seen here with jointed rail) would be removed from service. This was mid-1986. By anticipating the changes to the railroad, I could emphasize the elements soon to change; the westward jointed track and the code lines. However, other more subtle changes also resulted. Without the old signals, the code lines came down, and the bushes and trees grew in their place.
Conrail’s C30-7A and C32-8 diesels roll east with tonnage at milepost 84 in Monson, Massachusetts. In this view, I’m looking toward the Palmer diamond, and in the distance we can see Central Vermont cars for interchange. This was mid-1986. At this stage Conrail was still operating the B&A as a traditional directional-double track railroad, much the way it had been operated for decades. Yet, it was only a matter of weeks before the old westward main (seen here with jointed rail) would be removed from service. . By anticipating the changes to the railroad, I could emphasize the elements soon to change; the westward jointed track and the code lines. However, other more subtle changes also resulted. Without the old signals, the code lines came down, and the bushes and trees grew in their place.

Having observed New England railroading for the better part of four decades, I again have a sense that change is in the works for railways in the region.

Will today’s operators remain as they are for long? Will traffic soon find new paths and may some lines—now active—dry up? Will those antique locomotives, more than four decades on the roll soon be sent for scrap? Those are the questions we should think about. Take nothing for granted and keep a sharp eye for images.

While,  my crystal ball remains clouded, I’ve learned not to wait for the big announcement. I hate standing in lines to get my photos or realizing I missed an opportunity when the time was ripe. Act now and stay tuned.

Tracking the Light Offers Insight and Stories Daily.

 

Amtrak Display Train-Claremont Junction, New Hampshire; June 18, 2016.

 

Yesterday, June 18, 2016, Amtrak’s Display Train made a special visit to Claremont Junction, New Hampshire. See: Amtrak Press Release 

Fine weather prevailed and I exposed these views with my Lumix LX-7. I also made a few photos on Fuji Acros 100 black & white using my old Leica 3A, but those are still latent (in camera).

Tracking the Light posts every day!

Amtrak_exhibit train_P1480086Amtrak_exhibit train_P1480088

Amtrak_display_train_Claremont_NH_P1480047

Amtrak_display_train_Claremont_NH_P1480043Kevin_Chittenden_P1480060Amtrak_exhibit_train_Claremont_NH_P1480056Amtrak_rep_P1480064Amtrak_display_train_Claremont_NH_P1480048Amtrak_Exhibit_train_P1480067Amtrak_exhibit train_P1480076Amtrak_exhibit train_P1480077Amtrak_exhibit train_P1480084

Conrail versus CSX; West Warren on the Boston & Albany Then and Now.

Ok, how about then and when? (click on the link to Brian Solomon’s Tracking the Light to see the modern view).

These photos were exposed 28 years apart from essentially the same place in West Warren, Massachusetts.

One view was made of an eastward Conrail freight in March of 1984; the other of an CSX freight at almost the same spot on November 15, 2012.

In both situations I opted to leave the train in the distance and take in the scene.

Conrail eastward freight grinds upgrade on a dull March 1984 morning. Exposed on black & white film using a Leica 3A with 50mm Summicron lens.
Conrail eastward freight grinds upgrade on a dull March 1984 morning. Exposed on black & white film using a Leica 3A with 50mm Summitar lens.
CSX Q264 (carrying auto racks for delivery in East Brookfield, Massachusetts). Exposed using a Lumix LX3 with Leica Vario-Summicron lens.
CSX Q264 (carrying auto racks for delivery in East Brookfield, Massachusetts). Exposed on the morning of November 15, 2012 using a Lumix LX3 with Leica Vario-Summicron lens.

Over the years I’ve worked this vantage point with a variety of lenses, but I’ve chosen to display these two images to show how the scene has changed over the years.

In the 1984 view notice the code lines (the ‘telegraph poles’) to the left of the train and the scruffy trees between the railroad and the road. Also in 1984, the line was 251-territory (directional double track).

Tracking the Light displays new images every day.

The Alco of Eagle Bridge-June 10, 2016-Which of these eight photos is your favorite?

It was my second visit to Eagle Bridge, New York inside a week.

On this visit, We’d driven here on spec looking for Pan Am’s EDRJ (East Deerfield to Rotterdam Junction). No luck with that this time, but on arrival I’d noted that there were loaded grain cars on the interchange for the Battenkill Railroad.

So what?

Well, the Battenkill is known to run on weekdays; this was a Friday, its interchange had been delivered, but as of 1:30pm the Battenkill hadn’t come down to collect it yet.

The Battenkill’s primary attraction is its continued operation of vintage Alco RS-3 diesels. While the RS-3 was among the most common types built in the 1950s, only a scant few survive in traffic today outside of museums. (Perhaps a reader can supply a list?).

Battenkill, while quaint in its operation, is not a museum, but rather a functioning freight-hauling short line railroad. see: Unexpected Surprise: Stumbling on to one of New York’s Rarest Railway Operations.

Photographer Paul Goewey, who was traveling with me, looked up the Battenkill’s radio information on his smart phone.

“We’ll go up the line and see if we can find the BK.”

So we drove ten yards and over the grade crossing near the old station and . . .

“There he is!”

That was easy, now wasn’t it?

Batten kill's old RS-3 chortles its way up the interchange tracks. On the right is the old Boston & Maine station at Eagle Bridge, New York. Exposed on Ilford HP5 using a Leica 3A with Nikkor 35mm lens. Film processed using a two bath HC110 developer mix in a Jobo processing machine.
Battenkill’s old RS-3 chortles its way up the interchange tracks. On the right is the old Boston & Maine station at Eagle Bridge, New York. Exposed on Ilford HP5 using a Leica 3A with Nikkor 35mm lens. Film processed using a two bath HC110 developer mix in a Jobo processing machine.
Digital image at Eagle Bridge exposed with a FujiFilm X-T1 with 18-135mm lens.
Digital image at Eagle Bridge exposed with a FujiFilm X-T1 with 18-135mm lens.
Battenkill collects part of its interchange.
Battenkill collects part of its interchange. The B&M station is directly at my back.
Alco diesels are famous for their exhaust.
Alco diesels are famous for their exhaust. Note the nicely tamped track.
Looks like someone came prepared for the day! I exposed this with my Leica 3A on HP5 (processed as described above.).
Looks like someone came prepared for the day! I exposed this with my Leica 3A on HP5 (processed as described above. By using a two bath developer I was able to optimize the film’s shadow and highlight detail).
Battenkill's former Delaware & Hudson RS-3 is still lettered for the Greenwich & Johnsonville, a shoreline that operated the route prior to Battenkill.
Battenkill’s former Delaware & Hudson RS-3 is still lettered for the Greenwich & Johnsonville, a shoreline that operated the route prior to Battenkill.
I thought I'd try a low angle.
I thought I’d try a low angle.
Now there's some Alco exhaust!
Now there’s some Alco exhaust!

Battenkill runs as required but Tracking the Light Runs Daily.

 

 

This is the Beginning Not the End.

So it read on one end of Conrail’s specially painted New England Division caboose.

Ironically, on this day that ‘end’ of the caboose that was facing inward toward the freight cars.

I made these photos at the end of the day at Tennyville in Palmer, Massachusetts.

The freight was Conrail’s PWSE (Providence & Worcester to Selkirk).

These were among my reticulated negatives in my lost photo file described in detail in yesterday’s post (see: Conrail-Visions from another era.) They were exposed in Spring 1984.

Conrail’s one of a kind New England Division Caboose spent a couple years on the Boston & Albany in the mid-1980s. Sometime after Division Supt E.C. Cross retired it was sent west to New York State where it became the Buffalo Division Caboose. I have more photos of it out there. Most of them sharper than these.
Conrail’s one of a kind New England Division Caboose spent a couple years on the Boston & Albany in the mid-1980s. Sometime after Division Supt E.C. Cross retired it was sent west to New York State where it became the Buffalo Division Caboose. I have more photos of it out there. Most of them sharper than these.
Interestingly, my unintentional and inept processing of the negatives resulted in producing better tonality in the sky. This was at the expense of sharpness and granular uniformity however.
Interestingly, my unintentional and inept processing of the negatives resulted in producing better tonality in the sky. This was at the expense of sharpness and granular uniformity however.
Palmer, Massachusetts in the Spring of 1984.
Looking west at Palmer, Massachusetts in the Spring of 1984.
If you look carefully, you can spot the headlight of PWSE's headend working Palmer yard to make a pick up.
If you look carefully, you can spot the headlight of PWSE’s headend working Palmer yard to make a pick up. That’s the old Route 32 bridge over the tracks  in the distance.

Interestingly, my unintentionally inept processing of the negatives resulted in producing better tonality in the sky. This was at the expense of sharpness and granular uniformity however.

For more than 30 years these negatives were stored unlabeled in a white envelope.

I scanned them last week; and using digital post-processing techniques I was able to adjust the contrast to partially compensate for the damage in processing.

©Brian Solomon 582668
I featured this caboose in my first book on American railroad cabooses authored with John Gruber and published by MBI.

Tracking the Light Posts Daily.

Conrail-Gauzy Visions from another era;—the Lost Photo File, Part 2.

 

Sometimes by getting it wrong, I got it right.

It was Spring 1984 when I made this black & white photo of Conrail’s SEBO-B climbing east through Warren, Massachusetts.

Until a couple of day’s ago, this negative was lost and unprinted, part of a group of Conrail negatives on the Boston & Albany.

When I first relocated these images after 32 years, I was puzzled.

What had happened and Why?

Then I remember the situation: I’d messed up the processing of the negatives at the time and I was disgusted with the results. And, so I’d put the negatives away in a general file, where they were mostly mixed in with similar outtakes from my High School yearbook collection (I was a sort of unofficial class photographer.)

In 1984, I’d typically use Kodak Microdol-X as my black & white developer, aiming to work with this solution at 68 degrees F.

To mix the solution from powdered form, I’d have to bring the temperature up to about 120 degrees F, then let it cool (often in glass bottles soaking in ice water).

I must have been in a hurry, and in this instance, I’d failed to allow the developer to cool properly. When I processed the negatives the solution was still over 80 degrees F. Worse, the rest of my chemistry was still at 68 degrees.

The result was that my photos were grossly over processed, but since the developer was highly active, it affected highlights and shadow areas differently. This provided much greater shadow detail to highlight detail than I’d normally expect.

Also, the shock to the emulsion when I dropped the hot film into relatively cool stop bath solution caused it to reticulate.

Reticulated emulsion results in grain clumping that lowers the sharpness, produces a ‘halo-effect’, and creates a speckled and uneven grain pattern that is most noticeable in even areas such as the sky.

Since the negatives received much greater development than usual, they are very dense, and back in my day printing photos in the family kitchen, were effectively unprintable.

This enlargement of the front of the engine shows the effects of reticulated grain structure. When processed as intended Kodak Tri-X can deliver a relatively fine and even grain structure. Here we have a mottled speckled structure caused by very hot developer and the shock of cool stop bath.
This enlargement of the front of the engine shows the effects of reticulated grain structure. When processed as intended Kodak Tri-X can deliver a relatively fine and even grain structure. Here we have a mottled speckled structure caused by shock from a  very hot developer followed by the cool stop bath.

With modern digital scanning and post processing techniques, I was able to overcome difficulties with the density and contrast.

In the Spring of 1984 (second week of May based on the freshly leafing trees) I made this early evening image of Conrail's SEBO-B working east through Warren, Massachusetts on the B&A route. (SEBO = Selkirk to Boston).
In the Spring of 1984 (second week of May based on the freshly leafing trees) I made this early evening image of Conrail’s SEBO-B working east through Warren, Massachusetts on the B&A route. (SEBO = Selkirk to Boston).

I find the end result pictorial. Perhaps, it’s not an accurate rendition of the scene, but pleasing to the eye none-the-less.

I’m just happy I didn’t throw these negatives away. After all, Conrail SD40-2s were common, and I had plenty of opportunities to photograph freights on the B&A.

Stay tuned for more!

Tracking the Light is Daily!

 

 

 

 

 

You Judge—Slug Set over the Connecticut—Film versus Digital.

Below is a comparison between two photos; one exposed digitally and one made with film. (Hint: click on Tracking the Light to see both).

I made these the other day of Pan Am’s hump engine working on the Connecticut River Bridge at East Deerfield, Massachusetts.

I won’t bore you with excessive detail, but one was made as a black & white image with a digital camera . The other was exposed in a traditional manner on black & white film, processed chemically and then scanned and scaled.

Number 1
Number 1.
Number 2.
Number 2.

So: which image do you prefer? (number one or number two).

Oh, and by the way, it is up to you to decide which was made with film and which was not.

Tracking the Light has new concepts daily.

Irish Rail’s Connolly Station—April 1998.

I exposed this view at Dublin Connolly Station in April 1998 using a Nikon F2 fitted with a Nikkor f2.8 135mm lens and loaded with Ilford HP5 black & white negative film.

Ilford HP5 is a 400 ISO emulsion. I processed this roll in Kodak D76 1:1 with water. Today, I still occasionally use HP5, but now I'd opt to process it in HC110, which I find gives it a broader tonality and softer grain.
Ilford HP5 is a 400 ISO emulsion. I processed this roll in Kodak D76 1:1 with water. Today, I still occasionally use HP5, but now I’d opt to process it in HC110, which I find gives it a broader tonality and softer grain. This image was scanned from the original 35mm negative using an Epson V600 flatbed scanner and then adjusted using Lightroom.

The day was a characteristically bright overcast, a typically Irish day with lighting well suited to Ilford black & white.

Tracking the Light posts every day; sometimes twice!

Housatonic Railroad at Housatonic; an example of Contrast Control

June 10, 2016 was a perfect Spring day. Cool, clear, and sunny.

I made a project of following the Housatonic Railroad’s line up its namesake valley from Canaan, Connecticut toward Pittsfield.

Over the years I’d explored parts of this line, but never put all the pieces together.

So, with the northward freight on its way, and fellow photographer Paul Goewey in the navigator’s seat, I arrived at Housatonic in time to make a few photographs.

Contrast Control

Often, even in nearly ideal lighting conditions, it is necessary to make contrast adjustments to digital files.

You never adjusted contrast with color slides, why is this now necessary?

With slides, what you saw was what you got. The only means of adjusting the slide was through the degree of exposure or in filtration (to adjust color etc). The means was imperfect, yet as photographers we grew to accept the results and refine our technique.

Such was never the case with black & white negatives. The negative was only one step in making the photograph, and in the course of printing, contrast adjustment was part of the process.

A digital RAW file is kin to a black & white negative in that both the RAW and the negative are a work in progress; or can be viewed as a step towards an end result.

With these photos, I made some simple changes in post-processing using Lightroom.

Specifically, on the telephoto view I made the following adjustments by manipulating the slider controls (the numbers indicate the amount of change as indicated by the slider) I brought down the highlights (-21) and lightened the shadows (+36), while making nominal adjustments to clarity and saturation sliders.

All my changes were made globally (to the entire file).

Telephoto view of Housatonic Railroad's northward freight NX-12 at Housatonic. Exposed with a FujiFilm X-T1 digital camera.
Telephoto view of Housatonic Railroad’s northward freight NX-12 at Housatonic. Exposed with a FujiFilm X-T1 digital camera.

These adjustments were intended to improve presentation on the computer screen.

That is on my screen. I can’t anticipate how they will look on your screen.

Significantly, while I make these changes for presentation, I never alter my original files. Just like back in the day when after making prints I’d file the negatives in archival sleeves. I now store the un-modified RAW files on multiple hard drives. You never know when you might need to return to the original photograph.

Wide angle view at Housatonic. This image was exposed at precisely the same location as the telephoto view above. Here I've made a greater change to the shadow areas than with the telephoto view. I felt that the contrast was too harsh and the shadows too inky for the situation. That's my call. Another photographer might opt to leave them as is.
Wide angle view at Housatonic. This image was exposed at precisely the same location as the telephoto view above. Here I’ve made a greater change to the shadow areas than with the telephoto view. I felt that the contrast was too harsh and the shadows too inky for the situation. That’s my call. Another photographer might opt to leave them as is.

Tracking the Light posts daily.

Acela Sunset: Miracles of Digital by working with a RAW File.

The long days make for photographic opportunity. While modern digital cameras have the ability to capture scenes previously out of reach with film. Yet, sometimes there’s still work to be done after the fact.

The other day, Pat Yough and I were exploring locations along Amtrak’s former New Haven Shoreline at Madison, Connecticut.

 

“Headlight!”

“It’s the Acela.”

Working with my FujiFilm X-T1 fitted with a 27mm pancake lens, I had very little time to prepare for my image.

However, the colors of the evening sky attracted my attention and I knew I needed to use a relatively fast shutter speed to stop the action. I set the ISO to 6400, which allowed me to use a 1/500th of second shutter speed at f3.2.

(I set my camera manually.)

While the front of the Acela was exposed more or less as I’d hoped, the sky detail was washed out.

Later, using Lightroom for post processing, I was quickly able to produce three variations of the original image that brought back sky detail.

Admittedly the original file isn’t the sharpest image. But, I find one the great benefits of the digital medium is the ability to go back to the camera RAW file and adjust color and contrast sliders to make for a more pleasing final photograph.

Which of the four photos is your favorite?

This image was made from the unmodified RAW file. RAW represents the data captured by the camera. However, often there is greater detail in the file than is immediately evident.
This image was made from the unmodified RAW file. RAW represents the data captured by the camera. However, often there is greater detail in the file than is immediately evident.
First adjust variation. Using Lightroom, I inserted a digital graduated filter to bring in sky detail and improve color saturation, while making over all adjustments to contrast. I also cropped the image slightly to minimize the intrusive visual elements on the left.
First adjusted variation. Using Lightroom, I inserted a digital graduated filter to bring in sky detail and improve color saturation, while making over all adjustments to contrast. I also cropped the image slightly to minimize the intrusive visual elements on the left.
Second adjusted variation: My overall work was similar to the first adjusted image (above) except I lightened the shadow areas. This is an interesting example of an illustration, but really doesn't convey how the scene appeared to me, as the trees to the left of the Acela were really pretty dark. In other words I've over compensated. This does show the level of information captured by the camera.
Second adjusted variation: My overall work was similar to the first adjusted image (above) except I lightened the shadow areas. This is an interesting example of an illustration, but doesn’t really  convey how the scene appeared to me at the time of exposure:  the trees to the right of the Acela were  pretty dark. In other words I’ve over compensated in my interpretation. It  does show the level of information captured by the camera.
Third adjusted variation. Instead of using a graduated filter, as with the first two adjusted images, I made all my changes globally (in other words equally to the whole image area). I brought down the highlights, darkened the overall exposure, while nominally lightening the shadow regions to keep them from becoming too dark. I ever slo slightly boosted the saturation. While a little darker than the other images, this was is closest to what I saw at the scene. (Also, notice I've run this image full frame without cropping).
Third adjusted variation. Instead of using a graduated filter, as with the first two adjusted images, I made all my changes globally (in other words equally to the whole image area). I brought down the highlights, darkened the overall exposure, while nominally lightened the shadow regions to keep them from becoming too dark. I ever so slightly boosted the saturation. While a little darker than the other images, this was is closest to what I saw at the scene. (Also, notice that  I’ve run this image full frame without cropping).

Tracking the Light displays new images each and every day!

Brian’s Tip of the Day for Better Photographs.

Many photographers typically expose from a standing position, and in many instances this provides a suitable vantage point.

Yet, in some circumstances your natural standing height may not give you the optimal viewpoint.

I’m not talking about gaining elevation; that’s a topic for another day.

Sometimes making a small adjustment, by lowering the height of your camera can make for a noticeably different photograph.

Both images below were exposed the other day from the Shore Line East high-level platform at Westbrook, Connecticut. I was using my FujiFilm X-T1 digital camera fitted with a 27mm pancake lens. This is a fixed focal length lens, rather than a zoom. My exposure and nominal post-processing adjustment were the same in both images.

The first was made from my normal standing position.

The second was made from the same basic angle to the train, but from about a foot lower down.

I was able to improve on this image by lowering the position of my camera by about a foot (see below).
I was able to improve on this image by lowering the position of my camera by about a foot (see below).

I was especially troubled by the hooks of the platform lamps on the far side of the cars that makes for an incongruous shapes. These add nothing of value to the image, and could easily be mistaken for some appendage atop the cars.

Although very similar; this photo offers  a cleaner perspective that is free from some of the distracting elements that detract from the photo above.
Although very similar; this photo offers a cleaner perspective that is free from some of the distracting elements that detract from the photo above.

Notice the relationship of the NH herald, and more importantly the change to the distracting elements above and beyond the passenger cars.

Try this technique for yourself.

Use the opportunity offered by a paused train to expose several images from slightly different angles by making small changes in elevation. Pay careful attention to foreground and background elements as well as window reflections.

Tracking the Light displays new material every day.

 

 

Missing Photo File: Dresden, April 2002.

On 30 April 2002, I found myself in Dresden and perishing low on film.

I’d been photographing in Poland and Slovakia for the better part of two weeks and underestimated how many photos I’d make. (Those who know me well, will recall this being a common occurrence on big trips).

Anyway, I’d found a shop with some black & white film, and exposed a roll of HP5 using my Nikon N90S, (trying to stretch out what little slide film I had left), and making parsimonious use of my 120 film.

This had me in a knot, as Dresden is a visually fascinating place, and I was seeing images everywhere I looked!

When I got back to Dublin, I processed the roll of HP5 in ID11 (Ilford’s relative equivalent to Kodak’s D76) and sleeved it, but I never got around to making prints.

The other day (May 2016), I was searching for some German tram photos, when I rediscovered this roll mixed in with a host of other unprinted B&W negatives from the mid-2000s.

A preserved four-wheel tram grinds along in Dresden on 30 April 2002. I exposed this image using a Contax G2 with 28mm Biogon lens on Ilford HP5 black & white negative film. I used a deep red filter to adjust contrast. The other day I scanned it using an Epson V600 and then adjusted the file using Lightroom to tweak shadow detail and eliminate dust specs.
A preserved four-wheel tram grinds along in Dresden on 30 April 2002. I exposed this image using a Nikon N90S with 24mm lens on Ilford HP5 black & white negative film. I used a deep red filter to adjust contrast. The other day I scanned it using an Epson V600 and then adjusted the file using Lightroom to tweak shadow detail, improve sky contrast, and eliminate some unwanted dust specs.

What immediately caught my eye was this silhouetted image of a preserved four-wheel tram. Searching the internet, I can conclude this is a museum car operated by the StrassenbahnmuseumDresden.

This group has a website:

http://www.strassenbahnmuseum-dresden.de/index.htm

And a Facebook page:

https://www.facebook.com/StrassenbahnmuseumDresden

Brian Solomon’s Tracking the Light posts daily.

 

 

 

Canaan Union Station—10 June 2016

Like the legendary Phoenix, Canaan Union Station has been reborn from its own ashes.

I photographed the original gothic revival station at Canaan, Connecticut  in March 1997.

Sometime after  I made my 1997 images, a terrible fire consumed much of the classic board and batten style building.

This morning (10 June 2016)  I made these images at Canaan of the largely restored station.

Exposed with a FujiFilm X-T1.
Exposed with a FujiFilm X-T1 digital camera.
Exposed with a FujiFilm X-T1.
Exposed with a FujiFilm X-T1.

Tracking the Light posts every day.

 

 

Boston & Maine GP18 at Ayer, Massachusetts.

It was a spirited chase; the day was fine and we made many photos.

But, was it really more than 31 years ago that my friends and I followed an extra freight, symbol EDLA from Erving to Ayer? (That was an East Deerfield to Lawrence, Massachusetts train, which  my notes show as an ‘EDLA-X’, but I’m not sure I have that down right.)

Even in 1985, catching a GP18-GP9-GP18 leading a freight on the old Fitchburg was considered a prize.

The Boston & Maine GP18s are long gone, but a few of the old GP9s are still knocking around.

My dad had lent me his Leica M4 and some lenses. On February 17, 1985. I exposed this image on Ilford FP4 at the East Wye in Ayer—after the freight had made its drop to the Hill Yard.
My dad had lent me his Leica M4 and some lenses. On February 17, 1985. I exposed this image on Ilford FP4 at the East Wye in Ayer—after the freight had made its drop to the Hill Yard.

Recently, I scanned this negative using my Epson V600. I processed the file in Lightroom and cleaned up some of the dust spots.

Something to ponder: later that evening, symbol freight POPY (Portland to Potomac Yard) went west with D&H Alco C-420s in the lead.

Tracking the Light Posts Daily.

 

 

Pan Am Southern; retro photos of a retro railroad; old tech in 2016.

Let’s gaze back in time; 30 plus years ago I was a young enthusiastic photographer with a 35mm Leica rangefinder. I was fascinated by the Boston & Maine, operated by Guilford Transportation Industries (as Pan Am Railways was then known).

B&M’s quaint operations, traditional signals, and antique General Motors diesels had a real appeal. Back then I focused on catching the EMD GP7s, GP9s, and GP18s, plus EMD switchers and run-through Delaware & Hudson Alco C-420s and C-424s.

I made hundreds of images trackside in those days.

On June 4, 2016, I picked up my old Leica, as I do from time to time, and loaded it with Ilford HP5 (often my choice film back in the day) and headed for Pan Am Railway’s East Deerfield yard before dawn, (as I have since I learned to drive 33 years ago).

Antiques still run the rails on Pan Am.

Pan Am Railways' SD40-2s at East Deerfield Yard on the morning of June 4, 2016.
Pan Am Railways’ SD40-2s at East Deerfield Yard on the morning of June 4, 2016.
A real rare pair in 2016; back to back high-hood GP40s. How sweet is that? This is Pan Am's EDRJ (East Deerfield to Rotterdam Junction).
A real rare pair in 2016; back to back high-hood GP40s. How sweet is that? This is Pan Am’s EDRJ (East Deerfield to Rotterdam Junction).

©Brian Solomon 582516

As the EDRJ was getting its train together the morning fog began to burn off. Cosmic light.
As the EDRJ was getting its train together the morning fog began to burn off. Cosmic light.

©Brian Solomon 582517

My lens of choice has a long history.

In the 1970s and very early 1980s, I’d often photograph with a Nikon 35mm wide angle made with a Leica screw-mount.

This lens had gone missing for decades and only recently re-emerged. In the interval it had seized up (as old equipment does when the lubrication dries out). My dad sent it for servicing and its now back in our arsenal of working photographic equipment.

Good lenses are relatively common these days. Most off the shelf digital cameras have pretty good optics compared with many consumer-grade film cameras of yesteryear.

But, truly great lenses remain hard to find.

This Nikon 35mm is a great lens. Not only is it sharp, lightweight and compact, but it has a distinctive optical quality that is rarely found with modern lenses. In short it has ‘that look.’ (look at the photos).

Pan Am's EDRJ roars upgrade through Shelburne Falls, Massachusetts passing an old Boston PCC streetcar that resides at the Trolley Museum.
Pan Am’s EDRJ roars upgrade through Shelburne Falls, Massachusetts passing an old Boston PCC streetcar that resides at the Trolley Museum. I used to ride these cars on the Riverside Line in the early 1970s.

After exposing my film, I processed it with the aid of a Jobo film processor to my own custom formula.

Basically, I used a twin bath developer of Kodak HC110 with constant agitation at 71 degrees F for 4 minutes, 15 seconds. Stopbath for 30 seconds; twin bath fixer; rinse; permawash; and final wash. Negs were scanned as TIF files using an Epson V600 flatbed scanner at 3200 dpi . Nominal contrast adjustment was necessary with Lightroom.

Undoubtedly, someone will ask, ‘but isn’t that a lot of work?’

Yes, it is.

And, ‘Couldn’t you just convert your digital files to black & white?’

 You could, yes.

And, so I ask, ‘do you have any favorites here?’

With a roar of 645 diesels and a cosmic cloud of exhaust, EDRJ approaches the east portal of the famed Hoosac Tunnel on the morning of June 4, 2016.
With a roar of 645 diesels and a cosmic cloud of exhaust, EDRJ approaches the east portal of the famed Hoosac Tunnel on the morning of June 4, 2016.
North Adams, Massachusetts.
North Adams, Massachusetts.
The trees are taller at Eagle Bridge, but this station looks today much as it has looked for at least three decades. I've feature this in my book; Railway Depots, Stations and Terminals.
The trees are taller at Eagle Bridge, but this station looks today much as it has looked for at least three decades. I’ve feature this in my book; Railway Depots, Stations and Terminals.
Eagle Bridge, New York, the old Boston & Maine station is a relic of former times.
Eagle Bridge, New York, the old Boston & Maine station is a relic of former times.
Railroading gone retro! Hooray!
Railroading gone retro! Hooray! Ilford HP5; f8 1/200th of a second.

Tracking the Light has new material every day.

 

 

Busy Day on Pan Am Southern’s West End—ten new photos.

I’ve said it before, I’ll write it again: If you don’t make the effort, you won’t get any photographs.

Yet, there have been many times where I’ve driven up the valley of the Deerfield River in western Massachusetts and was rewarded with only pleasant weather and fine scenery; not a bad thing, but . . .

On the morning of May 28, 2016, an early start allowed me to catch five trains between East Deerfield Yard and the Hoosac Tunnel.

My familiarity with this railroad and the terrain gave me the insights to act, while some clever driving allowed me to make the most of the opportunities that the railroad provided.

It helped to have fine Spring weather, which aided in creation of some satisfying images.

An empty auto rack train was tied down on the siding between Soapstone and East Portal. I exposed this view using my Lumix LX7 with the HDR setting that combines three images exposed in rapid succession and combines them. HDR infers 'high dynamic range', which is one tool available to digital photographers for working in high-contrast settings.
An empty auto rack train was tied down on the siding between Soapstone and East Portal. I exposed this view using my Lumix LX7 with the HDR setting that combines three images exposed in rapid succession and combines them. HDR infers ‘high dynamic range’, which is one tool available to digital photographers for working in high-contrast situations..
The East Portal of the famed Hoosac Tunnel.
The East Portal of the famed Hoosac Tunnel.
I heard a whistle deep in the valley to the east. Curiously, this was a second empty auto rack train that was overtaking the train I'd photographed earlier. In the lead was Norfolk Southern 6900 which features a modern variation of the Safety cab. Exposed with my FujiFilm X-T1 at East Portal.
I heard a whistle deep in the valley to the east. Curiously, this was a second empty auto rack train that was overtaking the train I’d photographed earlier. In the lead was Norfolk Southern SD60E 6900 which features a modern variation of the Safety cab. Exposed with my FujiFilm X-T1 at East Portal.
I exposed this grab shot of NS SD60E 6900 as it roared by, moment before it entered the gloom of the tunnel. I adjusted the contrast in post-processing to make for a more pleasing image. Notice the profile of the locomotive cab.
I exposed this grab shot of NS SD60E 6900 as it roared by, moment before it entered the gloom of the tunnel. I adjusted the contrast in post-processing to make for a more pleasing image. Notice the profile of the locomotive cab. Panasonic LX7 Photo.
An eastward freight approaches East Portal.
An eastward freight approaches East Portal.
Once a week Pan Am runs a unit clay slurry train from the connection with Vermont Rail System at North Bennington/Hoosick Falls to Maine. This often runs with Pan Am locomotives.
Once a week, Pan Am has run a unit clay slurry train from the connection with Vermont Rail System at North Bennington/Hoosick Falls to Portland, Maine (symbol NBPO). This day it was later than usual. (So I’m told).
Pan Am 617 leads the clay slurry train eastward at Charlemont, Massachusetts. Exposed with my FujiFilm X-T1.
Pan Am 617 leads the clay slurry train eastward at Charlemont, Massachusetts. Exposed with my FujiFilm X-T1.
While waiting for the clay slurry train, I was delighted to catch this westward move, Norfolk Southern symbol 11R that runs from East Deerfield to Enola, Pennsylvania.
While waiting for the clay slurry train at Shelburne Falls, I was delighted to catch this westward move, Norfolk Southern symbol 11R that runs from East Deerfield to Enola, Pennsylvania.
Trailing view of Norfolk Southern DASH9-40C 9258 at Shelburne Falls. (That's the Shelburne Falls trolley museum at the right).
Trailing view of Norfolk Southern DASH9-40C 9258 at Shelburne Falls.
I was looking for long sections of tangent track to best feature the effect of the clay slurry train which carries white tank cars full of clay used in the paper making process. Here I photographed it a Shelburne Falls (Buckland).
I was looking for long sections of tangent track to best feature the effect of the clay slurry train which carries white tank cars full of clay used in the paper making process. Here I photographed it a Shelburne Falls (Buckland). That’s the Shelburne Falls Trolley Museum at the right.

Omya_cars_Shelburne_Falls_DSCF8067

Norfolk Southern 11R was held at Buckland. The next siding (Soapstone-East Portal) was occupied by an empty auto rack train. The only eastward freight I'd seen was the once-per-week clay slurry train. 'Do the math' as they say; there must be another eastward freight! So I drove as fast as I could (with in legal parameters) back up to the east portal of the Hoosac Tunnel. I arrived about three minuted before Norfolk Southern 28N (loaded auto racks) exited the mountain. Not bad for one morning's effort! (PS, it isn't always this busy).
Norfolk Southern 11R was held at Buckland. The next siding to the west (Soapstone-East Portal) was occupied by an empty auto rack train. The only eastward freight I’d seen was the once-per-week clay slurry train. ‘Do the math’ as they say; there must be another eastward freight! So I drove as fast as I could (within legal parameters) back up to the east portal of the Hoosac Tunnel. I arrived about three minutes before Norfolk Southern 28N (loaded auto racks) exited the mountain. Not bad for one morning’s effort! (PS, it isn’t always this busy).

Tracking the Light posts every day.

Fitchburg Review: Pan Am, MBTA and New Signals—10 New Photos.

Continuing with yesterday’s theme of change on the Fitchburg Route, these photos were made on an exploration of recent investment along the old Boston & Maine line between Gardner and Ayer, Massachusetts.

In earlier Tracking the Light posts, I’ve focused on the old searchlights and other changes to the Fitchburg Route.

In May (2016) Rich Reed provided a detailed tour for Felix Legere, Paul Goewey and me, and we examined some of the new signals that have been installed, along with other changes, such as the construction of a new MBTA storage yard near Westminster, Massachusetts.

Panoramic composite view of MBTA's new storage facility near Westminster. Exposed with a Fuji XT1.
Panoramic composite view of MBTA’s new storage facility near Westminster. Exposed with a Fuji XT1.

Ultimately these improvements will facilitate expanded MBTA operations on the Fitchburg Line while enabling Pan Am freights to continue to share mainline tracks with commuter rail.

Photographing changes to railway infrastructure is challenging because often construction results in visual discordance. Broken ties, piles of ballast, and messy scenes resulting from digging and other work are hard to photograph in a meaningful way.

New signal bridge at Westminster. Exposed with a Fuji XT1.
New signal bridges at Westminster. Exposed with a Fuji XT1.
Pan Am Railway's freight EDPO (East Deerfield to Portland, Maine) crawls through the worksite at Westminster. Consider my use of foreground and background. Notice the old infrastructure and the new. Exposed with a Fuji XT1.
Pan Am Railway’s freight EDPO (East Deerfield to Portland, Maine) crawls through the worksite at Westminster. Consider my use of foreground and background. Notice the old infrastructure and the new. Exposed with a Fuji XT1.
Pan Am's EDPO at Wachusett; since I last made photos here the trees and underbrush have been cleared away and the cutting widened. Exposed with a Fuji XT1.
Pan Am’s EDPO at Wachusett; since I last made photos here the trees and underbrush have been cleared away and the cutting widened among other changes. Exposed with a Fuji XT1.
New signals on the move. Exposed with a Fuji XT1.
New signals on the move.
Exposed with a Fuji XT1.
Would this photo have been better on a clear day? Mind you I'd be looking into the noonday sun!
Would this photo have been better on a clear day? Mind you I’d be looking into the noonday sun! (I’m on the station platform on the northside of the line).
An outbound MBTA train approaches the Fitchburg Station.
An outbound MBTA train approaches the Fitchburg Station.
Pan Am's POED (Portland to East Deerfield) roars west through Shirley. We learned that the new signals here illuminate when a train is coming from the opposite direction. Good to know!
Pan Am’s POED (Portland to East Deerfield) roars west through Shirley. We learned that the new signals here illuminate when a train is coming from the opposite direction. Good to know!
An MBTA HSP46 pushing the back of a Boston-bound train passes the new signal gantry at the Willows (east of Ayer, Massachusetts). Panned with a FujiFilm X-T1.
An MBTA HSP46 pushing the back of a Boston-bound train passes the new signal gantry at the Willows (east of Ayer, Massachusetts). Panned with a FujiFilm X-T1.

Tracking the Light posts daily.

New Book: Field Guide to Trains, Locomotives and Rolling Stock.

This afternoon (June 6, 2016) received my author’s advance copy of Field Guide to Trains, Locomotives and Rolling Stock published by Voyageur Press.

The book will be soon available from the publisher, as well as Amazon, Barnes & Noble, among other select bookstores and vendors.

In this compact 208-page soft-cover volume, I’ve covered a lot of ground by including not just modern mainline freight and passenger locomotives, but also historic engines, railroad rolling stock, as well as a sampling of light rail and heavy rail rapid transit cars.

Breda Light Rail cars glide along on a former Santa Fe Railway right of way in Los Angeles, California. This is the opening spread to the section on Rail Transit that covers chapters on Light Rail Vehicles and Heavy Rail Rapid Transit cars. I exposed this view in 2008 using my Canon EOS 3 and Fujichrome slide film. Many of the most recent images in the book were made digitally.
Breda Light Rail cars glide along on a former Santa Fe Railway right of way in Los Angeles, California. This photo is the opening spread for the section on Rail Transit that covers chapters on Light Rail Vehicles and Heavy Rail Rapid Transit cars. I exposed this image in Spring  2008 using my Canon EOS 3 and Fujichrome slide film. Many of the most recent images in the book were made digitally.

The high-quality photo reproduction impressed me.

I’ve dedicated the book to my friends Dan and Mary Howard.

In addition to my own photos, and those of my father’s and Dan’s, I’ve also included the work of contributing photographers including: Timothy Doherty, Chris Guss, Scott Lothes, Jack May, Tom Kline, Jim Shaughnessy, Patrick Yough, and Walter E. Zullig. The cover photo was supplied by Shutterstock.

This is the title page of my new book. My father exposed this classic view of Alco Road Switchers near 16th Street in Chicago on a trip there in June 1961. While most of the photos in the book are contemporary color views, I thought I'd spice up the content with a handful of historic photos. This one was made using a Rolleiflex Model T on black & white negative film. I've always like the semaphores at the far left.
This is the title page of my new book. My father, Richard Jay Solomon, exposed this classic view of Alco Road Switchers near 16th Street in Chicago on a trip there in June 1961. While most of the photos in the book are contemporary color views, I thought I’d spice up the content with a handful of historic photos. This one was made using a Rolleiflex Model T on black & white negative film. I’ve always like the semaphores at the far left. (Pardon the fold, I’ve scanned this directly from the book.)

In addition to basic technical descriptions, in my writing I’ve tried to put the different types of equipment in historical and developmental context, while illustrating the subjects using a variety of photographic styles. Many of the images are contemporary, but I’ve also included a few oldies from my father’s collection.

Thanks to everyone at Voyageur Press for their help in producing this fine looking book including my editor Todd Berger, project manager Alyssa Bluhm, art director James Kegley, and layout artist Amy Sly.

Special thanks to Steve Roth for helping to promote this book and for sending me my author’s advance copy!

Brian Solomon’s Tracking the Light is updated Every Day.

Photographing an Ethanol Extra at Gardner, Massachusetts.

A few weeks ago, my friends and I met to explore recent changes to the old Boston & Maine Fitchburg Route (Pan Am Southern’s main line) including re-signaling and trackage upgrades.

Among the first places on our tour was Gardner, Massachusetts, where we found Norfolk Southern 66N, which is a loaded Ethanol train destined for the Port of Providence.

This was led by four Norfolk Southern DASH9-40CWs that were followed by an idler car and 80 cars of ethanol. The train was waiting on Pan Am rails for a Providence & Worcester crew to take it south from Gardner.

Among the recent changes was the installation of a crossover at the Gardner yard that makes it easier to make a progressive move from the old eastward B&M mainline track to the P&W, which facilitates operation of unit trains such as the 66N. This is a low-tech solution, as the switches are operated manually (of the ‘hand-throw’ type).

I made this series of images featuring the 66N with my FujiFilm X-T1.

Static and slow moving freights offer many opportunities for photography.

When we arrived the morning was clear and sunny, but over the next hour, clouds rolled in from the west and softened the light.

The classic 'wedge' a three-quarter view of locomotives in low morning sun. Clutter from old ties and related track components is part of the scene, should these be cropped?
The classic ‘wedge’ a three-quarter view of locomotives in low morning sun. Clutter from old ties and related track components is part of the scene, should these be cropped? Although these GE’s are leading an ethanol extra, there is nothing in the photograph to indicate this is any thing other than an ordinary eastward freight.
Detailed vertical view of the leading engine, a General Electric DASH9-40CW.
Detailed vertical view of the leading engine, a General Electric DASH9-40CW.
Using the FujiFilm X-T1's panorama mode, I exposed this multi frame panoramic composite. This image was assembled automatically in-camera. The wide view offers an interesting perspective on the Gardner yard and the four GE locomotives.
Using the FujiFilm X-T1’s panorama mode, I exposed this multi frame panoramic composite. This image was assembled automatically in-camera. The wide view offers an interesting perspective on the Gardner yard and the four GE locomotives.
After about an hour of patient waiting, the P&W crew was on board and nearly ready to proceed south. I made this slightly elevated view from a parking lot on the site of the old Gardner Station. In the yard is one of P&W's leased SD60s and some auto racks for interchange.
After about an hour of patient waiting, the P&W crew was on board and nearly ready to proceed south. I made this slightly elevated view from a parking lot on the site of the old Gardner Station. In the yard is one of P&W’s leased SD60s and some auto racks for interchange. Unfortunately, the auto racks block the view of the ethanol tanks. Note the crossover that links the old eastward mainline with the tracks in the P&W yard.
Norfolk Southern 66N takes the switch on to the P&W at Gardner.
Norfolk Southern 66N takes the switch on to the P&W at Gardner.

NS_66N_Ethanol_extra_Gardner_Yard_DSCF7673

Trailing view of the leading locomotive easing down the P&W toward the Route 2 underpass.
Trailing view of the leading locomotive easing down the P&W toward the Route 2 underpass. Soft light is excellent for showing detail on a largely black locomotive. This photo was made in Gardner, yet it could be almost anywhere.
Trailing view of NS 66N on the P&W at Gardner.
Trailing view of NS 66N on the P&W at Gardner. The 80 tanks make for a rolling pipeline. How many gallons of ethanol does this train carry?

Thanks to Rich Reed, Paul Goewey and Felix Legere.

Tracking the Light Posts Daily.

Berkshire Scenic RDC at Renfrew, Massachusetts—Real black & white.

Yesterday (Saturday June 4, 2016) I exposed this view of Berkshire Scenic’s RDC using my old 35mm Leica 3A rangefinder. I processed the film this morning and scanned it for internet presentation.

Coming up soon, I’ll detail specifically what I did and why.

©Brian Solomon 582544Tracking the Light posts daily.

 

For details on Berkshire Scenic’s Hoosac Valley service which is now running out of North Adams, Massachusetts see: http://www.hoosacvalleytrainride.com

Also see Berkshire Scenic Railway on Facebook:

https://www.facebook.com/berkshirescenicrailway

Old Gatwick Express at Clapham Common.

To improve this image, I’ve cropped distracting and unsightly elements (boxes and graffiti) from the left and the right hand sides of the frame.
To improve this image, I’ve cropped distracting and unsightly elements (boxes and graffiti) from the left and the right hand sides of the frame. Exposed on Fujichrome and scanned with a Nikon LS-5000.

On 25 March 2007, Hassard Stacpoole and I were photographing the evolving British railway scene in the London area. Among our subjects for the day were the specially styled Gatwick Express class 460 Juniper train sets, such as this one, and Eurostar trains working via 3rd rail and serving London Waterloo International.

While the core of old Gatwick trains still exist, the distinctive styling was removed.

We knew then that both services would eventually change. The Gatwicks  services were re-equipped while the Eurostar was routed into St. Pancras.

Tracking the Light Posts Daily.