The familiar sound of 645 thunder down in the valley spurred me into action.
A southward New England Central freight was climbing Stateline Hill in Monson, Massachusetts. This is an old routine (and yes, I’ve written about this before.)
When I hear a train coming through Monson, I have a few minutes to get organized. In this instance, a brilliant clear blue dome with nice morning light was the deciding consideration.
En route, I heard the southward train get its ‘paper’ (radio–issued track authority) to proceed toward Willimantic, Connecticut. In this instance, I was alerted to the location of the train; south of milepost 55 (near the Massachusetts-Connecticut state line).
I headed for my preferred spot in downtown Stafford Springs, Connecticut south of milepost 49.
One advantage of Stafford Springs is that the railroad makes an east-west twist through the village on its otherwise north-south run. This favors the morning light for a southward train.
The other advantage is Stafford’s quaint and distinctive New England setting.
In the longer months, there’s nice morning sun on the north side of the tracks at Palmer, Massachusetts and this seems to offer a potentially good vantage point.
There are several interesting structures here: including the former Union Station (now the Steaming Tender restaurant) and the old Flynt building (painted grey and lavender with fluorescent pink trim).
Yet I’ve found that placing a train in this setting rarely yields a satisfactory composition.
Here’s the on-going compromise; using a wide-angle perspective if I place the train far away, it tends to get lost in the scene. And, yet when it’s too close it obscures the old station building. The Flynt building either dominates on the right, or ends up cropped altogether. A telephoto view here presents its own share of complications.
The other day, I turned on to South Main Street in time to see the CSX local freight (symbol B740) west of the New England Central diamond (crossing). This gave me just enough time to park the car, walk briskly across the street, set my exposure and use my FujiFilm XT1 to make this sequence of photos.
Not bad for grab shots, but they still suffer from my visual quandary as described.
Puzzling through these sorts of vexations is part of my process for making better photos. Sometimes there’s no simple answer, but then again, occasionally I find a solution.
In the meantime I present my photos as work in progress.
Brian Solomon’s Tracking the Light is a Daily Blog.
Yesterday’s (August 25, 2016) Boston section of Amtrak’s Lake Shore Limited carried an American classic: the streamlined Budd-built observation car Babbling Brook, a former New York Central car of the type that operated on the New England States (Boston-Chicago).
My dad and I made photos of Amtrak’s eastward Lake Shore Limited (train 448) by the recently restored Warren, Massachusetts railroad station.
I made these views using my FujiFilm XT1. Pop exposed a Fujichrome color slide with his Leica M.
I exposed these two views from almost the same angle on the South Main Street Bridge in Palmer, Massachusetts.
In 1984, Conrail operated the old Boston & Albany, and the main line was then a directional double track route under rule 251 (which allows trains to proceed in the current of traffic on signal indication).
SEPW has stopped on the mainline, while the headend has negotiated a set of crossovers to access the yard and interchange. That’s the head end off in the distance.
I made this 1984 view on Plus-X using a Leica fitted with a f2.8 90mm Elmarit lens.
The comparison view was exposed on July 25, 2016 using a Lumix LX7 set at approximately the same focal length. Although similar, I wasn’t trying to precisely imitate the earlier view and was working from memory rather than having a print with me on site.
Yesterday’s Tracking the Light featured the gripping headline:
“OH NO! I JUST WIPED MY CARD . . .”
And there I’ve told the story of how I accidentally erased my day’s finest efforts (and brought them back again.)
It’s bad enough to accidentally destroy your own work, but it’s especially galling to ruin the photos from such a great day. Bright sun, clear blue skies and a polished executive train moving a moderate speeds.
Simply we’d nailed the Pan Am train at multiple locations in great light, and there were several sets (groups of photos) that I was really happy about.
Followed by the sickening feeling of loss.
The film equivalent of this sort of disaster is the accidental opening the camera-back before rewinding, where-in you lose a half dozen photos or so, but if you close it up quickly you can usually save most of the roll.
The worse film-related catastrophe was when your box of film came back from the lab with a little green slip; ‘Owing to a unique laboratory occurrence, we are sorry to report . . .’
By contrast, my digital disaster was an easy fix (Click the link to read Monday’s post for details: http://wp.me/p2BVuC-4ih).
As I mentioned yesterday, when this sort of thing happens: avoid making it worse by continuing to use the card.
Although I’d ‘erased’ (wiped, zapped, cleaned) the camera’s memory card. In truth, all I’d done was erase the catalog. All of my photos remained on the card. Yet, resurrecting them was a slow painstaking process.
Here are some of my favorite photos that’d I never thought I’d have opportunity to post on Tracking the Light
I had that sinking feeling—like I just crashed into the county sheriff—Knowing I’d done a bad thing and that it was irreversible.
Or was it?
Here’s my lesson for you:
Saturday August 20, 2016, had been an exceptional day. Tim Doherty and I had followed the Pan Am Railway office car train with simonized F-units and a former Wabash dome along the old Boston & Maine.
From East Deerfield west we’d enjoyed a clear blue dome and made dozens of great shots.
Afterwards we stopped for lunch, and got news of a westward empty coal train.
There I was at Buskirk, New York. I knew the coal empties were getting close. I was reviewing the digital photos on the back of my Fuji XT1, watching for a headlight, and trying to dial the phone, when all of a sudden I noticed the back of the camera read, ‘no image’.
It was like a door slammed.
Off in the distance a coyote howled and the sky went dim.
“What have I done!”
Rather than completely panic I did two smart things:
I immediately shut the camera off.
I took the card out of the camera.
I always carry a spare card in my wallet; so I replaced my now unhappily blank card (formerly holding the day’s take) with my spare.
In this way I could carry on making photos without risking further loss. (That empty coal train was just minutes away).
Tim offered me some advice on retrieving my lost photos.
When I got home before I did anything else, I backed up what I could to hard drive on the computer; then I began the slow process of trying to rescue my lost files.
Luckily I’d been using a SanDisk ExtremePRO card. This had come with a link to SanDisk’s RescuePRO Deluxe software. I followed the instructions and over the next 9 hours my laptop was gradually able to retrieve the erased files.
Saturday’s photos were renumbered and mixed in with images from last April of trams in Bordeaux, France, but in the end all of my Pan Am OCS photos were safely recovered.
So more than 28 hours after my near-fatal mistake, I was finally able to view my photos of the Pan Am OCS in brilliant living color. Happy days!
During one of my recent Metrolink blitzes, I rode from Los Angeles Union Station to Santa Ana where I changed for an Inland Empire-Orange County Line train running from Oceanside to San Bernardino.
I timed this brief visit to coincide with a flurry of Amtrak and Metrolink trains. I had just 45 minutes to make images of this classic Santa Fe station having never previously explored here.
I found Santa Ana to be an excellent mid-morning location.
The footbridge is photographer friendly and the old Santa Fe building makes for a suitably California setting. The height of the bridge allows for both distant telephoto views as well as wide-angle down-on photos.
I exposed these views digitally using my Lumix LX7 and FujiFilm XT1.
Yesterday on Tracking the Light I displayed views of Metro Rail from the First Street Bridge in Los Angeles.
Here are few views of trains from the bridge.
This scene reminded me of Germany’s Rhein Valley with busy lines on opposite sides of a river; except cast in concrete, without much water or unspoiled scenery, hemmed in by urban growth and decorated with graffiti. Oh, and the trains are diesel-powered rather than electric.
The broad, largely dry concrete channel is symbolic of the chronic drought in Southern California.
Although unworldly, the environment around the Los Angeles River is undoubtedly familiar to many people because of its prominent role in Hollywood Films and popular television.
I was keen to explore one of the Los Angeles-area’s most recent light rail extensions: Metro Rail’s so-called Expo Line that runs west from a connection with the Blue Line (near downtown) and roughly follows the alignment of an old Pacific Electric route along Exposition Boulevard to Santa Monica.
The portion of the line from Culver City to Santa Monica was opened in May this year, and so still has that newly-built appearance.
LA Metro Rail pays tribute to the old Pacific Electric at its stations with artwork and historical interludes.
Using my Lumix LX7 and FujiFilm X-T1 I made these images under bright sunny skies. Yet, I wonder about the opportunities for evening and twilight images on this line?
The Expo Line’s largely east-west alignment combined with LA’s propensity for air-pollution should present some impressive lighting conditions.
Perhaps a visit with a very long lens during a smog alert could yield some colorful results?
For more on the Expo Line see this article in the LA Times:
Back in the day, Southern Pacific’s famed Daylight was often pictured crossing Santa Susana Pass—a scenic cleft in the rocks between Simi Valley and Chatsworth, California.
Once a remote area, this is now hemmed in by suburban development, freeways and public parks.
Riding Metrolink, I’d noted several potentially interesting locations on the west side of the pass (SP timetable west, today Union Pacific timetable north).
Reviewing Google Maps, I found that views of the line should be accessible from Corriganville Park, located a little ways to the east of Simi Valley. So one afternoon last week, David Hegarty and I made an exploration of the area.
There’s a flurry of Metrolink and Amtrak trains in the evening. We found some locations near CP Davis (location of a passing siding) with an aim to make images of BNSF GE-built AC4400CWs that have been working many Metrolink trains.
I exposed these images with my FujiFilm X-T1 digital camera, but I also made a few color slides that will be processed at a later date.
Back in 1994, I’d made a project of Southern Pacific’s famous Coast Line focusing on the line between Watsonville Junction and Santa Barbara, California.
Traffic was sparse compared with other SP mainlines. Yet there were 2-3 through freights in each direction daily, plus Amtrak numbers 11 and 14—the Coast Starlight.
Last week, I decided to revisit Gaviota, California to make photos of the Coast Starlight. I often require images of this popular train as illustrations in books and magazines, and my 1994 Kodachrome slides are now a bit dated.
However sparse through freight was on the Coast in 1994, it was busier then than now. I neither saw nor heard of any Union Pacific trains on the move during my exploration, and the only active UP presence I noted was that of a passing HyRail truck and a track gang.
Amtrak 14 was on time and the pleasant mix of sun and coastal mist made for a nicely lit scene that captures the spirit of this supremely scenic run.
Perched atop a high hill in a purpose-built building in Simi Valley is Boeing 707 27000 that served for nearly three decades as Air Force One.
Boeing’s 707 is unquestionably one of the most beautiful commercial aircraft.
This 707 was styled by pioneer industrial designer Raymond Loewy for its role as Air Force One.
Loewy is well known in railroad circles for his locomotive and train designs. This included Pennsylvania’s GG1 electric and S1 Duplex steam locomotive, and Northern Pacific’s post-war North Coast Limited streamliner.
Air Force One is a key display at Simi Valley’s Ronald Reagan and Air Force One Museum. I exposed these photographs using my Lumix LX7.
Metrolink is nearly a quarter century old, having commenced operations in 1992.
Over the last couple of weeks I’ve enjoyed traveling and photographing the Los Angeles-area Metrolink. The comfortable coaches, variety of locomotives, and interesting route structure makes it one of the more interesting suburban railways in the United States.
In addition to lines focused on Los Angeles Union Station are several non-radial routes/services, which makes Metrolink unusual among American commuter lines.
All trains are diesel powered with double-deck cars. The newer Rotem-built cars are my favorite to travel in.
Using my Lumix LX7 (and other cameras), I’ve made dozens of images from the train, as well as interior views of the equipment, and of course views of the trains and stations.
Combine agricultural dust from the San Joaquin Valley with Los Angeles-area air pollution and you get some wonderful golden light. Throw in a few wild fires and it gets even better!
All that pollution acts as a huge red-orange filter.
On this evening in late July 2016, fellow photographer David Hegarty and I were fortunate to be in place in the California Tehachapis to make good use of the golden light.
As previously featured on Tracking the Light, the railroad was a bit backed up. This enabled us to find a train at the moment of sunset.
These images have not been altered digitally in post processing, except for scaling necessary for digital presentation. To maintain the rich rosy glow, I selected a daylight white balance, and was very careful with my exposure, which I selected manually to maintain texture in the sky.
And yes, I also exposed a slide using Fujichrome Provia 100F.
Having been stuck in a few Los Angeles area-tailbacks lately, I’ll say, it’s no fun. However, when the railroad gets jammed, it can make for some bountiful photographic opportunities.
Union Pacific owns and dispatches the old Southern Pacific route over the Tehachapis, yet BNSF (operating on a trackage rights arrangement inherited from the Santa Fe ) runs the lion’s share of the traffic. The mix of UP and BNSF plus outstanding scenery and blazing sun have the stage set.
To adapt a hackneyed Hollywood phrase; ‘Light, cameras, action . . .’
On this late July afternoon UP wasn’t having a good day. One of its northward trains developed braking problems descending near Cable and northward trains began to stack up behind it, including the BNSF ‘Earthworm’ unit grain train that we’d photographed earlier in the day (see: The Earthworm and a Joshua Tree)
UP’s southward trains hadn’t faired much better; as a very heavy manifest had struggled upgrade at a walking pace adding to more congestion.
By evening, UP’s northward train had reached Caliente, where it held the mainline short of the first intermediate signal (as instructed by the dispatcher),while a BNSF southward manifest was in the siding.
More southward trains were coming behind this train, as the loaded northward earthworm crawled downgrade and stopped at the pit of the Caliente horseshoe, short of the grade crossing.
Three trains at Caliente and nothing moving. Furthermore, a pair of UP Z-trains were making a meet at Cliff.
At this point it was like shooting fish in a barrel, to use another handy cliché, and the evening light was only getting better.
The magnificence of the former Southern Pacific crossing of California’s Tehachapi Range is the antique sinuosity of the line combined with the bucolic nature of the terrain and unusually heavy freight traffic.
Last weekend, I made these views near Tunnel 2 between Bealeville and Caliente using my FujiFilm XT1 digital camera.
A nearly new Union Pacific GE tier 4 in fresh paint was an added attraction to the uphill Z-train (UP’s term for a priority intermodal run).
Last weekend, I gazed down upon that famous spiral officially known on the late Southern Pacific as Walong, but to the rest of the world as the ‘Tehachapi Loop’.
It was, and still is, one of the great places to watch trains; and on this day it didn’t disappoint. I’d been away a long time and now I was back.
The last time I was here, I’d stayed with my friends Dave and Helen Burton, who lived just over the hill on the north side of the spiral. Back then, Southern Pacific still owned the line, and the merger that was to consume the Santa Fe Railway was still more than a year away.
Now, SP, Santa Fe, and Dave and Helen are all just memories.
It was strange to watch a train traverse the loop. I was delighted to see it, but sad. It was like seeing some weird vision of the future.
So, I made these images—my first digital photos of this often-photographed landmark—while thinking back to earlier times.
I dedicated books to both of my friends: to Dave, I dedicated my BNSF book of 2005.
Last week (July 2016) I went for a spin on some brand new Kinkisharyo model P3010 light rail cars on the Los Angeles Gold Line extension to East LA.
Although the cars read ‘Test Train’ in the destination board, they were in fact running in revenue service. The automated station announcements hadn’t been activated, so instead a real live employee was calling out the stops.
The cars were shiny and still had that ‘new car’ aroma.
Forty years ago in Mrs. LaFond’s Fifth Grade class (Main Street School room 22) we were tasked to research a National Park. I think the big name parks were more popular, the likes of Yellowstone and whatnot.
I asked if I could research and write about the Joshua Tree National Monument. At the time this wasn’t a full National Park, but Mrs. LaFond agreed, and so I wrote to the Park Service and they sent me some literature about the odd ‘trees’ and the National Monument.
So why was a ten year old living in Monson, Massachusetts interested in Joshua Trees?
At that time, I’d taken a interest in the Santa Fe Railway, stemming in part from some Lionel F3s that my dad had bought us a few years earlier. This manifested into a desire to make an HO scale model of the desert. I’d read about Barstow, California, and the nearest relevant Park to this Santa Fe hub was the Joshua Tree National Monument.
Fast forward to the early 1990s. My friends and I made regular trips to the southern California desert to photograph trains, and finally had the opportunity to see a real live Joshua Tree.
Last weekend, I was exploring the Mojave Desert with fellow photographer David Hegarty, with an eye on photographing Union Pacific and BNSF trains. Again I had the opportunity to place a Joshua Tree in some photographs.
Here are several views of a heavy BNSF ‘earthworm’ grain train crawling upgrade across the desert floor. (The nickname stems from the prominently brown color of the grain cars, their curved body shape and the crawling effect of the long slow moving consist across the landscape). I’ve juxtaposed the freight with a scruffy Joshua Tree. Knowing what you do now, which do you think is the main focus of my photographs?
Here’s an irony: after all these years I’ve never been to the Joshua Tree National Park [https://www.nps.gov/jotr/index.htm ] (upgraded in 1994). I have visited Barstow on several occasions. This features a massive yard and a fascinating old Harvey House and railway station, but is a shocking bland town; ugly, sprawling and commercial.
Here’s an exposure quandary. A bright white Metrolink F59PHI in blazing California afternoon sun against a varied background of trees and mountains..
Without careful metering and a bit prior experience It would be easy enough to underexpose a photo like this one. (Producing a result that is too dark)
Why? Because the camera meter doesn’t know the locomotive is white, and if relying on many auto exposure settings, metering tends to over compensate as the white engine reached the center of the frame.
On the flipside, the row of trees at the left could fool also the meter into compensating for the relative darkness and thus producing an image that is too light overall with the front of the engine grossly over exposed.
What’s the solution?
Before the train comes into view, make a series of test meter readings while aiming a sunlit neutral portion of the scene such as the ballast. Then observe the relative difference in exposure between lighter and darker areas, make a test photo or two, and if your camera has a histogram check to ensure that the bulk of the exposure is in the center of the graph. Then set the camera manually based on this information.
In my situation, I made a slight adjustment as the locomotive came into view to compensate for the bright white nose section. This meant I needed to stop down (see the aperture to let less light in) by about 1/3 of a stop.
In both photos, other than scaling for internet presentation, I did not alter the files in regards to exposure, contrast, color or sharpness. These images represent reduced versions of the in camera JPGs (althouth I simultaneously exposed RAW files as well.)
On my theme of ‘getting the angle right’; or rather how slight adjustments in elevation can alter perspective, compare these two recent views of Amtrak 768 Pacific Surfliner at Fullerton, California.
Both were made with my FujiFilm XT1 digital camera and a telephoto zoom lens.
The top view was made from my standing height and aims to include the footbridge.
With the bottom view, I’ve taken a more extreme telephoto focal length while placed the camera very near to platform level. Composition was aided through use of the fold-out rear display. This allows me to hold the camera near to the ground while being able to look down to see the image. (A handy feature of the XT1).
The low angle telephoto is a good means for making a more dramatic view.
Dublin’s LUAS (not an acronym) is the name for the city’s modern light rail system.
By contrast, the Los Angeles Union Station is now known by its initials LAUS.
Historically, it was called the Los Angeles Union Passenger Terminal, and called LAUPT.
I featured this great terminal in my recent book: Railway Depots, Stations and Terminals, published in 2015 by Voyageur Press.
The other day I revisited the station and made my first digital photographs of the buildings and trains there. (A station is more than just a building or buildings).
Here’s an excerpt of my text:
Los Angeles Union Passenger Terminal (LAUPT) was completed in May 1939. It is a rare example of an Art Deco era railway station and one of the few stations that opened during the streamlined era. It’s modern interpretation of the Spanish Mission style design is largely attributed to the LA-based architectural team of John and Donald Parkinson.