Last week, Kris Sabbatino and I drove east along the old Grand Trunk and paid a visit to Genesee & Wyoming’s small yard at Lewiston Junction, Maine.
Shortly after we arrived, a pair of EMD SW1500 switchers lettered for G&W’s Quebec Gatineau pulled into the engine facility and tied down.
Pretty neat to catch these antiques working in bright afternoon sun!
Later I looked up the details of these locomotives and was pleased to learn that they were both former Conrail, originally Penn Central locomotives. I’ll need to see if I have them in blue or black! Stay tuned.
Exposed with my FujiFilm XT1 fitted with an 18-135 Fujinon zoom lens.
June 27, 2020 was the Conway Scenic Railroad’s Mountaineer debut!
This was the big day!
I organized banners for the locomotive . . .
And a ribbon-cutting photo-op with Dave and Rhonda Swirk at North Conway, New Hampshire.
The guests were boarded.
I departed ahead of the train by road and hiked in to the Frankenstein trestle where I caught the train on film and video. Then, I laid chase to intercept it again at Crawford, NH. A neat trick considering all the equipment I was carrying.
At the end of the day, I was interviewed on the radio for broadcast Monday.
On Sunday June 21, 2020, I traveled to Bartlett, NH on our afternoon train from North Conway that boards at 1230.
My primary concern was to diagnose the sound quality on the train’s public address system. However when we arrived at Bartlett, I arranged with the train crew to jump off and make a few photos while the locomotive (former Maine Central GP38 252) cut off and ran around the train.
A thunder storm was brewing to the northwest, which made for a dramatic sky, despite sun on the rails at Albany Avenue in Bartlett.
Later, I learned there had been some fierce weather on Mount Washington.
I exposed these views with my Lumix LX7. These files are from the in-camera JPGs, other than scaling for internet presentation, I made no alterations digitally in regards to color balance, color temperature, contrast, or exposure.
The other day I wrote of our adventure following the former Grand Trunk Railway line north through New Hampshire and Vermont to the Canadian border but not finding anything on the move.
Friday, June 5, 2020, Kris Sabbatino and I made another go of finding the ‘SLR’ as Genesee & Wyoming’s St Lawrence & Atlantic is known.
(Just for point of reference in this instance ‘SLR’ represents the railroads official reporting marks. However, to avoid unnecessary confusion or gratuitous irony, I did not make these photos using a single lens reflex, but rather a mirror-less Lumix LX7 digital camera.)
Thanks to Andrew Dale—who supplied helpful schedule information and sighting details—we were able to intercept the SLR’s westward freight. Driving east from Gorham, Kris and I waited for the train at Locke’s Mills, Maine.
Finally we could hear its EMD-roar to the east.
We then followed the heavy freight on its westward prowl toward Canada. We were among several other photographers with similar approaches.
A full moon and solid tripod aided my photographic efforts.
Years ago I said to a fellow photographer, ‘When the scanner is silent, either the railroad isn’t running any trains, or your scanner isn’t working’.
Now that we are into the ‘long days,’ I hope to use the later sunset to make railroad photos that are not normally possible during the rest of the year.
Forty minutes to the north of North Conway, is Genesee & Wyoming’s St Lawrence & Atlantic. Normally this is an elusive nocturnal operation with road freights to and from Canada passing 3-4 nights a week.
While in the 1990s, I traveled on, and made a few photographs of trains on this former Grand Trunk Railway line at locations in Maine, New Hampshire and to lesser degree, Vermont, in recent times my coverage has only featured tracks, not trains.
On June 4, 2020, Kris Sabbatino and I set out in the hopes of finding one of these elusive trains . . .
We joined the route near Gorham, New Hampshire and followed the tracks west, passing Berlin, Groveton and North Stratford. Then into Vermont, to Island Pond.
We continued following the tracks all the way to Norton, on the border with Canada. We waited out the daylight at a lightly used rural grade crossing just a few miles from the Vermont-Quebec line.
As darkness fell, we retreated to Island Pond were we made photos of the station and the rising moon. No sign; not even a hint of the southward (eastward?) freight.
I learned the next day, that it didn’t operate, but that trains were scheduled to run on that day, Friday June 5th.
Finding freight cars on the move on Conway Scenic is a relatively rare event.
Other than a tank car converted to the role of water tender for steam locomotive 7470, most of the other freight cars on the property are either reserved for maintenance work or to star in photo charters and special events that typically operate in the autumn.
Last week GP9 1751 switched out North Conway’s North Yard to collect Bangor & Aroostook refrigerated boxcar 7765 for movement to the shop in anticipation of its repainting by the 470 Club.
This made for photographic opportunity, both to make unobstructed views of the car and picture it on the move behind a locomotive. Road Foreman of Engines, Mike Lacey was in his element switching the freight car with the GP9!
I was working with the crew to expose these images, which were exposed using a FujiFilm XT-1 with 18-135mm Fujinon zoom lens.
Clearing the big fill on the approach to North Conway yard has opened up some excellent photographic potential.
However, since the railroad is closed because of business restrictions imposed by the State of New Hampshire to contain the Covid-19 pandemic, I have had to organize a few special moves (without passengers) over the fill to make photos/video for Conway Scenic marketing purposes.
I exposed these views last week in cooperation with Conway Scenic operating crews.
Yesterday, May 19, 2020, we started up Conway Scenic Railroad GP9 1751 to work the North Conway Yard. This was the first time this engine has turned a wheel since the conclusion of our Snow Trains at the end of February.
It was glorious sunny day, with a cool breeze and warm weather; ideal conditions for photography!
I made these views using my Lumix LX7.
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Over the years I’ve spent a lot of time studying railway imagery, observing and analyzing hundreds of thousands of individual photos.
Among the most striking are the works of Japanese photographers.
Some of their most successful photos cleverly use focus and depth of field to place the railway in its environment. In some situations this is accomplished with a single image; in others with a sequence of photos.
Last week, I emulatted the style embraced by my Japanese counterparts to produce this sequence of images at the Swift River Bridge on Conway Scenic Railroad’s Conway Branch.
Here I’m working with three primary subjects; the truss bridge, Budd rail diesel car Millie and a flowering tree. All were exposed digitally using my FujiFilm XT1 with 18-135mm zoom lens.
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The common-carrier Maine two-foot gauge railroads vanished from the scene many moons ago.
A couple of months back, Dwight Smith pointed me to photo hanging on the wall of the North Conway ticket office that shows himself on a Bridgton & Harrison train. “That was taken of me eighty years ago when I was 15.” Well that sort of puts things in perspective!
So on a recent photography adventure with Kris Sabbatino, we paused at Harrison, Maine, the most northerly point on the defunct Bridgton & Harrison. Using my smart phone, I summoned a vintage USGS topographical map from the University of New Hampshire collection and used this to locate where the railroad had been.
We checked a few locations, before I spotted this old causeway and bridge abutments.
On May 10th 1892, New York Central & Hudson River 4-4-0 with engineer Charles Hogan at the throttle raced special section of the Empire State Express westward toward Buffalo. This was no ordinary train, but a publicity run dreamed up by the railroad’s propaganda mastermind George Daniels.
On a downgrade tangent near Corfu, New York, Hogan sped the engine to bone shaking speed; reporters on-board watched the telegraph poles along the line blurred by ‘like a picket fence’, while those timing the run using stop watches claimed that the train hit a ridiculous 112.5 mph!
It was a great story and often repeated as ‘the fastest any engine had gone up until that time’. Papers around the nation reported the feat as fact bringing fame to New York Central and its locomotives. Daniels basked in the glory of his publicity stunt, which numerous railroads have sought to emulate and exceed.
I made these photos of the famous locomotive on visit to the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry in December 2018.
On the day of its fast run, 999 was equipped with much taller drive wheels than seen in these photos. Big wheels were key to fast running.
If 999 had been numbered 38, would anyone care?
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The old Groveton (New Hampshire) station building stands where the former Boston & Maine met the old Grand Trunk. Today the GT route is operated by Genesee & Wyoming’s St Lawrence & Atlantic (known by its reporting marks SLR) while the B&M line is the very lightly used New Hampshire Central route to Hazens, Whitefield and beyond toward Littleton.
On visits here in the 1990s, I’d found the now defunct New Hampshire & Vermont switching the old paper mill at Groveton. But the mill is now a memory. The once imposing structures dwarfed the little brick station building.
I made these digital photos on a recent visit with photographer Kris Sabbatino. All were exposed using a FujiFilm XT1 with 12mm Zeiss Touit and adjusted for shadows/contrast in post processing with Lightroom.
Over the last few weeks, I’ve been closely involved with the filming of training videos at the Conway Scenic Railroad.
This ‘still’ shot was exposed last week. And today we are continuing with the filming process. Of course there’s no actual film, as we use video that is stored digitally on cards and then downloaded to a computer for editing.
All was quiet last Sunday when we passed through the once busy railroad hub at St. Johnsbury, Vermont.
Vermont Rail System services the former Canadian Pacific (née Boston & Maine) north-south line, but there was no sign of activity during our brief visit. However, on my previous trip to the town, I rolled by the southward VRS freight, and featured this further down the line in a series of Tracking the Light posts. See:
Fellow photographer Kris Sabbatino and I focused on the large railway station building that is a centerpiece of the town, then went to explore the nearby former Maine Central truss over the Passumpsic River that represents the far west end of the old Mountain Division—the railroad line utilized by Conway Scenic Railroad over Crawford Notch.
I’d photographed this bridge many years ago, but wanted to re-explore it, as it now has greater relevance for me.
The light was flat, and although dull, this seemed appropriate for the circumstances. In additional to these digital photos, I also exposed some black & white film that I intend to process at a later date.
My April 3rd, 2020 post featured a Kodachrome slide that I’d exposed at Whitefield, New Hampshire back in October 1992.
At the time I made that image, Whitefield was on the periphery of my photographic territory. I was visiting New England from California where I’d been living for more than three years. I arrived at Whitefield to inspect the famous ball signal, and I was fortunate to catch the New Hampshire & Vermont working with an Alco RS-11.
I never thought that I might be based in New Hampshire in 28 years time and that Whitefield would be in easy reach.
Looking back, I find it fascinating to locate these old chromes and revisit the locations today. It’s a pity that there is much less activity on some lines now. So while the tracks remain at Whitefield, there is virtually no traffic and train movements are exceptionally rare.
Last week photographer Kris Sabbatino and I paused at Whitefield so that I could make a ‘now’ view at the same spot as my 1992 photo. Using my iPhone to access Tracking the Light, I brought up my April 3rd posting and used that to help re-establish my earlier vantage point. The tracks remain in place, although it doesn’t appear that anything has used them in recent times and the crossing protection has been removed.
However, except for the ill-fated Alco RS-11, most of the remaining elements of the scene are still in place.
My friend Dan Howard researched the RS-11 and reported, ‘it went to the Lake State Railway where it became their 1195 and was subsequently scrapped.’
I used my Lumix LX7 to approximate the angle of the 1992 slide, which was exposed with my old Leica M2 with 50mm Summicron.
I’ll need to try this again, since the lighting was flat in my contemporary view, and my positioning was only about 98 percent correct.
Complicating this comparison is that my notes from the day are in Monson, Mass., which has me guessing on some details.
Yesterday, I described how my SD card disintegrated and how I was able to ultimately retrieve the photos stored on the card.
Below are some of the photos from the card that may have been lost forever.
These represent the more or less routine scenes around Conway Scenic Railroad during last week while we were filming videos for crew training purposes.
The railroad has had to postpone its April reopening because of restrictions imposed to help contain the on-going pandemic. So railroad’s core-staff are using down-time to prepare for re-opening when conditions allow for it.
My Lumix LX7 gets a lot of use. I carry it with me everywhere. Last week while filming training videos at Conway Scenic, I’d been using it to make still photos. However, on Wednesday when I went to download the card to my Macbook, the unexpected occurred.
I removed the card from the Lumix and went to insert it into my card reader. When I did this the plastic split and crumbled and the card broke into several pieces!
This was a first for me!
I tried to reassemble the card and get it back into the card reader, but this didn’t work well enough to allow my computer to read the data stored on the card.
Then I thought I’d try something a bit riskier. I closely examined the remaining pieces of the card (several bits and crumbs had fallen away, including a number of the dividers on the contact portion of the card), and I returned the card to the Lumix. My concern was that I might not be able to get the pieces out again.
I have a cord that allows me to connect the Lumix directly to the MAC. Locating the cord was part of the challenge, and I was hoping this wasn’t among accessories I may have left in Dublin. However after a thorough search, I located the elusive cord and plugged the Lumix in.
To my delight, I was able to check the card on the camera and ultimately successfully download all of the images stored on the defective card.
The lessons from this disaster:
1) SD Cards are fragile.
2) You can retrieve the data from a broken card even when the plastic disintegrates.
3) It helps to have more than one means of retrieving data from your SD card.
4) Using a cord to directly download the card to the computer puts less stress on this ephemeral media storage system.
5) Always back up your SD Cards and download them often.
In the late 1990s, Seattle-based tour operator Great Train Escapes employed me to provide on-board contextual narration to their guests during their autumn rail-based New England excursions.
Part of the journey were trips over the St. Lawrence & Atlantic former Grand Trunk line in Maine and New Hampshire.
On several occasions we boarded the train eastbound at Gorham, where I took the opportunity to expose Fujichrome color slides.
Last week I revisited the old Grand Trunk station and environs at Gorham with fellow photographer Kris Sabbatino, where we met Andrew Dale who reminded me of my earlier visits to the town. This inspired me to dig into the archives to find these vintage photos.
The modern images were expose using my FujiFilm XT1 with 12mm Zeiss Touit, while the vintage photos were made with a Nikon.