In 1991, Southern Pacific was still routing through freight over its West Valley route between Tehama and Davis, California.
Photographer Brian Jennison and I were on our way to photograph streamlined steam locomotive 4449 at Redding on August 31, 1991 (featured yesterday on TTL), when we intercepted a westward SP freight working its way along the West Valley route.
Although we were a little tight on time for the steam locomotive, we decided to make the most of this fortuitous find, and photographed the freight twice, once just south (timetable west) of Willows, California and again 15 minutes later near Delavan.
This was one of just a few SP trains that I photographed on the West Valley route that was sold off a couple of years later to a short line start-up called California Northern. I revisited this territory in 2003 and again in 2005, to photograph and travel on California Northern’s local freight.
Photos were exposed on black & white film with a Leica M2 fitted with 50mm Summicron, and cropped slightly for effect.
Working at Conway Scenic Railroad, I see former Maine Central GP38 252 almost every day.
My familiarity with 252, makes this image of sister locomotive 262 interesting to me today.
I exposed this on February 17, 1985 with with my father’s Leica M3 loaded Kodak Plus X. My friends and I had been following an eastward Boston & Maine freight symbol EDAY that was led by a GP18-GP9- GP18 combination.
Along the way, we found this eastward freight tied down without a crew. It was led by MEC 262. I don’t really remember that part of the day, and I can’t place this location. Somewhere I took notes, but most of my notes from January to October of 1985 are missing.
My guess is that this west of the passenger station in Ayer, Massachusetts, as I made a variety of photos in Ayer that day.
Back in 1985, a backlit Maine Central GP38 with its headlight off wasn’t worth a lot of my attention, but at least I made this image.
East of the station and yard at Palmer, Massachusetts, Conrail’s former Boston & Albany passed the abutments of the Southern New England—a pre-World War I railroad scheme aimed at connecting Palmer with Providence.
Bob Buck referred to this location (milepost 81.81/81.82) as Electric Light Hill. It was near a electric substation, and not far from where the old interurban electric line crossed the Quaboag River.
I made these photos on a Spring 1982 evening. Conrail freights had backed up at the block signals, likely because the Central Vermont was occupying the Palmer diamond to the west..
While I recall relatively little about the events, I do remember the excitement of seeing a second headlight to the east after the first westbound had passed me.
I made these photos with my Leica 3A on black & white film, probably Kodak Tri-X, which I would have processed in Kodak Microdol-X. In those days, I had a tendency to over process the film which made for some pretty dense highlights and relatively grainy photos.
Toward the end of April, for the second morning in a row, I was in position at ‘the box’ on St Johns Road in Dublin to witness the passing of Irish Rail’s down IWT liner.
It was a cosmic alignment. The sun came out just as three trains converged upon Islandbridge Junction. The first was an ICR that emerged from the Phoenix Park Tunnel and stopped across from Platform 10. The second was an ICR heading toward the tunnel.
Then the down IWT liner emerged from the tunnel weaved around both ICRs on its way through the junction.
Sometimes, it helps to be in place at the best spot and just wait out the action.
Exposed in April 2022 using a Lumix LX7 digital camera.
A few weeks ago I scanned a strip of 120-size Fuji Neopan 100 using my Epson V600 Scanner.
This featured some coming and going views of First Great Western HST in Newport, Wales, UK that I exposed using my Rolleiflex Model T.
One of the features of Epson Scan 2 software is the ability to apply an ‘unsharp mask’ at the time of scanning. Despite its confusing name, the unsharp mask is a digital sharpening tool. The software allows for three degrees of sharpening with the mask, ‘low,’ ‘medium’ and ‘high’.
Normally, I select ‘low,’ which I find makes for a better looking scan.
Another option is to scan without the unsharp mask, and apply sharpening in post processing.
The unsharp mask adds an edge effect that makes the photo appear sharper. It doesn’t actually add detail.
Below are three sequences of images showing the image without unsharp mask; with the ‘low’ unsharp mask, and an image created in post processing by applying sharpening after scanning. Each of the three sequences shows first the full frame scan followed by a greatly enlarged portion to allow for a detailed inspection and comparison. Each is captioned for clarity.
NI Railways’ former Great Northern Railway (of Ireland) station at Lisburn is a classic that retains its traditional appearance including platform canopies and footbridge.
I made this view on a visit in Spring 2001. Working with my Rollei Model T, I exposed a geometerically balanced composition, where I’ve used the canopy supports as a visual partition that divides the photo evenly at the center.
Perfectly centered compositions are frowned upon in some circles, but I’ve occasionally executed successful and visually dynamic photos using this technique. In this instance I don’t think my photo could have been improved by off-center placement of the column.
Since background elements vary considerably on the right and left sides, the centered composition helps weigh the intrigue of one side versus the other.
Do you think this image would be improved if I had included a train?
On an evening in Spring 2001, I made this monochrome silhouette at Dublin’s Heuston Station using my Rollei Model T. The photo brings back memories of another time.
The place has much changed in the intervening 21 years since the click of the shutter.
This shows Irish Rail class 141/181s working as shunters, a practice that ended about a dozen years ago when locomotive hauled consists were phased out in favor of modern self propelled Intercity Railcars (ICRs). Among the other changes: the platform arrangement was altered and extended, while the trainshed roof restored.
Way back in April 2001, photographer Mike Gardner and I paid a visit to the closed Old State Road bridge over the former West Shore route at Guilderland, New York.
This was only a couple of years after CSX assumed operation of Conrail’s former New York Central Waterlevel Route across New York State. At that time this was an exceptionally busy line with a non-stop parade of freights.
I made this coming and going pair of photos using my Rollei Model T. This featured a very sharp f3.5 Zeiss Tessar lens.
My choice of film was Kodak Tri-X processed in Ifotec HC developer. I scanned the negatives yesterday using my Epson V600 flatbed scanner, then made minor adjustements to the TIF scans using Adobe Light room to improve constrast and exposure.
On November 10, 1985, I had my father’s Rollei loaded with Verichrome Pan black & white 120-size roll film.
Using the camera with the 645-size insert, I photographed Boston & Maine GP38-2 201 leading one of Maine Central’s former Rock Island U25Bs on a westward freight working the Fitchburg route at Greenfield, Massachusetts.
I scanned the negative with my Epson V600 flatbed scanner, then imported the scan into Adobe Lightroom to make a series of contrast and exposure adjustments, while elimintating dusk specs to improve the negative.
I liked the stark quality of Verichrome that made it well suited to November in New England
I made this unusual view at East Deerfield, Massachusetts where Boston & Maine’s Fitchburg route mainline crossed over the former New Haven Railroad line to Turners Falls. This was one of several grade seaparations in the Greenfield area.
By the time I made this photo in late 1985, the track on the Turners Falls line had been abandoned, but remained largely intact and undisturbed below the weeds.
On a session of the West Springfield Train Watchers, I made this view of four BIG Conrail diesels at the west end of the yard.
It was the evening of July 19, 1983.
I traveled there with Bob Buck in his green Ford van.
As dusk settled, I set up my Leica 3A on a tripod, carefully keeping the yard lights at the edge of the frame. I opened the shutter using the ‘T’ setting and illuminated the train with a Metz strobe to compensate for the inky shadows of the summer evening.
I was keen on making the most of the Conrail C30-7s and SD45-2s leading the evening westbound. These were rare locomotives and worthy of my attention at the time. On the recommendation of my friend and fellow photographer Doug Moore, I’d wrapped the head of the strobe in a white garbage bag to soften and diffuse the light.
Looking back this photo, what strikes me is the relative sophistication my composition. Yet, for years this image sat dormant because of its poor technical qualities. I over processed the film, leading to coarse grain and excessive contrast.
I asked Kris why my early photos benefit from great composition despite their poor technical quality. She suggested that this was because I was making photo for joy of the subject without too much concern for technique.
Over the years my overall techique improved, but as my technical qualities were refined my compositions grew less innovative. Eventually my improved techniques resulted in superior images, but I still look back at my early efforts trying to see what I saw.
Nearly 21 years ago, back in March 2001, photographer Mike Gardner and I photographed this former Conrail SD80MAC leading an empty coal train by the old PRR SO tower at South Fork, Pennsylvania.
I made this medium format black & white photo using a classic Speed Graphic with roll-film back borrowed from regular Tracking the Light reader Doug Moore.
Last week I scanned this 6×9 120 negative using my Epson V600 flatbed scanner and adjusted the RAW file with Adobe Lightroom.
I have numerous photos of the SD80MACs on Conrail when they were painted in blue and white and working in pairs on the Boston Line. However, I have relatively few images of these BIG 20-cylinder diesels in black & white Norfolk Southern paint.
The SD80MAC was not a common type. Only Conrail received them new frome EMD. Today, they are near extinct. The last I heard, there were just four left.
September 23, 1984; crisp autumn sunlight made for some nice light to capture a southward Central Vermont freight crossing the Boston & Albany at Palmer, Massachusetts.
I was working with Kodak Tri-X, which I was learning to process in D-76, rather than Microdol-X. D-76 offered broader tonality, but resulted in somewhat coarser grain. Complicating matters, my process time was a bit longer than necessary and I tended to over agitate, which resulted in denser negatives than I’d like.
Despite the minor processing flaws, I scanned the negatives last week and made minor corrections in post processing to yield better results.
In August 1981, my family and I were on a loosely mapped vacation in Pennsylvania.
On the second day of our trip, we were driving from Hazelton to Strasburg to visit the famous Strasburg Rail Road.
Fast forward 41 years: yesterday, if you’d asked me if I’d ever photographed Conrail running freight on the old Reading Company, I’d have been hard pressed to come up with an answer.
And, yet here is a Conrail caboose crossing PA 501 near Prescott, PA exposed on the move from the rear window of our 1969 Oldsmobile Vista Cruiser!
I scanned the negative a little while ago. Unsure as to the location, I enlarged the photo. Thinking back, I recalled a train crossing over us enroute, but as a teenager wasn’t good with my Pennsylvania geography. Looking a the photo, I noticed the Route 501 sign, which gave me the needed clue.
A quick Google search placed this location near Prescott (where 501 ducks under the former Reading Company Crossline route). Looking a Google Earth, I’ve nearly confirmed the location.
Ironically, the next few frames on the roll show static cabooses at Strasburg’s The Red Caboose caboose-themed motel. Ironic, because in 1981, cabooses (of all colors) were still common on most America freight trains.
Here’s a photo from my black & white archives that I’d completely dismissed. I’d exposed it at Huntington, Massachusetts in March 1985.
There were a few of problems with this image that irked me.
The first was cosmic. Moments before I release the shutter, a cloud coverd the front of the train. That sort of thing used to drive me nuts.
The second was strategic. I’d released the shutter a little earlier than I’d like, leaving the train just a bit distant. I didn’t have a motor drive in those days, and typically would wait for the decisive moment to take my photo.
The third was a chronic failing from my Leica 3 days. I tended to photograph slightly off level, leaving most of my photos annoyingly tilted.
All of these flaws are now easily overcome using Adobe Lightroom.
I altered the exposure and contrast to correct for the obscured sun, while bringing in sky detail partially lost to over exposure. I cropped the photo to minimize the foreground, and this pleasantly altered the composition to feature the code lines to the right of the locomotives and milepost 119 on the left. Lastly, I leveled the image, a task that take now about 2 seconds.
Looking at this photo now, I find that I’m very pleased with it. It has aged very well. The minor flaws don’t bother me, since these were easily corrected, while the overall subject fascinates me. It is the time machine I needed today.
During a week-long vacation to coastal Maine in July 1983 to visit my grand parents, I was given the keys to the family Ford for the day. On the recommendation of my friend Bob Buck, I visited a host of interesting railroad locations in Maine.
My forth stop was at Bangor, where I photographed the Maine Central yard and a local freight switching there using my Leica 3A.
The negative for this black & white image had resided in a marked envelope until last week when I finally scanned it.
In 1983, my photographic processing abilities were rudimentary, and frankly I wasn’t very good at developing black & white film. Only recently, I was able to overcome some of the technical failings in this image by adjusting the scan I made using Adobe Lightroom.
Unlike some of my photos displayed on Tracking the Light that only receive minor corrections to tweak contrast or exposure, in this image I needed to make some fairly substantial corrections to contrast and exposure, while eliminating a host of spots.
There’s virtually nothing in this scene remaining today, and now manned crossings are nearly extinct.
Another choice image from my recently scanned roll of Ilford FP4 exposed in Spring 1985.
I made this view with a 50mm lens looking timetable west at the west end of Conrail’s old Boston & Albany yard in Palmer, Massachusetts. I had driven in behind Howlett’s Lumber to photograph a Sperry rail defect detection car that was stored near the B&A freight house.
Just about everything in this scene has changed. The freight house was demolished in Janaury 1989. The large building at right beyond burned down some years later. The code lines were removed after the B&A was re-signaled in 1986-1987.
I’ve posted two versions of this photo. The top is my unaltered and uncorrected scan. The bottom reflects a series of nominal adjustments using Adobe Lightroom.
I scribbled locations and dates on an envelope back in the Spring of 1985, when ‘d processed this roll of Ilford FP4.
I’d bulk-rolled the film myself, thus allowing 39 frames on one roll of film, which I then exposed with a Leica 3A between March 31 and April 6 (my notes say April 5) 1985.
I recall the day, which was a Sunday. I started photographing in Palmer, Massachusetts, where I met Mike Tylick and his young son. I then followed Conrail’s former Boston & Albany route east in pursuit of a slow moving freight.
At West Brookfield, Massachusetts I caught up with my friend Bob Buck, who was train watching while reading his Sunday newspaper.
In this photograph, I’ve posed Amtrak’s eastward Lake Shore Limited, train 448, led by F40PH-2 #321, by the 1840s-era Western Railroad passenger station, which is among the oldest surviving railroad buildings in New England.
I’d borrowed my parent’s Chevy Impala (seen at the left) as I didn’t yet have my own car. The front of Bob’s green Ford van can be seen at the right.
Conrail’s B&A was still directional double track under rule 251 that governed movements in the current of traffic by signal indication.
My photo skills weren’t fantastic, but rapidly improving.
Last night I scanned this image using an Epson V600 flatbed scanner, and adjusted the RAW file from the scanner using Adobe Lightroom. This included cropping of the top of the frame to limit the amount of sky and the bottom of the frame to minimize foreground clutter.
The actual date of the photo confounds me. I know it was a Sunday, which was either March 31 or April 6. Somewhere I have a small six-ring orange notebook filled with my photo notes from 1985. This will likely solve my date quandary. But does anyone really care?
It was a pleasant June evening in June 2001 when I made the short walk from the bed & breakfast where I was staying to this bridge at Copyhold Junction, north of Haywards Heath, England.
Although the railway line was in shadow, I exposed a few black & white photos with my Rolleiflex Model T.
This image interests me because it features a two-piece diesel-electric multiple unit of the now obsolete ‘slam door’ type. The ‘slam door’ cars featured multiple doors to allow for rapid boarding and unload and were a characteristic type of train on the old Southern Region.
While in 2001, these cars were still relatively plentiful, they were soon to be phased out in favor of more modern equipment.
Consider this: my primary goal of my 2001 visit to this area was to photograph the nearby Bluebell Railway, a well-known preserved line famous for its steam power. Twenty years later, the Bluebell Railway remains as one of Briain’s most popular heritage railways and hasn’t changed radically in its overall appearance. By comparison, the era of ‘Slam Door’ trains (such as that pictured) working regular revenue mainline services are largely a memory. (A few have been preserved)
The lessons: an ordinary train may make for a more significant historical photo than an image of preserved train. Yet, I’d be willing to bet that the photos I made of Bluebell’s steam will still draw greater interest than the Slam Door DEMU on the move!
Must every interesting photo feature stunning scenery?
On my visit to Leizig, Germany in 2001, I traveled on a local passenger train to the out-lying station at Rackwitz, where I spent an hour making photos of passing trains.
This was one ugly place. Low level platforms on tangent track with scruffy weeds and brush mixed in with uninspired industrial what not.
This northward freight paused for a few minutes on the mainline waiting for a signal to clear. For me this a photograph that works with texture, including the platform. But what makes it work for me are the flock of birds that filled the sky above the locomotive.
Exposed with a Rollei Model T on Fuji Neopan400 120 size film. Two versions of the same RAW scan below.
Among the desirable qualities of the Rolleiflex Model T was its square format.
While in my early years of using a Rollei I tended toward overuse of the 645 Superslide insert which provided a rectangular negative. I later decided that I preferred the basic square.
In June 2001, I traveled to Germany with a Rollei T, and exposed numerous 120 rolls of black & white film.
In Leipzig, I made this image of a tram on Fuji Neopan 400. I processed this roll using a mix of Agfa Rodinal Special. Unfortunately, I slightly overprocessed the negatives, a problem easily corrected after scanning, using Adobe Lightroom to adjust contrast and shadow density. The end result offers broad tonality.
In August 2003, I was traveling on the Steam Enterprise, Railway Preservation Society of Ireland’s Dublin-Belfast express led by compound 4-4-0 number 85—Merlin .
On board the train, this once-timeless scene caught my eye. Today, I wonder how much longer might passengers afford of the luxury of perusing the Sunday newspaper while traveling by rail? Or has this activity already become completely obsolete?
Less than 20 years ago, the smart phone had yet to grip the population and emerge as the chief vehicle for media and entertainment on board trains.
I scanned this black & white negative yesterday morning for presentation here. Ironically, when I exposed the photo, I expected to make prints from it, not scans.