On May 14, 1985, I photographed this Conrail GP10 with a former Pennsylvania Railroad caboose working as a local freight toward its interchanged with Pioneer Valley Railroad at Westfield, Massachusetts.
The location is just west of milepost 107 in Westfield. At the right is my father’s 1978 Ford Grenada, which was the car I drove a lot before getting my own set of wheels in 1986.
At the time of this photograph, Conrail rarely assigned GP10s to its New England Division locals, which makes this a relatively unusual photo in my collection.
My new book Conrail and its Predecessors published by Kalmbach Books will be available soon!
In the mid-1980s, my friends and I would convene at Washington Summit on Conrail’s former Boston & Albany mainline.
Located in the Berkshires, several miles timetable east of the old station at Hinsdale, the summit offered a good view in both directions and a pleasant, quiet place to wait for trains.
On this May 1985 afternoon, the chugging of an eastward freight could be heard for several miles before it came into view. I opted to frame the train with the Top of the B&A sign.
This sign was replaced in the 1990s; Conrail was divided by CSX and Norfolk Southern in 1999; the old Bullards Road over bridge (seen in the distance) was removed in 2003; and the trees have grown much taller. So there’s not much left of this scene today, although the tracks are still there.
Exposed on black & white film using a Leica 3A with Canon f1.8 50mm lens.
On May 14, 1985, I exposed this photo of Pioneer Valley Railroad’s stored RS-3 203 at the railroad’s Westfield, Massachusetts yard.
PVRR was one of the Pinsley-owned railroads.
In 1985, my photographic efforts were supported by a shoe-string budget. I’d buy bulk 100-foot rolls of 35mm black & white film to roll my own cassettes. At the time I was working with a 1938-vintage Leica 3A with a screw-mount Cannon f1.8 50mm lens.
I’d process the film at college using Kodak D76.
Three decades later I’d scan the negatives. I have hundreds of rolls from that era picturing thousands of scenes, most of which can never be repeated.
Dublin November 4, 2019:.I was heading to Drumcondra to meet the lads for an evening of railroad photography.
At O’Connell Street, I needed to change from one bus to another.
It was dusk.
The swollen winter sky opened and a cold rain cascaded down like a tsunami.
Working with a Nikon F3 fitted with a 50mm lens and loaded with Rollei Retro 80S, I made a single exposure.
This is it.
There’s something about the split composition, the depth afforded by the exceptional glossy wet evening, the shadowy figures with umbrellas, and the looming bus that works for me like few photos emanating from my camera in a long time.
Since mid-November, I’ve had this as the opening photo on my Facebook page.
During last month’s Steam in the Snow event at the Conway Scenic Railroad sponsored by the Massachusetts Bay Railroad Enthusiasts, I made a lot of digital photos and some video footage in my capacity as the railroad’s Manager, Marketing and Events.
But that wasn’t all.
Working with my Nikon F3 and a 50mm lens, I also exposed some Fomapan 100 Classic black & white film.
I first sampled this film on a trip to the Czech Republic in October 2016. I like the tonality and classic black & white appearance of this emulsion when processed in Ilford ID11 1-1. To boost shadow detail, I let the film pre-soak in a very weak bath of HC110 and Kodak Photoflo before primary processing.
Here’s a sample of my images.
Coming up soon, Conway Scenic will be running more trains in the snow. The railroad plans to run seven round trips a day from February 15th to 29th using Budd RDC number 23 Millie. The first trip departs North Conway at 730am and trains will run every 90 minutes to Attitash.
We were fascinated by the antique streamlined electrics.
Remarkably, in 1979 many of the steam-era former Pennsylvania Railroad behemoths were still in traffic.
Amtrak and New Jersey Department of Transportation both had GG1s on their active roster.
Sunnyside Yard was a great place to see these once magnificent machines.
Most fascinating was motor 4876, which on January 15, 1953 had led the Federal Express into Washington Union Station—a famously spectacular runaway that sent the GG1 crashing through the station; sinking through the concourse floor and into the basement of the station. The accident was pictured in newspapers across the nation. And in 1979, the old beast was awaiting assignment.
Working with my Leica, I exposed a variety of photos around Sunnyside yard on a visit with my family. Never mind Disney, I though Sunnyside Yard was the coolest place to be.
While I’ve run one or two of these photos previously, those images were taken from prints. I’ve recently located more the negatives from that day, nearly 41 years ago, and scanned them.
Notice the World Trade Center’s Twin Towers to the left of 4876. Kind of a cool juxtaposition.
My memories of riding the Metro City Metro with my uncle Mark 40 years ago contrast sharply with these photos that I made during that same visit.
Having grown up traveling on the New York City and Boston subways, I was astounded by the crush-loading in Mexico City.
I recall being swept along a platform holding my uncles hand as tightly as I could as we squeezed into an already sardine capacity train.
In reality, those conditions weren’t conducive for a 13 year-old Gringo to make photographs.
In retrospect, I’m amazed that I got anything at all.
Apologies for the relatively poor condition of these images. My negatives were hand processed without concern for archival concerns and stored in a paper envelope in an attic for the better part of four decades. I scanned them last month.
I scanned some negatives the other day. These were exposed with my Leica 3A on Ilford FP4 and processed in D76.
I’d driven to Chester, Massachusetts where I photographed several eastward Conrail trains on the Boston & Albany line. This was before Conrail single-tracked the route and it was still directional double track with automatic block signals under rule 251.
This view shows an eastward TV (trailvan) freight waiting for a green signal after crossing over from the westward to the eastward main. It had just come down the hill, against the current of traffic, on the westward main to Chester, while a test train led by SD50 6703 had worked east on the eastward main. (Parallel eastward moves).
Conrail’s GE-built C30-7A (6594) and C32-8 (6614) diesels were less than a year old.
The test train (not pictured) was a ballast train with caboose that provide a load for SD50 6703 equipped with flange lubricators which spent several months working back and forth on the B&A route.
So what’s the tragedy?
My negative envelope has minimal information; just the locations and ‘April 1985’. I have my notebook from 1985, but this trip isn’t mentioned. My photo album is also scant on the details from the day. I believe the specific note-page from this day has ‘gone missing’ and so I’ve had to recall the details from memory. This is a problem, since I cannot recall the exact date, and I’m unsure as to specifics such as train symbols.
Christmas Day 1979, I embarked on a great adventure. At age 13, I flew unaccompanied from JFK in New York City to Mexico City to visit with my uncle Mark.
I exposed this view using a Leica 3A from my window on an Eastern Airlines L-1011 as it taxied for take-off at JFK.
My notes on the negative strip simply read ‘Airport 1979’.
I exposed hundreds of black & white and color photos on this trip, although not all of them remain in my collection. I also made detailed notes, of which only a few pages survive. After takeoff, I wrote:
“There was a really good view of New York City, New Jersey, etc. We flew past Philadelphia but I didn’t see much account of the clouds”
On August 5, 1984, my late friend Robert A. Buck gave me an unforgettable tour of the Bangor & Aroostook in central Maine.
Among the stops on our trip was a brief visit to the disused tower at Lagrange. If you look to the right you can see Bob and his famous green van through the weeds.
I exposed this photo on Kodak Plus-X using an old Leica 3A with a Canon f1.8 50mm screw-mount lens. I processed the film in Kodak Microdol-X and stored the negatives for 35 years in an envelope. Last month I scanned the negatives using an Epson V750 scanner.
Just imagine the roar! Conrail C30-7 6600 leads three former Erie-Lackawanna 20-cylinder EMDs!
So far as I can remember, this was the only time I caught an SDP45 (second unit) hard at work on the Boston Line.
I made these views of an uphill BAL (Ballast train) at Middlefield, Massachusetts on a day’s photography with my old pal TSH on a beautiful spring evening in June 1984. I was a week away from my high-school graduation.
My only regret is that I didn’t have better photography skills and better equipment.
It was April 26, 1984 when my brother and I embarked on big tour of the New York City Subway in Queens and Brooklyn.
I made this view from the front of an outbound train on the Astoria Line. On the middle track was an RR train heading toward Queens Plaza and beyond. This was during the era when the subway was still covered in grafitti.
Using my Leica 3A, I made this view from a NYCTA city bus in The Bronx circa 1980.
I don’t have any notes at all from this trip.
In all likelihood, I was using a 35mm Nikkor lens with a screw-mount designed for the Leica 3 series cameras. This was a favorite of mine at the time because it required an adjustable external viewfinder that made it easier to compose than the tiny window on the camera body.
The primary subject of the photo was the subway train on what I think was the White Plains Road elevated line. At right is my brother Sean. We were traveling with our grandmother from Fordham Road toward Co-op City as part of a shopping trip.
This photo has been quietly hiding, unprinted and unseen in a glassine negative sleeve for nearly 40 years! (Try that with your favorite phone photo.)
It was about 1980, when I made this interior view of an R10 subway car during a trip with my father around New York City. Pop thinks this was on the 8th Avenue line in Manhattan. It was one of three photos I made of the Subway that day .
The cars were not air-conditioned and the open fans intrigued me.
This was in that unsavory era on the Subway when the subway cars were decorated inside and out with graffiti.
Exposed on black & white film with my old Leica 3A 35mm camera.
Two weeks ago when in Dublin, I went to see the motion picture Joker, a dark film in a fictional New York City setting of the early 1980s, portrayed in classic DC Comics fashion as ‘Gotham’.
Story-line and characters aside, the film’s scenes, setting and lighting recreated New York City, especially the Bronx, as I remember it from visits with my grandparents in the 1970s and 1980s. Portions of the Joker were filmed in my father’s old neighborhood. My memories were of that stark gritty dark time when graffiti covered subway cars were the norm.
Since arriving back in the USA, I’ve delved into my collection of early photos from New York City, some of which embody that fascinating apocalyptic darkness conveyed in the film, yet were merely the products of exploration of New York with my family.
However, where the film portrayed misery, mental illness, anger and extreme violence in brilliantly crafted cinema-graphic excellence, my photos were the product of child’s view to capture an exciting, albeit dark place, filled with urban wonders, railways, and visually captivating scenes.
Some of my early NYC photos were exposed on color slide film, others were on black & white. Almost all were made with my vintage 1930s Leica 3A.
These views were exposed on a very gray day in 1981, when exploring the former New Haven Railroad lines in the Bronx, my dad drove my brother and me to the NYCTA’s Westchester Yards off the Pelham Bay Line.
This was on the flight path to Laguardia Airport, and as I photographed the subway trains, my brother spotted the planes landing.
Earlier this month, I traveled with some friends to Shannonbridge, County Offaly, Ireland to photograph the Bord na Mona’s narrow gauge operations.
Working with Kodak Tri-X in a Nikon F3 with 105mm lens, I made this view of a laden train crossing the River Shannon.
I processed the film using a twin-stage (split development) process: presoaked in Kodak HC110 mixed 1-200 for 5 minutes; then Ilford ID1 mixed 1 to 1 for 7 minutes 15 seconds at 68F with gentle agitation every minute for 10 seconds. After stop bath (30 seconds), twin fixer baths of 3 minutes each and extensive rinsing, I toned the still wet negative using a Selenium batch mixed 1-9 for 8 minutes 30 seconds.
In addition to this traditional black & white photo, I also exposed digital photos using my Lumix LX7 and FujiFilm XT1 cameras. Color and black & white, film and digital, yes I have most of formats covered.
Back in October 1984—35 years ago— I made this nocturnal view of Central Vermont RS11 3606 at the Palmer, Massachusetts yard.
With my Leica mounted on a tripod, I exposed this view using a mix of existing light and electronic strobe for fill light. I’d work with a large Metz flash that allowed me to control the quantity of light being emitted. To soften the blast, I’d squelch the emission to about 1/4th and wrap the flash head in a white trash bag. I’d then make a series of blasts from different angles while leaving the shutter open.
My old Leica 3A had a ‘T’ setting that would leave the shutter open indefinitely. An exposure such as this would require about 30 secs to a minute for me to make the blasts.
This was one of at least four frames that I exposed that October evening so long ago! My notes from the day have vanished, much to my disgust, as I tended to keep records of all my photography.
I was sifting through some old 120 black & white negatives yesterday and found these photographs from a morning’s photography along the old New Haven Railroad in Connecticut from June 1986.
I started the morning in South Norwalk, then moved down to Westport.
Most of the photos from the morning were exposed on Kodachrome slide film, but I made a few select images on Kodak Tri-X using my father’s Rolleiflex Model T using a 645-size ‘superslide’ insert to obtain a rectangular crop.
Most interesting to me now are the views of Amtrak’s eastward mail train behind AEM-7 904. This carried a group of baggage cars at the back including some from VIA Rail.
While I have detailed photographic notes from the day, what I don’t have recorded were my thoughts on the experience at the time. This was one of several similar trips I made to former New Haven electrified territory in the summer of 1986.
During October’s Cobh Rambler tour, I made these views at Cork’s Kent Station on Kodak Tri-X black & white film.
The tour was operated by Railway Preservation Society of Ireland in conjunction with Irish Rail.
Kent’s curved Victorian train shed makes for a fascinating venue to photograph a modern railway in action, while the inclement weather on the day translated well with the traditional media.
I processed the film using a customized split development process consisting of Kodak HC110 presoak mixed 1-200 followed by primary development using Ilford ID11 1-1. The negatives were scanned using an Epsom V500 flatbed scanner with some minor final adjustment using Lightroom.
Last night I processed a roll of Rollei 80S Retro that I exposed last summer.
The timing was apropos.
I made these images using my Nikon F3 with f1.8 105mm lens. My cousin Stella was visiting from the West Coast and we were exploring spooky graveyards in Western Massachusetts.
You may wonder why I waited nearly four months to process the film. Was it an infusion of Irish spirits and pucas that lent inspiration?
No, it was actually simpler than that. My preferred developer for Rollei 80S Retro is Rodinal and in Dublin I keep a healthy volume of this antique solution on hand. So I brought the film with me from America for processing in Dublin. However, distractions and writing have kept me occupied for weeks and I just got to souping the film last night!
I have an adjusted recipe for this very unusual film that yields stunning results.
Rollei 80S Retro will provide superb tonality, super fine grain, and a deep rich black when processed properly.
I’ll be posting more view to my Instagram account over the coming hours and days. See my photos on Instagram at: briansolomon.author
Tracking the Light looks to the Dark Side Tonight!
I was driving from Madison, Wisconsin to Roanoke, Virginia on October 25, 2002.
I stopped at Cincinnati to make photographs of Fellheimer & Wagner’s art deco masterpiece: Cincinnati Union Station, a railway station inspired by Helsinki’s Main Station.
This was among the photos I made on Fuji Acros 100 using my Contax G2 rangefinder fitted with the super wide-angle flat-field 16mm Hologon. I featured this station in my book Depots, Stations & Terminals, published by Voyageur Press.