On the evening of August 22, 1986, I exposed this pair of Kodachrome 25 slides on the Maine Central’s Rockland Branch at Wiscasset, Maine.
At the time traffic on the branch was almost nil.
I used a 21mm Leica Super Angulon lens which offered a distinct perspective of this rustic scene. My interest was drawn to the two rotting schooners in the westward view, while in the eastward view I was aiming to show the vestiges of the piers for the long defunct Wiscasset, Waterville & Farmington 2-foot gauge.
I’d left San Francisco in the wee hours of the morning and drove to the Sierra.
In the early hours of July 14, 1991, an SP eastward freight ascending Donner Pass had stalled near Alta. This resulted in a pair of following eastward freights being held; one at Colfax and one near Alta.
This was the second of two following freights, which developed its own difficulties at Gold Run when the train went into ‘emergency’.
I made the most of SP’s difficult time, by photographing the procession of trains at various points on The Hill (as Donner was known).
As the summer sun approached midday, I drove to Troy, where I’d previously scoped out this high vantage point with a commanding vista.
My project for the day was to find ways of suitably using the harsh high light in the Sierra, conditions that had been vexing me.
This was among my more successful images. Working with my old Leica M2 with 50mm Summicron, I exposed Ilford FP4 that I later processed using Edwal FG7 developer. At the back was a two unit helper. The sounds of EMD 645 diesels toiling in ‘Run-8’ (full throttle) was impressive and not soon forgotten.
Many of my other images from the day were exposed on Kodachrome 25, some using a circular polarizing filter as a means to mitigate the effects of Sierra high light. I’ll save those for another day.
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It was a gray December 1997 day when I exposed this telephoto view of a Washington DC Metro train and Union Station’s Tower K using my Nikon N90s with f2.8 80-200 Nikon zoom lens.
Really it was the rows of colored position light signals displaying ‘stop’ that caught my attention.
Although the f2.8 8-200 lens offered convenience, and was both fast and sharp, it had its failings. When used wide open it tended to vignette slightly (darker exposure in the corners), but more serious was that it made me visually lazy. Instead of seeking the best vantage point and an optimal composition, I could get a pretty good angle by merely adjusting the focal length of the zoom.
Sometimes electrical wires are placed in inconvenient positions.
In this photograph from a highway overpass near Port Cartier, Quebec, road-side electrical cables resulted in an unfortunate visual obstruction to what would otherwise be an ideal vantage point looking toward the Gulf of the St. Lawrence.
I made this image on my photography adventure to the Cartier Railway with George Pitarys and Bill Linley in July 1997.
A loaded iron ore train was headed from the mines toward the port for trans-loading on to ships. Low evening light accentuated the hues of the water in the distance. The distant searchlights and ship on the water provide added interest.
Last night, I was inspecting scans of some black & white negatives from last summer that are stored on my hard drive.
These are some photos from a Sunday morning in early August at North Conway, New Hampshire of locomotive 7470.
All of these are from a roll of Fuji Acros 100, exposed with a Nikon F3 with 50mm lens and processed with split-bath/multi-stage development using a weak bath of HC110 followed by Rodinal for primary development.
On October 12, 1992, my father and I traveled on the Pittsburgh Light Rail, traversing both the 47 Shannon and Drake Shuttle routes where vintage PCC cars still roamed. Both lines are now defunct. Later in the day, my brother Sean and I revisited these lines by road to make a few more photos.
On that trip, I exposed this Kodachrome slide with my Nikon F3T fitted with a 35mm perspective control lens.
While I was aiming to fill the frame with the rarely photographed PCC car, in retrospect I wished that I’d allowed a little more space around the streetcar.
I’m happy to have made this photo, since it was my only photographic adventure with the Pittsburgh PCCs.
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.
Just now I was searching for another photo, and I came across this scan from a 35mm black & white negative that I exposed in June 1989.
This was on a routine trip to East Deerfield. It was a foggy morning, as mists clung to the Connecticut River Valley and over Boston & Maine’s sprawling yards behind me.
I was standing at the famous ‘Railfans Bridge’ where countless thousands of photos were exposed over the years (and that’s just my personal collection, not to mention all the photos made by countless other photographers).
I was working with my father’s M3 fitted with a 90mm Leitz telephoto.
At the time, a long-hood forward SD45 at this common location probably didn’t rate my A-list. Yet any SD45 on the move would have warranted my attention.
Look at the old B&M phone box to the left of the locomotives.
When I revue my old photos, I am routinely surprised how the common has become cool.
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.
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.
It seems like another age when I drove to Whitefield, New Hampshire on spec to photograph the famous ball signal in October 1992. As a bonus, I caught this New Hampshire & Vermont Alco RS-11 working the yard.
In this view the RS11 crosses Union Street-Route 3 on the former Boston & Maine line to Wells River via Littleton.
I exposed this Kodachrome 25 slide using my Leica M2 with a 50mm Summicron.
The ball signal still stands at Whitefield, but the tracks are almost never used. I wonder what happened to this RS-11?
It was just a year ago, March 30, 2019, that I exposed this digital image of a Comboios de Portugal (national railway of Portugal) passenger train winding along the picturesque Douro Valley near Aregos .
Denis McCabe and I had spent a week documenting Portuguese railways. Fine weather and excellent scenery combined to make this an enjoyable and successful Iberian adventure.
For this photo, I worked with my compact Lumix LX7. This compact camera produces outstanding results, owing in part to its Leica Vario-Summilux lens. Previously on Tracking the Light I published some of my Douro Valley photos exposed using my FujiFilm XT1.
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.
New York’s Canisteo Valley was among my favorite places to photograph in the late 1980s. The lure of the Erie Railroad and the old Union Switch & Signal Style S signals had captivated my interest.
On the morning of July 19, 1988, my old pal TSH and I were on one of our annual summer rail-photo adventures. We had started before dawn, and picked up a westward Conrail OIBU rolling though the Canisteo toward Hornell, New York.
Trains moved right along on the former Erie Railroad mainline and racing ahead of it in a Dodge Dart, I parked and leaped out of the car at a preselected location at milepost 320 (measured from Jersey City) and began to set up my photograph.
I was working with equipment I borrowed from my father. The Leica M2 loaded with PKM (Kodachrome 25 professional) was mine, but the 200mm Telyt mounted with a bellows on a Leica Visoflex viewfinder and positioned on a antique Linhof tripod were his.
In our hasty chase, I’d cut my set up time too fine. It was lashing rain and I was struggling to set up and level the tripod, while trying to focus the camera using the Rube Goldburg Visoflex arrangement. My exposure was about f4 1/8 of a second.
Conrail’s BUOI came into view before I had time to refine my composition: this imperfect photo was the result. I recall the frustration of fighting with the equipment as the roar of the train intensified and the rain obscured my vision.
Let’s just say, that at the time I wasn’t impressed with my image. I’d cropped too much of the foreground and the whole image is off level. So for 30 years, it sat in the Kodak yellow cardboard slide box that it had been returned to me from lab in.
Last year, I scanned it. Ironically, this damp-day silhouette closely captures the spirit of Conrail’s Canisteo Valley that had captivated my photographic interest. The reflection of the headlight on the glossy codelines is the finesse that I didn’t manage to capture in most of brighter-day photography.
I’m glad I didn’t throw the slide away.
This morning I cropped and leveled the image in an effort to correct for my failings in 1988. I’m not sure I improved it any.