Yesterday, September 18, 2020, I traveled on the headend of Conway Scenic’s Mountaineer to scope autumn view points for publicity photos.
The trees have hints of the autumn palette and I noted a variety of places near the top of the mountain where I hope to revisit over the coming weeks.
It looks like some of the best color will be near the famous Willey Brook Bridge and Mount Willard Section House in New Hampshire’s Crawford Notch. We’ll have to wait and see how the autumn colors manifest this season.
I made these views from GP35 216 using my Lumix LX7.
Yesterday, Saturday September 5, 2020, was clear, sunny and bright.
I’d helped organized Conway Scenic Railroad’s Railfan’s Day photo freights. Train crew inlcluded: Road Forman/Train Master Mike Lacey, Engineer Adam Bartley,and Conner and Cullen Maher. Various others assisted with operations, especially working the crossing gates on the Redstone Branch.
The event was a huge success.
I made these photos of the 10am Photo Freight using my FujiFilm XT1 with 18-135mm lens.
This train worked out to Mountain Junction and then east on the Redstone Branch to Pudding Pond.
Most of the year, Conway Scenic Railroad’s historic freight cars quietly reside in the railroad’s North Yard, although few cars, such as our ballast hoppers are assigned to maintenance service.
Today, Saturday September 5th, we plan to operate a pair of demonstration photo freights for our scheduled Railfan’s Day event.
In preparation, we needed to spot cars at key locations in order to make pick-ups, just like a traditional local freight. In conjunction with this work, we needed to position two flatcars used for our weekly work train, and I wanted to scope locations and remove brush.
Working with former Boston & Maine F7A 4266 and our GP35 216 we gathered cars and make our positioning moves.
Today’s photo freights should be led by 4266 plus former Maine Central GP7 573 which share the traditional EMD-inspired maroon and gold paint scheme.
These are among the photos I exposed using my FujiFilm XT1 (scaled for internet presentation). I also made a few color slides for posterity.
This week I’ve been preparing for Conway Scenic’s annual Railfan’s weekend—traditionally held on Labor Day weekend.
This year the conditions relating to the containment of Covid-19 have imposed a host of constraints that will make our Railfan’s Weekend a more subdued affair than in previous years. Sadly this is unavoidable. However rather than cancel the event, we decide to move forward with it for the benefit of our fans and loyal supporters.
We’ve placed 470 Club’s Boston & Maine F7A 4266 back in service and this will work photo freights on Saturday (boarding at 10am and 2pm at North Conway) and on Sunday it will lead a special Photographers Mountaineer (that will make photo stops on its journey to Crawford Notch).
The railroad hopes to have a variety of its equipment on display, including several pieces that have been sheltered by the roundhouse for most of 2020.
Below are just some of the photos that I’ve made this week, while helping to organize the Railfan’s event.
Following up on yesterday’s Tracking the Light Post . . . Kris Sabbatino and I had found the tracks of the Sandy River & Rangeley Lakes two-foot gauge tourist railroad recreation and decided to investigate!
Using the powers of the internet we learned there was more to see than the small station at Sanders; so we drove toward the village of Phililps, Maine and down the appropriate side street. A sign advising hikers and railfans provided the needed clues.
Sandy River & Rangeley Lakes must be one of these Brigadoon Railways that comes to life at infrequent intervals but spends most of the time secluded deep in a forest.
We met no one. We saw nothing on the move. We took only pictures. And left without a trace.
In October 1999, I made this view of a meet between the Great Train Escapes tour train and a St Lawrence & Atlantic freight. Both trains were led by MLW-built M-420 diesels.
Since that photo 21 years ago, much has changed at Danville Junction,
The trees have grown; the track arrangement was simplified, the St Lawrence & Atlantic was amalgamated into the Genesee & Wyoming network, the MLW diesels have vanished from the scene, and the tour train doesn’t operate any more.
In June, Kris Sabbatino and I paid a brief visit to Danville Junction, my first since 1999. It was a surreal experience for me. So little of it seem familiar.
On July 3, 2020, Conway Scenic sent engine 216 out on the Redstone Branch to collect a Boston & Maine boxcar I’d been using for advertising.
I documented the move with digital photos, as previously presented, and also on film.
For these images, I worked with a Nikon F3 with f2.5 Nikkor 105mm lens and Fomapan Classic 100 black & white film. I first sampled Fomapan on a trip to the Czech Republic in 2016.
Operating 216 was Adam, a Conway Scenic engineer trainee.
I processed the film using customized split-development that begins with a very dilute solution of HC110 with PhotoFlo as a presoak followed by primary development with Ilford ID11. After processing, I scanned the negatives using an Epson V600 flatbed scanner then imported the scans into Lightroom for final adjustment and scaling for presentation.
During the last week, Maine Central GP38 252 has been working Conway Scenic Railroad’s Valley trains that run daily from North Conway railroad east to Conway and North Conway railroad west to Bartlett.
While 252 is more than capable of working these trains, it is typically been assigned to the run to Crawford Notch.
I took the opportunity to make photos of 252 working the 1910-1920s-era heavy steel cars that comprise our Valley train set.
These photos were made using a FujiFilm XT1 with 18-135mm lens.
Yesterday, photographer Pat Yough sent me an article from the Altoona Mirror concerning Norfolk Southern’s planned demolition of the former Pennsylvania Railroad MG Tower (located on the climb from Altoona to Gallitzin, PA.)
Like the late, great New York Pennsylvania Station, MG Tower will succumb to corporate philistines who fail to value history and architecture. The rationale for such destruction may be justified to satisfy short term financial or safety prerogatives, but the loss is everyone’s. Once destroyed, this classic structure will be gone forever.
So much of the Pennsylvania Railroad has already been lost in the name of ‘progress’ and other abstract concepts. Have we learned nothing from past transgressions? So today’s railroad remain eager to erase the monuments of railroading’s glory days.
Of course the tower can be saved.
Of course future generations could benefit from its preservation.
Instead it will be but a memory ruined by those who fail to value history.
Well done Norfolk Southern! May the names of the persons condemning this structure to dust be enshrined so that everyone can relish in their achievement and congratulate them for their wisdom.
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.
The other day, in preparation for debut of Conway Scenic’s Mountaineer, the railroad operated a work extra with locomotive 1751. This ran up the former Maine Central Mountain Division to clear debris and rocks that had fallen on the line.
To move the heaviest rocks, railroad president and general manager Dave Swirk personally operated an excavator.
I traveled with the train to document its work.
On the return run, I posed a sequence of photos at the famous Frankenstein bridge.
Photos exposed using a FujiFilm XT1 with 18-135mm lens.
Today, Saturday June 27, 2020, Conway Scenic Railroad the Mountaineer will make its inaugural run between North Conway and Crawford Notch.
Yesterday, June 20, 2020, Conway Scenic finally commenced its Spring/Summer season. Our opening was more than two months later than originally planned owing to restrictions imposed to contain the Cover-19 Pandemic.
We had warm weather and nearly sell-out attendance.
To provide extra seats we put on RDC Millie in the afternoon for an ‘extra’ run to Conway.
In total we operated four trains!
Conway Scenic will be open seven days a week through the summer.
I kept my FujiFilm XT1 busy, in addition to my other duties.
It has been six months since I was hired as Conway Scenic Railroad’s Manager, Marketing & Events.
At the end of March, the State of New Hampshire’s ‘Stay at Home’ order changed Conway Scenic’s plans. Employees were sent home and the railroad temporarily shuttered. Soon afterward the railroad was allowed to bring back a skeleton staff to maintain the property and equipment, prepare training materials and advertising.
While other businesses were gradually allow to reopen, until last week no date or specific conditions for tourist railroad operations had been forthcoming.
Then, eight days ago, we learned via the media that the railroad would be allowed to open from the following Monday provided that it adheres to a variety of conditions designed to mitigate the risk of spreading Covid-19 and help protect guests and employees from infection.
At that moment we chose Saturday June 20th as the date to reopen our railroad to the public and resume scheduled excursions. In the interval, we have been preparing for Saturday.
The world we lived in 2019 has changed. Procedures to mitigate the spread of Covid-19, including now-common social distancing protocols have complicated the way we must handle visitors and in ways we could not have previously anticipated. This has necessarily altered the railroad schedule to reflect new boarding practices.
In the last week we have run several test runs to help train crews and evaluate equipment, which providing me with the opportunity to make photographs fro advertising. It is those photos I present here.
Starting tomorrow, Conway Scenic Railroad will be operating seven days per week. Trains to Conway board at 0930 and 1500; trains to Bartlett board at 1230.
Bi-weekly Mountaineer excursions to Crawford Notch are planned to begin on June 27.
Owing to the uncertainty of the volumes of guests and the length of time it will take to issue tickets and safely seat our guests in adherence with the new guidelines and requirements, Conway Scenic now stresses train boarding times rather than departure times, to help insure that trains operate on schedule.
It will be great to have visitors on our trains again!
Mark June 20, 2020 on your calendar. On that day, Conway Scenic Railroad will commence its 2020 operating season!
Yesterday, I was down in the yard making photos of 470 Club’s F7A 4268 that Louis and Jordan were transferring from stall four in the roundhouse to its new location behind stall 1, where it now sits back to back with sister B&M F7A 4266 (for continued restoration work), when I heard this news:
The State of New Hampshire is planning to lift the conditions that have restricted Conway Scenic Railroad from operating public excursions.
These were posted to: covidguidance.nh.gov.
Over the last few weeks, I’ve been assisting with planning for our delayed reopening, including mapping the seating arrangements for our passenger cars, helping to draft training materials, working on schedules, and learning some nuts and bolts of real railroading, along with marketing activities.
Among the complications of our reopening are the conditions that still remain in place to minimize the spread of Covid-19 that require us to limit passenger car capacity, enforce social distancing, maintain sanitary conditions etc.
These have resulted in much longer boarding processes, and at least initially we will need to begin boarding guests 30 minutes prior to scheduled departure times.
We have to limit the numbers of guests in our station, and set up new procedures for our crews.
I’ll be a busy guy over the coming days. Since we only received the particulars of the new ruling yesterday many of the details still need to be worked out.
Tracking the Light is Brian Solomon’s Photography Blog.
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.
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.
Subscribe to Tracking the Light using the form toward the bottom of this post.
In addition to my own Conrail photos, this features the work of a dozen talented photographers.
I exposed the cover photo at Becket, Massachusetts in October 1997, using a Nikon N90S with f2.8 80-200mm lens and Fujichrome Velvia 50 color slide film.
This was on an epic Conrail adventure with Mike Gardner, during which in one day we caught the Ringing Brothers Circus train, a Conrail Office Car Special with E8s, the track geometry train and six freights led by clean EMD SD80MACs.
In the June 2020 Trains Magazine my monthly column features an interview with career railroader Mike Lacey, who started with Erie Lackawanna in 1968 and cut his teeth at the former Erie yards at Meadville.
I made this view on a visit to Meadville with fellow photographers Pat Yough and Tim Doherty on October 12, 2008.
Western New York & Pennsylvania’s former New York Central C-430 3000 was working the yard with engineer Chris Southwell at the throttle.
Exposed with Fujichrome Velvia100F using a Canon EOS-3.
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.
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.
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.