Here are two photographs exposed on the former New Haven Railroad portion of the Northeast Corridor more than 23 years apart, both portraying diesels running ‘light’ (without a train).
The top view was made about two weeks ago (November 2020) at Mansfield, Massachusetts, exposed with my FujiFilm XT1 with 16-55mm lens, and shows a pair of GE P42 Genesis diesels racing eastbound. Kris Sabbatino and I had set up anticipating the passage of the Acela Express, and catching these diesels running light was a pleasant surprise.
The bottom view was made at the grade crossing immediately west of the New London, Connecticut station (pictured to the left of the train). I exposed this on Fujichrome Provia using a Nikon F3T on a trip with Mike Gardner in July 1997. This was prior to Amtrak’s electrification of the New Haven to Boston section of the corridor.
Working with slide film had its perils. Normally, I used 36 exposure roles.
However, I’d carefully load my manual cameras and try to squeeze as many photos out of each rolls as possible.
This was risky, because often the last frame would get ruined in processing. So, I typically save that final frame for something less important, but still interesting.
On April 23, 1997, my father and I waited on a Shinkansen platform at Nishi Akashi west of Osaka. I made a few photos of this passing Series 300 Series highspeed train as it blasted by at approximately 186mph.
Working with my old Nikon F3T, I exposed this final frame on a roll of Fuji Provia 100 as the train passed me at speed. In processing, Fuji cut the last little bit of the slide (to the left of the train).
For years this slide sat in a box, unworthy of slide shows. I scanned it yesterday. Below are two versions. One is full frame, the other is cropped.
On November 9, 2020, Conway Scenic Railroad operated a special Mountaineer for the benefit of its employees and their guests. This used a foreshortened consist and departed earlier than normal, It proceeded west under clear sunny skies where it made a stop at Bartlett, NH to pause for passengers and to collect catered meals.
Upon arrival at Crawford Station, GP35 216 ran around, while we had the opportunity to make photos. After this short stop, the special then proceeded eastbound and made a second stop at the site of the Mount Willard Section House-onetime home to the famous Evans Family.
Here I made a number of unusual photos while the train was tied down on the Willey Brook Bridge.
All photos were exposed using my FujiFilm XT1 digital camera.
Last week was warm with sunny skies. Unseasonably warm.
One evening while exploring Cape Cod, Kris Sabbatino and I paid a visit to the Cape Cod Central at Hyannis where I made these views of a former New Haven Railroad FL9 (painted to resemble its as-delivered appearance) and an old RDC built for Boston & Maine.
In an earlier Tracking the Light post, I speculated if Conway Scenic Railroad’s former New Haven Railroad RDC 23 Millie ever visited the NHRR line that once extended to Provincetown.
So far my investigations have determined that while NHRR 23 almost certainly visited the New Haven stations at Hyannis and Woods Hole, which were regular destinations for NHRR’s RDC runs, it is far less likely that it strayed as far as Provincetown, because NHRR RDCs rarely went that far.
In a similar line of inquiry: did the former B&M car pictured here ever work Boston & Maine’s North Conway Branch? Many of B&M’s cars had visited North Conway over the years, and some even worked over Crawford Notch!
Often I consider my Kodachrome slides among my finest photographs.
By not always.
In the mid-1990s, Kodachrome went through an unsettled phase and the film didn’t perform as well as it had in the late 1980s early 1990s. The reasons for these changes may be a discussion for another day.
On April 11, 1997, I joined photographers Mike Gardner and George Pitarys on a productive chase of New England Central’s southward freight, number 608.
At Willimantic, Connecticut, I made this photo along the river by some old thread mills (some since demolished).
April light can be challenging. Harsh contrast combined with a yellowish tint from air pollution makes for a raw ‘brassy’ quality that Kodachrome didn’t reproduce well.
I scanned this slide a little while ago and then imported the TIFF file into Adobe Lightroom, which I used to soften the contrast, lighten the shadows and correct the harsh color rendition. See adjusted version below
It isn’t perfect, but then again the lighting on the day wasn’t ideal.
I wasn’t prepared for what I saw last month when Kris Sabbatino and I re-visited Belfast, Maine.
In 1980, my father and I paid two visits to Belfast, one of which involved a train ride to Burnham Junction and back on the Belfast & Moosehead Lake freight. On those trips I made photos of B&ML’s yard and roundhouse on black & white film using my Leica IIIA.
In August 1997, I revisited Belfast, and found the B&ML yard intact, but ghostly quiet.
I’d read that the good citizens of Belfast despised the railroad yard and its environment and that they had evicted the railroad that the city had once owned.
I was shocked of how completely this quaint delightful compact railroad yard along the Belfast waterfront had been so totally erased from the scene. It has been replaced with a sandy parking lot.
I was unprepared because I had not brought with me the photos from my earlier visits. I found it very difficult to recall exactly where I had stood. The landmarks I knew existed only in my head.
The tracks, the structures, the trains and the character of the environment that I seen in my earlier visits were now gone.
Sadly, I’ll need to return again with my earlier photos in hand and attempt a more accurate series of ‘then and now’ images.
The views below are looking north. My attempts to recreate the roundhouse scenes looking west are not good enough to reproduce here.
Going back over my Fuji digital files from 2015, I’ve selected this image of a VR Group Stadler railcar working the then-new Helsinki Airport train at Leinelá, Finland.
Below are three interpretations of the same image exposed using my FujiFilm XT1. The first is the In-camera JPG without color correction or alteration except for scaling and watermark.
The second is the Fuji RAW file imported and adjusted strictly using Lightroom.
The third is the Fuji RAW file first converted using Iridient X-Transformer and then imported into Lightroom where I implemented the same color and contrast corrections.
One minor difference with this Iridient interpretation is that I turned off the the feature that automatically corrects for lens distortion, chromatic aberration, and vignetting. So this gives a slightly less invasive digital interpretation and a truer sense of the visual information as recorded by the sensor.
October is my favorite time of year for photography. Relatively low sun with rapidly changing weather, and rusty foliage help make it a continually changing canvas. It is a time of change, when summer fades and winter begins.
I was reviewing my photos exposed just about a year ago on a visit to the Irish narrow gauge Bord na Mona with photographers Mark Healy and Aidan Vickers. This was one of several autumnal explorations of the peat hauling railways in the boglands of Ireland last year.
On this one day I made photos on both the Lanesborough and Shannonbridge networks.
At the time the Bord na Mona was enjoying an Indian Summer. We caught a variety of trains on the move, but the writing was on the wall for these once very active industrial lines.
New England Central Railroad (NECR) began operations of the former Central Vermont route in February 1995. Initially, it ran the railroad with a small fleet of largely former Gulf, Mobile & Ohio GP38s numbered in the 9500-series.
In 1998, NECR was in the process of renumbering these locomotives into the 3800-series, which logically echoed their model type.
In October 1998, photographer Mike Gardner and I spent a morning photographing the southward 608 on its run from Palmer, Massachusetts to New London, Connecticut. The lead engine displayed its new 3800-series number, but the trailing engine still had its old number.
Many of the GP38s have carried these 3800-series numbers ever since that time.
Exposed on Fujichrome using a Nikon N90S with Nikon f2.8 80-200mm AF zoom lens. The freight is crossing the Yantic River at Yantic, Connecticut.
A few weeks ago on Tracking the Light, I described my early experiences with Kodak’s Ektachrome LPP (a warm-tone emulsion with subtle color rendition), of which I received a free-sample from Kodak back in August 1993.
Among the other photos on that roll, was this view exposed shortly after sunrise of Amtrak’s Los Angeles-bound Coast Starlight crossing Southern Pacific’s massive Benicia Bridge near Martinez, California.
I had loaded the film into a second-hand Nikkormat FTN that I fitted an f4.0 Nikkor 200mm telephoto.
This slide sat in the dark until I scanned it on October 6, 2020.
Last Wednesday, October 14, 2020, Conway Scenic operated a work extra to Conway to assist with preparations for the annual Pumpkin Patch event being held for the next three weekends.
The train was organized with relatively little advanced notice, and the only available locomotive was former Boston & Maine F7A 4266, owned by the 470 Club. Our other locomotives were out on passenger assignments or out of service awaiting repairs or maintenance.
Since the cab of the locomotive was facing railroad timetable west, the decision was made to use a caboose as a shoving platform and the train reversed from North Conway down the former B&M branch to Conway.
I made these photos using my FujiFilm XT1 with 27mm pancake lens. Fuji RAW files were converted to DNG files using Iridient X Transformer and then imported into Adobe Lightroom for final adjustment.
Yesterday, October 15, 2020, I made a late season foliage photo of Conway Scenic Railroad’s Mountaineer descending from Crawfords at milepost 79 near the Arethusa Falls grade crossing.
Working with my FujiFilm XT1 and 90mm prime telephoto, I set the ISO to 1000. I needed relatively high sensitivity because I was working in the shadows of the trees and mountain side and wanted a sufficiently fast shutter speed to freeze the motion of the train, while using a smaller aperture to minimize headlight bleed.
Then I imported the Fuji RAW files directly into Adobe Lightroom for processing, while making a comparison set of files by importing them first into Iridient X-Transformer which converts the files to a DNG format and then imported these into Lightroom.
As previously described on Tracking the Light, the Iridient software does a superior job of interpreting the Fuji RAW files.
On a visit to New York City in 1998, my father and I made a trip on the Flushing Line of the New York Subway.
I exposed these photos using Fuji Sensia II (100 speed slide film) with my Nikon N90S.
Last week I digitized the slides using a Nikon Super Coolscan5000 scanner powered by VueScan software.
To make the most of the dark contrasty images I opted for multiple pass scans—a feature offered by VueScan that is similar in concept to the HDR setting used my some modern digital cameras—that blend several scans of the same image at different exposure values into one file to maximize shadow and highlight detail.
After exposure, I adjusted the scans using Adobe Lightroom and outputted these images with watermark for internet presentation.
Today’s photo is in honor of my late-friend, Robert A. Buck of Warren, Massachusetts, who would have turned 91 today (October 12, 2020).
In the 1940s, Bob Buck made priceless photos of New York Central’s Boston & Albany around Warren, and elsewhere across the railroad. For most of his life he ran Tucker’s Hardware, later Tucker’s Hobbies in Warren, which was a gathering point for those interested in railroads.
On December 6, 1992, I exposed this photo of an eastward Conrail freight, probably SEPW (Selkirk to Providence & Worcester RR) climbing through Warren behind six General Electric B23-7s.
I had Kodachrome 25 film loaded in my Nikon F3T and I used a 35mm PC (Perspective Control) lens, all neatly leveled out on a Bogen 3021 tripod with ball head.
The pronounced chugging of multiple FDL diesel engines powering these locomotives as they ascended the grade through Warren would have announced the approach of the freight several minutes before the headlight appeared west of the old Warren Station.
The making of this image would have coincided with one of my countless visits to Tucker’s Hobbies in the 1980s and 1990s.
Since 1983, I’ve been photographing EMD GP’s in the Guilford gray, white and orange.
A few weeks ago, when Kris Sabbatino and I went to chase Pan Am’s SAPPI locals on the old Maine Central Hinckley Branch, I was looking forward to catching Pan Am blue locomotives in Maine.
Yet, at this late date, finding a vintage Guilford engine on the move is a novelty. How many remain?
I made this view using my FujiFilm XT1 with 12mm Zeiss Touit at Shawmut, Maine. I converted the Fuji Raw file using Iridient software, which does a superior job of interpreting the Fuji data. I then imported into Lightroom for final processing.
On November 24, 1998, photographer Mike Gardner and I were wrapping our photography for the day, having spent it following the old Erie Railroad mainline in New York state. A railroad then operated as part of Conrail’s Southern Tier District.
Just after sunset, we were visiting the old bridge (since removed) over the east end of the Gang Mills Yard (near Corning, New York). A bit of evening ‘drop under’ sun had tickled the clouds pink, when a headlight appeared to the west.
Working with my Nikon N90S with 80-200mm lens, I made a sequence of photos on Kodachrome 200 of the passing Conrail piggyback train. This film offered speed, but it was difficult to work with. Not only was K200 grainy, but it had a fairly narrow expose latitude as compared with either Fuji Sensia or Kodachrome 25.
At the time I made the slide, I’d exposed for the sky, aiming to retain the texture and color, but as a result the tracks and train were a bit under exposed. Last night, I made a multiple pass scan from a slide in the sequence. Then in post processing, I lightened the foreground, while adjusting color and contrast for a more pleasing image, yet one that hopefully looks like it was exposed on Earth, and not on Mars.
Below are two comparisons. The first is the unadjusted scan (scaled for internet), the second is my adjusted scan.
In the summer of 1993, I attended an event in San Francisco hosted by Kodak to debut a new Ektachrome slide film. As part of the event, Kodak gave everyone a sample of LPP, a warm-tone emulsion with subtle color rendition.
I had recently bought a Nikkormat FTN from a co-worker, and promptly loaded the camera with the new film.
It was mid-August, when I climbed to the top of a hill over-looking Southern Pacific’s Cal-P route with a view of Suisun Bay/Carquinez Straits and the stored navy ships anchored there.
Curiously, this SP westward freight had a Conrail C32-8 in consist. This was one of ten built as test beds for Conrail in summer 1984 and routinely operated on the Boston & Albany route through the 1980s. They were known as ‘camels’ because of their hump-back appearance. It was odd to see such a familiar locomotive so far from home.
When I bought my Nikon Z6 a few weeks ago, the camera package came with a 24-70mm zoom (designed for the Nikon mirrorless system) and an FTZ adaptor that allows a variety of older lenses to be fitted to the Nikon mirrorless digital cameras.
This adaptor was among the attractions of the Z6 system, because it will allow me to experiment with a variety of my older lenses.
Saturday evening, I fitted my Nikkor f2.5 105mm telephoto to the Z6 and traveled with my girlfriend and photography partner Kris Sabbatino to the dam and park in Chocorua at Tamworth, New Hampshire.
Long ago, I learned that it is best to test a new equipment combination in a relaxed, non-pressurized photographic environment; in other words, NOT when a train is approaching at speed. The park was a perfect place to play with my new set up.
My old lens has manual focus and manual aperture controls, which requires greater attention than the 24-70mm. The camera’s viewfinder has a colored focusing aid to assist with manual focus lenses (when optimal sharpness is reached the focused area is highlighted in red), yet picking a focus point is still pretty tricky.
Also, the lens has older coatings that were designed to produce the best color with film, and are different than the coatings optimized to work with the digital system. This results in somewhat softer color rendition.
The lens is a very sharp piece of glass, and when used wide open (f2.5) allows for photos with very shallow depth of field.
Below are a few examples.
Soon, I’ll begin testing my other older lenses and try photographing some railroad subjects.
In the 1990s, I chased the glint with Kodachrome in my cameras.
Sometimes on the remote chance of getting a one in a 10,000 shot, I’d set up on some lightly used section of track in the golden hour on the off chance that I’d be rewarded.
My chances were better than the lottery
Sometimes I got lucky.
Last Saturday, September 26, 2020, I was driving around western Maine with Kris Sabbatino. We stopped near Bethel to get bottles of water at a convenience store. Ahead of me in line was a woman who spent $81 on a six pack of beer and lottery tickets.
Personally, I feel that lottery tickets are a waste of money. Although my grandfather had phenomenal luck with cards and lottery tickets and sometimes won.
Instead of spending money on the lottery, we took a slight detour to the old Grand Trunk tracks. This is now Genesee & Wyoming’s St. Lawrence & Atlantic. Operations are infrequent and largely nocturnal. The number of daylight trains through Bethel in a year can be counted on one hand. This year I’ve been aware of only three.
Despite these remote odds, I set up in the glint light and waited for a few minutes.
I was only rewarded with this sunset view of empty tracks. Yet my odds of success were far better than the lottery and I saved money on the tickets.
On Friday evening, September 25, 2020, I exposed this digital photograph on the former Maine Central Mountain Division at 4th Iron using my FujiFilm XT1 with 12mm Zeiss Touit.
There are four iron bridges between Bartlett and Sawyers along the Saco River. The easiest to photograph is 4th Iron, which not only can be seen from Highway 302—that runs parallel to the railroad—but even has its own parking area complete with a sign ‘4th Iron’.
I liked the spot because of the bright red trees on both side of the Sawyers River.
The train pictured is Conway Scenic’s Mountaineer that was returning from Fabyan to North Conway, New Hampshire.
Today, I am posting three variations of the same image file.
This is from Sunday’s chase of Pan Am Railway’s SAPPI-3 and pictures the freight crossing Martin Stream near Hinckley, Maine.
The bucolic setting was side lit–a condition that presents a contrast challenge. I made the image using my FujiFilm XT1 with 28mm pancake lens.
Recently, and on the advice of my old pal TSH, I purchased Iridient software, which offers a different interpretation of the FujiFilm RAW files.
Below are examples of the in-camera FujiFilm JPG (using Velvia color profile), a DNG file converted from the Fuji RAW by Adobe Lightroom, and a comparison DNG file converted from RAW using the Iridient software.
All were then scaled and exported using Lightroom. I made identical color and contrast corrections to the two DNG files. (My interpretation, not Fuji’s)
My intent is to compare the Iridient processing with Adobe’s. The Camera JPG is a third reference.
Since this is one of my first experiments with the Iridient software, I cannot claim to be a master of working with it.
On August 26, 1986, Art Mitchell was giving photographer Brandon Delaney and me a tour of Maine railways.
We had perfect Kodachrome weather.
Among our stops was Maine Central’s Bangor Yard, where I made this view of GP38 255 working an eastward freight.
I was fascinated by the antique switch lamp in the foreground, which was still part of the railroad’s functioning equipment and not merely a decoration.
I had Kodachrome 64 loaded in my Leica 3A, and I exposed this color slide with a 65mm Leitz lens mounted using a Visoflex (a Rube Goldberg-inspired reflex view-finder attachment) on the screw-mount pre-war (WW2) 35mm camera.
This somewhat awkward camera arrangement was my standard means for exposing color slides at that time. I made careful notes of my exposure, which was f8 at 1/200th of a second. (My Leica 3A used some non-standard shutter speeds.)
Today, I find the GP38 interesting because its sister locomotive, number 252, is a fixture at the Conway Scenic Railroad (although at present it is out of traffic and awaiting repairs).
These days a morning eastward train is a relatively rare event on Conway Scenic’s former Maine Central Mountain Division route.
On Friday evening, our work train returning from work at Crawford Notch had tied up on the siding at Bartlett. So, on Saturday morning (September 12, 2020) a train crew went out to bring it back to North Conway.
I drove to Bartlett to make a few photos in the crisp morning light.
These photos were made digitally using my both Lumix LX7 and Canon EOS 7D (with 100mm lens).
Last Saturday, September 5, 2020, the second of our Railfan photo freights operated from North Conway to Conway on the former Boston & Maine Conway Branch.
We stopped the freight at several locations during the journey, and made a pick up at Conway.
I exposed these photos using my FujiFilm XT1 with my 18-135mm Fujinon Zoom lens. Unfortunately, upon arriving back at the North Conway yard, my lens suffered a failure with the linkage inside the lens that controls the range of view, leaving me to work with my Canon EOS 3 film camera for the remainder of the evening.
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.
Yesterday, Boston & Maine F7A 4266 led the Mountaineer westbound to Crawford Notch.
This may not seem like a big deal for long time observers of New Hampshire’s Conway Scenic Railroad, as it has occurred in previous years. However, it was the first time I’d ever witnessed this locomotive outside of the yard, and the first time I’d photographed it working a train. (This locomotive is owned by the 470 Club, which also owns sister B&M F7A 4268 that is undergoing an operational restoration.)
I thought it was pretty cool to finally see this antique on the move!
All going well, 4266 will work the train again today as well as the 930am Conway run.
This coming weekend, September 5th and 6th, Conway Scenic will host its annual Railfan’s Weekend. Owing to constraints imposed by the on-going Covid-19 epidemic, the event will necessarily be scaled back from previous years. However, 4266 is scheduled to work a pair of photo-freights on Saturday, and an Extra Photographers Special Mountaineer on Sunday.
The Photo freight has space for a few passengers, and tickets may be ordered online or from the CSRR ticket office (603-356-5251).