In October 2001, my brother Sean and I visited Norristown, Pennsylvania to photograph SEPTA’s Route 100, known as the Norristown High Speed Line. Here it crossed the Schuylkill Valley on a long steel viaduct.
It was a bright clear day, and I made these views on Fujichrome using my Contax G2 rangefinder from a vantage point the north bank of the river. On the walk back from the river, I stepped squarely in some deep mud.
Until the early 1990s, SEPTA operated distinctive Brill ‘Bullet Cars’ on this route. My dad still calls SEPTA’s current fleet as ‘the new cars’, even though at this point most are now the better part of 30 years old!
When Irish Rail’s Rotem-built 22K series InterCity Railcars (ICRs) were new, they briefly carried set numbers in a painted round circle on the right front above the coupler and adjacent to the headlights. This has been called the ‘green golfball.’
This identification practice was frowned upon and most of the circles were removed after a few months.
Set 7 survived longer than others.
On the evening of December 31, 2009, I made a visit to ‘The Box’ overlooking the wall at Islandbridge Junction in Dublin, where I made this image of ICR set 7 in dramatic winter light using my then new Lumix LX3.
Last night, I found this photo while searching for something else obscure and thought it would make for an interesting Tracking the Light post.
Working from period photos, including color slides that my father exposed in the 1950s-1960s, and my own images from recent years, I’ve planned an HO model railroad that is set in Pennsylvania’s anthracite country.
I’ve been scouring old topographical maps, perusing more old photos, reviewing books, and using Google Earth to adapt a prototype from the former Reading Company main line and Mine Hill Branches. I’m incorporating \elements of Pennsylvania Railroad’s Schuylkill Branch, the disused Schuylkill Canal, local highways and towns added in for color and historical context. I’m planning a coal mine (or two), a yard, engine house, and several bridges among other scale infrastructure, and if space and time permits maybe hints of the old Lehigh Valley and trolley lines that also once populated the area.
From these visions, my girlfriend Kris Sabbatino and I are building this model in her basement in New Hampshire. With a view to a four-dimensional model, I’m intent on a degree of realism and tuned to learn as much about the real railroad as I can in the process of modeling it. And yet, I am hoping the final execution will retain the mystique that attracted us to this railroad in the first place. I’d like it to have a dream-like quality; real yet surreal, an alternate vision of yesteryear. After all the model is but a wee fantasy world.
I’m still erecting the bench-work that is the foundation for the railroad. It will be a while before I can lay track and wire it up, and then we can begin dressing the layout with scenery and tiny structures.
More to follow in the coming months, including more photos of the prototype!
Thanks to Kris who made some of the photos using her new FujiFilm XT4. Special thanks to Doug Scott who generously donated HO scale buildings and rolling stock that go the project rolling forward!
Last Sunday (January 10, 2021), Kris Sabbatino and I drove north into Maine to the narrow crossing of the mountains called Grafton Notch.
In my opinion, this is the coolest of the ‘Notches’ in the White Mountain region.
At Moose Cave a stream navigates a narrow cleft in the rocks where ice had formed.
I made this sequence of photos using my FujiFilm XT1 with 16-55 mm lens, converting camera RAW files with Iridient X-Transformer and making adjustments to color, contrast and exposure using Adobe Lightroom.
Yesterday morning, I photographed Conway Scenic’s Snow Train as it crossed the River Road bridge in North Conway, NH bound for Attitash.
The sun was directly behind the train, and if working with conventional theory for railroad photography I might have dismiss these lighting conditions as unworkable.
Instead, I opted for a sunburst silhouette. Working with my FujiFilm XT1 and 16-55mm Fujinon zoom lens, I set the aperture manually to f22 (the smallest setting). By using the smallest lens opening, I caused diffraction of the direct sunlight that results in the sunburst effect. This is enhanced by filtering the sunlight through the tree branches against a clear blue sky. I adjusted my exposure to maximize the sun burst, which resulted in underexposure of the main subject, which is GP35 216 leading the Snow Train.
After exposure, I walked back to my office at the North Conway Station to adjust the image for final presentation. First I converted the Fuji RAW file using Iridient X-Transformer, and then imported this into Adobe Lightroom. I lightened the overall exposure, while lowering highlights to make the most of the sunburst, then lightened the shadow areas to brighten up the train. Finally, I boosted overall image saturation to make sky seem more blue, and lowered contrast to lower the impact of the photograph.
These adjustments required less time than the five-minute walk from River Road to the North Conway Station.
On January 15, 1953, Pennsylvania Railroad GG1 4876 leading The Federal from Boston, suffered an airbrake failure on approach to Washington Union Station and crashed spectacularly landing in the main concourse of the building. The floor collapsed under the weight of the heavy electric locomotive. Photographs of the disaster were printed on the front pages of newspapers around the country.
The locomotive was rebuilt and remained in service until 1983.
On June 27, 1983, my father, my brother Sean and I found the old electric resting at the motor storage in South Amboy, New Jersey.
At the time, the locomotive and South Amboy were a subjects of my model railroad interest.
I made this view on Kodachrome 64 with my Leica 3A with 50mm Summitar lens. The film had a red tint to it, that I’ve preserved in scanning. This can be easily color corrected.
Recently, my girlfriend Kris Sabbatino and I decided to build a model railroad.
For a prototype we selected eastern Pennsylvania anthracite country.
I began scouring my archives looking for material.
Part of my inspiration for this model railroad began many years ago when I was looking through my father’s photographs of Reading Company’s Iron Horse Rambles that he exposed over a five-year period beginning in 1959. Many of these photos were made from the excursions or on chases through eastern Pennsylvania. Most were not captioned at the time of processing, which often makes location details elusive but also part of the dreamlike mystery of building the scale railroad.
In 2007, I assembled a book titled the Railroads of Pennsylvania, and made a detailed study of the region.
In 2014 and 2015, I was researching on books on steam locomotives and made several trips with Pat Yough to photograph the Reading & Northern.
The model railroad will blend together all of this inspiration and much more.
As part of a new on-going feature on Tracking the Light, I’ll be reporting on progress with this model railroad and the source material from which we draw.
At the end of December 2020, Kris Sabbatino and I, paid a brief visit to the Mount Washington Cog Railway, where I made this photo of a pair of bio-diesel powered excursion trains near the base station.
The Mount Washington Cog was the worlds first cog railway. Although uncommon in North America, mountainous cog railways are relatively common in the Alps where there are numerous examples in Austria, Germany, and Switzerland.
In 2002, I traveled on a cog line at Strba, Slovakia, but that’s a photo for another day.
On a September 1994 trip with Tom and Mike Danneman, I made this unusual portrait oriented (vertical) image on Kodachrome 25 of a Duluth, Missabe & Iron Range manifest freight approach the yard at Proctor, Minnesota.
It was dull and raining lightly. To make for a more engaging photo I included portions of the bridge on which was I standing over the tracks. This makes a frame for the primary subject and ads depth, while distracting viewers likely to complain by directing their interest to the out of focus bridge members and away from the featureless sky.
This was a trick I learned in the early 1990s when executing commercial product photography to avoid overly complicated re-shoots by distracting fault-finding art directors.
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Cropped for the horizontal-demanding internet below;
On Saturday, January 2, 2021, I limited my photo arsenal to just three cameras.
For this view of the Conway Scenic Railroad’s Winter Steam crossing the Saco River at ‘Second Iron,’ I was used my Nikon Z6.
I made some nominal modifications to the camera raw file (NEF) using Adobe Lightroom. Specifically, I lightened the shadow areas, brought down the highlights, while whitening the whites to help separate the steam from the sky and keep the snow looking clean and fresh. I also slightly increased saturation since the RAW capture appeared a bit dull.
Locomotive 7470 was reversing over the bridge after making its first run-by for the photographers on the trip.
Yesterday, I presented images scaled directly from the Camera produced JPG files.
To make the most of the images presented in today’s post, I imported my Fuji RAW files into Iridient X-Transformer for conversion into the DNG format, and then imported the DNG conversions into Adobe Lightroom for adjustment.
As previously described on Tracking the Light Iridient X-Transformer does a superior job of interpreting the data captured in RAW by the Fuji X-series camera than simply importing the RAWs directly into Lightroom.
Using the Lightroom sliders I made nominal adjustments to contrast, color temperature, and exposure in order improve the interpretation of the photographs.
Saturday, January 2, 2021, Conway Scenic Railroad operated its Winter Steam special to Sawyer River hauled by locomotive 7470.
I helped plan, organize and advertise this event.
Instead of traveling on the train westbound, I’d opted to ride the Water Train that preceded it to Sawyers. This allowed me to help set up the location for the first photo stop, and make images of the train arriving.
I then traveled on Winter Steam eastward to Second Iron, where we staged the second photo run by.
These photos were exposed using my FujiFilm XT1 using the the built in Velvia color profile. Other than scale the camera JPG files in Adobe Lightroom, I made no changes to color, contrast or exposure.
Yesterday—January 2, 2021—I traveled on Conway Scenic’s Water Train, ‘Work Extra 573,’ that cleared the line of snow and carried the tank car filled with 5,000 gallons of water to refill the tender of steam locomotive 7470.
This was the support train for the main event. Winter Steam was Conway Scenic’s first steam excursion of the new year. Locomotive 7470, the railroad’s former Grand Trunk Railway 0-6-0, followed the Water Train by about an hour, running to from North Conway, New Hampshire to Sawyers and back.
Sawyers is the siding on the old Maine Central Mountain Division located immediately timetable west of 4th Iron, where the railroad crosses Sawyer River.
I made all of these photos using my FujiFilm XT1 with 27mm pancake lens.
In 1986, my pal TSH and I had been comparing the differences between Kodachrome 25, Kodachrome 64, and Fujichrome 50 slide film.
It was early during this trial period that I made this photo of Central Vermont’s southward freight 562 with Grand Trunk Western 5808 in the lead ascending State Line Hill in Monson, Massachusetts passing the old Zero Manufacturing plant on Bliss Street.
I was very much impressed by the colors in this image when it was returned to me from Kodak, and the appearance of this slide and other K25 images contributed to my decision to adopt this emulsion as my standard slide film.
In scanning my vintage Kodachrome slides, I found two color views at Rices near Charlemont, Massachusetts that I exposed nearly 15 years apart.
The top view was made looking east from a Mystic Valley Railroad Society excursion to the Hoosac Tunnel in May 1982. We had just over taken a short Boston & Maine local freight heading for North Adams. Interestingly this was my first photo at Rices.
The second photo was made of an empty coal train following a late-season heavy snow in April 1997.
The book High Green and the Bark Peelers describes this then-new bridge (built c1949) which had replaced a traditional wooden covered bridge.
The other day, I walked along the banks of the Saco River in Conway, NH to make this view of Conway Scenic Railroad’s 7470 on its northward run in freshly fallen snow.
The original image was exposed as NEF (Raw file) with my Nikon Z6 mirrorless camera. I imported the file into Adobe Lightroom to make nominal adjustments to color, exposure and contrast. This allowed me to make the most of the directional winter lighting.
Although a largely monochromatic scenic, this is actually a full color photograph. Perhaps I should return one of these days with a film camera?
Note: To get the full picture, you will need to view this post on Brian Solomon’s Tracking the Light.
I like to find non-standard angles and unusual perspectives to make common subjects, uncommon.
In April 1989, an Amtrak F40PH leading Amfleet, was about as common as it got.
I’d set up along Conrail’s former New York Central Waterlevel Route at milepost 399, near the School Road grade crossing, east of Batavia, New York.
Working with a Leica M2 with 200mm Telyt prime telephoto attached using a Leica Visoflex and fixed to a Bogen 3021 tripod, I selected a rail-level view.
My angle deliberately forces the eye away from the primary subject. Why do this? The bright Amtrak train already dominates the scene, so by forcing the eye downward it makes for an unusual angle that better captures your attention.
An unwise photo editor, might try to crop the bottom 20 percent of the image in a misguided effort to center the train from top to bottom.
Sadly, photographer’s compositions are too often foiled by less insightful editors.
I made this photo of Santa Fe F45 5959, then working on Wisconsin Central, at Valley siding near Fond du Lac on May 20, 1995.
This was in the last light of evening when warm light bathed the landscape. Wisconsin Central had recently acquired a variety of 20-cylinder EMDs from Santa Fe. This is one of many slide I made of Santa Fe diesels working the WC.
I scanned the slide using a Nikon Coolscan5000 digital scanner.
This is another view from Dresden, Germany exposed with my Rolleiflex Model T in June 2001. It was on the same roll of Fuji Neopan 400 that I described last week on Tracking the Light.
I’m at street level, with the Dresden Neustadt station behind me.
In the first interpretation, I made no alterations to the reversal scan of the original negative.
In the second (below), I’ve made significant adjustments to exposure and contrast.
Exposed using Rolleiflex Model T with Carl Zeiss 75mm lens. 120-size Fuji Neopan 400 roll film. Processed in Agfa Rodinal Special (not to be confused with Agfa Rodinal) mixed 1-32 for 3 min 45 seconds. Scanned with a Epson V600 flatbed scanner, digital processing with Adobe Lightroom.
I visited Dresden, Germany for the first time in June 2001.
The Dresden Neustadt station impressed me with its arched train shed and vintage mechanical semaphores.
Working with my old Rolleiflex Model T, I made this pair of photos on 120-size Fuji Neopan 400 roll film.
I processed the film in Agfa Rodinal Special (not to be confused with Agfa Rodinal) mixed 1-32 for 3 min 45 seconds.
I like the technological contrast between the then modern train (a Siemens Desiro railcar) and the old signals. This contrast is mimicked in the visual contrast of my black & white technique that produces stark dark lines against fluffy afternoon clouds.
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In October (2020), I made this view of the former Maine Central twin-span truss over the Saco River near Glen, NH, while traveling eastbound on the headend train #162 Mountaineer.
This is favorite bridge of mine, but a difficult one to photograph satisfactorily from track side. As a result most of my best photos have been from the engine.
I exposed this using my Canon EOS 3 loaded with Ilford HP5 black & white film. I processed this in a customized split development process using a presoak of Kodak HC110 mixed 1-200 at 68F for 5 minutes 30 seconds, followed by primary development using Ilford ID-11 stock mixed 1-1 for 6 minute 30 seconds at 68f. This technique facilitates exceptional dynamic range and superior overall tonality.
After processing, I scanned the negatives using an Epson V600 flatbed scanner, and made final adjustments to the scan in Adobe Lightroom.
Monday afternoon, Conway Scenic operated a work train out along the Redstone Branch in North Conway, NH.
After the train left the yard, I walked from my office in the North Conway station a few blocks east to the North-South Road that runs parallel to the Redstone line to make a few photos of the train on the branch.
The next day I sent them to the Conway Day Sun.
Yesterday, December 16, 2020, I was greeted by my photo on the front page of the paper! (Complete with credit and quote).
So I went back over to the newspaper’s offices to make a few photos of the newspaper boxes with the railroad in the distance, and then gave a copy to Dave Swirk, president & general manager of the railroad. I posed him in front of steam locomotive 7470, and then posted this to our facebook.
If all goes well, 7470 may be next up for its day in the Sun!
All photos were made using a FujiFilm XT1 with 16-55 Fujinon zoom lens.