Category Archives: railroads

Taking a Chance on Sunset at Bethel, Maine.

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.

Exposed digitally using a FujiFilm XT1 fitted with 90mm prime telephoto.

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Maine Central GP38 255—Bangor, Maine.

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).

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Classic Kodachrome—VIA Rail RDCs at Dorval, Quebec.

In August 1984, I was on a big solo rail adventure. Among the places I visited by train was Montreal.

My friend Brandon Delaney had recommended Dorval as a place to watch trains. Here, double-track Canadian Pacific and Canadian National mainlines ran parallel to each other and there was a continuous parade of freight and passenger trains.

On August 14th, I traveled out on commuter train from Windsor Station and spent several hours soaking up the action.

Among the trains I photographed was this eastbound VIA RDC set on the CN heading for Central Station.

I’d positioned myself where the codelines crossed from the north-side to the south-side of CN’s line. This was my clever compositional trick that makes for a more interesting photograph by focusing the eye toward a secondary horizon.

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RoadRailer at South Fork March 10, 2001

Working with Fuji Provia 100F loaded in a Nikon F3, I exposed this photo of an eastward Norfolk Southern RoadRailer at South Fork, Pennsylvania on March 10, 2001.

I was traveling with fellow photographer Mike Gardner, while making photos for a book to be titled ‘Modern Diesel Locomotives,’ published by MBI.

I scanned the slide the other day using a Nikon Super Coolscan 5000 digital slide scanner, driven with VueScan software.

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Pup WOrks Holyoke—1985

In August 1985, on a drive through Holyoke, Massachusetts on my way from collecting film from Frantek (a local photographic supplier in South Hadley), I stopped at the old Boston & Maine station, where I photographed Boston & Maine SW1 1124 working the north-end of the yard.

Holyoke, Massachusetts in August 1985.

Holyoke was a fascinating post-industrial setting, where vast empty brick mill buildings told of time long gone.

The station hadn’t seen a passenger train in years.

Even the EMD SW1 was a relic of former times.

These diminutive switchers, rated at just 600 hp, were known as ‘Pups’.

I exposed this view using a Leica 3A fitted with a Canon f1.8 50mm lens.

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Hidden Wonders at Philips, Maine.

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!

A covered bridge once carried tracks over this river at Philips—Lumix LX7 photo.

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.

The historic Sandy River & Rangely Lakes gave up the ghost in 1935. This is relic from the original operation.
Some wee diesel disguised as a Forney. Lumix LX7 photo.
The original SR&RL roundhouse burned to the ground in 1923 destroy three fine locomotives in the process. This is a recreation. Lumix LX7 photo.
You just never know what lurks among the trees! Lumix LX7 photo.

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Elusive Two Foot Gauge at Sanders Station.

We were aware that there was a contemporary two-foot gauge tourist railroad on a portion of the historic Sandy River & Rangeley Lakes—a once extensive line that succumbed during the Great Depression.

So, on a recent drive around rural western Maine, Kris Sabbatino and I visited Philips, Maine and were delighted to find the small station at Sanders, where two-foot gauge tracks met the road.

The sign on the station read ‘Trains will run in 2021’.

After making a few photos, we decided to explore further . . .

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Searchlights and a Tunnel Motor at Cabazon

Here’s a classic from my Kodachrome file: Southern Pacific SD40T-2 8378 West ascending Beaumont Hill on the Sunset Route at Cabazon, California on January 30, 1994.

I had Kodachrome 25 loaded in my Nikon F3T, which was fitted with an f5.6 Tokina 400mm lens.

My focus point was not on the front of the locomotive, but rather on the searchlight signal to the right of the train. Since the signal was the emphasis of the photo, you may wonder why I didn’t move a little closer to make it appear larger. The reason is simple: I wanted to include the ‘Cabazon’ sign on the signal relay cabinet, which identifies the location and was key to the interlocking.

Just in case you are curious, the second locomotive in the train consist is a Conrail SD40-2.

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400mm on the Hill

At Conway Scenic Railroad, we call the stretch of line on the Conway Branch running up to our yard at North Conway, ‘the Hill’. This uses a prolonged man-made fill to lift the railroad to its necessary elevation to serve the town. It is the steepest grade on the railroad.

Yesterday, July 30, 2020, I opted to work with my Canon EOS 7D with 100-400 lens to catch former Maine Central 252 on its northward run with the second Conway Valley train. This engine will soon be reassigned.

Canon RAW file scaled from internet.

I hadn’t used this camera in almost a year. When I went to download the files to my laptop, I realized—to my disgust—that I’d left all the cables and card readers specific to the 7D, elsewhere!

The Canon 7D uses the larger ‘CF Card’ (compact flash card) rather than the now standard smaller size ‘SD Card’. I went to Staples hoping to buy another card reader. But when I asked if the carried a ‘CF Card reader’ all I got was a blank stare and ‘A what?’ After five minutes of explaining and describing the device I concluded I was wasting my time and theirs.

While I’ve ordered a card reader from B&H Photo in New York, that won’t arrive until next week. In the meantime Kris Sabbatino came to my rescue. Among her collection of card readers and accessories, she found an old USB2 ‘All-in-1 Card Reader’ and this did the trick!

Hooray!

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Botched 1996 Olympic Pan

On September 10, 1996, I was driving east from Denver to Council Bluffs. Near Kearney, Nebraska, I was following the Union Pacific main line on a secondary road, where I made this panned photo of a westward UP freight train led by SD40-2 1996 specially painted for the 1996 Olympic games.

Working with my Nikon F2 fitted with a 200mm lens and loaded with Kodachrome 200, I panned the unusually painted locomotive to capture the sense of motion.

I’ve always found this photograph unfortunate because: 1) the doors were open on the side of the engine thus spoiling my view of the special paint livery. 2) the distant hill makes for a visually disruptive intersection near the front of the engine just over the top of the short hood.

In retrospect, I’m happy to have the photo, I just wish my execution had been better.

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Unexpected Surprise.

The other day I was scanning some vintage Guilford photos from my 1980s and 1990s file.

This photo came up in the rotation.

Photographer Mike Gardner and I had spent a productive May 1997 day photographing Guilford trains on former Boston & Maine lines.

Toward the end of the day, we caught EDLA (East Deerfield to Lawrence, Massachusetts) working eastbound upgrade near Farley, Massachusetts (east of Millers Falls).

I was working with my N90S fitted with an 80-200 Nikon zoom.

I remember the day well! But when I scanned the slide, I had an unexpected surprise.

Initially, when I saw the lead locomotive, I thought it was Guilford’s 352, a GP40 that has often worked out of East Deerfield Yard. It was only on second inspection that I notice what this engine’s true identity . . .

It was 252! Former Maine Central 252. In other words, Conway Scenic’s locomotive which I see everyday and have hundreds of photos working in New Hampshire.

Wow, that’s kind of cool, to suddenly find a vintage photo I made of this now familiar GP38, back when it was a common freight hauler and not a darling of the tourist trade.

June 27, 2020 at North Conway.

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Empty Oil at Tapa

On a trip to Estonia in July 2002, I’d organized a cab ride on a freight from Tallinn to Tapa, where I spent the evening.

The following morning, I exposed this view near the station with my Nikon N90S and 135mm f2.0 lens of an empty oil train led by a 2M62 diesel heading toward the Russian frontier.

This was a very busy junction with a lot of freight, mostly oil trains, passing through.

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Class Lamp Up Close—Maine Central 252

Yesterday I took a spin on the train to Conway. I made this view with my Lumix LX7 as I boarded the locomotive on the return trip.

Former Maine Central GP38 252 has been working Conway Scenic’s Valley Trains between North Conway and Conway, and to Bartlett for the last couple of weeks.

Historically classification lamps were used as part of the system of timetable and train order rules, where lights of different colors were part of a hierarchy that defined the superiority of trains.

Conway scenic still uses these rules, with extra trains flying white flags by day and displaying white lamps by night.

At the moment all of our trains are operated under timetable and train order rules as ‘extras’.

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Guilford Tv96 at Worcester.

On May 16, 1997, photographer Mike Gardner and I were in Worcester, Massachusetts, where we caught Guilford Rail System’s TV96, a short-lived intermodal service that GRS forwarded from Conrail.

Working with my Nikon F3T and 80-200mm zoom lens, I made this view standing in the Amtrak parking lot below Interstate-290.

After making this photo we chased the train up to the Wachusett Reservoir.

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Work Train Views

Last week, spending the full day with a Conway Scenic Railroad Work Extra enabled me to make many hundreds of photos.

I published a few in my earlier post Work Extra at Frankenstein (see: http://briansolomon.com/trackingthelight/2020/06/27/work-extra-at-frankenstein-four-photos-and-a-big-rock/).

Having finally made the time to review and process the full day’s take, I’ve found some more choice images for presentation here.

All of these images were exposed using my FujiFilm XT1 digital camera

Redstone Branch.
Sawyers River.

Frankenstein
Below mp80.
Sawyers River.
Sawyers River.

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St. Lawrence & Atlantic at Lewiston Junction, Maine.

Last week, Kris Sabbatino and I drove east along the old Grand Trunk and paid a visit to Genesee & Wyoming’s small yard at Lewiston Junction, Maine.

Shortly after we arrived, a pair of EMD SW1500 switchers lettered for G&W’s Quebec Gatineau pulled into the engine facility and tied down.

Pretty neat to catch these antiques working in bright afternoon sun!

Later I looked up the details of these locomotives and was pleased to learn that they were both former Conrail, originally Penn Central locomotives. I’ll need to see if I have them in blue or black! Stay tuned.

Exposed with my FujiFilm XT1 fitted with an 18-135 Fujinon zoom lens.

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Bartlett under Stormy Skies.

On Sunday June 21, 2020, I traveled to Bartlett, NH on our afternoon train from North Conway that boards at 1230.

My primary concern was to diagnose the sound quality on the train’s public address system. However when we arrived at Bartlett, I arranged with the train crew to jump off and make a few photos while the locomotive (former Maine Central GP38 252) cut off and ran around the train.

A thunder storm was brewing to the northwest, which made for a dramatic sky, despite sun on the rails at Albany Avenue in Bartlett.

Later, I learned there had been some fierce weather on Mount Washington.

I exposed these views with my Lumix LX7. These files are from the in-camera JPGs, other than scaling for internet presentation, I made no alterations digitally in regards to color balance, color temperature, contrast, or exposure.

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Conrail in Worcester—1997.

Here’s another photo from my Classic Conrail Kodachrome Files.

Photographer Mike Gardner and I had spent December 2, 1997, photographing Conrail operations around Worcester, Massachusetts.

Early in the day, we dropped E6 slide film at E.B. Luce for processing and then occupied our time documenting the parade of Conrail trains on the former Boston & Albany line.

In this view at CP44 at the east end of Worcester Yard, I photographed some SD50s that had arrived with an eastward train and cut off to make a drop and were running ‘light engine’ past the signals.

It was clear, cool and crisp. Perfect weather for Kodachrome 25!

My book Conrail and its Predecessors is now available from Kalmbach Media. Click the link below.

https://kalmbachhobbystore.com/product/book/01309

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Santa Fe at Cadiz, Calif.

On January 22, 1991, I exposed this Kodachrome of an eastward Santa Fe doublestack train with brand new GE-built DASH8-40BW diesels in the lead wearing fresh warbonnet paint.

I was traveling with SP dispatcher JDS on an epic exploration of the old Needles District in the Mojave Desert.

For this photo he lent me his Nikon 300mm lens. I still recall the very smooth focus of that amazing piece of glass. At the time the longest lens I owned was a 200mm.

This photo appeared in Trains Magazine many years ago.

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Irish Rail Weedspraying Train at Limerick Check.

Between 2000 and 2007, I made more than 1,000 images of the Irish Rail weedspraying train on its annual campaign around the system.

In my early days focusing on this one of kind train (there have been many weed spraying trains, but this one was unique!), I aimed to catch it in unusual places.

On this day in April 2000, I was traveling with intrepid photographer Mark Hodge, and we drove cross-country from Tipperary to County Limerick to intercept the train on the then rarely-traveled Foynes Branch.

Later in the morning, I caught the train coming off the branch at Limerick Check.

The day was wet and dark, but I’m very glad I exposed these photos, despite the fact that over the coming years I made numerous sunny day views of the train.

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Wiscasset, Maine—August 1986.

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.

Wiscasset looking west.
Wiscassett looking east.

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Rochester & Southern—Example of a Multiple Pass Scan.

This morning working with a Nikon Super Coolscan5000, I scanned this vintage Kodachrome 25 color slide.

This is a scaled version of the original scan without post processing color or contrast adjustment.

I used Hamrick’s VueScan software which allows me considerable control over the scanning process.

This has the ability to make a multiple pass scan that can obtain greater detail from highlight and shadow areas by scanning the same image several times and combining the scans.

It has a color setting specifically tailored to Kodachrome film and allows white balance fine-tuning.

VueScan work window for controlling color and exposure during scanning. Notice that I’ve used the Kodachrome profile.

VueScan Input control window where I have selected ‘Fine mode’, 3 samples, and multiple exposure features. I outputted the scan as Tif file at 4050dpi, then scaled in post processing for internet presentation.

This is a much enlarged section of the unadjusted raw scan (scaled for internet).

In post-processing, I used Lightroom to make fine adjustments to improve color balance and contrast before scaling for internet presentation.

I made the original photograph on April 19, 1989, showing a northward Rochester & Southern freight with former New York Central GP40s crossing a road at Scottsville, New York.

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Alco at Meadville, Pennsylvania.

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.

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Washington Metro and Tower K.

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.

My film was Fujichrome Provia 100F.

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The Old Groveton Station-four recent photos.

The old Groveton (New Hampshire) station building stands where the former Boston & Maine met the old Grand Trunk. Today the GT route is operated by Genesee & Wyoming’s St Lawrence & Atlantic (known by its reporting marks SLR) while the B&M line is the very lightly used New Hampshire Central route to Hazens, Whitefield and beyond toward Littleton.

On visits here in the 1990s, I’d found the now defunct New Hampshire & Vermont switching the old paper mill at Groveton. But the mill is now a memory. The once imposing structures dwarfed the little brick station building.

I made these digital photos on a recent visit with photographer Kris Sabbatino. All were exposed using a FujiFilm XT1 with 12mm Zeiss Touit and adjusted for shadows/contrast in post processing with Lightroom.

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TRAXX at Lorch, Germany

DB (German Railways) class 185 electrics are members of Bombradier’s TRAXX Family of locomotives.

These are a common type for freight service.

Last September, I made this view of a Class 185 leading a southward tank train rolling along the Rhein near Lorch at Im  Bachergrund using my FujiFilm XT1.

Autumn sun was softened by thin high clouds that made for almost ideal lighting.

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Boston & Maine Station—Morning and Evening

This is my office.

On April 15, 2020, I made photos as I arrived and as I departed to show the light at the respective times of day.

In my recent article on the Conway Scenic Railroad in May 2020 TRAINS Magazine, I discussed the railroad’s North Conway station in detail, but didn’t picture the iconic structure.

This will be rectified in an upcoming issue, but I thought I’d present these recent photos on Tracking the Light.

I’ve always focused on my immediate surroundings, photographing the ordinary, the common as well as the unusual and the extraordinary.

Over time, the common scenes often have the best staying power.

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Big Alcos in northern Quebec.

The other day, Adam Bartley and I were discussing railway operations and locomotives in Canada, which reminded me of an epic trip I took with George Pitarys and Bill Linley back in 1997.

We drove to Port Cartier, Quebec, a port on the Gulf of the St. Lawrence, and spent several days photographing the isolated Cartier Railway, which moved exceptionally heavy iron ore trains using vintage six-motor Alco and MLW diesels.

Tracks traversed a Canadian National park and this was as close to true wilderness as I’d been up to that time. Other than the railroad and a dirt road that ran parallel, there was virtually no other human activity. No houses, no towns, no restaurants, stores, or anything.

This view of a southward loaded train was exposed on Kodachrome 25 at milepost 21 (as measured from the port). At the time I was using a Nikon N90S with an f2.8 80-200mm Nikon zoom lens.

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New Hampshire & Vermont Alco RS-11 at Whitefield.

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?

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Central Vermont at Palmer—May 17, 1985.

This was a common scene in the mid-1980s; Central Vermont’s southward road freight with a large collection of GP9s crossing the Palmer diamond.

What I find remarkable looking at this image is how few trees were around the tracks back then as compared with today.

At the bottom is a view of the New England Central at the same location a few weeks ago.

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Top of the Boston & Albany—May 1985.

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.

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Wrestling with a Tripod in the Rain.

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.

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Bright Morning in Palmer.

For more than 25 years, New England Central’s gold and navy GP38s have worked the former Central Vermont line. These have been a common site around the railroad’s Palmer, Massachusetts hub.

I thought of that bitterly cold February 1995 morning when I made my first New England Central photos as I exposed these views last week under decidedly more pleasant conditions.

New England Central’s 608 with GP38 3854 at Palmer, Massachusetts in March 2020.
Faded but still working!

I wonder what another 25 years will bring to New England Central at Palmer?

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Paris Metro Line 6

In March 1999, I made a day trip to Paris from Brussels on the Thalys.

Among my visions for the day was to duplicate views of Metro Line 6 with the Eiffel Tower similar to those that my father made back in 1960.

Working with my Nikon N90S, I exposed this wideangle view from above the banks of the Seine.

While the sun was out, dark clouds would soon pelt hail across the Parisian landscape.

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