Today, December 28, 2015 marks the first anniversary of Amtrak’s final runs of the Vermonter on the old New London Northern line between East Northfield and Palmer, Massachusetts.
Until February 1995, this railroad line had been operated by Central Vermont, which at that time conveyed it to New England Central, which hosted Amtrak’s trains.
Step back 135 years. Before New England Central, before digital photography, Amtrak, or commercial electricity . . .
Poet, Emily Dickinson, today one of the best-known American wordsmiths of her generation, lived just a few blocks from this station.
On occasion Emily Dickinson may have traveled by train from Amherst to Monson, where she’d have visited members of her family who lived there. Perhaps she traveled to other destinations further afoot via connections with the Boston & Albany at Palmer.
Back in 1880 a train journey to Monson was easier than today, since then New London Northern served Amherst with three daily trains in each direction.
Two southward runs from Brattleboro afforded travel to Monson; one stopped at 6:46am, and required a change to a New London train in Palmer, which stopped in Monson at 8:24 am. The other was a through all-stops evening train that departed Amherst at 5:50 pm and stopped in Monson at 7:13 pm. There were similar schedules for northward trains.
Which of these schedules might she have traveled?
Her train’s consist, I imagine, was a light wood-burning 4-4-0 leading a wooden baggage car or possibly a combine coach and a second coach. Track speed was probably about a steady 30 mph, except climbing Belchertown Hill, and likely faster heading downgrade. More research would be necessary to track down the particulars.
Among the lines of her famous poem about her train travels read:
I like to see it lap the miles
And lick the valleys up,
And stop to feed itself at tanks . . .
From this description, it sounds more like the 5:50pm that routinely took water in Palmer before continuing its journey southward. But then, perhaps she was penning her lines about a northward run on its way back toward Amherst. Maybe the water tank mentioned was that located near the Amherst station. Just some educated guesses.
Tracking the Light takes an angle on Literature in an effort to make more compelling images.
Tim Doherty asked me a few weeks back, “Have you ever tried a shot from the north side of the Millers Falls high bridge?” I’d looked a this several times, but was discouraged by the row of trees between the road and the railroad bridge.
So, on January 12, 2014, at the end of the day (light), Tim and I went to this location with the aim of making images of Amtrak’s northward Vermonter crossing the aged Central Vermont span.
As there was only a hint of light left, I upped the ISO sensitivity of my Canon EOS 7D and I switched the color balance to ‘tungsten’ (indoor incandescent lighting which has the same effect as using tungsten balance slide film (such as Fujichrome 64T), and so enhances the blue light of the evening.
A call to Amtrak’s Julie (the automated agent) confirmed the train was on-time out of Amherst. Running time was only about 20 minutes (a bit less than I thought) but we were in place, cameras on tripods, several minutes before we heard the Vermonter blasting for crossings in Millers Falls.
The result is interpretive. The train’s blur combined with view through the trees and the deep blue color bias makes for a ghostly image of the train crossing the bridge.