In November 2017, I returned to this location in advance of the approaching northward Housatonic freight NX-12 that featured two early 1960s-era GP35s in the lead followed by 32 cars (28 loads, 4 empties) and another GP35 at the back.
I find the railroad setting here fascinating. The combination of the traditional line with wooden ties and jointed rail in a setting of old factories, freight house and passenger station makes for a rustic scene out of another era.
Working with a Nikon F3 with 50mm lens I made a series of black & white photos on Kodak Tri-X. And, I also exposed a sequence of digital color photos using my FujiFilm X-T1.
This photo was product of one of dozens of trips I made to the old Boston & Albany west end in the mid-1980s.
The west end is the railroad west of Springfield over the Berkshires of Massachusetts toward Albany, New York.
On this morning I waswest of Chester, Massachusetts perched on the top of an rock cutting that dated to the time of the line’s construction circa 1839-1840.
This Conrail eastward train was slowly making its way east. It was serenely quite in these hills and I’d hear the freight making its descent of Washington Hill miles before it finally appeared.
Imagine this setting one hundred and forty years earlier when it was the old Western Rail Road (precursor to the Boston & Albany). A time when one of Winan’s peculiar vertical boiler 0-8-0s would have led a train of primitive four wheel freight cars over this same line.
It was back on January 12, 2014, when I made this view of Pan Am Southern’s symbol freight EDMO (East Deerfield Yard, Massachusetts to Mohawk Yard near Schenectady) in the Berkshire hills at East Portal.
To make these photos, I temporarily co-opted a mound of snow and ballast to gain added elevation for a better view of the bridge.
The famous Hoosac Tunnel is across the road behind me. Soon the train will enter its murky depths.
I’d followed the train on its ambling journey upgrade from East Deerfield, This is another age old tradition for me, dating back to the early 1980s.
Back in the day, the challenge would have been to stay with the train to Mechanicville, New York. “To the River!” As we’d declare. (The Hudson, that is).
Bill asked a favor of me: He was working on article for TRAINS Magazine and hoped that I could travel to the Hoosac Tunnel to make some contemporary images to help illustrate his article.
A few days later, I met Tim Doherty, Pat Yough and Otto Vondrak at East Deerfield for a day’s photography. I needed some images of the former New Haven Railroad Whipple Truss span over the Connecticut River at Montague (now a walking trail).
Later in the day we went west against an eastward freight. This provided me ample opportunity to photograph both east and west portals of Boston & Maine’s famous tunnel under the spine of the Berkshires.
As it turned out, the eastward freight was led by one of only two locomotives painted for Pan Am Railway at the time.
As the train approached and exited East Portal, I exposed a series of images. I sent the best of the slides to Bill via the US Postal Service. One of my photos, exposed with a wide-angle of the Pan Am Railway’s GP40-2L emerging from the tunnel wearing the experimental light blue and black paint, appeared in Bill’s TRAINS Magazine article.
I prefer this view, moments before the freight exits the inky black depths of Hoosac Mountain. For me this better conveys the experience of watching a train at Hoosac Tunnel.
Tracking the Light posts new material every morning.
On the morning of October 14, 2011, I crossed the Berkshires on the Mass-Pike as I drove west to meet with accomplished railway photographer John Pickett.
I had a few hours before our meeting, so despite low cloud and mist, I exited the highway at the Massachusetts-New York state line and drove toward Boston & Albany’s State Line Tunnel. While on Tunnel Hill Road in Canaan, New York, I noticed this colorful scene from the road side.
As I got out of the car, I heard the unmistakable sound of a train roaring west. I had just enough time to get out my Canon EOS 7 and make a test image before the train passed.
Another case of just being at the right place at the right time, and being ready to act.
This was a favorite location of mine on the old Boston & Albany west end. The curve and cutting were built as part of a line relocation in 1912 aimed at reducing curvature and easing the westward climb toward the summit at Washington, Massachusetts.
There are several commanding views from the south side of the rock cutting near milepost 129, west of Chester, Massachusetts. My friend Bob Buck had showed me these locations back in the early 1980s, and I’ve made annual pilgrimages ever since.
Conrail was still going strong in 1996, although the forces were already in play that would see the line divided between CSX and Norfolk Southern. In less than three years time, this route would become part of the CSX network, and has remained so to the present day.
Conrail’s SD80MAC were new locomotives and several pairs were routinely assigned to the B&A grades east of New York’s Selkirk yard.
What makes this image work for me is that the foliage has just begun to turn and has that rusty look. Also, the train is descending on the old westward main track, which allows for a better angle.
After Conrail reworked the B&A route in the mid-1980s, bi-directional signaling on this section allowed them to operate trains in either direction on either track on signal indication. The result is that moves such as this don’t require unusual attention on the part of either dispatchers or train crews.
This photo appeared in my article on Conrail’s SD80MACs that was published in RailNews magazine about 1997.
Exposed on Kodachrome 25 color slide film using a Nikon F3T with 28mm Nikkor lens.
It was a brilliant clear afternoon ten years ago, when Tim Doherty, Pat Yough and I followed Guilford Rail System’s EDMO (East Deerfield, Massachusetts to Mohawk Yard, Schenectady, New York) freight westward into the Berkshires of western Massachusetts.
Rich blue skies, rusty foliage and a great sunlight make October a great time to photograph in New England.
I exposed this image on Fujichrome using a Contax G2 rangefinder with 28mm Biogon lens. At the time Canadian Pacific Railway EMD SD40-2s were commonly assigned to this run, which made it a popular photographic choice.
On June 14, 2010, I spent the day tracing the route of the old Erie Railroad between Marion, Ohio and the Ohio-Indiana state line. At Marion, the former Erie line is still active, albeit integrated with other routes. West of Marion, it’s largely abandoned. In some places the former double-track mainline is easy to follow, in others it has been ploughed under with virtually no evidence left to hint that it was ever there.
At Kenton, Ohio, I found this vestige of Erie double track, where the line crossed County Road 140, east of Main Street. I’m looking east, toward Marion. I can only imagine The Lake Cities (Jersey City-Chicago) racing west across this crossing, or one of Erie’s magnificent S-class Berkshires hitting the crossing with tonnage.
I was happy to find track in place to give me some sense of what the railroad was about. Who knows what I’ll find if I return in ten years time.
I’m not talking about stripping down and running naked through the snow. That sounds like a recipe for frostbite, hypothermia or worse! Rather, I’m focused on how to best select exposure when working in winter situations. Snow is especially difficult to work with for several reasons. First, it’s abnormally bright and results in high contrast situations that is both difficult on the eyes and the camera sensor. Second, most camera meters aren’t designed to work with fields of white, so tend to recommend the wrong settings. Third, for many photographers, making images in snow is an infrequent experience, and one that tends to lead to uncertainty and higher rates of exposure error.
My approach to snow photography stems from years of practice. In general, I take the information provided by camera meters as advisory. I rarely rely on automatic settings without some manual adjustment. Why? I’ve learned to carefully gauge exposure and apply settings manually. Furthermore, I’m distrustful of automatic metering, especially for railway photography, because the automation is programmed to deliver adequate imagery other than what I’m trying to achieve. Perhaps no other situation is as difficult for a common-meter to gauge as sunlit snow imaging.
Many years ago, my father lent me a Weston Master III, and instructed me to wander around the house making exposures and write them down. No photos were exposed. I was about nine and I found this exercise confusing and frustrating because I didn’t understand what I was supposed to be doing. However, I overcame frustration and learned to use the light meter. A decade later, I had the opportunity to learn Cibachrome printing (used to make vivid prints from color slides). At the time, I was primarily working with Kodachrome 25, which I’d been taught to nominally underexpose to produce more saturated colors.
Translating Kodachrome to Cibachrome was revealing; I’d found that my rich, slightly-underexposed slides, which when projected on a nice bright screen looked fantastic, were in fact rather difficult to print. The biggest issue was contrast. While under-exposure may have enhanced the color saturation, it also made the image more contrasty. So while it turned out that my old theory on underexposure had it flaws, I discovered that slightly overexposed slides printed very well. I needed to determine ideal exposures in order to make optimal slides.
Aiding my efforts was my notebook; I’d been recording my exposures for years, but with the Ciba exercise I began making even more detailed notes, recording slide exposures to the third of a stop. Eventually, I assembled a chart with ideal exposures for Kodachrome 25 in various lighting situations. In general, I’d discovered that to make prints, slides needed to be about 1/3 stop brighter than I’d been making them for projection. All very well, but what does this have to do with making digital images in the snow?
Exposing Kodachrome is history, but the lessons I learned from this material still apply. (The short answer to the question was that snow in bright daylight should be exposed at approximately 1 ½ stops down from the full daylight setting without snow; thus with Kodachrome 25, if my normal daylight setting was f4.5 1/250, my snow exposure was about f8 1/250 +/- 1/3 stop). Many of my slides have appeared in books, magazines, as well as here on Tracking the Light. Take a look at my recent book North American Locomotives for some top-notch printed reproductions of Kodachrome.
Digital photography offers some great advantages over Kodachrome, including the ability to review images on-site—thus removing the uncertainty of exposing slides and having to wait for days (or weeks) to see if your exposures were correct. It’s now easier than ever to make good snow exposures and learn immediately from miscalculation. Related to this is the ability to use a digital camera’s histogram as an on-site exposure tool.
Histogram? Yes! This is perhaps the greatest feature on my digital cameras. It allows me to set my exposure ideally, allowing key images to capture the greatest amount information, thus minimizing detail lost through unwanted under-or over-exposure. Positively invaluable when making images in the snow.
Today, before a train enters the scene, I’ll make a series of test exposures and judge them by the output of the histogram. This allows me to refine my exposure to a point that exceeds what I could have achieved with my detailed chart and Kodachrome. In my next post, I’ll detail this process with more examples.