Last week I stepped on to Main Street in Monson, just as a single New England Central GP38 was working upgrade through town.
‘It’s a bit late for 608.’ I thought. (608 is the weekday turn freight from Willimantic to Palmer, often featured on Tracking the Light).
It wasn’t 608, as I quickly noticed. Rather, it was NECR 3850 leading a Federal Railroad Administration inspection train, including FRA’s ‘Gage Restraint Measurement Vehicle’.
I had other plans. But had my FujiFilm XT1 with me.
Plans were postponed, as I jumped in my vehicle and immediately headed south on Route 32 to intercept this unusual train.
I caught it twice; once at the Bob Buck inspired South Monson Rt 32 crossing, and then at Bob’s favorite, Smith’s Bridge at Stafford Hollow Road.
In my youth this bridge offered an open view of the line; in Bob’s steam-era photo there were fields both sides of the track. Today, there’s only a narrow space between the trees. Lucky for me, the angle of the sun was perfect.
Score one for being at the right place at the right time (and having my cameras).
This Saturday, May 6, 2017, I will present a variation of my Boston & Albany program to the New York Central System Historical Society convention, to be held at the Best Western Royal Plaza Hotel, in Marlborough, Massachusetts.
I am listed as the guest speaker and my illustrated talk will begin at about 7pm. This will feature material from the Robert A. Buck collection, and images from the lens of William Bullard (early 20th century photographer), as well as a selection of my own work on the B&A, which spans more than 40 years.
For information on the convention and registration forms see the New York Central System HS website: www.NYCSHS.org
Tucker’s Hobbies was the dream business for my late friend and mentor, Robert A. Buck, who in 1981 relocated and transformed his Tucker’s Hardware into Tucker’s Hobbies. This had long been a focal point for railway interest, a place to meet railroaders, model railroaders, enthusiasts, and others.
I’ve been regularly visiting Tucker’s since its hardware store days on Main Street in Warren. In the 1980s, I was a regular for Friday night sessions and despite living in myriad locations, I’ve often come back for visits.
Bob Buck passed away in October 2011. Yet, the store has remained open on Friday and Saturday’s. However, all things must end. And this past weekend (May 16-17) represented the store’s final opening hours in Warren.
I called into Tucker’s for an hour Friday night (May 16) to visit with old friends and take a final look at the shop. I made these digital images using my Canon EOS 7D. This was a venue that via Bob Buck had a profound influence on my interests in railways and on my photography.
Yet Tucker’s legacy lives on, and the store will be taking a new form as Palmer Hobbies opening soon on Main Street in nearby Palmer, Massachusetts.
My friend Bob Buck of Warren had advised me to photograph old freight cars, especially those from the ‘fallen flags’ (railroads that had merged or were otherwise lost).
I kept a keen eye out for the cars of Conrail’s predecessors, which were a special interest to me.
In July 1984, I was passing Conrail’s sprawling West Springfield Yards on my way to the Boston & Albany ‘West End,’ when I saw this old New York Central ‘Early Bird’ 50ft double door car.
By that time, New York Central had been gone 16 years, and I was only 17, so the time seemed like a lifetime to me. Following Bob’s advice, I dutifully exposed a three-quarter view of the car. One frame. That is all.
In retrospect, I wish that I’d taken a few more images of the car. Today, I’d focus on the car and make some detailed views. Looking back on this car today, what I find noteworthy was that it still had its catwalks, an accessory that had been out of favor for years by the time I’d exposed this image.
New York Central 50-foot boxcar at West Springfield, Massachusetts, July 1984. Exposed with a Leica 3A with 50mm Summitar lens.
Acting fast, I made the most of an extra move. Earlier in the day, I’d stopped in to Tucker’s Hobbies in Warren, Massachusetts on Friday afternoon October 25, 2013. I was there to visit with Rich Reed who was working the counter.
Back in the day, I’d made many Friday trips to Tucker’s to visit with my old friend Bob Buck, proprietor of the hobby shop (and premier Boston & Albany railroad enthusiast). It’s been a little more than two years since Bob took the final train home, but his spirit still smiles on Warren.
I inquired if Rich had seen much on the mainline (CSX’s former B&A route), which passes within sight of Tucker’s. “No, there’s been nothing except the Lake Shore (Amtrak 449 Boston to Chicago).”
These days, east of Springfield, CSX can be very quiet in daylight. There’s a couple of eastward intermodal trains destined for Worcester (symbol freights Q012 and Q022) that make it over the line in the morning, and recently I’ve occasionally seen trains running to Pan-Am Railways via Worcester and Ayer (Q426 eastbound and Q427 westbound).
Departing Warren for East Brookfield, I turned on my old scanner, just in case.
Driving east on Route 9, I’d just passed the State Police Barracks, when the radio crackled, and I heard a key snippet of information, ‘ . . . clear signal CP64, main to main westbound’ (or something along those lines).
I was just east of milepost 67, and now I knew that train was heading west across the Brookfield flats at milepost 64. But the sun was near the horizon and I had to act quickly if I hoped to make a photograph.
Initially, I thought, ‘I’ll head to the Route 148 Bridge at milepost 67’, but I quickly changed my mind because I realized that the tracks swing slightly to the north before reaching milepost 67, and at the late hour in October, the line might be shadowed. I didn’t want to risk it.
Instead, I pulled off of Route 9, near the old Clam Box road-side restaurant. Here, CSX had cleared the right of way of bushes and trees (during recent upgrading and undercutting work to improve clearances.)
Within a couple of minutes the train came into view. It was an extra westward empty Ethanol train, the first I’d seen in many months on CSX. I exposed several digital photos and made a few images with my father’s Leica M4.
It had been exactly four years to the day, since I made the photos of East Brookfield Station that appeared in my post on October 25, 2013. See: East Brookfield Station, October 25, 2009 Coincidence? Not really. I know the foliage and light angles favor the Brookfields at this time of year.
See tomorrow’s post for action shots at milepost 67.
While several locomotives have been painted in the new corporate colors (or rather, G&W’s traditional paint scheme), many of New England Central’s locomotives remain in various former liveries, including the railroad’s original blue and yellow.
On Monday October 28, 2013, New England Central job 610 (a turn that runs from Willimantic, Connecticut to Palmer, Massachusetts) sported a pair of nicely painted G&W locomotives.
My dad and I made chase of this train on its southward run. I exposed digital still photographs, while Pop made some video clips with his Lumix LX7.
The sun was playing tag with us, but the locomotives were so bright and clean it hardly mattered if the sun was out or not.
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.
As a kid, I’d travel with my family to coastal Maine for visits with grandparents who owned a summer home south of Newcastle. At that time, Maine Central operated freights on the Rockland Branch on a weekday basis.
On rare occasions as we were driving, I’d see a train wandering up or down the branch. I recall my exceptional frustration when passing the Rockland roundhouse a group of Maine Central GP7s and GP38s basked in evening sun, but family priorities precluded even a short stop for photography (I think we were going to dinner).
By the time I made visits to Maine in the mid-1980s with aims at making railroad photographs, the old Rockland Branch was all but dormant.
The line experienced a revival in the 1990s and 2000s. Today it hosts freight and passenger trains operated by Maine Eastern. This greatly pleased my late-friend Bob Buck, who had experienced the line in steam days and had watched its gradual decline during the diesel era.
It was a great thrill for him to be able to board a passenger train again at Rockland and ride along the coast inlets toward Brunswick.
In August 2004, I was among several friends visiting with Bob at his summer home on the Maine Coast. During this trip, Neal Gage and I spent a productive morning photographing Maine Eastern’s cement train, which made a series of short turns between the cement factory at Thomaston and a pier in Rockland.
This included photographing the short spur (branch) to the pier that had been rebuilt during the revival period to facilitate movement of cement by barge. This line winds through back yards of Rockland and curls around to the waterfront.
Caption: In August 2004, a Morristown & Erie C-424 leads a short empty cement train up from the Rockland Pier on the rebuilt former Maine Central spur running between the pier and the Rockland yard. Exposed on Fujichrome with a Nikon F3T and 24mm lens.
Yesterday (July 10, 2013), I posted night photos I made in Palmer on June 28, 2013. I mentioned that my night photography efforts were part of a long standing tradition. So I dug up this image of the Palmer station exposed nearly three decades earlier.
This was undoubtedly made on a Friday evening. A thick fog from the Quaboag River had enveloped the valley. In the station parking lot, and out of sight, Bob Buck is holding court.
That night I made several views of the Palmer station in silhouette. All were exposed with my old Leica 3A and a 50mm lens, probably a Canon screwmount which I favored at the time. I was using my father’s Linhof tripod to support the camera. Exposure was calculated strictly from experience, and was probably about 30 seconds at f2.8.
Interestingly, just the other day (July 9, 2013) I had the opportunity to interview Jim Shaughnessy about the night photography techniques he used to capture steam locomotives on film back in the 1950s. While similar to mine, his approach was very different and he perfected it more than three decades before my image was exposed.
Where I used 35mm film and strictly ambient light for this image, Jim tended to use a 4×5 camera and a skilled combination of ambient and artificial flash.
Of course, I was well acquainted with Jim’s work by the time I made this photo. There has been a copy of Donald Duke’s 1961 book Night Train on our shelf for as long as I can remember! This features Jim’s work among that of other well-established practitioners of the art of railway night photography.
I don’t remember making my first night photo in Palmer. But I do recall spending Friday evenings there in the 1980s with Bob Buck and company, watching and photographing Conrail and Central Vermont. See: Drowning the Light
The Friday evening tradition was maintained on June 28, 2013, when a group of us convened, as we have for many years, near the old station. A few weeks earlier, I posted some photos made on exceptionally wet Friday night. By contrast, June 28th was warm, dry and very pleasant. And busy too!
The variances of railway freight operations make it difficult to pin point precisely when trains will pass or arrive Palmer. Complicating matters on the week of June 28, was on-going undercutting on CSX’s B&A route (see: Ballast Train East Brookfield), and the after effects of a serious derailment on the Water Level route near Fonda, New York a few days earlier.
However, these events appear to have benefited us on the evening of the 28th. I arrived at CP83 (the dispatcher controlled signals and switch at west end of the controlled siding, 83 miles from Boston) just as CSX’s westward Q437 was rolling through.
New England Central had no less than three trains working in Palmer, jobs 604, 606, and 611, and these entertained us for the next couple of hours. In addition, we caught more action on CSX, including a very late train 448, Amtrak’s Lake Shore Limited.
I made these photos using my Lumix LX3 and my father’s Gitzo carbon fiber tripod. Some of the exposures required the shutter to remain open for 25 seconds or longer.
Listening to the Sounds of a General Motors 645 diesel in Run 8.
On the afternoon of August 16, 2003, I was in suburban Zagreb making photos on Croatian Railways (Hrvatske Zeljeznice—properly spelled with a hooked accent over the ‘Z’, which I’m not using in order to avoid problems with text interpretation by different computers).
Some local passenger trains, and long distance trains working the non-electrified line to Varazdin were hauled with General Motors diesels (built locally under license by Duro Dakovic). Many were still wearing the older Yugoslavian green and gold, but a few such this one (2044-002) were in the newer and attractive HZ blue and silver livery.
I also caught a few freights with Swedish designed Rc electrics HZ class 1141, similar to Amtrak’s AEM-7s.
Zagreb is a beautiful city with some wonderful old architecture a tram system. It’s as old as memory goes too. There were people living there when the Romans arrived some 2000 years ago.
Incidentally, precisely 20 years earlier, on the afternoon of August 16, 1983, Bob Buck and I caught a Boston & Maine freight leaving the yard in Springfield, Massachusetts with a Canadian National GP9 in consist. The CN GP had come down on the Montrealer the night before, pinch-hitting for a failed F40PH. Somehow, it seems relevant to mention that, it really ties the blog posts together.
A Hrvatske Zeljeznice class 2044 diesel (General Motors export model GT22HW-2) works west of Zagreb. Exposed with an Nikon F3Ts with 105mm lens on Fujichrome slide film.
Going back to at least the 1980s, a group of us would convene in Palmer on Friday evenings. It used to be that after closing Tucker’s Hobbies on Fridays, Bob Buck would come down for dinner along with customers and friends from the store. Afterwards, we’d head over to ‘the station’ to watch the railroad.
I recall seeing Central Vermont’s old Alco RS-11s on sultry summer evenings, belching clouds of exhaust and sparks, while we waiting for the parade of westward Conrail trailvans (intermodal piggy-back trains); TV-5, TV-13, and etc. Back in the day, I’d make night shots with my Leica 3A. That seems like a long time ago.
This past Friday, a group of us convened at the usual spot; Doug and Janet Moore, Bill Keay, Rich Reed and myself. After a few trains, Doug and Janet were the ‘heroes’ as Bob would have called them; they headed home and a little while later the signals at CP83 lit up. To my astonishment, the ‘C’ light was flashing (the small lunar-white light between the main signal heads). I rushed for my cameras . . .
The signals at CP83 are approach-lit. So, when the signals light, it means that something (usually a train) has shunted the circuit. Among other things, CSX’s CP83 governs the switch at the west end of a controlled siding that begins at CP79 (about four miles to the east). When the signals light with a high green, it means a westward train has been cleared to continue past CP83.
Conrail installed the present signaling system back in 1986 when it converted the Boston & Albany route from directional double track under Automatic Block Signal rule 251 ( ‘signal indication will be the authority for trains to operate with the current of traffic’) to a largely single main track system with controlled sidings and governed by Centralized Traffic Control-style signals with cab signaling.
As a result there are now only wayside signals at dispatcher control points such as CP83. CSX assumed operations from Conrail 14 years ago.
It’s rare, but occasionally a locomotive suffers a cab-signal failure, or a locomotive that isn’t cab signal equipped leads a train. There is a provision with the signal system using the ‘C’ light, to allow a dispatcher to authorize a train to proceed without operative cab signal.
CSX rule CR-1280A names the ‘C’ light aspect as ‘Clear to Next Interlocking’. This gives the train permission to proceed the full distance to the next block ‘approaching next home signal prepared to stop’.
Why am I going into such specific operational details? Because, I’m fascinated by signals, but also in the 27 years since Conrail installed this signal system I’ve only witnessed a ‘C’ light lit, three times. And, I’d never before seen the C-light lit at CP83. I’ve been to CP83 more times that I can count, so for me, that is a really unusual event. (I saw a shooting star that night too, but those are common by comparison!)
Fortunately, I had cameras handy, and, perhaps more to the point, I had my dad’s Gitzo tripod, which made this sequence of images possible. (Other wise I would have trying to balance the camera with stacks of coins on the roof of my Golf, but, we’ll save that for another event . . .)
I just wish that Bob Buck could have been there with us to watch the train pass. He would have enjoyed that.
All images exposed with a Lumix LX3 set manually at f2.8 for 15 seconds, ISO 80.
Sunday, October 3, 1993 was a fine autumn day. I was visiting New England, after some eight months in California, and met my friend Bob Buck along the Boston & Albany route at Palmer. He was reading his Sunday paper, and looked up, “Are you interested in going to the West End?”
Silly, question! Bob had introduced me to the old B&A West End a dozen years earlier, and as the living expert on the B&W, there was no better guide for my favorite line. So off we went in Bob’s Ford van, via the Mass-Pike to Westfield and then up the mountain. The railroad wasn’t especially busy that day, but we saw a few trains.
Our first stop was Chester. Then we went up to Middlefield, a location that Bob had found way back in 1946. On that day he’d watched B&A’s mighty A1 class Berkshires on freight. Those days were long gone, but Bob spoke of them as if they were yesterday! We walked west to the famed Twin Ledges where Bob had made many great photos of steam power, then as the daylight faded returned to the old Middlefield Station location (the building was demolished decades earlier).
Middlefield is a peaceful bucolic place and an idyllic setting to watch and photograph trains. Toward the end of sunlight, we heard a eastward train descending. Since I’d made dozens of photographs at this location over the years, I thought to try something a little different, and so I framed the train with these leaves around it.
Shafts of rich afternoon sun illuminated the golden foliage, casting a bit of golden glint light on the rail. It was a stunning scene. But, just as the Conrail train crawled into view, clouds obscured the sun. Poor show.
Not withstanding, I exposed this frame of Kodachrome 25 with my Nikon F3T, making a last second exposure compensation; f2.8 1/125. K25 was a forgiving film, but this wasn’t enough exposure, and the slide came back from Kodak looking dark and uninviting. Not much use in a slide show. I put it away and haven’t looked at it since. Until today that is.
Yesterday’s photographic folly has become today’s project. I can’t exactly catch a set of Conrail C30-7As working the Boston & Albany route anymore, and this image retains strong composition despite its flaws. What was merely a dark slide in 1993, can now be adjusted with Adobe Photoshop.
Below I’ve displayed four images. The original ‘Dark’ image. Plus three altered scans. Option 1 involves little more than a quick adjustment with the ‘curves’ feature to compensate for under exposure, while Options 2 and 3 involved varying degrees of manipulation to compensate for exposure, color balance and apparent sharpness. I’ve used various masking, layering and other types of selective adjustment. Which is the best image? You decide. I make no apologies, It’s an old dark slide, there’s no right or wrong.
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.
Tonight (February 8, 2013) a blizzard rages outside the window. The roads are closed, the railroad is quiet (so far as I know), and I’m not out, knee-deep in snow, trying to make night photos. (Ok, so I’m as mad as hatter, or worse—used to be lots of hatters here in Monson, back in the day.) However, I pulled up an image from my digital archive of Florida East Coast GP40-2 417 at New England Central’s Palmer Yard office on February 22, 2011. There’s something incongruous about a Florida East Coast locomotive in the snow. I’d met Bob Buck of Tucker’s Hobbies that evening for dinner, and later we’d stopped by Palmer yard to see what was about.
Since that night, nearly two years ago, New England Central has applied its own lettering to several former Florida East Coast locomotives; Bob has passed on; and New England Central has become part of the Genesee & Wyoming short line railway empire. Everything changes.