In May 1978, my father drove us to Palmer, Massachusetts to watch the passage of the eastward Lake Shore Limited (train 448). I made a series of photos using my pre-war Leica IIIA rangefinder on Kodacolor II color negative film.
This trailing view looks east toward the old South Main Street Bridge and Conrail’s Palmer yard. It looks like something nasty happened to the westward signal (at right). A pair of E8s led the train.
Despite their age, these old color negatives have held up reasonably well. I scanned them in 2016 using an Epson V600 flatbed scanner.
May 4, 1997: I exposed this Fujichrome slide of Amtrak’s westward Lake Shore Limited (Boston section), train 449 rolling down the Quaboag River Valley near the former Boston & Albany station at West Brimfield, Massachusetts.
This was at a time when the train was carrying a fair amount of freight and mail on the head and tail ends of the passenger consist, and shortly before Amtrak replaced the old EMD F40PHs with new Genesis P42 diesels.
It was just about two years before Conail’s class 1 operations were divided and the old Boston & Albany was conveyed to CSX.
Eleven years ago, I made this end of daylight view on the longest day of the year at CP83 in Palmer, Massachusetts.
CSX’s westward freight Q423 had stopped to change crews. In those days, Q423 ran from Worcester, Mass., to Selkirk, NY. I cannot recall why the crew was on short time.
I made the exposure using my Canon EOS-7D at 6400 ISO at 1/3 second, f3.5 using a prime 28mm lens.
The Canon 7D is an excellent camera. I’ve had mine for a dozen years and exposed thousands of digital photos with it. It’s higher ISO settings are weak compared with modern cameras. Here the 6400 ISO setting appears relatively pixelated. Yet at the time I was delighted to the ability to use such a fast ISO setting at the twist of a dial.
East of the station and yard at Palmer, Massachusetts, Conrail’s former Boston & Albany passed the abutments of the Southern New England—a pre-World War I railroad scheme aimed at connecting Palmer with Providence.
Bob Buck referred to this location (milepost 81.81/81.82) as Electric Light Hill. It was near a electric substation, and not far from where the old interurban electric line crossed the Quaboag River.
I made these photos on a Spring 1982 evening. Conrail freights had backed up at the block signals, likely because the Central Vermont was occupying the Palmer diamond to the west..
While I recall relatively little about the events, I do remember the excitement of seeing a second headlight to the east after the first westbound had passed me.
I made these photos with my Leica 3A on black & white film, probably Kodak Tri-X, which I would have processed in Kodak Microdol-X. In those days, I had a tendency to over process the film which made for some pretty dense highlights and relatively grainy photos.
Last weekend, Kris and I visited the Berkshire Scenic Railway with the New York Central System Historical Society.
We boarded the BSRy excursion train at Adams, Massachusetts for a short spin up to North Adams and back.
The railway had arranged several photo stops for us. The first of these was at Zylonite, where we paused at the old Boston & Albany station. Clouds parted and the sun emerged. BSRy ran their mixed consist of a former New York Central SW8 diesel hauling two former Lackawanna commuter cars and a Budd RDC. This performed several photo run-bys for passengers.
I exposed these images using my Nikon Z6 with 24-70mm Z-series Nikkor zoom lens. Files were processed and adjusted in Lightroom, where I made nominal corrections to constrast, color temperature, and saturation.
My Trains Magazine podcast-series Conversations with Brian Solomon posted its most recent episode, which features Steaming Tender’s general manager Scarlet Lamothe, whom I interviewed in Palmer, Massachusetts last month.
Steaming Tender is the popular railroad themed restaurant located in the old Palmer Union Station near the diamond crossing of CSX’s Boston Line and New England Central.
I speak with Scarlet about the history of the restaurant as a New England Central freight switches nearby.
Yesterday (August 23, 2019) I interviewed Steaming Tender General Manager Scarlet Lamothe for upcoming Trains Magazine podcasts.
Steaming Tender is the popular railroad themed restaurant located inside the former Palmer, Massachusetts Union Station at the diamond crossing between CSX’s Boston Line and New England Central. It is open Wednesday to Sunday and is a great venue to enjoy lunch and dinner while watching trains.
On March 16, 1986, I hiked west of milepost 84 on Conrail’s Boston & Albany route to photograph Amtrak train 448, the eastward Lake Shore Limited(Boston section).
This was just a few months before Conrail single tracked the line between Springfield and Palmer, Massachusetts.
I was keen to document the Boston & Albany’s line that passed through the northern reaches of my home town, Monson, Massachusetts, in the railroad’s traditional directional double track configuration.
This lone image is part of my much more extensive project to document the Boston & Albany route on film.
I exposed the photo on 120 roll film using my father’s Rollei Model T. In May 2019, I scanned the negatives using an Epson V750 flatbed scanner. For presentation here, I adjusted contrast and exposure using Lightroom.
On April 18, 1984, I was photographing Conrail’s Boston & Albany at Warren, Massachusetts, an activity that undoubtedly coincided to a visit with my friend Bob Buck at Tucker’s Hobbies.
Early in the afternoon, I caught a westward train with three (then new) SD50s rolling by the old Boston & Albany Warren station.
This was in double-track days, when Conrail still operated train in the current of traffic in accordance with rule 251 and the long established automatic block signals that protected movements on the line.
Cabooses were still the norm on through freights, but not for much longer. Within a few months caboose-less freights would become standard practice on the B&A route and across the Conrail system.
I made this view on Kodak 5060 safety film (Panatomic-X) using my 1930s-era Leica 3A with 50mm f2.0 Summitar lens. I processed the film in the kitchen sink using Kodak Microdol-X and then made the unfortunate choice of storing the negatives in a common paper envelope, which is where they remained until last week.
Panatomic-X. Now if there was one great black & white film, that was it. Slow as molasses, but really great film. It was rated at 32 ISO (or ASA as it was called in those days) and tended to result in some thin negatives, but it gave great tonality, fine grain, and scans very well.
I’m glad I have these negatives, ignored and stored inappropriately for all these years. If only there was still a Conrail, cabooses on the roll, and Bob Buck at Tucker’s Hobbies to tell you all about it!
Tracking the Light Posts Every Day!
Check out my selection of Conrail photos on Flicker at:
Or should I say ‘A diamond meet’? This slide sat for more than 33 years in a box.
At the time of exposure it didn’t seem remarkable; just a back lit view of Conrail B23-7s and Central Vermont Railway GP9s at the Palmer, Massachusetts diamond.
This was a common every day occurrence and the locomotives were among the most frequently seen in the Palmer area in 1985.
I didn’t have the best lens and my exposures were lacking refinement.
Conrail’s SBSE (South Braintree to Selkirk) works west as Central Vermont local 561 waits to cross the Palmer diamond on the morning of June 25, 1985. This was 13 months before Conrail single-tracked its former Boston & Albany between Palmer and Springfield.
NOTE: This post originally appeared on July 17, 2018, but owing to unknown technical faults the photos would not display properly. There should be four images displayed below with captions.
Tracking the Light is about process and not every photograph is a stunning success.
This post is part of my on going series of exercises photographing Amtrak’s Boston Section of the Lake Shore Limited that is running with extra sleepers as result of the temporary suspension of the New York section owing to Penn-Station repair.
Last week, my father and I drove to West Warren, Massachusetts, this time to photograph the eastward train, Amtrak 448.
The benefit of West Warren is the relatively open view with identifiable features. As mentioned previously, summer photography on the Boston & Albany has been made difficult by prolific plant growth along the line that has obscured many locations.
In this instance, I worked with two cameras; my old Canon EOS-7D with 100-400mm zoom, and my FujiFilm X-T1 with f2.0 90mm fixed telephoto.
Admittedly, the Canon combination isn’t the sharpest set up, but it allows me to play around with a very long telephoto.
The X-T1 is very sharp, especially when working with the fixed (prime) lens.
Complicating matters was that it clouded over shortly before the train arrived, reduced the amount of available light. Details are in the captions.
This summer Amtrak 448/449, the Boston section of the Lake Shore Limited, is the onlysection of the Lake Shore Limited!
Construction at Penn-Station New York has encouraged Amtrak to cancel the New York section of this popular train, and reassign its Viewliner sleeps to the Boston section.
A clear afternoon had me searching for locations. My first choice was the Tennyville Bridge in Palmer (Rt 32 bridge), but a large quantity of freight cars in Palmer yard discouraged me. My next choice was the field east of Palmer off Rt 67, but I vetoed this place because of excessive brush.
Brush and trees are real problem this time of year along the old Boston & Albany. Not only do the obstruct views of the tracks, but they cast impenetrable dark shadows.
So, I ended up at my standard fall back location at West Warren. Although, I’ve photographed Amtrak 449 here dozens of times, it had several advantages.
It’s a relatively short drive; it has elevation and an unobstructed view of the line from both sides of the tracks; its east-west orientation makes for nice early afternoon lighting; and the waterfall and mills make for an iconic and readily identifiable backdrop.
So, West Warren it was. Again.
I made this sequence with my FujiFilm X-T1 with 27mm pancake lens.
Two difficulties; the nosy angle of the sun made it difficult to get an acceptable broad side angle on the train, so the three sleepers at the back are visually marginalized. Secondly, the wedge angle of the Amtrak P42 front-end kicked back the sun with harsh ‘nose glint’.
It was just after 8am on May 27, 1988, when I exposed this portrait (vertical) view of Conrail BAL013 stopped at CP123 east of Chester, Massachusetts.
The sun was perfect and I used this opportunity to make several photos of the train as it held for westward Conrail intermodal freight TV9, which passed CP123 at 8:13am
This is a Kodachrome 25 slide (using the professional PKM emulsion) exposed using a Leica M2 with 50mm Summicron lens.
I calculated my exposure using a Sekonic Studio Deluxe light meter, and set the camera at f6.3 (half way between the marks for f5.6 and f8) at 1/125thof a second. This was equivalent to my standard exposure for ‘full sun’.
I learned when I moved west that ‘full sun’ is brighter in the Western states than in New England. A bright day in the Nevada desert is a full stop difference than in the Berkshires of Massachusetts.
On my way through Palmer, Massachusetts, I noticed New England Central’s northward 608 blocked at the diamond crossing with CSX’s Boston Line.
That was a good indication that a CSX train might be close.
After a very short wait this eastward CSX intermodal train came into view. It was probably Q012;‑one of several daily trains that runs to Worcester for unloading.
The trees are still bare, but the sun was bright. In just a few more days the trees will begin to leaf, the grass will become green, and Spring will be in the air.
Exposed digitally with my FujiFilm X-T1 fitted with a 90mm Fujinon telephoto. I’ve composed the image to take in the old Union Station, now Palmer’s Steaming Tender restaurant, while positioning the lead locomotive between the control signals at CP83, and keeping the horizon in view.
Just an ordinary winter’s day at CP83 in Palmer, Massachusetts last month.
I made this view of CSX’s B740 using my Lumix LX7 .
One of the advantages of digital photography is the ability to check the exposure on-site. Although this scene had a tricky exposure, I was able to gauge my result at the time of exposure.
Consider the dynamic range of exposure in the this image: note the headlights on the locomotive (which appear brighter than the snow on the ground) and the sky (which is slightly darker than the snow).
It was a bitterly cold morning just after sunrise when I made these views looking across a field off Route 67 east of Palmer, Massachusetts (near CP79, the control point 79 miles west of South Station, Boston, that controls the switch at the east-end of the control siding at Palmer.)
All were made from the same vantage point.
I was working with two cameras. My FujiFilm XT1 with 90mm telephoto, and my Canon EOS 7D with 40mm pancake.
The exposure, color profiles and color temperature of the cameras were set up differently, which explains the slight difference in overall density and tint.
On the previous day, CSX B740 had interchanged a healthy cut of cars for Mass-Central at Palmer, Massachusetts. So I surmised that this would be a good time to catch Mass-Central working both of its GP38-2s together.
Paul Goewey and I arrived in Palmer early, and once we were sure Mass-Central was ready to head north up their line toward Ware (old Boston & Albany Ware River Branch), we began scoping photo locations.
Although brisk and cold, the sun was clear and bright and there was a good amount of snow on the ground.
We set up at the Main Street Crossing along the valley’s namesake river. We didn’t have to wait long before we heard the train coming up the line.
These views were exposed using my FujiFilm XT1 with 18-135mm lens.
I knew it as the Boston & Albany and Central Vermont diamond in Palmer (diamond describes the shape of rails made by the angled level crossing of the two lines). I made my first photos at this location before I entered 6th grade.
Fast forward to January 2, 2018. I stepped out of the car at Palmer and with the crisp winter air I could hear a train approaching eastbound.
So often my ears have alerted me to a train. In this case the two-cycle roar of classic EMD 645 diesels.
I ambled toward the diamond and made these views. Over-the-shoulder light, with rich mid-morning sun, at a readily identifiable location; nearly perfect.
Working with my FujiFilm X-T1 with 27mm lens, I exposed a sequence of images designed to mimic the angle I’d used here many years earlier.
Back in the early 1980s, Conrail routinely assigned GP40-2s to road freights on the Boston & Albany. Back then I ignorantly dismissed the GP40-2s as ‘boring’. (But, I made photos anyway).
Today, being older and wiser and having a greater appreciation for locomotives of all kinds, I look back fondly on those olden times.
Luckily, I don’t have to go too far to find GP40s on the move. CSX still assigns vintage GP40-2s (albeit modernized) to the Palmer, Massachusetts local freight, symbol B740. (On the old Boston & Albany).
I see these locomotives as classics, yet still earning their keep, and wearing modern paint.
Last week when I exposed these views of CSX B740 at CP83 near the old Palmer Station, it was bright, but partly overcast midday with diffused high sun. Snow on the ground helps lighten the shadows—Decent, if not perfect, conditions for photographing locomotives.
It was about 4 degrees Fahrenheit at East Brookfield, Massachusetts, when I made this view at 9:38pm on December 31st looking west toward CP64.
The signal had just changed from all red (stop) to red over flashing green (Limited Clear) on the main track.
I exposed the photograph with my FujiFilm XT1 with 27mm pancake lens with the camera mounted on a Gitzo tripod.
Using the ‘A’ mode with aperture set to f2.8, the exposure value boosted by about 2/3rds of a stop, and ISO set to 400, my effective shutter speed was about 5 seconds. A length of time that seems like forever when you are standing alone in the dark with an icy wind in your face.
I checked my exposure and focus and thought to myself ‘good enough’. Which means that if it were warmer, I’d make another image.
CSX’s Q007 was lined west. But opted not to wait for it.
Warren, Massachusetts is a favorite place to photograph, but also a tricky one.
I used Warren as an example for a similar compositional conversation in Trains Magazine, published about two years ago and featured photo of Amtrak’s westward Lake Shore Limited.
Yesterday (December 29, 2017), I arrived in Warren just in time to set up and catch CSX’s late-running Q264 (loaded autoracks for East Brookfield) race up the grade and pass the recently restored former Boston & Albany station.
Using my FujiFilm X-T1 with 18-135mm lens, I exposed a burst of images.
I’ve selected three of these, and then annotated versions of the image that I like the best so that you may benefit from my compositional considerations.
There’s no correct answer to composition; in this instance I prefer the more distant view of the train because it better features the old passenger station and the town of Warren; here’s why I feel the composition works:
Two weeks ago, fellow photographer Mike Gardner and I were in Pittsfield, Massachusetts waiting for the arrival of the Housatonic Railroad freight from Canaan.
Standing on a bridge completed in 2016, we were at the center of what had been a massive General Electric plant, but has since been closed and largely demolished.
Somewhere in my older photos, I have a photo of an eastward Conrail freight led by GE diesels passing through this plant that had straddled the Boston & Albany mainline. I also have a photo of the Alco switcher that worked the plant.
The Housatonic freight arrived and paused to make its drop for CSX. The sun emerged from the clouds and I made these views.
For me the train is incidental. The dramatic cloudy sky with the ruins of the GE Plant tell the story. A story so often repeated across New England.
On July 22, 2017, I made this unusual view of CSX Intermodal train Q012 on the old Boston & Albany mainline at West Warren, Massachusetts.
What’s unusual about it?
Not only was it made on Kodak Tri-X black & white film using an 80-year old Leica camera body fitted with a 21mm Super Angulon lens, but my processing was non-standard.
After a pre-soak with a miniscule amount of developer, I gave the film it’s primary development in Ilford Perceptol stock mixed with water 1-1 for 8 min 30 seconds at 69 F. Following development, stop, fix1, fix2, and thorough rinse, I treated the still wet film in selenium toner mixed 1 to 9 with water for 8 minutes.
The selenium toner gives the negatives a slightly lavender hue while increasing the highlight density to provide a silvery sheen. This involves an ion-exchange with the silver halide in the film which offers a secondary benefit of greater long term stability.
After toning, I re-wash negatives for at least 10 minutes.
For internet presentation here, I scanned the dried negatives on an Epson V750 flatbed scanner at high-resolution TIF files, then imported the files to Lightroom for final adjustment, dust removal and scaling. (My TIF files are far too large to upload on Word Press for internet).
Instead of scanning the negatives in black & white, I scanned them in color which retains the purple tint of the selenium toner for effect.
-There’s a long history among my friends to meet in Palmer, Massachusetts on Friday nights; first some dinner and then over to CP83 to watch trains.
A few weeks ago some of the gang met, and CSX rolled through a few long freights.
I had a Nikon F3 with 24mm lens loaded with Kodak Tri-X, so despite my lack of a tripod, I exposed a few photos.
My exposures ranged between 2 and 8 seconds at f2.8 hand-held.
I rested the camera on the short disconnected section of track used to display a Porter 0-6-0 steam locomotive by the Steaming Tender; thus my camera support became part of the photos.
I processed the Tri-X in Ilford Perceptol 1:1 at 69F for 8 minutes 30 seconds, and following stop, first fix, second fix, extended rinse cycles, I then toned the negatives in a selenium solution for 8 minutes and repeated the wash sequence.
Negatives were scanned using an Epson V750 Pro flatbed scanner.
Yesterday, Wednesday, June 28, 2017, I arrived in Palmer at about 5am. Although there was clear blue dome above me, a blanket of mist had filled the Quaboag Valley. This was just beginning to clear, when I heard CSX’s westward freight Q427 (Portland, Maine to Selkirk, New York) approaching.
Working with my FujiFilm X-T1 fitted with a 27mm pancake lens, I exposed several bursts of digital images as the train rolled by the old Palmer Union Station (now the popular Steaming Tender Restaurant).
Consider that this is a lesson in lighting: even when you photograph trains at the same location, at the same time of day (but on different days) the results can be significantly different as result of ever changing lighting conditions.
These days most of CSX’s scheduled through car-load freights tend to traverse the east end of the old Boston & Albany during darkness.
True, there’s a couple of intermodal trains, and Amtrak’s Lake Shore Limited during the day, but if you want to see an old-school freight train in daylight you’ll have a long wait.
Early in the morning of June 23, 2017, I went over to CP83 (control point 83 miles from South Station) on spec to see if I could catch some freight on the move.
I have a sixth sense or really good hearing (or both), because I stepped out of the car, and I could hear a distant freight with GE diesels laboring toward Palmer.
I fitted my FujiFilm X-T1 with my fast (f2.0) 90mm lens and walked up to the South Main Street bridge, where I’ve made hundreds of photos over the years.
As the train approached, I realized that it wasn’t an intermodal train, as I expected, but a carload freight. It was CSX’s Q422 (Selkirk, New York to Worcester, Massachusetts).
At 5:29am I made these photos with my camera set to ISO 800, f2.2 1/250 second handheld. The ability to raise the ISO to a faster (more sensitive) setting combined with my fast telephoto lens allows for photos like this one.
In my old Kodachrome 25 days, my exposure with my Nikon F3 and f2.8 135mm lens (offering an equivalent focal length to the 90mm with the small sensor on the X-T1) would have been: f3.5 at ¼ second. The resulting image of this moving train would have been dramatically different.