Last Saturday evening (May 11, 2019), I exposed these digital photographs of Boston’s MBTA Green Line.
At this location three routes effectively converge which makes it an ideal location for shops and car storage.
Decades ago I’d photograph MBTA’s classic PCCs here. With in a few years of my making those images the PCCs were all but banished to the Red Line Mattapan-Ashmont extension. The PCC’s have since become an icon of that route.
Soon MBTA’s streetcar fleet will undergo another transition that will make last week’s photos seem historic.
Here’s something different. I had my FujiFilm X-T1 set up to record monochrome with a digitally applied red filter to alter the tonality. Working with a Zeiss 12mm lens, I made this view at Arlington, Massachusetts of two MBTA buses passing on Massachusetts Avenue.
I was going to call this Boston Blue Line. But the “Train to Wonderland” sounded more evocative.
Boston’s Blue Line subway offers a great example of when to make good use of a digital camera’s ‘auto white balance’ feature. This is in contrast to yesterday’s post describing when to avoid ‘auto white balance’.
Auto white balance is a good tool when exposing photos under fluorescent lighting, where the color balance varies with the color temperature of the bulbs. With this setting the camera will automatically select a neutral white that avoids unnatural tints caused by color-spikes in the bulb’s spectrum. These artificial bias-tints are typically invisible to the eye but produce a strong color cast in photos.
On MBTA, the normal operating practice is have push-pull train-sets with the locomotive on outward end of the train. Thus the locomotives should face away from Boston. This has been the standard practice since the 1990s.
In my photo a locomotive is facing South Station, and that is unusual. While not necessarily unheard of, nor ‘rare’, this is not the usual practice.
I’m not an every day visitor to South Station, but this is the first time I recall seeing an MBTA road-locomotive facing the station since the early 1980s.
What isn’t evident from my photo is that there are actually locomotives on BOTH ends of the train. Which is also unusual. The bottom photo shows the same train set at Worcester, and focuses on the outward facing locomotive.
Quite a few Tracking the Light readers guessed my puzzle correctly. One reader asked why the locomotive is facing the station. I’ll be honest, I don’t know why. However, I can guess. Maybe you can too.
The other night I made this digital photograph of Boston’s South Station.
Working with my FujiFilm X-T1 with 12mm Touit, I set the ISO to 1600 and handheld the camera at ¼ sec.
I calculated exposure manually using the camera meter, and then intentionally increased the exposure by about ½ stop. (In otherwords I let in more light to the sensor than recommended by the meter).
In post processing, I adjusted contrast and exposure to control highlights and lighten the night sky in order to overcome two of the common failings of night photographs: blasted highlights and excessive inky blackness.
I made this view of an Arborway-bound PCC car about 1980. I’d exposed the photo using my old Leica 3A with 50mm Summitar, probably on Tri-X processed in Microdol-X.
I scanned this from a print I made back in the day. During that period (1978-1982) I often traveled with my father to Boston and I made a lot of photos of MBTA transit operations. Unfortunately, I didn’t keep precise notes on this print.
Here’s one of the photos displayed yesterday for comparison.
These days, I typically have at least one digital camera and a film camera loaded with either black & white or color slide film, plus a back-up instant photo capture/transmitter that subs as a portable telegraph, mobile map, music box, and portable phone.
On my May 6, 2017 visit to South Station with the New York Central System Historical Society, I made a variety of color photos using my Lumix LX7, and traditional black & white photos with an old Leica IIIa loaded with Ilford HP5.
So! Do you have any favorite photos from this selection? Which camera do you feel better captures Boston’s South Station?
In March 1982, I exposed these photographs of MBTA Green Line PCCs taking the corner at Boston’s Cleveland Circle.
The relative proximity of three Green Line trolley routes at Cleveland Circle made this an ideal place to photograph streetcars since there was lots of trackage and variety of action.
The streetcars pictured had just finished their run and were turning into the storage/staging area at the end of Green Line’s ‘C’ route.
By this time MBTA’s old PCC cars were nearing the end of their regular service on Green Line routes, which made them an added attraction for me. The cars were tired and battered from decades of hard service yet soldiered on.
Today, it’s the period signs that make the photos interesting. Look at the ad for ‘Peoples Express’ on the back of one of the streetcars. Also, the cinema is advertising ‘Chariots of Fire’ among other films from 35 years ago.
I exposed these images on Ilford HP5 using my Leica 3A with 50mm Summitar. Unfortunately, I processed the film in Kodak Microdol-X. This developer offered very fine grain, but at the expense of tonality. It was tricky to get the timing right, and in this case I left the film in the developer too long. The result is that negatives display excessive contrast and blocked up highlights.
Among my themes in Tracking the Light has been; Anticipating Change and Acting on it.
It is easy to sit back in your easy chair and pontificate about the potential for change. Or go from day to day without ever thinking about the effects of change.
Yet, looking back at old photos, what so often catches our interest is how things have changed.
When I was a kid, I’d look back at my father’s photos, exposed 10-20 years earlier and marvel at the changes that had transpired. Amtrak had ended the age of privately operated passenger trains. Conrail and other mergers had swept away many of the classic railroads that appeared in those old images.
Having only lived a few years, it was my mistaken belief that all change was in the past.
Fast forward to 1999. My friend Mike Gardner dropped me in Boston. I was on my way to London and had several hours before my flight. Tim Doherty suggest I make some photos of the Green Line elevated near North Station, which was then due to be replaced.
At the time I thought, “Hmm, but I have plenty of photos of the old El.” True, but these images were already more than a decade out of date. Green Line had introduced a new livery, and most of my views featured PCCs and 1970s-era Boeing-Vertol LRVs.
I made the effort and exposed several color slides of Green Line cars squealing along the old elevated line. I’m glad I did; as predicted the El was removed and these views can never be repeated.
Look around you, anticipate change and make photographs. What you see today may soon be different. Sometimes change is easy to predict; other times it occurs with little warning.
The old Boston, Barre & Gardner Railroad was a 19th century line that ran from Worcester, Massachusetts to Peterboro, New Hampshire.
Today, the bottom portion of the line serves Providence & Worcester’s through connection with Pan Am Railways at Gardner.
Last fall I explored this line between Holden and Gardner looking for locations.
On Thursday, February 11, 2016, Mike Gardner and I arrived at Gardner in time to find Pan Am’s ED-8 making a drop for the P&W. Earlier, another train, probably symbol 28N had dropped autoracks, so the yard was nearly full of cars.
Based on past experience, I quickly surmised that the P&W hadn’t arrived from Worcester yet. So after a quick lunch, we started working our way south against the train.
North of Princeton, Massachusetts there are several grade crossing with nicely curving track. The snow covered ground made for Christmas card scene.
Mike and I didn’t have to wait long before P&W’s symbol freight WOGR (Worcester to Gardner) came charging northward. We were impressed by the length of the train. One unit was at the head-end with a second locomotive at the back of the train.
Southbound the train was even more impressive, but it required about 3 hours of switching to put it all together.
As a follow-up to Wednesday’s Tracking the Light post featuring vintage Ektachrome slides of Boston’s MBTA Mattapan-Ashmont PCCs from the late 1970s, I thought I’d present some of the images of this classic transit operation that I’ve made in the digital era.
I’ve featured this colorful trolley line about a once a year in Tracking the Light, but since the topic is timely as operation of the historic cars now appears to be under threat, I thought a Mattapan-Ashmont PCC review might be of interest.
Recently, the TRAINS Newswire published a story on MBTA’s Mattapan-Ashmont Trolley line warning of the possible demise of the historic PCC cars and possibly of the trolley line itself. (The ‘bus’ word was uttered!)
So, the word is out, if Mattapan-Ashmont Trolley is something you want to see, DON’T Wait.
I recalled an early visit to this line with my father on a May Sunday in 1979. This was back when former Dallas double-ended PCCs dominated operations on the line, and the cars were largely painted red to reflect their operation as an extension of the Red Line.
Today, I find it fascinating to look back on these photos. I couldn’t have anticipated back then that more than 36 years later, old PCCs would still be working the line, albeit with different cars.
However, from strictly a photographic point of view, what is now most interesting to me is that I knew virtually nothing of the ‘rules of photography’ , other than a rudimentary understanding of how to work my father’s Weston Master III light meter and translate the settings it offered to my Leica 3A.
No one had ever told me about three-quarter angles, or where the sun was ‘supposed to be’. Front-lighting, back-lighting, and side-lighting were foreign words. I was blind as to the relative importance of foreground and background, and I didn’t known that ‘good’ photos were only made with Kodachrome, and I knew nothing about the compositional ratios of 2/3s, or any of the other stuff that later influenced my photography.
Honestly, as record of the scene, my raw unfettered, uninformed approach has a great appeal to me today. Had I known those things, I may have exposed less interesting images.
What you see here are the inspired views of an enthusiastic 12-year old exposed using a Leica with a 50mm Summitar lens on Ektachrome film.
One hundred and thirty five years ago, the railway station was key to many communities commerce and communications. It offered the connection to the world.
My 1880 Official Guide is a window on the past. The Boston, Barre & Gardner Railroad (among the companies later melded into the Boston & Maine network) schedule lists three trains a day in each direction stopping at Holden, Massachusetts.
Trains ran from Worcester to Winchendon stopping at Holden at 8:28 am, 4:15 pm, and 7 pm, and Winchendon to Worcester at 9:06 am, 1:22 pm, and 7 pm.
Obviously based on this schedule, there was a planned meet between northward and southward trains at the station.
In its heyday, back in 1880 Holden was an important station. It served as a telegraph office and as a transfer point for stagecoaches to Rutland (Massachusetts).
Today the old station is but a relic, the vestige of another time. Its train order signal is no longer part of the rules of operation; and the last passenger train passed in 1953. Yet the railroad remains active.
Providence & Worcester’s freights connect with Pan Am Railways/Pan Am Southern at Gardner and this has developed as a route for the movement of new automobiles and ethanol moving via the port of Providence, Rhode Island.
It is always a delight to stumble upon something relatively unusual and have the foresight and knowledge to make the most of the opportunity.
The old Boston, Barre & Gardner was among the railroads gobbled up by the growing Boston & Maine during the golden years of American railroads. The line primarily extended from Worcester to Gardner and beyond to Peterboro, New Hampshire.
Historically, the route crossed B&M’s Fitchburg line on a set of diamonds in front of the Gardner station. Back in 1880, three passenger trains a day served the 27 miles between Worcester and Gardner.
By the 1950s, one lonely train covered the run, and this made its final journey on March 7, 1953. Check out Robert Willoughby Jones’ book Boston & Maine: Forest, River and Mountain for photos.
These days, the line between Worcester and Gardner is operated by Providence & Worcester, and I’ve featured it on several occasions on Tracking the Light, while a short vestige of the north end of the route extends from a connection with Pan Am Southern in Gardner to a shipper a short distance away.
Last week, Bob Arnold, Paul Goewey and I were photographing in Gardner when we noticed the flange ways were clear on this rarely used stub branch. ‘There’s got to be an engine up the line,’ I said, and we went to investigate.
We found our quarry, and waited for the locomotive to return.
As I explained to a friend later: this operation might happen every Monday, or only on odd number days following a full moon in months ending in the letter ‘R’, but in more than 30 years of photography in the area, none of us had ever seen it before.
Hooray for fortuity!
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Common on the Class 1 carriers, but still relatively rare on regional and short line roads; North American Safety Cab diesels.
On October 30, 2015, I exposed these images of Providence & Worcester’s symbol freight GRWO (Gardner to Worcester) working south at Union Street in Gardner on the old Boston, Barre & Gardner line.
Cross lighting favored the ‘widenose’ cab, which is brightly lit against a backdrop of late season autumn color. The dark shadow of the train makes for stark contrast and helps draw attention to the main subject.
Since the train was moving relatively slowly, I had ample time to compose several views of it, working both in the horizontal and vertical formats.
Would views from this angle have the same impact with the older styles of locomotive cabs?
I hadn’t explored Boston’s Blue since 1999, so the other day while waiting for a flight at Logan airport I took a spin over the length of the line.
The Blue Line has its origins with one of America’s most unusual suburban railways, the narrow gauge Boston, Revere Beach & Lynn. At one time, beyond living memory, this was operated using a fleet of Mason Bogie engines, a peculiar type derived from the English Fairlie.
Later the route was electrified.
Historic views posted in MBTA’s modern station and architectural details hint at this once wonderful railway.
It remains a peculiar operation because of its blend of third rail and electric overhead. At the airport station you can witness the transition between electrical systems.
I found train frequency excellent, with cars passing in both directions about every four minutes.
These photos exposed with my ever versatile Panasonic Lumic LX7.
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Some of my earliest memories of the Green Line and the Boston Museum of Science
Much has changed since the days when I used to stare in wonder at Boston & Maine 3713 on display out front of the museum while trains of 2-3 old PCCs hummed along the elevated structure across the street.
In mid-May 2015, Pat Yough and I went for a Green Line spin to Lechmere and back, stopping over at the Science Park station for a few photographs.
The steel-girder elevated that once extended toward North Station was replaced years ago by a new tunnel with a steep ramp up to the concrete-faced elevated that still passes the museum.
Lechmere looks much the way that I remember it.
Some places never seem to change . . . and then one day all of sudden they are unrecognizable . That day may be soon approaching. Afterward memories fill the gap where photographs leave off.
Way back, in the dim past of my formative years in photography, I’d travel the Boston subway Leica 3A in hand and try to make photos.
My camera skills were rudimentary, my spelling was atrocious, and trying to make photographs underground with Kodachrome film really wasn’t the most practical approach to making successful images.
But that didn’t deter me, and I’d try anyway.
It’s been a long time since I’ve had an occasion to regularly ride Boston’s Red Line subway. But, in the interval I’ve discovered that one of the advantages to modern digital photography is in the realm of subterranean urban rail imagery. (Digital spell chek helps greatly with the words too.)
Park Street Station, Boston. Exposed with a Fuji X-T1 fitted with Carl Zeiss f1.8 32mm lens.
The other day Pat Yough lent me his recently acquired Carl Zeiss f1.8 32mm lens. This fast sharp piece of glass combined with the excellent sensor on my Fuji X-T1 is an ideal combination for making subway images. Here’s just a few.
So where in the 1970s and early 1980s, I’d made dark slides and thin black & white images, today the photographs at least properly exposed!
Beginning in the mid-1950s my father, along with many of his friends, made a project to document streetcars on film. Since then he has traveled to many cities in the United States and Canada (as well as overseas) and exposed thousands of color slides.
I began traveling with him as soon as I could stand, and some of my earliest recollections involve trips on streetcars and subway trains.
My latest book Streetcars of America, co-authored with John Gruber, is now available through Amazon and other retailers. John and I wrote this compact 64-page soft-cover volume in 2013. It is priced at under $10
This is a Shire Publications production and features a concise look at streetcars in North America. It reproduces a variety of vintage and contemporary images, including many historic views made by Richard J. Solomon on Kodachrome film. Readers will find that John and I have covered a lot of territory in just a few pages.
Although I didn’t select the cover image, I feel it’s fitting since it features a Boston PCC car. As a child, I lived in Newton Centre, just a few blocks from MBTA’s Riverside Line and here I often watched, traveled on, and photographed Boston PCCs with my father.
Scenes like this were once common: piggyback trains on their final lap to Boston running along traffic on the adjacent Massachusetts Turnpike. But, not any more.
A few years ago, CSX finally closed its yards at Beacon Park, having expanded its intermodal facilities in Worcester and West Springfield.
I made this view on bright, brisk clear afternoon at Newton, Massachusetts. Polarized sunlight can be typical Boston weather in early winter.
It’s nice to get clear sunny days, yet the area’s low humidity combined with other elements can make the light too contrasty. Not all sunlight has the same qualities, and I’ve found that sunlight can vary greatly from region to region and at different times of the year.
But when autumn fades to winter, more changes than just the leaves. In eastern Massachusetts stark midday wintery lighting presents its own of visual challenges.
The cold razor’s edge Boston’s winter sunlight makes for blinding bright highlights and opaque shadows. But is it too harsh? I’m much fonder of softer mid-autumn sun.
Stark light, not withstanding, I’m happy to have made this view of a Conrail piggyback train on the Boston & Albany. The Conrail Trailvan trailer behind the locomotives makes it a more interesting image.
On October 20, 2013, I stopped by the Connecticut Trolley Museum near East Windsor and made a variety of photos. The day was perfect; warm and sunny with a cloudless clear sky. A bit of autumn color clung to the trees.
This was an opportunity to experiment with my cameras and I’ve displayed here three images of former a Boston Type 5 streetcar that was working the line.
I exposed the top image on Fuji Velvia 50 color slide film with my father’s Leica M4 fitted with a 35mm Summicron. The bottom images were simultaneous files made with my Lumix LX3 (which features a Leica Vario-Summicron lens).
The Lumix allows me to make both a camera RAW file and a JPG at the same time. The Lumix software has a variety of color profiles for the JPG files that alter the appearance of the image. Typically, I use the “Standard” profile such as displayed here.
Although I’ve scaled all of the files and processed them for internet display, I’ve not made major changes to contrast, exposure or content. The color slide required a nominal color balance adjustment to remove the inherent bias associated with this film.
I scanned the slide using my Epson V600 scanner.
My father has some nice views of Boston’s Type 5s in revenue service exposed on Kodachrome in the 1950s.
All things being equal, I wonder which photographs will survive the longest? The 50+ year old Kodachromes? My Velvia slides exposed in October? Or the digital files exposed the same day? All the digital files (including scans) are preserved on at least three hard drives. While the slides are stored in a dark, cool dry place.
In mid-July 1984, I heard the distinctive roar of EMD 20-cylinder engines working an eastward train on the west slope of Washngton Hill. My friends and I were positioned at the summit of the Boston & Albany route, as marked by a sign.
We often spent Sunday afternoons here. Rather than work the more conventional location on the south (west) side of the tracks, I opted to cross the mainline and feature the summit sign.
As the freight came into view, I was delighted to see that it was led by a set of Conrail’s former Erie Lackawanna SD45-2s! While these locomotives were more commonly assigned to helper duties at Cresson, Pennsylvania on the former PRR, during the Summer of 1984, all 13 of the monsters worked the Boston & Albany.
I have a number of photos of these machines, both on the B&A and PRR routes. However this image of engine 6666 never made my cut. Back lighting and hazy afternoon light had resulted in a difficult negative. My preferred processing techniques of the period didn’t aid the end result, and at the time I dismissed the photograph as ‘unsuitable’.
The other day I rediscovered this unprinted view and decided to make a project of it. Now, 30 years later, I felt it was worth the effort. I scanned the negative and after about 30 minutes of manipulation using Adobe Photoshop, I produced a satisfactory image.
I made a variety of small and subtle changes by locally adjusting contrast and sharpness. These adjustments would have been difficult and time consuming to implement using conventional printing techniques, but are relatively painless to make digitally. I’m really pretty happy with the end result.
Difficulties of Photographing in the Spring and Summer.
That’s just what you want to read about right now, isn’t it!. Gosh, those awful warm months with the long days, soft sunlight and thick foliage.
Well, here I have two views, both made at about the same location off Route 67 in West Warren, Massachusetts at approximately the same time of the morning. Both views show a CSX eastward freight.
The first was exposed on July 31, 2010; the second two views were made on May 10, 2013. While I’ve used one of these views in a previous post (see: Quaboag Valley in Fog and Sun, May 10, 2013 ), I thought these made for an interesting contrast with the earlier image.
The primary difference is that in the interval between 2010 and 2013 CSXT cut the brush along the Boston line and performed undercutting work at West Warren. This is just one of many locations that benefited visually from such improvements.
A secondary difficulty about photographing when foliage is at its summer peak is selecting the optimum exposure. In the 2010 image, I took a test photo and allowed for some nominal overexposure of the locomotive front in order to retain detail in the foliage. I then made a nominal correction in Photoshop during post processing to make for a more pleasing image.
Yesterday (February 7, 2014), after several months of testing, Amtrak’s new ACS-64 Siemens built ‘Cities Sprinter’ locomotive 600 made its first revenue run on Amtrak train 171 (Boston to Washington).
My dad and I went to Milford, Connecticut on the North East Corridor to catch the new electric. Pop made some B&W photos with his Leica M3 from the east end of the platform. I worked the curve at the west end with my Canons.
I popped off a couple of slides with the EOS 3 with a 100mm telephoto, and exposed two bursts of digital images using the Canon 7D with 20mm lens.
By the way the 20mm on the 7D has a field of view equal to about a 35mm lens on a traditional 35mm film camera.
The new electric sure looked nice! I’ll be keen to see the B&W photos and slides when they are processed.
After 171 passed, I made a few photos of a Metro-North local, then Pop and I went over to inspect the recently opened Metro-North station at West Haven, where we made a few photos of passing trains.
25 Years Ago, Conrail Demolished Palmer’s Boston & Albany Freight House.
During the 1980s, Conrail demolished many disused structures along the Boston & Albany line. The East Brookfield freight house went in 1984, Worcester’s went in 1986. In January 1989, I noticed that the railroad was preparing to erase Palmer’s B&A landmark.
The wrecking machine was parked out in front and had already taken a bite out of the northeast corner of the steam-era red brick structure.
I proposed a short article to the editor of Palmer Journal Register. The newspaper supplied me with a roll of black & white film and processed it for me. I photographed the building from every angle and wrote the article that appeared about a week later.
Conrail made short work of the old building, which had stood at the west-end of the yard near Haley’s Grain Store. Today there is almost no evidence of the building.
For me it had been tangible evidence of the old Boston & Albany—never mind Conrail or Penn-Central. While its usefulness to Conrail may have ended, I recalled speaking with the agent there on various occasions in previous years.
I still have the negatives that I exposed with my Leica M2 and I’ve scanned these using my Epson V600.