More than 30 years ago I admired New York Central System’s company photographs made by Ed Nowak from the elevated location above the Breakneck Ridge tunnels.
Over the years I’ve made many images from Breakneck Ridge. A couple of weeks ago, I made this view using my old Leica 3A with 35mm Nikkor lens.
There’s something about black & white film that has a timeless quality: Old, but new; traditional, reliable and comforting. Use of an antique camera-lens combination contributes to the nostalgic view point.
This frame was exposed on Ilford HP5, then processed in Kodak D76 (stock solution mixed 1-1 with water) for 9 minutes at 68F. Key to the tonality of the image is my ‘secret step’—a presoak water bath with a drop of Kodak HC110 in it.
The idea behind the water bath with a drop of developer in it is this: presoaking the film allows the gelatin to swell before encountering developer at full strength, while the very dilute amount of developer allows the chemical reaction to begin working before the primary development cycle. Since the developer is extremely dilute (and thus rapidly exhausted) the shadow areas receive proportionally greater development than highlight regions during this phase.
In the 1940s, New York Central photographer Ed Nowak often posed trains near Breakneck Ridge (north of Cold Spring, New York. In the 1960s, my dad made photographs of lightning stripe E-units here. I first visited with my dad and brother in the early 1980s. Back in 1989, I used USGS topographical maps to suss angles from the ridge.
On January 20, 2015, I parked near the north portal of the famous tunnels and followed the designated trail up the side of the ridge. It had been a fair few years since I was here last.
The clouds began to part in the west and for about 45 minutes there was low filtered sun on the rail. I exposed a few color slides and digital images of passing Metro-North and Amtrak trains.
I kept thinking about all the Hudsons, Niagaras, and Mohawks, the General Motors E unit and Alco PA diesels, and even the classic former New Haven FL9s that passed this famous location in former times.
In an era when so many places have changed beyond recognition, it’s nice to be able to visit a spot that looks more or less the way I expect. Even if the locomotives have changed, and the operators are different; the scenery remains some of the finest in the East, and the line is still busy!
It was a clear September 1989 morning when I parked near the twin former New York Central tunnels at Breakneck Ridge and followed a hiking trail to this commanding vantage point looking back toward Cold Spring, New York.
I exposed this photo on Kodachrome 25 slide film using my Leica M2 fitted with 50mm f2.0 Summicron firmly mounted on a Bogen 3021 tripod.
Amtrak Turbotrain Races Southward Along the Hudson
I made this view from a hiking trail on Breakneck Ridge along the Hudson River in August 1989. At the time my standard camera was a Leica M2 that I tended to use with Kodachrome 25. Turbotrains were standard equipment on Amtrak’s Empire Corridor trains making for common sights along the Hudson.
While common on this route, Amtrak’s Turbotrains were an anomaly in American operating practice, making them an unusual and worthy subject for photography. These reminded me of the original streamlined trains of the 1930s such as Burlington’s Zephyrs, Illinois Central’s Green Diamond, and New Haven Railroad’s Comet.
Today I’m happy to have a nice selection of these trains at work, but I regret not having traveled on them. I was always puzzled when my fellow photographers opted not to make photos of them. Perhaps Turbotrains seemed too common?