The early 20thcentury pin-connected deck truss over the Millers River at its namesake Millers Falls, Massachusetts is one of my favorite places to picture New England Central freights.
On our chase of New England Central last week (Thursday April 25, 2019) photographer Mike Gardner and I arrived at Millers Falls several minutes ahead of 611 on its return run to Bellows Falls, Vermont from Palmer, Massachusetts.
We set up on the sidewalk of the Route 63 highway bridge over the river. For these views I opted for a more southerly position on the road bridge in order to feature budding trees that indicates the arrival of Spring in the Millers valley.
Working with my Lumix LX7, I exposed several digital views as the train’s leading locomotives eased over the antique spans. To me, the SD45/SD40 style locomotives seem out of proportion with the steam era bridge, which of course is half the attraction, long may it last!
Gustav Eiffel is best known for his iron tower in Paris. However, he was also a prolific bridge builder and his iron bridges share characteristics with his Parisian tower.
Two of his bridges span the Douro River in Porto, Portugal, and both of these have railway histories. One bridge is presently closed and once carried 5 foot 6 inch gauge tracks for mainline trains while the other is open to foot traffic and Porto’s tram metro on its top level, while its bottom level carries a road.
In early April, I made many photos of the more prominent bridge, called Ponte Luiz I, built in the 1880s. Porto enjoys impressive verticality, and I used the city’s natural geography to find some great angles on the span.
On a recent ride out to Elwyn on a SEPTA suburban train, my brother Sean and I noted several large viaducts on this former Pennsylvania Railroad route.
The Elwyn route is one of several SEPTA lines that has been under threat of closure. The bridges on the route have been reported to be suffering from deferred maintenance which has made them candidates for replacement.
This bridge piqued our curiosity. So on Monday, January 20, 2014 we decided to investigate the Crum Creek Viaduct which is easily accessed via The Scott Arboretum trails (near Swarthmore College).
An impressive viaduct, it spans the heavily wooded Crum Creek valley, looming above the tree tops like an ancient relic of another age. It reminded me of Milwaukee Road’s trestles on St Paul Pass in the Bitteroot Mountains of the Idaho panhandle.
This is a double-track tower-supported plate girder viaduct, of the type of construction common to many late-19th and early 20th century railway bridges. It dates to the mid-1890s.
Photographically, the Crum Creek viaduct presents a challenge. The surrounding trees tend to obscure the bridge. While the most graphic images of the bridge are made near is base, yet working close to the bridge makes it difficult to adequately capture a train crossing the bridge. As we moved further away both train and structure tend to blend with the forest.
Since this bridge is in jeopardy of either replacement or abandonment, I thought it a worthy project to photograph it as functioning infrastructure. I tried panning an outbound train in an effort to show a train on the bridge.
What will become of this bridge? Will it be restored, abandoned or replaced?
Below are some recent links that make references to the viaduct.
Tim Doherty asked me a few weeks back, “Have you ever tried a shot from the north side of the Millers Falls high bridge?” I’d looked a this several times, but was discouraged by the row of trees between the road and the railroad bridge.
So, on January 12, 2014, at the end of the day (light), Tim and I went to this location with the aim of making images of Amtrak’s northward Vermonter crossing the aged Central Vermont span.
As there was only a hint of light left, I upped the ISO sensitivity of my Canon EOS 7D and I switched the color balance to ‘tungsten’ (indoor incandescent lighting which has the same effect as using tungsten balance slide film (such as Fujichrome 64T), and so enhances the blue light of the evening.
A call to Amtrak’s Julie (the automated agent) confirmed the train was on-time out of Amherst. Running time was only about 20 minutes (a bit less than I thought) but we were in place, cameras on tripods, several minutes before we heard the Vermonter blasting for crossings in Millers Falls.
The result is interpretive. The train’s blur combined with view through the trees and the deep blue color bias makes for a ghostly image of the train crossing the bridge.
Here we have an immense abandoned bridge, rising above the trees like some Tolkienesq ruin from an ancient empire, the vestige of some lost civilization.
I was researching for my book North American Railroad Bridges in March 2007, when Pat Yough and I ferreted out the former Lackawanna Railroad Bridge in western New Jersey at Paulins Kill.
This was no ordinary railroad bridge. Lackawanna’s Slateford Cutoff (Port Morris, New Jersey, 28.5 miles to Slateford Junction, Pennsylvania) was built beginning in 1908 to shorten its mainline and lower operating costs by reducing gradient and curvature. The line was showcase for reinforced concrete construction.
Here’s an excerpt of my text on the Paulins Kill bridge:
The seven-span Paulins Kill Viaduct was 1,100 feet long and 117 feet tall at its highest point, and required an estimated 43,212 cubic yards of concrete and 735 tons of steel.
It was part of a super railroad and one of the best engineered lines of the early 20th century. Here the vision of Lackawanna president William H. Truesdale prevailed to invest private capital to the improve efficiency and capacity of his railroad.
Yet, by the 1970s this railroad was no longer valued. Its route was deemed redundant, its traditional traffic had vanished, and so Conrail which reluctantly inherited the line from Erie-Lackawanna, abandoned it.
While this was a gross waste of infrastructure and, to my mind, demonstrated a lack of vision on the part of planners and governments, it does make for fascinating photographs.
Someday, hopefully, the Slateford Cutoff may again see trains.
Digging through my older photographs, occasionally I come across something really interesting.
I’d exposed this black & white photograph using my father’s Rollei Model T at Bernardston, Massachusetts, where the railroad crossed an old mill dam on a classic stone arch bridge.
Brandon Delaney and I had gone up to Brattleboro, Vermont, where we found a pair of Boston & Maine GP9s working local freight ED-4. I made a number of images of engine 1736 working in the snow. Then we followed the train south into Massachusetts.
Brandon had previously explored this location at Bernardston and so we set up and waited.
For me this is a lesson in balance and composition: By placing the locomotive over the first pier of the bridge rather than allowing it to move further onto the bridge, I’ve created both visual tension and compositional balance.
The GP9 plays off the old mill at the bottom of the bridge to the left, while de-emphasizing the locomotive allows the eye to focus more on the bridge but never so long as to ignore the engine altogether. The bridge, after all, is the main subject, while the locomotive and mill are secondary to the scene.
I’ve been back here several times over the years and the scene has changed. The old mill and mill dam are history. I don’t know if they were washed away in a flood or were deliberately demolished. At the time they offered links to New England’s faded small-scale industrial past.
Today, because the dam is gone the bridge appears taller since the full length of the piers can be followed right in to the river-bed. Trees have encroached on both sides of the bridge, and even in winter, it can be difficult to get more than one locomotive on the structure. Yet, it can still be a great place to pose a train.
On the morning of August 12, 2009, I used my Canon EOS 3 with a 100-400 mm Canon image stabilization lens to expose this image of an Amtrak California Capitols train crossing the former Southern Pacific Carquinez Straits Bridge at Martinez, California. (Amtrak’s Capitol Corridorderives its name from California’s old and new capital cities, San Jose and Sacramento)
When this bridge was completed in 1930, it was the largest double track railway bridge west of the Mississippi. Today it carries Amtrak and Union Pacific trains.
Coastal fog softened the morning sun making for a cosmic effect. Making photographs of the bridge is complicated by the enormous Interstate 680 bridges that flank it on both sides. I’ve found that a broadside silhouette is the most effective way of capturing the scale of the bridges.
For several years I’ve been eyeing the view from Laurel Hill Cemetery as a place to make a railway photograph of the former Reading Company bridges over the Schuylkill. I was intrigued by combination elevation and the complexity of the scene. My brother Sean and I scoped this out last winter, but the light was dull and trees blocked the angle I wanted for a southward train. Recently the view was improved as a result of extensive tree removal around the river-side of the cemetery. Yesterday, Sean, Mike Scherer and I investigated photographic views from Laurel Hill. Our timing was right; I made this image of CSX’s symbol freight Q439 rolling across the bridge at 2:22 pm. I’m pleased with this effort, since catching a train here has been a challenge and the angle is a new one for me, yet I see room for improvement. Finding a train here an hour or two earlier in the day might offer better light on the side of the locomotives, while a slightly longer lens would tighten my composition.