These twin semaphores were located near milepost 317 on Conrail’s former Erie Railroad in the Canisteo River Valley east of Hornell, New York.
Although visible from the Canisteo River Road, to reach them required a short walk across a farmer’s field.
The difficulty of capturing this pair of signals with a train was the tight angle on a tangent during normal operations.
My solution to this visual problem was to photograph the signals with a train moving against the current of traffic.
The challenge was finding a train running ‘wrong main’ at the right time of day.
In January 1988, I had my opportunity. A Conrail double-stack had been given a Form-D to run against the current of traffic on the No. 1 track from Hornell to Gang Mills. I raced ahead in time to jog through the field and set up east of the signals.
Working with my Leica M2 and my dad’s 135mm Elmarit lens, I made a series of Kodachrome slides. This image was first the in the sequence and nicely shows the signals and stacks in the scenic valley.
New York’s Canisteo Valley was among my favorite places to photograph in the late 1980s. The lure of the Erie Railroad and the old Union Switch & Signal Style S signals had captivated my interest.
On the morning of July 19, 1988, my old pal TSH and I were on one of our annual summer rail-photo adventures. We had started before dawn, and picked up a westward Conrail OIBU rolling though the Canisteo toward Hornell, New York.
Trains moved right along on the former Erie Railroad mainline and racing ahead of it in a Dodge Dart, I parked and leaped out of the car at a preselected location at milepost 320 (measured from Jersey City) and began to set up my photograph.
I was working with equipment I borrowed from my father. The Leica M2 loaded with PKM (Kodachrome 25 professional) was mine, but the 200mm Telyt mounted with a bellows on a Leica Visoflex viewfinder and positioned on a antique Linhof tripod were his.
In our hasty chase, I’d cut my set up time too fine. It was lashing rain and I was struggling to set up and level the tripod, while trying to focus the camera using the Rube Goldburg Visoflex arrangement. My exposure was about f4 1/8 of a second.
Conrail’s BUOI came into view before I had time to refine my composition: this imperfect photo was the result. I recall the frustration of fighting with the equipment as the roar of the train intensified and the rain obscured my vision.
Let’s just say, that at the time I wasn’t impressed with my image. I’d cropped too much of the foreground and the whole image is off level. So for 30 years, it sat in the Kodak yellow cardboard slide box that it had been returned to me from lab in.
Last year, I scanned it. Ironically, this damp-day silhouette closely captures the spirit of Conrail’s Canisteo Valley that had captivated my photographic interest. The reflection of the headlight on the glossy codelines is the finesse that I didn’t manage to capture in most of brighter-day photography.
I’m glad I didn’t throw the slide away.
This morning I cropped and leveled the image in an effort to correct for my failings in 1988. I’m not sure I improved it any.
Although it was more than 25 years ago, it really doesn’t seem so long since I made this Fujichrome Velvia slide of Conrail’s BUOI (Road freight from Buffalo to Oak Island) along the former Erie Railroad in the Canisteo Valley.
I’d followed the train east from Rock Glen, New York. Steady snow made for slippery road conditions so I took it easy.
Here I’d caught up with the train, which had reached the newly created siding east of Adrian, that would soon become ‘CP Adrian’ (CP for dispatcher Control Point).
Work was under way at the time, but the new color light signals hadn’t been commissioned and the old semaphores that had governed movements under rule 241 (current of traffic) remained in place, but deactivated.
Working with my Nikon F3T and 105mm lens, I exposed this view as the train waited for permission to proceed east.
Velvia was a finicky film and it was tough to nail the exposure in some conditions Getting the snow exposure right was tricky, but since the train wasn’t moving I made a bracket—in other words I exposed several slides with slight exposure variations. You can see that it was relatively dark by the illumination in the number boards on 6118.
I’m reviewing thousands of Conrail photos to make final selections for my new book on Conrail. Among the images I’m considering is this one (and similar views) of Conrail’s OIEL (Oak Island, New Jersey to Elkhart, Indiana) that I exposed on the former Erie Railroad in New York’s Canisteo Valley.
I like this photograph because it captures the essence of the old Erie Railroad as it winds along the Canisteo River. In the distance, you can see one of the many upper quadrant Union Switch & Signal style-S semaphores that governed train movements through the 1980s.
Will this slide make the final cut? I have hundreds of color slides exposed in the Canisteo Valley back in Conrail days.
Tough choices will be made.
Regardless, someone might complain, ‘there’s too many scenic views with semaphores in the Conrail book!’
On November 15, 1987, I followed a loaded PLMT coal train east from Buffalo, New York. This train had operated with Pittsburgh & Lake Erie locomotives and was being handled by Guilford’s Delaware & Hudson via trackage rights over Conrail’s former Erie Railroad.
Try to fit all that on the slide mount!
At the time these coal trains operated about once a week, and while it wasn’t uncommon to find P&LE locomotives, catching the trains on film was challenging.
I made this view on Kodachrome 25 with my Leica M2 with 50mm Summicron Lens. It’s a badly under exposed long pan (about 1/8 of a second) from a hillside off the Canisteo River Road, in the valley of that name, a few miles east of Adrian.
The original slide was made at the very end of daylight, and the slow speed ISO25 film didn’t give me the needed sensitivity to capture the scene with adequate exposure.
That’s a long way of saying; it was dark and I underexposed the film.
Thankfully, I didn’t through the slide away.
I scanned it using VueScan 9×64 (edition 9.6.09) software and a Nikon Super Coolscan 5000 slide scanner. It opted for manual controls; I selected 4000 dpi input, under ‘color’ I used the Kodachrome K14 color profile, and while output was set at 4000 dpi as a TIF file.
I then imported the TIF into Lightroom for color, exposure and contrast adjustment, necessary to compensate for my extreme underexposure. To hold sky detail, I applied a digital graduated neutral density filter.
Although slightly grainy, the results are much improved over the original and captures my intended effect of the train rolling at speed through the Canisteo Valley at dusk.