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.
Thirty three years ago I made this view of a northward Central Vermont freight crossing Route 32 in South Monson.
(Historically CV had a ‘station’ in South Monson, and another at State Line and these were distinct locations in the railroad’s timetable.)
I exposed this black & white photo with my father’s Rollei Model T set up with a 645-size ‘super slide’ insert and loaded with Kodak Tri-X.
One of the challenges of working with the Rollei twin-lens reflex is that the view finder displays a mirror image. This made gauging when to release the shutter of the train especially difficult when it was rolling away, such as in this situation.
The result? I pressed the shutter release a split second sooner than I would have preferred. Of course I didn’t see the problem until after I processed the film
I scanned this negatives, along with others from the day last week using an Epson V750 flatbed scanner. I scaled the file for internet presentation and adjusted contrast in post-processing using Lightroom.
Northward Central Vermont freight South Monson, Massachusetts on May 16, 1986.
I exposed this view of Central Vermont GP9s on Kodak 120 Tri-X Professional, a film that came with an ISO rating of 320 compared with 400 for the off-the-shelf variety.
This was CV’s southward road freight number 444 which terminated at the Palmer yard, south of the crossing with Conrail’s former Boston & Albany.
I made this image on July 23, 1986; the previous day Conrail began its single track operation of the Boston Line by cutting-in CP83 and CP92, removing one track from service and thus ending directional double-track operation (rule 251) between those two points.
Close examination of this photo will show that the old westward main track is cut short of the CV crossing.
This was one of many photos I made around Palmer during the single tracking of the B&A route. Today the CV route is operated by New England Central, and the Boston & Albany line is CSX. There were far fewer trees by the tracks back in 1986.
You’ll need to click on Tracking the Light to see the vintage photo.
On January 25, 2019, Pat Yough and I were aiming to catch New England Central 611 on the Millers Falls high bridge over the Millers River. This stunning 1905 pin-connected deck truss has been one my favorite spans to photograph in Massachusetts.
I made my first photographs of the bridge nearly 33 years ago: On May 14, 1986, I’d followed Central Vermont 447 north from Amherst (where I was enrolled at Hampshire College). The train was running at an abnormal time, which gave me the opportunity to make a late afternoon photo at Millers Falls.
Although I made some nice sun lit photographs on Kodachrome 64 of the CV GP9s and CN M-420 diesel working across the bridges, two problems vexed me and resulted in these slides spending more than three decades in the ‘seconds file’.
As the train rattled across the bridge, a huge flock of pigeons soared in the sky, which at the time ruined the image for me, since many of the birds looked like dark blobs that resembled dust on the emulsion. The other difficulty was more serious.
I was using an old Leitz 50mm collapsible Summitar lens which had a loose front element and had lost its critical sharpness. Although on a small scale the photos made with this lens appear ok, when enlarged they are unacceptably soft. I’ve electronically sharpened the photo here to make it more appealing for internet presentation.
Ultimately, I discontinued the use of the soft lens, but it took me several months before I recognized and accepted the problem, and found funds to rectify it.
After catching New England Central’s local freight at White River Junction (featured in Friday’s Tracking the Light), I figured we had time to zip down I-91 to Brattleboro, Vermont and catch road freight 611 on its run south to Palmer, Massachusetts.
Rolling down Cotton Mill Road, I spied 611 led by five vintage EMD diesels pulling across the causeway south of Brattleboro Yard.
Pat Yough, visiting from Pennsylvania, wanted to try for a photograph at the Junction in East Northfield, on the Vermont-Massachusetts state line, so after a cloudy day photograph near Vernon, we overtook the slow moving freight.
Shortly before the train arrived, the clouds parted for a few moments, and a brilliant ‘sucker hole’ illuminated the tracks.
Working with my 18-135mm zoom lens, I quickly adjusted my composition to make the most of this sunny opportunity. And made several nice sunlit telephoto shots.
By the time the train rolled below us, the clouds had dampened the morning light. Yet, the chase was on . . .
Last week, Pat Yough and I drove to White River Junction, Vermont, seeking photographs of Buffalo & Pittsburgh 3000, a classic EMD-built GP40 that works the New England Central (NECR) local freight based there.
We found the engine, and shortly after we arrived a snow squall allowed us to exposed some very wintery images.
It had been several years since my last visit to White River Junction, which historically was among the busiest freight locations in Vermont.
Why is a Buffalo & Pittsburgh engine on the New England Central? My short answer: since both B&P and NECR are Genesee & Wyoming railroads it seems logical that engines from one railroad might be loaned or conveyed to another. However, the detailed particulars of the B&P 3000 arrangement are beyond my knowledge at this time.
Finding B&P in White River was only the beginning of our day photographing NECR operations; Stay tuned for more!
As New England Central 608 approached downtown Stafford Springs on January 14, 2019, I set my Nikon F3 to expose a textured image.
The old buildings adjacent to the tracks are as much of a visual attraction as the train itself.
Working with an f1.8 105mm lens, I exposed three frames of Kodak Tri-X.
To process the film, I used my custom tailored split process, that uses two developers, followed by selenium toning of the fixed negatives. This maximizes the tonality of the film, while giving me glossy highlights. A secondary effect of the toner is the slight lavender hue.
After processing, I scanned the negatives in color using an Epson V750 scanner.
Although Brian is traveling, Tracking the Light still Posts Daily.
Using my Canon 7D with a 100-400mm zoom lens, I exposed this view of New England Central 608 approaching Stateline Summit on the Connecticut-Massachusetts boundary.
I selected this perspective to illustrate the undulating grade profile of the former Central Vermont Railway approaching Stateline Summit. The train is crossing the ‘false summit’ while the top of the grade is the rise in tracks near the switch stand.
I’m standing north of the state line looking south; the train is in Connecticut.
While this camera-lens combination doesn’t represent my sharpest equipment, it is useful for photos like this one.
This was one of several photos I exposed with my father’s Leica 3C in Palmer, Massachusetts on Labor Day weekend 1977. I started 6th grade a couple of days later.
Significantly, it was the first time I made a photo from this location at the Palmer Diamond, where Central Vermont crossed Conrail’s former Boston & Albany line. From near this spot, I’ve since made many hundreds of photos—more than I dare to count.
Compare this 1977 view with my recent images of a CSX eastward intermodal train. (I posted these the other day, but have also included them below.)
Looking back, I wonder why it took me so long to decide to make photos here. But realistically, prior to summer 1977 my railway photographic efforts were infrequent events.
For my birthday that year, my dad gave me my own Leica, a model 3A, which I carried everywhere for the next seven years and with which I made thousands of images from the Maine coast to southern California, and from Quebec to Mexico.
Fluffy snow had been falling all morning. Central Vermont’s freight arrived in Palmer and quickly organized to continue south.
I followed the train’s steady progress over State Line Hill, then set up in downtown Stafford Springs, Connecticut where I made these photos on Ilford FP4 black & white negative film using my Leica 3A with 50mm lens.
For me this pair of images does a great job of exemplifying my experience with Central Vermont in the mid-1980s when three, four, five, six, and sometimes seven vintage GP9s would work tonnage freights. The sounds of those old diesels still resonates in my memory.
Would these images have be improved by modern color digital photography? Would they survive for 31 years with virtually no attention from me? For that matter, where will these old negatives or the scans be in another 31 years?
Tracking the Light has Posted more than 1200 Essays on Railway Photography!
I made this photograph on April 13, 1984. It was a Friday, and I was then in my final months of my Senior year of High School.
If I recall correctly, in this instance I wasn’t ‘absent’ as Seniors were allowed to leave the school if they didn’t have a class, and there was an even greater freedom permitted on Fridays.
Anyway, I think the Palmer diamonds, where Central Vermont’s line crossed Conrail’s east-west Boston & Albany route was a better place for me to be on that Friday the 13th.
However, this negative was left in the ‘seconds’ file for many years. Not because of the subject matter, or any grave instance caused by the unlucky day. But rather because my processing skills were not yet up to par.
In addition to careless over-processing the negatives in Kodak Microdol-X (which in my view led to a grainy appearance coupled with slightly unpleasant contrast), I managed to add a few strategic scratches and water spots when drying them. Just basic poor handling on my part.
While the scene is fascinating to me now, as it reveals just how much Palmer has changed over the 31 year interval, at the time it was common. It was easier to return to Palmer and expose more negatives, than worry about correcting my processing faults.
Ultimately, I refined my black & white process. Today, using Lightroom, I spent some time to rid the flaws in the original negatives including spots, scratches, contrast, and put the image on level.
I’ve presented four variations beginning with the raw unmodified scan. The fourth represents the most amount of manipulation in post processing.
It was 30 years ago today that I made this photograph on the platform at White River Junction, Vermont.
The conductor on Central Vermont freight 447 is waiting for his train to pull forward so that he can get on the caboose.
That morning T.S. Hoover and I met Ed Beaudette on the platform. Ed supplied us with a line-up, and we made good use of the information. (Thanks Ed!)
After chasing CV 447 north, we returned to White River Junction and followed a southward Boston & Maine freight toward Bellows Falls.
At the end of the day we met George C. Corey at Springfield Union Station (Massachusetts) on the Boston & Albany and photographed the Conrail Office Car Special that was in town for Superintendent E.C. Cross’s retirement.
In the mid-1980s, Canadian National Railway’s Montreal Locomotive Works M-420s were commonly operated on its Central Vermont Railway subsidiary.
It might seem odd in retrospect, but I wasn’t keen on these peculiar locomotives when they were common. Although they were derived from an Alco design, and I was big fan of Alco, I thought they were ugly and not ‘real’ Alcos. I much preferred Central Vermont’s own Alco RS-11s.
My ill-founded prejudices never stopped me from making photographs of the M-420s. And even back in 1986, I was pleased to catch this one leading Central Vermont’s freight 562 across Route 32 in Monson, Massachusetts (immediately north of the Massachusetts-Connecticut State Line).
This is the top of State Line Hill and it was all downgrade from here. I’m standing on a pile of ballast for elevation.
In response to my recent nomination by Phil Brahms and Blair Kooistra for the Facebook Night Photo challenge, I’ve selected five groups of photos that I feel might be interesting to review on Tracking the Light.
I have to admit, I’m not clear on the rules for this challenge. As a result, I’ll follow my standard policy and just wing it. Who needs rules anyway?
Among the difficulties in selecting photos for this challenge has been simply finding them. For the most part I’ve not organized images in regards to the time of day they were exposed. A related problem is the large number of night views that I’ve attempted over the years.
Over the years, I’ve made countless images of the Central Vermont Railway, and its modern day successor, New England Central at Palmer.
It was a warm August evening, the light was nice, and a pair of CV GP9s were working the Conrail interchange.
Rather than simply make another close-up trackside-view, I opted for this unusual angle south of the old Union Station. I put CV’s tracks in the foreground, while framing the locomotives in the canopy supports of the station. For me this tells a story while putting a less common perspective on a familiar place.
This was 15 years before the station was restored and transformed into the Steaming Tender Restaurant. Now the station is again vibrant, while CV and Conrail are many years gone.
Since 1995, Amtrak’s Vermonter has operated via Palmer and Amherst, Massachusetts. This requires a 13-mile jog over CSX’s former Boston & Albany from Springfield to Palmer, where the train reverses direction and heads north on New England Central’s former Central Vermont main line.
Presently, Pan Am Southern’s former Boston & Maine Connecticut River Line is being upgraded between Springfield and the Massachusetts-Vermont Stateline at East Northfield. This will allow a restoration of passenger service to the traditional route north of Springfield.
The Vermonter is expected to switch to the former B&M routing via Holyoke, Northampton and Greenfield by the end of this year. As a result, I’ve been making photographs of Amtrak’s train at various places between Palmer and East Northfield, while the service still operates that way.
Several years ago, my late friend Bob Buck and I, were following a northward New England Central freight. Bob had been making photos on the Central Vermont since steam days.
We were just a few minutes ahead of the freight as we passed Belchertown.
We turned on Route 9 toward Amherst. After a couple of minutes Bob pointed, ‘take a left, there on Federal Street.’ We found the tracks and I made a photo of Bob rolling the freight by the crossing.
It was here I chose to capture the Vermonter, while I still can.
Making the most of a clear bright autumn morning, I’d driven to New London, where I visited Central Vermont’s waterfront yard, located below the massive Thames River bridges for I-95. CV’s local was getting ready to head north.
While I was waiting for the CV to get moving, I made photographed Amtrak’s late running Night Owl and its southward Colonial train 95.
The CV local had three GP9s, standard locomotives for that run. In the lead was a personal favorite, engine 4442.
What was special about 4442? Nothing, that’s why I liked it. It had been working CV rails as long as I’d been making photographs, and it seemed like it was always around. I liked 4442 simply because it was familiar. It looked good, and sounded great.
I followed CV’s northward local toward Willimantic, Connecticut, making photos along the way. This was one my best efforts for the day. It’s something of an icon in my collection of CV photos. At the time it was a grab shot. I barely had to time to jump out of my Plymouth Scamp and release the shutter.
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.
The other day, I had a few packages to send out. I’d delayed going to the post office until after the school buses were out, using the logic that if I waited, I wouldn’t get stuck behind one on the way back.
On the way into the PO, I heard a distant whistle. And while at the desk, a train rumbled by.
New England Central’s (NECR) former Central Vermont line runs on a slightly elevated gradient behind the Monson, Massachusetts PO. This is on the climb up State Line hill, and heavy trains make a good racket coming though town. This freight, however, wasn’t very heavy and the engines weren’t working too hard.
I made an expeditious exit after mailing my packages, and started south on Route 32. No sooner than I was south of town, I found myself looking at the back of a school bus!
And this bus then stopped, as required, at the South Monson grade crossing.
I could hear the southward climbing. It had already gone through. Fortunately, once over the tracks, the bus driver kindly pulled in to let traffic around. I sailed southward, and arrived at State Line crossing. Once out of the car, I could hear the train working.
Although the light was fading, there was enough to work with. While, I’d left most of my cameras at home, I had my Lumix LX3 in my coat pocket. I set up a shot immediately south of the Massachusetts-Connecticut state line, and included the granite marker at the left of the image.
After the train passed, I followed it to Stafford Springs, where I made a few more photos. As it turns out, these NECR images are my first railway photos for 2014.
On October 24, 2013, Amtrak’s southward Vermonter is south of Three Rivers in Palmer, Massachusetts. I’ve often favored this view along the old Central Vermont Railway where the tracks run along the side of the road. The train is approaching Palmer’s yard limits and is trundling along at a casual pace.
Everyday scenes like this one are easy enough to find, yet tend to hold their interest over time. Items such as the trash cans on the left and the car on the road may someday garnish greater interest than the P42 leading the Vermonter.
Yet, someone interested in trains in the future may see this and exclaim, ‘You mean that way back in 2013, they ran the Vermonter via Three Rivers? No way! Why?’
While several locomotives have been painted in the new corporate colors (or rather, G&W’s traditional paint scheme), many of New England Central’s locomotives remain in various former liveries, including the railroad’s original blue and yellow.
On Monday October 28, 2013, New England Central job 610 (a turn that runs from Willimantic, Connecticut to Palmer, Massachusetts) sported a pair of nicely painted G&W locomotives.
My dad and I made chase of this train on its southward run. I exposed digital still photographs, while Pop made some video clips with his Lumix LX7.
The sun was playing tag with us, but the locomotives were so bright and clean it hardly mattered if the sun was out or not.
In recent months, New England Central’s operations have been altered. This has benefits for photography. Since the times trains tend to run have changed, different locations have opened up for photographic possibilities.
For many years, New England Central operated a southward freight from Palmer, Massachusetts in the early morning (typically as job 608), this worked into Connecticut (to Willimantic and beyond) and returned in the afternoon or early evening.
Now, on many days, the railroad runs a turn from Willimantic to Palmer (often as job 610), that goes on duty at Willimantic in the morning, runs northward to Palmer, and returns. From my experience the return times vary considerably.
Once I was aware of this change, I began thinking about various places to make photographs based on afternoon lighting angles. Last week, I heard 610 working south from Palmer. I was in luck as a pair of vintage GP38s in the railroad’s original scheme (the locomotives were painted by Conrail in preparation for New England Central’s February 1995 start up).
Track speeds south of Palmer make following a train easy enough. My first location was Stafford Springs, where I’ve often exposed photographs of New England Central. From there I followed southward.
My final location of the day was at the Connecticut Eagleville Preserve, where the line passes an old Mill dam (I’m not well versed on the specific history of this dam, but the arrangement is common enough in New England, where in the 19th century water powered local industries. For more information on the park and area see: http://www.willimanticriver.org/recreation/pg_park_eagleville-preserve.html).
Afternoon sun favors this location, and I made the most of the light, waterfall and autumn foliage as well as the GP38s.
It was 16 years ago that Mike Gardner and I drove to New Hampshire to photograph Guilford Rail System’s WJED (White River Junction, Vt., to East Deerfield, Mass.) freight. It was a clear October day and the foliage was nearing its peak.
We found the train near Claremont Junction and followed it south to North Walpole, where I exposed this color slide.
Leading the train was GP40 340 lettered for Guilford’s Boston & Maine component. I like this trailing view because the color of the tree above the train mimics the orange band on the engine. Also the three-head General Railway Signal searchlight at the left offers a hint of the Boston & Maine from an earlier era.
Here, Autumn offers multiple connotations. At one time the White River Junction to Springfield, Massachusetts Connecticut River Line was a busy Boston & Maine route, handling more than a half dozen passenger moves and several freights daily, plus those of Central Vermont Railway. By 1997, Guilford’s operations on was limited to just a few weekly trains.
The other day, I was showing Tim Doherty some photo locations around Three Rivers, Massachusetts. I described to him how the railroad once had a spur into the old Tampax factory.
The spur (siding) had a switch off the mainline near the station (demolished many years ago), then crossed Main Street and made a sharp curve behind the liquor store before crossing Bridge Street. There’s still vestiges of this track today.
Back in 1984, Dan Howard was visiting from Needham and he and I drove around the Palmer area making railway photos (as you do). The prize of the day, was this photo of CV’s SW1200 1510 working the Tampax factory spur on the Bridge Street Crossing.
It is one of the few photos I have of a CV switcher working in the Palmer area, and one of the few times I caught a rail movement on the Tampax spur. (Might creative minds develop some accompanying humor ??)
This photo was exposed on Kodak Ektachrome 200 slide film with my Leica 3A using my 50mm Summitar lens. It was a sultry dull day, and not the best for photography. While this is not a world class image, it captures a scene never to be repeated.
I made this image during my senior year of high school. I don’t remember the specific circumstances, but on that day I’d followed Central Vermont Railway’s southward freight from Palmer to Stafford. I made photos of it south of downtown Monson off Route 32, and at the Massachusetts-Connecticut State Line.
This view in downtown Stafford Springs has always intrigued me. The railroad runs tight to a row of buildings along the main street in town. Today, the brick building featured in the photograph hosts a trendy coffee shop where I sometimes meet my friend Roger Ingraham to wait for trains to pass and discuss photography.
In 2013, New England Central operates the railroad, but the scene hasn’t changed all that much. I still make photos here from time to time.
I exposed this image with my old Leica 3A and 50mm Summitar lens, and used a Weston Master 3 light meter to assist in exposure calculation. I processed the film myself in Microdol-X. Typically, I used a weak formula to save money. By doing so, I inadvertently avoided over developing my negatives (which was a flawed inclination of mine at the time).
I made a few minor contrast modifications in post processing and cleaned up a few small spots and scratches on this nearly 30 year-old 35mm negative.
About 10 months ago (July 2012), I started Tracking the Light. In the short time span since then I’ve had about 19,000 hits. While small numbers compared with Gangnam Style’s viral You-Tube dance video (with more than 1.7 billion hits), it’s a gratifying start. (BTW, there are some train scenes in Gangnam Style, so it isn’t a completely random reference).
In my introductory post, I offered a bit of my background with a taste of my philosophy on the subject of railway photography; ‘There is no ‘correct way’ to make photographs, although there are techniques that, once mastered, tend to yield pleasing results. I hope to expand upon those themes in these Internet essays by telling the stories behind the pictures, as well as sharing the pictures themselves.’
What began as an infrequent opportunity to share work via the Internet has evolved into a nearly daily exercise. In the interval, I’ve learned a bit what makes for an interesting post, while working with a variety of themes to keep the topic interesting.
Regular viewers may have observed common threads and topics. While I’ve made a concerted effort to vary the subject matter considered ‘railway photography,’ I regularly return to my favorite subjects and often I’ll post sequences with a common theme.
Occasionally I get questions. Someone innocently asked was I worried about running out of material! Unlikely, if not completely improbable; Not only do I have an archive of more than 270,000 images plus tens of thousands of my father’s photos, but I try to make new photos everyday. My conservative rate of posting is rapidly outpaced by my prolific camera efforts.
Someone else wondered if all my photos were ‘good’. I can’t answer that properly. I don’t judge photography as ‘good’ or ‘bad’. Certainly, some of my images have earned degrees of success, while others have failed to live up to my expectations (It helps to take the lens cap ‘off’). Tracking the Light is less about my success rate and more about my process of making images.
I’m always trying new techniques, exploring new angles, while playing with different (if not new) equipment.
The most common questions regarding my photography are; ‘What kind of camera do you use?’ and ‘Have you switched to digital?’ I can supply neither the expected nor straight-forward responses. But, in short, I work with a variety of equipment and recording media. I aim to capture what I see and preserve it for the future. I try to have a nice time and I hope to entertain my friends.
May 10th holds symbolic railroad significance as the anniversary of completion of the first Transcontinental Railroad in 1869—an event that had great national and international importance. Many other railway anniversaries can be linked to May 10 as well.
In 2007, I coordinated a team of 37 photographers to document a full day’s worth of North American railway activity from Nova Scotia to southern California and from the Pacific Northwest to southern Florida in what became a book titled The Railroad Never Sleeps published by Voyageur Press.
Although this seems to be out of print, it remains a stunning photographic collection, which is especially impressive considering it was entirely accomplished within the limits of just one day!It’s hard for me to believe that six years have passed since that day.
Yesterday (May 10 2013), I got up early and aimed for Palmer, Massachusetts, with an aim of making a variety of railway images on this significant day. In the course of just a few hours, I’d photographed five train movements on three different railroads. I was home by 9:30 am. (Although, I was out again later in the day to investigate some changes to railway infrastructure).
When I began my photography there was thick fog clinging to the valleys; this gradually burned off leaving bright sun. Here’s a selection of my efforts.
Yesterday morning, jetlag had me awake and alert considerably earlier than I’m accustomed. By 7 am, I’d photographed three trains on two railroads in two states and was on my way home to get some work done. Crazy thing, jetlag.
The highlight of the morning’s impromptu photo excursion was this image of New England Central’s ‘Pride of Palmer’ (GP38 3851) climbing through Monson, Massachusetts with a short freight for Willimantic, Connecticut. This is passing Monson’s ‘tornado alley’, where, nearly two years ago a freak afternoon twister made splinters and memories of many fine buildings and trees.
One of the benefits of my visits to Monson, Massachusetts, is being within ear-shot of the former Central Vermont Railway, now operated by New England Central (NECR). Yesterday morning (January 10, 2013), I awoke to the sounds of a southward freight clawing its way up Stateline Hill (so-named because it crests near the Massachusetts-Connecticut state line). NECR freights take their time ascending the grade and on a clear day I can hear them climbing from about the time they depart the Palmer Yard. As a kid I’d count the crossings: CV’s GP9s whistling a sequence of mournful blasts for each one. Yesterday morning I dithered for a few minutes. Should I go after this train? Or, should I keep my nose to grindstone, writing? Clear skies forced the answer: GO!
My hesitation caused me to miss the opportunity for a photograph in Stafford Springs, Connecticut. This was blessing in disguise, since I’ve often caught the train here and then broke off the chase before getting deeper into Connecticut. Having missed Stafford Springs, I pursued further south, and caught the train four times at various points between Stafford and Willimantic. This a relatively easy chase, as Route 32 runs roughly parallel to the line.
Three elements made yesterday’s chase a satisfying exercise:
1) The train was operating at a suitable time of the morning for southward daylight photography (lately, NECR’s trains seem to have headed south either way too early or too late in the day for my photographic preferences—I’ve been photographing this line for more than 30 years, first chasing it with my Dad in the early 1980s, so I can be unusually choosy).
2) It was a ‘clear blue dome’—sunny, bright, and cloudless, always a great time to make morning photographs.
3) As it turned out, one of New England Central’s yellow and blue GP38s was leading. As I’ve mentioned previously, while this was once NECR’s standard locomotive, in recent years the type has become comparatively scarce on NECR, with many of the locomotives working the line wearing paint of former operators (Conrail, Union Pacific, Florida East Coast, and others).
I was also eager for a clear day to test some recently acquired equipment, especially my new Canon 40mm Pancake Lens, which arrived on Monday. I’ll make this lens the detailed topic of future posts.
After abandoning NECR at Willimantic, I made a few photographs of the town, which still has some wonderful old mill buildings, then continued south to New London where I focused on Amtrak for a while.
Since New England Central is among properties recently acquired by Genesee & Wyoming, I’m anticipating change and wondering when I’ll photograph the first orange & black locomotives
See my recent published book North American Locomotives for more information on New England Central’s and Genesee & Wyoming locomotives.
Locomotives have long been the subjects of photographic study. The earliest images are believed to be Daguerreotypes from the early 1850s. As early as the 1860s, locomotive manufacturers routinely photographed locomotives to document their construction and to help interest prospective buyers. The nature of the steam locomotive meant that a great deal about the machine could be gleaned by studying it from the outside. Railway enthusiasts were enamored with locomotives from the very beginning; sketches and drawings of engines date to the earliest days of railroading, while railway enthusiast photography certainly dates to at least the 1890s, if not earlier. While I’ve always been fascinated by railways, I didn’t routinely examine locomotives on film until I was about ten. My earliest railway photography tended to feature signals. If there were any locomotives in my pictures, these seemed to appear on the horizon in the form of a looming headlight. Later, I made a great many images of locomotives, sometime picturing them at work, other times resting between jobs, and often I examined them on a macro level; in other words, up-close and in detail. I’ve written a number of books on locomotives, and these chronicle their evolution and development, intended application and service, and performance. My body of locomotive photography has aided in illustration of these efforts. This selection of images is intended as the first installment in Tracking the Light of my exploration of locomotive geometry: the shapes of the machines. Later installments will focus on specific railway fleets, individual types, and perhaps some individual machines.