When I was at the Rochester Institute of Technology, once or twice a year Kodak would gift photo students with a selection of new products to try.
On this occasion, I had been given a sample of two rolls of the latest Ektachrome.
A professor gave us a vague assignment to make color photographs, so I wandered up to Lincoln Park, a junction on Conrail’s Water Level Route west of downtown Rochester, New York, and exposed these photos.
There I found local freight WBRO-15 working with GP8 7528. The crew was friendly and quite used to me photographing of their train.
Back in 1987 my serious railroad photos were exposed using 120 black & white film or on Kodachrome 25. These Ektachromes were an anomaly. After the assignment was turned in, I relegated the remaining images to my ‘seconds box’ and forgot about them—for 31 years!
I found them back accident the other day, and so scanned them post haste.
I thought my Rochester friends would get a kick out of seeing them. How much has changed since March 11, 1987?
It was just after 8am on May 27, 1988, when I exposed this portrait (vertical) view of Conrail BAL013 stopped at CP123 east of Chester, Massachusetts.
The sun was perfect and I used this opportunity to make several photos of the train as it held for westward Conrail intermodal freight TV9, which passed CP123 at 8:13am
This is a Kodachrome 25 slide (using the professional PKM emulsion) exposed using a Leica M2 with 50mm Summicron lens.
I calculated my exposure using a Sekonic Studio Deluxe light meter, and set the camera at f6.3 (half way between the marks for f5.6 and f8) at 1/125thof a second. This was equivalent to my standard exposure for ‘full sun’.
I learned when I moved west that ‘full sun’ is brighter in the Western states than in New England. A bright day in the Nevada desert is a full stop difference than in the Berkshires of Massachusetts.
I knew it as the Boston & Albany and Central Vermont diamond in Palmer (diamond describes the shape of rails made by the angled level crossing of the two lines). I made my first photos at this location before I entered 6th grade.
Fast forward to January 2, 2018. I stepped out of the car at Palmer and with the crisp winter air I could hear a train approaching eastbound.
So often my ears have alerted me to a train. In this case the two-cycle roar of classic EMD 645 diesels.
I ambled toward the diamond and made these views. Over-the-shoulder light, with rich mid-morning sun, at a readily identifiable location; nearly perfect.
Working with my FujiFilm X-T1 with 27mm lens, I exposed a sequence of images designed to mimic the angle I’d used here many years earlier.
This photo appeared in Pacific RailNews/RailNews not long after I exposed it on Kodachrome 25 in October 1996. [Click on Tracking the Light for the full vertical image.]
The Twin Ledges is a classic photo location a mile or so west of the old Boston & Albany Middlefield Station in the Berkshire Hills of western Massachusetts.
Conrail’s SD80MACs were an unusual modern locomotive because they were powered by a 20-cylinder variation of EMD’s 710 diesel, rated at 5,000 hp. They arrived only a few years before Conrail was bought and divided by CSX and Norfolk Southern.
Although their operation on the old B&A was short-lived, they were oft photographed (by me anyway).
On April 9, 1988, I exposed this view on Conrail’s heavily used former New York Central System ‘Water Level Route’ west of Silver Creek, New York.
Clear skies and bright afternoon sun were ideal when exposing Kodachrome 25.
For this image of Conrail SD50s working westbound I used my Leica M2 fitted with an f2.8 90mm Elmarit.
Using a telephoto with a Leica rangefinder was always a bit tricky.
Although a window in the M2’s viewfinder provided a pretty good sense for the limits of the frame offered by the 90mm lens, the camera didn’t offer any sense of the effects of visual compression or limited depth of field that are inherent to this focal length in the 35mm format.
Yet, the combination of Leica glass and Kodachrome 25 allowed me to make some exceptionally sharp images.
Hard lessons. Here we have a scene never to be repeated, and one that I’ve never dared to show before. In June (or early July 1984), I caught a westward Conrail freight passing the Palmer Union Station at sunset on the then double-track Boston & Albany..
This was toward the end of regular operation of cabooses on road freights. By that time many Conrail symbol freights on the B&A were already using telemetry devices in place of the once common caboose.
A caboose rolling into the sunset. Great illustration concept. Nice light, decent framing, etc.
Except the photo is soft. Working with my Leica 3A rangefinder I’d missed the focus.
And so as a result of this visual flaw, the potentially iconic image didn’t make my cut of presentable images. I filed the negative, then I misplaced it. For more than 32 years it remained unseen. I present it now only as a warning.
Even as a 17 year-old, nothing annoyed me more in my own photography than missing the focus. Back then there was no autofocus, so when I missed, I couldn’t blame the technology.
My lesson: get the focus right. Once you’ve missed it you can’t fix it. (Although with digital sharpening you can cover your tracks a little).
I exposed these two views from almost the same angle on the South Main Street Bridge in Palmer, Massachusetts.
In 1984, Conrail operated the old Boston & Albany, and the main line was then a directional double track route under rule 251 (which allows trains to proceed in the current of traffic on signal indication).
SEPW has stopped on the mainline, while the headend has negotiated a set of crossovers to access the yard and interchange. That’s the head end off in the distance.
I made this 1984 view on Plus-X using a Leica fitted with a f2.8 90mm Elmarit lens.
The comparison view was exposed on July 25, 2016 using a Lumix LX7 set at approximately the same focal length. Although similar, I wasn’t trying to precisely imitate the earlier view and was working from memory rather than having a print with me on site.
In my early days photographing every so often I’d hit upon a great film-camera-lens combination.
You know, just the right set up to make memorable images.
On May 6, 1984, my dad lent me his Leica M3 with 50, 90 and 135mm lenses. For reasons I’ve long forgotten, I loaded this with Plus-X (ISO 125) rather than Ilford HP5 or Tri-X (my typical films choices back then).
More significantly, I decided to use an orange filter to alter the tonality of the film.
I went trackside along the Conrail’s former Boston & Albany and exposed a series of evocative images of trains rolling through the Quaboag Valley.
These photos were much more effective than what I typically achieved with my Leica 3A and 50mm Summitar. I’d made a leap forward.
At the time, I was delighted with the results and on a Friday night brought a stack of 3x5in. prints down to Tucker’s Hobbies (owned an operated by my friend Bob Buck).
Friday evenings were our normal time to convene. And, one of Bob Buck’s patrons, a friend and a well-meaning (published) enthusiast photographer (who is long since deceased and so shall remain anonymous) offered me some free photo criticism..
“Oh don’t use an orange filter, it makes the Conrail paint too dark, and stop using that telephoto lens, it distorts your perspective. Otherwise these are great shots.”
I heeded this bad advice and returned to my older set up. Nearly two years passed before I made another serious foray into the realm of the telephoto for railroad photos.
Also, I largely returned to using unfiltered Tri-X/HP5. (Partially because I’d dropped my 50mm and it would no longer accept filters.)
I didn’t know any better and my magic combination was unraveled before I had time to fully explore it.
I was on my way to New London, Connecticut in late 1996 when I first learned of the news that CSX was to make a bid for Conrail.
It was a big surprise to most observers. Ultimately CSX and Norfolk Southern divided Conrail.
Armed with the knowledge of Conrail’s pending split, I made many images to document the final months of Conrail operations.
Step back a decade: In the mid-1980s, I’d photographed the end of traditional double track operations on Conrail’s Boston & Albany line.
Long rumored, the B&A’s conversion from directional double-track (251-territory) to a single-main track with Centralized Traffic Control-style dispatcher controlled signaling and cab signals began in late 1985. It was largely complete three years later.
A year or so before the work began, I was sitting in an engine cab and a Conrail crewman pointed out to me that the railroad had re-laid one main track with continuous welded rail while the other line remained jointed.
“See that jointed track, that’s the line they’re going rip up. Better get your pictures kid.”
Sound advice. And I took it to heart. By anticipating the coming changes, I made many prized photographs of the old order—before the work began.
I continued to photograph while the work was in progress, but that’s not my point.
Having observed New England railroading for the better part of four decades, I again have a sense that change is in the works for railways in the region.
Will today’s operators remain as they are for long? Will traffic soon find new paths and may some lines—now active—dry up? Will those antique locomotives, more than four decades on the roll soon be sent for scrap? Those are the questions we should think about. Take nothing for granted and keep a sharp eye for images.
While, my crystal ball remains clouded, I’ve learned not to wait for the big announcement. I hate standing in lines to get my photos or realizing I missed an opportunity when the time was ripe. Act now and stay tuned.
Tracking the Light Offers Insight and Stories Daily.
Ok, how about then and when? (click on the link to Brian Solomon’s Tracking the Light to see the modern view).
These photos were exposed 28 years apart from essentially the same place in West Warren, Massachusetts.
One view was made of an eastward Conrail freight in March of 1984; the other of an CSX freight at almost the same spot on November 15, 2012.
In both situations I opted to leave the train in the distance and take in the scene.
Over the years I’ve worked this vantage point with a variety of lenses, but I’ve chosen to display these two images to show how the scene has changed over the years.
In the 1984 view notice the code lines (the ‘telegraph poles’) to the left of the train and the scruffy trees between the railroad and the road. Also in 1984, the line was 251-territory (directional double track).
It was Spring 1984 when I made this black & white photo of Conrail’s SEBO-B climbing east through Warren, Massachusetts.
Until a couple of day’s ago, this negative was lost and unprinted, part of a group of Conrail negatives on the Boston & Albany.
When I first relocated these images after 32 years, I was puzzled.
What had happened and Why?
Then I remember the situation: I’d messed up the processing of the negatives at the time and I was disgusted with the results. And, so I’d put the negatives away in a general file, where they were mostly mixed in with similar outtakes from my High School yearbook collection (I was a sort of unofficial class photographer.)
In 1984, I’d typically use Kodak Microdol-X as my black & white developer, aiming to work with this solution at 68 degrees F.
To mix the solution from powdered form, I’d have to bring the temperature up to about 120 degrees F, then let it cool (often in glass bottles soaking in ice water).
I must have been in a hurry, and in this instance, I’d failed to allow the developer to cool properly. When I processed the negatives the solution was still over 80 degrees F. Worse, the rest of my chemistry was still at 68 degrees.
The result was that my photos were grossly over processed, but since the developer was highly active, it affected highlights and shadow areas differently. This provided much greater shadow detail to highlight detail than I’d normally expect.
Also, the shock to the emulsion when I dropped the hot film into relatively cool stop bath solution caused it to reticulate.
Reticulated emulsion results in grain clumping that lowers the sharpness, produces a ‘halo-effect’, and creates a speckled and uneven grain pattern that is most noticeable in even areas such as the sky.
Since the negatives received much greater development than usual, they are very dense, and back in my day printing photos in the family kitchen, were effectively unprintable.
With modern digital scanning and post processing techniques, I was able to overcome difficulties with the density and contrast.
I find the end result pictorial. Perhaps, it’s not an accurate rendition of the scene, but pleasing to the eye none-the-less.
I’m just happy I didn’t throw these negatives away. After all, Conrail SD40-2s were common, and I had plenty of opportunities to photograph freights on the B&A.
Looking back more than three decades; it was a warm August 1984 afternoon when my pal T.S.H. and I sat up on the grassy hill near the popular Bullards Road Bridge to photograph this Conrail eastward freight as it approached Boston & Albany’s summit of the Berkshire grade.
I made this image on 35mm Kodak Tri-X using my Leica 3A with a Canon 50mm lens.
Conrail was divided in Spring 1999, nearly 15 years after this photo was exposed.
In 2003, CSX removed the old Bullards Road bridge (and stone abutments).
I can’t say for certain what happened to the SD40, but a similar former Conrail engine still works for New England Central.
Personally, I’d trade my digital cameras for a fully functioning time machine.
It was April 1989 when I exposed this view of Conrail’s BUOI (Frontier Yard Buffalo to Oak Island, New Jersey) bumping along the number 2 track at Arkport, New York.
At that time this portion of the old Erie Railroad line from Hornell to Buffalo as still directional double track (rule 251) with block signals largely in the from of antique Union Switch & Signal Style S semaphores.
Between Hornell and Hunt, New York, Erie’s old eastward main wasn’t maintained for speeds faster than about 10mph, and when possible Conrail routed traffic against the current of traffic on the westward (number 1 track.) Not on this day though.
I was working with two Leica M rangerfinders that day; I made a similar view on Kodachrome slide film with my M2 that appeared in RailNews for its ‘Farewell to Conrail’ issue back in 1999 (a little more than ten years after I exposed it).
While Conrail was only an extant player in American mainline freight operations for a little more than 23 years, it was my favorite of the big eastern railroads.
Today, April 1, 2016, is the 40th birthday American eastern giant, Conrail. Commencement of operations on the Consolidated Rail Corporation began on this day 40 years ago.
Conrail was created by Congress to assume operations of a variety of financially troubled eastern railroads including Penn Central, Erie Lackawanna, Reading Company, Central Railroad of New Jersey and Lehigh Valley.
When I was growing up in the late 1970s and early 1980s, Conrail was the big show. By the time Conrail’s operations were divided by CSX and Norfolk Southern in 1999, I’d exposed tens of thousands of images of its locomotives, trains and people.
I miss Conrail. It’s blue locomotives photographed well; it ran lots of freight over my favorite Boston & Albany; its employees were friendly to me, and it embodied most of favorite historic railroads. Turn back the clock, let it be Conrail-days all over again!
In 2004, Tim Doherty and I co-authored a book on Conrail, published by MBI. If you have this prized tome, it’s now a collectible item! By the way, if you know a publisher interested in a follow-up title, I have access to virtually limitless material and keen knowledge of the railroad. Just sayin’
Happy Birthday Big Blue!
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It was a day of big excitement. Up north, Guilford was in a knot as result of a strike action. Bob Buck phoned me early in the morning to say that ‘The Boot’ (the colloquial name for Amtrak’s Montrealer) was detouring to Palmer on the Central Vermont, then west on the Boston & Albany (Conrail).
Using my dad’s Rollei model T loaded with Kodak Tri-X, I made the most of the unusual move.
This was nearly a decade before Amtrak’s Vermonter began to regularly make the jog in Palmer from the CV/New England Central route to the B&A mainline.
And, it was only four months before Conrail ended traditional directional double-track operations between Palmer and Springfield.
I’d met some photographers at the Palmer diamond and encouraged them to take advantage of my favorite vantage point at the rock cutting at milepost 84, just over the Quaboag River from the Palmer Station.
As detouring Amtrak number 61 approached with a former Santa Fe CF7 leading the train to Springfield, we could hear an eastward Conrail freight chugging along with new GE C30-7As.
This is among my favorite sequences that show the old double track in action.
Some of these photos later appeared in Passenger Train Journal. Long before I was the Associate Editor of that magazine.
This photo was product of one of dozens of trips I made to the old Boston & Albany west end in the mid-1980s.
The west end is the railroad west of Springfield over the Berkshires of Massachusetts toward Albany, New York.
On this morning I waswest of Chester, Massachusetts perched on the top of an rock cutting that dated to the time of the line’s construction circa 1839-1840.
This Conrail eastward train was slowly making its way east. It was serenely quite in these hills and I’d hear the freight making its descent of Washington Hill miles before it finally appeared.
Imagine this setting one hundred and forty years earlier when it was the old Western Rail Road (precursor to the Boston & Albany). A time when one of Winan’s peculiar vertical boiler 0-8-0s would have led a train of primitive four wheel freight cars over this same line.
Back in March 1984, I wandered down to Palmer with my dad’s Rolleiflex Model T loaded with Tri-X.
It was a miserable day; typical early of early Spring wet, clammy and dark.
Yet, Conrail was running trains. A westward midday freight (remember those?) was blocked at the diamond for a Central Vermont train.
Using the Rollei’s square format, I composed some interesting images. Conrail’s Boston and Albany was still a directional double-track railroad back then. This was before the modern signals and single tracking that began in 1986.
I took the negatives home and processed the negatives in the sink, as I often did in those days. I was using Microdol-X for developer. I was cheap, and my developer was rather depleted by the time I souped this roll.
The result; unacceptably thin negatives that wouldn’t print well, even when subjected to a number 4 polycontrast filter.
It was a just a dark day in Palmer. Conrail in 1984 was common for me, so I sleeved the negatives, filed them away in an envelope and that was that.
Until a little while ago, when through the improved tools available to me through Lightroom, I was able to finally get the results I desired from these old photos.
After nearly 32 years, they are looking pretty good now!
I just scanned this old negative a few minutes ago. (If you’re not viewing this on Tracking the Light, you’ll need to click the link to get the full effect of the image.)
Back in late 1996, friend Doug Moore (and Tracking the Light grammar and fact checker) had lent me a Baby Speed Graphic (sorry I don’t recall the specific model.).
This camera used a roll film back and featured both a leaf shutter and a focal plane shutter, which made it useful for exposing railroad photographs.
Among the images I made was this view of a westward Conrail freight from the bridge at West Warren. Tracking the Light viewers will likely recognize the location as I’ve often posted pictures from here.
Using Lightroom I was able to make some simple contrast and exposure adjustments that greatly improved the overall appearance of the photo.
A few minutes ago I scanned this Kodachrome slide. When I went to caption the file, I thought,
“Jan 14th 1989. Wow, that’s exactly 27 years ago.”
So, there you go.
I’d been photographing Conrail symbol freight BUOI-4X (extra section of Buffalo to Oak Island Yard, New Jersey). This freight worked the old Erie Railroad route and picked up re-built New York City Subway cars from the Morrison-Knudsen plant in Hornell, New York.
I made this view at the old Erie Railroad East Hornell Yards that was mostly used for storage of old freight cars. (And yes, I do have some nice photographs of the old freight cars).
Stop for a moment and gauge the passage of time and your relative perception of it.
I made this photograph about 1980. I’d been fascinated by the New Haven Railroad, and what I saw here I viewed then as a relic of times long gone.
The old railroads such as the New Haven were those that my dad had photographed back in the days of sunny Kodachrome.
At the time, I made this view of old New Haven cars at New Haven, Connecticut, I was 13. Conrail was then only 4 years old (formed on April 1, 1976), yet for me even its predecessor, Penn-Central was already a foggy memory.
Looking back now, to me it doesn’t seem so long ago that Conrail vanished (Its operations ended in 1999). And yet, for point of comparison Conrail been gone almost four years longer (17 years) than I’d been alive at the time I made the photo.
What is interesting? What seems old?
In a high-school math class, I once remarked to my teacher, Mr. Ed Lucas, “Time and your perception of time are in inverse proportions to each other. The more time you experience, the faster it seems to go by.”
He replied, “That’s awfully profound for someone your age!”
Before Christmas, I related this story over dinner. However, I was stunned to learn a little more than a week later that Ed Lucas passed away on New Years eve.
It doesn’t seem so long since I sat in his class, and yet in another way it also seems like the dawn of time (or my perception of time)!
(If you are not viewing Tracking the Light, please click on the post to see the variations from Dark to Light.)
Kodachrome was a great film but it had its failings. It’s spectral sensitivity tended to render blue too dark in relation to the other colors.
An unfortunate result of this sensitivity was that at times of high sun, when there is a greater amount of ambient blue light, Kodachrome was both less sensitive and produced an unacceptably constrasty result that over emphasize the already unflattering light of midday.
For this reason, I often put the camera away during midday, or switched to black & white.
This slide is an exception. On June 29, 1989, I photographed an eastward Conrail freight with C32-8(a model known colloquially as a ‘Camel’) passing the old Boston & Albany station at East Brookfield, Massachusetts.
I have many better photographs of these unusual locomotives and superior views of the old station, both of which are now gone. Yet, I’m glad I made this slide.
For years, it remained in its yellow box as returned to me by Kodak. Although sharp, it wasn’t up to par with my slides from the time and so I’d deemed it unworthy of projection.
Today this is a pretty interesting image and through the comparative ease of digital processing, I can compensate for some of the failings of the film.
Using Lightroom, I’ve been able to adjust the contrast, exposure and color balance to make for a more acceptable image.
I’ve presented three variations: the above image is the unmodified scan (scaled for internet presentation); the other two have various levels of adjustment aimed at producing a more pleasing image.
(for those viewing via Facebook or other sites, you’ll need to click the link to Tracking the Light for the full effect.)
Then and Now, I think.
Back in 1983, I was fascinated by the Pennsylvania Railroad’s waterfront operations in Jersey City, especially at Exchange Place.
On a family trip, we spent an hour or so exploring the decay around Jersey City so that I could make photos that I’d ultimately planned to use to build a diorama/model railroad.
23 years previously, my father had made photos at the old Exchange Place Terminal. We had difficulties locating anything definable at the site of the once massive station, but made a few photos around the Conrail former PRR yards.
Over the last year, I’ve taken a few trips through Jersey City on the Hudson-Bergen Light Rail and found the place totally transformed from my mental images of the place stemming from the early 1980s.
So, I decided to try to recreate some of our 1983 angles, and last week armed with maps and photos in-hand I went exploring.
When a cityscape changes beyond recognition, it can be difficult to produce practical ‘now and then images.
Snow in May? When I awoke I was astounded. But sure enough, on May 7, 1989, there was about six inches of fresh snow on the ground at Scottsville, New York.
I’d immediately mobilize to make use of the unusual weather.
Heavy wet snow with freshly budding trees was a disaster for signal code lines. Branches had brought down lines along both Conrail’s former Water Level and Erie routes.
I learned of a couple of trains working east from Buffalo on the Erie line. First I chased DHT-4, a Delaware & Hudson double stack, then I doubled back west to pick up Conrail’s BUOI led by General Electric C30-7A 6598.
The train had 103 cars and was moving along at little more than a walking pace.
I exposed this view near Swains, New York using my father’s Leica M3 with a 50mm Summicron. The snow made for some peculiar contrast that was well suited to Kodak Plus X.
My notes from the day read: “Snow! V.Bright” with some light meter readings in footcandles to aid in processing.
I consulted my notes from that year, and found that I’d photographed extensively on that day! (Hooray for my old notebook!)
At the time I was about a week away from completing my course work at the Rochester Institute of Technology, where I earned a BFA in Photographic Illustration, and I was making good use of the fine Spring weather in Western New York State.
That day I began my photography on the Water Level Route at East Rochester, and worked my way eastward toward Lyons, New York.
I was particularly fascinated by the abandoned truss bridge over the old New York Central west of Newark, New York. This had carried the Newark & Marion, which had served as part of the Pennsylvania Railroad. [See: AbandonedRails.com for more about this line. ]
On an earlier trip, I’d photographed this bridge on a dull day using a 4×5 camera.
On May 13th, I worked with my Leica M2 exposing Kodachrome 25 color slides, and featured Conrail trains passing below the bridge.At that time SD50s were standard locomotives on many of the railroad’s carload trains.
Later, I explored other vantage points along the busy Conrail east-west mainline.
Thanks to Ciarán for encouraging this foray into my slide archive!
A westward van train raced along the Water Level Route, its horn sounding for the North Lake Street Crossing—the blaring Doppler effect announced its passage. For a moment it captured everyone’s attention.
CLICK: I exposed this frame of 35mm black & white film at the decisive moment when the lead GP40-2 was visible on the crossing. A fallen bicycle on the sidewalk, turned heads, and the hint of motion blur of the train tells a story.
Twenty six years passed before this image saw the light of day (or that from a back-lit computer screen). I’d processed the film at the Rochester Institute of Technology and sleeved the unprinted negatives. Recently, I scanned this roll of Plus-X and found on it this photograph.
It’s hard for me to believe these photos are nearly 30 years old!
Bob Buck and I were at Springfield Union Station on December 30, 1985, watching trains, as we often did back then.
Conrail TV5 pulled up and stopped. I used this opportunity to make a few black & white photos using my father’s Rollei Model T and Metz hand-held electronic flash.
I’d worked out a technique of blending existing light with electronic flash that retained the essential lighting of the scene.
TV5 was a rarely photographed train that carried intermodal trailers from Boston to St. Louis. It was one of several piggyback trains that rolled over the B&A route in darkness.
At the time, these seemingly mysterious night-time piggy back trains fascinated me, and I was very pleased to have captured this one on film
I made two exposures. The first is pretty good. The second suffered from a knock to the camera or tripod. Today, I’d have the opportunity to check my exposure and focus on site, back then all I could do was hope for the best.