It was a bright and hazy August 1989 morning, when my old pal TS Hoover and I set up on the east bank of the Susquehanna River to capture this view of the famous former Pennsylvania Railroad Rockville Bridge.
I made this Professional Kodachrome 25 (PKM) slide using my old Leica M2 with a 90mm Elmarit.
It was just one of many Conrail photographs exposed on one of our great adventures in the 1980s!
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 April 18, 1984, I was photographing Conrail’s Boston & Albany at Warren, Massachusetts, an activity that undoubtedly coincided to a visit with my friend Bob Buck at Tucker’s Hobbies.
Early in the afternoon, I caught a westward train with three (then new) SD50s rolling by the old Boston & Albany Warren station.
This was in double-track days, when Conrail still operated train in the current of traffic in accordance with rule 251 and the long established automatic block signals that protected movements on the line.
Cabooses were still the norm on through freights, but not for much longer. Within a few months caboose-less freights would become standard practice on the B&A route and across the Conrail system.
I made this view on Kodak 5060 safety film (Panatomic-X) using my 1930s-era Leica 3A with 50mm f2.0 Summitar lens. I processed the film in the kitchen sink using Kodak Microdol-X and then made the unfortunate choice of storing the negatives in a common paper envelope, which is where they remained until last week.
Panatomic-X. Now if there was one great black & white film, that was it. Slow as molasses, but really great film. It was rated at 32 ISO (or ASA as it was called in those days) and tended to result in some thin negatives, but it gave great tonality, fine grain, and scans very well.
I’m glad I have these negatives, ignored and stored inappropriately for all these years. If only there was still a Conrail, cabooses on the roll, and Bob Buck at Tucker’s Hobbies to tell you all about it!
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In August 1981, my family and I set off to Pennsylvania in our 1969 Oldsmobile Vista Cruiser.
Among our holiday adventures was arriving at Enola on a sweltering hot afternoon.
The consensus was to find a place to stay. I wanted to see the famous railroad yard. The solution proved to be a motel called the ‘Summerdale Junction Inn’ (or something like that) which overlooked Conrail’s sprawling former Pennsylvania Railroad yards.
We requested a room trackside.
While the rest of the family relaxed by the pool, I attempted to make photos from the motel window using my father’s Leica M3 fitted to a Visoflex with 200mm Telyt.
At the time I was delighted to see so many locomotives, including a great many former PRR E44 electrics which had been recently stored owning to Conrail’s decision to discontinue its electric freight operations (long complicated story that will be addressed in my upcoming Conrail book).
This isn’t a great photo. There’s too many wires, too many bushes and the hazy light was less than ideal.
Glad I have it though. I may consider it for the book. Unless youhave a better view of all the stored electrics!
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.
Looking at this Conrail photo makes me feel that March 23, 1989 wasn’t that long ago.
I’d left my apartment in Scottsville, New York before dawn and headed west on Rt33 in my white Toyota Corolla.
I knew I had a westbound climbing Batavia Hill—the nominal rise of the Water Level Route that ascended the Niagara Escarpment on the way toward Buffalo.
My Leica M2 was loaded with Kodachrome 200 ‘Fast Kodachrome’ (three stops faster than K25, which was my normal film in 1989).
I parked the car west of Batavia near CP406 (where New York Central’s 1950s track re-alignment to avoid downtown Batavia rejoined the historic railroad route). With time running short, I hike east beneath the code lines and set up my Leica with a 200mm Leitz Telyt telephoto on my Bogen 3021 tripod.
I could hear the slow moving westbound as the sun glimmered above the horizon. But then behind me fast moving eastward stack train blasted for Donahue Road. . .
The headlight of the westbound appeared and over the next few seconds I captured a running meet between the two Conrail trains. K200’s warm color balance and grain structure made for the perfect combination to distill the moment.
I’ve run this photo in various publications and it’s one of my favorite Water Level Route views.
I spent the rest of the day photographing along the former Erie Railroad, which was alive with trains. I remember it all as if it was yesterday.
In March 1987, I made a trip to the scenic Canisteo Valley where I photographed trains on the former Erie Railroad.
I made this view at the Canisteo River Road crossing at West Cameron, New York of DODX 6-axle flats carrying tanks. This was an eastward Conrail BUOI (Buffalo to Oak Island) freight and it was rolling along at a healthy speed.
At the time, I was experimenting with my black & white process. Unfortunately, I should have experimented with film of subjects that wouldn’t have been so interesting to me 30 years after the fact.
This roll of 120 film has been largely unseen since the 1980s. My ineffective trial yielded uneven processing and negatives that were difficult to print with poor tonality.
Today, I think the subject matter is fascinating despite the inept process.
The irony was that I was adapting a formula recommended to me by former New York Central photographer Ed Nowak. The lesson here is don’t allow a New York Central photographer advise you on how to process photos of the Erie Railroad! (Railroad photography humor).
In September 1988, I was set up at Dixon’s on Conrail’s former Erie Railroad line over Attica Hill.
Roaring up the grade with a CSX SD40-2 in the lead was this Delaware & Hudson Sealand doublestack land-bridge train bound for Little Ferry, New Jersey. The New York, Susquehanna & Western had just been appointed designated operator of the D&H, and NYSW locomotives were common on many D&H road freights.
Land-bridge trains, such as this one, reached the east coast via Delaware & Hudson trackage rights over Conrail’s former Erie mainlines between Binghamton and Buffalo, New York, and NYSW’s rights on the old Erie east of Binghamton.
Catching a CSX painted locomotive was a rare find in western New York in 1988, and finding one leading on the Erie seemed like a special treat.
This represents window in time in the dynamic melting pot of western New York railroading in the late 1980s.
After exposing this black & white view using my dad’s Rollei model T, I followed the train east and exposed dozens of photos along the way.
Less often photographed than the famous Horseshoe Curve, is Bennington Curve further up the old Pennsylvania Railroad Main Line grade toward Gallitzin, Pennsylvania.
Back in July 1987, my pal TSH and I camped near the curve. I was kept awake by the roar of uphill diesels and the ear-piercing flange squeal of wheels in the curve. At sunrise I was track side to photograph the action.
One of my first images of the morning was this black & white view of a light helper set returning down grade toward Altoona to assist a westward freight.
At that time Conrail routinely assigned its 13 former Erie-Lackawanna SD45-2s as helpers based at Cresson near the top of the hill on the West Slope.
On May 2, 1987, Doug Eisele and I spent the day photographing trains on Conrail’s former Erie Railroad.
We been following Conrail TV301, a double-stack train carrying APL containers on a transcontinental land-bridge movement toward the west coast. At the time, the Erie route was preferred for double-stacks.
At Dalton, New York we spotted an eastward Delaware & Hudson stack train carrying Sealand containers. This was crawling along the old Erie eastbound number two track at about 10mph, as Conrail didn’t maintain the eastward track for anything faster than that, and instead preferred to route all movements over the number 1 main.
As the Conrail train was flying along, we pulled over and bailed out the car; and I made this hastily composed photograph with my father’s Rollieflex Model T on Kodak TMY (Tmax 400).
It was Conrail’s 12thbirthday! And that was many years ago.
My old pal TSH and I were exploring the former Pennsylvania Railroad Middle Division and visited Spruce Creek where we photographed this eastward freight.
The old heavy-weight sleeping car converted for Penn-Central/Conrail maintenance of way (work equipment) makes the photograph fascinating. I’d never seen cars like this in revenue service and simply having relics like it on the move connected me to an earlier era.
Seeing this Kodachrome 25 slide makes me yearn for the days when we’d be trackside on Conrail and never know what might pass. It seemed a like endless adventure and every train brought something new and unexpected.
The weather? Not great, but I’d stand there now without complaint.
Here’s another 1980s Conrail photo. Not one of my good ones. This was also in the ‘seconds’ file, and in my opinion is un-retrievable.
At the time, I made the photo I incorporated many of my favorite elements; signals, codelines, road freight blasting along through a curve. But, several things were amiss.
The sun went in at the wrong moment leaving me with flat lighting; I failed to level the scene which produced a cockeyed image; however worst of all, I missed the focus!
I was working with a 200mm lens mounted on a tripod and I didn’t pick the correct focus point. Poor show. No autofocus back then, so there’s no-one to blame but me. And unlike other flaws, focus isn’t easy to correct.
Fear not! I have thousands of better Conrail images, where the sun was out, the camera was level and the desired point of focus was achieved.
Tracking the Light is about process, not just obtaining perfect photos.
Tomorrow Wednesday January 9, 2019, at 730pm, I’ll be presenting a slide show on Conrail to the Amherst Railway Society in Palmer, Massachusetts.
Amherst Railway Society meetings are open to the public.
The program will feature some of my finest vintage slides; Kodachrome and otherwise.
Amherst Railway Society’s Clubhouse is located in the old Palmer Grange building on South Main Street near the intersection with Route 32, a stone’s throw from the old Tennyville Bridge over CSX’s former Conrail—Boston & Albany—mainline.
At 730 pm this coming Wednesday, January 9, 2019, I’ll be presenting a slide show on Conrail to the Amherst Railway Society in Palmer, Massachusetts.
Amherst Railway Society meetings are open to the public.
The year 2019 marks the 20thanniversary of the divide of Conrail operations between CSX and Norfolk Southern so I thought this would be a good time to reflect on Conrail’s operations.
The program will feature some of my finest vintage slides; Kodachrome and otherwise.
Amherst Railway Society’s Clubhouse is located in the old Palmer Grange Hall on the south side of South Main Street near the intersection with Route 32, a stone’s throw from the old Tennyville Bridge over CSX’s former Conrail—Boston & Albany—mainline. Ample parking is available.
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.