Tag Archives: Conrail

BUOI in the Snow, Future CP Adrian.

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.

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Conrail SD70 Roars West at Batavia!

From late 1998 through early 2000, I was almost continuously on the road.

I made lots of photos, sent them for processing, plucked out a few choice slides for books, slide shows, etc, and then put the rest in a carton which I promptly mis-placed.

I recalled photographing this Conrail westward freight at CP406 in Batavia, New York in January 1999. I’d been traveling with GVT’s local freight with an Alco RS-11. Although one of the photos from this morning was recently published in September Trains Magazine as an illustration for my discussion on Alco diesels, I couldn’t locate the rest of roll, or most of the other photos from that trip! 

In fact many others from 1999 were also beyond reach.

So, Monday (Aug 26, 2019) in my continuing quest for Conrail images, I finally found the long lost box, in it were a great many photos that have remain unseen since the demise of Conrail at the end of May 1999. Twenty years ago.

Conrail’s ‘convention cab’ SD70s were short-lived on the Water Level route east of Cleveland. These were built to Norfolk Southern specs during the Conrail split, assigned NS numbers and then all went to NS following the divide (as intended). This view was one of the only photos I ever made of a Conrail SD70 on the CSX side of Conrail before the split.

It was the last of the Conrail SD70s and only about two months old when I made this photo in January 1999. I think it is safe to say that 2580 was the last New locomotive built for Conrail (as a Class 1 mainline carrier). Thoughts?

Exposed on Fujichrome with a Nikon N90s with 80-200mm zoom lens, scanned with a Nikon Coolscan 5000.

Exposed on Fujichrome with a Nikon N90s with 80-200mm zoom lens, scanned with a Nikon Coolscan 5000.

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Clear Signal CP83—December 27, 1997.

At 8pm on December 27, 1997, I exposed this view looking west at CP83 in Palmer, Massachusetts.

Mike Gardner and I were returning from one of our all day photo adventures in the Albany area and we decided to make a few more photos before heading home.

The signals lit and there was a green on the mainline, indicating a westward train was near.

This back in Conrail days, when the Boston & Albany route was still very busy with freight. It was years before the old Union Station was transformed into the Steaming Tender restaurant. And there were a few more buildings and businesses on Palmer’s main street.

It was more than a decade before I bought my first digital camera and I exposed this using my Nikon N90S on Provia 100F color slide film.

CP83 at Palmer, Massachusetts on December 27, 1997.

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Conrail at Olean—November 6, 1988.

Yesterday I scanned this 30 year Kodachrome  25 slide using a Nikon Coolscan5000 operated with VueScan 9.6.09 scanning software.. 

The unmodified scan is a bit on the dark side. I’d been chasing Conrail ELOI (Elkhart to Oak Island) eastbound on the former Erie Railroad on typically dull western New York November day.

Many of my photos from that chase were exposed on black & white film using my father’s old Rollei Model T. At least one of those appeared in CTC Board as a Conrail new illustration back in the day.

When I reached Olean, I wanted to feature the crossing with the former PRR route to Buffalo, which was then also a Conrail secondary main line, and I made this panned view of ELOI’s lead locomotive crossing the diamonds.

I exposed this at f5.6 1/30 second to capture the motion of the locomotive.

Unmodified scan, except for scaling for internet presentation (the original is about 110MB).

After scanning, I imported the slide into Lightroom and made a variety of corrections to improve the appearance of the image. This included slight cropping to improve the level; color correction, lightening of the shadow areas and over-all contrast control.

I’ve include both the unmodified scan and corrected image here.

Corrected scan outputted as a JPG file for internet.

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Conrail BUOI at West Cameron, New York.

In Autumn 1988, I exposed this Kodachrome 25 slide of Conrail’s BUOI (Buffalo, New York to Oak Island, New Jersey) rolling through the Canisteo Valley near West Cameron, New York.

During the late 1980s, the Canisteo Valley was among my favorite venues for photographing Conrail freights.

This is among the legions of Conrail slides that I considered for my upcoming book ‘Conrail and its Predecessors’.

I’m entering the final stages of photo selection and have begun the captioning process.

This is the same scan, but here I’ve lightened the image and warmed it slightly for improved internet presentation.

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30 Years Ago at Rockville Bridge.

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!

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Conrail’s OIEL—April 7, 1989.

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.

For me this image distills what was cool about Conrail’s Canisteo. The sinuous trackage with multiple-tier code lines and semaphores along a green tinted river against a backdrop of shadowy dark hills. Milepost 311 near Cameron, New York April 7, 1989. Kodachrome 25.

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!’

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Conrail Classic: Caboose Rolls West.

Check out my selection of Conrail photos on Flicker at:

https://www.flickr.com/gp/163833022@N05/n8ua9g

Conrail westward freight passing the old Boston & Albany station at Warren, Massachusetts. Notice the old freight house at the left. Today there’s a lot more vegetation around the railroad than back in 1984.

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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Check out my selection of Conrail photos on Flicker at:

https://www.flickr.com/gp/163833022@N05/n8ua9g

A Lousy Slide from a Hazy Day at Enola.

Kodachrome 64 color slide exposed in 1981 scanned and adjusted in 2019.


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!

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Meet at the Diamond!

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.

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.

Adjusted version of the above scan; color and contrast corrected for internet viewing.

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30 years ago today: Conrail Meet at Sunrise on the Water Level Route near Batavia, New York.


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.

Rolling sunrise meet on Conrail’s Water Level Route west of Batavia, New York.

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.

Also see my earlier post: ‘The Curse of the Code Lines’ http://briansolomon.com/trackingthelight/2014/11/24/the-curse-of-the-code-lines/

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Tanks on the old Erie Railroad; Canisteo Valley New York 1987.


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).

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CSX SD40-2 on the old Erie: Delaware & Hudson Sealand Train, Attica, New York.


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.

July 30, 1987: Conrail SD45-2s downgrade at Bennington Curve.

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.

In 1987 my choice film was Kodak T-Max 400, then a relative new emulsion. After about a year of work with T-max, I returned to using older emulsions such as Kodak Tri-X, which I felt produced better results.

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.

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Conrail at the Portage Bridge Letchworth Park, New York.


On the morning of May 9, 1987 I exposed this view of Conrail’s BUOI (Buffalo to Oak Island) easing across the former Erie Railroad Portage Viaduct over the Genesee River at Letchworth Park.

I was working with my father’s Rollei Model T that he purchased in Düsseldorf, Germany 28 years earlier. My film of the day was Kodak T-Max 400 (TMY).

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Conrail Classic—SD50s on the move! A grab shot along the old Erie Railroad.

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).

While not a perfect composition, for me this captures the spirit of the moment, and shows the old Erie Railroad alive with heavy freight.


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Helpers at Lilly: Conrail November 1998.


Big Blue had just six full months left. Mike Gardner and I made another epic whirlwind trip to Pennsylvania to catch Conrail on the move while we could.

I made this view of a helper set working the back of a westward (down hill) freight looking down a side street in Lilly, Pennsylvania.

There’s nothing like a bright clear day in November, especially with Conrail’s brilliant blue paint.

Exposed on Fujichrome with a Nikon N90s.


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Drama on the West Slope: Conrail SD50 at Mineral Point.


September 5, 1997—the still late summer air is shattered by the roar of Conrail SD50 6711 in run-8 working an eastward coal train on the ‘West Slope’ at Mineral Point, Pennsylvania.

This was Conrail’s former Pennsylvania Railroad’s busy mountain mainline that crested the Alleghenys at Gallitzin, Pennsylvania a favorite place to photograph in the 1980s and 1990s.

Exposed on Fujichrome with my first Nikon N90 and Nikkor 80-200 AF zoom.

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Misty Morning at Spruce Creek, Pennsylvania, April 1, 1988.


Kodachrome 25 slide exposed using a Leica M2 with 50mm Summicron.

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.

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Conrail Pacing View.

On September 30, 1988, I was pacing westward Conrail freight OIBU-9 between Swain and Dalton, New York on the former Erie Railroad route from Hornell to Buffalo.

From the window of my Dodge Dart, I used my Leica M2 to make this grab shot as I reached the head end of the train.

My notes from the day indicate my exposure was equivalent to f4 at 1/250th of a second with Kodachrome 25; however I probably exposed this slide at f8 1/60th of second to enhance the effect of motion. The train had three EMD locomotives (at least one Norfolk Southern behind the leader) followed by 141 cars. 8:36 AM on September 30, 1988.

For more than 30 years this Kodachrome slide sat in my file. I reviewed it the other day while searching for Conrail photos for an upcoming book tentatively titled ‘Conrail and its Predecessors.’

Brian is Traveling and Tracking the Light’s daily posts are on ‘Auto Pilot’

Oh No, A Conrail Dud!


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.

Poor show at Churchville, New York. I missed the focus when photographing this westward Conrail intermodal train in autumn 1987.

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.

Conrail Slide Show Wednesday January 9, 2019.

Conrail Office Car Special at Boston in November 1987.

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.

Conrail NHSE at Chester, Massachusetts.

Westward Conrail MBSE ‘The Queen’ approaching the Pioneer Valley Railroad diamond in Westfield, Massachusetts—a scene much changed today.

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.

See Amherst Railway Society’s page for details:

http://www.amherstrail.org/ARS/meeting-Jan2019.php

http://www.amherstrail.org/ARS/meeting-Jan2019.php

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Brian Solomon’s Conrail Slide Show—Wednesday January 9, 2019.

In Early October 1997, Conrail C30-7As lead a westward freight on the old Boston & Albany at Muddy Pond near Washington Summit at Hinsdale, Massachusetts.


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.

See Amherst Railway Society’s page for details:

http://www.amherstrail.org/ARS/meeting-Jan2019.php

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Frontier Yard, Buffalo, December 3, 1988.

It was 30 years ago today that I exposed this Kodachrome 25 slide at the east-end of Buffalo’s Frontier Yard.

In this view, there are two westward freights on the former New York Central Water Level Route.

I was fond of Conrail’s six-motor General Electric diesels, and C36-7 6620 caught my eye.

Looking east on the former New York Central on December 3, 1988. Kodachrome 25 slide exposed at f4.5 1/250th of a second.

My notes from the day have gone missing, which is unusual and annoying, because I’ve generally made a habit of keeping detailed note from each trip over the years.

However, I recall that I was traveling with Doug Eisele and Pete Swanson and that we made a tour of Buffalo area freight operations. I exposed this view using my Leica M2 with a 90mm Elmarit.

The day began bright and clear, but by midday clouds had rolled in from Lake Erie.

 

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On this Day in 1996—Conrail SD80MACs Work the Boston & Albany

On the afternoon of October 25, 1996, my brother Sean and I had hiked to the established overlook west of milepost 123 near Middlefield, Massachusetts.

The roar of EMD 20-Cylinder 710 diesels announced the passage of a westward freight with two of the relatively new Conrail SD80MACs.

I exposed this view using my Nikon F3T.

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From the Closet: Ektachrome Rejects from March 1987.

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.

You mean pairs of Conrail SD50s aren’t common any more on Water Level Route road freights?

I thought my Rochester friends would get a kick out of seeing them. How much has changed since March 11, 1987?

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Classic Chrome: On this Day in 1988 I had 2020 Vision.

Ok, make that a vision of Conrail 2020.

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 scanned the original Kodachrome slide with a Nikon Coolscan5000 scanner using VueScan. Later I scaled the file using Lightroom. I did not alter color balance, contrast, sharpness or other inherent characteristics. The original image has an overall cyan (blue-green) bias that was characteristic of Kodachrome from that period.

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.

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Tracking the Light EXTRA: Happy Birthday Conrail!

The Consolidated Rail Corporation began operations on April 1, 1976.

During the 1980s and 1990s, I made thousands of Kodachrome slides of Conrail operations. Conrail was divided between Norfolk Southern and CSX in Spring 1999.

In August 1988, I exposed this view from Tifft Street in Buffalo of a westward Conrail intermodal train working the Water Level Route.

Tim Doherty and I authored a book on Conrail in 2004.

Exposed on Kodachrome 25 with a Leica M2 and 90mm Leitz Elmarit lens. I cross-lit the train in an effort to emphasize the Buffalo skyline and help distinguish the four track line.

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Classic Angle at the Diamond.

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.

There are more trees here now than in years gone by. Yet I’d made vertical views here before to emphasize the signal.

CSX GP40-2s lead B740 eastbound over the famous diamond.

CSX local freight B740 was carrying cars of pipe to be interchanged at Palmer Yard with the Mass-Central. That gave an a idea for the following day.

 

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Erie Railroad Semaphore—Canisteo River Valley at Cameron, New York.

Erie Railroad Semaphore—Canisteo River Valley at Cameron, New York.

I made this view during a snow squall at Cameron, New York in 1987.

This wasn’t yesterday. Exposed on black & white film using a Rolleiflex model T.

This shows the old Erie Railroad mainline at the Canisteo River Road grade crossing near milepost 314, a line then operated by Conrail.

That’s my old 1973 Plymouth Scamp parked by the side of the road.

The subject of the photo is the vintage Union Switch & Signal Style-S three-position upper quadrant semaphore.

I was on an exploratory trip of the Canisteo River Valley that contributed to many photographs of trains in this supremely scenic area.

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Conrail Classic Chrome—SD80MACs at the Twin Ledges.

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).

Classic Kodachrome: a vertical telephoto view of Conrail SD80MACs leading symbol freight ML482 at the Twin Ledges in October 1996.

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Conrail SD50s Move Tonnage on the Water Level Route.

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.

I scanned this original Kodachrome slide at high resolution (4000 dpi) using a Nikon Super Coolscan5000 operated with VueScan software. For presentation here, I used Lightroom to scale the scanned file (which was more than 110 MB) into a Jpg. I left the corners of the slide mount in the frame to show that it hasn’t been cropped.

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Great Shot Forever Ruined—I missed the Focus.

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.

Viewed at a small size on a pixelated back-lit digital screen this old photo is nearly passable. But it fails my basic test for sharpness. Face it, I missed the focus. Like spilled milk, once you've missed the focus there's nothing you can do about it.
Viewed at a small size on a pixelated back-lit digital screen this old photo is nearly passable. But it fails my basic test for sharpness. Face it, I missed the focus. Like spilled milk, once you’ve missed the focus there’s nothing you can do about it.

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).

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Palmer, Massachusetts Then and Now; 1984-2016.

Conrail SEPW (Selkirk to Providence & Worcester at Worcester, Massachusetts) makes a drop at Palmer, Massachusetts on Ma7 6, 1984.
Conrail SEPW (Selkirk to Providence & Worcester at Worcester, Massachusetts) makes a drop at Palmer, Massachusetts on May 6, 1984.

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.

Exposed using my Lumix LX7. I used the ‘A’ mode and dialed in -1/3 to compensate for the bright sunlight and the dark side of the train. This image was extracted from the in-camera Jpeg and compressed for internet viewing, but I also made a RAW file of the same image. Both are to be archived on multiple hard drives.
Exposed using my Lumix LX7. I used the ‘A’ mode and dialed in -1/3 to compensate for the bright sunlight and the dark side of the train. This image was extracted from the in-camera Jpeg and compressed for internet viewing, but I also made a RAW file of the same image. Both are to be archived on multiple hard drives.

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Great Combination—Bad Advice; Conrail May 1984.

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.

Conrail's SEPW (Selkirk to Providence & Worcester) roars east through the Quaboag Valley east of Palmer on May 6, 1984. The magic combination: filtered Spring light; Plus-X film exposed using a Leica M3 with 90mm Elmar fitted with an orange filter. Processed in Microdol-X.
Conrail’s SEPW (Selkirk to Providence & Worcester) roars east through the Quaboag Valley east of Palmer on May 6, 1984. The magic combination: filtered Spring light; Plus-X film exposed using a Leica M3 with 90mm Elmar fitted with an orange filter. Processed in Microdol-X.

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.

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Conrail-Looking Back; Anticipating Change.

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.

Conrail's C30-7A and C32-8 diesels roll east with tonnage at milepost 84 in Monson, Massachusetts. In this view, I'm looking toward the Palmer diamond, and in the distance we can see Central Vermont cars for interchange. At this stage Conrail was still operating the B&A as a traditional directional-double track railroad, much the way it had been operated for decades. Yet, it was only a matter of weeks before the old westward main (seen here with jointed rail) would be removed from service. This was mid-1986. By anticipating the changes to the railroad, I could emphasize the elements soon to change; the westward jointed track and the code lines. However, other more subtle changes also resulted. Without the old signals, the code lines came down, and the bushes and trees grew in their place.
Conrail’s C30-7A and C32-8 diesels roll east with tonnage at milepost 84 in Monson, Massachusetts. In this view, I’m looking toward the Palmer diamond, and in the distance we can see Central Vermont cars for interchange. This was mid-1986. At this stage Conrail was still operating the B&A as a traditional directional-double track railroad, much the way it had been operated for decades. Yet, it was only a matter of weeks before the old westward main (seen here with jointed rail) would be removed from service. . By anticipating the changes to the railroad, I could emphasize the elements soon to change; the westward jointed track and the code lines. However, other more subtle changes also resulted. Without the old signals, the code lines came down, and the bushes and trees grew in their place.

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.

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