It was a bitterly cold morning just after sunrise when I made these views looking across a field off Route 67 east of Palmer, Massachusetts (near CP79, the control point 79 miles west of South Station, Boston, that controls the switch at the east-end of the control siding at Palmer.)
All were made from the same vantage point.
I was working with two cameras. My FujiFilm XT1 with 90mm telephoto, and my Canon EOS 7D with 40mm pancake.
The exposure, color profiles and color temperature of the cameras were set up differently, which explains the slight difference in overall density and tint.
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.
Back in the early 1980s, Conrail routinely assigned GP40-2s to road freights on the Boston & Albany. Back then I ignorantly dismissed the GP40-2s as ‘boring’. (But, I made photos anyway).
Today, being older and wiser and having a greater appreciation for locomotives of all kinds, I look back fondly on those olden times.
Luckily, I don’t have to go too far to find GP40s on the move. CSX still assigns vintage GP40-2s (albeit modernized) to the Palmer, Massachusetts local freight, symbol B740. (On the old Boston & Albany).
I see these locomotives as classics, yet still earning their keep, and wearing modern paint.
Last week when I exposed these views of CSX B740 at CP83 near the old Palmer Station, it was bright, but partly overcast midday with diffused high sun. Snow on the ground helps lighten the shadows—Decent, if not perfect, conditions for photographing locomotives.
It was about 4 degrees Fahrenheit at East Brookfield, Massachusetts, when I made this view at 9:38pm on December 31st looking west toward CP64.
The signal had just changed from all red (stop) to red over flashing green (Limited Clear) on the main track.
I exposed the photograph with my FujiFilm XT1 with 27mm pancake lens with the camera mounted on a Gitzo tripod.
Using the ‘A’ mode with aperture set to f2.8, the exposure value boosted by about 2/3rds of a stop, and ISO set to 400, my effective shutter speed was about 5 seconds. A length of time that seems like forever when you are standing alone in the dark with an icy wind in your face.
I checked my exposure and focus and thought to myself ‘good enough’. Which means that if it were warmer, I’d make another image.
CSX’s Q007 was lined west. But opted not to wait for it.
Warren, Massachusetts is a favorite place to photograph, but also a tricky one.
I used Warren as an example for a similar compositional conversation in Trains Magazine, published about two years ago and featured photo of Amtrak’s westward Lake Shore Limited.
Yesterday (December 29, 2017), I arrived in Warren just in time to set up and catch CSX’s late-running Q264 (loaded autoracks for East Brookfield) race up the grade and pass the recently restored former Boston & Albany station.
Using my FujiFilm X-T1 with 18-135mm lens, I exposed a burst of images.
I’ve selected three of these, and then annotated versions of the image that I like the best so that you may benefit from my compositional considerations.
There’s no correct answer to composition; in this instance I prefer the more distant view of the train because it better features the old passenger station and the town of Warren; here’s why I feel the composition works:
I made these views of a CSX freight operating on the former Reading Company in Philadelphia. My vantage point was from the sidewalk on the road bridge near the Strawberry Mansion Bridge over the Schuylkill.
The day was bright, but partially overcast, which benefitted my photography since bright sun would have resulted in a difficult and unflattering high-contrast situation.
This northward freight was moving slowly, allowing me to work with two digital cameras and expose a series of images as it went by.
On July 22, 2017, I made this unusual view of CSX Intermodal train Q012 on the old Boston & Albany mainline at West Warren, Massachusetts.
What’s unusual about it?
Not only was it made on Kodak Tri-X black & white film using an 80-year old Leica camera body fitted with a 21mm Super Angulon lens, but my processing was non-standard.
After a pre-soak with a miniscule amount of developer, I gave the film it’s primary development in Ilford Perceptol stock mixed with water 1-1 for 8 min 30 seconds at 69 F. Following development, stop, fix1, fix2, and thorough rinse, I treated the still wet film in selenium toner mixed 1 to 9 with water for 8 minutes.
The selenium toner gives the negatives a slightly lavender hue while increasing the highlight density to provide a silvery sheen. This involves an ion-exchange with the silver halide in the film which offers a secondary benefit of greater long term stability.
After toning, I re-wash negatives for at least 10 minutes.
For internet presentation here, I scanned the dried negatives on an Epson V750 flatbed scanner at high-resolution TIF files, then imported the files to Lightroom for final adjustment, dust removal and scaling. (My TIF files are far too large to upload on Word Press for internet).
Instead of scanning the negatives in black & white, I scanned them in color which retains the purple tint of the selenium toner for effect.
During the long days of July, I made a point of being up and OUT as early as there was light in the sky.
Those trains that go bump in the night in Winter have a bit of light on them in July.
I made this view before 6 am of the New England Central local crossing the Palmer diamond. The popular Steaming Tender restaurant is located in the old Palmer, Massachusetts Union Station station at left.
All to often I find myself in Palmer, Massachusetts.
It’s probably not what you think though.
Yes, I make railway photos there.
By often I arrive at CP83 only because I’m passing through. I might be on the way to the bank, or to get a haircut, or maybe do a bit of shopping.
In the daylight instance pictured I was about to cross the South Main Street Bridge with a financial transaction in mind, when I spotted a railway enthusiast poised with camera in hand.
I had my Lumix LX7 with me, so made a quick diversion. It was nearly 11am, and about the time that CSX’s Q022 often rolls east. Stepping out of the car, I immediately sensed that my guess was correct. I could hear the freight approaching the home signal for the Palmer diamond at CP83. Need I describe what happened next?
Some hours later, I’d met Rich and Joyce Reed for dinner in Palmer, and as per a long standing Friday night tradition we reconvened after the meal at CP83. How different this place looks at night!
After a little while the signals cleared and CSX’s Q007 came into view. I made these time exposures of the westward Q007 passing the signals at CP83.
A week ago, July 7, 2017, Pat Yough and I were photographing at West Trenton, New Jersey. I made this view with my FujiFilm X-T1 fitted with a 27mm Pancake lens.
This is compact, lightweight lens designed for the Fuji X-series mirror-less digital cameras. With the sensor on my X-T1 the 27mm lens has the equivalent field of view offered by a 41mm lens on a traditional 35mm film camera.
In other words it offers a slightly wide-angle perspective that is comparable to the natural field of view of the human eye.
I caught CSX symbol freight Q-301 rolling toward Philadelphia on the old Reading Company. My exposure was f4 1/1000th of a second at ISO200.
On June 28, 2017, I made a sequence of digital photos of CSX’s Worcester, Massachusetts-bound intermodal freight symbol Q012 passing CP64 (dispatcher’s control-point 64 miles west of Boston) at East Brookfield.
This was one of several exposures made with my FujiFilm X-T1 digital camera.
Yesterday, Wednesday, June 28, 2017, I arrived in Palmer at about 5am. Although there was clear blue dome above me, a blanket of mist had filled the Quaboag Valley. This was just beginning to clear, when I heard CSX’s westward freight Q427 (Portland, Maine to Selkirk, New York) approaching.
Working with my FujiFilm X-T1 fitted with a 27mm pancake lens, I exposed several bursts of digital images as the train rolled by the old Palmer Union Station (now the popular Steaming Tender Restaurant).
Consider that this is a lesson in lighting: even when you photograph trains at the same location, at the same time of day (but on different days) the results can be significantly different as result of ever changing lighting conditions.
These days most of CSX’s scheduled through car-load freights tend to traverse the east end of the old Boston & Albany during darkness.
True, there’s a couple of intermodal trains, and Amtrak’s Lake Shore Limited during the day, but if you want to see an old-school freight train in daylight you’ll have a long wait.
Early in the morning of June 23, 2017, I went over to CP83 (control point 83 miles from South Station) on spec to see if I could catch some freight on the move.
I have a sixth sense or really good hearing (or both), because I stepped out of the car, and I could hear a distant freight with GE diesels laboring toward Palmer.
I fitted my FujiFilm X-T1 with my fast (f2.0) 90mm lens and walked up to the South Main Street bridge, where I’ve made hundreds of photos over the years.
As the train approached, I realized that it wasn’t an intermodal train, as I expected, but a carload freight. It was CSX’s Q422 (Selkirk, New York to Worcester, Massachusetts).
At 5:29am I made these photos with my camera set to ISO 800, f2.2 1/250 second handheld. The ability to raise the ISO to a faster (more sensitive) setting combined with my fast telephoto lens allows for photos like this one.
In my old Kodachrome 25 days, my exposure with my Nikon F3 and f2.8 135mm lens (offering an equivalent focal length to the 90mm with the small sensor on the X-T1) would have been: f3.5 at ¼ second. The resulting image of this moving train would have been dramatically different.
Since 1986, the interlocking east of Palmer at the east-end of the dispatcher’s controlled siding has been known on the railroad as ‘CP79’ which describes it as a ‘control point (remote control power switches and signals) 79-miles west of Boston’.
Friday, morning (June 22, 2017), I anticipated a westward freight just after sunrise, and set up looking across the farmer’s field west of CP79, looking toward the rising sun.
Working with an external graduated neutral density filter, I carefully exposed a sequence of photos, including pictures with the train. Then working with the camera RAW files in Lightroom, I manipulated contrast, exposure, color temperature and color balance, to make for better balanced more pleasing photos.
With extreme lighting conditions I find that post processing is a necessary, if tedious, part of the photographic process.
It’s that time of year when the setting sun aligns with CSX’s old Boston & Albany at Palmer, Massachusetts.
I made these views using my FujiFilm X-T1 digital camera.
The camera’s color profile was set to ‘Velvia’ mode. White balance at ‘A’ (automatic). While I exposed both a Camera RAW and Jpg simultaneously, these views are strictly camera-produced Jpg files scaled for internet presentation.
Gauging my exposure with the in-camera matrix meter, I set the aperture and shutter speed manually leaning toward ‘under exposure’ to ensure good highlight detail.
Using my FujiFilm X-T1, I tilted and extended the rear display screen so that I could hold the camera close to the ground. By doing this I photographed from an unusual perspective with a telephoto lens.
Since the angle is very low, the foreground is blurred, and the verticals are kept perpendicular to the horizon, the effect makes the photo appear like those often made of model railroads.
One of the circumstances that made this image possible, was a complete lack of automobiles in front of the old Palmer (Massachusetts) Union Station—now the popular Steaming Tender Restaurant.
An old favorite photo location is the Connecticut River bridge at East Deerfield, Massachusetts.
Earlier this month, photographer Mike Gardner and I caught two freights crossing this traditional span within just a few minutes of each other.
The first was eastward autorack train symbol 28T operating to Ayer, Massachusetts with Norfolk Southern locomotives. A few minutes later, Pan Am freight POED (Portland to East Deerfield) worked west with recently acquired former CSX General Electric DASH8-40Cs.
Historically this was the Boston & Maine’s Fitchburg line; B&M was melded into the Guilford system in the 1980s and in the mid-2000s . Today, Pan Am and Norfolk Southern are partners in operating Boston & Maine lines west of Ayer as Pan Am Southern.
A dreary evening at Mitteneague in West Springfield, Massachusetts was briefly brightened by a wink of drop under sun.
Luckily for me, at the very moment the trees in the distance were illuminated by this unexpected golden glow, I heard CSX’s Selkirk to West Springfield manifest freight Q424 approaching.
I exposed these trailing views with my 90mm f2.0 Fujinon lens.
Below are two variations of each image; one is a JPG made from the RAW without interpretation, the other is an adjusted file to represent what I saw at the time of exposure.
Camera RAW files only represent the information (data) collected by the camera sensor, and rarely display an image as the scene actually appeared, thus the need for interpretation/adjustment during post processing.
Back in 1989, the DASH8-40C was the latest offering from General Electric. In April that year, I photographed some glistening Conrail units at Buffalo’s Bison Yard. Some months later I was delighted to catch a freshly painted CSX DASH8-40C working on the old Baltimore & Ohio at Deshler, Ohio.
Fast forward to 2017; reports of Pan Am’s recent acquisition of 20 former CSX DASH8-40Cs has interested New England railroad observers. I’ll admit, I find it strange that these locomotives causing such a stir.
On Thursday January 5, 2017, fellow photographer Mike Gardner and I visited Pan Am’s East Deerfield Yard (located near Greenfield, Massachusetts).
Upon our arrival, we saw road freight EDRJ (East Deerfield to Rotterdam Junction) getting ready for its westward journey. In the lead was a pair of the ‘New’ DASH8-40Cs.
I learned that this was the first run of these locomotives since arriving on Pan Am a few days earlier. Not to waste an opportunity we geared up for some photography.
And, yes, among the trains we photographed that day was EDRJ (always a favorite train to catch on the scenic westend of the old Boston & Maine). We followed it all the way to Eagle Bridge, New York, ‘new’ GEs in the lead.
Below are a few of the photos I made using my FujiFilm XT1 digital camera. While we made the most of these old ‘new’ locomotives, in truth we probably would have photographed Pan Am’s EDRJ regardless of its motive power.
Still, I’ll be keen to see these old goats painted in Pan Am blue and white.
Over the last 39 years I’ve exposed countless hundreds of photos of trains rolling through Palmer, Massachusetts. But that’s not stopped me from continuing the exercise.
Friday, December 23, 2016, I was at CP83 near the Steaming Tender restaurant, when the signals lit up: high green on the mainline for a westward move. That was my cue to get ready.
The previous day I’d gone fishing through the camera cabinet and found an old Nikkormat FT. Perfect! I loaded this up with some HP5 and set out making photos old school. It had been 20 years since I last worked with Nikkormat. I fitted it with a vintage Nikkor 24mm lens.
With this antique in hand I set up a shot by the old Palmer Union Station (Steaming Tender) using the building to partly shade the rising sun. I’d misplaced my handheld lightmeter, so I used my Lumix LX7 to help gauge the exposure.
This was a tricky, I wanted the sun light to be set apart from the skylight and normally this requires a bit of underexposure. But I didn’t want the front of the locomotives to become completely opaque. Ideally, I’d want there to be some detail in the shadows.
As the headlight of a westward freight appeared to east I was still dithering over my exposure. Ultimately I settled on f11 1/500th of a second.
The trick to bring up the shadow detail was more a result of my processing technique. I needed to retain enough detail in the negative to work with, but once that was established on site, the rest of the work was with the chemistry.
I’ve described this a few times in recent months, but I’ll mention it again:
Before the main process, I prepare a ‘pre-soak’. In this case, I used a Jobo semi-automated processing machine with continuously reversing agitation.
My ‘presoak’ bath consisted of about 200ml of water at 74 degrees F (pardon my mixing of measurement standards) with a drop of Kodak HC110 (about 2-3 ml of developer solution), plus some Kodak Photoflo.
I let film presoak for about 3-4 minutes. Long enough to let the emulsion swell and for the minimal quantity of developer to become completely exhausted. This has the effect giving the shadow areas proportional more development than the highlights, while getting the processing reaction going.
For my main developer, I used Kodak D76 mixed 1-1 with water at 69F for 9 minutes. (This is less than the recommended time of about 11 minutes).
Afterwards I scanned the film using an Epson V750 at 4800 dpi. The photos presented here are scaled in Lightroom from my hi-res files.
No good? Don’t like it? No problem, I can go back and try it all over again!
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But wait, CSX doesn’t serve Gardner. True. However on this day in mid-November 2016, I photographed a pair of CSX GE Evolution-series diesels leading Pan Am Southern freight 287—an empty auto rack train from Ayer.
These days, passing locomotives don’t necessarily reflect either the owner or operator of the train they lead.
Dappled morning sun augmented the effects of a textured sky and late season foliage. I opted to make this image using my Leica 3A with 35mm Nikkor Lens loaded with Ilford Pan-F (ISO).
This film offers fine grain and broad tonality. I’m not yet expert at processing this emulsion. Previously I used Ilfosol with mixed results. This time I tried Kodak D76 mixed 1:1 (stock solution with water).
If my process was completely successful my negatives would scan perfectly without need of electronic post processing adjustments. This example provided a good starting point, but to make for the most pleasing image, still required local and global contrast control.
By the way, digital photographers may relax; I also exposed several frames with my FujiFilm X-T1–Just in case.
The other morning I was aiming for a haircut. I arrived early and the barber wasn’t open yet, but I noticed an eastward CSX intermodal train on the old Boston & Albany that was slowing for the Palmer diamond.
I was on Route 20, about a mile west of Palmer, Massachusetts. I turned the car around, and immediately proceeded east in pursuit. (Haircuts can wait). However, road works at the New England Central bridge over the road caused me a critical delay.
Although the intermodal train was likely blocked, I wasn’t making any progress either, and I still had all of Palmer to get through in morning traffic. As a result, I took a detour and cut over the mountain using Old Warren Road—a favorite shortcut of Bob Buck’s that he showed me many years ago.
This saves several miles, but doesn’t follow the tracks.
As a result, I was able to be in place at West Warren several minutes ahead of the train. After exposing these views I retraced my steps and returned to my original mission!
The sun was just rising over Bear Mountain, when I arrived at Mine Dock Park located on the west shore of the Hudson near Fort Montgomery, New York.
I set up on CSX’s River Line, historically New York Central’s ‘West Shore’ route. At first the signals were all red. Then after a bit the northward signal cleared to ‘medium approach.’
I concluded that a northward train would be taking the siding, thus in all likelihood it would be making a meet with a southward train. I secured an elevated view from the rock cutting north of the public crossing.
About 45 minutes elapsed and then a northward train took the siding as signaled. Six minutes later, this southward CSX autorack freight came gliding down river. I exposed a series of digital images with my Lumix LX7. The sun was perfect and the late autumn foliage on the trees made an already picturesque scene even better.
Nothing tricky or complicated here; it was just a matter of being in the right place for the action and paying attention to the signals.
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Last May (2016), I made this view of an eastward CSX stack train descending the old Boston & Albany grade over Washington Hill.
I was just east of the old Middlefield Station (long defunct), where my late friend Bob Buck had exposed some classic images of B&A’s A1 Berkshires.
A hill behind me blocks the rising sun, until after 6:30am in May. I could hear the train descending as the first rays of sun tickled the iron. Morning clouds waft across the sky making for inky shadows.
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It was a sunny Saturday morning and the old Boston & Albany mainline was quieter than a rural Polish branch line.
Finally about 10:30 am Mike Gardner and I heard distant stirrings of an eastward freight.
We made our way to Warren, Massachusetts.
The long days of summer have resulted in the B&A route becoming unfortunately brushed in. Much of the line is largely obscured by bushes, trees and undergrowth, which make railway photography difficult.
The old Boston & Albany station at Warren remains one of my favorite surviving structures on the line; it harks back to a time when the railroad was the principle corridor for commerce in the region. Recently it has been restored.
Here we made our photographs.
A few strategic shafts of sunlight illuminate the line. I set my FujiFilm XT1’s shutter release dial to ‘CH’ (continuous high—the setting I casually refer to as ‘turbo flutter’) and waited as the train approached.
When it neared the shafts of sunlight, I held the shutter down and exposed a rapid burst of digital images, knowing that at least of one of them would place the front of the locomotive in full sun.
This satisfied my desired composition to juxtapose CSX’s modern General Electric diesel with the 1890s-era railway station building.
To demonstrate the effect of ‘turbo flutter’ as a compositional exposure tool, I’ve displayed the below sequence of images. In practice my camera exposed about three times as many photos. (Frame numbers are sequential)
Since the real cost of making a burst of exposures is very small, in this situation, I’ll happily make as many images as I need to in order to produce the photo I want. Later, if I choose, I can throw away the unsatisfactory images to save space on my hard drives.
My last view. (Facebook, Twitter, Tumbler and Google Plus viewers may need to click on Brian Solomon’s Tracking the Light to see the big picture).
This former Boston & Albany freight yard was the site of some my earliest photographic efforts.
Several years ago, in a deal with the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, CSX agreed to close its Boston yard to open the property for redevelopment. As a result, its intermodal yard at Worcester was expanded to accommodate the lost capacity.
The result is that Boston now has virtually no through rail-freight service. The trickle of remaining CSX rail-freight traffic is handled by a local from Framingham, Massachusetts. Container (and piggyback) traffic is accommodated by road.
Many years ago, Boston was a major freight hub, and Beacon Park was a very busy place—those days have long since passed.
For the last few years, the tracks at Beacon Park have sat disused and rusted.
Presently, track gangs are salvaging what remains of the old yard.
Someone, somewhere will declare ‘progress’.
Ironically, I exposed this view from a bus on the Mass-Turnpike Extension, the highway that more than 50 years ago assumed operation on considerable chunks of former Boston & Albany right of way.
In the longer months, there’s nice morning sun on the north side of the tracks at Palmer, Massachusetts and this seems to offer a potentially good vantage point.
There are several interesting structures here: including the former Union Station (now the Steaming Tender restaurant) and the old Flynt building (painted grey and lavender with fluorescent pink trim).
Yet I’ve found that placing a train in this setting rarely yields a satisfactory composition.
Here’s the on-going compromise; using a wide-angle perspective if I place the train far away, it tends to get lost in the scene. And, yet when it’s too close it obscures the old station building. The Flynt building either dominates on the right, or ends up cropped altogether. A telephoto view here presents its own share of complications.
The other day, I turned on to South Main Street in time to see the CSX local freight (symbol B740) west of the New England Central diamond (crossing). This gave me just enough time to park the car, walk briskly across the street, set my exposure and use my FujiFilm XT1 to make this sequence of photos.
Not bad for grab shots, but they still suffer from my visual quandary as described.
Puzzling through these sorts of vexations is part of my process for making better photos. Sometimes there’s no simple answer, but then again, occasionally I find a solution.
In the meantime I present my photos as work in progress.
Brian Solomon’s Tracking the Light is a Daily Blog.
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.