The old McClelland Farm Road bridge over the Boston & Maine tracks at the west end of East Deerfield Yard (near Greenfield, Massachusetts) has been a popular place to photograph trains since the steam era.
Known colloquially as the ‘Railfan’s Bridge,’ this vantage point has been featured in articles in TRAINS Magazine Railpace, and other popular literature for decades.
I first visited with my father and brother in the early 1980s, and have made countless photos here, many of which have a appeared in books, calendars, and of course on Tracking the Light.
My friend Tim coined it the ‘waste too much film bridge’ in the early 2000s, owing to our propensity to make an excessive number of photos as Guilford freight trains switched in the yard.
Although hackneyed and perhaps over frequented, it’s been a great place to catch the sunrise, make photos of the locomotives and freight cars, and work the evening glint.
At times, I’ve seen as many as 30 photographers here, all vying for position.
Imagine my surprise last month, when Tim and I arrived to photograph the elusive and much followed Pan Am Railways office car train, expecting to find a wall of lenses, and instead realized that we were the only photographers on site!
I used this opportunity to make some photos of the old bridge, soon to be replaced by a new span located 40 feet to the west.
Why is this my first farewell? Simply, the bridge isn’t yet gone. After it is, perhaps I’ll post a ‘final farewell’.
Sometimes after making all the wrong moves, luck falls on your lap.
It was Thursday, October 22, Mike Gardner and I had traveled to Brattleboro, Vermont to intercept the southward New England freight, job 611. Instead of my usual route via back roads, we opted for I-91, then got caught in terrible traffic in the town. By the time we reached the yard, 611 had departed.
To Millers Falls we went, only to learn we missed the train by moments. “Now what?” Mike asked.
So, we went over to Pan Am’s East Deerfield Yard, near Greenfield, Massachusetts. Where trains converged from all directions.
Eastward freight, symbol 14R, came into view led by Union Pacific SD70M 3947. “What is this, the Feather River Canyon?”
This was not hard to take; clean Union Pacific locomotives from the famous ‘Railfan’s Bridge’ at East Deerfield West.
I’ve made countless photos from this well established vantage point, but it’s always nice to get something unusual. The bridge itself is on borrowed time, so my philosophy is make use of it while I can.
Thinking up new ideas everyday takes a lot of effort, so today, I’ll rely on clichés and old ideas with a new twist to fill the gap.
Back in the day, in the 1980s, I’d wander up to the Boston & Maine at East Deerfield where I’d photograph trains on well-worn rights-of-way led by first and second generation EMDs. I was thrilled to find freight trains on the move!
The poor ‘ol B&M had seen better days. New England had been in industrial decline since World War I. It was my understanding that the old phrase ‘it’s gone south,’—meaning ‘it’s gone to the dogs’—originated when New England’s textile industries began closing and heading to the Carolinas and Georgia. (Never mind Southeast Asia, China and what not).
Guilford Transportation came about and melded Maine Central with B&M and briefly with D&H. For a few years the railroad was really busy. Traffic was on the upswing, new intermodal trains were introduced, and run-through locomotives from D&H, Maine Central, as well as Norfolk & Western/Norfolk Southern became common.
Then a souring passed over the scene. ‘All that glitters is not gold’, as they say (paraphrasing an English poet), and the well-trodden paths to the Hoosac Tunnel and along the Connecticut quieted for a time.
Things changed again with the dissolution of Conrail. Now Guilford is Pan American Railways and Pan Am Southern. Metallic blue paint has begun to replace charcoal and orange. And traffic is on the rise.
Yet to me, while there’s been some changes, the old B&M is a throwback to another time.
Yes, there’s a few new signals, some new welded rail here and there, and some nice fresh ties. Many of the old searchlight signals and signal bridges are gone and here and there the tracks have been trimmed back. But the B&M has the appearance of retro railroad. It’s like classic rock with spin.
Last week, on November 21, 2013, my old friend Paul Goewey and I went up to East Deerfield. It was like old times. First and second generation EMD diesels were moving freight in every direction while decaying vestiges of New England industry could still be found at every turn.
Just sayin’ it seems to me that at the end of the day, it is what it is, and MORE!
Applying an Old Technique with Today’s Technology.
The other day I arrived at Pan Am Southern’s Boston & Maine East Deerfield Yard shortly after sunrise. Although not a wheel was turning, there was some nice light and I made a selection of images.
My challenge was in the great contrast between the ground and sky. With my Lumix LX3, I found that if I exposed for the track area, the dramatic sky was washed out (too light), and if I exposed for the sky the tracks area was nearly opaque.
With black & white film, I would have compensated my exposure and film development to maximize the information on the negative, then dodged and burned critical areas on the easel in the dark room to produce a nicely balanced print. I’d done this thousands of times and had my system down to fine art.
I applied this same basic philosophy the other morning at East Deerfield. I made several exposures from different angles. In one of these I slightly overexposed the sky to retain some detail in the track area.
The in-camera Jpg from this still appears both too dark and too contrasty (from my perspective having witnessed the scene). Rather than be content with this inadequate photograph, I took a copy of RAW file that I exposed simultaneously (one the benefits of the LX3 is it allows both a Jpg and a RAW to be exposed at the same time) and imported it into Photoshop. (I always work from a copy and I NEVER manipulate or alter the original file).
Under the ‘Image’ menu, I selected ‘Adjustments’ and then ‘Curves’; I then adjusted the curve to produce a more balanced over all exposure. This is possible because the RAW file has more information (detail) in it than is visually apparent.
While this improved the image, I still wasn’t satisfied. So I selected the ‘Dodge and Burn tool’ (which appears in the tool bar as a angled gray lollipop). Using the ‘Dodge’ function, I very slightly and selectively lightened track areas and foliage that I felt appeared too dark.
Then I used the ‘Burn’ function to selectively adjust the sky areas. If I’ve done this successfully, the scene should appear very close to the way I saw it. Similar techniques can be used to make for surreal and unnatural spectacular landscapes. While I may do that later, that’s not my intent today.
While modern tools, like those of the traditional darkroom, allow for improvement over in-camera images, the effort does take time. I estimate I spent 10-15 minutes adjusting this photograph.
Because this adds time to the work on the photograph, I don’t want to have to do this any more often than necessary. Most of my photographs are ready to go ‘in-camera’ (as it were).
Low Sun at a Hackneyed Location—Nine Years Ago Today.
On the evening of October 12, 2004, I exposed this photograph from the popular ‘waste too much film bridge’ at the west-end of Guilford’s East Deerfield, Massachusetts yard. I’ve made hundreds, if not thousands of images over the years from this spot. I’m not alone.
I’d followed a local freight (ED-4?) from the Hoosac Tunnel east on the old Boston & Maine Fitchburg line. This was the locomotive from the local. Having dropped its train in the yard, it has come to the west end and will reverse into the engine house tracks.
The shaft of light of the setting sun made for an opportunity. Rather than make a standard view, I opted for this wide angle image that features the locomotive’s high short -hood. This was one of the railroad’s second-hand GP35s noted for this arrangement. (short/long are used to describe the hood length, while high/low the height, thus the contradictory sounding description).
The low angle of the sun allowed for light across the front of the locomotive, while the rest of the scene is draped in shadow. You can see the shadow of the bridge I’m standing upon in the distance.
One year ago today (March 20, 2012), I made this rosy sunrise image at Pan Am Railway’s East Deerfield Yard (Massachusetts) using my Canon 7D fitted with an f2.8 200mm lens. East Deerfield has long been a favorite place to begin or finish a day’s photography. Its curved east-west orientation makes it ideal for working with sunrise and sunset. Plus as an operations hub, there’s often something on the move, or at least getting ready. The morning of March 20, 2012 was quiet enough, giving me time to make some interpretive views of the yard.
It’s been a long time since the old tower at the west-end of Pan Am Southern’s former Boston & Maine yard served as intended. Yet it survives as a landmark and lends to the heritage of the place. I’ve photographed this building many times over the years; by day, by night, by sun, and in the fog. This Monday evening (January 21, 2013), I exposed a few time exposures during a snow-squall. The lightly falling snow diffused the light from the yard making for an eerie glow—a quality of light well suited to night-photography. Finding a focus-point in the dark was a challenge, as was remaining out in the frosty evening while the camera exposed the photos.