Tag Archives: #Erie Railroad

Stacks on the old Erie Railroad—36 Years ago

3:36pm, May 14, 1988; milepost 309 (as measured west from Jersey City) near Cameron Mills, N.Y., Conrail intermodal train TV-301.

I exposed this photo in the reverse curves along Conrail’s former Erie Railroad mainline in New York’s scenic Canisteo River Valley east of Cameron Mills.

In the late 1980s, this valley was a favorite place of mine for photographing trains, and I made dozens of trips along the old Erie Railroad during those years.

This image was exposed on Professional Kodachrome 25 using my Leica M2 rangefinder fitted with a Leitz Wetzlar Elmarit 135mm lens.

My exposure was f4.5 1.250th second. While this was my standard ‘full sun’ daylight setting, the resulting slide was about 1/2 stop too dark. This was in part because of the reduced reflective light within the confines of the valley combined with slight backlighting of the train.

After scanning using a Nikon LS-5000 (Supe Coolscan5000) slide scanner, I made a variety of small adjustments to TIF file in regards to color balance/color temperature, exposure and constrast using Lightroom to produce a more pleasing photograph.

One element of this image that’s always annoyed me is the automobile peaking out on the left side of the leading locomotive. It would be a better photo if the automobile was further ahead of the train or totally conceiled by it.

This is a small defect, considering that Conrail (as a class 1 railroad) has been gone nearly 25 years.

This is the un-modified TIF file that reflects the overall appearance of the original PKM color slide. Below is the adjusted scan.
This is the same scan following adjustments to color, exposure and contrast.

Branch with a View-November 1, 1996.

On this day in 1996, I was driving from Wisconsin to Massachusetts in a U-Haul truck with most of my worldly belongings (including the majority of my photographs).

Would you believe me if I told you that I took a detour to follow the old Erie Railroad main line across New York’s Southern Tier, and when I heard on the scanner that an eastward coal train was through Hornell, I drove the U-Haul into a grave yard on the banks of the Canisteo River, climbed a tree and exposed this series of color slides?

Would you?

Nikon F3T with 28mm lens, Fujichrome slide film.

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Classic Chrome—Cass Street Hornell

Here’s another classic K25 slide from that wonderfully perfect autumn day on October 14, 1988.

I’d been following Delaware & Hudson PLMT (Pittsburgh & Lake Erie-Mount Tom) unit coal train that was rolling east on Conrail’s Southern Tier (former Erie Railroad) main line.

The old Cass Street Tower had controlled the Junction where the original Erie Maine Line that went west via Andover, New York diverged from Erie’s Buffalo Line that went via River Junction and Attica, New York. By 1988, the Buffalo Line was the preferred route for most freights.

Delaware & Hudson had trackage rights on Conrail between Buffalo and Binghamton, NY. By mid-1988, Guilford Transportation Industries had relinquished control of the D&H, and New York, Susquehanna & Western was the court appointed operator of the line.

NY&W had acquired a fleet of former Burlington Northern SD45/F45s that it assigned to road freights.

I was fan of the SD45, and when I caught this coal train slogging east on the old Erie, I did my best to keep up with it, making photographs with my old Leica M2 along the way. This view at Cass Street was one of just 16 places I photographed the train that morning.

Cass Street, Hornell, New York at 10:30am on October 14, 1988. Leica M2 with 50mm lens, Kodachrome 25 f4.5 1/250 sec.

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Saving an old Chrome

It was a cosmic moment.

At 9:35 am on September 5, 1987, I was standing on the old bridge over Conrail’s former Erie Railroad mainline at Carsons, east of Canisteo.

Heavy fog over New York’s Canisteo Valley was lifting as the late-summer monring sun peaked out from behind some clouds.

A westward empty Delaware & Hudson coal train from New England led by Pittsburg & Lake Erie GP38/GP38-2ss was roaring west, as a Sealand double-stack with New York, Susquehanna & Western former Burlington Northern SD45s glided below me.

I had my Leica M2 loaded with Kodachrome 25. In my haste to capture the scene, I’d failed to take into account the effects of fog and bright morning sun. The result was a very over-exposed color slide. Since the very nature of the Kodachrome process linked saturation with exposure, my photograph has a bleached look to it.

For more than 36 years this languished in a file of rejected slides. I nearly pitched it in a purge of my collection back in the early 1990s.

The only reason I kept it was because—despite its technical flaws—it had captured the spirit of the moment.

The other night, I scanned the image and then imported the hi-res scan into Adobe Lightroom for some necessary posts processing corrections.

Whoops! I missed my exposure altogether.

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Eureka at ZY!

I’ve scoured through hundreds of Conrail slides. Finally, in my Erie box, I had my Eureka! moment when found what I’ve seeking:

Conrail SD50 6753 (now NS 6342) leading a freight in nice light. (See recent posts).

This was exposed at the grade crossing at East Hornell, New York. Conrail 6753 was leading BUOI-4X on January 14, 1989. The train had made a pick-up at M-K in Hornell consisting of recently rebuilt New York City subway cars and was about to make its move to go through the cross-overs and then reverse back onto its train.

Conrail’s BUOI was a daily symbol freight connecting Buffalo’s Frontier Yard with the former Lehigh Valley Railroad Oak Island Yard near Newark, New Jersey. On this day, traffic was sufficient to warrant two sections, thus ‘BUOI-4X’ (X for eXtra).

Exposed on Kodachrome 25 with my old Leica M2 and 50mm Summicron.

So why ‘ZY?’ That was the old Erie two-letter telegraph code for CP East Hornell. My friends and I continued to refer to CP East Hornell as ‘ZY’ even though this designation had been discontinued years earlier.

Interestingly, if you locate this place on Google Maps, you’ll find on Magee Road a marker for ‘ZY Crossing Station.’ Someone at Google respects Erie history!

Someday I’ll tell another story about this day, but not today .

My Lumix LX7 photo from Monday September 18, 2023 that spurred the quest to find Conrail 6753.

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Along the old Erie Railroad at Swain, New York.

Between 1986 and 1991, I documented vestiges of the former Erie Railroad using hundreds of rolls of Kodachrome, Ektachrome, and T-Max black & white film.

I made dozens upon dozen of trips along Conrail’s lines, seeking to make images of this fascinating railroad in its environment.

There could be long intervals between trains, and some days were more productive than others.

October 14, 1988 was memorable because it was a perfect day. I had a very early start. The autumn foliage was at its peak. It was clear from dawn to dusk. Conrail and Delaware & Hudson ran a lot of trains, and I had Kodachrome 25 in my Leica.

Among the photos I made that was this view of Conrail SD50 6774 leading OIBU west through Swain, New York at 8:07am.

I like this image because although 6774 is key to the composition, it isn’t the only subject of interest and it captures the essence of rural western New York in autumn.

Soon old 6753 will be featured on TTL. The lure of the quest is about finding treasures along the way. If I found the prize too soon there would be no joy in the path to it.

This is the raw and adjusted scan of my original Kodachrome 25 slide. Exposed at 8:07am on October 14, 1988 using a Leica M2 rangefinder with f2.0 50mm Summicron lens. My old Dodge Dart is parked behind me with the engine running. Soon, I’ll be in pursuit of this train en route to my next desination. Slide scanned with Nikon LS5000 slide scanner powered with VueScan 9.8.04 software.
This the same scan as above, but adjusted using Adobe Lightroom to improve its presentation. I’ve lightened the image, reduced contrast, warmed the color balance, lightened and warmed shadow areas, while slightly increasing overall saturation.

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Letchworth Gorge-9:25am April 7, 1989

Working with my old Leica M2 loaded with Kodachrome 25 slide film, I made this view of an eastward Delaware & Hudson freight led by New York, Susquehanna & Western SD45s crossing Conrail’s impressive Portage Bridge over New York’s Letchworth Gorge.

This was among my favorite mid-Spring morning locations. Winter run off made the Upper Genesee Falls especially impressive, while the sun illuminated the north side of the bridge.

This bridge was erected by the Erie Railroad in 1875, and was considered the first example of a tower supported viaduct, a type that in the late 19th century became a popular type of construction for long and tall bridges.

Norfolk Southern inherited this section of the former Erie from Conrail. The old bridge was in poor condition and had required a 5 mph slow order. NS finally replaced the aged viaduct in 2017 with a modern arched truss.

An eastward Delaware & Hudson freight carrying loads of rock salt eases across the Portage Bridge at 9:25am on April 7, 1989.

For me April 7, 1989 sticks in my mind as a great day to photograph along the old Erie Railroad. This was just one of many images I made that day.

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Conrail TV-300 in the Canisteo Valley

Thirty-five years ago today, March 23, 1988, at 8:16am, I exposed this Kodachrome 25 slide of Conrail’s TV-300 roaring east on the former Erie Railroad mainline east of Adrian, New York in the Canisteo River Valley.

I was perched upside a hill with my Leica M2 fitted to a Visoflex with Leitz 200mm Telyt lens mounted on a tripod.

I’d driven down in the early morning from my apartment in Scottsville, New York, having scoped out this spot several weeks before.

I arrived about 10-15 minutes ahead of the train, which I could hear from several miles away; the rolling thunder of the stack wells behind a classic throbbing of EMD diesels.

A little more than a decade later, I returned to this place with photographer Mike Gardner and repeated the exercise with an eastward CP Rail freight. By that time Conrail had reduced the old Erie to single track.

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Icon of the Erie: Starrucca House

The Erie Railroad’s Starrucca House was built at Susquehanna, Pennsylvania in the 1850s. This had been a station, railroad restaurant, and division point on the Erie’s main line.

The 19th century Gothic building had been only recently restored when I made this black & white photo in October 2001.

Exposed on Ilford HP5.

Susquehanna, Pennsylvania, October 2001

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Erie Landmark.

We navigated our way through Susquehanna, Pennsylvania to the town of Lanesboro where the magnificent former Erie Railroad Starrucca Viaduct spans the town.

I said to Kris, “This is one of America’s most famous railroad bridges, and probably the biggest, oldest railroad bridge still in revenue service in the United States.”

After all, there are very few railroad structures remaining in service from the 1840s.

In the 1980s, I photographed Conrail trains crossing this elegant Erie landmark. In the early 2000s, I wrote about it.

I made these photos last week using my Nikon mirrorless digital cameras.

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Metro North Diesels at Port Jervis, NY.

On our drive back from Pennsylvania last month we stopped in to Port Jervis, New York.

This town was once synonymous with the Erie Railroad which maintained significant facilities and yards here.

Today, little is left of the sprawling freight yards, and relatively little freight passes over the former Erie route, but Port Jervis is the western extent of NJ Transit/Metro North commuter service from Hoboken, NJ.

On this dull Saturday morning, Metro North’s weekday commuter fleet was tied up in the small yard west of the present passenger station, near the site of the old Erie engine facilities.

I thought that this collection of diesels made for interesting subjects.
Photos exposed using my Nikon Z6 with 70-200mm lens.

If had been clear and bright, I’d have been looking directly into the mid-morning sun.

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Meadville viewed with a Canon.

Over the years I’ve used a great variety of Camera-film combinations.

In 2009, I largely worked with a pair of Canon EOS-3s loaded with Fujichrome.

On an October trip to photograph along the old Erie Railroad, I had one of my EOS-3s fitted with a Canon 100-400mm. The morning of the 6th, I caught Western New York & Pennsylvania’s HNME (Hornell, New York to Meadville, PA) arriving a Meadville.

A dozen years earlier I’d photographed the same Montreal Locomotive Works diesel working the Cartier Railway in Quebec using Nikon cameras loaded with Kodachrome.

I wonder how I might capture this scene today with my current camera combinations?

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Conrail Stacks in the Canisteo—Running Against the CUrrent.

The 316 signals were situated immediately east of milepost 317 (as measured from Jersey City).

These twin semaphores were located near milepost 317 on Conrail’s former Erie Railroad in the Canisteo River Valley east of Hornell, New York. 

Although visible from the Canisteo River Road, to reach them required a short walk across a farmer’s field.

The difficulty of capturing this pair of signals with a train was the tight angle on a tangent during normal operations.

My solution to this visual problem was to photograph the signals with a train moving against the current of traffic.

The challenge was finding a train running ‘wrong main’ at the right time of day.

In January 1988, I had my opportunity. A Conrail double-stack had been given a Form-D to run against the current of traffic on the No. 1 track from Hornell to Gang Mills. I raced ahead in time to jog through the field and set up east of the signals.

Working with my Leica M2 and my dad’s 135mm Elmarit lens, I made a series of Kodachrome slides. This image was first the in the sequence and nicely shows the signals and stacks in the scenic valley.

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Dreary Evening On the Erie

This Kodachrome slide has languished in the darkness for 32 years.

I’d followed a westward empty Conrail coal train through New York’s Canisteo Valley on the evening of April 7, 1989.

It had been an overcast day with laden clouds. Yet traffic had been heavy on Conrail’s former Erie Railroad lines in western New York.

At the time Conrail was routing coal empties west from Hornell via the old Erie main line that went through Alfred and Andover, then operated as the Meadville Line.

West of Hornell this route ascended a steep grade that brought heavy trains to a crawl.

In the fading light of that April evening, I exposed this Kodachrome 25 slide along Canacadea Creek. If I recall correctly, my shutter speed was about 1/30th of a second.

Why such a slow film?

That is what I had in my Leica M, and so I made do.

Here are two versions of the scanned image. The first is scaled but unmodified. The second is a heavily modified image to make the most of the extremes of Kodachrome’s capturing ability while adding drama to the scene.

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Gang Mills Sunset—Fixing a Chrome.

On November 24, 1998, photographer Mike Gardner and I were wrapping our photography for the day, having spent it following the old Erie Railroad mainline in New York state. A railroad then operated as part of Conrail’s Southern Tier District.

Just after sunset, we were visiting the old bridge (since removed) over the east end of the Gang Mills Yard (near Corning, New York). A bit of evening ‘drop under’ sun had tickled the clouds pink, when a headlight appeared to the west.

Working with my Nikon N90S with 80-200mm lens, I made a sequence of photos on Kodachrome 200 of the passing Conrail piggyback train. This film offered speed, but it was difficult to work with. Not only was K200 grainy, but it had a fairly narrow expose latitude as compared with either Fuji Sensia or Kodachrome 25. 

At the time I made the slide, I’d exposed for the sky, aiming to retain the texture and color, but as a result the tracks and train were a bit under exposed. Last night, I made a multiple pass scan from a slide in the sequence. Then in post processing, I lightened the foreground, while adjusting color and contrast for a more pleasing image, yet one that hopefully looks like it was exposed on Earth, and not on Mars.

Below are two comparisons. The first is the unadjusted scan (scaled for internet), the second is my adjusted scan.

Unadjusted scan of a Kodachrome 200 slide.
Kodachrome slide scanned using a Nikon Super Coolscan5000 and adjusted in Adobe Lightroom.

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Corry, PA at Sunrise.

In October 2009, I photographed Western New York & Pennsylvania’s westbound HNME (Hornell to Meadville) freight crossing the diamond at Corry, Pennsylvania.

Historically this was where the Erie Railroad mainline crossed Pennsylvania Railroad’s route to Erie, Pennsylvania.

Working with a Canon EOS3 with f2.8 200mm prime telephoto, I exposed this photo on Fujichrome Velvia100F.

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Conversation with Mike Lacey—is Now Live!

Last summer I interviewed career railroader Mike Lacey on his experiences working for Erie Lackawanna and Conrail as part of my ‘Conversations with Brian Solomon’ podcasts with Trains Magazine. This is episode 39 in the series.

Mike is a fifth generation railroader.

You can listen to my Trains interview:

Brian Solomon as pictured by Colm O’Callaghan.

I have the pleasure of learning from Mike, who is now the Road Foreman of Engines and Train Master at Conway Scenic Railroad.

I made these photos in the last week of Mike in the cab of locomotive 1751, a former Baltimore & Ohio/Chesapeake & Ohio GP9.

Mike is also featured in my June 2020 Trains Magazine column.

Mike Lacey in locomotive 1751.

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My Canisteo Valley in Trains Magazine

The June 2020 Trains Magazine features my 8-page article on Conrail in New York’s Canisteo River Valley.

This features some of my favorite Kodachrome slide photos from when the line was still operated as double-track under rule 251 with classic Union Switch & Signal block signals.

One of the outtakes was this view from 1996.

By 1996, Conrail had lifted one of the two main tracks through the Canisteo and removed all the classic signals. While this forever changed the character of the railroad, Conrail continued to make good use of this former Erie Railroad mainline. On November 1, 1996, this eastward unit coal train rolled along the Canisteo near West Cameron, New York.

My new book: Conrail and its Predecessors is now available!


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Alco at Meadville, Pennsylvania.

In the June 2020 Trains Magazine my monthly column features an interview with career railroader Mike Lacey, who started with Erie Lackawanna in 1968 and cut his teeth at the former Erie yards at Meadville.

I made this view on a visit to Meadville with fellow photographers Pat Yough and Tim Doherty on October 12, 2008.

Western New York & Pennsylvania’s former New York Central C-430 3000 was working the yard with engineer Chris Southwell at the throttle.

Exposed with Fujichrome Velvia100F using a Canon EOS-3.

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