New England Central at Montpelier Junction, Vermont.
A freshly scrubbed GP38 led a pair of Pennsy passenger cars in a classic old-school whistle-stop campaign tour of Vermont.
On August 28, 2010, my dad and I drove to the Georgia high bridge (near St. Albans, Vermont) to intercept a New England Central special train hired by gubernatorial candidate Brian Dubie.
It was a sunny warm summer’s day, and we made numerous photos of the special as it worked its way south.
This pair of images was exposed at Montpelier Junction, where the train made a stop for the candidate to make a speech to his supporters. Traditionally, this was where Central Vermont met the Montpelier & Barre.
I used a telephoto for these views in order to emphasize the bunting and flags that marked the train’s distinctive qualities. Several of my photographs of the train appeared in Private Varnish.
Last Friday evening, November 16, 2013, I stopped by New England Central in Palmer, Massachusetts on my way to meet friends for dinner.
The moon was nearly full and a venerable GP38 was resting in the yard. Here was an opportunity for a photograph (or two)!
I’ve made numerous images of New England Central 3855, since this locomotive arrived with the creation of the railroad nearly 19 years ago. So why bother make more, especially on a chilly November evening?
My short answer: because it was there to photograph.
The long answer: the moon was out casting a surreal glow across the Palmer yard and the mix of moonlight and sodium vapor street lights inspired me to expose some long time exposures.
I positioned my Lumix LX3 on my large Bogen tripod and manually set the camera. I carefully avoided direct light by using tree branches and nearby buildings as natural lens shades. I also minimize the effect of street lamps in the photograph, while aiming skyward to catch the twinkle of evening stars. (On the full-sized un-scaled RAW file, the stars are very clear in the sky. Unfortunately the scaled and compressed images do not translate as well as I’d hoped.)
In recent months, New England Central’s operations have been altered. This has benefits for photography. Since the times trains tend to run have changed, different locations have opened up for photographic possibilities.
For many years, New England Central operated a southward freight from Palmer, Massachusetts in the early morning (typically as job 608), this worked into Connecticut (to Willimantic and beyond) and returned in the afternoon or early evening.
Now, on many days, the railroad runs a turn from Willimantic to Palmer (often as job 610), that goes on duty at Willimantic in the morning, runs northward to Palmer, and returns. From my experience the return times vary considerably.
Once I was aware of this change, I began thinking about various places to make photographs based on afternoon lighting angles. Last week, I heard 610 working south from Palmer. I was in luck as a pair of vintage GP38s in the railroad’s original scheme (the locomotives were painted by Conrail in preparation for New England Central’s February 1995 start up).
Track speeds south of Palmer make following a train easy enough. My first location was Stafford Springs, where I’ve often exposed photographs of New England Central. From there I followed southward.
My final location of the day was at the Connecticut Eagleville Preserve, where the line passes an old Mill dam (I’m not well versed on the specific history of this dam, but the arrangement is common enough in New England, where in the 19th century water powered local industries. For more information on the park and area see: http://www.willimanticriver.org/recreation/pg_park_eagleville-preserve.html).
Afternoon sun favors this location, and I made the most of the light, waterfall and autumn foliage as well as the GP38s.
Dick Gruber did the driving, John offered historical context, while I made notes. We all made photos. I was working with three cameras; my EOS-3 film camera loaded with Provia 100F slide film, my EOS 7D digital camera, and Lumix LX-3.
John Gruber, says as we inspect a grade crossing near Sun Prairie, Wisconsin, ‘Passenger trains were allowed 75mph through here. The Hiawatha’s Atlantics worked here towards the end. It was probably the last regular trains they worked. When I saw them they were pretty dirty.’
Visions of high-speed service on this route were revived in recent years (as part of a Chicago-Milwaukee-Madison route) then dashed again when political philosophy interfered with transport reality. Track speed is 10mph, and the only service is Wisconsin & Southern’s (WSOR) local freights.
We drove from DeForest, pausing for lunch near Sun Prairie, to a lightly used grade crossing near Deansville where we intercepted the WSOR local freight. This was hauled by a clean pair of GP38s clattering upgrade with a long string of ballast cars and mixed freight at the back.
WSOR’s burgundy and silver makes for a pleasant contrast with rural scenery. I can only imagine what it was like with a streamlined A1 Atlantic clipping along with light-weight passenger cars at speed. Different worlds.
For more on Wisconsin & Southern locomotives click here.
One of the benefits of my visits to Monson, Massachusetts, is being within ear-shot of the former Central Vermont Railway, now operated by New England Central (NECR). Yesterday morning (January 10, 2013), I awoke to the sounds of a southward freight clawing its way up Stateline Hill (so-named because it crests near the Massachusetts-Connecticut state line). NECR freights take their time ascending the grade and on a clear day I can hear them climbing from about the time they depart the Palmer Yard. As a kid I’d count the crossings: CV’s GP9s whistling a sequence of mournful blasts for each one. Yesterday morning I dithered for a few minutes. Should I go after this train? Or, should I keep my nose to grindstone, writing? Clear skies forced the answer: GO!
My hesitation caused me to miss the opportunity for a photograph in Stafford Springs, Connecticut. This was blessing in disguise, since I’ve often caught the train here and then broke off the chase before getting deeper into Connecticut. Having missed Stafford Springs, I pursued further south, and caught the train four times at various points between Stafford and Willimantic. This a relatively easy chase, as Route 32 runs roughly parallel to the line.
Three elements made yesterday’s chase a satisfying exercise:
1) The train was operating at a suitable time of the morning for southward daylight photography (lately, NECR’s trains seem to have headed south either way too early or too late in the day for my photographic preferences—I’ve been photographing this line for more than 30 years, first chasing it with my Dad in the early 1980s, so I can be unusually choosy).
2) It was a ‘clear blue dome’—sunny, bright, and cloudless, always a great time to make morning photographs.
3) As it turned out, one of New England Central’s yellow and blue GP38s was leading. As I’ve mentioned previously, while this was once NECR’s standard locomotive, in recent years the type has become comparatively scarce on NECR, with many of the locomotives working the line wearing paint of former operators (Conrail, Union Pacific, Florida East Coast, and others).
I was also eager for a clear day to test some recently acquired equipment, especially my new Canon 40mm Pancake Lens, which arrived on Monday. I’ll make this lens the detailed topic of future posts.
After abandoning NECR at Willimantic, I made a few photographs of the town, which still has some wonderful old mill buildings, then continued south to New London where I focused on Amtrak for a while.
Since New England Central is among properties recently acquired by Genesee & Wyoming, I’m anticipating change and wondering when I’ll photograph the first orange & black locomotives
See my recent published book North American Locomotives for more information on New England Central’s and Genesee & Wyoming locomotives.