There’s an undeniable magic to the Hoosac Tunnel. It’s old, it’s long, and its portals are nestled deep in scenic valleys of western Massachusetts.
Hoosac East Portal is especially fascinating; the railroad approaches on a sweeping curve and crosses a bridge over the Deerfield. All around are vestiges of earlier times. Some of the old catenary supports survive from when the tunnel was electrified. The keen eye will located the false portal, where early builders initially bored but gave up.
A flume cascades down the mountain making an unending roar that sometimes sounds like a train.
On this cool evening, Mike Gardner and I arrived in time to photograph Pan Am’s EDRJ disappearing into the bowels of the mountain. We’d heard a hint of an eastward freight on the radio and decided to wait it out.
About an hour after EDRJ had passed, the tunnel began to breathe. It emitted an effluence that was part locomotive exhaust and part condensation caused by the air inside the tunnel meeting the cool air outside. After a while it began to fill the valley around East Portal with a fine bluish vapor, like the spirits of lost souls escaping the confines of the mountain.
“I think I hear a train,” Mike said. I assured him that was just the cascading water.
“No, I really hear a train.”
Despite this sense more than an hour and half had passed, and we were about to leave. Then suddenly, as with past visits, the signal across the bridge lit up—high green. “Yahoo!”
We resumed positions a safe distance from the east portal, and exposed photos of intermodal train 22K as it approached.
Good luck, bad luck; it’s all relative. Over the years I’ve made many visits to the Hoosac Tunnel. I recall a visit with my father in the mid-1970s, back when the way to East Portal was a dusty dirt road. We waited patiently for several hours, and eventually gave up.
The other day, a fellow photographer Tim Doherty and I drove up to the tunnel on spec, but with the anticipation of catching an eastward train. The rumor-mill had circulated reports that Norfolk Southern’s New York Central heritage locomotive was leading an eastbound.
We arrived at the tunnel, investigated a few angles, and were about to leave again, when the signals lit up: green-over-red-over-red.
As many of you know, I’ve authored a book on signals, and I know a little bit about the subject. The aspect displayed was clear, and since this was on the home signal for a siding, that means it was lined by Pan Am’s dispatcher in North Billerica. More to the point, the signal was dark when we arrived, and I know from previous experience that the signals here are approach lit.
The circuit for the signal at East Portal is relatively short. This meant we only a had couple of minutes to set up. Failing to recognize this could have cost us the desired photograph.
I needed some time to get ready: Exposure was problematic. There was a patch of sunlight immediately in front of the inky black of the tunnel portal, while part of the stone facing was also lit. Complicating matters, either condensation or exhaust was emanating from the tunnel portal causing a gauzy ill-defined patch at precisely the location where the locomotive would exit.
After a minute or two: a dull roar, followed by the gleam of the headlights, and soon the grade crossing bells were ringing. I set my camera manually, but I was cautious not to underexpose too severely, as a black locomotive against the blackness of the tunnel could be difficult to rescue in post processing.
When the locomotive exited, the combination of the ditch lights, headlight and white ‘raccoon stripes’ made for a slightly brighter front end than I anticipated. But I only had a few instants to make my photographs and if I wasted time trying to refine the exposure, the moment would be lost.
I exposed a burst of images with my Fujifilm X-T1 digital camera, knowing at the time the exposure was too bright. I then popped of a couple of color slides with my Canon EOS-3 with 100mm telephoto. I think my slides were closer to the mark (regarding exposure) than the digital images.
After the fact, I worked with the Camera RAW file to balance the exposure; and so my end result is pretty good. I’ll be curious to see the slides when they return from the lab.
Our bad luck? The night before, the locomotives for this train had been swapped out at Binghamton, NY, and so we caught a fairly ordinary Norfolk Southern Evolution-Series GE diesel instead of the one-of-a-kind New York Central-painted heritage locomotive.
Oh well: total elapsed time at Hoosac Tunnel, less than 15 minutes! So, I’m not complaining.
Bill asked a favor of me: He was working on article for TRAINS Magazine and hoped that I could travel to the Hoosac Tunnel to make some contemporary images to help illustrate his article.
A few days later, I met Tim Doherty, Pat Yough and Otto Vondrak at East Deerfield for a day’s photography. I needed some images of the former New Haven Railroad Whipple Truss span over the Connecticut River at Montague (now a walking trail).
Later in the day we went west against an eastward freight. This provided me ample opportunity to photograph both east and west portals of Boston & Maine’s famous tunnel under the spine of the Berkshires.
As it turned out, the eastward freight was led by one of only two locomotives painted for Pan Am Railway at the time.
As the train approached and exited East Portal, I exposed a series of images. I sent the best of the slides to Bill via the US Postal Service. One of my photos, exposed with a wide-angle of the Pan Am Railway’s GP40-2L emerging from the tunnel wearing the experimental light blue and black paint, appeared in Bill’s TRAINS Magazine article.
I prefer this view, moments before the freight exits the inky black depths of Hoosac Mountain. For me this better conveys the experience of watching a train at Hoosac Tunnel.
Tracking the Light posts new material every morning.
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.