On Monday 8 October 2018 at 8pm, I’ll be giving a traditional slide presentation to the Irish Railway Record Society in Cork on General Motors Diesel-Electric Locomotives in North America.
This will feature many of my finest Kodachrome colour slides, along with some more recent material. In addition to previously published photos, I’ll be presenting rare gems, some of which haven’t been seen in many years.
The talk will be held at the Bru Columbanus Meeting Rooms in Wilton, Cork City.
At 1133am on July 22, 1988, I exposed this Kodachrome 25 slide east of Norwalk, Ohio.
This was part of a big adventure; my old pal TSH and I were spending two weeks on the road photographing trains.
We were driving my 1975 Dodge Dart, and had plenty of Kodachrome. (And I had some 120 T-Max 400 for the Rolleiflex too).
An early morning start on the old B&O west of Fostoria was pure excitement. Several hours later we visited the big yard at Bellevue, Ohio on the old Nickel Plate Road. When we saw this freight departing to the east we made chase.
Neither of us has a clue as to where we were going, our maps were inadequate, but we embraced the spirit of the chase and found this overhead bridge.
The freight was working the old Wheeling & Lake Erie route and the diesels labored hard in the summer heat. My notes indicate this was Hartland Hill.
The freight was at a crawl and we chased on, catching it several more times before we made a wrong turn and lost track of it near Wellington.
I can still feel the thrill of that blind chase 30 years ago today. TSH and I are still pals and we still make trips together.
On November 15, 1987, I followed a loaded PLMT coal train east from Buffalo, New York. This train had operated with Pittsburgh & Lake Erie locomotives and was being handled by Guilford’s Delaware & Hudson via trackage rights over Conrail’s former Erie Railroad.
Try to fit all that on the slide mount!
At the time these coal trains operated about once a week, and while it wasn’t uncommon to find P&LE locomotives, catching the trains on film was challenging.
I made this view on Kodachrome 25 with my Leica M2 with 50mm Summicron Lens. It’s a badly under exposed long pan (about 1/8 of a second) from a hillside off the Canisteo River Road, in the valley of that name, a few miles east of Adrian.
The original slide was made at the very end of daylight, and the slow speed ISO25 film didn’t give me the needed sensitivity to capture the scene with adequate exposure.
That’s a long way of saying; it was dark and I underexposed the film.
Thankfully, I didn’t through the slide away.
I scanned it using VueScan 9×64 (edition 9.6.09) software and a Nikon Super Coolscan 5000 slide scanner. It opted for manual controls; I selected 4000 dpi input, under ‘color’ I used the Kodachrome K14 color profile, and while output was set at 4000 dpi as a TIF file.
I then imported the TIF into Lightroom for color, exposure and contrast adjustment, necessary to compensate for my extreme underexposure. To hold sky detail, I applied a digital graduated neutral density filter.
Although slightly grainy, the results are much improved over the original and captures my intended effect of the train rolling at speed through the Canisteo Valley at dusk.
It was just after 8am on May 27, 1988, when I exposed this portrait (vertical) view of Conrail BAL013 stopped at CP123 east of Chester, Massachusetts.
The sun was perfect and I used this opportunity to make several photos of the train as it held for westward Conrail intermodal freight TV9, which passed CP123 at 8:13am
This is a Kodachrome 25 slide (using the professional PKM emulsion) exposed using a Leica M2 with 50mm Summicron lens.
I calculated my exposure using a Sekonic Studio Deluxe light meter, and set the camera at f6.3 (half way between the marks for f5.6 and f8) at 1/125thof a second. This was equivalent to my standard exposure for ‘full sun’.
I learned when I moved west that ‘full sun’ is brighter in the Western states than in New England. A bright day in the Nevada desert is a full stop difference than in the Berkshires of Massachusetts.
VueScan offers me a high degree of control, but I’ve found requires a bit of practice and experimentation to obtain the best scans.
I typically scan Kodachrome 25 slides at 4000 dpi (dots per inch) and then output as a Tif file to obtain the greatest amount of data. For this slide I opted to make a multiple pass scan to retain a higher degree of shadow detail. (VueScan offers the multiple pass option under its ‘Input’ pull down menu).
To make the most of the scan for internet presentation, I imported the Tif file into Lightroom and lightened the shadows and balanced the highlights, before outputting as a scaled Jpg. (The original scan remains unchanged during this process).
Kodachrome slides recorded tremendous amounts of information and the original Coolscan Tif is far too large to present here.
In March 1987, I exposed this Kodachrome 25 color slide of Genesee & Wyoming GP38 number 51 leading an empty salt train arriving at P&L Junction (P&L infers Pittsburgh & Lehigh) near Caledonia, New York.
At that time Genesee & Wyoming was a New York state short line that had just recently expanded with the creation of the Rochester & Southern to operate the former Baltimore & Ohio (nee Buffalo, Rochester & Pittsburg) 4th Subdivision between Rochester and East Salamanca, New York via Ashford Junction. (R&S had trackage rights on CSX from Ashford Jct. to East Salamanca).
This train was arriving from interchange with the Delaware & Hudson at Silver Springs. (D&H had trackage rights over the former Erie Railroad line to Buffalo.) It would reverse direction at P&L Junction and head southward on G&W’s own line (seen in the immediate foreground) to Retsof, where G&W served a massive salt mine.
Back then G&W 51 had no special significance, but it does for me today.
A couple of weeks back, I made these views of Belmond’s Grand Hibernian luxury cruise train at Islandbridge Junction in Dublin.
What’s a Kodachrome sky? The old Kodak Kodachrome had the ability to capture a sunny day with vivid contrast; so when you had over-the-shoulder light with fluffy clouds dotting a blue sky we called it a ‘Kodachrome Sky’.
It think it’s safe to say that no one has ever photographed the Grand Hibernian on Kodachrome slide film! And if they have, they will never see their results in vivid colour. (Kodachrome is no longer commercially processed).
It was a bright and clear Sunday morning in January 1988 when I exposed this Kodachrome 25 slide with my Leica M2 with 50mm Summicron at Rochester & Southern’s Brooks Avenue Yard near the Rochester Airport.
My Leica was loaded with Kodachrome 64 on December 28, 1985. I was traveling with Brandon Delaney. First we photographed Boston & Maine local freight ED-4, seen here just north of the Brattleboro yard.
Later in the day we caught road freight CPED coming down from it’s interchange with Canadian Pacific. This was a big freight led by 5 or 6 GPs and we followed it all the way to East Deerfield yard.
K64 was an excellent film, but tended to have a magenta bias, as evident in this wintery view. Also, I found that the sky tended to reproduce a bit lighter than other films. By mid-1986, I’d largely switched to K25 for my color work.
In May 1992, I was on my way back to San Francisco from a visit to Southern Pacific’s Siskiyou Line. I stopped at SP’s Redding Station and made this afternoon image of a locomotive reflecting in the window.
Someday, someone might want to know what the Pacific Bell shelter was for, and wonder about the curious device positioned within!
Notice that I carefully included the station name in the view.
I exposed this on Kodachrome 25, which was a good film for daylight scenes but tended to do a poor job of rendering shadows. Yet, because the shadow areas under the station canopy are a bit dark this effect helps emphasize daylight on the locomotive reflected in the glass.
How would I make this photo digitally? First of all, I’d preset the white balance to ‘daylight’ rather than use the automatic setting. This would give the shadow areas a slight bluish tint, while maintaining more natural colors in the reflection.
Secondly, I’d set the exposure manually, and pay careful attention to the density of window reflection, while allowing the rest of the scene to go a bit dark (about ½ half stop).
This photo appeared in Pacific RailNews/RailNews not long after I exposed it on Kodachrome 25 in October 1996. [Click on Tracking the Light for the full vertical image.]
The Twin Ledges is a classic photo location a mile or so west of the old Boston & Albany Middlefield Station in the Berkshire Hills of western Massachusetts.
Conrail’s SD80MACs were an unusual modern locomotive because they were powered by a 20-cylinder variation of EMD’s 710 diesel, rated at 5,000 hp. They arrived only a few years before Conrail was bought and divided by CSX and Norfolk Southern.
Although their operation on the old B&A was short-lived, they were oft photographed (by me anyway).
Back in the day, when I set out to make photographs, I had a finite number of images that I could make on any given adventure based on the amount of film in the camera bag.
It might be one roll, or ten, but the number of exposures was a distinct number. Not only that, but certainly in my younger days, there was a definite cost to each and every photo exposed.
This was a limitation, but like many handicaps it encouraged discipline. Every time I released the shutter I wanted to make the photo count. At times I’d experiment with exposure, lighting, and angles, but I avoided gratuitously wasting film.
Running out of film before the end of a trip could be a disaster.
Yet, I found that my photography was at its best at the very beginning of a trip (when I still had plenty of exposures left) and toward the end (when I was making the absolute most of each photo, and really concentrating the mechanics of making photos having benefitted from days of being in the field).
In the 1950s, my dad would set off on a two week trip with just 6-10 rolls of Kodachrome. He’d carefully budget each day’s photography. Just imagine visiting Chicago in 1958 with its vast array of classic railroads but only allowing yourself to make 15 photos during the whole day.
By comparison today, digital photography doesn’t impose such limitations. You can buy storage cards that will hold hundreds (if not thousands of images). Even if you run out, you can go back and erase select images to free up space.
True, digital-photography allows great freedom to experiment, there’s no cost associated with each and every frame, nor the level of concern that you might run out. In retrospect, it was that strict limitation of film that often helped me craft better photos.
The other day I was scouring the files for a photo Amtrak’s Sunset Limited as an illustration for an article I was writing.
Instead, I found this slide; one of hundreds of images I made along SP’s Sunset Route in southern California during the early-mid 1990s.
I’d been following this eastward Southern Pacific freight over Beaumont Pass and I exposed this view near Cabazon on the east slope. The setting sun was enhanced by the effects of Los Angeles-area smog that acted as a red filter (an effect of heavy particulates).
I was working with my Nikon F3T and Kodachrome 25 slide film. Always a favorite combination for image making on Southern Pacific Lines.
Tracking the Light presents new material every day!
Sometimes a review of ‘out-takes’ will reveal a few gems. This is a lesson in how the passage of time can make the commonplace more interesting.
On the morning of September 7, 1989, I spent several hours around South Norwalk, Connecticut, making photos with my Leica M2 on Kodachrome 25 slide film. My primary subject was the old New Haven Railroad and the passage of Metro-North and Amtrak trains.
Since that time, the Metropolitan series cars that once dominated Metro-North’s suburban service have been all but replaced. But back then many of these cars still had a relatively new sheen to them.
More striking have been changes to the South Norwalk station. The scene is very different. Among the changes has been construction of a large multistory parking garage, which now occupies the space to the north of the station.
Yet, I also made a few photos of the town and passing road vehicles, which help give a flavor for South Norwalk in the late 1980s now more than a quarter century gone.
The best of the photos from this morning are held in a different file, and these are merely what I deemed at the time as ‘extras.’
I consulted my notes from that year, and found that I’d photographed extensively on that day! (Hooray for my old notebook!)
At the time I was about a week away from completing my course work at the Rochester Institute of Technology, where I earned a BFA in Photographic Illustration, and I was making good use of the fine Spring weather in Western New York State.
That day I began my photography on the Water Level Route at East Rochester, and worked my way eastward toward Lyons, New York.
I was particularly fascinated by the abandoned truss bridge over the old New York Central west of Newark, New York. This had carried the Newark & Marion, which had served as part of the Pennsylvania Railroad. [See: AbandonedRails.com for more about this line. ]
On an earlier trip, I’d photographed this bridge on a dull day using a 4×5 camera.
On May 13th, I worked with my Leica M2 exposing Kodachrome 25 color slides, and featured Conrail trains passing below the bridge.At that time SD50s were standard locomotives on many of the railroad’s carload trains.
Later, I explored other vantage points along the busy Conrail east-west mainline.
Thanks to Ciarán for encouraging this foray into my slide archive!
It’s rare that I’ll display one of my all-time favorite photos (if you are not viewing this on Tracking the Light, you’ll need to click the link to get the full image).
This has been published several times. It’s a simple image, but it wasn’t easy to make.
I exposed it in September 1991. As I’ve previously told, Southern Pacific’s Bob Hoppe had hired me for the weekend to document an event involving engine 4449.
Following a serious derailment at the Cantera Loop, where the railroad spilled toxins into the Sacramento River above Dunsmuir, California, SP organized the historic streamlined engine and train to make public appearances in the Sacramento River Canyon as a goodwill gesture.
Brian Jennison and I made the most of the three days of Daylight steam specials. Over the years, I made great use of these photos.
My choice image is this one. It clearly shows SP’s famous engine, yet captures it in motion and in silhouette.
I had two frames left on my roll of Kodachrome 25 (actually I thought had had only one left, but I also managed a photo of the tail car).
I opted for a ‘wrong side’ view of the engine, in order to make this silhouette with the oaks that characterize the rolling valley along Hooker Creek north (railroad timetable east) of Tehama, California.
To insure I kept a hint of rail in view, I needed to gain a vantage point slightly above rail level. Rather than pan the locomotive, I set my F3T on a tripod and used my Nikkor f1.8 105mm lens nearly wide open.
The locomotive approached at speed; I had only one shot at this, and timing was everything. I wasn’t quite ready when I could hear the distinctive exhaust of the locomotive rolling up the valley. Some last second fumbling with my meter, convinced me to lower my shutter speed. Thus the hint of motion blur.
Five minutes later, it would have been too dark to capture this scene on Kodachrome 25, which was the only imaging medium I had that day.
Here’s one deep from the archive: I was traveling with my father and brother and we’d come to South Amboy to watch the engine change where E8s were replaced by venerable GG1 electrics on New York & Long Branch passenger trains (North Jersey Coast Line) running from Bay Head Junction to Pennsylvania Station, New York.
We got lost on the way down and ended up in a post-apocalyptic waterfront at Perth Amboy.
Finally, we were trackside at the South Amboy Station.
Here’s a slightly improved variation: It should have a bit more ‘snap’ (contrast in shadows).
From my classic Kodachrome file: it was on the evening of April 19, 1995 that I made this photo of a pair of Chicago & North Western GP9s assembling their train at Jefferson Junction, Wisconsin for the run up to Clyman Junction.
I used a low angle, but using my Nikkor 35mm perspective control (pc) lens, I adjusted the front element to hold the vertical lines in parallel, thus avoiding the unnatural looking parallax effect.
C&NW was just weeks away from being absorbed by Union Pacific. It was the end of an era. Hard to believe it was really 20 years ago!
This is one of my favorite Burlington Northern images. Tom Danneman, TSH and I were photographing Powder River coal operations in May 1995.
We caught this empty train working west of Edgemont with nearly new SD70MACs. Burlington Northern had only a few months left before consummation of merger with Santa Fe.
Shortly before the train arrived into view some thin clouds softened the sun. While this effect tends to spoil a photo, especially those made on Kodachrome, in this rare case, I think it actually made for a better image.
I feel that the slightly subdued contrast works well with the foreground grasses, the framed tree, and the dark paint on the locomotives.
I exposed this on Kodachrome 25 using my Nikon F3T with 35mm perspective control lens mounted on my Bogen 3021 tripod.
Way back in August 1980, my father, brother Sean and I visited Philadelphia and stayed in a hotel near the 36th Street portal for SEPTA’s number 10 surface-subway streetcar. Today this is the Sheraton Hotel, I can’t remember what it was back then.
So, on a hot summer’s afternoon, I was on the corner of 36th and Market Street and exposed a Kodachrome slide of an outbound PCC working the number 10 route. PCC’s were my favorite types of streetcars, and I was glad to have caught one on film.
I sent the Kodachrome to Fairlawn, New Jersey. The slides came back in a yellow cardboard box. I labeled this one ‘SEPTA PCC’ and filed it away. Later, trailing views of PCC’s didn’t make my “A-list,” and so for many years I left the photograph un-attended and un-projected.
Moving forward: In 1997, Sean moved to Philadelphia. And, during the last 34 years the area along the Route 10 streetcar line has evolved. In early November 2014, while searching for something else, I came across the old slide, which I scanned with my Epson V600 scanner. What was once mundane, now seemed historic.
In mid-December, Sean and I revisited 36th Street. While, I’ve taken the trolley in recent years, this was the first time since 1980 that I made photographs at this location.
I still have the old Leica, but Kodachrome has gone the way of the Dodo.
Perhaps next summer, we’ll go back to the exact spot and make a proper ‘now and then’ image in the right light.
My grandparents lived in Coop City in The Bronx for a dozen years. Their 19th floor apartment had an open terrace that looked across the Hutchinson River toward Amtrak’s former New Haven Railroad line that ran from New Rochelle over the Hell Gate Bridge toward Penn-Station.
In the late 1970s and early 1980s, we’d make regular visits. I was delighted by passing of Amtrak trains, and by the time I was ten, I’d figured out how to interpret the timetable to predict when trains would pass.
Amtrak was still operating a fair few former Pennsylvania Railroad GG1 electrics, and these were my favorite. From about mid-1978, I’d keep my Leica 3A poised at the ready and if a GG1 were to appear, I’d make a color slide, or two.
While I made a great many photographs, my photographic efforts were, at best, rudimentary. Complicating matters was my general panic when a GG1 finally appeared.
As the train rolled into view, I’d try to gauge the lighting using an old Weston Master III photo cell and rapidly adjust the aperture on my Summitar lens, but my understanding of exposure was purely conceptual. In other words, I went through the motions, but really didn’t know what I was doing.
Also, I was photographing the scene with a 50mm lens, and the tracks were at least a quarter mile distant. Later, I learned to use my father’s telephoto lenses for some more effective views, but by then new AEM-7s had replaced the GG1s.
Recently, I rediscovered a box of long lost Kodachrome slides, including a bunch of my surviving photos from my grand parent’s terrace. This one is one of the few passable efforts, and will a little cropping, and some post processing in Photoshop, it isn’t too bad.
Learning technique is every photographer’s challenge. My learning curve was slow, in part because it was often months between the time of exposure and when I got slides back from Kodak. By the time I reviewed my results, I hadn’t remembered what I’d done, and didn’t know what to do to improve future efforts.
By comparison, kids starting today with digital cameras can see their results immediately and have the opportunity to learn quickly. Perhaps, from one of these same terraces, some kid today has captured one of the final runs of Amtrak’s HHP8s (recently retired from active work) or the rapidly disappearing AEM-7s!
The other day, I was searching for some images for a book project, and I discovered a long lost yellow box of Kodachrome slides.
In the 1980s, normally, I was pretty good about labeling my slides. This box simply read, “Buffalo unlabled”.
I thought, “uh oh, what’s this . . . ”
Like, pirate’s treasure!
I’d managed to stamp my name on each slide. And, back in the day, I removed a couple of choice images to make Cibachrome prints. But other than that this roll was untouched. These haven’t been projected, or printed.
Unfortunately, my notes from the day also appear to be absent, so some details on railroad operations and exposure data have been lost to time.
The slide mounts are stamped November 1988, but these may have been exposed on October 28th, as I spent the morning making industrial images around Niagara Falls for a class project at the Rochester Institute of Technology.
I’d walked the old Skyway south of downtown Buffalo to make photos of the steel works. At the time I was impressed by the dramatic lighting on Lake Erie.
26 years after being misplaced, I’m happy to have these slides back in circulation again!
July 28, 1987, TSH and I were poised on the footbridge at Works waiting for westbound freights to get their helpers and begin their climb over the Allegheny Divide via Horseshoe Curve.
A lone SW1200 was drilling freight cars in the yard. I’ve always like EMD switchers. So while waiting for the mainline action, I exposed this trailing view of the locomotive using my Leica M2 fitted with my father’s Leitz f2.8 90mm Elmarit and loaded with Kodachrome 25 slide film
Looking back, 1987 was a threshold year for my photography. After several years of fumbling with inadequate camera-meter-film combinations, I’d finally found a couple camera-film combinations that consistently yielded technically satisfactory results.
In June of that year, I’d bought my own M2. By then, I’d decided that Kodachrome 25 was the ‘right’ film for most daylight circumstances. Leica’s sharp fast lenses with Kodachrome’s extremely fine grain and exceptional dynamic range allowed me to make some very satisfactory images in a variety of circumstances.
Key to my winning formula was developing a working understanding of how Kodachrome 25 would react in different lighting situations. In 1986 I’d bought a Sekonic Studio Deluxe and had begun taking detailed notes on my exposures. This will be the topic of a future post.
Tracking the Light posts new material every morning.
My intent of this image was to show a simple juxtaposition between C&NW GP9 4153 and the steam-era coaling tower in the distance.
By this late date, steam was four decades gone, and C&NW was already part of the Union Pacific system, having been absorbed just a few months earlier. Yet, despite UP being the operating company; in Adams, Wisconsin things still appeared to be business as usual on old C&NW.
To put the GP9 and coaling tower in relative perspective, I used my Nikon F3T fitted with a 200mm lens, and found a suitable angle at a distance from both subjects. My aim was to minimize extraneous elements and focus on the railroad interest.
Since the locomotive was static, I used the opportunity to make photos from a variety of other angles. Some of these photos appeared in my book on EMD F-units published by Specialty Press about 2005.
On the evening of November 23, 1992, I was poised to photograph the action on Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor at Grace interlocking at Havre de Grace, Maryland.
I was interested in this angle specifically to use the glint light shortly before sunset. Kodachrome film had an exceptional ability to capture detail in the extreme contrast of sunset situations.
Although it had been a clear day, there was plenty of particulates in the air from tens of thousands of automobiles driving I-95 and adjacent roads. Almost invisible to the eye, this pollution acts as a reddish orange filter and changing the quality of sunlight toward the long end of the spectrum. Kodachrome with its red-bias amplified this effect while its great dynamic range maintained excellent detail in highlight areas.
Working with my Nikon F3T and f1.8 105mm Nikkor lens, I had only a few minutes before the sun disappeared behind the trees at the right.
Moments before the light changed, a late-running Florida train bound to Penn Station, New York glided into the scene with a 1970s-era E60CH electric in the lead. Perfect!
Union Pacific’s Encina Hill in eastern Oregon on June 12, 1993.
Pleasant Valley siding on Union Pacific’s mainline in eastern Oregon is aptly named. I made this image on Kodachrome 25 while traveling with Brian Jennison.
We’d driven up from Nevada to intercept Union Pacific’s Challenger, locomotive 3985, that was running trips toward Portland. The weather was excellent and this was a good excuse to photograph this remote but scenic section of heavily traveled steeply graded mainline.
I remember the scent of sage and the wide open skies and the relative quiet; qualities I associate with the great American west.
A hot and hazy late summer evening, and Amtrak 48 the Lake Shore Limited was running late.
In the lead was FL9 489. I exposed this cross-lit Kodachrome slide to show the train with the Hudson in the background.
This, after all, is the former New York Central ‘Water Level Route’. It was here that the famed 20th Century Limited rolled up the miles between Chicago and Grand Central Terminal behind J3A Hudsons, S1 Niagaras, and Electro-Motive E-units in lightning stripe paint.
All before my time.
I was just happy to catch an Amtrak FL9 roaring along in the late light.