Scenes like this were once common: piggyback trains on their final lap to Boston running along traffic on the adjacent Massachusetts Turnpike. But, not any more.
A few years ago, CSX finally closed its yards at Beacon Park, having expanded its intermodal facilities in Worcester and West Springfield.
I made this view on bright, brisk clear afternoon at Newton, Massachusetts. Polarized sunlight can be typical Boston weather in early winter.
It’s nice to get clear sunny days, yet the area’s low humidity combined with other elements can make the light too contrasty. Not all sunlight has the same qualities, and I’ve found that sunlight can vary greatly from region to region and at different times of the year.
But when autumn fades to winter, more changes than just the leaves. In eastern Massachusetts stark midday wintery lighting presents its own of visual challenges.
The cold razor’s edge Boston’s winter sunlight makes for blinding bright highlights and opaque shadows. But is it too harsh? I’m much fonder of softer mid-autumn sun.
Stark light, not withstanding, I’m happy to have made this view of a Conrail piggyback train on the Boston & Albany. The Conrail Trailvan trailer behind the locomotives makes it a more interesting image.
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.
August 31, 1991. I’ll put this in the ‘forgotten images’ category! I remember the trip, I remember the day, but until I scanned it, I’d completely forgotten that I’d made this photo on black & white film.
As I’ve describe in my previous post, Daylight Beauty at Hooker Creek. Southern Pacific had organized the streamlined engine to make a public appearances in the Sacramento River Canyon as a goodwill gesture following a serious derailment at the Cantara Loop (which spilled toxins into the river above Dunsmuir), and the railroad had hired me for two days to make photographs of the PR event. Brian Jennison provided transport, and the two of us spent a long weekend making numerous images of SP 4449 with Daylight train.
I exposed this image on the first day of excursions using my Leica M2 with 50mm lens. I’ve published many of the color slides I exposed from the same trip, including views I made on Kodachrome with my Nikon F3T at this bridge.
Some can be found in my book The American Steam Locomotive published by MBI in 1998, Steam Power published by Voyageur Press in 2009. Also, Audio Visual Designs used my photo of SP 4449 at Redding on a picture postcard back in the 1990s.
Finding this picture was a pleasant surprise. Compared with earlier years, I have relatively few black & white images from the 1990s in California, although I went through a phase where I’d use the Leica loaded B&W during the ‘high light’ when Kodachrome yielded substandard results.
In this case, I made the most of the situation by using two cameras and different types of film, I obtained a variety of photos from location. Also, the locomotive repeated the exercise the following day. By then, I’d re-loaded the Leica with Kodachrome 25.
25 Years Ago, Conrail Demolished Palmer’s Boston & Albany Freight House.
During the 1980s, Conrail demolished many disused structures along the Boston & Albany line. The East Brookfield freight house went in 1984, Worcester’s went in 1986. In January 1989, I noticed that the railroad was preparing to erase Palmer’s B&A landmark.
The wrecking machine was parked out in front and had already taken a bite out of the northeast corner of the steam-era red brick structure.
I proposed a short article to the editor of Palmer Journal Register. The newspaper supplied me with a roll of black & white film and processed it for me. I photographed the building from every angle and wrote the article that appeared about a week later.
Conrail made short work of the old building, which had stood at the west-end of the yard near Haley’s Grain Store. Today there is almost no evidence of the building.
For me it had been tangible evidence of the old Boston & Albany—never mind Conrail or Penn-Central. While its usefulness to Conrail may have ended, I recalled speaking with the agent there on various occasions in previous years.
I still have the negatives that I exposed with my Leica M2 and I’ve scanned these using my Epson V600.
“Let’s get an ice cream,” my pal T.S.H. said as we drove by Conrail’s sprawling former Pennsylvania Railroad yards at Hollidaysburg, Pennsylvania.
There was a roadside ice cream stand on one side of the highway and the tracks on the other. I made this image showing Conrail SD40 6288, while enjoying the ice cream on the hood of the old Dodge Dart we were using as transport.
This engine had been painted with a slogan promoting the United Way. Second out was a former Erie Lackawanna SD45-2. This was a local that had come down from Altoona with bad-order cars for the car shops.
It was July 27, 1987 and we were on the tail end of a week-long exploration of Pennsylvania. The days had been hot and hazy, but evenings offered some rosy light, (when there wasn’t a thunderstorm). We had started the day on the old Baltimore & Ohio, working our way from Confluence to Sand Patch, then drove north to Hollidaysburg.
The ice cream is just a memory, but I still have the old chromes.
Among my favorite locomotives are Electro-Motive’s classic end-cab switchers, of the sort introduced in the mid-1930s with EMC model SC.
I became familiar with this type as a result of an O-Gauge Lionel NW-2 dressed for Santa Fe that my father bought for me about 1972. Later, I watched and photographed full scale switchers on Penn-Central, Conrail and Boston & Maine.
This type in effect emulated the shape of the common steam locomotive, allowing the engineer to look down the length of the hood, instead of a boiler. Electro-Motive wasn’t first to use this arrangement, which Alco introduced in the early 1930s. But, it was the Electro-Motive switcher that I found to have a classic sound and shape.
When I was studying at the Rochester Institute of Technology in the late 1980s, Rochester & Southern’s Brooks Avenue Yard was just a few minutes away. I routinely stopped by the yard to see what was going on.
At that time, R&S 107—a former Southern Pacific SW1200—could be routinely found drilling cars. Over the years, I made a number of images of this old goat.
I left Rochester in 1989. I wonder what has become of this switcher? Does it still sport the SP-order oscillating lights?
Sunny Morning on Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority Metro Rail.
I’d argue that the Buffalo light rail line is one of America’s least photographed railways. It’s certainly not something I’ve often seen pictured.
The system has several peculiarities. One of the strangest is its route, which runs in a subway through the northern Buffalo suburbs but on the street in the historic downtown.
I’ve made several visits to photograph and ride this unusual railway. I had an especially clear morning on May 4, 1989 when I exposed this pan on Kodachrome with my Leica M2. The car is on Main Street and passing St Paul’s Cathedral (located just a few blocks from Buffalo City Hall).
When seeking out railways to document, I’m always on the lookout for those operations that appear to elude other photographers. Admittedly, while the Buffalo light rail isn’t the most exciting railway in western New York, it can be photogenic and is thus worthy of pictures.
Three elements of this image interested me when I exposed it on April 7, 1989.
The Union & Switch & Signal Style S upper quadrant former Erie Railroad semaphore; New York, Susquehanna & Western’s former Burlington Northern SD45; and the unusual grade separated mainline, where the eastward track is on a higher level than the westward line.
I could write in detail about anyone of these three things. And someday I will. But not now.
Instead, I’ll examine the composition in a effort to offer a lesson on observing change.
The reason I made this photo in the way I did was specifically to juxtapose the signal with the locomotive. The grade separation not only offered added interest, but facilitated the over all composition because it allowed the locomotive to be relatively higher in the frame while enabling me to include the entire signal (complete with base of mast mechanism and subsidiary boxes/equipment) without producing an unbalanced image.
Today, none of the main elements in the photo are in place. If you were to visit Canaseraga, New York (located about 10 miles railroad-west of Hornell on the former Erie Buffalo mainline) you would find that the semaphore is gone; as is the old eastward main track. If by chance there’s an SD45 in the photo (unlikely, but not inconceivable) it would be on the close track.
In other words, the essential components of the image have changed to such a degree that there is little reason to consider making a photo at this location. And that’s the point!
When photographers (myself included) make railway images, they consciously and unconsciously include (and exclude) line side infrastructure which helps define and structure the photographs.
Changes to railway infrastructure alter the way we see the railroad, and thus the very way we compose and plan photographs. By anticipating change, we can make more interesting images and preserve the way things look for future viewers.
When trackside make careful consideration for those elements you may include or deliberately exclude. Might you be missing a potentially great image by trying to avoid some wires or litter along the line? Is an old fence potentially a graphic element that not only will help located the photo in the future but also key to a dramatic composition?
It is these types of thoughts than can make the difference when trying to compose great (or at least, relevant) railway photos.
On August 20, 1987, I found this former Boston & Maine SW1, recently repainted and renumbered as Springfield Terminal 1401. I exposed this image from the street, across from the old passenger station. For me it captures the feel of Holyoke at the time.
Southern Pacific’s streamlined Daylight was one of the great classic American trains. It was so popular that a recreation of the train was assembled in the 1980s using traditional equipment, including one of the last surviving SP 4-8-4s, the often photographed engine 4449.
In April 1991, I was traveling with Brian Jennison and J.D. Schmid in pursuit of various steam locomotives converging on Sacramento, California for RailFair 1991. Earlier in the week we’d made images of Union Pacific’s 844 and 3985 working former Western Pacific lines.
We’d driven overnight to this location just north of the California-Oregon state line. While I’d photographed SP lines in Oregon the previous year, Worden was new to me. The location was selected for the sweeping curve on an upgrade, which was hoped to produce a bit smoke. The location was selected for the sweeping curve on an upgrade, which was hoped to produce a bit smoke.
We knew that 4449 was on its way. I was fascinated. While I was very familiar with SP’s magnificent class Gs4 ‘Golden State’ 4-8-4s, having often seen them in photographs and magazines, this was my first experience with the engine in person.
By the time the train came into view, at least a dozen photographers were on site. A helicopter had landed on the far side of the tracks with video crew on board. This was more than just a train, it was an event!
I positioned my Nikon F3T with f4 200mm lens on my 3021 Bogen tripod loaded with Kodachrome 25. I also made exposures my Leica M2 handheld.
I made a selection of images as the train roared by. My favorite is this view, which has been various reproduced in books and other publications.
I deliberately broke a variety of conventions in the composition. Traditional steam photographers might shake their heads in dismay. I’m positioned on the ‘dark side’ of the tracks. I’m using a long telephoto lens. Instead of a centered view, I’ve positioned the train toward the left side of the frame.
Probably the most unusual thing was with my focus point. Instead of setting the focus on the front of the locomotive, I aimed it more toward the tail car. The combined result of the compositional effects is a peculiar tension that draws the eye toward the back of the train and to the scene, despite the dominance and drama of the engine.
Unhappy with this? Well, I also made a rather straightforward 50mm view. And, if that’s not good enough, did I mention the other dozen or so photographers?
Southern Pacific Gs4 4449 in the classic Daylight livery works railroad-direction west near Worden, Oregon in April 1991. Exposed on Kodachrome 25 slide film. Exposure calculated manually using a Sekonic Studio Deluxe handheld photocell.
In the late 1980s only a few active semaphores remained in New England. One of the best places to see them was at the crossing of former New Haven Railroad lines in Walpole, Massachusetts.
I made this photo of a new Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority F40PH-2 leading an outward train on the Franklin Line on the afternoon of March 2, 1988. The attraction for me was the contrast between the new locomotive and the ancient signal.
A variation of this image appeared in TRAINS Magazine some years ago. I exposed it on Kodachrome 25 using my Leica M2 with a f2.0 35mm Summicron.The combination of clear New England light, Leica optics, and K25 film enhanced the scene.
On the morning of November 4, 1987, I made a speculative foray to P&L (Pittsburgh & Lehigh) Junction near Caledonia, New York. At the time I was living in nearby Scottsville, and I’d occasionally check P&L to see if anything was moving.
P&L Junction had once been a very busy place. Here the original Genesee & Wyoming had connected with Lehigh Valley, Buffalo, Rochester & Pittsburgh, a branch of the Erie, and New York Central’s so-called ‘Peanut Line.’By 1987, the only railroads left were G&W and its Rochester & Southern affiliate.
I was fortunate to find a southward train and I made this image of a southward G&W salt train heading across the diamond with a vestige of the old Peanut Line (that G&W used to reach a couple of miles into Caledonia). A classic ‘tilt board’ crossing signal protected the diamond.
Today, it seems that G&W railroads are everywhere. I even saw a G&W company freight in Belgium a couple of weeks ago. Back then, I couldn’t have imagined that this New York state short line would reach so far!
I spent a pleasant and memorable week photographing in Maine in August 1986.This was shortly before I began my studies at the Rochester Institute of Photography, and represented a moment of visual freedom, unburdened by demands of professors, intellectual assumptions, or assignment deadlines.
On August 29th, Brandon Delaney and I had photographed the Maine Central. At Burnham Junction we stumbled upon the Belfast & Moosehead Lake working the Maine Central interchange.
Although this wasn’t my first experience with B&ML, I was delighted to catch this elusive operation at work. We chased the train back toward Unity. I made this image featuring a classic farm with barn and silos.
I exposed it on 35mm Kodachrome slide film using a Leica M2 with 200mm Leitz Telyt telephoto lens mounted with a bellows using a Visoflex viewfinder arrangement on a compact Linhof Tripod. Although cumbersome, this was my standard arrangement for making long telephoto views. Exposure was calculated manually using a Sekonic Studio Deluxe handheld light meter (photo cell).
Stainless Steel Budd-Rail Diesel Car Catches the Light.
On November 23, 1988, I exposed this Kodachrome slide of a former Boston & Maine (B&M) Budd RDC on the platforms at South Station. At one time this had been a self-propelled unit, but by this time, Boston-based Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) was hauling trains of old RDC’s with locomotives.
The classic welded stainless steel fluting was a trademark of Budd railcars. Polished stainless steel made for some beautiful trains, although this one was clearly showing its age. The Boston & Maine lettering was a remnant of B&M’s ownership of the car, which MBTA had acquired in the mid-1970s.
Look carefully and you’ll see another Budd-built product reflecting the in the window: one of Amtrak’s Amfleet cars built in the 1970s.
Kodachrome 25 slide film was an ideal material for capturing high-contrast scenes like this one. Look at the great detail in the highlights areas. I used my Leica M2 with f2.0 50mm Summicron. Today, I’d probably try to capture this with my Lumix LX3.
In early 1990, I was living in Roseville, California and working in Sacramento. I worked nights, which meant I had lots of daylight to play with for photography. However, this was a Saturday evening. The day had been miserable—cold, damp, and dark. Not what people think of as ‘California weather,’ but typical enough for winter.
I’d been itching to make some photos, but theses dire conditions were uninspiring. Roseville wasn’t especially photogenic even on a good day, but there was lots of railroad interest around the place. Toward the end of the day, I saw clearing to the West, so I nipped down to the yard.
The East-end of Roseville was fairly accessible from public property. There was a grade crossing near the split between East Valley and Donner Pass routes. I made this image just as the sun dropped below clouds that were still spitting rain. A pair of SP’s venerable EMD SD7s working the East end caught the glint of the setting sun. The dark sky and glossy ground with evening sun is hard to top.
This remains one of my few good photos of Roseville Yard. Since then, Union Pacific merged with SP, and UP completely rebuilt the yard. The SD7s are long gone.
While on the topic of the former Erie Railroad, I thought I would post this unpublished view of brand new New York, Susquehanna & Western Dash8-40Bs working a Delaware & Hudson freight on Conrail’s former Erie route between Hornell and Buffalo, New York.
The new units were ordered by NYS&W during its brief court-ordered operation of D&H between 1988 and 1990.
I started following this train earlier in the day. It was a typical western New York morning, with fits of sun bursting through a deck of thick gray clouds.
That’s the reason for this unusual composition: for a moment the sun emerged to flush the front of the bright yellow GE’s. I made a spot decision to photograph the train more distant than I’d originally intended.
At that time, Conrail was only maintaining the old number 2 track (eastward mainline) for 10 mph. Most traffic was routed on the number 1 main (traditionally the westward track) that was in much better condition. However, by Spring of 1989, Conrail’s Erie route was bursting with traffic. To avoid congestion, Conrail’s dispatcher opted to keep this D&H train bumping along at 10mph, while westward traffic stayed on the faster track.
East of Canaseraga, the Erie line was in characteristic grade separated arrangement that probably dated from Underwood-era improvements in the early 20th century. If I write my book on the Erie, I’ll be finally able to confirm this fact.
In the early 1990s, Conrail reconfigured this portion of the Erie. It replaced the traditional directional double-track with a single-track main and centralized traffic control-style system. The change resulted in abandonment of the number 1 main at this location, and spelled the end for the steam-era Union Switch & Signal Style-S upper quadrant semaphores.
Just for the record, I made several closer views of this train.
Driving west across the United States, you reach a point beyond the Missouri River where the skies are truly clear—free from pollution and moisture—and the landscape reaches to seemingly endless horizons. At that point, you have transcended that abstract American frontier between ‘East’ and ‘West’. That was my take on it, when in September 1989, I made my first cross-country drive from Massachusetts to California. They write songs about that sort of thing.
In Tuesday’s post (March 12, 2013), I told of my misfortune caused when I lost the services provided by my Toyota’s alternator in the Utah desert and alluded to the photographs I made, despite this setback.
Immediately prior to the alternator event, I’d spent a full day photographing the Denver & Rio Grande Western in the Colorado Rockies. Then, the next day, with the alternator light ‘on,’ I spent an equally productive morning on Utah’s Soldier Summit.
The railroad was alive with trains, the weather was fine, and I made good use of my Leica M2 loaded with Kodachrome 25.
‘There’s a feeling I get when I look to the west . . .’ Although I was making photos, my drive West wasn’t really about photography. I was following old sage advice and was moving West to live. And I did, too. For five years I called California home.
There’s nothing like seeing someplace for the first time, and this trip west opened my eyes to railway photography, in ways I’d not previously experienced. Five years in California changed the way I looked at things and my photography evolved very quickly. When I came back to Colorado and Utah in later years, I was armed with new vision and a whole new set of equipment.
Here’s an unpublished image from my archive. In the gloom of early morning on April 7, 1989, I made the hour and 15 minute drive from Scottsville to Portage, New York to make time exposures of the old Erie Railroad Portage Viaduct. I featured this pioneering tower-supported viaduct in an earlier post (see: Erie Railroad’s Portage Bridge May 12 2007). Blessed by a stunning setting and significant history, the old Portage Viaduct has been a favorite subject on many occasions over the years. For this image, I used my Leica M2 rangefinder with 50mm Summicron lens to make a long exposure (about 8 seconds) in the pre-dawn twilight. The predominantly blue light combined with Kodachome’s spectral sensitivity to produce a near monochromatic view. The roaring Genesee falls have taken on an otherworldly ethereal quality, while the dark sky lends a nightmarish cast. This image exists only on film; at the time of exposure, it seemed very different to my eye. Later in the morning, an eastward Delaware & Hudson freight eased over the bridge at restricted speed; I followed this for several hours, making numerous images of it, mostly in black & white.