Using my Leica 3A, I made this view from a NYCTA city bus in The Bronx circa 1980.
I don’t have any notes at all from this trip.
In all likelihood, I was using a 35mm Nikkor lens with a screw-mount designed for the Leica 3 series cameras. This was a favorite of mine at the time because it required an adjustable external viewfinder that made it easier to compose than the tiny window on the camera body.
The primary subject of the photo was the subway train on what I think was the White Plains Road elevated line. At right is my brother Sean. We were traveling with our grandmother from Fordham Road toward Co-op City as part of a shopping trip.
This photo has been quietly hiding, unprinted and unseen in a glassine negative sleeve for nearly 40 years! (Try that with your favorite phone photo.)
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.
Back in the mid-1980s, my friends and I made trips to Mechanicville, New York where the adjacent Boston & Maine and Delaware & Hudson yards lent to lots of action and a great variety of diesel locomotives.
The yard was an early casualty of Guilford’s short lived consolidation of B&M and D&H operations. By 1986 the yard was a ghost town.
In more recent times a small portion of the yards were redeveloped for intermodal and auto-rack facilities, but very little of the sprawling trackage remains
In December, I returned to Mechanicville with a Leica IIIA and Sumitar loaded with Kodak Tri-X in an effort to recreate the angles of photos I exposed in November 1984 using the same camera/film combination.
To aid this exercise, I scanned my old negatives and uploaded these to my iPhone. The viewfinder of the Leica IIIA presents difficulties as this is just a tiny window and not well suited to precision composition. (Topic for another day).
Also complicating my comparisons was the fresh layer of snow in the 2017 views.
In some places the only points of reference between ‘then’ and ‘now’ views are the electrical lines crossing the yard.
On April 9, 1988, I exposed this view on Conrail’s heavily used former New York Central System ‘Water Level Route’ west of Silver Creek, New York.
Clear skies and bright afternoon sun were ideal when exposing Kodachrome 25.
For this image of Conrail SD50s working westbound I used my Leica M2 fitted with an f2.8 90mm Elmarit.
Using a telephoto with a Leica rangefinder was always a bit tricky.
Although a window in the M2’s viewfinder provided a pretty good sense for the limits of the frame offered by the 90mm lens, the camera didn’t offer any sense of the effects of visual compression or limited depth of field that are inherent to this focal length in the 35mm format.
Yet, the combination of Leica glass and Kodachrome 25 allowed me to make some exceptionally sharp images.
This was one of several photos I exposed with my father’s Leica 3C in Palmer, Massachusetts on Labor Day weekend 1977. I started 6th grade a couple of days later.
Significantly, it was the first time I made a photo from this location at the Palmer Diamond, where Central Vermont crossed Conrail’s former Boston & Albany line. From near this spot, I’ve since made many hundreds of photos—more than I dare to count.
Compare this 1977 view with my recent images of a CSX eastward intermodal train. (I posted these the other day, but have also included them below.)
Looking back, I wonder why it took me so long to decide to make photos here. But realistically, prior to summer 1977 my railway photographic efforts were infrequent events.
For my birthday that year, my dad gave me my own Leica, a model 3A, which I carried everywhere for the next seven years and with which I made thousands of images from the Maine coast to southern California, and from Quebec to Mexico.
It was dull mid-August day at Worcester, Massachusetts. I had my Leica 3A loaded with Ilford Pan F (ISO 50) and made a few exposures.
This hasn’t been my usual film choice. More typically, when working in black & white, I’d use Ilford HP5 or Fuji Acros 100.
I’ve found that difficult light can be a better measure of materials than clear bright morning. And flat summer light is about as difficult as it gets.
For this trial, I processed the film using a Jobo with Ilford Ilfosol 3 developer.
This was a crap shoot, as I’d only used this film/developer combination once before.
I opted for a 1:9 dilution, but scaled back my process time from the recommended amount to just 3 minutes 45 seconds. As is often the situation, I intentionally over-expose my black & white film and then under-process to obtain a greater range of tonality.
Once processed my negatives looked pretty good, but these still required a bit of contrast control using Lightroom. While my end results look ok, I’ll need to refine my chemical process for Ilford Pan F (ISO 50) if I expect this film to perform as well as Fuji Acros 100.
Also, I was hoping that the Pan F would approach the results I used to get with Kodak Panatomic X (ISO 32) back in the 1980s, but so far I’ve not achieved that goal.
I exposed these three photos last week on Wisconsin & Southern at Baraboo, Wisconsin using my old Leica 3A loaded with Ilford Pan F black & white film (ISO 50).
In its heyday, Baraboo was a division point on Chicago & North Western’s Chicago-Madison-Twin Cities main line.
Its glory days are now more than a century past; decline began in the early twentieth century, when this route was augmented by C&NW’s low-grade Adams Line (via Milwaukee), which became a preferred route for through freight and fast passenger expresses.
It was severed as a through line in the 1980s.
As mentioned in an earlier post, on this July 2016 day John Gruber and I were following Wisconsin & Southern’s Madison to Reedsburg freight.
Some photographers might object to the railroad’s choice of motive power: an SD40-2 operating long-hood first. I recall the wisdom of my late-friend Bob Buck who reminded me once many years ago, ‘The railroad isn’t operated for your benefit.’
(In other-words; if a long-hood forward SD40-2 is on offer, that’s what there is and so make the best of it.)
Compare these images:
In one, I’ve adjusted the contrast to compensate for a cloud that momentarily softened the noonday sunlight. In the second, I’ve worked with depth of field and focused on trackside weeds instead of the locomotive. In the last, I’ve included fellow photographer John Gruber to add in a human element.
In my early days photographing every so often I’d hit upon a great film-camera-lens combination.
You know, just the right set up to make memorable images.
On May 6, 1984, my dad lent me his Leica M3 with 50, 90 and 135mm lenses. For reasons I’ve long forgotten, I loaded this with Plus-X (ISO 125) rather than Ilford HP5 or Tri-X (my typical films choices back then).
More significantly, I decided to use an orange filter to alter the tonality of the film.
I went trackside along the Conrail’s former Boston & Albany and exposed a series of evocative images of trains rolling through the Quaboag Valley.
These photos were much more effective than what I typically achieved with my Leica 3A and 50mm Summitar. I’d made a leap forward.
At the time, I was delighted with the results and on a Friday night brought a stack of 3x5in. prints down to Tucker’s Hobbies (owned an operated by my friend Bob Buck).
Friday evenings were our normal time to convene. And, one of Bob Buck’s patrons, a friend and a well-meaning (published) enthusiast photographer (who is long since deceased and so shall remain anonymous) offered me some free photo criticism..
“Oh don’t use an orange filter, it makes the Conrail paint too dark, and stop using that telephoto lens, it distorts your perspective. Otherwise these are great shots.”
I heeded this bad advice and returned to my older set up. Nearly two years passed before I made another serious foray into the realm of the telephoto for railroad photos.
Also, I largely returned to using unfiltered Tri-X/HP5. (Partially because I’d dropped my 50mm and it would no longer accept filters.)
I didn’t know any better and my magic combination was unraveled before I had time to fully explore it.
These are some roster views of equipment I’ve used over the years.
I say ‘roster’ to clarify, that these are not ‘builders’ photos of the equipment. Like decades old General Motors diesels, my cameras are battle-worn machines that show the effects from years of hard service.
While I’ve lit these images to show detail, I’ve not made any effort to disguise, clean or dress up these old cameras. You see them as they are.
In my youth I made most of my photos with various Leica 3s that were the better part of fifty years old at the time.
In the 1990s, my pal TSH exclaimed sarcastically that I’d missed my calling as a Nikon endurance tester.
I’ve typically chosen to work with durable equipment that featured excellent optics and rarely worried about acquiring the latest models or gadgetry. These are tools to an end and not jewelry.
Among the cameras missing from this selection of photos are several of my work-horse machines; my dad’s original Rolleiflex, my old Leica M2 rangefinder (that my brother occasionally still uses), various Nikon model F2/F3/F3T and N90s bodies (plus lenses) that I dragged all around the world between 1990-2006, a Nikkormat FT3 (with red leather), and my Canon EOS-3s, which I continued to carry around to exposed film. Also, my two newest machines, a Lumix LX7 (that exposed these images) and a FujiFilm X-T1 digital camera).
Let’s gaze back in time; 30 plus years ago I was a young enthusiastic photographer with a 35mm Leica rangefinder. I was fascinated by the Boston & Maine, operated by Guilford Transportation Industries (as Pan Am Railways was then known).
B&M’s quaint operations, traditional signals, and antique General Motors diesels had a real appeal. Back then I focused on catching the EMD GP7s, GP9s, and GP18s, plus EMD switchers and run-through Delaware & Hudson Alco C-420s and C-424s.
I made hundreds of images trackside in those days.
On June 4, 2016, I picked up my old Leica, as I do from time to time, and loaded it with Ilford HP5 (often my choice film back in the day) and headed for Pan Am Railway’s East Deerfield yard before dawn, (as I have since I learned to drive 33 years ago).
Antiques still run the rails on Pan Am.
My lens of choice has a long history.
In the 1970s and very early 1980s, I’d often photograph with a Nikon 35mm wide angle made with a Leica screw-mount.
This lens had gone missing for decades and only recently re-emerged. In the interval it had seized up (as old equipment does when the lubrication dries out). My dad sent it for servicing and its now back in our arsenal of working photographic equipment.
Good lenses are relatively common these days. Most off the shelf digital cameras have pretty good optics compared with many consumer-grade film cameras of yesteryear.
But, truly great lenses remain hard to find.
This Nikon 35mm is a great lens. Not only is it sharp, lightweight and compact, but it has a distinctive optical quality that is rarely found with modern lenses. In short it has ‘that look.’ (look at the photos).
After exposing my film, I processed it with the aid of a Jobo film processor to my own custom formula.
Basically, I used a twin bath developer of Kodak HC110 with constant agitation at 71 degrees F for 4 minutes, 15 seconds. Stopbath for 30 seconds; twin bath fixer; rinse; permawash; and final wash. Negs were scanned as TIF files using an Epson V600 flatbed scanner at 3200 dpi . Nominal contrast adjustment was necessary with Lightroom.
Undoubtedly, someone will ask, ‘but isn’t that a lot of work?’
Yes, it is.
And, ‘Couldn’t you just convert your digital files to black & white?’
A westward van train raced along the Water Level Route, its horn sounding for the North Lake Street Crossing—the blaring Doppler effect announced its passage. For a moment it captured everyone’s attention.
CLICK: I exposed this frame of 35mm black & white film at the decisive moment when the lead GP40-2 was visible on the crossing. A fallen bicycle on the sidewalk, turned heads, and the hint of motion blur of the train tells a story.
Twenty six years passed before this image saw the light of day (or that from a back-lit computer screen). I’d processed the film at the Rochester Institute of Technology and sleeved the unprinted negatives. Recently, I scanned this roll of Plus-X and found on it this photograph.
Here’s another gem from my Conrail files. I have tens of thousands of Conrail photos, many of them exposed in black & white.
This image caught my eye. November 1984 was a busy month photographically, and I exposed almost all my photographs that month with an old Leica 3A. (My original camera had suffered a failure, so I was using one of my dad’s.)
This was exposed mid-month, probably on a Saturday. I was traveling with some friends. We’d seen Conrail PWSE (Providence & Worcester to Selkirk, New York) working the old Boston & Albany yard in Palmer, and were heading west to find a location.
The train got the jump on us, and there was a panic as we saw the train racing west behind us: “There it is!” I made this grab shot looking down the road at North Wilbraham toward one of the few grade crossings on the B&A route west of Worcester, Massachusetts.
For me this captures the scene. North Wilbraham isn’t the most salubrious environment, but so what? Not every place is a park and it shows the way things were in the mid-1980s. I can hear ‘The Cars’ (Boston band) playing on the radio.
Need a close up of Conrail’s B23-7s? I have lots of those too.
Now wouldn’t this have been a cool angle 40 years earlier with one of Boston & Albany’s class A1 Berkshires hauling freight under a plume of its own exhaust?
During my visit with Chris Guss in November we explored Chicago area railroads. This was both a means of making photos while proving needed opportunity to discuss the text for book on Chicago’s railroads that we were authoring (along with Mike Blaszak and John Gruber).
On the morning of November 7th, we drove to South Elgin to intercept an eastward Canadian National ethanol train working the old Illinois Central Iowa Division. Back in the mid-1990s, I knew this route as the Chicago Central & Pacific.
As it turned out the CC&P was just a short-lived regional, perhaps now almost forgotten, swept up in the wave of mergers and acquisitions that characterized the railroad dynamic of the 1990s.
Chris favored this location off a bicycle trail below a massive highway bridge. On the opposite side of the river are the tracks of the Fox River Trolley Museum.
Although we missed an earlier eastward freight, we arrived in ample time to set up for this train. I exposed several photos using my Canon EOS 7D, and made this color slide using my dad’s Leica M4 that I’d borrowed for the trip.
Making a slide with this Leica allowed me to maintain interesting continuity, since my father made many slides around Chicago with his Leica cameras in the early 1960s. (Incidentally, some of him images will appear in the book, to be published by Voyageur Press later this year).
These days while I largely work with my digital cameras, I still expose a fair bit of film (usually color slides, but sometimes black & white). I have plenty of old film cameras to choose from, and I often carry an EOS 3 loaded with Provia 100F.
My father taught me to make railway scenes, and not merely images of equipment. I did just that on this cold, wet, rainy day, when I photographed Maine Central Alco RS-11 crossing Route 12 in North Walpole, New Hampshire.
I’d traveled with Paul Goewey to Bellows Falls on the morning of November 25, 1983, specifically to photograph this locomotive. For reasons I can’t recall (if I ever knew), Green Mountain had borrowed Maine Central 802 to work its daily freight XR-1, that ran to Rutland over the former Rutland Railroad.
Despite the gloomy conditions this was something of an event, and I recall that several photographers had convened at Bellows Falls to document 802’s travels.
Green Mountain’s roundhouse is in North Walpole, just across the Connecticut River from Bellows Falls, and I made this image from the east bank as the engine switched cars.
With this image I was trying to convey that this locomotive was in an unusual place by putting it in a distinctive scene.
Once XR-1 was underway, Paul and I followed it toward Rutland. The weather deteriorated and rain turned to snow. By the time we reached Ludlow, the snow had become heavy; we were cold, wet, and tired, having been up since 4:30 am, and so ended the day’s photography.
In mid-July 1984, I heard the distinctive roar of EMD 20-cylinder engines working an eastward train on the west slope of Washngton Hill. My friends and I were positioned at the summit of the Boston & Albany route, as marked by a sign.
We often spent Sunday afternoons here. Rather than work the more conventional location on the south (west) side of the tracks, I opted to cross the mainline and feature the summit sign.
As the freight came into view, I was delighted to see that it was led by a set of Conrail’s former Erie Lackawanna SD45-2s! While these locomotives were more commonly assigned to helper duties at Cresson, Pennsylvania on the former PRR, during the Summer of 1984, all 13 of the monsters worked the Boston & Albany.
I have a number of photos of these machines, both on the B&A and PRR routes. However this image of engine 6666 never made my cut. Back lighting and hazy afternoon light had resulted in a difficult negative. My preferred processing techniques of the period didn’t aid the end result, and at the time I dismissed the photograph as ‘unsuitable’.
The other day I rediscovered this unprinted view and decided to make a project of it. Now, 30 years later, I felt it was worth the effort. I scanned the negative and after about 30 minutes of manipulation using Adobe Photoshop, I produced a satisfactory image.
I made a variety of small and subtle changes by locally adjusting contrast and sharpness. These adjustments would have been difficult and time consuming to implement using conventional printing techniques, but are relatively painless to make digitally. I’m really pretty happy with the end result.
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.
Here we have a typically New England scene; a fresh blanket of snow has fallen and the sky has cleared to a clear blue dome. Perfect light right?
Not exactly. The great contrast between the brilliant bright snow and the shadow areas makes for a difficult exposure. Complicating matters was Conrail’s rich blue paint.
While I was fortunate to catch Conrail’s TV9 leaving West Springfield Yard, I faced an exposure conundrum. If I exposed for the train, I risked grossly over exposing the snow, furthermore if I simply set the camera based on the snow on the ground, I’d end up with a pretty dark slide.
In the end I compromised, and stopped down enough to retain detail in the snow, while leaving the rest of the scene reasonably exposed.
However, 28 years later I’m still not satisfied with the slide.
There are three problems. I was concentrating on the exposure and the moving train (while trying to manipulate two cameras simultaneously) and I missed the level by about two degrees. Secondly, the Kodachrome film had a decidedly red bias, which resulted in pinkish snow (hardly what my eye saw that day).
I was easily able to correct these flaws after scanning the slide. I imported it into Photoshop and made three changes.
1) I cropped and rotated the image to correct for level.
2) Using the red-cyan color balance sliders, I shifted the highlights and mid-tone areas to toward cyan to minimize the excessive red in the scene. (cyan is the color opposite of red)
3) I made a localized contrast adjustment on the locomotives by outlining the area I wanted to change and then making a slight change using the curves feature.
I’ve illustrated the original unmodified scan two intermediate steps and the final image.
Amtrak 449, the Lake Shore Limited with E8As near Palmer.
For my eleventh birthday my father gave me a 1930s-era Leica 3A and a role of film (with more to follow).
Every so often Pop would gather my brother Sean and I into the car and head over the Boston & Albany (then Conrail) to wait for Amtrak’s Lake Shore Limited. Back then, the train was still running with heritage equipment and typically hauled by fairly tired E8As.
If we were really lucky we might catch freight too.
On this day in summer 1978, we drove to Palmer. I think we’d started up the Quaboag River Valley, but realized we might not have time to reach Warren before the westward Lake Shore came roaring down the valley. So we reversed and picked a spot near milepost 81, not far from the Route 20-67 split (east of town).
We didn’t wait long. I could hear pairs of twin 12-567s working before the headlight a appeared at the bend near the old barn. And then there it was!
“I see it!”
I made several exposures with the Leica. Unfortunately, in my panic to capture the train passing I shook the camera, so the head-on view is a bit blurred.
I processed the negatives from this adventure in the kitchen sink and made prints that I placed in a homemade photo album. The negatives were well processed and have survived in good order. I scanned them a few weeks ago. My notes from the day appear to have gone missing though.
“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?
I exposed this view of Pioneer Valley Railroad’s Alco S-2 switcher with my old Leica 3A on black & white film on October 12, 1984. On the same day, I’d arranged with the railroad to ride this locomotive to Holyoke and back.
It was a memorable trip. In Holyoke we worked the Graham branch that followed the banks of old canals. Several times we had to stop to open and close gates across the line.
I featured this photo in my recent book North American Locomotives that features railroad by railroad locomotive profiles of many different lines. In addition to the Class 1 carriers, I also profiled a variety of smaller lines, many of which are my personal favorites.
In spring 1979, my dad and I visited Central Vermont’s Palmer, Massachusetts yard. At the time Palmer activity tended to be nocturnal. A lone RS-11 for The Rocket (Palmer-St Albans, Vermont piggyback) was the only locomotive in town.
I made a few exposures on Kodachrome 64 with my Leica 3A. At the time I was in 7th grade at Monson Junior-Senior High School. Admittedly my photographic skills were rudimentary. The photos are passable, but a decent record of the scene.
I wish I’d made more photos of CV’s piggyback trains. By the time I understood what it was about, it had stopped running. I have a few images of The Rocket on the road, but not very many.
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.
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.
The other day, I was showing Tim Doherty some photo locations around Three Rivers, Massachusetts. I described to him how the railroad once had a spur into the old Tampax factory.
The spur (siding) had a switch off the mainline near the station (demolished many years ago), then crossed Main Street and made a sharp curve behind the liquor store before crossing Bridge Street. There’s still vestiges of this track today.
Back in 1984, Dan Howard was visiting from Needham and he and I drove around the Palmer area making railway photos (as you do). The prize of the day, was this photo of CV’s SW1200 1510 working the Tampax factory spur on the Bridge Street Crossing.
It is one of the few photos I have of a CV switcher working in the Palmer area, and one of the few times I caught a rail movement on the Tampax spur. (Might creative minds develop some accompanying humor ??)
This photo was exposed on Kodak Ektachrome 200 slide film with my Leica 3A using my 50mm Summitar lens. It was a sultry dull day, and not the best for photography. While this is not a world class image, it captures a scene never to be repeated.
I made this image during my senior year of high school. I don’t remember the specific circumstances, but on that day I’d followed Central Vermont Railway’s southward freight from Palmer to Stafford. I made photos of it south of downtown Monson off Route 32, and at the Massachusetts-Connecticut State Line.
This view in downtown Stafford Springs has always intrigued me. The railroad runs tight to a row of buildings along the main street in town. Today, the brick building featured in the photograph hosts a trendy coffee shop where I sometimes meet my friend Roger Ingraham to wait for trains to pass and discuss photography.
In 2013, New England Central operates the railroad, but the scene hasn’t changed all that much. I still make photos here from time to time.
I exposed this image with my old Leica 3A and 50mm Summitar lens, and used a Weston Master 3 light meter to assist in exposure calculation. I processed the film myself in Microdol-X. Typically, I used a weak formula to save money. By doing so, I inadvertently avoided over developing my negatives (which was a flawed inclination of mine at the time).
I made a few minor contrast modifications in post processing and cleaned up a few small spots and scratches on this nearly 30 year-old 35mm negative.
Yesterday (July 10, 2013), I posted night photos I made in Palmer on June 28, 2013. I mentioned that my night photography efforts were part of a long standing tradition. So I dug up this image of the Palmer station exposed nearly three decades earlier.
This was undoubtedly made on a Friday evening. A thick fog from the Quaboag River had enveloped the valley. In the station parking lot, and out of sight, Bob Buck is holding court.
That night I made several views of the Palmer station in silhouette. All were exposed with my old Leica 3A and a 50mm lens, probably a Canon screwmount which I favored at the time. I was using my father’s Linhof tripod to support the camera. Exposure was calculated strictly from experience, and was probably about 30 seconds at f2.8.
Interestingly, just the other day (July 9, 2013) I had the opportunity to interview Jim Shaughnessy about the night photography techniques he used to capture steam locomotives on film back in the 1950s. While similar to mine, his approach was very different and he perfected it more than three decades before my image was exposed.
Where I used 35mm film and strictly ambient light for this image, Jim tended to use a 4×5 camera and a skilled combination of ambient and artificial flash.
Of course, I was well acquainted with Jim’s work by the time I made this photo. There has been a copy of Donald Duke’s 1961 book Night Train on our shelf for as long as I can remember! This features Jim’s work among that of other well-established practitioners of the art of railway night photography.
Between 1973 and 1985, my paternal grandparents lived at Co-op City in The Bronx, New York City. They had a great view of Amtrak’s former New Haven Railroad line from New Rochelle to the Hell Gate Bridge, which carried all of Amtrak’s Boston-New York trains. Until about 1980, this route also hosted infrequent freights.
When I was younger, I’d keenly watch for trains from my grandparents 19th floor terrace, all the while hoping to see Amtrak’s aged former Pennsylvania GG1 electrics. By 1982, all of Amtrak’s GG1s had been retired.
I made this morning view of a Penn-Station bound Amtrak train approaching the bascule drawbridge over the Hutchinson River led by an AEM7 electric. The scene itself wasn’t remarkable at the time, but I’m glad I made the effort to put it on film. It fascinates me now and brings me back to another time. Although details, such as how to effectively work with backlighting eluded me, I managed to get my exposure pretty close anyway.
I was 16 at the time. I used my Leica 3A with f2.0 50mm Summitar—the camera I carried with me everywhere. A couple of years ago, I located some of my long-lost early negatives and made a project of scanning them. The miracle of modern scanning technology coupled with post-processing allowed me to finally make something of photos I’d made before I was technically competent to make decent prints.
Stay tuned for tomorrow’s post; “the view from grandma’s terrace.”
Other kids would get assignments along the lines of: “Write a 500 word essay on how you spent your summer vacation.” I always wished for something like that. In 7th grade this would have read:
“We live on a boring road where nothing ever happens, so to keep me from driving my mother crazy, my father took me to Boston at least one day a week. My dad works near Harvard Square in a bright office with lots of computers. (That’s actually in Cambridge, not really Boston.)
“The first week he show me how to use the computer terminal and I played a game called ‘R Adventure’. The second week he showed me how to write a short program (that’s a bunch of lines and letters that tells the computer what to do). I wrote a program with a sneaky line called an ‘infinite loop’. This tells the computer to repeat the same line again and again. That was neat. I wrote ‘Brian Likes Trains.’ And this scrolled slowly over the CRT (that’s the computer screen that looks something like a TV but with green letters.)
“I figured I’d improve my program, so I added an exponent. When I ran the program the next time, the screen filled with ‘Brian Likes Trains’ faster and faster, soon the whole screen was rolling. Then it suddenly stopped. Actually the whole computer stopped. All the computers in the room stopped!
“A graduate student came in and spoke to my dad. Then my dad gave me a dollar and told me to go ride the subway or something. So I rode around and came back when it was time to drive back to Monson. Writing that program was like magic. Every time after that, my dad would give me a dollar and I’d ride around with my camera taking pictures.
“By August, I’d been on all the subway lines. So I went to the railroad station. South Station is a great place, it’s where they keep all the Budd Cars. Those are great because the engineers who run them let you ride up front and don’t charge you to ride.
“The Budd cars go all over the place, but if you’re not careful you might not get back by the time to go home, so it’s really important to get a schedule.
“My dad sometimes gave me his ‘SUPER WIDE ANGLE lens’. This is much better than my ‘Normal’ lens because its comes with a viewfinder which is an extra part you put on top of the camera that helps you to see pictures. With my normal lens, you have to look through a little hole, and that makes it harder to find good pictures.
“He also gave me a light meter to measure the light and set the camera. I made lots of pictures. This is one of my favorite because it shows the Budd Cars and the old signals at South Station. I had to walk all the way from the subway stop to the parking lot to make this picture and it was really hot outside.
“Now summer’s over, and I can’t ride around on the subway or Budd Cars until next year. I hate school.”
In1982, I was visiting my friend Dan Howard in Needham, Massachusetts. We’d made a day of riding bicycles to Framingham and back to photograph trains. (Neither of us were old enough to hold a valid driving license).
At the time, I was very enthusiastic about the railroad, and eager to capture it on film. Yet, I had very little conception of how to make photos. Furthermore, while I had a reasonably high quality camera, this was entirely dependant on my ability to set it properly (aperture, shutter speed, and focus)
I was using a 1930s-era Leica 3A with an f2.0 Summitar lens. This didn’t have the crutches provided with most cameras today: no auto focus, no auto exposure, no zoom-lens, and no instant response digital display window.
Simply getting film in the camera required the aid of a Swiss Army knife. While focusing the Leica using the rangefinder was a bit abstract. To gauge exposure, I used at Weston Master III light meter. With this camera I exposed Kodachome slides, and black & white 35mm film that I processed in the kitchen sink.
To simply get a photo of any kind, I had base level camera-operating skills, but no sense for how to make real railroad photos. I didn’t appreciate conventional angles, nor did I know what to crop out or what to feature. I knew precious little about working with light or how to make optimum use of the film media. My chemical processing skills were rudimentary, at best.
I just really wanted to make railway pictures! And, honestly, it’s a miracle that I got any results at all.
Thankfully on that day, Dan & I met a friendly and helpful grade crossing gate keeper, who manually worked the gates where former Boston & Albany and New Haven Railroad lines crossed the main street. He chatted with us and shared knowledge about when trains were coming. (Incidentally, I made a color slide or two of him working the gates, which seemed like the thing to do).
Toward the end of the day, a Conrail local departed Framingham’s North Yard, heading across the street and over the diamonds with the B&A on its way toward the Attleboro and beyond. I made this image ‘against the light’ looking into the setting sun, with a GP15-1 leading the local (which is about to cross the street) and some MBTA Budd cars in front of the old station.
Sometimes raw and unchecked enthusiasm produces a more interesting image than one crafted by skill, but hampered by ambivalence (or over thinking the photographic process.) Modern photographic scanners allow for me to interpret what I captured more than 30 years ago on film, and compensate for my lack of technical skill.
Amtrak Turbotrain Races Southward Along the Hudson
I made this view from a hiking trail on Breakneck Ridge along the Hudson River in August 1989. At the time my standard camera was a Leica M2 that I tended to use with Kodachrome 25. Turbotrains were standard equipment on Amtrak’s Empire Corridor trains making for common sights along the Hudson.
While common on this route, Amtrak’s Turbotrains were an anomaly in American operating practice, making them an unusual and worthy subject for photography. These reminded me of the original streamlined trains of the 1930s such as Burlington’s Zephyrs, Illinois Central’s Green Diamond, and New Haven Railroad’s Comet.
Today I’m happy to have a nice selection of these trains at work, but I regret not having traveled on them. I was always puzzled when my fellow photographers opted not to make photos of them. Perhaps Turbotrains seemed too common?