Not just any old ‘mainline,’ but the famous Pennsylvania Railroad (PRR) Main Line— so called because it was built as the ‘Main Line of Public Works’ in the mid-Nineteenth Century.
I made this view of Amtrak’s Pennsylvanian taking the curve at Berwyn, Pennsylvania.
Where most of the trains on this line draw power from the high-voltage AC catenary, Amtrak’s Pennsylvanian changes from an electric to a diesel locomotive at 30th Street to avoid the need to change at Harrisburg.
This is Amtrak’s only service on the former PRR west of Harrisburg. The lone long distance train on what was once a premier passenger route, and unusual on the electrified portion of the line.
I exposed this sequence at Berwyn using my FujiFilm XT1 and 18-135mm zoom lens.
To make the most of the curve and autumn color, I positioned myself on the outside of the curve at Berwyn. The chug of Amtrak’s P42 diesel alerted me to the approach of this westward train.
Working with my Nikon F3 fitted with a vintage Nikkor f1.4 50mm lens, I made these views at Strafford, Pennsylvania along the old Pennsylvania Railroad Main Line west of Philadelphia.
It was a dull Sunday afternoon in January and my hope was to make iconic views using traditional materials that might work more effectively than modern digital color photographs (although I exposed some digital images as well.)
For this batch of Foma Retropan, I returned to hand processing in Paterson tanks. I used Retro Special Developer stock solution (diluted 1:1 with water) with a 4 minutes development time. Prior to introducing the primary developer, I pre-soaked in a water bath with a drop of Retro Special Developer stock for 1 minute.
My aim was to retain the broad tonality achieved with earlier experiments while keeping the grain size relatively fine.
Honestly, I’m not sure that these photographs work for me. But the lighting was pretty tough. (Flat, dull, and lacking in character and direction).
Norfolk Southern helpers are in ‘run-8’ working at the back of a loaded coal train at Cassandra, Pennsylvania on the famed ‘West Slope’—the old Pennsylvania Railroad Main Line grade over the Alleghenies.
Morning glint illuminates the tops of the locomotives and accentuates the exhaust smoke for added drama. The train was working upgrade at a crawl.
As a contrast to this morning’s frosty portrait view of a tightly cropped SEPTA Silverliner reflecting the snow on its inbound journey over former Pennsylvania Railroad rails, I thought I offer this summer evening’s view.
Like the earlier photo along the old Main Line (so-called because from the old ‘Main Line of Public Works) this depicts a Silverliner heading toward Philadelphia 30th Street.
However, this was a glorious summer’s evening with warm low sun in the western sky and fresh green leaves on the trees.
The camera and lens combination were also similar. This morning’s tightly cropped image was exposed with my Canon EOS7D with a 200mm telephoto, while this view used the same camera body but with a 100mm telephoto.
Anyway, if the weather today has you longing for the warmer months, here’s something for which you may look forward!
Tracking the Light; Five photos on the old Pennsylvania Railroad.
A Post-Prologue to a Night Photo Challenge . . .
On December 1, 2014, I’d met my latest deadline, and so I finally had a few minutes to make photos before charging headlong into the next project.
My brother Sean lent me back my old Bogen 3021 tripod, a piece of equipment I’d not seen in many years. I’d bought this new in Rochester in March 1989 and dragged it all around North America in the early 1990s. At some point, I upgraded to a newer tripod and gave this one to Sean.
It seemed like overkill to steady my Lumix LX7 on such a heavy tripod, but it did the job.
It was cold, wet and dark, but that worked fine for me. I exposed a few photos at Overbrook, Pennsylvania, and a couple of more at Wynnewood. No GG1 electrics passed me that night. Not for a long time.
Tomorrow, I begin the first of five night photo-challenges as given to me by Blair Kooistra and Phil Brahms via Facebook.
Visual Quandaries in a Fascinating Place—July 1, 2014
Overbrook retains much of its Pennsylvania Railroad Main Line heritage. Not only is it a surviving portion of four track line, but it retains an active tower, traditional PRR position light signaling, plus its old station buildings and historic signage.
It remains a busy place with a regular interval SEPTA suburban service and Amtrak Keystone trains.
Curiously, it features track-work dating to an earlier era of railroad engineering. It is located on a sweeping curve with a full set of crossovers set in and around the station and low-level platforms.
Without getting into a detailed discussion on modern railroad engineering, let me just say, that there’s no way an interlocking and station would be situated like this today.
Yet, for all this historic railroad interest, Overbrook is a challenging place to make photographs. The curvature which adds so much character to the place, also makes it difficult to find a satisfactory photographic angle. While there is lots of antique infrastructure, it’s hard to find way to include it in balanced compositions.
Further difficulties are caused by nearby trees and a large overhead arched bridge that cast shadows on the line.
On successive evenings, July 1st and July 2nd, 2014, my brother Sean and I visited Overbrook to watch the evening parade of trains. Working with my Lumix LX-7 and Canon EOS 7D, I exposed images from a variety of angles. I was particular interested in featuring the old Pennsylvania signaling.
It was a bright afternoon on June 30, 2014, when Pat Yough & I arrived at Bryn Mawr. We’d been photographing the former Pennsylvania Main Line west of Philadelphia.
Bryn Mawr is a Welsh name. Pronunciation is tricky. It’s a great place to photograph the evening rush hour. The station is relatively open. The tracks come up a slight ascending grade, and since there’s a set of crossovers, there’s no fences between tracks that make for unobstructed images of westward trains.
To the west of the station is the old Pennsylvania Railroad interlocking tower. It’s in sad shape, but survives as a reminder of the old order.
We spent about an hour here in nice light before working further west.
This image of rear-end helpers on the back of a loaded Norfolk Southern autorack train was part of a sequence of photos I made at this location shortly after sunrise on November 3, 2001. My friend Mike Gardner and I were on a weeklong photo-pilgrimage in central Pennsylvania.
The location is a classic and there’s a lot of history here: I’m looking from Tunnel Hill in Gallitzin railroad-direction east toward Bennington Curve on the former Pennsylvania Railroad. If you look carefully, you can see more of the train winding through the curve in the distance. The line descends along Sugar Run. A short while after I made this image, the train looped around the famous Horseshoe Curve near Altoona, Pennsylvania.
Just below the last autorack, ahead of the helpers, is a bridge that once crossed the old line that went around the Muleshoe Curve. Conrail lifted that route in the early 1980s. In the 1960s, my father made photos from ground level at this location with PRR trains coming off the Muleshoe line.
Because of the weight of the train, the helpers were needed for dynamic braking to keep train speed at a safe crawl down this unusually steep mainline railroad. Although Conrail was two-years gone when I made this image, the SD40-2 helpers based at Cresson were still largely dressed in Conrail blue. The whine of their dynamic braking rounded across the valley on this crisp clear morning.
Anticipating change is key to documenting the railroad. In nearly three decades of photography along the former Pennsylvania Railroad Main Line, I’ve tuned my images to clues of this route’s past. While the PRR vanished into Penn Central in 1968, key PRR infrastructure has allowed necessary visual cues that retain elements of the old railroad. Among these are PRR’s iconic Position Light style signals that date to the steam era, and have survive the decades of change. However, a wise photographer will have noted that this style of signal hardware is out of favor. While Norfolk Southern has been gradually replacing its PRR era signals with color lights, I’ve learned that a recent NS application with the Federal Railroad Administration includes elimination of most remaining wayside signals from its former PRR Main Line between Harrisburg and Pittsburgh.
The writing is on the wall for these signals. Among those to go are favorites on the ‘west slope’ (between Gallitzin and Johnstown, Pennsylvania). I worked this area intensively in summer 2010, making an effort to capture trains passing former PRR Position Lights. Be forewarned: the signals that protected trains hauled by PRR’s magnificent K4s and M1b steam locomotives and have survived these long decades will soon pass from the scene.
I researched the development of PRR’s Position Light signals for my book Railroad Signaling. Here’s an excerpt:
PRR’s first position lights were installed in 1915 along the Main Line between Overbrook and Paoli, Pennsylvania, in conjunction with its new 11,000-olt AC overhead electrification. Early position light signals featured large background shields to protect the view from effects of harsh backlighting. Aspects mimicked those of upper quadrant semaphores by using rows of four lamps. After a few years of service these position lights were deemed successful. However, before PRR adopted the signal for widespread application, the form of the position light signal head was refined: Each head used rows of three lights oriented around a common center lamp with the outer lamps forming a circle. Lamps were mounted on bars with a circular background panel affixed over the lamps and shades to prevent backlighting. Traditionally this panel was made of Armco iron, measuring 4 feet 4 inches in diameter, with 7-3/4 inch holes punched in it for the lamps. Each single head can display several basic aspects: ‘clear’, represented by three vertical lights; ‘approach’ by diagonal lights at a 45 degree angle running from the 1:30 clock position to the 7:30 clock position; ‘restricting’ by diagonal lights at a 45 degree angle running from the 10:30 clock position to the 4:30 clock position; and ‘stop’ (or ‘stop’ and proceed) by three lights running horizontally. An individual signal head is only provided with lamps for the aspects it is expected to display and unnecessary holes are covered over. The lower of two heads, tended to use a slightly different shape for the shield panel. By using two heads, a great variety of speed signal aspects mimicking those of two and three head semaphores are possible. Slow speed aspects are provided by dwarf position signals that use a slightly different light pattern.