November 26, 2019 was one of those very productive days.
Following my earlier successes last Thursday with New England Central at Stafford Springs, and CSX at Palmer and West Warren, Mike Gardner and I went to breakfast at Girly’s Grille in Palmer, timing our departure so that would could intercept Mass-Central freight on its way up the Ware River Line to South Barre.
We caught up with the train at Gilbertville, one of my favorite locations along the old Boston & Albany branch.
I’d spotted this puddle in the parking lot near the station, which made for an excellent reflective surface to picture the passing train.
Key to making this image is the adjustable rear-screen display on my FujiFilm XT1, which among other features has a leveling bar.
Tracking the Light sometimes Scores on Thursdays in November!
Last Monday, May 6, 2019, was the first properly sunny day after many days of gloomy overcast weather.
In the afternoon, Paul Goewey, John Peters and I followed the Mass-Central Railroad’s line northward toward South Barre. We intercepted the southward freight. This was led by GP38 1750 with the short hood in the lead.
At Ware, it worked a short surviving segment of the old Central Massachusetts, which had run parallel to the former Boston & Albany Ware River Branch (the line that comprises most of Mass-Central’s present operation). This old line is used to reach Kanzaki Paper, one of several carload shippers in greater Ware.
I exposed these photos with FujiFilm XT1 digital cameras.
In theory, on any given weekday you ought to be able to make a representative photograph of Mass-Central’s local freight arriving in Palmer.
This goes on duty in the morning at Mass-Central’s Palmer yard, makes its run up the Ware River Valley and returns, typically dropping its interchange for CSX and New England Central at CSX’s former Boston & Albany yard.
However, catching a locomotive with the cab-facing south and at the correct end of the train can be more difficult. It’s luck of the draw to get the locomotive facing south. And for operational reasons, the locomotive may be placed in the middle or at the end of the interchange when passing the old Palmer Union Station.
I was lucky a couple of weeks ago, when I made this view at CP83 with Mass-Central GP38-2 1750 leading the train. All that’s missing is the sun.
On the previous day, CSX B740 had interchanged a healthy cut of cars for Mass-Central at Palmer, Massachusetts. So I surmised that this would be a good time to catch Mass-Central working both of its GP38-2s together.
Paul Goewey and I arrived in Palmer early, and once we were sure Mass-Central was ready to head north up their line toward Ware (old Boston & Albany Ware River Branch), we began scoping photo locations.
Although brisk and cold, the sun was clear and bright and there was a good amount of snow on the ground.
We set up at the Main Street Crossing along the valley’s namesake river. We didn’t have to wait long before we heard the train coming up the line.
These views were exposed using my FujiFilm XT1 with 18-135mm lens.
I find one of the great benefits of digital photography is the ability to carry a high-quality imaging machine with me at all times. Also, other than the initial investment, the relative cost of individual photos is inconsequential.
As result, I’m unhindered by weight or cost in the seeing and making of photos.
Does this make for better images? Not necessarily, but it facilitates me to make a more complete record of my travels and capture ordinary scenes such as this view of the Mass-Central at Gilbertville, Massachusetts on a brilliant October 2014 afternoon.
Sometimes small operational anomalies on a railroad will combine to benefit the photographer by opening up different angles or opportunities.
Last Wednesday, delays on Mass-Central’s northward run (owing in part to congestion at Palmer Yard that resulted in a later than usual departure) combined with operation of engine 1750 with a southward facing cab opened some different winter angles on the old Ware River Branch.
I was traveling with Bob Arnold and Paul Goewey and we made the most of the variations in winter lighting along the route.
As I mentioned in an earlier post, over the last three decades, I’ve made many photos along this line. So, I’m always keen to find new viewpoints of this operation.
Low clear sun in January makes for rich colors and wonderful contrast, but also posed problems caused by long shadows.
It is true that carefully placed shadows can augment a scene, but random hard shadows too often do little more than add distractions and disrupt a composition.
Below are a few of the more successful angles I exposed on this southward trip.
Someone once said, ‘never photograph by aiming directly into the midday sun’. And, this advice has been melded into the cardinal rules of good railway photography.
The other day, while photographing along Mass-Central’s former Boston & Albany Ware River Branch at Gilbertville, I opted to violate this basic premise of good photography.
Over the years (35 of them) I’ve exposed a great many images of the Mass-Central on its former B&A branch. (A fair few of these images, I feel are indeed quite good, and perhaps border the category of ‘above average’.) So, if I end up making a bad photo (or two), who cares?
My 12mm Zeiss Touit lens is an unusual piece of equipment. Owing to the nature of its design and exceptional high quality glass, I can make photos that frankly wouldn’t work so well with more conventional equipment.
By selecting a very small aperture (f22), I can create a sunburst effect in a clear polarized sky while continuing to retain shadow detail.
So, are these photos good? Will I be fined by the aesthetics police? That’s up to you to decide!
But, honestly, what else would you have me do with a northward train coming directly out of the midday sun? I could have made no photos, but that wouldn’t make for a very interesting post, now would it?
Winter is an excellent time to photograph Mass-Central former Boston & Albany Ware River Branch.
The lack of foliage and a dearth of heavy underbrush opens up angles for photography obscured during the warmer months.
My challenge is to find new views on this railroad that I’ve often documented over the last 35 years.
On Monday, January 4, 2016, I made these views of the southward Mass-Central freight descending Ware Hill on its return run to Palmer.
Here I present two of the sequence of images. Compositionally, I feel the first image works better as it allows the eye to wander from the locomotive at right to the other subjects. The second image places too much emphasis on the left side.
Which do you prefer?
Tracking the Light Explores Photographic Technique Daily!
Early November is a great time to explore the Ware River Valley. The trees are largely bare, yet a few colored leaves still cling to higher branches.
Vestiges of old industries survive, as the old Boston & Albany branch meanders up the valley. This is a railroad that was left for dead nearly 40 years ago, and only survived through the dedication and hard work of a handful of local people.
At least once every autumn, I make a photographic study of the line.
Using my FujiFilm X-T1 I exposed these views at Gilbertville— a village in the town of Hardwick, where the old B&A station remains as a restaurant.
It was an exciting time. Mass-Central had just recently acquired a former Santa Fe CF7, which to me seemed like a really exotic locomotive, and was running excursions over the old Boston & Albany line from Ware to Palmer, and Ware to South Barre.
My friend Bob Buck of Warren got involved with publicity while I made a point of both riding some of the trains and photographing them from the ground.
This image was probably exposed on a Saturday afternoon in late September or early October. I’m not sure of the exact date because the individual negative strip has been separated from its original sleeve and my notes from the time are a bit minimal (and filed about 4,000 miles away). However judging by the foliage on the trees, it wasn’t too late in the season.
I’d followed the train down from Ware. It made a spirited run and approached each crossing with the bell ringing and horn blaring. Here a man has jumped off the engine to flag the difficult Route 181 crossing in Palmer, Massachusetts, where the tracks cut across the road at a difficult angle.
I’ve always liked this location because the line angles toward the road down a gently curving ramp with a row of trees beyond that makes the whole scene seem like a big diorama.
Back then, my photography was entirely inspired by the spirit of the moment and I didn’t put a lot of forethought into details such as location, lighting and composition. My mode was to ‘get ahead of the train then jump out and grab a photo or two.’
On, October 15, 2014, I was giving a tour to some visitors from France, and we passed through Ware on our way from the Quabbin Reservoir to West Brookfield’s Salem Cross Inn.
Earlier in the week, I’d noticed that Mass-Central had parked its rare Electro-Motive Division model NW5 2100 in Ware yard near the Route 9/32 overpass. So, we made a quick diversion so that I could make a photograph of the locomotive.
I’ve written about this before, but it was about 1981, when I rode my bicycle from Monson to Ware, specifically to photograph this locomotive, which had then just recently been delivered to Mass-Central.
When I think about all the locomotives that have come and gone in that time, I can’t help but smile. Old 2100 has nine lives, and then some! And it’s not that I need another photograph of it, but I make them anyway.
Tracking the Light posts new material every morning.
Here are a few views I made with my Rolleiflex Model T of Mass-Central’s former Boston & Albany branch on July 10, 2014.
Why black & white? Why film? Why in 2014?
There’s no question, digital photography is easier. If I desire a square black & white image, all I have to do is set my Lumix LX7 to a 1:1 aspect ratio using a switch on the camera, and set the ‘photo style’ to ‘monochrome’ using the function button.
This set up procedure takes just a few seconds, and I can switch back to color quickly and easily whenever I choose.
Working with the Rolleiflex is more cumbersome; the camera is klutzy to load, it only makes 12 frames per roll of film, and the film takes about an hour to process in the darkroom (dry to dry). Then I need to cut and sleeve the negatives and then scan them for presentation here.
Yet, I still do this. Not for every photograph, not on every outing, but I still go through the motions of using black & white film.
Why? I have five reasons:
1) I like it.
2) It gives me a subtle ‘retro’ quality that I can’t really get from digital.
3) It allows me visual continuity: I’ve been making black & white railroad photos since the 1970s. Why stop now?
4) I can still do it: I have the cameras, the film, the darkroom and the skills to get great results.
5) The B&W film medium is known to be archival. I process my film using a two bath fixer, permawash and rinse for 15 minutes in clean running water. They are stored in archival sleeves. Barring the unforeseen, the negatives I processed should still be in good condition for viewing in 50 to 100 years, maybe longer. They will need no extra attention regarding ‘back up’, except to store them in a safe dry place.
This last point is not true with digital photos. I make three backup copies of every digital image and store them in separate locations, but digital remains an ephemeral media. Hard drives, DVDs and all other existing means of commercially-available digital storage will, in time, go bad. Hard drives can fail, suddenly, completely and without warning. The information will be lost. The photos will vanish. Like the tide coming in on a child’s sandcastle, the images in their digital form will be washed away, forever.
Trying to see the railroad differently; I’ve been photographing the former Boston & Albany Ware River branch for more than 30 years, so finding new angles is a bit of a challenge.
On July 10, 2014, I met Mike Gardner, Paul Goewey and Brian Jennison in Palmer with the expressed goal of following Mass-Central’s daily freight northbound.
It was a bright morning following a night of heavy rain and mist still clung to the valleys. Mass-Central was working with GP38 1751, one of two locomotives acquired last year and custom painted into a variation of the 1950s-era Boston & Maine ‘Bluebird’ livery.
After the train passed Thorndike, (a few miles from Palmer yard), it slowed to a craw then stopped unexpectedly. Trees had fallen on the line. This delayed it while crews cut the trees with chain saws. In the mean time, Paul showed me an angle near Forest Lake that I’d never seen before.
Track speed on the line is a casual 10 mph. The trick isn’t trying to keep up with the train, it’s trying to stay focused on the subject. In addition to the slow running, Mass-Central spends a lot of time switching freight cars, and often in places that aren’t conducive to summer-time photography.
South Barre is as far as the Mass-Central goes. Beyond that the old B&A branch is abandoned. Having done well with the northward run, we opted for lunch, then moved on to other lines.
I worked with three cameras; my Lumix LX7 and Canon 7D, plus my old Rolleiflex Model T. (This isn’t the same old Rollei, that I used back in the 1980s, but one similar to it.) Unfortunately, it wasn’t functioning perfectly in the morning, and I missed a few photos before I got it working. Now, to process the film!
Trains Converge on Palmer; 2 Hours of Non-stop Action.
In the 1980s, Trains Magazine occasionally ran articles that featured ‘hot spots’ illustrated by sequences of photos showing different trains passing the same place over the course of hours.
These always caught my attention. While the individual images ranged from pedestrian to interpretive, the collective effect produced an understanding of how a busy spot worked.
Trains tend to arrive in clusters. Hours may pass where nothing goes by except a track car, then trains arrive from every direction. The astute photographer has learned when to make the most of these situations.
Palmer, Massachusetts can be a busy place, if you’re there at the right time. CSX’s east-west former Boston & Albany mainline crosses New England Central’s (NECR) former Central Vermont line at grade. An interchange track connects the two routes and serves as connection to the former B&A Ware River Branch operated by Massachusetts Central.
Afternoon tends to be busy. Among the moves through Palmer are Amtrak’s Vermonters that use CSX’s line between Springfield and Palmer, and NECR’s line north of Palmer toward Vermont. There isn’t a direct connection to allow an eastward train on the CSX route to directly access the NECR’s line.
To compensate for this, Amtrak’s trains must use CSX’s controlled siding to access the interchange track, and this to reach the NECR. This requires trains to reverse direction. As a result, Amtrak trains either have locomotives on each end or run with a push-pull cab control car.
On the afternoon of October 17, 2013, the interchange track proved one of the busiest lines in Palmer and was used by a succession of NECR, Mass-Central, and Amtrak trains.
Complicating matters was Amtrak 57 (southward Vermonter) which was running more than an hour behind its scheduled time, and so met its northward counterpart at Palmer. New England Central was also busy with no less than three trains working around Palmer about the same time.
I’ve put the following photos in sequence with the approximate times of exposure. I stress ‘approximate’, since my digital camera’s clocks not only didn’t agree on the minutes passed the hour, but were set for different time zones as a function of recent travel.
It was a nice bright day too. Patrons at Palmer’s ever popular Steaming Tender restaurant (located in the restored former Palmer Union Station) were entertained with a succession of trains passing on both sides of the building.
Not bad for one afternoon! Yet, not a CSX train in sight. These days much of CSX’s business passes Palmer in darkness.
On June 26, 2013, a variety of errands that brought me to Ware, Massachusetts. I knew the Mass-Central’s daily freight ought to be in the area, but I wasn’t sure where it was. (Pardon pun).
I checked Ware yard; not there. So I drove north along the line. Since it is my understanding that the railroad is expected to acquire some nicely painted GP38s, I was curious to see what engines were working that day.
No sign of the train at Gilbertville, so I continued northward along Route 32 toward Creamery. My sixth sense was tingling. I knew the train was close.
At Creamery, Boston & Maine’s Central Massachusetts line once had a grade separated crossing with Boston & Albany’s Ware River Branch, and when B&M retrenched in the early 1930s, a connection was built between the two lines just to the north (east) of this crossing. Further retrenchment over the following decades resulted in almost complete abandonment of the Central Massachusetts line in the area.
Today, a portion of the Central Mass route at Creamery is now a rail trail. I paused at the trail, inspected a bit of an old cross-tie and then listened. . . wind rustled in the trees, then in the distance I heard a low air whistle. I turned my head. It was coming from the south. Had I overtaken the train, or had I missed it?
A second blast, confirmed my suspicions; I’d missed the train between Gilbertville and Creamery. I jumped in my car and headed briskly back toward Ware. I overtook the train a mile north of town.
At Ware, Mass-Central had some work at Kanzaki Specialty Papers—a customer served by a short surviving section of the former B&M line that connects with the B&A route south of Ware Yard.
I caught the train shoving down, then waited a few minutes for the locomotives to return. In this way I executed several photos of the rare NW5 (one of just 13 built by General Motors Electro-Motive Division) on rare track
I could tick off that errand for the day! Mass-Central NW5, check.
My brief encounter with Mass-Central’s borrowed GP15-2 on May 10, 2013 (see Quaboag Valley in Fog and Sun, May 10, 2013 encouraged me to seek out this locomotive and spend some more time photographing it on the former Boston & Albany Ware River Branch.
This branch is one of my longest running projects. Back in 1981, I rode my 10-speed bicycle from Monson to Ware to make photographs of Mass-Central’s recently acquired EMD NW5, number 2100. Now, more than 30 years later, that old engine is still on the property, and I’ve been up and down the line by road (and rail) dozens of times.
Despite this familiarity, at least once a year (if not once a season) I’ll take a photo-trip along the line. So, having a nice freshly painted locomotive against fresh spring leaves is a good excuse to get out and the exercise cameras.
Much of the line is on a southwest-northeast angled alignment; and since trains tend depart northbound in the morning from Palmer and return after midday, I’ve found that the southward return chase can be the most productive for making clean locomotive images.
On Monday May 13th, I spent the morning writing and running errands. Then in late morning, I followed Mass-Central’s line up to Gilbertville where I waited for the weekday freight to pass on its northbound run. (Just to clarify; the weekday freight is all I’d ever expect to see. The days of Boston & Albany’s steam hauled mixed train and milk specials have long since passed!)
My timing was good, and after a little while the GP15-2 rolled through northbound with two cars. Not much of a train, but it collected a few more cars near Creamery and continued to South Barre where it worked for about an hour delivering and collecting freight cars.
As expected, the southward chase offered better angles and nicer train. Not only did the southward train have a decent consist of cars, but the sun made some well-timed appearances.
I made photos with both film and digital Canon bodies as well as my Lumix LX-3, while following all the way south to Palmer (where Mass-Central interchanges with both CSX and New England Central).
I’ve learned to take advantage of unusual or new motive power on the branch, as things can (and do) change quickly. To use a cliché; it’s best to strike when the iron is hot! I was pleased with my results featuring the GP15-2 and I wonder what motive power I’ll find next time I follow the line?
May 10th holds symbolic railroad significance as the anniversary of completion of the first Transcontinental Railroad in 1869—an event that had great national and international importance. Many other railway anniversaries can be linked to May 10 as well.
In 2007, I coordinated a team of 37 photographers to document a full day’s worth of North American railway activity from Nova Scotia to southern California and from the Pacific Northwest to southern Florida in what became a book titled The Railroad Never Sleeps published by Voyageur Press.
Although this seems to be out of print, it remains a stunning photographic collection, which is especially impressive considering it was entirely accomplished within the limits of just one day!It’s hard for me to believe that six years have passed since that day.
Yesterday (May 10 2013), I got up early and aimed for Palmer, Massachusetts, with an aim of making a variety of railway images on this significant day. In the course of just a few hours, I’d photographed five train movements on three different railroads. I was home by 9:30 am. (Although, I was out again later in the day to investigate some changes to railway infrastructure).
When I began my photography there was thick fog clinging to the valleys; this gradually burned off leaving bright sun. Here’s a selection of my efforts.
Locomotives have long been the subjects of photographic study. The earliest images are believed to be Daguerreotypes from the early 1850s. As early as the 1860s, locomotive manufacturers routinely photographed locomotives to document their construction and to help interest prospective buyers. The nature of the steam locomotive meant that a great deal about the machine could be gleaned by studying it from the outside. Railway enthusiasts were enamored with locomotives from the very beginning; sketches and drawings of engines date to the earliest days of railroading, while railway enthusiast photography certainly dates to at least the 1890s, if not earlier. While I’ve always been fascinated by railways, I didn’t routinely examine locomotives on film until I was about ten. My earliest railway photography tended to feature signals. If there were any locomotives in my pictures, these seemed to appear on the horizon in the form of a looming headlight. Later, I made a great many images of locomotives, sometime picturing them at work, other times resting between jobs, and often I examined them on a macro level; in other words, up-close and in detail. I’ve written a number of books on locomotives, and these chronicle their evolution and development, intended application and service, and performance. My body of locomotive photography has aided in illustration of these efforts. This selection of images is intended as the first installment in Tracking the Light of my exploration of locomotive geometry: the shapes of the machines. Later installments will focus on specific railway fleets, individual types, and perhaps some individual machines.
Between November 2008 and March 2009, I researched and wrote an article on Mass-Central for TRAINS Magazine that appeared in the March 2010 issue. I continue to photograph this short line which serves 25 miles of the former Boston & Albany Ware River Branch between Palmer and South Barre, Massachusetts. While on some days, I’ll make a project of working the branch, making photos from a variety of angles, and staying with the train for the whole day. This morning, after finishing non-photographic business in Palmer, I opted to catch the morning freight on its way northward on the branch. Today, I was only interested in catching it near Forest Lake, where the line crosses a short fill. During the summer this tends to get too brushed in for a satisfactory image, but after the foliage has gone, the location opens up. The difficulty this time of year is working around harsh shadows. I exposed this image at 8:35 this morning using my Canon 7D fitted with 28-135mm zoom. Initially I was tempted to make a tighter image, focusing more on the locomotive, but in the end I settled for a wider view that takes in more of the setting. Had Mass-Central been using its rare EMD NW5 number 2100, I’d probably stayed with a tight view. Reviewing my images, I decided the contrast was too much, and the light on the engine resulted in slight over exposure. As a result, I made a nominal adjustment to exposure curve using Photoshop, while boosting the saturation slightly to give the water and sky a bit more snap. These subtle changes required just a few minutes to implement. Other than that, the image is presented here un-cropped and more or less as I exposed it. Since Mass-Central departs Palmer northbound most weekday mornings between about 7 and 8:30 am, I’ll probably make another attempt at this location before the leaves return. The remarkable thing about digital photography is that as I write and post this, the train is still out on its run.