On March 16, 1986, I hiked west of milepost 84 on Conrail’s Boston & Albany route to photograph Amtrak train 448, the eastward Lake Shore Limited(Boston section).
This was just a few months before Conrail single tracked the line between Springfield and Palmer, Massachusetts.
I was keen to document the Boston & Albany’s line that passed through the northern reaches of my home town, Monson, Massachusetts, in the railroad’s traditional directional double track configuration.
This lone image is part of my much more extensive project to document the Boston & Albany route on film.
I exposed the photo on 120 roll film using my father’s Rollei Model T. In May 2019, I scanned the negatives using an Epson V750 flatbed scanner. For presentation here, I adjusted contrast and exposure using Lightroom.
Thirty three years ago I made this view of a northward Central Vermont freight crossing Route 32 in South Monson.
(Historically CV had a ‘station’ in South Monson, and another at State Line and these were distinct locations in the railroad’s timetable.)
I exposed this black & white photo with my father’s Rollei Model T set up with a 645-size ‘super slide’ insert and loaded with Kodak Tri-X.
One of the challenges of working with the Rollei twin-lens reflex is that the view finder displays a mirror image. This made gauging when to release the shutter of the train especially difficult when it was rolling away, such as in this situation.
The result? I pressed the shutter release a split second sooner than I would have preferred. Of course I didn’t see the problem until after I processed the film
I scanned this negatives, along with others from the day last week using an Epson V750 flatbed scanner. I scaled the file for internet presentation and adjusted contrast in post-processing using Lightroom.
Northward Central Vermont freight South Monson, Massachusetts on May 16, 1986.
Last week I stepped on to Main Street in Monson, just as a single New England Central GP38 was working upgrade through town.
‘It’s a bit late for 608.’ I thought. (608 is the weekday turn freight from Willimantic to Palmer, often featured on Tracking the Light).
It wasn’t 608, as I quickly noticed. Rather, it was NECR 3850 leading a Federal Railroad Administration inspection train, including FRA’s ‘Gage Restraint Measurement Vehicle’.
I had other plans. But had my FujiFilm XT1 with me.
Plans were postponed, as I jumped in my vehicle and immediately headed south on Route 32 to intercept this unusual train.
I caught it twice; once at the Bob Buck inspired South Monson Rt 32 crossing, and then at Bob’s favorite, Smith’s Bridge at Stafford Hollow Road.
In my youth this bridge offered an open view of the line; in Bob’s steam-era photo there were fields both sides of the track. Today, there’s only a narrow space between the trees. Lucky for me, the angle of the sun was perfect.
Score one for being at the right place at the right time (and having my cameras).
New England Central’s grade over State Line Hill climbs through Monson, Massachusetts. When I’m in Monson—where I live for part of the year—I can hear the trains as they pass through town.
In recent posts, I’ve focused my cameras on New England Central’s weekday freight, job 608, that runs from Willimantic, Connecticut to Palmer and back.
In the long days, the present schedule for 608 finds it in a number of classic locations that are well-lit for photography.
I can go after the train on any given morning, as often as I choose, and this allows me the freedom to explore different angles, photographic techniques, and visit locations repeatedly to make more interesting images.
I like to work in black & white and I choose to use traditional film cameras with which I can craft images in the old school. I process the film myself using custom-tailored recipes, and then scan for presentation here.
Why black & white film? First of all it’s not simply monochrome. My black & white photography is the culmination of decades of experimentation. This shouldn’t imply that the photos are inherently better than simple digital snap shots, but infers that I’ve put more thought and energy into achieving my end result.
Here I’ve displayed three variations of a black & white image I exposed using a Leica IIIa with 35mm Nikkor lens at Bridge Street in Monson. I’ve adjusted the contrast and tonal range producing subtle differences in each interpretation. For comparison, I’ve also supplied a similar digital color view that I exposed with my Lumix LX7.
I wonder how many viewers will notice the fundamental difference between the digital photograph and the film image variations?
Years ago I’d ride my ten-speed bicycle to the Stafford Hollow Road Bridge in Monson, Massachusetts. I’d wait for Central Vermont’s freight to New London.
If I was lucky, I’d catch CV working upgrade with GP9s/Alco RS-11 making a healthy roar as they approached Stateline Summit.
On the morning May 31, 2017, I was leaving the Monson Post Office (having just mailed a letter to Ireland) when I heard New England Central 608 (running south from Palmer to Willimantic) tackling the grade in town.
I was surprised to see a Providence & Worcester GP38-2 in the lead. I supposed since New England Central and P&W are now both in the Genesee & Wyoming family it makes sense that the locomotives of these two connecting lines would get a bit mixed up.
Regardless, I knew that this would make for an interesting photograph. Among the places I caught 608 was at my old Stafford Hollow Road location.
My late friend Bob Buck had photographed here since the 1940s and always called the location ‘Smith’s Bridge’. I know he would have been delighted to see these photos of a P&W GP38-2 leading the southward freight.
Using my Canon 7D with a 100-400mm zoom lens, I exposed this view of New England Central 608 approaching Stateline Summit on the Connecticut-Massachusetts boundary.
I selected this perspective to illustrate the undulating grade profile of the former Central Vermont Railway approaching Stateline Summit. The train is crossing the ‘false summit’ while the top of the grade is the rise in tracks near the switch stand.
I’m standing north of the state line looking south; the train is in Connecticut.
While this camera-lens combination doesn’t represent my sharpest equipment, it is useful for photos like this one.
Earlier in the month I’ve highlighted various photographic adventures with New England Central 608 (freight that works from Willimantic, Connecticut to Palmer and back). Today’s post focuses on the southward journey.
Over the years, I’ve photographed many trains climbing the former Central Vermont Railway grade over State Line Hill, and beyond into Connecticut, so this chase is old hat for me.
Yet, I’m always looking for a new angle, or to place today’s train in a classic setting that I may have captured years ago.
These views are all from the morning of May 17, 2017 and exposed with my FujiFilm X-T1 digital camera.
Someone in the administration office at Monson High School may have noted my absence.
But the freshly fallen snow and Alco RS-11s working the road freight to New London distracted me. Really now, I think that making this sequence of photographs was more important than sitting around in some old classroom.
Now, 34 years later I still don’t think I was wrong. Do you?
Yesterday (December 23, 2016) dawned clear and bright. Everything fell into place nicely, and without too much effort on my part, I made some nice photos of a New England Central (NECR) empty ethanol extra rolling through Monson.
Lately it seems that the elusive loaded ethanol trains tend to reach Stateline Hill in darkness. Over the last few weeks I’ve heard a number of these heavy trains laboring up the grade.
So, I was happy to catch this move. Not only was it the longest train I’ve photographed on the NECR in Monson, but it was my first time catching Providence & Worcester’s relatively new SD70M-2s.
Now that P&W and New England Central are both part of the Genesee & Wyoming family, perhaps these big locomotives will make more frequent appearances on the NECR line over Stateline Hill.
I made these photos the other evening at Bridge Street in Monson, Massachusetts.
New England Central 608 from Willimantic, Connecticut was paused waiting for traffic ahead to clear up.
Despite the cold, I took the opportunity to make a few time exposures with my Lumix LX-7. My exposures were aided by a blanket of crusty snow that reflected some of the ambient light.
To keep the camera from shaking, I rested it on the handrails of the bridge and used the self timer to actuate the shutter. I exposed in ‘M’ mode (manual) using the camera’s histogram to gauge the length of my shutter opening.
Owing to the dimly lit scene, I still needed to boost the shadows in post processing to allow for a more visually appealing image. Opportunities such as this make for good exercises in existing-light night photography.
In the mid-1980s, Canadian National Railway’s Montreal Locomotive Works M-420s were commonly operated on its Central Vermont Railway subsidiary.
It might seem odd in retrospect, but I wasn’t keen on these peculiar locomotives when they were common. Although they were derived from an Alco design, and I was big fan of Alco, I thought they were ugly and not ‘real’ Alcos. I much preferred Central Vermont’s own Alco RS-11s.
My ill-founded prejudices never stopped me from making photographs of the M-420s. And even back in 1986, I was pleased to catch this one leading Central Vermont’s freight 562 across Route 32 in Monson, Massachusetts (immediately north of the Massachusetts-Connecticut State Line).
This is the top of State Line Hill and it was all downgrade from here. I’m standing on a pile of ballast for elevation.
While several locomotives have been painted in the new corporate colors (or rather, G&W’s traditional paint scheme), many of New England Central’s locomotives remain in various former liveries, including the railroad’s original blue and yellow.
On Monday October 28, 2013, New England Central job 610 (a turn that runs from Willimantic, Connecticut to Palmer, Massachusetts) sported a pair of nicely painted G&W locomotives.
My dad and I made chase of this train on its southward run. I exposed digital still photographs, while Pop made some video clips with his Lumix LX7.
The sun was playing tag with us, but the locomotives were so bright and clean it hardly mattered if the sun was out or not.
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.
Yesterday morning, jetlag had me awake and alert considerably earlier than I’m accustomed. By 7 am, I’d photographed three trains on two railroads in two states and was on my way home to get some work done. Crazy thing, jetlag.
The highlight of the morning’s impromptu photo excursion was this image of New England Central’s ‘Pride of Palmer’ (GP38 3851) climbing through Monson, Massachusetts with a short freight for Willimantic, Connecticut. This is passing Monson’s ‘tornado alley’, where, nearly two years ago a freak afternoon twister made splinters and memories of many fine buildings and trees.
The media loves storms; and they always have. New England’s first big snowfall of the on February 8th and 9th, seems to have made news everywhere. Friends from London called to say that the New England storm was a lead-in story on BBC.
On the morning the snow began, I made a few photos at Washington Street in Monson with my Lumix LX-3 (for later comparison). Historically this was the site of Monson’s railway station, gone nearly 60 years now. Blankets of snow fell on Monson, Massachusetts through the day on Friday and into Saturday. I spent Saturday clearing off cars and whatnot, as you do after a heavy snowfall. The railroads were quiet, and a general ban on highway travel, plus dire road conditions discouraged me from going anywhere to make photos.
This morning (February 10, 2013) I aimed for Palmer, where it was clear and bright, but all of 1 degree Fahrenheit. Between 18 inches and 2 feet of snow covered the ground, with drifts several feet deep in places. Yes, it was a good dump, but not a record by my estimation. I’ve seen more snow.
Clearing New England Central’s yard was a bucket loader fitted with a snow blower. This made for a few impressive scenes, which I’ve tried to capture here. However, in general, traffic on the railways was quiet. CSX sent a set of light engines east. These stopped about a mile west of Palmer (milepost 84.5) because what I understood to be an axle problem with one of the General Electric locomotives. After a few minutes, these were on the move, and I made some views of CSX passing the old Palmer Union Station at CP83—now occupied by the Steaming Tender restaurant—a favorite eating place of mine.
About noon, New England Central dispatched a pair of GP38s south as ‘Extra 608’. Although once standard, today finding a pair of New England Central’s yellow and blue GP38s together is a rare treat. These ambled southward through Monson over Stateline Hill (so named because it crests near the Massachusetts-Connecticut border), which allowed ample opportunities for photographs. Extra 608 was destined for Willimantic to help clear the line and collect interchange left by the Providence & Worcester. All in all, this was a productive day for photography. I worked with my Lumix LX-3, Canon 7D, and Canon EOS-3. The Velvia 50 I exposed won’t be processed for a while; I’m on the big green bird tomorrow afternoon! Perhaps while traveling, I’ll write a detailed post on my experience exposing railway images in the snow.
I often make interesting images when I’m just playing around. Between 2001 and 2007 I regularly worked with a Contax G2 rangefinder and I typically used it to expose either Fuji color slide film or black & white negatives. One day, in autumn 2001 I loaded the camera with Agfa Scala, a distinctive black & white reversal film that when processed offered high-contrast monochrome slides. Among my subjects was New England Central which runs right through Monson, Massachusetts. This day, the southward freight required a helper out of Palmer Yard to assist its ascent of State Line Hill. While not unheard of, New England Central doesn’t use helpers every day. I caught the train several times with my G2, then waited an eternity for the slides to come back. No fault of the lab: after I sent them in, I’d returned to Dublin, and so it was about three months from the time I exposed the photos to when I finally examined them. Interesting! That was eleven years ago now.