Last Monday, March 8, 2021, Kris Sabbatino and I, followed New England Central’s southward 611 freight.
I drove us to my old standby location at East Northfield, where the NECR line toward Palmer, Massachusetts and New London, Connecticut diverges from the old Boston & Maine Connecticut River line (now operated by Pan Am Southern).
As the train approached I exposed a series of photos using my Nikon Z6.
I’ve displayed two variations of the same image.
The top image is a camera generated JPG with color set to Nikon’s Vivid profile.
The bottom image I created from the NEF RAW file in Adobe Lightroom by manipulating color, contrast, and saturation to emulate my FujiFilm XT1’s in-camera ‘Velvia’ mode.
Thursday, April 25, 2019, photographer Mike Gardner and I convened at Palmer’s Steaming Tender for lunch. Afterwards we drove northward in search of New England Central’s road freight, 611.
New England Central’s clean locomotives in parent company Genesee & Wyoming’s orange, yellow and black paint, make for handsome subjects, and a welcome change to the days when patched faded liveries of the locomotive’s various former owners predominated.
Anticipating catching 611’s northward run from Palmer, we paused at Three Rivers to check some photo locations and were surprised to hear a southward train approaching.
Lo and behold! It was 611 on its southward run.
After photographing the southward move, we continued our drive north to inspect locations . . . Stay tuned for more!
Photos exposed using my FujiFilm XT1 with 27mm pancake lens.
After catching New England Central’s local freight at White River Junction (featured in Friday’s Tracking the Light), I figured we had time to zip down I-91 to Brattleboro, Vermont and catch road freight 611 on its run south to Palmer, Massachusetts.
Rolling down Cotton Mill Road, I spied 611 led by five vintage EMD diesels pulling across the causeway south of Brattleboro Yard.
Pat Yough, visiting from Pennsylvania, wanted to try for a photograph at the Junction in East Northfield, on the Vermont-Massachusetts state line, so after a cloudy day photograph near Vernon, we overtook the slow moving freight.
Shortly before the train arrived, the clouds parted for a few moments, and a brilliant ‘sucker hole’ illuminated the tracks.
Working with my 18-135mm zoom lens, I quickly adjusted my composition to make the most of this sunny opportunity. And made several nice sunlit telephoto shots.
By the time the train rolled below us, the clouds had dampened the morning light. Yet, the chase was on . . .
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).
I’ve been making photos at the Junction at East Northfield since the 1980s.
The other day, on the third visit in two weeks to this iconic New England location (where New England Central’s line connects with Pan Am Railway’s Conn River route), I had a reckoning.
It occurred to me that railroad timetable ‘East Northfield’ is actually north and west of the town of Northfield, Massachusetts.
How is this possible?
Some Highway maps show railroad ‘East Northfield’ in West Northfield.
This timetable location has been called ‘East Northfield’ since the steam era, and the present NECR sign reflects this historic geographic incongruity.
No doubt at some point in the future, the geography will be retro-actively re-written to accommodate this oversight on the part of historic railroad timetable writers. What will they make of my captions!
I made these views of New England Central job 608 working timetable northward at Stafford Spring, Connecticut.
It was about 7:30am, and the sun was just tinting the eastern sky.
Rather than set my camera with ‘auto white balance’ (a typical default setting), I opted to fix the white balance with the ‘daylight’ setting.
Auto white balance arbitrarily selects a neutral color balance and adjusts the balance based on the conditions at hand. This is a useful feature in some situations, such as photography under incandescent lighting, or in situations with mixed lighting, such as in a museum or subway.
However, auto white balance settings have the unfortunate effect of minimizing the colorful effects of sunset and sunrise and so using the ‘daylight’ setting is in my opinion a better alternative.
But there’s really much a more complex problem; the way that digital cameras capture images is completely different to the ways the human eye and brain work in fixing visual stimuli. You could write a book on that!
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Here are two views of the same train: led by the same locomotive, at the same location, more or less at the same time of day, exposed using the same camera with the same lens.
Both photos show New Engand Central job 608 led by GP38 3845 working northward in the morning along Plains Road in Willington, Connecticut (south of Stafford Springs).
Photos were exposed digitally using a FujiFilm XT1 with 27mm pancake lens. The slight difference in angle may be attributed to the inconvenience of a mushy snow bank along the road in winter view that was not a problem in the summer.
Since Genesee & Wyoming took over Rail America, gradually the fleets of diesels operated by the component railways have been repainted into G&W’s corporate livery of orange and black with yellow highlights.
This traditional paint scheme had been used by the original G&W short line railroad for decades.
Here I’ve put the brightly colored diesels in scene that makes the most of the scheme.
New England Central 611 is southbound at Northfield, Massachusetts with locomotive 3475 in the lead. A cloud has briefly diffused the morning sun.
To make the most of the lighting and the scene, I made this telephoto view looking down a road, visually placing the orange and black locomotive in front of a yellow house.
The dominance of orange and yellow for the primary subjects works well in the late autumnal scene, as these colors mimic the muted foliage and grasses associated with the season.
Picking the best exposure is an important part of photography.
Today with modern metering, computer guided exposure aids (program modes) and automatic lenses, most photographers don’t spend a lot of time worrying about exposure details.
It might surprise some Tracking the Light readers that in most instances I set my exposures manually, and I only use camera metering in an advisory capacity (In other words I look at the camera meter but don’t necessarily accept its advice).
While I often use my Lumix LX7 in ‘A’ mode, I routinely over-ride the camera’s exposure advice using manual controls. With my FujiFilm XT1 and Canon digital cameras (and film cameras), I almost always set my exposure manually.
Last week, working with my FujiFilm XT1 I made these views of New England Central freight 611 working south of Brattleboro, Vermont. The stunning scenic setting of the Connecticut River backwater combined with dramatic morning cross-lighting and a dark background makes for an excellent illustration of a difficult lighting situation.
Here, many camera automatic modes might grossly overexpose the scene in a misguided attempt to compensate for the dark background.
I’ve metered manually and gauged exposure using the camera’s histogram (set up to show the distribution of pixels in regards to exposure.) I’ve offered two variations here, exposed 1 full stop apart.
A ‘stop’ is a standard increment of exposure. The amount of light reaching the sensor or film doubles/halves with each change of one stop. So going from an aperture setting of f4 to f5.6 (one stop) cuts the light by half. Likewise, a shutter speed change from 1/250 to 1/500 will also cut the amount of light by half.
The darker image was exposed at f5.6 at 1/400th of a second at ISO 400; while the lighter image was exposed at f4 at 1/400th of a second at ISO 400. (In other words the only the aperture setting was changed.)
Both exposures are acceptable, but you may have a preference for one versus the other. The photos here have not been altered for density, color balance or color temperature in post processing; both are scaled versions of the camera produced JPGs.
A side-benefit for me of transatlantic jet lag is that I’m wide awake for sunrise.
The other day, I drove to Stafford Springs, Connecticut as the sun was rising.
Typically New England Central 608 passes the village between 7 and 730 am. On this day it appeared about 724 am.
Working with my FujiFilm XT1 with 12mm Zeiss Tuoit lens, I made a series of images of the freight passing.
I carefully exposed my RAW files to retain some sky detail, intending to adjust exposure, contrast and color in post processing.
It would be fallacious to suggest that the RAW file represents reality. It doesn’t.
It is important to understand that the camera RAW file is an equivalent of a ‘negative’ in film photography. The RAW file simply represents the raw data as captured by the camera sensor. This data requires interpretation to produce an image that resembled what the human brain perceives.
I made a series of small adjustments to highlights, shadows, color temperature, and color balance, while working with masks in the sky to control detail and color.
My only regret is that my graduated neutral density filters were still packed away in my luggage, as these would have been useful in this situation by allowing for improved sky detail by effectively selective expanding the dynamic capture of the sensor.
I’ve included both the RAW file (scaled for internet) and my interpreted post-processed JPG. To give hints as to what I’ve done, I’ve also included screen shots of the Lightroom work windows.
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.
The familiar sound of 645 thunder down in the valley spurred me into action.
A southward New England Central freight was climbing Stateline Hill in Monson, Massachusetts. This is an old routine (and yes, I’ve written about this before.)
When I hear a train coming through Monson, I have a few minutes to get organized. In this instance, a brilliant clear blue dome with nice morning light was the deciding consideration.
En route, I heard the southward train get its ‘paper’ (radio–issued track authority) to proceed toward Willimantic, Connecticut. In this instance, I was alerted to the location of the train; south of milepost 55 (near the Massachusetts-Connecticut state line).
I headed for my preferred spot in downtown Stafford Springs, Connecticut south of milepost 49.
One advantage of Stafford Springs is that the railroad makes an east-west twist through the village on its otherwise north-south run. This favors the morning light for a southward train.
The other advantage is Stafford’s quaint and distinctive New England setting.
The other day down in the valley I heard the roar of a train ascending the old New London Northern grade to State Line.
EMD diesels working hard.
“Hmm. That’s odd. Daylight move on the New England Central?”
In recent months, New England Central’s freight south of Palmer, Massachusetts has been largely nocturnal.
I thought I’d best investigate, I hopped in my car and headed south to intercept.
Driving toward Stafford Springs, Connecticut I heard a telemetry hit on my scanner. (That’s the FRED—the end of train device the sends a signal reporting air-brake pressure from the tail end of the train to the engineer’s cab.) I knew the train was close.
Then, chatter on the radio: engineer to conductor. They were working the ground. The train was switching.
I altered my path and went to the south switch at State Line siding at Crow Hill Road, Stafford.
There I found the train: An NECR local freight from Palmer putting cars in the siding.
Sixteen loads and five empties.
At one end was a GP38 that’s nearly as old as I am. At the other end was NECR’s Tunnel Motor, engine 3317. A former Southern Pacific engine.
That’s neat. I’d never seen NECR’s Tunnel Motor south of Palmer before.
Sorry, did I mention that New England Central’s reporting marks are NECR?
New England Central at Montpelier Junction, Vermont.
A freshly scrubbed GP38 led a pair of Pennsy passenger cars in a classic old-school whistle-stop campaign tour of Vermont.
On August 28, 2010, my dad and I drove to the Georgia high bridge (near St. Albans, Vermont) to intercept a New England Central special train hired by gubernatorial candidate Brian Dubie.
It was a sunny warm summer’s day, and we made numerous photos of the special as it worked its way south.
This pair of images was exposed at Montpelier Junction, where the train made a stop for the candidate to make a speech to his supporters. Traditionally, this was where Central Vermont met the Montpelier & Barre.
I used a telephoto for these views in order to emphasize the bunting and flags that marked the train’s distinctive qualities. Several of my photographs of the train appeared in Private Varnish.
One of the benefits of my visits to Monson, Massachusetts, is being within ear-shot of the former Central Vermont Railway, now operated by New England Central (NECR). Yesterday morning (January 10, 2013), I awoke to the sounds of a southward freight clawing its way up Stateline Hill (so-named because it crests near the Massachusetts-Connecticut state line). NECR freights take their time ascending the grade and on a clear day I can hear them climbing from about the time they depart the Palmer Yard. As a kid I’d count the crossings: CV’s GP9s whistling a sequence of mournful blasts for each one. Yesterday morning I dithered for a few minutes. Should I go after this train? Or, should I keep my nose to grindstone, writing? Clear skies forced the answer: GO!
My hesitation caused me to miss the opportunity for a photograph in Stafford Springs, Connecticut. This was blessing in disguise, since I’ve often caught the train here and then broke off the chase before getting deeper into Connecticut. Having missed Stafford Springs, I pursued further south, and caught the train four times at various points between Stafford and Willimantic. This a relatively easy chase, as Route 32 runs roughly parallel to the line.
Three elements made yesterday’s chase a satisfying exercise:
1) The train was operating at a suitable time of the morning for southward daylight photography (lately, NECR’s trains seem to have headed south either way too early or too late in the day for my photographic preferences—I’ve been photographing this line for more than 30 years, first chasing it with my Dad in the early 1980s, so I can be unusually choosy).
2) It was a ‘clear blue dome’—sunny, bright, and cloudless, always a great time to make morning photographs.
3) As it turned out, one of New England Central’s yellow and blue GP38s was leading. As I’ve mentioned previously, while this was once NECR’s standard locomotive, in recent years the type has become comparatively scarce on NECR, with many of the locomotives working the line wearing paint of former operators (Conrail, Union Pacific, Florida East Coast, and others).
I was also eager for a clear day to test some recently acquired equipment, especially my new Canon 40mm Pancake Lens, which arrived on Monday. I’ll make this lens the detailed topic of future posts.
After abandoning NECR at Willimantic, I made a few photographs of the town, which still has some wonderful old mill buildings, then continued south to New London where I focused on Amtrak for a while.
Since New England Central is among properties recently acquired by Genesee & Wyoming, I’m anticipating change and wondering when I’ll photograph the first orange & black locomotives
See my recent published book North American Locomotives for more information on New England Central’s and Genesee & Wyoming locomotives.