In recent days, New England Central’s Willimantic, Conn., to Palmer., Mass., turn running as job 608, has been back on its daylight schedule, which sees it reaching Stafford Springs, Connecticut at about 730am.
Thursday (November 21, 2019), I made a morning project of intercepting the train and photographing it on its northward run.
At the Massachusetts-Connecticut state line, the railroad crests the top of a divide known as ‘State Line Hill’ and begins its descent toward Palmer. Just north of the top of the hill the tracks cross Route 32, which is where I set up to make my photo.
This view was made using my FujiFilm X-T1 with 90mm prime telephoto.
I aimed to make a split scene, where the highway and railroad cross at the center and direct the eye to opposite sides of the frame.
The subject is the train, which has just caught the sun at the intersection of the state boundary.
The second view in shows the locomotive better, but is a less evocative image.
Warm sunny summer mornings are very pleasant. However with the warm weather comes rapid plant growth which can complicate railroad photography.
Take for example these views that I made at Vernon, Vermont at the end of June, 2019.
New England Central’s 611 crew was taking Brattleboro-Palmer turn southbound with locomotive 3476 in the lead (a one upon a time EMD SD45 re-built to a SD40-2/’SD40-3’ configuration.)
To get a bit of elevation, I scaled a mound on the east side of the line, near the grade crossing at the switch for the old power plant.
I liked the cows grazing in the nearby field, so working with my Canon EOS-7D with 200mm lens, I made a distant view. Unfortunately for the, the brush had grown so much that it seems like the freight is emerging from the undergrowth!
I also made a few photos with a FujiFilm XT1 and 27mm pancake lens. Of these, the more distant view seems to work better from a compositional standpoint. SD45 enthusiasts make argue otherwise!
Toward the end of June 2019, I visited New England Central’s yard at Brattleboro, Vermont.
It was the first time in many months that I used my old Canon EOS-7D, which I’d fitted with a 200mm telephoto lens.
As the 611 crew was getting organized to take Brattleboro to Palmer turn south, I made these photos.
I’ve always like the Canon color palate, which I believe is a function of their lenses and sensor. This is decidedly different than the digital photos I make with either my FujiFilm XT1 or Lumix LX7. Playing with a long telephoto is always fun, although in recent years I’ve shied away from very long lenses, as I’ve found that they tend to be overused.
Last week, I made this panoramic composite using my FujiFilm XT1 with 90mm fixed-focal length (‘prime’) telephoto.
New England Central on the left; Vermont Rail System on the right; the station at White River Junction between them.
By ‘composite’, I mean that the camera exposed numerous single frame images as I swept across the scene and then assemble them internally using pre-programmed software. This feature is offered by both my XT1 and Lumix LX7 digital cameras.
For today’s Tracking the Light, I fished out a pair of slides I made back in October 2004 during a chase with New England Central 608 south from Palmer, Massachusetts.
On that day the freight was led by four GP38s, all facing southward, and I was seeking a location to capture this unusual event. (For the record, out of the photograph, there was a fifth GP38 in consist facing north).
Although imperfect, owing to clutter and brush in the foreground, I selected this elevated view north of Mansfield Depot.
I scanned the slides last night in preparation for this post. I don’t think they’d ever been out of the box before. Luckily I’d recorded the date and particulars on the slide box which saved me have to scan through my notebooks from 15 years ago.
I do recall that a friend of mine was visiting from across the pond and he was impressed by the ‘colletion of GMs’ as he called them, working that morning’s train.
Monday, May 6, 2019, we set up at the classic location on the bridge at the junction East Northfield, where the New England Central and Boston & Maine lines come together, immediately south of the Vermont-Massachusetts state line.
Paul Goewey, John Peters and I had convened in Palmer and traveled north along the New England Central hoping to catch 611 on its southward run toward Palmer, which it does most weekday mornings.
We caught it several times, as pictured in Tracking the Light on May 7, 2019, before proceeding to this location.
Elevation and soft morning sun made for an excellent setting to picture the train in action. I made these views using a FujiFilm XT1 with 27mm pancake lens.
We didn’t rest here, and continue south with the train to make more photographs.
Yesterday, May 6, 2019, my old friends Paul Goewey, John Peters and I made a foray to Brattleboro to intercept New England Central’s 611 on its southward run to Palmer. We didn’t have to wait very long!
At Vernon, we paused to make photographs. I’ve always been partial to the view with the farm and the unusually tall tree.
The morning sun was lightly dappled by clouds making for some slight diffused light. Working with a Lumix LX7 and FujiFilm XT1, I made a series of photographs as the freight roared passed. Soon we continued our pursuit, aiming to make more photos in the lush Spring greenery and low morning sun
In late April, after an interlude to photograph Amtrak 56, the northward Vermonter, Mike Gardner and I resumed our photo chase of New England Central’s northbound 611 (Brattleboro, VT to Palmer, Massachusetts and return), that would soon follow Amtrak’s train on it way north toward Brattleboro.
We arrived at the west end of the old Central Vermont Railway bridge over the Connecticut River (near the junction with Pan Am’s Boston & Maine at East Northfield) shortly before the freight crossed it.
Mike assumed a position at the classic location on the south side of the bridge, while I improvised with a view on the north side.
Why photograph from the ‘dark side’?
In this instance, I feel that the north side of the bridge offers a superior view of the setting, while cross lighting the train adds a sense of drama.
The early 20thcentury pin-connected deck truss over the Millers River at its namesake Millers Falls, Massachusetts is one of my favorite places to picture New England Central freights.
On our chase of New England Central last week (Thursday April 25, 2019) photographer Mike Gardner and I arrived at Millers Falls several minutes ahead of 611 on its return run to Bellows Falls, Vermont from Palmer, Massachusetts.
We set up on the sidewalk of the Route 63 highway bridge over the river. For these views I opted for a more southerly position on the road bridge in order to feature budding trees that indicates the arrival of Spring in the Millers valley.
Working with my Lumix LX7, I exposed several digital views as the train’s leading locomotives eased over the antique spans. To me, the SD45/SD40 style locomotives seem out of proportion with the steam era bridge, which of course is half the attraction, long may it last!
After photographing New England Central’s southward 611 at Three Rivers, Massachusetts, photographer Mike Gardner and I worked northward scoping photo locations, while the 611 crew swapped its southward train at Palmer for its northward consist.
(New England Central 611 is the weekday turn that runs from Brattleboro, Vermont to Palmer and back.)
We inspected angles at Cushman north of Amherst and at other locations, but settled on the open area off Depot Road in Leverett, Massachusetts near the site of the old Central Vermont station.
I opted for a low angle to feature some fresh green grass in the foreground, using my 12mm Zeiss Touit fitted to my FujiFilm XT1 using the adjustable rear panel display to hold the camera close to the ground. (No, I’m not lying on the ground).
The combination of the very wide angle lens and low viewpoint helps accentuate the size and shape of New England Central’s locomotives.
The lead locomotive began its career as an EMD SD45 with classic angled (or ‘flared’) air-intakes at the back.
Although during the course of re-building, the locomotive had its 20-cylinder 645 engine swapped for a less powerful 16-cylinder 645 diesel, the machine still has its an impressive profile.
Soon we were hot in pursuit of 611, racing northward on Route 63 to our next location.
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.
Mike Gardner and I made an epic chase of New England Central freight 608 on Halloween Day 1997.
Among my favorite views from that day is this color slide exposed from a footbridge along the Thames River at New London, Connecticut.
In the distance is US Coast Guard training ship Eagle.
Two years later I stood on the deck of the Eagleat the Irish port of Cobh in County Cork, having arrived by train from Cork city.
Tonight, February 28, 2019 at 730pm, I’ll be giving an old school slide show to the Irish Railway Record Society, located opposite the Heuston Station car park in Dublin. Among my featured railroads will be New England Central.
You’ll need to click on Tracking the Light to see the vintage photo.
On January 25, 2019, Pat Yough and I were aiming to catch New England Central 611 on the Millers Falls high bridge over the Millers River. This stunning 1905 pin-connected deck truss has been one my favorite spans to photograph in Massachusetts.
I made my first photographs of the bridge nearly 33 years ago: On May 14, 1986, I’d followed Central Vermont 447 north from Amherst (where I was enrolled at Hampshire College). The train was running at an abnormal time, which gave me the opportunity to make a late afternoon photo at Millers Falls.
Although I made some nice sun lit photographs on Kodachrome 64 of the CV GP9s and CN M-420 diesel working across the bridges, two problems vexed me and resulted in these slides spending more than three decades in the ‘seconds file’.
As the train rattled across the bridge, a huge flock of pigeons soared in the sky, which at the time ruined the image for me, since many of the birds looked like dark blobs that resembled dust on the emulsion. The other difficulty was more serious.
I was using an old Leitz 50mm collapsible Summitar lens which had a loose front element and had lost its critical sharpness. Although on a small scale the photos made with this lens appear ok, when enlarged they are unacceptably soft. I’ve electronically sharpened the photo here to make it more appealing for internet presentation.
Ultimately, I discontinued the use of the soft lens, but it took me several months before I recognized and accepted the problem, and found funds to rectify it.
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 . . .
As New England Central 608 approached downtown Stafford Springs on January 14, 2019, I set my Nikon F3 to expose a textured image.
The old buildings adjacent to the tracks are as much of a visual attraction as the train itself.
Working with an f1.8 105mm lens, I exposed three frames of Kodak Tri-X.
To process the film, I used my custom tailored split process, that uses two developers, followed by selenium toning of the fixed negatives. This maximizes the tonality of the film, while giving me glossy highlights. A secondary effect of the toner is the slight lavender hue.
After processing, I scanned the negatives in color using an Epson V750 scanner.
Although Brian is traveling, Tracking the Light still Posts Daily.
In recent months, New England Central’s Willimantic-Palmer freight, job 608, has been largely nocturnal while the railroad undertook a major rehabilitation program.
New rail, ties and crossing protection have been installed. The switches at State Line are improved. And the railroad is in the best shape it’s been in decades.
Monday morning, December 10, 2018, I heard 608 working north through Monson.
That afternoon, I heard the train on its return run. So Pop (Richard J. Solomon) and I headed out to intercept it.
We caught it at both ends of the siding at State Line, then proceeded to Stafford Springs, where I made these views using my FujiFilm XT1 fitted with 12mm Zeiss Touit lens.
High contrast low December sun proved challenging. To make the most of the light, I applied an external graduated neutral density filter tapered and positioned to hold the sky exposure.
Compare the camera produced JPG file with adjusted RAW images. (There is no ‘right’ and ‘wrong’. The JPG reflects a ‘pre-profiled’ camera setting based on Fuji’s Velvia color setting. The RAW’s were adjusted by me to reflect conditions at Stafford Springs.)
In post processing, I worked with camera RAW files by lightened shadows, darkened highlights, and reduced overall contrast while warming color temperature and slightly boosting saturation.
As we departed Stafford, I noticed a better angle to catch the train. Stay tuned!
Clear evening, northward freight, five units and a deck-girder bridge; working with my FujiFilm XT1, I made this broadside view at Three Rivers, Massachusetts of New England Central’s 611 on its return run from Palmer to Brattleboro, Vermont.
My Zeiss 12mm Touit is a special application lens. It’s very wide, very sharp, and free from barrel distortion. However, its necessary to keep the camera level to avoid line convergence as a result of the wide field of view.
A clear sky and low autumn sun begs for photography.
Yesterday, Mike Gardner and I visited Palmer, Massachusetts for lunch at the Steaming Tender, located in the old Union Station, where CSX’s former Boston & Albany crosses New England Central’s former Central Vermont.
Not a wheel turned. So after lunch, I ascertained that New England Central’s 611 was close. Off we went, driving north.
At Three Rivers we saw the freight crawling south through town and hastily set up our photograph.
Nothing fancy; this is just a traditional three-quarter view of a colorful freight in nice afternoon light with late autumn foliage. There’s something satisfying about that.
It was July 6, 2015, three years ago, that Paul Goewey and I photographed New England Central at Springfield Street in Belchertown, Massachusetts.
Our vantage point is from the old Central Massachusetts Railroad right of way—a line that was abandoned in the early 1930s, when Boston & Maine obtained trackage rights over the parallel Central Vermont (now New England Central) line.
The day dawned clear and bright. I spent an hour at CP83 in Palmer making good use of the light. The railroads cooperated and supplied a parade of eastward trains, and these favored the sun for classic views.
I’ve made countless thousands of photos at Palmer, Massachusetts, but it’s always nice to keep the files fresh.
Soon the scene is likely to change since CSX is installing new equipment for its positive train control signaling, and this will likely result in new signal hardware in place of the Conrail-era signals installed during single-tracking in 1986-1987.
Then something unexpected happened, and by shear luck I caught a rare move! Stay tuned for Part 2.
Brian Solomon’s Tracking the Light Posts Every Day.
I rolled down the passenger-side window of my friend’s Golf, and exposed a series of photos with my Lumix.
I’ve described this technique previously; I adjusted the f-stop (aperture control) manually to its smallest opening (f8), my ISO was at its slowest setting (80), and I put the camera to aperture priority.
I intended this combination of settings to automatically select the appropriate shutter speed for ideal exposure, while using the slowest setting to allow for the effect of motion blur.
I kept the camera aimed at the locomotive while allowing for ample foreground to blur by for the effect of speed.
This works especially well to show the large diesel working long-hood forward, which is not its usual position.