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.
Warren, Massachusetts is a favorite place to photograph, but also a tricky one.
I used Warren as an example for a similar compositional conversation in Trains Magazine, published about two years ago and featured photo of Amtrak’s westward Lake Shore Limited.
Yesterday (December 29, 2017), I arrived in Warren just in time to set up and catch CSX’s late-running Q264 (loaded autoracks for East Brookfield) race up the grade and pass the recently restored former Boston & Albany station.
Using my FujiFilm X-T1 with 18-135mm lens, I exposed a burst of images.
I’ve selected three of these, and then annotated versions of the image that I like the best so that you may benefit from my compositional considerations.
There’s no correct answer to composition; in this instance I prefer the more distant view of the train because it better features the old passenger station and the town of Warren; here’s why I feel the composition works:
I exposed this view twenty years ago using a Speed Graphic with 120 size roll film back that I’d borrowed from Doug More.
A decade earlier, fellow photographer Brandon Delaney had showed me this bridge at Bernardston, Massachusetts on the Boston & Maine’s Connecticut River Line.
The bridge survives much as pictured here; today it serves as the route of Amtrak’s Vermonter. However the old mill dam with accompanying waterfall were destroyed sometime after I made this December 1996-view.
Tomorrow, I’ll post a contemporary angle of the bridge.
Last May (2016), I made this view of an eastward CSX stack train descending the old Boston & Albany grade over Washington Hill.
I was just east of the old Middlefield Station (long defunct), where my late friend Bob Buck had exposed some classic images of B&A’s A1 Berkshires.
A hill behind me blocks the rising sun, until after 6:30am in May. I could hear the train descending as the first rays of sun tickled the iron. Morning clouds waft across the sky making for inky shadows.
Brian Solomon’s Tracking the Light is on auto pilot.
Tracking the Light attempts to post daily! (even when plagued by technical faults, internet outages, and an ambitious travel schedule).
Ok, how about then and when? (click on the link to Brian Solomon’s Tracking the Light to see the modern view).
These photos were exposed 28 years apart from essentially the same place in West Warren, Massachusetts.
One view was made of an eastward Conrail freight in March of 1984; the other of an CSX freight at almost the same spot on November 15, 2012.
In both situations I opted to leave the train in the distance and take in the scene.
Over the years I’ve worked this vantage point with a variety of lenses, but I’ve chosen to display these two images to show how the scene has changed over the years.
In the 1984 view notice the code lines (the ‘telegraph poles’) to the left of the train and the scruffy trees between the railroad and the road. Also in 1984, the line was 251-territory (directional double track).
After a taste of this surviving segment of B&A’s extension to North Adams, we followed the abandoned vestige of the line that runs southward to Pittsfield, then made the most of the late afternoon on the former B&A mainline!
This photo was product of one of dozens of trips I made to the old Boston & Albany west end in the mid-1980s.
The west end is the railroad west of Springfield over the Berkshires of Massachusetts toward Albany, New York.
On this morning I waswest of Chester, Massachusetts perched on the top of an rock cutting that dated to the time of the line’s construction circa 1839-1840.
This Conrail eastward train was slowly making its way east. It was serenely quite in these hills and I’d hear the freight making its descent of Washington Hill miles before it finally appeared.
Imagine this setting one hundred and forty years earlier when it was the old Western Rail Road (precursor to the Boston & Albany). A time when one of Winan’s peculiar vertical boiler 0-8-0s would have led a train of primitive four wheel freight cars over this same line.
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.
In the early 1980s, I made trips to Boston & Maine’s East Deerfield Yard to catch the waning days of the old GP7s, GP9s, and GP18s.
More than 30 years later, some of those old goats are still on the move, hauling freight and now in heritage paint!
On the morning of July 9, 2015, photographer Mike Gardner and I stopped into East Deerfield and found the Pan Am Railways GP9s getting ready to work east with a ballast train. I made this view of the colorful old locomotives crossing the Connecticut River east of the yard.
MBTA’s Beacon Street line to Cleveland Circle is a classic median running trolley route. Coolidge Corner is situated on a gradient and a gentle curve with a traditional traction shelter and lots of trees that help make it a cool place to photograph.
On our whirlwind tour of Boston transit a few weeks ago, Pat Yough and I spent a little while making photos here. The streetcars pass often, so in a relatively short period of time we were able to make a variety of angles.
This is one of the Green Line routes and some of the cars are in the 1970s-era green and white livery, while others are in a more modern teal and silver. I find the older livery photographs better.
Personally, I preferred the days when the PCC’s ruled this route, but those days are long gone. It’s still an interesting place to experiment with different camera-lens combinations.
I’d learned via Facebook that it was Railroad Illustrated’s annual ‘Day in North America.’ The day dawned cloudless and bright, and while I had a full schedule of events for the day, I opted to make the most of the first part of the morning.
I’d stopped into Palmer, where I’d found a couple of New England Central locomotives in the yard. Then opted to travel up the Quaboag River Valley.
This landed me at my familiar spot in the old Warren, Massachusetts yard. My knowledge goes back a good long time. While there’s not been a switch in the Warren ‘yard’ in my lifetime, although I can recall when the line was double track, and the old Warren Crossovers were around the corner to the east.
Way back in the day (and that day was more than 60 years ago) Warren was served by a local freight. Go back even further and there was really quite the complex of tracks at Warren.
Now a carwash occupies part of the property. Yet the old passenger and freight stations survive, and someone has put some effort into fixing up the windows in the passenger station.
I contemplated all of these things while patiently waiting for a wheel to turn.
Then the phone rang . . .
Doug Moore, a loyal Tracking the Light reader (and sometimes proofreader and fact checker) said to me, “there’s an eastbound piggyback train through West Warren, it should be to you shortly! I’d seen your car parked there by the station.”
Hooray for good information! (Thanks Doug).
Without a moment to waste, I sprung into action, made my test photos, when the train roared into view, I exposed these photos with my Fuji X-T1 (and also a super-wideangle view on Provia with my EOS 3).
The Boston & Albany yard may be gone, but the mainline lives on.
This old upper quadrant semaphore was located in Monson, Massachusetts about a mile from the Palmer diamond. It served as a fixed distant to the absolute signal protecting the crossing and was always in the diagonal position indicating ‘approach’.
I made this image on July 20, 1986 of a northward Central Vermont freight (probably job 562).
Purists may note that Canadian National referred to its cabooses as ‘Vans’. More relevant was that by this date, cabooses were becoming unusual in New England. Conrail began caboose-less operation on through freights a few years earlier.
Even rarer in New England were semaphores. Yet this one survived until very recently, when Central Vermont successor New England Central finally replaced it with a color-light. See earlier post: Monson Semaphore Challenge.
A minor point regarding this composition; I’d released the shutter a moment too soon, and so the left-hand back of the caboose visually intersects with the semaphore ladder. This annoys me. Sometimes I like a bit of visual tension in an image, but in this case it doesn’t work.
Not that I can go back and try it again, as much as I’d like to!
Here’s another gem from my Conrail files. I have tens of thousands of Conrail photos, many of them exposed in black & white.
This image caught my eye. November 1984 was a busy month photographically, and I exposed almost all my photographs that month with an old Leica 3A. (My original camera had suffered a failure, so I was using one of my dad’s.)
This was exposed mid-month, probably on a Saturday. I was traveling with some friends. We’d seen Conrail PWSE (Providence & Worcester to Selkirk, New York) working the old Boston & Albany yard in Palmer, and were heading west to find a location.
The train got the jump on us, and there was a panic as we saw the train racing west behind us: “There it is!” I made this grab shot looking down the road at North Wilbraham toward one of the few grade crossings on the B&A route west of Worcester, Massachusetts.
For me this captures the scene. North Wilbraham isn’t the most salubrious environment, but so what? Not every place is a park and it shows the way things were in the mid-1980s. I can hear ‘The Cars’ (Boston band) playing on the radio.
Need a close up of Conrail’s B23-7s? I have lots of those too.
Now wouldn’t this have been a cool angle 40 years earlier with one of Boston & Albany’s class A1 Berkshires hauling freight under a plume of its own exhaust?
Then, as now, east Deerfield was a favorite place to make photos and begin a trip to somewhere else.
To make the most of the long days of summer, I had an early start. At 6:19 am, I made this photo of eastward DHED led by a pair of former Norfolk Southern SD45 and an old Santa Fe SD26. For me the fog made the scene more interesting; it adds depth while providing a painterly chiaroscuro effect.
There’s something tragic, yet intriguing about the state of the line. The ghostly effect of the old double track signal bridge-sans signal heads and the weedy tracks tells of empire in decay. The railroad that forges forward in its own shadow.
You can imagine the low roar of the 20-645E3 diesels amplified and modulated by the morning mist. Perhaps I should have been making audio recordings . . .
Since DHED had arrived at its eastward terminal, I opted to head west. My next photograph was at Schenectady, New York on the Delaware & Hudson some hours later. Fast forward more than 25 years
Soon, Amtrak’s Vermonter will be detoured back to the traditional passenger route north of Springfield, Massachusetts, leaving the New England Central’s former Central Vermont line between Palmer and East Northfield, Massachusetts freight only for the first time in 25 years.
On the afternoon of October 27, 2014, fellow photographer Bob Arnold suggested that we make a photo of the southward Vermonter (train 55) at Three Rivers, where line crosses the Chicopee River on a plate girder bridge.
It was a nice clear sunny day and the foliage was splendid. Somehow the Vermonter managed to lose about 20 minutes in its short run down from Amherst, a station that will cease to serve as a regular stop with the route change.
If you are interested in riding or photographing Amtrak’s Vermonter on this route, don’t delay, time is running out.
A wise photographer once wrote, ‘The secret to making photographs is f8 and be there.’
Back in the 1990s, my friend and fellow photographer Mike Gardner said, ‘All good trips begin and end in Palmer.’
Sunday, June 22, 2014 confirmed Mike’s wisdom. I’d headed to Palmer to meet my frient Tim Doherty. Before leaving the house, I searched in vain for my scanner, but departed without it. I was coasting on intuition.
Moments after stepping out of the car at CP83 in Palmer (where CSX crosses New England Central) to say ‘hello’ to Tim, I heard, above the dull roar of road traffic, the distinct sounds of eastbound train’s dynamic brakes.
I said to Tim, ‘There’s an eastbound train, and it’s very close.’ I flicked on the Lumix LX7 that was hanging around my neck and stepped promptly toward my preferred trackside location at CP83. As I did, I heard the lead axles of a six-motor GE rattling across the New England Central diamond a few hundred feet to my west.
I had just enough time to set the exposure and frame up a nice view of CSX Q012 passing CP83’s signals with the old Palmer Union Station (now the Steaming Tender Restaurant) to the left of the old Boston & Albany mainline.
There’s a 30 mph speed restriction on the diamond for freight. As the train rolled through, I said, ‘we can catch this again.’ And, off we went on the first of a long-day’s railway photography adventures.
Nearly 12 hours later, we returned to Palmer and, as it turned out, repeated the exercise in fortuity. Immediately upon our arrival, the signals lit at CP83 and these soon cleared to green on the main track. ‘We’ve got a westbound, and it can’t be far off.’
I knew this because CSX’s signals at CP83 are approach-lit, and only light when something has actuated the track circuits between CP83 and CP79 (located at the east-end of the controlled siding). Also, when a signal has been cleared, a train must close.
Again, we had just enough time to get in position for photography.
Walking toward the diamond, some diners leaving the Steaming Tender asked me, ‘Is a train coming?’
Not having time to waste more than a moment in conversation, I replied, ‘Yes, a westbound is very close. Less than four minutes away.’ A headlight appeared to the east as I made the comment.
“How did you know that?” The diners asked, as if I possessed some blind precognition. “The signal shows ‘clear’ for the main track,” was my honest reply, but I may as well answered in ancient Greek.
My luck?—Being in the right place at the precisely the right times. However, I made my own luck. By keeping my ears open and my eyes on the signals, I knew to act quickly. Stop, look and listen, right? There’s no mystery there.
Since 1995, Amtrak’s Vermonter has operated via Palmer and Amherst, Massachusetts. This requires a 13-mile jog over CSX’s former Boston & Albany from Springfield to Palmer, where the train reverses direction and heads north on New England Central’s former Central Vermont main line.
Presently, Pan Am Southern’s former Boston & Maine Connecticut River Line is being upgraded between Springfield and the Massachusetts-Vermont Stateline at East Northfield. This will allow a restoration of passenger service to the traditional route north of Springfield.
The Vermonter is expected to switch to the former B&M routing via Holyoke, Northampton and Greenfield by the end of this year. As a result, I’ve been making photographs of Amtrak’s train at various places between Palmer and East Northfield, while the service still operates that way.
Several years ago, my late friend Bob Buck and I, were following a northward New England Central freight. Bob had been making photos on the Central Vermont since steam days.
We were just a few minutes ahead of the freight as we passed Belchertown.
We turned on Route 9 toward Amherst. After a couple of minutes Bob pointed, ‘take a left, there on Federal Street.’ We found the tracks and I made a photo of Bob rolling the freight by the crossing.
It was here I chose to capture the Vermonter, while I still can.
It was a clear fresh May morning when I met my friend George S. Pitarys for a day’s photography. We were aiming to photograph the New Hampshire North Coast’s rock train, however, George said to me, ‘lad, we have a diversion.’
We set up at Boston & Maine’s heavy truss over the Merrimack River at Haverhill for a westward freight. The attraction was a trio of former Santa Fe SD26s in the lead.
As the train approached the bridge, I was impressed by the view of the old brick buildings with the train looming to the left.
I exposed this image with my Nikon N90S with 80-200mm lens. I also made a more traditional view of the locomotives on the bridge, but for me, this one better conveys railroading in a post-industrial New England scene.
My father taught me to make railway scenes, and not merely images of equipment. I did just that on this cold, wet, rainy day, when I photographed Maine Central Alco RS-11 crossing Route 12 in North Walpole, New Hampshire.
I’d traveled with Paul Goewey to Bellows Falls on the morning of November 25, 1983, specifically to photograph this locomotive. For reasons I can’t recall (if I ever knew), Green Mountain had borrowed Maine Central 802 to work its daily freight XR-1, that ran to Rutland over the former Rutland Railroad.
Despite the gloomy conditions this was something of an event, and I recall that several photographers had convened at Bellows Falls to document 802’s travels.
Green Mountain’s roundhouse is in North Walpole, just across the Connecticut River from Bellows Falls, and I made this image from the east bank as the engine switched cars.
With this image I was trying to convey that this locomotive was in an unusual place by putting it in a distinctive scene.
Once XR-1 was underway, Paul and I followed it toward Rutland. The weather deteriorated and rain turned to snow. By the time we reached Ludlow, the snow had become heavy; we were cold, wet, and tired, having been up since 4:30 am, and so ended the day’s photography.
I was interested to find this collection of Maine Central locomotives at Boston & Maine’s East Deerfield Yard in September 1984. At the time, Guilford’s gray and orange livery was still a novelty.
Using my father’s 21mm Super Angulon on my Leica 3A, I composed this somewhat unconventional view of the ready tracks. This lens was a favorite of mine at the time. I still use it occasionally.
The composition works despite being foreground heavy and exposed on the ‘dark side’ of the locomotives. The image nicely integrates the infrastructure around the locomotives while offering a period look.
At the time I was studying photography at Hampshire College in Amherst, Massachusetts, and made regular visits to photograph the Boston & Maine.
For me the old Boston & Albany West end is hallowed ground. This was the first true mountain mainline in the modern sense. The line was surveyed in the mid 1830s and by 1839 trains were working over Washington Summit.
Over the last 30 years I’ve made countless trips to photograph this line and it remains one of my favorites. Yet, I rarely come up here in the winter.
On Friday, February 7, 2014, my father and I went up to Huntington to catch Amtrak’s westward Lake Shore Limited, train 449. Not far behind was CSX’s Q427.
This freight runs daily between Portland, Maine and Selkirk, New York via Ayer and Worcester, Massachusetts. This day it had a pair of General Electric Evolution-Series diesels of the type that have come to characterize modern freight operations on the Boston & Albany route.
Since the train wasn’t making great speed, we pursued it on Route 20, stopping to make photos at opportune locations. At CP 123 (where the line goes from single track to two-main track) Q427 met an eastward freight holding at the signal. We continued upgrade ahead of the train.
I remembered that there’s a gap in the hills at Chester which allows for a window of sun on the line that lasts late in the day. So we zipped ahead of the train.
At Chester, Pop set up his tripod to make a hi-resolution video of the train climbing. I positioned myself with my Canon EOS 7D with a telephoto lens to make use of the window of sun against a dark background.
As the train grew closer I also exposed more conventional views with my Lumix LX3. The heavy train took more than two minutes to pass.
Difficulties of Photographing in the Spring and Summer.
That’s just what you want to read about right now, isn’t it!. Gosh, those awful warm months with the long days, soft sunlight and thick foliage.
Well, here I have two views, both made at about the same location off Route 67 in West Warren, Massachusetts at approximately the same time of the morning. Both views show a CSX eastward freight.
The first was exposed on July 31, 2010; the second two views were made on May 10, 2013. While I’ve used one of these views in a previous post (see: Quaboag Valley in Fog and Sun, May 10, 2013 ), I thought these made for an interesting contrast with the earlier image.
The primary difference is that in the interval between 2010 and 2013 CSXT cut the brush along the Boston line and performed undercutting work at West Warren. This is just one of many locations that benefited visually from such improvements.
A secondary difficulty about photographing when foliage is at its summer peak is selecting the optimum exposure. In the 2010 image, I took a test photo and allowed for some nominal overexposure of the locomotive front in order to retain detail in the foliage. I then made a nominal correction in Photoshop during post processing to make for a more pleasing image.
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.
Tim Doherty asked me a few weeks back, “Have you ever tried a shot from the north side of the Millers Falls high bridge?” I’d looked a this several times, but was discouraged by the row of trees between the road and the railroad bridge.
So, on January 12, 2014, at the end of the day (light), Tim and I went to this location with the aim of making images of Amtrak’s northward Vermonter crossing the aged Central Vermont span.
As there was only a hint of light left, I upped the ISO sensitivity of my Canon EOS 7D and I switched the color balance to ‘tungsten’ (indoor incandescent lighting which has the same effect as using tungsten balance slide film (such as Fujichrome 64T), and so enhances the blue light of the evening.
A call to Amtrak’s Julie (the automated agent) confirmed the train was on-time out of Amherst. Running time was only about 20 minutes (a bit less than I thought) but we were in place, cameras on tripods, several minutes before we heard the Vermonter blasting for crossings in Millers Falls.
The result is interpretive. The train’s blur combined with view through the trees and the deep blue color bias makes for a ghostly image of the train crossing the bridge.
Here we have an instance where everything came together nicely.
On Friday January 24, 2014, I’d got word that Amtrak’s heritage locomotive number 822 was working the westward Lake Shore Limited, train 449
This was the second time in a ten-day span that I’d be alerted to a heritage locomotive on this run. As noted in my January 18, 2014 post, Amtrak’s Lake Shore Limited, the weather wasn’t cooperative on my previous attempt at catching an Amtrak heritage locomotive.
By contrast on January 24th it was clear but very cold. I opted to make the photo at West Warren, where it’s nice and open and there’s a distinctive landscape.
Normally, Amtrak 449 passes East Brookfield at 1:30pm, and Palmer about 1:50pm. West Warren is roughly halfway between them, so I aimed to be there no later than 1:35pm
As it happened, 449 was delayed on Charlton Hill and passed more than 15 minutes later than I’d anticipated. Other than resulting in my nose getting a bit cold, this delay produced little effect on the photograph.
I opted for a traditional angle because I wanted to feature the locomotive as the primary subject this scenic setting. I picked a spot on the road bridge over the Quaboag River where I could make a view that included the old mills and waterfall, as well as a side view as the train got closer.
Working with my Canon EOS 7D fitted with a 40mm pancake lens, I set the motor drive to its fastest setting, and exposed three bursts of images as the train rolled east on CSXT’s former Boston & Albany mainline.
Since the camera’s buffer will quickly become saturated when making multiple photos in rapid succession, I was careful to wait until the train was nearly where I wanted it in each of the three sets.
25 Years Ago, Conrail Demolished Palmer’s Boston & Albany Freight House.
During the 1980s, Conrail demolished many disused structures along the Boston & Albany line. The East Brookfield freight house went in 1984, Worcester’s went in 1986. In January 1989, I noticed that the railroad was preparing to erase Palmer’s B&A landmark.
The wrecking machine was parked out in front and had already taken a bite out of the northeast corner of the steam-era red brick structure.
I proposed a short article to the editor of Palmer Journal Register. The newspaper supplied me with a roll of black & white film and processed it for me. I photographed the building from every angle and wrote the article that appeared about a week later.
Conrail made short work of the old building, which had stood at the west-end of the yard near Haley’s Grain Store. Today there is almost no evidence of the building.
For me it had been tangible evidence of the old Boston & Albany—never mind Conrail or Penn-Central. While its usefulness to Conrail may have ended, I recalled speaking with the agent there on various occasions in previous years.
I still have the negatives that I exposed with my Leica M2 and I’ve scanned these using my Epson V600.