At the end of December 2017, I revisited Mechanicville, New York with an aim of making some contemporary photos at the same angles as images I’d made back in November 1984.
Then and Now comparisons are common enough, but what makes these photos significant is that I’ve exposed both the historic photos as well as the modern images using the same type of film and equipment (a Leica IIIA with 50mm Sumitar loaded with Kodak 35mm Tri-X).
These pairs of photos show the Hansen Road Bridge east of Reynolds, New York, which is just a couple of miles from XO Tower at Mechanicville. In the 1984 views, my friends and I were following an eastward Boston & Maine train.
Back then the B&M route was much busier than it is today, although the line still carries a good share of freight.
Double track from Mechanicville extended east to an interlocking (which I believe was called ‘Schneiders’) east of Reynolds and near Schaghticoke. The main tracks were grade separated on approach to the interlocking, which made this a distinctive location.
In the 33 year interval between photos, the Hansen Road bridge was replaced, which slightly alters the angle for photography.
The old Erie Railroad is one of my favorite lines.
Mike Gardner and I got a very early start on 15 April 2004. We worked our way west to the Portage Bridge at the Letchworth Gorge in western New York State in time to intercept an eastward CP Rail freight.
We chased this capturing it in multiple locations along the old Erie line to Hornell. At this time Norfolk Southern was the owner operator, while CP Rail operated via Delaware & Hudson trackage rights.
Clear blue dome; bright red EMDs, and great scenery with a good quality chase road made the morning extra productive.
In July, I spent a few minutes on the Long Island Rail Road platforms at Woodside in Queens, New York.
LIRR’s busy multiple-track third-rail route from Penn-Station to Jamaica, New York is one of the few places in North America where you can experience train-frequency on par with busy European mainlines.
In the course of only a few minutes I saw a half dozen trains.
These are a sample of the photos I exposed with my Lumix LX7.
Not long ago the old IRT Flushing line was extended west and a new terminal station called 34th Street-Hudson Yards was opened. This is located near the Javits Center and just a few blocks west of Penn-Station.
My digital guru Eric Rosenthal recommended this to me as a photo subject. The station is unusually deep and features very long escalators.
I exposed these images with my Lumix LX7. The underground views were made at ISO200. One of the advantages of the LX7 is that it has a very fast lens. In other words the lens has the ability to let in lots of light.
The advantage of this feature is that I can use a relatively slow ISO setting in the subway and still get excellent results hand held.
Last week, I wrote about violating one of the cardinal rules of good railroad photography, that is aiming directly into the sun. In question were some views along the Ware River Railroad, er . . . sorry, rather the Mass-Central, as it is now known.
It may come as a shock to some readers of Tracking the Light, but this was not my first time aiming the camera toward the sun when photographing trains!
What I present here is an unusual image. Not because it is a trailing view of an Amtrak Turbotrain racing through North Chili, New York (rhymes with Dubai rather than Silly Hippie) on its way to Grand Central. (Yes, the Turbos went there back in the day). But, because I’ve opted to make a mid-morning silhouette in an unlikely way.
A thin layer of cloud had softened the morning sun. I was working with a Linhof Karden Color B 4×5 view camera fitted with a 90mm Schneider Super Angulon lens and Tri-X black and white sheet film (manufactured nearby in Rochester, New York).
Photographing moving trains with a view camera is no easy task, and on this day I had the camera firmly set up on a heavy tripod.
However, one advantage to the view camera is the ability to lift the front plane of the camera. This allowed me to keep the camera level while obtaining more sky area without causing unnecessary distortion to the train.
I’d set up the camera well in advance of the Turbotrain’s passing. Back in 1987, when I made this image there were no cell phones nor Julie to provide me with schedule updates.
Behind me was the Union Road grade crossing (long since replaced with an overpass). I had only one shot and I wanted to place the rear nose of the Turbotrain such that it didn’t intersect the trees to the right or the silhouette effect would be lost.
Another advantage of the 4×5 media is the ability to capture much greater amounts of information than possible with smaller film formats. As a result, I was able to capture superb tonality across a wide exposure range.
Admittedly this black & white negative had always vexed me in the darkroom. However, I scanned it the other day, and using Lightroom found that the contrast manipulation I was unable to achieve chemically, was easily accomplished with digital adjustment.
It was 2:48pm, when I made this image of Amtrak train 63, the Maple Leaf approaching Ivison Road—named for the Ivison farm at the center of the photograph.
I’ve allowed the road to occupy the dominant portion of the frame; yet the train remains the subject. At the time, an Amtrak F40PH with Amfleet was just about as ordinary as it got and I wanted to put the train in its environment to make for a more interesting image.
On June 25, 2015, I made these photographs at New York’s Penn Station. This is Amtrak’s busiest station, and a terminal for Long Island Railroad and NJ Transit suburban trains.
Once it was one of the world’s most elegant railway terminals, built in a style inspired by the Roman baths of Caracalla; but today Penn Station is mostly functional, with little in the way of elegance to inspire the traveler.
However, good and interesting photographs should not rely on great architecture as a crutch to draw the eye of the viewer, right?
Photos exposed with a Panasonic Lumix LX7 digital camera.
Should I head to the mainline (Conrail’s water level route) or explore branch lines? Do I stick with Conrail or seek out a short line? These were among the quandaries facing my photographic choices when I had some time off from college.
As a photography student at the Rochester Institute of Technology, I had a full schedule of classes, labs, and projects. I was a ‘work-study’ student, which implied I had to spend about 25-30 hours a week toiling for peanuts on top of classes, assignments & etc.
My point is that I had very little free time, and rarely a full day off, and so when I made time to make railway photos, there were tough choices (like mainline versus branchline; Conrail versus those other outfits).
Now and again I’d cheat. (I don’t mean on exams). A bright sunny day? Now who will miss me in class?
Unfortunately on a glorious October day, one RIT’s photo professors and I had the same idea. We were both photographing the Livonia, Avon & Lakeville freight. We crossed paths at Avon, New York. We knew that each of us should be someplace else, and we knew where that was. He said to me, “I won’t say anything . . .”
Often I’d head to the mainline. My time was short and I wanted results, and Conrail rarely disappointed. Sometimes I’d select a known good spot, and work through my exhaustive reading list while waiting for a headlight to appear.
Other times, when the sun was out, I’d take a more aggressive approach and select my locations purely based on photographic merit and move from place to place as suited the action and the light.
In the 1980s, I often bemoaned the ‘telegraph wires’ as I called the code lines that lined most mainlines.
It seemed like more often than not, railroads placed these multiple-tier code lines on the south side of their mainlines. This inevitably interfered with my photography and plenty of otherwise good photographic locations were fouled by the rows of poles and the wires between them.
In early 1989, when Conrail was cutting down the old code lines east of Buffalo. I thought, Hurray! Good riddance!
However, I quickly realized how wrong I’d been. In fact I’d been photographing the wires for years.
Yes, the code lines made for a visual challenge. And, undoubtedly these sometimes got in the way. But they were part of the railroad. Traditionally, they were key to its operations and often serving as a crucial part of the signaling system. They had been there since the steam era. After all, the railroad was more than just locomotives rolling along at speed.
It occurred to me how I’d often improved my photographs by working with the wires. The visual elements and patterns added by the army of time-worn polls connected by rows of cables made for more compelling images.
After the code lines were gone, the brush started to grow. And that’s now a much worse photo-hazard than the wires ever were.
It had hardly snowed at all in Rochester when I departed before dawn in my 1973 Plymouth Scamp. I found the traveling treacherous on Interstate 390 , but I was determined to made photos in the snow along the former Erie Railroad mainline.
I arrived at Gang Mills as the storm was clearing to the east. The sun was just starting to poke out from behind the clouds and there was a fresh layer of snow over everything.
I had three cameras with me that day, including my roommate’s Canon A1 that was loaded with a fresh roll of Kodachrome 64 (a gift from Kodak). Using my Leica, I exposed a few photos of eastward Conrail APL Stack Train TV-302 that was changing crews. Then plotted my course east.
While I knew the line west toward Hornell through the Canisteo Valley, this was my first trip eastward along the former Erie toward Binghamton. I neither had good maps nor a scanner, but I had an eastbound train, fresh snow, sunlight and Kodachrome. (And the desire to make photos!).
Over the next few years, I’d become very familiar with the old Erie mainline in this area, but rarely would I have conditions like this again.
When I was growing up there were always stacks of old TRAINS Magazines piled around the house. I’d page through issues from the 1950s and 1960s and soak in the black & white photo stories and short essays by editor David P. Morgan.
In July 2004, I was working on a book on Electro-Motive Division F-unit diesels for Specialty Press and organized a cab ride on the Adirondack Scenic Railroad from Utica to Thendara, New York.
It was an especially damp day. At times, torrential rain reduced visibility to an ephemeral blurred view like some pictorialist tapestry. The speedometer registered 10mph, the wheel slip light was flashing as the windshield wipers banged back and forth. Each passing mile was a new view for me, as I anticipated every bend in the tracks. Yet expert eyes and steady hand on the throttle keep us moving safely over the road.
I’d been out along the former Erie Railroad since before dawn that day. The tracks had been alive with freight. By early afternoon, I was down at Gang Mills Yard, near Corning, which served as a local hub for freight.
Back then General Electric B23-7s were a common locomotive. I’d grown up with these diesels working locals and road freights on the Boston & Albany route. I always like their classic GE style and their great sound. My B&A engineer friends despised them because of their ‘slow loading,’ ‘low cab doors,’ and other perceived inadequacies.
I made this photo at the engine terminal. I liked all the Conrail signage behind the locomotive. There’s nothing especially unusual about this scene, it was as ordinary as it got for the time, but today this really says, “Conrail” as I remember it.
Conrail ended independent operations at the end of May 1999, fifteen years ago. Between 1976 and 1999, I exposed thousands of views of Conrail. In 2004, Tim Doherty & I authored an illustrated book on Conrail for MBI.
Lincoln Park, Rochester, New York, January 8, 1986.
It was a cold afternoon with more than a foot of fresh snow on the ground. Soft wintery sun made for directional pastel lighting, ideal for railway photography.
I found this Baltimore & Ohio local freight working sidings adjacent to Conrail’s former New York Central mainline. At the time, what interested me was the GP30 still wearing B&O blue with the classic capitol dome on the nose, and the caboose. By that date both types of equipment were getting scarce.
Technically, CSX had been the umbrella over Chessie System (the marketing name for the affiliated B&O, Chesapeake & Ohio, Western Maryland railroads) for several years. But this didn’t seem important to me. I was blissfully unaware of CSX, or that it planned to soon sell B&O’s former Buffalo, Rochester & Pittsburgh lines to Genesee & Wyoming.
In fact, by summer, B&O operations would be conveyed to G&W’s newly created Rochester & Southern, and two years later remaining BR&P lines to G&W’s Buffalo & Pittsburgh.
Even more dramatic, in 1987 CSX would meld B&O into its new CSX Transportation; a system-wide rebranding that would soon affect all of CSX’s railroads. Ironically, one of the first locomotives I photographed in CSXT paint was a former B&O GP30!
As a photographer working from the ground (as opposed from the locomotive cab), finding situations that illustrate some of the less common aspects in the rule book can take lots patience.
Study this image, there’s a lot going on here: Norfolk Southern’s westward symbol freight 23K holds the mainline at Rock Glen, New York where it will meet the eastward 38T. The dispatcher has lined 38T through the siding, and as a result the home signal displays a red-over-yellow-over-green aspect—‘Medium Approach Medium’ (rule 283a).
The ‘Medium Approach Medium’ aspect effectively tells the engineer of train 38T, that the train is lined and has a favorable signal (clear) for both this crossover as well as the next crossover, and that both are ‘medium speed’ (not exceeding 30mph) crossovers.
At the far left is the old Erie milepost that tells use we are 371 miles from Jersey City (the traditional eastern end of the line). The named location on the timetable conveniently coincides with the map and so the western end of the siding is called ‘Rock Glen’ for the western New York town of the same name. On many modern railroads, the timetable might simply refer to this control point as ‘CP371’.
At one time this was a traditional double track mainline with directional running in the current of traffic. Erie converted the route to single track with passing sidings and centralized traffic control-style signaling.
I don’t know for certain, but based on the current siding arrangement that is slewed around the home signal, I would guess that at some point after the time of original installation the siding was lengthened. Take note of the siding signal.
Among the peculiarities of Erie’s CTC style signaling was the use of home signals at sidings with the lower head located much lower than the top head. In effect this is an exaggerated arrangement that omits the center light featured on signals with three lights, such as on the signal on the right.
Erie wasn’t alone in this style of signaling, Southern Pacific also used low signals like this, although unlike the Erie, SP didn’t assign speed aspects.
In modern times, re-signaling by Conrail and Norfolk Southern has resulted in changes to traditional signaling practices. In some locations the lower light was raised to a point just below the main light. While more recent re-signaling has resulted in the outright replacement of searchlight hardware with modern color lights.
When I made this view, Rock Glen was among last places on the west end of the old Erie route that still featured this classic signaling arrangement. I was eager to make an image that featured the signals set up for a meet.
Presently I’m working on a book called ‘Classic Railroad Signaling’ (to be published by Voyageur Press) that will focus on traditional hardware including semaphores, searchlights, position lights & etc. This is a work in progress and comments are welcome!
Click below to see previous signaling posts including:
My friend Bob Buck of Warren had advised me to photograph old freight cars, especially those from the ‘fallen flags’ (railroads that had merged or were otherwise lost).
I kept a keen eye out for the cars of Conrail’s predecessors, which were a special interest to me.
In July 1984, I was passing Conrail’s sprawling West Springfield Yards on my way to the Boston & Albany ‘West End,’ when I saw this old New York Central ‘Early Bird’ 50ft double door car.
By that time, New York Central had been gone 16 years, and I was only 17, so the time seemed like a lifetime to me. Following Bob’s advice, I dutifully exposed a three-quarter view of the car. One frame. That is all.
In retrospect, I wish that I’d taken a few more images of the car. Today, I’d focus on the car and make some detailed views. Looking back on this car today, what I find noteworthy was that it still had its catwalks, an accessory that had been out of favor for years by the time I’d exposed this image.
New York Central 50-foot boxcar at West Springfield, Massachusetts, July 1984. Exposed with a Leica 3A with 50mm Summitar lens.
Does anyone even remember friction bearings? By the 1990s, these were all but a forgotten technology, replaced with the omnipresent roller bearings. Southern Pacific’s season sugar beet racks were once of the few exceptions and continued to work until about 1992 with the old technology.
However, prior to that in January 1988, I had a class project at the Rochester Institute of Technology (Rochester, New York) that involved making photos of railroad workers. I’d arranged through the Rochester & Southern to spend time around Brooks Avenue Yard.
I spent a lot of time there, relative to what was required of me for the class.
At one point the general manager, or someone in the know, directed me to a rip track where workers were packing friction bearings. This was really an arcane aspect of railroading.
I exposed a series of black & white negatives in the 645 format using my father’s Rolleiflex Model T. It was a dull cold day. I think I was using Verichrome Pan (rated at 80 ISO) to get a period effect. I used a wide aperture, probably f3.5, which gave me shallow depth of field.
Verichrome was a difficult material to work with in low light and my negatives were very thin.
To make the most of these photos I used an unusual printing technique: I intentionally printed the photo darker than normal, then used a potassium-ferrocyanide solution to bleach the highlights. I did this both across the print in a tray, and using a cotton swab on select areas such as the around the journal boxes.
The result is more or less as you see it here. This print has been in a box since 1988 and has hardly ever seen the light of day. (Incidentally, in case the name doesn’t suggest it to you, potassium-ferrocyanide is decidedly unhealthy, so use it cautiously, if you must.)
I don’t think my professor was especially impressed with my results. What did he know about bearings anyway?
I exposed this image on the evening of August 20, 2010 of a westward CSX stack train at CP431 in Depew, New York. What makes this photo interesting to me is the former New York Central signal bridge and searchlight signals.
Since I made this photograph, CSX has replaced many of the searchlights on the Water Level Route with modern color light hardware. While I’m sorry to see the old signals go, I’m not surprised.
Back in the 1990s, I wrote an editorial in Pacific RailNews (when I was editor of that magazine) warning enthusiasts that searchlights were on their way out, and explained why. At the time, searchlights were very common.
The photo is timely. This year I’ll be authoring a book tentatively titled Classic Railroad Signals to be published by Voyageur Press. It will be a follow up to Railroad Signaling, that I wrote several years ago, and will feature a variety of classic American signal hardware:
Semaphores, Searchlights, Positional Lights and Towers, of all varieties.
This will be a great book. I’ve been researching and photographing the subject for many years!
Sunny Morning on Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority Metro Rail.
I’d argue that the Buffalo light rail line is one of America’s least photographed railways. It’s certainly not something I’ve often seen pictured.
The system has several peculiarities. One of the strangest is its route, which runs in a subway through the northern Buffalo suburbs but on the street in the historic downtown.
I’ve made several visits to photograph and ride this unusual railway. I had an especially clear morning on May 4, 1989 when I exposed this pan on Kodachrome with my Leica M2. The car is on Main Street and passing St Paul’s Cathedral (located just a few blocks from Buffalo City Hall).
When seeking out railways to document, I’m always on the lookout for those operations that appear to elude other photographers. Admittedly, while the Buffalo light rail isn’t the most exciting railway in western New York, it can be photogenic and is thus worthy of pictures.
Three elements of this image interested me when I exposed it on April 7, 1989.
The Union & Switch & Signal Style S upper quadrant former Erie Railroad semaphore; New York, Susquehanna & Western’s former Burlington Northern SD45; and the unusual grade separated mainline, where the eastward track is on a higher level than the westward line.
I could write in detail about anyone of these three things. And someday I will. But not now.
Instead, I’ll examine the composition in a effort to offer a lesson on observing change.
The reason I made this photo in the way I did was specifically to juxtapose the signal with the locomotive. The grade separation not only offered added interest, but facilitated the over all composition because it allowed the locomotive to be relatively higher in the frame while enabling me to include the entire signal (complete with base of mast mechanism and subsidiary boxes/equipment) without producing an unbalanced image.
Today, none of the main elements in the photo are in place. If you were to visit Canaseraga, New York (located about 10 miles railroad-west of Hornell on the former Erie Buffalo mainline) you would find that the semaphore is gone; as is the old eastward main track. If by chance there’s an SD45 in the photo (unlikely, but not inconceivable) it would be on the close track.
In other words, the essential components of the image have changed to such a degree that there is little reason to consider making a photo at this location. And that’s the point!
When photographers (myself included) make railway images, they consciously and unconsciously include (and exclude) line side infrastructure which helps define and structure the photographs.
Changes to railway infrastructure alter the way we see the railroad, and thus the very way we compose and plan photographs. By anticipating change, we can make more interesting images and preserve the way things look for future viewers.
When trackside make careful consideration for those elements you may include or deliberately exclude. Might you be missing a potentially great image by trying to avoid some wires or litter along the line? Is an old fence potentially a graphic element that not only will help located the photo in the future but also key to a dramatic composition?
It is these types of thoughts than can make the difference when trying to compose great (or at least, relevant) railway photos.
In November 1986, Kodak supplied me with a free roll of TMax 100 black & white film as part of a ‘care package’ of new products for students in the Photographic Illustration programs at the Rochester Institute of Technology .
The T-Max black & white films were brand new at the time. They were significant because they used a new ‘T’ grain that featured flat silver halide grains that were supposed to reduce the visual granularity in the film (and lower the film’s silver content).
On this bright sunny morning, I went trackside in Rochester to expose my free film. I had Kodachrome 25 in my Leica M2, so I borrowed my roommate’s Canon A1 for the film test.
I photographed a variety of Conrail trains on the former New York Central Water Level Route. I made this image of Rochester & Southern’s Belt Line local crossing the former Buffalo, Rochester & Pittsburgh bridge over Water Level Route at Lincoln Park, west of downtown Rochester. (In 1986, Genesee & Wyoming’s Rochester & Southern assumed operation of the former BR&P 4th Sub-division from CSX’s Baltimore & Ohio.)
Leading R&S’s local was Alco RS-3m 211 leased from the recently formed Genesee Valley Transportation.
The locomotive has a long and colorful history. It featured both a large steam generator and dynamic brakes (thus the high short-hood) and was one of only five RS-3s were built this way: four served Western Maryland, while this one went to the Pennsylvania Railroad but later was traded to the Lehigh Valley, becoming its 211. After 1976, Conrail replaced 211’s original Alco-244 diesel with a recycled 12-cylinder EMD 567 engine.
Over the last couple of days, I’ve displayed contemporary images I made on Pan American Railways lines. Today, I’ve dug deep into my archives and pulled some negatives I exposed in the same territory back in 1985.
February 10, 1985 was a busy day on Guilford’s Boston & Maine lines. I was traveling with John Peters and Norman Yellin and we made it all the way to Mechanicville, New York, having started in the Millers River Valley, east of East Deerfield.
Toward the end of the day, we chased B&M’s MERU (Mechanicville to Rumford, Maine), photographing it at several locations, including Eaglebridge and Petersburg, New York.
Since last week I ended a chase of a Pan Am freight at the crossing near Petersburg (east of Petersburg Junction where the old Rutland ‘Corkscrew Line’ crossed the B&M), I though these images would make an interesting comparison.
Where last week, Paul Goewey and I were following a westward freight, 28 years ago we were traveling eastbound. In both situations the light was fading.
I exposed the vintage images on Kodak B&W film using my father’s Leica M4 with a 35mm Summicron lens. Unfortunately, my notes from the day don’t include what exposures I used, nor how I processed the film. Ironically, I had the M4 with me last week too, but the shutter was giving me difficulty so I had to rely on my digital cameras!
On the morning of October 14, 2011, I crossed the Berkshires on the Mass-Pike as I drove west to meet with accomplished railway photographer John Pickett.
I had a few hours before our meeting, so despite low cloud and mist, I exited the highway at the Massachusetts-New York state line and drove toward Boston & Albany’s State Line Tunnel. While on Tunnel Hill Road in Canaan, New York, I noticed this colorful scene from the road side.
As I got out of the car, I heard the unmistakable sound of a train roaring west. I had just enough time to get out my Canon EOS 7 and make a test image before the train passed.
Another case of just being at the right place at the right time, and being ready to act.
It was a brilliant clear afternoon ten years ago, when Tim Doherty, Pat Yough and I followed Guilford Rail System’s EDMO (East Deerfield, Massachusetts to Mohawk Yard, Schenectady, New York) freight westward into the Berkshires of western Massachusetts.
Rich blue skies, rusty foliage and a great sunlight make October a great time to photograph in New England.
I exposed this image on Fujichrome using a Contax G2 rangefinder with 28mm Biogon lens. At the time Canadian Pacific Railway EMD SD40-2s were commonly assigned to this run, which made it a popular photographic choice.
It was a cold and snowy day when I drove from Rochester to Binghamton, New York in December 1986. I photographed several trains along the former Erie Southern Tier route.
In the afternoon, I made this study of a New York, Susquehanna & Western Alco RS-1 at the railroad’s Binghamton yard.
I was using my dad’s Rollei Model T loaded with 120 Kodachrome 64. I had the camera fitted with a ‘Super Slide’ insert that gave me 16 rectangular frames per roll, roughly in the 645 format. Pop had bought the camera in Germany back in 1960.
I think its neat that my father had photographed Susquehanna’s RS-1s in passenger service more than 25 years earlier with the same camera. Since I was only 20 then, it seemed to me that the locomotives (and the Rollei) had been around since the dawn of time!
This batch of Kodak 120 Kodachrome had a tendency to color shift red, so after scanning I made some corrections in post processing. Other than that the image is extremely sharp. Scanned at 4800 dpi as TIF file this is nearly 250 MB. That’s an enormous amount of information.
I’ve always liked locomotive details. Some of my earliest efforts focused on engine shapes.
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On the morning of November 4, 1987, I made a speculative foray to P&L (Pittsburgh & Lehigh) Junction near Caledonia, New York. At the time I was living in nearby Scottsville, and I’d occasionally check P&L to see if anything was moving.
P&L Junction had once been a very busy place. Here the original Genesee & Wyoming had connected with Lehigh Valley, Buffalo, Rochester & Pittsburgh, a branch of the Erie, and New York Central’s so-called ‘Peanut Line.’By 1987, the only railroads left were G&W and its Rochester & Southern affiliate.
I was fortunate to find a southward train and I made this image of a southward G&W salt train heading across the diamond with a vestige of the old Peanut Line (that G&W used to reach a couple of miles into Caledonia). A classic ‘tilt board’ crossing signal protected the diamond.
Today, it seems that G&W railroads are everywhere. I even saw a G&W company freight in Belgium a couple of weeks ago. Back then, I couldn’t have imagined that this New York state short line would reach so far!
In March 1989, I was halfway through my final term at the Rochester Institute of Technology. My course load was light enough to allow me several days off a week to pursue my own work.
On this day, my flat mate Bob lent me his Hasselblad, which I loaded with 120 Kodachrome 64. Wow, was this ever a winning combination! It offered brilliant color with exceptional sharpness on a large transparency.
While I took advantage of Bob’s Hasselblad and 120 Kodachrome on several occasions, the relatively high cost of this format precluded my frequent use of it. At the time I was living on about $30 a week and a single roll of 120 Kodachrome processed was beyond my budget. (Also, Bob occasionally needed his camera).
Once I completed my degree, the high cost of Hasselblad cameras put them well out of reach for years. Other considerations were related to practicality. I found the Hasselblad awkward to use for my style of photography, and I had very limited applications for 120 transparencies.
Realistically, the 35mm slide format was not only better suited for most of my color needs, but also far more affordable.
Yet images like this one continue to nag me. From time to time, I have continued to experiment with 120-color transparency film, often with very good results. I’ve never been satisfied with my reluctance to make the plunge. Tough choice.
A week after I exposed this photo, I made an 11x14in Cibachrome print of it. (Thanks to my dad who fronted me the cash for 50 sheets of Ciba paper). Incidentally, the scan of the original image fills nearly 280 MB on my hard drive. If I’d scanned it at the maximum capabilities of my Epson, it would probably reach a GB. That’s a lot of information in one photograph. The image could fill a wall.
Brand New General Electric Locomotives at a Classic Location.
On the morning of July 9, 2013, I visited State Line Tunnel on CSX’s former Boston & Albany mainline. This is a favorite place to catch trains in action on the line.
The air was heavy with moisture and as a result sound carried exceptionally well. I arrived at my location at 6:48 am. At 6:54, I could hear an eastward train blowing for a crossing near Chatham, New York, approximately 10 miles to the west (as per the timetable). At 6:56, the train reported a ‘clear’ signal aspect over the scanner.
Since the only signal in the area is located at CP 171 (the control point east end of the siding at East Chatham) I knew the train was about to cross the New York State Thruway. I then could trace the progress of the train as it sounded for various crossings in Canaan. By 7:04 am, I could cleared hear the engines working upgrade.
A 7:08, CSX’s intermodal train Q012 came into view. In the lead were three factory-clean General Electric ‘Evolution-Series’ diesel-electrics in the 3100-series (model ES44AC). As modelers might say, ‘right out of the box.’ Nice!
The train roared into the tunnel below me as I exposed a sequence of images with my Canon EOS 7D and 40mm pancake lens. I’d brought a tripod, but opted not to use it, as hand held gave me greater flexibility.
About 40 minutes later, I heard a westward train sounding for Stateline crossing. I relocated, and made images of CSX light engines exiting the west portal of the tunnel.
Until late-1988, this line had directional double track. Since then, just a single main track passes through the tunnel. The railroad uses the 1912-era bore, leaving the older 1840s-era bore void of track.
SERVICE NOTICE: Tracking the Light will soon be undergoing an upgrade which may result in a temporary service disruption of a day or more.
On Saturday, May 18, 2013, CSX had four eastward unit oil trains working the Water Level route between Buffalo and Selkirk, New York. Mike Gardner and I were in place to catch two of these monsters. Mile-plus long strings of black heavily-laden tank cars hauled by colorful variety of locomotives.
These were only part of the show and mixed in with CSX’s seemingly endless parade of intermodal trains and mixed freight. While waiting for first of the oil train to reach us, we experience the highlight of the day. To the east I heard the classic roar of EMD 16-645 engines.
What could be making such a racket? This is a railroad dominated by the muffled sound of modern GE four-stroke diesels and the occasion EMD 710. By contrast this sound sent me back 20 years . . .
Working west in run-8 were three SD40-2s (one Canadian Pacific and two painted for Dakota, Minnesota & Eastern/Iowa, Chicago & Eastern) with empty ethanol train in tow. The crew was enthusiastic and passed us with a friendly blast of the horn and bells ringing. It was just about the coolest train I’ve seen on CSX in several years!
After it passed we caught the first two unit oil trains, one right after the other, followed more ordinary traffic. This oil business is a new phenomenon and seems to be growing. I expect I’ll see more liquid energy on the move.
When possible I combine trips to take care of both business and errands, while leaving appropriate intervals for photography. Ideally, I’ll organizing my time so I can conduct business during the heat of the day, while leaving the mornings and evening free to make photos when light is the best.
Last Friday May 17, 2013 was a perfect execution of this philosophy. I’d arranged to meet my friend and fellow railway photographer, John Pickett at 10:30 am to review some material for up coming book projects. John lives near Albany, so I departed Massachusetts in the early hours and aimed to work the far-west end of CSX’s former B&A route west of the Massachusetts-New York State line.
My first location was State Line itself. This is conveniently accessed by a grade crossing within sight of the railroad’s state-line marker. I’d made a nice photograph of a Conrail eastbound here 25 years ago, and I wanted to repeat the effort with a CSX freight.
Patience rewarded me with an eastward CSX intermodal freight, probably train Q022 (Columbus, Ohio to Worcester, Massachusetts), lead by former Conrail SD60M 8774. Since the line is a single main at this location, I moved west to Chatham, New York to wait for the westward Q019 (carries freight from Worcester to Chicago), and intermodal train that typically passes in the mid-morning. Along the way, I reviewed known locations, checking for places to photograph in the afternoon.
After 5pm, having finished my business with John (which incidentally included some photography along the Hudson River that will be featured in a later post), I returned to Chatham, picking a favorite location mid-way along the dispatchers controlled siding that extends east of town to the old ‘Bottleneck Bridge’ where the line crosses the New York State Thruway Extension. Here, I waited for the westward Q423 (Worcester to CSX’s yard at Selkirk, New York), which passed shortly after 6 pm.
I consider myself very fortunate that in this situation my past experiences combined with an appreciation for CSX’s contemporary operations actually produced results. Not every effort yields ideal results; so despite planning and knowledge, I may have been skunked if trains didn’t show up when I anticipated them.
While on the topic of the former Erie Railroad, I thought I would post this unpublished view of brand new New York, Susquehanna & Western Dash8-40Bs working a Delaware & Hudson freight on Conrail’s former Erie route between Hornell and Buffalo, New York.
The new units were ordered by NYS&W during its brief court-ordered operation of D&H between 1988 and 1990.
I started following this train earlier in the day. It was a typical western New York morning, with fits of sun bursting through a deck of thick gray clouds.
That’s the reason for this unusual composition: for a moment the sun emerged to flush the front of the bright yellow GE’s. I made a spot decision to photograph the train more distant than I’d originally intended.
At that time, Conrail was only maintaining the old number 2 track (eastward mainline) for 10 mph. Most traffic was routed on the number 1 main (traditionally the westward track) that was in much better condition. However, by Spring of 1989, Conrail’s Erie route was bursting with traffic. To avoid congestion, Conrail’s dispatcher opted to keep this D&H train bumping along at 10mph, while westward traffic stayed on the faster track.
East of Canaseraga, the Erie line was in characteristic grade separated arrangement that probably dated from Underwood-era improvements in the early 20th century. If I write my book on the Erie, I’ll be finally able to confirm this fact.
In the early 1990s, Conrail reconfigured this portion of the Erie. It replaced the traditional directional double-track with a single-track main and centralized traffic control-style system. The change resulted in abandonment of the number 1 main at this location, and spelled the end for the steam-era Union Switch & Signal Style-S upper quadrant semaphores.
Just for the record, I made several closer views of this train.
January 15th, a day of significance: while best known as Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday, it is less well known for the anniversary of the 1953 Washington Union Terminal crash, when Pennsylvania Railroad’s Federal Express lost its brakes and GG1 Electric 4876 careened into the lobby of the terminal. This spectacular train wreck, on the eve of Eisenhower’s inauguration, made headlines in every major newspaper across the country.
That was 60 years ago today! However, thirty years ago, GG1 4876—then operated by NJ Transit, was still in daily service. It routinely worked between Penn Station and South Amboy on New York & Long Branch trains. I intercepted this infamous electric on various occasions in its final years of service. I’d hoped to make a photo on the anniversary of its infamy. And I went so far as to write NJ Transit to find out which trains it would be working, to which they kindly replied in detail. However a snowstorm on eve of 4876’s 30th anniversary precluded my travel, so my intended images from that day never happened. What I’ve posted here are few of my black & white images scanned from 1980s-era prints. They were exposed with my battle-worn Leica IIIA from my High School days. I processed the film in the kitchen sink using a weak mix of Kodak Microdol-X.
Picking photos for Tracking the Light can be a challenge. Everyday since March 2013 I’ve posted original photos to this site. That means, come rain or shine, I’ve selected photos and put words to them.
For this post, I though I’d try something a bit different. Rather than work from my semi-organized labeled material, I selected a random box of raw and unsorted slides and just plucked out a photo randomly.
While not the best picture in the box, frame 22 isn’t a bad photo.
I made it on the afternoon of October 13, 2001. Mike Gardner, Tim Doherty and I had been following an empty Mt Tom coal train since it left the plant near Northampton, Massachusetts. We caught it a multitude of locations on Guilford Rail System’s former Boston & Maine.
The last place we photographed this train was at Hoosic Falls, New York. My notes from the day read: “Hoosic Falls in a fascinating little American town—once prosperous, but on a decline . . . certainly worth some photography.”
And so there you go! Random Slide Number 22, displayed and explained.