The other day I had an ‘oh no!’ moment involving the autofocus system on my Nikon Z6 fitted with a 70-200mm zoom.
Most of the time the autofocus with my Z-series cameras works very well. On rare occasion it misses completely.
I was set-up at Christiana, Pennsylvania along Amtrak’s former Pennsylvania Railroad Main Line waiting for westward Keystone service number 605 in order to catch it passing the old PRR station.
I’d set the autofocus to ‘single-point’ (which allows to preselect a distinct point in the frame as the desired place of sharpness) and the system to ‘AF-C’ (continuous), a mode that in theory should continuously adjust the focus on the subject point.
There were three complicating conditions that in combination yielded an undesirable result. 1) The scene was back-lit with bright morning sun, which can make it more difficult for the autofocus system to quickly pick the focus on the desired point. 2) The train was moving faster than 90mph, which not only made it difficult to focus, but gave me no room for error when the shutter was released. 3) The headlights on Amtrak’s ACS-64 use a form of LEDs that produce a wavelength that can momentarily confuse the autofocus system on the camera. I’ve experienced these unfortunate effects previously.
The result was one photo where the focus was slightly off, followed by a second closer image where the focus was missed completely.
One solution for future efforts; I can use the autofocus to pre-focus on the desired location and the switch it off, thus avoiding the condition where at the last split second the focus shifts. But this too is a gamble, and doesn’t always work as hoped.
The first time I witnessed Norfolk & Western 611 on the move was on a trip with John Gruber nearly 29 years ago. We’d traveled from Wisconsin to northern Indiana to catch the BIG streamlined 4-8-4 working west on the old Nickel Plate Road near Valparaiso.
In May 2015, Pat Yough, Vic & Becky Stone and I photographed 611 working out of Manassas, Virginia on the old Southern Railway.
Yesterday, Sunday May 21, 2023, Kris and I watched 611 work Pennsylvania’s Strasburg Rail Road. It was a beautiful Spring day, and we made some lovely images of the engine crossing the fields in Pennsylvania Dutch country.
I made these views with my Nikon Z-series digital cameras.
My last photos of Monday’s Mountaineer Special were made just east of the Arethusa Falls grade crossing on New Hampshire’s Crawford Notch.
I’d explored this location for nearly four years. It appears among the early photos of the line that date back to the time of its construction. Yet is difficult to capture effectively. It is most effective of an eastward train.
My fascination is with the distinctive rocks of Frankenstein Cliff that loom ominously above the train. This time of the year can be key to making a successful photograph here. During the summer, when trees are completely leafed out, and light is thick with moisture it can be more difficult to see the cliffs above the train.
Mid-Spring can provides a better balance between the mountainous backround with foreground, while offer a hint of green foliage.
Yesterday, Conway Scenic Railroad operated its annual Mountaineer Social demonstration/familiarization train. This was the first excursion of the 2023 season to run over Crawford Notch to Fabyan, New Hampshire.
I followed the train by road to make photos and video for upcoming advertising campaigns.
I made this telephoto sequence at milepost P79 near the Arethusa Falls grade crossing using a Nikon Z6 with 70-200mm Nikkor Z-series zoom.
Although back-lit, hazy clouds diffused the light which added depth.
I made some selected adjustments in Lightroom, including overall lightening of the images and softening of overal contrast
Saturday, on our way back from travels in the White Mountains, Kris and I were approaching Sawyers River.
In passing, I said, “The 12:30 Sawyers train should be running around right about now. Check to see what engine is on it today.”
“There’s the head light, hey wait, I think its the F-unit!”
This was a pleasant surprise. Turns out that 470 Club’s former Boston & Maine F7A 4268 that was restored to service in 2022, had been assigned to the Valley services for its first run of the Spring season.
We pulled into the parking lot at 4th Iron Bridge over the Sawyers River and I set up to catch the train on its return to North Conway. GP38 252 was leading eastbound while at the back was the classic F7A.
From here we followed the train east to Bartlett, Goves and Glen, before returning home.
I thought May 10th would be the perfect day to announce the publication of my new book titled Union Pacific and Its Predecessors.
This covers more than 150 years of Union Pacific history and includes the modern day railroad and most of its primary components (among the them Chicago & North Western, Missouri Pacific, Southern Pacific and Western Pacific)
If you ask, ‘Why May 10th?’ then you will need to read the book! (See chapter 1, pages 16 & 17).
My old pal TSH (and Tracking the Light reader) made the cover photo of UP freights at Norden, on Donner Pass.
Sunday morning I made an ambitious push to reduce the wee Reading Company to timber, nails, wires, track sections and bits of plaster. Hours of demolition erased 2 1/2 years of creation.
I’d already removed and packed away most of the remaining structures, rolling stock. Only the group of railroad company houses at Cressona Yard remained (largely because I want to preserve the scenery around the houses as well as the structures and will need to cut them away from the layout.)
My serious demolition began with the unfinished portion of the layout at the east end of the railroad.
During various stages of the work I made documentation with my Lumix LX7. These photos are to show the results of my efforts.
Kris helped remove some of the bench work and helped cut away some of the rock formations that we plan to pack away. She also made the photos of me dismantling the railraod.
Over the next few days I’ll finish the job. I’m sacrificing my HO-scale Pennsylvania for the full scale version.
I learned a lot from this exercise. Next time I’ll build it better.
Yesterday (May 5, 2023), I accompanied Wayne Duffett of TEC Associates on his annual bridge inspection of the Conway Branch.
We picked up Conway Scenic Railroad HyRail truck TC206 at North Conway and went by road to Conway, where we arranged to set down on the track. From there we proceeded timetable west to look at bridges.
It was a fine Spring morning and probably the nicest day in the Mount Washington Valley in more than a week. A perfect time to be looking at bridges.
I made notes and took photos as Wayne carefully scrutinized every bridge between Conway and North Conway.
I made these images with my Nikon Z7-II, but also exposed photos with my Lumix LX7. I’ll present some of those photos at a later date.
In classic railroad tradition, Kris and I held one final run of the Wee Reading Co., complete with commemorative banner.
One of the RDC’s brought scale mileage collectors on a spin up frieght only lines. Then the 0-4-0 camelback took two cabooses from the yard, made a final spin around the main line and Mine Hill branches, up the switchback one last time and to the staging yard at the top of the hill.
The scale chasers paced until they ran out of road.
The tracks are clear, except for a lone caboose at West Cressona yard. All the other equipment has been boxed up and packed away.
Tomorrow, I begin packing away the structures and then I’ll begin lifting of the track.
Special thanks to all my friends who helped me make this scale railway possible including, Bob & Ken Buck, Joe Costello, Ron Crenshaw, Tim Doherty, Paul Goewey, Dan Howard, Bill Keay, Richard Reed, Doug Scott, my father Richard Jay Solomon, my mother-in-law Sharon Sabbatino, and of course my wife Kris!
It was fun, but it’s done. Good bye Wee Reading Company Mark I!
I received my copy of June 2023 Trains Magazine the other day in the mail.
With a cover story on the recent CP + KCS merger this features two of my stories. On page 10 is my, “Delaware & Hudson marks 200 years,” and on page 22 an eight page feature titled, “Tourist Railway Success Stories.” In that latter story, I give my wife, Kris, a couple of mentions, as well as crediting my friend (and Tracking the Light reader) Wayne Duffett credit for introducing me to the Wiscasset, Waterville & Farmington two-foot gauge. I also promote the Connemara Project at Maam Cross in Ireland, with a special mention for Jim Deegan.
I may be a little biased (just), but I feel this is one of the best issues of TRAINS that I’ve read in a long time!
Last week Conway Scenic’s Work Extra reached Willey Siding on the climb to New Hampshire’s Crawford Notch. This consisted of GP9 1751 and a laden ballast car.
For the railroad enthusiast this consist represents an unintentional pairing of former Baltimore & Ohio equipment.
The ballast car was a B&O two-bay coal hopper built in 1941, while GP9 1751 was originally Chesapeake & Ohio 6128 (built in 1956) and following the C&O/B&O merger was transferred to Baltimore & Ohio’s roster becoming 6677. It continued to serve Chessie System and later CSXT until the 1980s.
I wonder if they ever worked together on the former B&O?
I made this selection of images using my Nikon Z-series mirrorless digital cameras, which can do an excellent job of replicating the old Kodachrome 25 color palatte.
Over the next couple of months Kris and I will be moving.
Part of the challenge of this relocation exercise will be the disassembly of my scale interpretation of the Reading Company in Pennsylvania coal country.
I began this two and a half years ago and the railroad gradually expanded. While I’d begun to install scenery, only about half the railroad enjoyed scale realism. Once we had decided to move, I stopped adding scenery and instead focused on operating the railroad.
Soon I will begin boxing up the locomotives, rolling stock and buildings. I will lift the track for future use and salvage elements of the electrical system including hundreds of feet of wire, dozens of lights and LEDs, plus numerous toggle switches that I used to control train movements.
Unfortunately, when I began planning the railroad, I failed to anticipate the need to take it apart. So, structure of the railroad consisting of wooden benchwork, as well as the scenery cannot be easily recycled.
I made these photos last night using my Nikon Z7-II to help preserve how the railroad looks.
Someday, the Wee Reading Company will rise again and it will be better than ever!
My Nikon Z7-II has a feature; the rear display screen is touch sensitive and it allows you to make a photo by touching the screen. It has another feature which senses when you are looking through the eyepiece and switches the view from the rear touch screen to the eyepiece.
On occasion, while moving my eye to the eyepiece my nose touches the rear display and releases the shutter resulting in an unintentional image. This usually annoys me, since I don’t like to erase photos and I don’t like to waste space on my memory card.
Yesterday, I scrambled up an embankment to make a photo of a Conway Scenic’s Work Extra that was collecting felled trees and other vegetation west of Notchland, New Hampshire near milepost 77 . I went to frame up a view of the caboose at the back of the train when my nose made a photo.
Here’s the irony, although unintentional, I like the ‘Nose View’ exposure better than the framed composition I made moments later.
Following this comedy of errors, and before the train moved up the line, I relocated. Once in position, I then made a series of photos of the caboose as it passed me.
Last week, after a season of heavy snow in New Hampshire’s White Mountains, a mid-April heatwave hit the area.
Although it was 75 degrees F, I was standing in about 18 inches of crusty icy snow near the 3rd Iron Truss over the Saco River. I was here that I photographed Conway Scenic’s Work Extra climbing toward Sawyer River behind former Maine Central GP38 252.
The train was hauling felled trees collected along the line up to a location near Rt 302 where they will be recycled.
Bright Spring sun with leafless trees and snow on the ground certainly made for some unusual lighting conditions.
Work trains are among my favorite subjects. So, yesterday morning when Conway Scenic Railroad’s Extra 1751 departed North Conway’s North Yard, I zipped over to Intervale a few photos and then followed the train west to Glen, New Hampshire.
The train was sent out to collect recently felled trees along the Mountain Division. Thearrangement of a GP9 hauling flatcars and a caboose at the back makes for some throwback images.
While the train was working at Glen, I arranged to make a few views from the caboose.
Later, to help promote Conway Scenic, I posted some of these images to the railroad’s social media where they caught significant notice: Wwithin 12-hours they had reached more than 16,000 viewers.
Photos exposed with a Nikon Z7-II as NEF RAW files then processed with Adobe Lightroom.
Over the last few months as I’ve continue to organize the tens of thousands of slides that comprise my collection, I been looking for a few specifics.
In January, I paid a visit to the Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania, where Amtrak AEM-7 915 is on display. I made several photos of this classic locomotive.
What I find odd, is that old 915 was nearly brand new when I paid my first visit to the museum back in 1981.
This led to a search for 915 when it was in service. Initially, I thought this shouldn’t be too difficult, since I spent a lot of time along the electrified Northeast Corridor during the 1980s and 1990s when the AEM-7s were plentiful and still wore their as-delivered paint scheme.
Yet, as I scoured my countless Amtrak slides, 915 seemed to elude me.
Finally, the other night I found a vintage Kodachrome slide of 915 doubleheaded with its sister 916 on a train at New Haven, Connecticut. I’d made this view from the front of an MTA/CDOT multiple unit.
I scanned this slide using a Nikon LS5000 scanner and adjusted the TIF scan using Adobe Lightroom.
Four hours apart, I exposed pairs of photos of antique GP38s at two New England Railroad Stations using my Lumix LX7.
Just after 10:30am yesterday, I made a couple of images of the Snow Train departing Conway Scenic Railroad’s North Conway, New Hampshire Station. GP38 number 255 was positioned at the back of the train for the return run from Attitash.
Sometime around 2:30pm, I made photos of New England Central GP38 number 3845 at the station in White River Junction, Vermont. This is one of New England Central’s surviving original GP38s (with which the railroad started operations back winter 1995).
These mid-1960s era machine soldier on in regular service despite their age.
I find Amtrak’s old Metroliner cab cars a novelty.
These rolling antiques are vestiges of 1960s High Speed rail that have survived into the 2020s in regular revenue service.
On my exploration of the Lancaster area with Dan Cupper a few weeks ago, we stopped at Gap in the morning to photograph the westward Amtrak Keystone service No. 641, led by Metroliner cab car 9634 with ACS-64 634 at the back.
I wonder if I have a photo of this cab car in Metroliner service?
I made this telephoto sequence with my Nikon Z6 mirrorless camera fitted with a 70-200mm telephoto zoom. The yellow front works well with soft winter sun.
What are you supposed to do while waiting for trains?
How about take portraits of each other on the railroad platform.
That’s what we did two weeks ago at Paoli, Pennsylvania!
I made some views of my brother Sean and his partner Isabelle with my wife Kris as a westward Amtrak Keystone and SEPTA trains made station stops. Then Kris made a couple of photos of me with Sean and Isabelle using my Nikon Z7-II.
Hi ISO and auto white balance makes night photos easy!
Strasburg Rail Road is best known for its steam excursions, but the railroad is a common carrier and operates a thriving local freight business.
On our visit to the Strasburg, PA area last month, I was lucky to catch one of their freights on the move. This was led by the railroad’s former New York Central SW8 diesel 8618.
This classic General Motors Electro-Motive Division swticher was built for New York Central System c1953 and carried the number 9618. It is painted in a neo-New York Central scheme, and was Conrail 8618 for many years.
In the 1980s, I made many photos of Conrail switchers, and I wonder if somewhere among my slides and negatives I may have a photo of this locomotive in its former existence.
Google Maps makes it much easier to navigate to the west shore of the Susquehanna River at Marysville, Pennsylvania to reach the famed Rockville Bridge.
I recall pouring over maps in the 1980s, trying to locate the correct sequence of turns to get to River Road. The challenge of this location is that the path is indirect and the main highways running parallel to the river and railroad do not facilitate straight forward exits.
On my most recent visit, I followed Google Maps instructions to my map ‘pin’ situated at the westend of Rockville Bridge. I approached the bridge just as a Norfolk Southern freight was easing across the 48 stone arches.
I returned to the vantage point on the north side of the bridge that Kris and I had visited nearly a year ago. This allowed me to make a long telephoto view of the train and capture the dramatic sky to the east.