Working with Harsh Light in the California Sierra.
On the advice of J.D. Schmid, in June 1990, I’d bought my first single lens reflex; a Nikon F3T (which I still use, occasionally). Initially, I owned just two lenses: a 35mm PC (perspective control—tilt/shift) and a second-hand Nikkon f4.0 200mm telephoto.
For most of my photography, I was still working with my Leica M2, and so the Nikon was just a new toy.
Living in Roseville, California near the Southern Pacific yard, gave me ample opportunity to explore and photograph SP operations. My favorite subject was Donner Pass, and most weekends would find me wandering around at high elevations seeking angles on the railroad.
The Sierra can be a challenging place to make railroad photos. On this morning, I was between Yuba Pass and Crystal Lake on the west slope of Donner. I’d photographed this SP westward freight descending the mountain using the new F3T and 200mm lens on Kodachrome 25.
Despite photographic conventions, I was positioned on the dark side of the line, and aimed into the sun, while looking cross-light the train. The glinty back-lit rocks help silhouette the locomotives. Although the time of day resulted in harsh contrast and a stark scene, I like the result. It captures the spirit of raw mountain railroading that for me was SP on Donner.
This is a place where the tracks are cut into a rock shelf and require lots of power to get trains over the spine of the Sierra Range. Back lighting and telephoto compression shows the heat of from the dynamic brakes rolling off the tops of SP’s ‘Tunnel Motors’ (locomotives specifically built to endure the rigors of Donner). In the distance is a hint of one of SP’s wide signal bridges, necessary for winter operations.
I was driving from Erie, Pennsylvania back to Waukesha, Wisconsin after a week of photography on the former Baltimore & Ohio in West Virginia and Pennsylvania.
West of South Bend, the Chicago, South Shore & South Bend runs parallel to the former New York Central ‘Water Level Route’ (then operated by Conrail).
I’d found a lightly used grade crossing, where I photographed a few Conrail freights. I didn’t have a South Shore schedule, but hoped I might see something roll over the old interurban electric line.
Ten years earlier, I’d taken a memorable trip over the line from Chicago to South Bend. Back in the 1950s and early 1960s, my father had made many images of the South Shore, and I was always fond of the line, despite having missed its operation of antique multiple units and Little Joe electrics that had made the line popular with photographers.
As daylight faded, I notice that the old Union Switch & Signal color signals facing me suddenly changed from displaying yellow to red. This indicated to me that something was about to happen. And, sure enough, a few minutes later I could hear a train clattering along.
I found a low angle to feature the richly colored sky and I made a single exposure on Fujichrome 100 using my Nikkormat FT3 with 28mm Nikkor lens. This remains one of my favorite railway photos: for me it captures the essence of South Shore’s interurban electric operation. I’ve used it in various places over the years.
In October 2001, I was working on my book Railroad Masterpieces (Published by Krause Publications in 2002). Among the featured ‘masterpieces’ was Erie Railroad’s magnificent Starrucca Viaduct at Lanesboro, Pennsylvania. A classic Jim Shaughnessy under and over view was used on the book cover.
Posting photos on Tracking the Light yesterday of Lanesborough, County Longford, reminded me of this image at another Lanesboro (albeit a different spelling) many miles and an ocean away.
On October 21, 2001, Tim Doherty and I drove to Lanesborough so I could photograph Starrucca. At the time Norfolk Southern was operating the line and very little traffic was traversing the bridge. We didn’t expect to find a train and as it happened, we didn’t see any that morning.
Later, we photographed the former Delaware, Lackawanna & Western Tunkhannock Viaduct and former Pennsylvania Railroad Rockville Bridge. All three bridges were covered in the same section of the book, and I thought it would be neat to visit all of them in one day.
A black & white variation of this image appeared in the book, but I don’t think I’ve ever had the color version published. I’ve always liked the tree shadow on the inside of the 4th arch.
Eight years ago today I was traveling in Croatia by train. I made this image from the platform of the Rijeka station. It shows one of Croatian Railways (Hrvatske Zeljeznice and known by the initials HZ) class 1061 electrics (an articulated type adapted from an Italian State Railways design) leading a short freight from Rijeka’s main goods yard.
Rijeka is a scenically situated Adriatic port. My great-grandmother was from a village near here. She emigrated to the United States in the late 19th century, back when Rijeka was known as Fiume, a city in the former Austrian-Hungarian empire.
Austria-Hungary was fragmented as a casualty of World War, which began as result of strife in the Balkans. Exploring the old empire is among my hobbies.
As a kid, I’d travel with my family to coastal Maine for visits with grandparents who owned a summer home south of Newcastle. At that time, Maine Central operated freights on the Rockland Branch on a weekday basis.
On rare occasions as we were driving, I’d see a train wandering up or down the branch. I recall my exceptional frustration when passing the Rockland roundhouse a group of Maine Central GP7s and GP38s basked in evening sun, but family priorities precluded even a short stop for photography (I think we were going to dinner).
By the time I made visits to Maine in the mid-1980s with aims at making railroad photographs, the old Rockland Branch was all but dormant.
The line experienced a revival in the 1990s and 2000s. Today it hosts freight and passenger trains operated by Maine Eastern. This greatly pleased my late-friend Bob Buck, who had experienced the line in steam days and had watched its gradual decline during the diesel era.
It was a great thrill for him to be able to board a passenger train again at Rockland and ride along the coast inlets toward Brunswick.
In August 2004, I was among several friends visiting with Bob at his summer home on the Maine Coast. During this trip, Neal Gage and I spent a productive morning photographing Maine Eastern’s cement train, which made a series of short turns between the cement factory at Thomaston and a pier in Rockland.
This included photographing the short spur (branch) to the pier that had been rebuilt during the revival period to facilitate movement of cement by barge. This line winds through back yards of Rockland and curls around to the waterfront.
Caption: In August 2004, a Morristown & Erie C-424 leads a short empty cement train up from the Rockland Pier on the rebuilt former Maine Central spur running between the pier and the Rockland yard. Exposed on Fujichrome with a Nikon F3T and 24mm lens.
So far just three of Irish Rail’s 071 class are operating in the new gray livery. So catching one on the move in sunlight can be a challenge. Ballast trains operate infrequently, and standing at this spot for a month of Sunday’s might not guarantee an image such as this. It helps to live near the line.
The cars make up what Irish Rail calls a ‘High Output Ballast’ train which is known on the railway as the HOBS. Using my Canon EOS 7D, I exposed a series of photos of the train on the curve from the Phoenix Park tunnel at Islandbridge Junction.
The combination of elevation, iconic backdrop and the orientation of the tracks and curve allow for one of the best morning views in Dublin for a westward train. As the sun swings around, many more angles open up down the line.
In 1989, Napa Valley Wine Train began public operations on a former Southern Pacific branch through its namesake valley. I first explored this railway in October 1989. A little more than a year later, Brian Jennison and I spent a very productive day photographing the line on Kodachrome.
Brian lent me a Nikon 300mm lens for this photograph. I’ve always like the image because the extreme compression offered by the long telephoto accentuated the classic lines of the Montreal Locomotive Works diesels (and the steam era bell on the top of the lead unit) while offering a pleasing juxtaposition between the train and the background foliage.
NOTICE: Tracking the Light was ‘off line’ for several hours during July 14 and 15th, 2013 as a result of maintenance to the host-site. Tracking the Light should now be functioning normally. Brian apologizes for any inconvenience.
Kodachrome was the best medium for photographing the rising sun.
I made this photograph with Mel Patrick and T.S. Hoover on the morning of September 4, 1996. We were positioned on the former Denver & Rio Grande Western at the aptly named CTC siding called ‘Solitude’ (population zero) in the desert east of Green River.
Wild fires in Idaho had polluted the air with particulates. During the day this was only barely noticeable, but it made for stunningly red moments at sunrise and sunset since the particulate matter acts as a filter and alters the natural spectrum of sunlight.
Since sunlight passes through more atmosphere at sunrise and sunset than during the height of the day the filtration effect is accentuated.
Kodachrome had two advantages when working with this type of filtered light. Firstly its spectral sensitivity made the most of the red light. Secondly, the inherent quality of the film’s silver grain structure preserved the outline of the sun despite extreme overexposure, while the latitude of the film allowed for an exceptionally broad range for exposure.
Other than the particulate matter in the air, I didn’t use any special filtration to make this image.
Fifteen years ago today, I exposed this image of Irish Rail’s empty Ammonia train at on the South Eastern route Bray Head (former Dublin & South Eastern Railway, nee Dublin, Wicklow & Wexford Railway).
At that time, there were three daily ammonia trains between Marino Point, County Cork and Shelton Abbey near Arklow, County Wicklow. The trains operated to tight schedules and were among the most predictable freight trains on the Irish Rail network.
For me the Ammonia was a bonus. I was actually out for a Railway Preservation Society Ireland (RPSI) steam special running with engine 461. To make the most of the morning, I taken the first southward Dublin Area Rapid Transit (DART) run from Pearse Station (Dublin) to Bray, then walked roughly two miles to this location in anticipation of catching the regular passenger trains and the empty Ammonia.
The line itself was in transition. If you look carefully, you’ll see the electrification masts along the line, as Irish Rail was preparing for extension of DART services to Greystones (the next station south of Bray).
The run around Bray Head is one of the most scenic on Irish Rail. Here the line clings to cliff and passes through several tunnels all the while in view of the vast expanse of the Irish Sea.
It was my first July 4th outside of North America. Irish Rail’s ammonia traffic ceased in 2002, when the fertilizer factory at Shelton Abbey closed. Today there’s no regular freight traffic on the South Eastern route.
In April 2005, Dublin’s LUAS light rail system was still relatively new. Services on the Red Line service between Dublin Connolly Station and Tallagh had only commenced the previous September.
The Trams still had that ‘right out of the box’ quality. They were new and shiny and free from dents and day-to-day wear and tear. The yellow safety stripes were still in the future.
The Irish Railway Record Society was working on a special LUAS edition of their Journal and fellow IRRS members Stephen Hirsch, the late-Norman McAdams and myself spent a morning intensively photographing LUAS operations and its trams to help fill this publication.
The morning was bright but had a hazy diffused quality of light, typical of Irish April weather. I exposed this image with my Nikon N90S fitted with a Tokina 400mm lens.
However when I inspected the processed slide, it left me with something of quandary: While I was satisfied with the composition and the subtle backlit qualities, I’d felt that I’d misjudged the lighting and overexposed the image by about a stop. Worse, I didn’t manage to keep the camera level, so, by my normal standards of judgment, I felt the slide projected poorly.
Despite these flaws, I found the slide, scanned exceptionally well. In post processing I was easily able to correct for level, and the exposure looks fine on the computer screen without need for manipulation.
This just goes to show what doesn’t look good on film, may, in fact, produce a better than average final image in other media.
General Motors Single Cab Diesels Wander Far and Wide in their Final Years.
In their final few years of service, Irish Rail 124 and 134 worked a great variety of services. For me, simple knowing these two engines were out there, made photographing Irish Rail more interesting.
Sometimes I knew where they were, other times one would appear unexpectedly. Occasionally they’d get paired together and stay that way for a while, but more often than not, they’d be paired with one of the 141/181 class Bo-Bos.
All of my images of 121s at work were made on film (slide and black & white negative). By the time I’d acquired my first digital camera, old 124 and 134 were no longer active.
Sifting through my slides from their last five or six years, I’ve found numerous images of these engines. As I’ve mentioned previously, every time I saw one, I expected it to be the last time, so I made the most of every opportunity. Here’s a lesson: never expect that you’ll see something again; so photograph to the best of you ability when you have the chance.
During sugar beet season Irish Rail was tight for motive power, as the six to seven extra laden trains per day, plus returning empties, tended to tax the railway’s small locomotive fleet to its limits.
Beet season was always a good time to make photographs. During the 2004 season I was fortunate to catch surviving class 121 diesels several times working laden trains. The tuned ear could always pick out the sound of a 121 over the other classes.
On November 22, 2004, David Hegarty and I caught this mixed pair with 124 in the lead, hauling a laden beet train just passed Nicholastown Gates between Clonmel and Cahir, County Tipperary.
It was a hard pull up the bank from Clonmel to Nicholastown, and just east of the gates the line leveled out. We could hear the pair clattering away in run-8 for several minutes before they appeared. The gates were manually operated, and would be closed well ahead of the train.
The S-bend at Nicholastown was among our favorite locations on the line; I’ve made dozens of images here.
Exposed with a Nikon F3T with f2.8 180mm lens on Fujichrome slide film.
My favorite Irish Rail diesels were the Class 121s. This single cab General Motors type was derived from the standard American switcher, as typified by the various NW and SW models.
However, unlike switchers built for North American railways, the 121’s were intended for road service and worked freight and passenger trains. The fifteen locomotives were delivered in 1961, and were not only the first La Grange built diesels in Ireland, but are understood to have been the first production-built diesels from La Grange to work in Western Europe.
I liked the way the looked and sounded as they reminded me of the locomotives I grew up with in the USA. Also, we have a Lionel O gauge NW2, which was among my favorite locomotives as a kid.
In early 2003, Irish Rail retired and scrapped most of the 121s. However two survived in service for another five years. Numbers 124 and 134 continued to work in a variety of services after all the others of their class. They had been fitted with multiple unit connections, so they could work as pairs with other ‘Bo-Bo’ General Motors types (the class 141s built in 1962, and class 181s built in 1966.)
In Spring 2003, David Hegarty and I made several trips to photograph the last surviving 121s. Number 124 was the easiest to find, as it was assigned to push-pull service on the Limerick to Limerick Junction shuttle. While these were by no means my final images of these locomotives, I considered myself fortunate every time I photographed them from that time onward. The 121s were clearly running on borrowed time.
At noon on May 13, 2006, David Hegarty and I photographed this Modern Railway Society Ireland special exiting the tunnel at Ferrycarrig, County Wexford on the old Dublin & South Eastern Railway. The gorse lined tunnel made for an unusually scenic view. My notes from the day indicate that driver Ray Collins was at the throttle.
We followed the train, catching it again on the South Wexford line near Robbinstown, and later in the day between Waterford and Carrick-on-Suir at Fiddown, then one last time at Nicholastown Gates. It wasn’t the brightest day in Ireland, but that didn’t stop us for making some memorable images.
Listening to the Sounds of a General Motors 645 diesel in Run 8.
On the afternoon of August 16, 2003, I was in suburban Zagreb making photos on Croatian Railways (Hrvatske Zeljeznice—properly spelled with a hooked accent over the ‘Z’, which I’m not using in order to avoid problems with text interpretation by different computers).
Some local passenger trains, and long distance trains working the non-electrified line to Varazdin were hauled with General Motors diesels (built locally under license by Duro Dakovic). Many were still wearing the older Yugoslavian green and gold, but a few such this one (2044-002) were in the newer and attractive HZ blue and silver livery.
I also caught a few freights with Swedish designed Rc electrics HZ class 1141, similar to Amtrak’s AEM-7s.
Zagreb is a beautiful city with some wonderful old architecture a tram system. It’s as old as memory goes too. There were people living there when the Romans arrived some 2000 years ago.
Incidentally, precisely 20 years earlier, on the afternoon of August 16, 1983, Bob Buck and I caught a Boston & Maine freight leaving the yard in Springfield, Massachusetts with a Canadian National GP9 in consist. The CN GP had come down on the Montrealer the night before, pinch-hitting for a failed F40PH. Somehow, it seems relevant to mention that, it really ties the blog posts together.
A Hrvatske Zeljeznice class 2044 diesel (General Motors export model GT22HW-2) works west of Zagreb. Exposed with an Nikon F3Ts with 105mm lens on Fujichrome slide film.
On August 17, 2003, I traveled by train from Zagreb, Croatia to Belgrade, Serbia. This was a six-hour journey. While the train departed on time, it took a diversionary route around Zagreb to avoid track work on the mainline. On the way out of town, I noted a variety of stored General Motors diesels and a pair of 2-10-0s in a goods yard. Before long the train was 27 minutes behind schedule.
I made a number of photos, including this one, looking out the back of the train. Generally, Croatian Railways (Hrvatske Zeljeznice) maintained their track to excellent standards. Some HZ mainlines, such as this one, are electrified at 25 kV at 50 Hz, others with high voltage DC overhead, while many other lines are worked with diesels.
Approaching the Serbia frontier, the train was reduced to a crawl. This area was still showing the ravages of war. Passing Vinkovci, I noted a large yard full of derelict freight wagons, but also saw that line-renewal was under way.
Serbia had just eliminated visa restrictions for American and EU passport holders, so I had no difficulties with the border inspection. The heat, on the other hand, was memorable!
Belgrade was fascinating, but I’ll save that adventure for some future post. Two years later (to the day), I was back in Croatia again, and on that trip explored the line to Rijeka.
General Electric Genesis Diesels and Style T Semaphores.
Railways can offer tremendous technological contrasts. Among my photographic themes is juxtaposition of the oldest technology along side the most modern. When I made this image, there was roughly 60 years between development of the signals and the locomotives.
I made this image during an exploration with Mel Patrick of the former Santa Fe mainline across northern New Mexico and eastern Colorado. At that time BNSF still maintained many of the old Union Switch & Signal Style T-2’s dating from the steam-era.
The Union Switch & Signal Style T-2 was featured in my book Railroad Signaling published by Voyageur Press. Here’s an except from my text: “US&S’s T-2 is a three-position upper quadrant type with a top of mast mechanism. Typical semaphore height measured 22 feet 6 inches from the ground to mechanism.”
Traffic on this line was relatively light, with only Amtrak’s Southwest Chief and a couple of BNSF freights daily. Then, as today, most of BNSF trans-con freight was routed via the Belen Cutoff (through Abo Canyon) to the south.
At 11:11 am on November 16, 1992, I made this image of double-headed AEM-7s leading train 169 The Mayflower passing the interlocking at South Norwalk on the former New Haven Railroad mainline.
This was a routine event. I don’t recall anything unusual or noteworthy about the train itself. I was playing with a Tokina f5.6 400mm lens I’d recently purchased secondhand. I made this photo with that lens attached to my Nikon F3T on Kodachrome 25.
My exposure-notes indicate that the lens was at its widest aperture and the camera at 1/125 of a second. I probably had the camera on my Bogen 3021 tripod as I doubt I would have tried to hand hold the 400mm lens at 1/125th of second.
Telephoto lens compression with truss-bridges under the old New Haven catenary makes for a tunnel-like effect, while giving context to the crossovers.
At that time, Amtrak’s AEM-7s were still in their ‘as delivered’ condition with their original paint scheme. These powerful little locomotives have been the backbone of Amtrak’s electrified operations for more than three decades. Their day in the sun will soon end; replacements are on their way.
In April 2002, I was on my way from Zagan, Poland to Dresden, Germany with John Gruber and some other friends. Shortly after sunrise, we changed trains at Chojnów, where rich low sun allowed for some dramatic images of PKP (Polish National Railways) trains. PKP was operating a variety of interesting locomotives, and I’m partial to the distinctive shape of the SU45 diesel.
My journal entry at Chojnów made at 6:34 am on that day includes this observation: “We awoke at 3:30 am to catch the 4:49 am [train] from Zagan—beautiful morning light [at Chojnów], but the station is decayed and graffiti covered.”
After I made this photo, we boarded a train destined for Gorlitz (and Dresden). Breakfast in the WARS dining car was memorable: “The girl at the counter cooked us scrambled eggs in a frying pan—class act!”
Exposed with my Nikon F3T fitted with Nikkor 24mm lens on Fujichrome slide film.
In mid-July 1994, I spent several days photographing along Burlington Northern’s former Northern Pacific mainline in western North Dakota. Here the railway snaked through the Badlands, with the landscape characterized by unusual geological formations.
On the evening of July 12, 1994, BN sent a fleet of westward empty coal trains (described as ‘coal cars’ on the railroad) over the NP between Mandan, North Dakota and Glendive, Montana. At 7pm I caught this empty led by an SD60M at Sentinel Butte. Fast moving fair weather clouds made for some complicated lighting and a tricky exposure, but ultimately resulted in a more dramatic photograph.
This was my second experience with this line. My first was viewing the line from the dome of the North Coast Limited some 24 years earlier. I was only four years old on that trip, but the train ride gave me lasting memories. My dad exposed slides from the dome and dutch-doors of the train and from the Vista dome, but I wasn’t yet working with cameras.
Sunday, October 3, 1993 was a fine autumn day. I was visiting New England, after some eight months in California, and met my friend Bob Buck along the Boston & Albany route at Palmer. He was reading his Sunday paper, and looked up, “Are you interested in going to the West End?”
Silly, question! Bob had introduced me to the old B&A West End a dozen years earlier, and as the living expert on the B&W, there was no better guide for my favorite line. So off we went in Bob’s Ford van, via the Mass-Pike to Westfield and then up the mountain. The railroad wasn’t especially busy that day, but we saw a few trains.
Our first stop was Chester. Then we went up to Middlefield, a location that Bob had found way back in 1946. On that day he’d watched B&A’s mighty A1 class Berkshires on freight. Those days were long gone, but Bob spoke of them as if they were yesterday! We walked west to the famed Twin Ledges where Bob had made many great photos of steam power, then as the daylight faded returned to the old Middlefield Station location (the building was demolished decades earlier).
Middlefield is a peaceful bucolic place and an idyllic setting to watch and photograph trains. Toward the end of sunlight, we heard a eastward train descending. Since I’d made dozens of photographs at this location over the years, I thought to try something a little different, and so I framed the train with these leaves around it.
Shafts of rich afternoon sun illuminated the golden foliage, casting a bit of golden glint light on the rail. It was a stunning scene. But, just as the Conrail train crawled into view, clouds obscured the sun. Poor show.
Not withstanding, I exposed this frame of Kodachrome 25 with my Nikon F3T, making a last second exposure compensation; f2.8 1/125. K25 was a forgiving film, but this wasn’t enough exposure, and the slide came back from Kodak looking dark and uninviting. Not much use in a slide show. I put it away and haven’t looked at it since. Until today that is.
Yesterday’s photographic folly has become today’s project. I can’t exactly catch a set of Conrail C30-7As working the Boston & Albany route anymore, and this image retains strong composition despite its flaws. What was merely a dark slide in 1993, can now be adjusted with Adobe Photoshop.
Below I’ve displayed four images. The original ‘Dark’ image. Plus three altered scans. Option 1 involves little more than a quick adjustment with the ‘curves’ feature to compensate for under exposure, while Options 2 and 3 involved varying degrees of manipulation to compensate for exposure, color balance and apparent sharpness. I’ve used various masking, layering and other types of selective adjustment. Which is the best image? You decide. I make no apologies, It’s an old dark slide, there’s no right or wrong.
It’s been nearly 18 years since Union Pacific absorbed the Chicago & North Western system. I was fortunate to have been in position to photograph C&NW in its final year of independence.
C&NW’s busiest route was its largely double-track Chicago-Council Bluffs mainline. Yet, long before C&NW was formally merged with UP, this route had functioned as an eastward extension of UP’s east-west mainline. In the early 1990s, many trains operated with UP run-through locomotives.
I found C&NW’s surviving secondary lines even more photogenic. Yet, these lines represented just a shadow of C&NW’s once sprawling empire. Many routes had been fragmented or abandoned. Once busy secondary mainlines, served as little more than lightly served freight feeders. Several C&NW operations had been physically isolated from its core network, with the railroad relying on haulage arrangements in place of its own lines.
C&NW held onto its identity into its last days. Its historic herald was still proudly displayed on equipment and infrastructure. Vestiges of its former greatness survived as visual cues to an earlier era. So its final year, C&NW retained these threads of corporate continuity. While the appearance of C&NW continued for a while under Union Pacific operation, once it was part of the UP system, these threads were less meaningful.
I made roughly a thousand C&NW images between June 1994 and May 1995 (UP’s intended merger date in late April 1995 was ultimately postponed a few weeks, despite reports to the contrary). These are just a sampling of those efforts.
In the mid-1990s, I’ve made a variety of similar images along the Chicago & North Western’s Chicago-Council Bluffs mainline that offers a literal depiction of the classic textbook illustration showing railroad tracks to demonstrate perspective.
Why C&NW? The angle of tracks and arrangement offers classic simplicity. This is a largely tangent east-west double-track line that crosses comparatively open landscapes in western Illinois and central Iowa, where installation of advanced signaling combined with burying of code lines and other communications minimized line-side poles and wires.
I’ve exposed for the sky that produces a silhouette of tracks and equipment. C&NW’s highly polished mainline rails nicely reflect the evening sky. For added interest I’ve included a set of interlocking signals in the distance. If I placed them too close, the signals will have become the subject, and that was not the intent of this image.
I’ve featured Chicago & North Western 1385 in a number of books, including my American Steam Locomotive (published in 1998 by MBI), and Locomotive (published in 2001 by MBI) and most recently in Alco Locomotives (2009 by Voyageur Press).
The locomotive is preserved at the Mid-Continent Railway Museum in North Freedom, Wisconsin, and was operated regularly when I lived in Wisconsin in the mid-1990s. My friend John Gruber had helped save the locomotive in the early 1960s, and it was his son Dick Gruber who introduced me to the engine when we worked for Pentrex Publishing.
Here’s an excerpt of my text from Locomotive on C&NW’s R-1 Class 4-6-0s:
If any one locomotive could be selected to represent Chicago & North Western’s steam power fleet, it would have to be the Class R-1 Ten Wheeler. In its day, the R-1 was the most common, and perhaps the most versatile locomotive on the railroad. A total of 325 R-1 were built, the most numerous type of any C&NW steam locomotive, and they were among the longest lived classes on the railroad as well.
During the last 15 years of the 19th century, C&NW amassed quite a variety of 4-6-0s. Most were products of the Schenectady Locomotive Works, in Schenectady, New York, but some were built by Baldwin.
As I mentioned in Polish Steam Working Disused Track (Published on March 6, 2013), eleven years ago I rode a enthusiast’s excursion from Wolsztyn to Zagan in south eastern Poland led by PKP (Polish National Railways) 2-10-0 Ty3-2. This trip covered a variety of disused lines southwest of the Wolsztyn steam depot.
On that day, the train stopped more than 25 times for photography. This image was made near the end of the run. We were at a remote spot, not far from Zagan. The track was fairly derelict. After we got off, the train pulled ahead making for some nice effluence from the engine. Spring was in bloom and I framed the World War II-era 2-10-0 in the blossoming branches of a hedge.
On the afternoon of September 3, 2005, I made this photo of vintage General Motors diesels working Irish Rail’s Ballina Branch train. The train was working from its connection at Manulla Junction to the north-end of the branch at Ballina. While mixed pairs of class 121 and class 141/181 diesels wasn’t unheard of, by 2005 it was a rare event. Irish Rail’s 071 class General Motors diesels were more common.
Today, the branch passenger service is the domain of railcars. Gone too are the old steam heated Cravens carriages.
I was working with a pair of Nikon F3s (my old F3T and a F3HP). On one I had a Tokina 400mm lens, on the other a Nikkor f2.8 24mm. Both photographs were exposed on Fuji Sensia 100 slide film and scanned.
The program begins at 1900 (7pm) upstairs at the Exmouth Arms, 1 Starcross Street, LONDON NW1, (advertised as a 5 minute walk from London’s Euston station). A nominal donation of £3.50 is asked of non-IRRS members (members £2.50)
On April 9, 1994, I made this image of a freshly painted California Northern GP15-1 in front of the former Northwestern Pacific station at Petaluma, California. In the foreground are some poppies—California’s state flower.
California Northern had only recently assumed operation of several former Southern Pacific lines, including the lower portion of the NWP route via Petaluma. As it turned out, California Northern only operated the NWP segment for a few years, making this a relatively rare image. It was published in Pacific RailNews in the mid-1990s.
This image of rear-end helpers on the back of a loaded Norfolk Southern autorack train was part of a sequence of photos I made at this location shortly after sunrise on November 3, 2001. My friend Mike Gardner and I were on a weeklong photo-pilgrimage in central Pennsylvania.
The location is a classic and there’s a lot of history here: I’m looking from Tunnel Hill in Gallitzin railroad-direction east toward Bennington Curve on the former Pennsylvania Railroad. If you look carefully, you can see more of the train winding through the curve in the distance. The line descends along Sugar Run. A short while after I made this image, the train looped around the famous Horseshoe Curve near Altoona, Pennsylvania.
Just below the last autorack, ahead of the helpers, is a bridge that once crossed the old line that went around the Muleshoe Curve. Conrail lifted that route in the early 1980s. In the 1960s, my father made photos from ground level at this location with PRR trains coming off the Muleshoe line.
Because of the weight of the train, the helpers were needed for dynamic braking to keep train speed at a safe crawl down this unusually steep mainline railroad. Although Conrail was two-years gone when I made this image, the SD40-2 helpers based at Cresson were still largely dressed in Conrail blue. The whine of their dynamic braking rounded across the valley on this crisp clear morning.
Santa Fe had been first to order the FP45—intended as a dual service machine used passenger service and for fast freight. The only other customer for the FP45 was Milwaukee Road which bought five of them. Significant of these designs was the external semi-streamlined cowling leading the locomotive’s ‘Cowls’ nickname.
EMD’s F45 was intended primarily for freight so it didn’t feature a large steam generator. As a result it was several feet shorter. Santa Fe ordered 40, while along with Great Northern and its successor Burlington Northern, bought 56 F45s. Like its SD45, EMD rated both FP45 and F45 at 3,600 hp.These locomotives had a similar appearance to the SDP40F and F40C (see: Locomotive Geometry Part 4).
Although Wisconsin Central operated seven of the big cowled EMDs, I found these to be relatively elusive when compared to WC’s far more common SD45s. Yet, I count myself fortunate to have caught the cowl 20-cylinder locomotives at various occasions, both in Santa Fe and Wisconsin Central paint.
By the mid-1990s, Wisconsin Central Limited operated one of the largest fleets of secondhand 20-cylinder EMD locomotives in the United States, having acquired more than 100 SD45s, F45s, among other 20-cylinder models from class I railroads. It rebuilt the locomotives at its North Fond du Lac shops.
At the time, I lived in Waukesha within earshot of WC’s former Soo Line mainline to Chicago. A few miles to the north was WC’s crossing of Soo Line’s former Milwaukee Road mainline. (This confusing arrangement stemmed from Soo Line’s 1985 merger with Milwaukee Road, and the subsequent spin off of former Soo Line routes which in 1987 had been regrouped as Wisconsin Central Limited.)
Among WC’s freights was T047, which connected with Soo Line in Milwaukee and so utilized the former Milwaukee Road mainline between Milwaukee and Duplainville. On the afternoon of May 7, 1996, I exposed this Kodachrome slide of a pair of WC SD45s (one of which still wearing Santa Fe paint) leaving the Milwaukee mainline on its way north toward North Fond du Lac.
Southern Pacific’s Donner Pass crossing was one of my big projects. I’ve called this ‘the mother of all mountain grades,’ other authors have simply described it as ‘The Hill’.
I wrote in my Southern Pacific book:
“Where other SP mountain crossings can claim steeper grades, heavier traffic and more sinuous track arrangements than Donner, no other grade is as old or as formidable as this storied mountain crossing. Donner’s exceptionally long eastbound grade—96 miles—rising from near sea level in California’s Central Valley to a summit 7,000 feet high in the Sierra, would test the mettle of any railroader, but what places Donner in a class by itself, is exceptionally harsh, and often unpredictable, winter weather.”
I made my first trip over Donner in my white Toyota Corolla on the final leg of my drive to California, yet I was already well acquainted with the pass through the photos of Richard Steinheimer. In October 1989, I began exploring the pass.
At one point I phoned Steinheimer to ask his advice on making photographs of the pass. His kindness to me told me more about the man than his thousands of wonderful photographs. He spent a least an hour on the phone and inspired my efforts. In later years I occasionally encountered him working SP rails, and he always acknowledged me.
Fellow photographers aided my efforts: Brian Jennison, whom I met in the snow on Donner, and former SP dispatcher J.D. Schmid—known for his skilled use of light to expose Kodachrome slides.
While I’ve explored many of the difficult to reach locations on Donner, for this essay I’ve chosen a favorite image made at one of the most clichéd places, the easy-to-reach Soda Springs grade crossing.
I’d been up on the pass early; I found this westward train led by a Denver & Rio Grande Western SD45, complete with classic dual headlight arrangement. Soda Springs offered nice more ‘glint’, and the train is bathed in an ethereal blend its own exhaust and ground fog illuminated by the rising sun. The details make this image for me; the warm morning light provides atmosphere, while the searchlights on distant SP signal bridge mimic the vertical pattern of the SD45’s headlights.
Between 1989 and 1994, I made more than 50 trips to photograph Donner, and perhaps another dozen since then. Despite my many books, most of these Donner Pass photos remain unpublished. Stay tuned . . .
In April 2002, I made this image of a railfan’s excursion led by PKP (Polish National Railways) 2-10-0 Ty3-2 gingerly negotiating a disused line at Kozuchow. This trip covered a variety of closed lines southwest of the steam depot (shop) at Wolsztyn. For me, there is something romantic and compelling about old locomotives plying decaying infrastructure. Perhaps it’s a Byronesque inspiration, or an influence from 18th and 19th century art; paintings that depict vestiges of Roman ruins dotting pastoral landscapes which convey a nagging reminder of the great empire—centuries gone. Here we have the leviathan of another era, plying track barely visible through the grass.
Of course in Poland, there’s layers of complicated history behind such scenes. Railways in this part of western Poland are a legacy of the old Prussian state; while locomotives such as this one stem from 1940s German design. Following World War II, political boundaries were redrawn to reflect the desires of the victors, which placed this part of Germany back in Polish-territory. Cold war politics and economic stagnation combined with large supplies of Silesian coal, compelled Poland to sustain regular steam operations for decades later than most European railways. Following the collapse of Soviet control in the late-1980s, Poland re-adopted a capitalist system. As a result Poland’s railways, especially lightly used lines, such as the secondary route pictured here, suffered. Many lines fell into disuse. Like the fortresses, aqueducts, and amphitheatres of the old Roman Empire, disused Polish railways survived as vestiges of the earlier eras.
The process continues. While Poland has invested in its mainlines, its rural lines continue to fade. Recently, I learned that thousands of miles of lightly used Polish railways may be abandoned. I question the wisdom and shortsighted rational of such a transportation policy, but I cannot help but imagine the pictorial possibilities.
This was the icon-image used to advertise my November 2008 Silver & Steel photographic exhibition. I’d exposed it six years earlier on a three-week autumnal photographic exercise that began in Vermont, and brought me as far west as Omaha. I returned east via Cincinnati, Roanoke and Washington D.C.
The photograph was among those made on the outward leg of the trip. I’d met some friends for a few days of photography on CSX’s Mountain Subdivision, the old Baltimore & Ohio ‘West End’—the original B&O mountain crossing. On the morning of October 18th, we found this westward empty hopper train working west through the fog covered Potomac River Valley. Getting ahead of the train, we exposed a sequence of images of it near ‘Z’ Tower at the west-end of Keyser Yard. The sun had begun to burn off the fog, some of which still clung to the river valley and surrounding hills making for a cosmic setting worthy of the old B&O.
Working in silhouette can be tricky; low light and fog helps. An image like this works when the main subject is clearly defined from the background. The ditch-lights on the leading locomotive are crucial to maintaining compositional balance both identifying a focal point and indicating action; without the lights the image takes on a completely different character.
I was working with my Nikon N90s and a Nikkor f2.8 180mm lens and Fujichrome Astia 100 film. Fuji introduced Astia in 1997, and supplied it concurrently with its Provia 100. Astia offered a slightly warmer color balance, and a rich black, remaking it an ideal medium for autumnal situations. Unfortunately, Astia was replaced with Astia 100F in 2003. While nominally sharper, I never found the Astia 100F as pleasing as the original Astia. Asked about this film choice, my friend Brian Jennison, once exclaimed, ‘Its nastia with Astia!’ Indeed it is!
East Broad Top’s Baldwin-built Mikado 15 works northward from Orbisonia, Pennsylvania in September 1996. This is another of my favorite railway images, I’ve used it in several books and it was among those I displayed in my Silver & Steel exhibit in November 2008. It captures the first excursion over the line in several days, and the engine is working rusted rail, which adds to the timeless aura of a bucolic scene. EBT is fantastic; the soft yet clear sounds of the locomotive exhaust coupled with a distant mournful whistle followed by a whiff of coal smoke will send you back to a simpler day.
East Broad Top is a treasure, a railway frozen in time. The railway was a relic of another era when it ceased common carrier operations in 1956. Resuscitated by the scrapper that took title to it in the mid-1950s, today it is among America’s most authentic historic railways. I’ve made hundreds of photographs on the line over the years. However, due to difficulties beyond my understanding, the line didn’t operate its regular excursions last year. I wonder; might it re-open this year? Even without a locomotive under steam, EBT remains a compelling subject.
See my book Baldwin Locomotives for a host of classic Baldwin photographs and detailed information on East Broad Top’s Mikados among many other engines.
I selected this image of Budapest Keleti Station as part of a exhibition of more than twenty of my photographs titled Silver & Steel that made its debut in November 2008 at the GONe Studio. I exposed it at the beginning of an Eastern European rail adventure that ultimately brought me across Hungary, through Romania to Vlad Tepe’s birthplace, over the Carpathians and then into eastern Ukraine. Keleti or ‘Eastern’ Station is a principle Hungarian terminus for international rail travel; it’s a classic railway temple featuring a magnificent train shed that faces the city through an enormous fan-shaped window.
The trick to getting this dramatic angle was working my old Nikon F3T with its detachable prism. I focused manually, then removed the prism, and laid the camera on the platform, fine-tuning composition looking down on the mirror image while using a combination of Euro coins to prop up the lens. During exposure, I used my notebook to shade the front element from flare. To minimize vibration, I set the self-timer and stood back. My faithful Minolta IV light meter was key to calculating base exposure, but I then added a full stop to compensate for the cavernous quality of the train shed and the film’s reciprocity failure (owing to long exposure time). I made several exposures, most of which came out blurred because of nominal camera vibration. Ultimately, I locked up the F3T’s mirror for this final image.
Norfolk Southern’s former Nickel Plate Road mainline from Buffalo to Cleveland navigated 19th Street in Erie, Pennsylvania. This unusually long section of street trackage offered some great photographic opportunities. In October 1994, I was visiting Erie on my way from West Virginia to Wisconsin, and I made this image of a lone NS GP59 leading a westward double-stack train down 19th Street. The soft light of a dull day works well here by allowing the texture and hues of autumnal foliage to offer the illusion of a long corridor, with effect of haze giving added depth. The train seems endless. I was working with a Nikormat FT3 with Nikkor f4.0 200mm lens on a Bogen tripod and Fujichrome 100 slide film.
This street trackage was sacrificed as a condition of the Conrail split in the late 1990s. To eliminate the slow running and please unsympathetic neighbors of the railroad, NS shifted its operations through Erie to the parallel former New York Central grade-separated line (owned and operated by CSX after the 1998-1999 split.)