The former Pennsylvania Railroad Middle Division is one of the busiest freight routes in the eastern United States. On November 5, 2001, Mike Gardner and I spent the afternoon on Middle Division photographing Norfolk Southern freights.
The combination of pastoral Pennsylvania scenery, low November sun, and steady parade of freights made for lots of opportunity to make interesting railway images.
I’m always looking for a new angle. Here I worked with light and shade to sculpt scenes that captured the character of the place as well as the trains passing through it. I exposed these images using my Nikon F3 with Fuji Provia 100F.
Tracking the Light posts new material every morning.
We were waiting for Pan Am Southern’s westward empty autorack, train 206. This was just the gravy: Earlier Mike Gardner, Brian Jennison and I, had already had a productive summer’s day following the Mass-Central and caught Amtrak’s Vermonter in perfect light at Millers Falls.
As we waited for 205, Pan Am’s dispatcher routed its eastward counterpart, loaded autorack train 206 (destined for Ayer, Massachusetts), through the yard at East Deerfield to get it around a track gang.
This was an unexpected bonus! The train was led by a colorful consist of General Electric diesels. A Union Pacific Evolution-series was up front, followed by a curious former Conrail and/or LMS DASH8-40CW lettered for Canadian National and sublettered for CN’s subsidiary Illinois Central. Trailing was a common Norfolk Southern DASH9-40CW.
It’s just as well I shot this as a digital image and not as a color slide. I couldn’t have fit all this information on the slide mount! (Although I did exposed a frame of black & white film).
We never saw Pan Am’s 205 that day.
Nor did we catch the following unit grain train with BNSF locomotives leading. You can’t win all the prizes.
In April 1988, I was exploring locations along Conrail’s former New York Central ‘Water Level Route’ west of Dunkirk, New York. Parallel to this line was the old Nickel Plate Road.
Where the former New York Central Line was a highly engineered grade-level route and crossed the terrain on high earthen fills, Nickel Plate was built to a lighter standard and used plate girder viaducts over the valleys of rivers and streams.
Lighter engineering often results in more interesting photographs.
I caught this Norfolk Southern freight working toward Buffalo over a tower-supported plate-girder trestle near Westfield, New York.
At the time, Norfolk Southern had recently purchased a fleet of General Electric C39-8s and tended to work these long hood first. I found this arrangement fascinating and so I made a variety of images of the big GE diesels working ‘hammer head’ style.
This is one of my favorite classic locations. The abutments for the old Route 53 overpass across the former Pennsylvania Railroad between Gallitzin and Cresson offered a great vista for westward train in the afternoon.
I exposed this view four years ago today using my Lumix LX3. I’d set the camera’s aspect ratio to 16:9 which gives a slightly more panoramic view when held horizontal. One of the advantages of the Panasonic Lumix LX series cameras is the ability to adjust the aspect ratio.
I’ve found this a great compositional tool because it allows me to frame photographs differently with the touch of a switch. This is almost like having a whole new camera system without all the complications.
You might ask, ‘why not just use the camera full-frame and then crop the image later?’ My answer is simple: When I compose an image, I’m taking into consideration the relative placement of all the elements and lighting. I find this is most effective when done on site, and not after the fact.
Fifty years ago, it would have been pretty neat to see a Burlington GP30 at Pennsylvania Railroad’s Enola Yard. Yet for the context of that photo to be fully appreciated, it would help to have the location of the locomotive implied in the image.
A few weeks ago, Pat Yough and I were driving by Norfolk Southern’s Enola Yard and spotted this SD70ACE. These days, BNSF locomotives on Norfolk Southern and CSX are not unusual occurrences. Not in Pennsylvania anyway.
After a tight image of the locomotive, I stood back and made a few views intended to convey location.
It’s not what you see, but the images made of what you see.
In contrast from the iced grip of winter, these photographs were made on June 30, 2010. This was a gorgeous warm summer’s morning; birds twittered the tree branches as the sun light streamed through a gauzy haze to burn away the dew.
I arrived early at the famed ‘Railfan’s Overlook’ to make photographs in the early light of day. In the distance, I could hear the thunder of a heavy train climbing east toward the Allegheny Divide at Gallitzin.
Norfolk Southern’s busy former Pennsylvania Railroad mainline rarely disappoints, and this morning it was alive with trains.
Using my Canon EOS 7D, I worked the glinting sun to its best advantage as an eastward Pennsylvania Power & Light coal train clawed into view. As it worked the grade, a westward RoadRailer led by former Conrail locomotive glided down grade.
At the back of the coal train were a pair of freshly painted SD40Es making a classic EMD-roar as they worked in run-8 (maximum throttle).
How I wish I was enjoying a warm June morning on the West Slope right now!
Contrasting Views of Indiana Railway Lines, June 2004.
In a world of railway mergers and consolidation, we can divide railway routes into groups; survivors and losers. Some lines have prevailed while others have been abandoned and ripped up.
Of course, we can further divide surviving lines. There are lines that continue to function as busy corridors, while others may only exist in fragmented form, or as downgraded local routes. Often fragments have been sown together and so now old railway line serve routes that may be very different than as originally intended.
Putting these concepts on film presents a puzzle and a challenge.
In June 2004, I was exploring western Indiana with Pete Ruesch and with his help I exposed these two photographs. The ‘winner’ is a sunset view of Norfolk Southern’s former Wabash mainline at Marshfield, which serves as a heavily-traveled long-distance freight corridor. The ‘loser’ was a recently abandoned vestige of New York Central’s Egyptian Line at the Indiana-Illinois state line.
Both were exposed with Nikon cameras on Fuji color slide film.
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.
Last week I rode from Chicago Union Station over the former New York Central Water Level route to Albany and then via the Boston & Albany to Worcester, Massachusetts.
A familiar run, I first made this trip in August of 1983 and I’ve done it many times since. However, both my first trip and most recent have a commonality: I began these trips with some photography on the former Chicago, Burlington & Quincy ‘Triple Track’ near Aurora, rode a ‘scoot’ into Chicago and changed for the Lake Shore at Union Station.
While I enjoy train travel, I’m not especially keen on really long runs. My usual limit is about 8 hours. I make exceptions for the Lake Shore. For me this is one of the most interesting American runs.
The queuing process at Chicago Union leaves much to be desired. It reminded me of a recent experience with jury duty. Yet once ensconced in my seat in an Amfleet II coach I was happy enough.
We departed Union Station 3 minutes after the advertised and gradually lost more time over the course of the run. I don’t mind this especially, after all the train’s long standing nick-name is, “The Late for Sure Limited.’
Gliding east in the darkness, I squinted to pick out familiar landmarks, as this trip is the thread that really ties my recent posts together.
At 9:37 pm we eased over the 21st Street Bridge; a few minutes later we clattered across the diamonds with the old Rock Island at Englewood, and at 9:58 we raced through Hammond-Whiting, Indiana. I noted where Chris Guss and I had stood a week earlier to photograph both an EJ&E freight and NS’s Interstate Heritage Unit.
Northern Indiana was alive with trains. We passed a CSX stack train at Curtis on the adjacent former Baltimore & Ohio. East of Michigan City we overtook a South Shore freight led by a pair of GP38s roaring along under wire like an apparition from another era. I heard the Doppler blast as the South Shore hit a crossing alongside of us. It was just a momentary glimpse in the night and not far from a spot where Mike Danneman made photos on an icy February afternoon some 18 years ago.
A seeming endless parade of Norfolk Southern freights greeted us on the Water Level Route. Every few minutes a low base roar would precede locomotives blasting by on an adjacent main track. Although Conrail has been gone 14 years, I still find it odd that Central’s old Water Level Route is now run by two separate railroads.
I dozed off, waking briefly at Toledo to watch an oil train roll east, and empty hoppers used to move fracking sand clatter west. Somewhere between Toledo and Berea, Ohio we lost about an hour.
Near Berea we met the rising sun and passed the old tower—sacred ground visited by my late friend Bob Buck and countless other fans over the years. This is the divide, from here east we were rode on CSX tracks.
We paused for Cleveland, then Erie, and for many miles we ran parallel to the former Nickel Plate Road, which now carries Norfolk Southern freight east of Cleveland. I was pleased to see many photographers line-side; my train’s journey was well documented!
At Buffalo, I had a pleasant surprise: instead of taking the normal route via CP Draw and CP FW, we were routed over the Compromise Branch that takes a more northerly (and slightly longer route) through Buffalo, rejoining the other line at CP 437 (the control point near the ghastly decaying remnants of Buffalo Central Terminal). Amtrak’s 48/448 serves the suburban Buffalo-Depew station instead of the old terminal.
Behind me a woman traveler was on the phone describing her trip on Amtrak from Oregon: “We live in such an amazing country! Crossing the plains I saw endless herds of wild Bison and red Indians on horseback! There were wagon trains crawling dusty trails against purple mountains and rainbows! And amber fields of grain! Is that wheat, do you think? And Chicago was like the emerald city, its towers scraping the sky. Such a skyline! And all through the Midwest big factories making the produce of America! It’s just wonderful!”
Indeed. Was she on number 8? Or perhaps one of those ‘Great Trains of the Continental Route’ as advertised in my August 1881 Travelers’ Official Guide?
At Rochester, my old friend Otto Vondrak came down for a brief visit. He and I share various Rochester-area experiences. Then eastward into ever more familiar territory.
At Schenectady, a Canadian Pacific freight overtook us on the Delaware & Hudson before we resumed our sprint to Albany-Rensselaer, where we then sat for an eternity waiting for station space. Here 48 and 448 are divided, with the latter continuing down the Hudson to New York City.
East of Rensselaer, I paid extra special attention to our progress. There are few railroads I know as well as the B&A. At 4:38pm we met CSX’s Q283 (empty autoracks) at Chatham. We paused at CP171 (East Chatham) to let pass our westward counterpart, train 449. At Pittsfield, CSX’s Q423 (Worcester to Selkirk) was waiting for us.
The highlight of the trip was the sinuous descent of Washington Hill’s west slope. There was test of the Westinghouse brakes near the deep rock cut east of Washington Station, and I continued my trip through time and space. Familiar places and landmarks blitzed by the glass; Lower Valley Road, Becket, Twin Ledges, old Middlefield Station, Whistler’s stone bridges along the valley of the Westfield’s west branch, the old helper station at Chester, and east through Huntington, Russell, and Woronoco.
At West Springfield we passed the old Boston & Albany yard. Watching the parade of trains in evening at the west end of the yard were ghosts of departed members of the West Springfield Train Watchers; among them founding member Norvel C. Parker, Stuart Woolley—retired B&A fireman, Joseph Snopek—photographer and author, and of course, Bob Buck—B&A’s greatest fan and proprietor of Tucker’s Hobbies. I waved and they waved back. (Hey, at least I wasn’t seeing herds of wild bison!)
After a stop at Springfield Station, I was on my final leg of this journey. We rattled over the Palmer diamonds—where I’ve exposed countless photos over the years, and raced up the Quaboag River Valley, through West Warren, Warren, West Brookfield, Brookfield, and East Brookfield—where my friend Dennis LeBeau and his loyal dog, Wolfie, were line-side to salute my passage.
At Worcester, my father, Richard J. Solomon was poised to collect me. And so concluded my latest Lake Shore epic. And, yes, 448 was indeed late: 1 hour 15 minutes passed the advertised. Tsk!
Often I look to put trains in their environment by trying to find angles that show context. Not every railway scene is scenic. And, in the North East, more often than not, the environment around the railway is pretty rough looking. But that is the scene, isn’t it?
On Wednesday May 29, 2013, Rich Reed and I were making photos of trains on former Boston & Maine lines around Ayer, Massachusetts. Rich has lived in the area for many years and is well versed on the history of the area.
Among the trains we saw was this Pan Am Southern local switching a set of autoracks. In the 1970s, a GP9 would have often worked Boston & Maine’s Ayer local. Today, Pan Am Southern runs the railroad, and the local is a pair of Norfolk Southern GE six-motor DASH-9s working long hood first.
I made several images east of the Ayer station. One of my favorites is the view looking down the street that features a parked postal truck and cars with the train serving as background instead of the main subject. It’s an ordinary everyday scene, yet it’s part of the history, and someday it will be different. Everything changes.
Which of these images will be more memorable in 50 years time? Someone might wonder why the Post Office needed a delivery truck, or what all the wires were for. You just never know.
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.
On the eve of assumption of operations by Conrail in Spring 1976, my father and I had explored railway operations in the New York City area. Twenty-three years later, we spent a long weekend in New York’s Mohawk and Hudson Valleys photographing the last days of independent Conrail operations before the railway was divided between its new owners CSX and Norfolk Southern.
On the morning of May 29, 1999, I made this dramatic image of a westward Conrail double-stack train blasting along the former New York Central Water Level Route at Fonda, New York.
Evidence of the old New York Central can be seen in the wide right of way left over from its four-track days, and the steam-era signal bridges with classic General Railway Signal searchlights. In the last few years, CSX has replaced most of the NYC-era signals with modern hardware.
Leading the train was one of Conrail’s ten C32-8s, a pre-production model built by General Electric in 1984, unique to Conrail (although nearly identical in appearance to the slightly more powerful C39-8, bought by Conrail and Norfolk Southern). This one was dressed in Conrail’s short-lived ‘Ballast Express’ livery.
A variation of this image was published by RailNews, shortly before that magazine concluded operations. Hard to believe that both Conrail and RailNews have been gone nearly 14 years.