I’d mentioned that among the top ten reasons that I wanted to make photographs in 2018 was to revisit old places to make dramatic then and now comparisons.
This is a work in progress. And I’ve published similar comparisons for Palmer previously.
Below are several views looking west from the Palmer station toward the diamond crossing.
Over the decades I’ve made hundreds of photos here.
The vintage photo dates from Spring 1984. This view works well for modern companions because I conveniently left lots of room to the right of the locomotive while including details such as the code lines.
The color New England Central views were exposed on January 3, 2018.
These are imperfect comparisons because I’m not working from precisely the same angle, nor am I using equivalent lenses.
The 1984 views were made with a 50mm Leica Summitar, while the more recent views were exposed digitally using a Fujinon 90mm lens. However, I also made a few color slides using a 40mm Canon lens. But those are pending processing.
This was one of several photos I exposed with my father’s Leica 3C in Palmer, Massachusetts on Labor Day weekend 1977. I started 6th grade a couple of days later.
Significantly, it was the first time I made a photo from this location at the Palmer Diamond, where Central Vermont crossed Conrail’s former Boston & Albany line. From near this spot, I’ve since made many hundreds of photos—more than I dare to count.
Compare this 1977 view with my recent images of a CSX eastward intermodal train. (I posted these the other day, but have also included them below.)
Looking back, I wonder why it took me so long to decide to make photos here. But realistically, prior to summer 1977 my railway photographic efforts were infrequent events.
For my birthday that year, my dad gave me my own Leica, a model 3A, which I carried everywhere for the next seven years and with which I made thousands of images from the Maine coast to southern California, and from Quebec to Mexico.
Late Autumn in a familiar place: on October 31st, I met Rich Reed & company at Palmer for a visit at Palmer Hobbies and lunch at the Steaming Tender. Rich was dressed in costume as one of the Blue Brothers from the early ‘80s film.
Afterwards we observed New England Central’s freight from Brattleboro, job 611, that arrived at the Palmer diamond led by tunnel motor (originally an EMD SD40T-2, now designated an SD40-2) number 3317 in Genesee & Wyoming corporate paint—colors that are remarkably well-suited for the day: orange, yellow and black.
From Palmer we traveled up to West Warren to roll by Amtrak’s westward Lake Shore Limited against a backdrop of late-season foliage.
I made this photograph on April 13, 1984. It was a Friday, and I was then in my final months of my Senior year of High School.
If I recall correctly, in this instance I wasn’t ‘absent’ as Seniors were allowed to leave the school if they didn’t have a class, and there was an even greater freedom permitted on Fridays.
Anyway, I think the Palmer diamonds, where Central Vermont’s line crossed Conrail’s east-west Boston & Albany route was a better place for me to be on that Friday the 13th.
However, this negative was left in the ‘seconds’ file for many years. Not because of the subject matter, or any grave instance caused by the unlucky day. But rather because my processing skills were not yet up to par.
In addition to careless over-processing the negatives in Kodak Microdol-X (which in my view led to a grainy appearance coupled with slightly unpleasant contrast), I managed to add a few strategic scratches and water spots when drying them. Just basic poor handling on my part.
While the scene is fascinating to me now, as it reveals just how much Palmer has changed over the 31 year interval, at the time it was common. It was easier to return to Palmer and expose more negatives, than worry about correcting my processing faults.
Ultimately, I refined my black & white process. Today, using Lightroom, I spent some time to rid the flaws in the original negatives including spots, scratches, contrast, and put the image on level.
I’ve presented four variations beginning with the raw unmodified scan. The fourth represents the most amount of manipulation in post processing.
Trains Converge on Palmer; 2 Hours of Non-stop Action.
In the 1980s, Trains Magazine occasionally ran articles that featured ‘hot spots’ illustrated by sequences of photos showing different trains passing the same place over the course of hours.
These always caught my attention. While the individual images ranged from pedestrian to interpretive, the collective effect produced an understanding of how a busy spot worked.
Trains tend to arrive in clusters. Hours may pass where nothing goes by except a track car, then trains arrive from every direction. The astute photographer has learned when to make the most of these situations.
Palmer, Massachusetts can be a busy place, if you’re there at the right time. CSX’s east-west former Boston & Albany mainline crosses New England Central’s (NECR) former Central Vermont line at grade. An interchange track connects the two routes and serves as connection to the former B&A Ware River Branch operated by Massachusetts Central.
Afternoon tends to be busy. Among the moves through Palmer are Amtrak’s Vermonters that use CSX’s line between Springfield and Palmer, and NECR’s line north of Palmer toward Vermont. There isn’t a direct connection to allow an eastward train on the CSX route to directly access the NECR’s line.
To compensate for this, Amtrak’s trains must use CSX’s controlled siding to access the interchange track, and this to reach the NECR. This requires trains to reverse direction. As a result, Amtrak trains either have locomotives on each end or run with a push-pull cab control car.
On the afternoon of October 17, 2013, the interchange track proved one of the busiest lines in Palmer and was used by a succession of NECR, Mass-Central, and Amtrak trains.
Complicating matters was Amtrak 57 (southward Vermonter) which was running more than an hour behind its scheduled time, and so met its northward counterpart at Palmer. New England Central was also busy with no less than three trains working around Palmer about the same time.
I’ve put the following photos in sequence with the approximate times of exposure. I stress ‘approximate’, since my digital camera’s clocks not only didn’t agree on the minutes passed the hour, but were set for different time zones as a function of recent travel.
It was a nice bright day too. Patrons at Palmer’s ever popular Steaming Tender restaurant (located in the restored former Palmer Union Station) were entertained with a succession of trains passing on both sides of the building.
Not bad for one afternoon! Yet, not a CSX train in sight. These days much of CSX’s business passes Palmer in darkness.
Trying something different: in October 1984, I was taking a course in photography as part of my studies at Hampshire College in Amherst, Massachusetts. This involved an introduction to color printing. For this exercise I exposed a few rolls of 120 Kodak professional color negative film rated at 160 ISO. This material appears to have been designed for low-contrast imagery, such as portraiture, and so had a very different color palate than the 35mm Kodachrome slide film I was used to.
Using my father’s Rollei Model T, I made a series of railway images around Palmer, Massachusetts. I made prints for my class, then I filed the negatives along with my other work and promptly forgot about them. A couple of years ago, I rediscovered them while digging through the archives. Color negatives tend to be less robust than either slide film or black & white, and my negatives had suffered from a variety of light abrasions that would have made conventional printing problematic. Through the magic of digital technology, I was able to easily scan them and then touch up the scratches in Photoshop.
Among the more interesting photographs is this view of the dwarf signal at the Palmer diamond, back when Conrail’s Boston & Albany line was still equipped with directional double track and traditional multiple-tier code lines. It was a crisp clear October afternoon with a light breeze, and the trees were approaching their autumnal peak.