In May 1978, my father drove us to Palmer, Massachusetts to watch the passage of the eastward Lake Shore Limited (train 448). I made a series of photos using my pre-war Leica IIIA rangefinder on Kodacolor II color negative film.
This trailing view looks east toward the old South Main Street Bridge and Conrail’s Palmer yard. It looks like something nasty happened to the westward signal (at right). A pair of E8s led the train.
Despite their age, these old color negatives have held up reasonably well. I scanned them in 2016 using an Epson V600 flatbed scanner.
Last week I’d noted this locomotive at Cedar Hill Yard in New Haven, Connecticut as I was driving south on I-91.
‘What’s that?’ I wondered, having noticed the colorful paint livery, but not having the ability to inspect it.
As fortune would have it, I was able to inspect the locomotive a little while ago.
Yesterday, Tracking the Light follower and fellow photographer, Paul Goewey, alerted me to the fact that GMTX SD60 9000 had been interchanged by Providence & Worcester to New England Central at Willimantic, Connecticut.
Last night I was attending the photographic opening by Roger Ingraham at the Three Graces on Main Street in Stafford Springs, when New England Central freight 608 rolled north through town. Trailing was GMTX 9000.
This morning, I called into Palmer and made these photos. I expect, the locomotive will continue its northward journey on NECR 611, but that’s just an educated guess.
Transportation; Railroads; Railways; Railway Photography, that’s what I photograph. Right?
But what’s the actual subject? What should I focus on? More to the point; what is interesting? And, is today’s interesting subject going to be interesting tomorrow?
Looking back is one way to look forward.
Yet, there lies a paradox: When I look back over my older photos, I regret not having better skills to have consistently made more interesting and more varied images. And also, for not being more aware of what was interesting.
The lesson is then is about skill: learn to vary technique, adopt new approaches and continually refine the process of making photos while searching for interesting subjects. (The searching is the fun part!)
A truly successful image is one that transcends the subject and captures the attention of the audience.
So, is railway photography really about the subject?
Tracking the Light posts new material every morning.
Twenty-eight years ago I made this photo. It was the day after Conrail began single-tracking the Boston & Albany route. On July 21, 1986, track forces had cut in CP83 at Palmer, and CP92 in Springfield, removing the old number 1 (westward) track from service.
The remains of the second diamond crossing with Central Vermont are in the foreground. A westward empty autorack is taking the new switch at CP83 in front of the Palmer Union Station.
Over the years, I’ve made countless images of the Central Vermont Railway, and its modern day successor, New England Central at Palmer.
It was a warm August evening, the light was nice, and a pair of CV GP9s were working the Conrail interchange.
Rather than simply make another close-up trackside-view, I opted for this unusual angle south of the old Union Station. I put CV’s tracks in the foreground, while framing the locomotives in the canopy supports of the station. For me this tells a story while putting a less common perspective on a familiar place.
This was 15 years before the station was restored and transformed into the Steaming Tender Restaurant. Now the station is again vibrant, while CV and Conrail are many years gone.
Russell Buck, son of late photographer Robert A. Buck, holds a preview copy of Brian Solomon’s The Twilight of Steam. This book features photography and stories from some of the great steam photographers.
The book can be viewed at Palmer Hobbies on 1428 Main Street in Palmer, Massachusetts. Phone: 413-436-5318. Open Tuesday to Saturday.
Proprietor of Palmer Hobbies, Bill Lanza, has opened his doors!
Come in and have a look around!
Palmer Hobbies features a variety of model railway products, magazines, and, of course, railroad books!
Patrons of the old Tucker’s Hobbies (formerly Tucker’s Hardware) in nearby Warren, Massachusetts will find familiar faces.
The new store is easy to find. It’s located at 1428 Main Street in Palmer, Massachusetts. Take the Massachusetts Turnpike to Palmer, turn right and drive toward Depot Village. The shop is located in the center at the lights near the Hess Station and across from the CVS drug store.
Palmer Hobbies is near the famous Palmer Diamond, where New England Central’s former Central Vermont crosses CSXT’s Boston & Albany route. It’s across the tracks from the popular Steaming Tender restaurant (near CP 83).
Phone: 413-436-5318. Open Tuesday to Saturday. (Closed on Sunday and Monday).
Tucker’s Hobbies was the dream business for my late friend and mentor, Robert A. Buck, who in 1981 relocated and transformed his Tucker’s Hardware into Tucker’s Hobbies. This had long been a focal point for railway interest, a place to meet railroaders, model railroaders, enthusiasts, and others.
I’ve been regularly visiting Tucker’s since its hardware store days on Main Street in Warren. In the 1980s, I was a regular for Friday night sessions and despite living in myriad locations, I’ve often come back for visits.
Bob Buck passed away in October 2011. Yet, the store has remained open on Friday and Saturday’s. However, all things must end. And this past weekend (May 16-17) represented the store’s final opening hours in Warren.
I called into Tucker’s for an hour Friday night (May 16) to visit with old friends and take a final look at the shop. I made these digital images using my Canon EOS 7D. This was a venue that via Bob Buck had a profound influence on my interests in railways and on my photography.
Yet Tucker’s legacy lives on, and the store will be taking a new form as Palmer Hobbies opening soon on Main Street in nearby Palmer, Massachusetts.
In early summer 1986, Conrail was weeks away from converting the Boston & Albany route from a traditional directional double track mainline to a single-track line under the control of CTC-style signals with cab-signal. The first section to be cut-over to the new control system was between Palmer to Springfield, Massachusetts.
Among the results of this change was the abandonment and eventual lifting of the old westward main train west of Palmer.
I was well aware of this pending change and had been documenting Conrail’s work in the area over the preceding months.
On the evening of June 17, 1986, I focused on the westward main track at the Quaboag River bridge just west of the Palmer diamond as Conrail’s eastward SEBO-B dropped down the short grade toward the Palmer yard.
While the train adds interest to the scene; my main focus was the track in the foreground that would soon be gone. I made a variety of images in this area on the weeks up to Conrail’s cut-over day.
Photographing directly into the clear summer sun produced a painterly abstraction. I’ve allowed some flare to hit the camera’s lens which obscures shadow detail and makes for a dream-like quality.
Years after I exposed this frame, I moved to California where I met photographers that had perfected this photographic technique. Interestingly, railroad photographers had been using backlighting to good advantage for a long time. In searching through archives I’ve come across fine examples of Fred Jukes’ and Otto Perry’s works with similar backlighting effects.
On October 24, 2013, Amtrak’s southward Vermonter is south of Three Rivers in Palmer, Massachusetts. I’ve often favored this view along the old Central Vermont Railway where the tracks run along the side of the road. The train is approaching Palmer’s yard limits and is trundling along at a casual pace.
Everyday scenes like this one are easy enough to find, yet tend to hold their interest over time. Items such as the trash cans on the left and the car on the road may someday garnish greater interest than the P42 leading the Vermonter.
Yet, someone interested in trains in the future may see this and exclaim, ‘You mean that way back in 2013, they ran the Vermonter via Three Rivers? No way! Why?’
Last Friday evening, November 16, 2013, I stopped by New England Central in Palmer, Massachusetts on my way to meet friends for dinner.
The moon was nearly full and a venerable GP38 was resting in the yard. Here was an opportunity for a photograph (or two)!
I’ve made numerous images of New England Central 3855, since this locomotive arrived with the creation of the railroad nearly 19 years ago. So why bother make more, especially on a chilly November evening?
My short answer: because it was there to photograph.
The long answer: the moon was out casting a surreal glow across the Palmer yard and the mix of moonlight and sodium vapor street lights inspired me to expose some long time exposures.
I positioned my Lumix LX3 on my large Bogen tripod and manually set the camera. I carefully avoided direct light by using tree branches and nearby buildings as natural lens shades. I also minimize the effect of street lamps in the photograph, while aiming skyward to catch the twinkle of evening stars. (On the full-sized un-scaled RAW file, the stars are very clear in the sky. Unfortunately the scaled and compressed images do not translate as well as I’d hoped.)
A Clear Autumn Day to Photograph a Shiny Blue Bird.
Today, Massachusetts Central assigned one of two recently acquired GP38s to its weekday Palmer-South Barre local freight. Although Mass-Central received the two locomotives earlier this year, it is my understanding that today’s train is the first regular revenue service run to use one.
The train departed Palmer this morning with the GP38 leading Mass-Central’s 2100 and 960. The second two locomotives were left in Ware, while the freight continued up the Ware River Valley on the former Boston & Albany branch.
Both of the Massachusetts Central’s GP38s have been beautifully painted in a livery inspired by the classic Boston & Maine ‘Blue Bird’ scheme. Although most of Mass-Central’s current route uses former Boston & Albany tracks, the railroad began as a switching operation on vestiges of Boston & Maine’s Central Massachusetts line around Ware.
Historically, the Central Massachusetts was a Boston & Maine route between Boston and Northampton, although it hasn’t served as a through route since the 1930s. Massachusetts Central still operates a few segments of old B&M trackage, notably in Ware.
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.
I made this image during my senior year of high school. I don’t remember the specific circumstances, but on that day I’d followed Central Vermont Railway’s southward freight from Palmer to Stafford. I made photos of it south of downtown Monson off Route 32, and at the Massachusetts-Connecticut State Line.
This view in downtown Stafford Springs has always intrigued me. The railroad runs tight to a row of buildings along the main street in town. Today, the brick building featured in the photograph hosts a trendy coffee shop where I sometimes meet my friend Roger Ingraham to wait for trains to pass and discuss photography.
In 2013, New England Central operates the railroad, but the scene hasn’t changed all that much. I still make photos here from time to time.
I exposed this image with my old Leica 3A and 50mm Summitar lens, and used a Weston Master 3 light meter to assist in exposure calculation. I processed the film myself in Microdol-X. Typically, I used a weak formula to save money. By doing so, I inadvertently avoided over developing my negatives (which was a flawed inclination of mine at the time).
I made a few minor contrast modifications in post processing and cleaned up a few small spots and scratches on this nearly 30 year-old 35mm negative.
I don’t remember making my first night photo in Palmer. But I do recall spending Friday evenings there in the 1980s with Bob Buck and company, watching and photographing Conrail and Central Vermont. See: Drowning the Light
The Friday evening tradition was maintained on June 28, 2013, when a group of us convened, as we have for many years, near the old station. A few weeks earlier, I posted some photos made on exceptionally wet Friday night. By contrast, June 28th was warm, dry and very pleasant. And busy too!
The variances of railway freight operations make it difficult to pin point precisely when trains will pass or arrive Palmer. Complicating matters on the week of June 28, was on-going undercutting on CSX’s B&A route (see: Ballast Train East Brookfield), and the after effects of a serious derailment on the Water Level route near Fonda, New York a few days earlier.
However, these events appear to have benefited us on the evening of the 28th. I arrived at CP83 (the dispatcher controlled signals and switch at west end of the controlled siding, 83 miles from Boston) just as CSX’s westward Q437 was rolling through.
New England Central had no less than three trains working in Palmer, jobs 604, 606, and 611, and these entertained us for the next couple of hours. In addition, we caught more action on CSX, including a very late train 448, Amtrak’s Lake Shore Limited.
I made these photos using my Lumix LX3 and my father’s Gitzo carbon fiber tripod. Some of the exposures required the shutter to remain open for 25 seconds or longer.
Going back to at least the 1980s, a group of us would convene in Palmer on Friday evenings. It used to be that after closing Tucker’s Hobbies on Fridays, Bob Buck would come down for dinner along with customers and friends from the store. Afterwards, we’d head over to ‘the station’ to watch the railroad.
I recall seeing Central Vermont’s old Alco RS-11s on sultry summer evenings, belching clouds of exhaust and sparks, while we waiting for the parade of westward Conrail trailvans (intermodal piggy-back trains); TV-5, TV-13, and etc. Back in the day, I’d make night shots with my Leica 3A. That seems like a long time ago.
This past Friday, a group of us convened at the usual spot; Doug and Janet Moore, Bill Keay, Rich Reed and myself. After a few trains, Doug and Janet were the ‘heroes’ as Bob would have called them; they headed home and a little while later the signals at CP83 lit up. To my astonishment, the ‘C’ light was flashing (the small lunar-white light between the main signal heads). I rushed for my cameras . . .
The signals at CP83 are approach-lit. So, when the signals light, it means that something (usually a train) has shunted the circuit. Among other things, CSX’s CP83 governs the switch at the west end of a controlled siding that begins at CP79 (about four miles to the east). When the signals light with a high green, it means a westward train has been cleared to continue past CP83.
Conrail installed the present signaling system back in 1986 when it converted the Boston & Albany route from directional double track under Automatic Block Signal rule 251 ( ‘signal indication will be the authority for trains to operate with the current of traffic’) to a largely single main track system with controlled sidings and governed by Centralized Traffic Control-style signals with cab signaling.
As a result there are now only wayside signals at dispatcher control points such as CP83. CSX assumed operations from Conrail 14 years ago.
It’s rare, but occasionally a locomotive suffers a cab-signal failure, or a locomotive that isn’t cab signal equipped leads a train. There is a provision with the signal system using the ‘C’ light, to allow a dispatcher to authorize a train to proceed without operative cab signal.
CSX rule CR-1280A names the ‘C’ light aspect as ‘Clear to Next Interlocking’. This gives the train permission to proceed the full distance to the next block ‘approaching next home signal prepared to stop’.
Why am I going into such specific operational details? Because, I’m fascinated by signals, but also in the 27 years since Conrail installed this signal system I’ve only witnessed a ‘C’ light lit, three times. And, I’d never before seen the C-light lit at CP83. I’ve been to CP83 more times that I can count, so for me, that is a really unusual event. (I saw a shooting star that night too, but those are common by comparison!)
Fortunately, I had cameras handy, and, perhaps more to the point, I had my dad’s Gitzo tripod, which made this sequence of images possible. (Other wise I would have trying to balance the camera with stacks of coins on the roof of my Golf, but, we’ll save that for another event . . .)
I just wish that Bob Buck could have been there with us to watch the train pass. He would have enjoyed that.
All images exposed with a Lumix LX3 set manually at f2.8 for 15 seconds, ISO 80.
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.