It was a bitterly cold morning just after sunrise when I made these views looking across a field off Route 67 east of Palmer, Massachusetts (near CP79, the control point 79 miles west of South Station, Boston, that controls the switch at the east-end of the control siding at Palmer.)
All were made from the same vantage point.
I was working with two cameras. My FujiFilm XT1 with 90mm telephoto, and my Canon EOS 7D with 40mm pancake.
The exposure, color profiles and color temperature of the cameras were set up differently, which explains the slight difference in overall density and tint.
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.
I knew it as the Boston & Albany and Central Vermont diamond in Palmer (diamond describes the shape of rails made by the angled level crossing of the two lines). I made my first photos at this location before I entered 6th grade.
Fast forward to January 2, 2018. I stepped out of the car at Palmer and with the crisp winter air I could hear a train approaching eastbound.
So often my ears have alerted me to a train. In this case the two-cycle roar of classic EMD 645 diesels.
I ambled toward the diamond and made these views. Over-the-shoulder light, with rich mid-morning sun, at a readily identifiable location; nearly perfect.
Working with my FujiFilm X-T1 with 27mm lens, I exposed a sequence of images designed to mimic the angle I’d used here many years earlier.
During the long days of July, I made a point of being up and OUT as early as there was light in the sky.
Those trains that go bump in the night in Winter have a bit of light on them in July.
I made this view before 6 am of the New England Central local crossing the Palmer diamond. The popular Steaming Tender restaurant is located in the old Palmer, Massachusetts Union Station station at left.
All to often I find myself in Palmer, Massachusetts.
It’s probably not what you think though.
Yes, I make railway photos there.
By often I arrive at CP83 only because I’m passing through. I might be on the way to the bank, or to get a haircut, or maybe do a bit of shopping.
In the daylight instance pictured I was about to cross the South Main Street Bridge with a financial transaction in mind, when I spotted a railway enthusiast poised with camera in hand.
I had my Lumix LX7 with me, so made a quick diversion. It was nearly 11am, and about the time that CSX’s Q022 often rolls east. Stepping out of the car, I immediately sensed that my guess was correct. I could hear the freight approaching the home signal for the Palmer diamond at CP83. Need I describe what happened next?
Some hours later, I’d met Rich and Joyce Reed for dinner in Palmer, and as per a long standing Friday night tradition we reconvened after the meal at CP83. How different this place looks at night!
After a little while the signals cleared and CSX’s Q007 came into view. I made these time exposures of the westward Q007 passing the signals at CP83.
-There’s a long history among my friends to meet in Palmer, Massachusetts on Friday nights; first some dinner and then over to CP83 to watch trains.
A few weeks ago some of the gang met, and CSX rolled through a few long freights.
I had a Nikon F3 with 24mm lens loaded with Kodak Tri-X, so despite my lack of a tripod, I exposed a few photos.
My exposures ranged between 2 and 8 seconds at f2.8 hand-held.
I rested the camera on the short disconnected section of track used to display a Porter 0-6-0 steam locomotive by the Steaming Tender; thus my camera support became part of the photos.
I processed the Tri-X in Ilford Perceptol 1:1 at 69F for 8 minutes 30 seconds, and following stop, first fix, second fix, extended rinse cycles, I then toned the negatives in a selenium solution for 8 minutes and repeated the wash sequence.
Negatives were scanned using an Epson V750 Pro flatbed scanner.
Yesterday, Wednesday, June 28, 2017, I arrived in Palmer at about 5am. Although there was clear blue dome above me, a blanket of mist had filled the Quaboag Valley. This was just beginning to clear, when I heard CSX’s westward freight Q427 (Portland, Maine to Selkirk, New York) approaching.
Working with my FujiFilm X-T1 fitted with a 27mm pancake lens, I exposed several bursts of digital images as the train rolled by the old Palmer Union Station (now the popular Steaming Tender Restaurant).
Consider that this is a lesson in lighting: even when you photograph trains at the same location, at the same time of day (but on different days) the results can be significantly different as result of ever changing lighting conditions.
These days most of CSX’s scheduled through car-load freights tend to traverse the east end of the old Boston & Albany during darkness.
True, there’s a couple of intermodal trains, and Amtrak’s Lake Shore Limited during the day, but if you want to see an old-school freight train in daylight you’ll have a long wait.
Early in the morning of June 23, 2017, I went over to CP83 (control point 83 miles from South Station) on spec to see if I could catch some freight on the move.
I have a sixth sense or really good hearing (or both), because I stepped out of the car, and I could hear a distant freight with GE diesels laboring toward Palmer.
I fitted my FujiFilm X-T1 with my fast (f2.0) 90mm lens and walked up to the South Main Street bridge, where I’ve made hundreds of photos over the years.
As the train approached, I realized that it wasn’t an intermodal train, as I expected, but a carload freight. It was CSX’s Q422 (Selkirk, New York to Worcester, Massachusetts).
At 5:29am I made these photos with my camera set to ISO 800, f2.2 1/250 second handheld. The ability to raise the ISO to a faster (more sensitive) setting combined with my fast telephoto lens allows for photos like this one.
In my old Kodachrome 25 days, my exposure with my Nikon F3 and f2.8 135mm lens (offering an equivalent focal length to the 90mm with the small sensor on the X-T1) would have been: f3.5 at ¼ second. The resulting image of this moving train would have been dramatically different.
Since 1986, the interlocking east of Palmer at the east-end of the dispatcher’s controlled siding has been known on the railroad as ‘CP79’ which describes it as a ‘control point (remote control power switches and signals) 79-miles west of Boston’.
Friday, morning (June 22, 2017), I anticipated a westward freight just after sunrise, and set up looking across the farmer’s field west of CP79, looking toward the rising sun.
Working with an external graduated neutral density filter, I carefully exposed a sequence of photos, including pictures with the train. Then working with the camera RAW files in Lightroom, I manipulated contrast, exposure, color temperature and color balance, to make for better balanced more pleasing photos.
With extreme lighting conditions I find that post processing is a necessary, if tedious, part of the photographic process.
It’s that time of year when the setting sun aligns with CSX’s old Boston & Albany at Palmer, Massachusetts.
I made these views using my FujiFilm X-T1 digital camera.
The camera’s color profile was set to ‘Velvia’ mode. White balance at ‘A’ (automatic). While I exposed both a Camera RAW and Jpg simultaneously, these views are strictly camera-produced Jpg files scaled for internet presentation.
Gauging my exposure with the in-camera matrix meter, I set the aperture and shutter speed manually leaning toward ‘under exposure’ to ensure good highlight detail.
Using my FujiFilm X-T1, I tilted and extended the rear display screen so that I could hold the camera close to the ground. By doing this I photographed from an unusual perspective with a telephoto lens.
Since the angle is very low, the foreground is blurred, and the verticals are kept perpendicular to the horizon, the effect makes the photo appear like those often made of model railroads.
One of the circumstances that made this image possible, was a complete lack of automobiles in front of the old Palmer (Massachusetts) Union Station—now the popular Steaming Tender Restaurant.
In early February, I was running a few last minute errands before my Trans-Atlantic journey.
Crossing the Boston & Albany on South Main Street in Palmer, Massachusetts, I saw a New England Central local approaching with an impressive cut of interchange.
In the lead was clean New England Central GP38-2 2048 in Genesee & Wyoming corporate paint. Although I’ve made countless hundreds of photographs from this location over the years, I won’t look a gift-horse in the mouth.
So for the sake of a couple of minutes detour, I made these images at CP83 using my Lumix LX7.
Over the last 39 years I’ve exposed countless hundreds of photos of trains rolling through Palmer, Massachusetts. But that’s not stopped me from continuing the exercise.
Friday, December 23, 2016, I was at CP83 near the Steaming Tender restaurant, when the signals lit up: high green on the mainline for a westward move. That was my cue to get ready.
The previous day I’d gone fishing through the camera cabinet and found an old Nikkormat FT. Perfect! I loaded this up with some HP5 and set out making photos old school. It had been 20 years since I last worked with Nikkormat. I fitted it with a vintage Nikkor 24mm lens.
With this antique in hand I set up a shot by the old Palmer Union Station (Steaming Tender) using the building to partly shade the rising sun. I’d misplaced my handheld lightmeter, so I used my Lumix LX7 to help gauge the exposure.
This was a tricky, I wanted the sun light to be set apart from the skylight and normally this requires a bit of underexposure. But I didn’t want the front of the locomotives to become completely opaque. Ideally, I’d want there to be some detail in the shadows.
As the headlight of a westward freight appeared to east I was still dithering over my exposure. Ultimately I settled on f11 1/500th of a second.
The trick to bring up the shadow detail was more a result of my processing technique. I needed to retain enough detail in the negative to work with, but once that was established on site, the rest of the work was with the chemistry.
I’ve described this a few times in recent months, but I’ll mention it again:
Before the main process, I prepare a ‘pre-soak’. In this case, I used a Jobo semi-automated processing machine with continuously reversing agitation.
My ‘presoak’ bath consisted of about 200ml of water at 74 degrees F (pardon my mixing of measurement standards) with a drop of Kodak HC110 (about 2-3 ml of developer solution), plus some Kodak Photoflo.
I let film presoak for about 3-4 minutes. Long enough to let the emulsion swell and for the minimal quantity of developer to become completely exhausted. This has the effect giving the shadow areas proportional more development than the highlights, while getting the processing reaction going.
For my main developer, I used Kodak D76 mixed 1-1 with water at 69F for 9 minutes. (This is less than the recommended time of about 11 minutes).
Afterwards I scanned the film using an Epson V750 at 4800 dpi. The photos presented here are scaled in Lightroom from my hi-res files.
No good? Don’t like it? No problem, I can go back and try it all over again!
Tracking the Light Discusses Photography Every Day!
Here’s another view from my ‘lost negative file’. It captures Amtrak 448, the eastward Lake Shore Limited approaching the Quaboag River bridge between Palmer and Monson, Massachusetts.
I exposed it in mid-December 1983. It was on the same roll as a group of photos from a Monson High School dance that I’d made for the yearbook and members of the band.
Since the envelope read ‘Monson High Dance,’ it was too easily ignored in later years. Also, and more to the point, it was mixed in with another hundred or so rolls that had been misplaced during one of my periods of extended travel in the late 1980s. For years all I could find was a lonely proof print of this scene.
I’m improving my filing system now, but it’s taken a few years!
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.
The other morning I was aiming for a haircut. I arrived early and the barber wasn’t open yet, but I noticed an eastward CSX intermodal train on the old Boston & Albany that was slowing for the Palmer diamond.
I was on Route 20, about a mile west of Palmer, Massachusetts. I turned the car around, and immediately proceeded east in pursuit. (Haircuts can wait). However, road works at the New England Central bridge over the road caused me a critical delay.
Although the intermodal train was likely blocked, I wasn’t making any progress either, and I still had all of Palmer to get through in morning traffic. As a result, I took a detour and cut over the mountain using Old Warren Road—a favorite shortcut of Bob Buck’s that he showed me many years ago.
This saves several miles, but doesn’t follow the tracks.
As a result, I was able to be in place at West Warren several minutes ahead of the train. After exposing these views I retraced my steps and returned to my original mission!
Hard lessons. Here we have a scene never to be repeated, and one that I’ve never dared to show before. In June (or early July 1984), I caught a westward Conrail freight passing the Palmer Union Station at sunset on the then double-track Boston & Albany..
This was toward the end of regular operation of cabooses on road freights. By that time many Conrail symbol freights on the B&A were already using telemetry devices in place of the once common caboose.
A caboose rolling into the sunset. Great illustration concept. Nice light, decent framing, etc.
Except the photo is soft. Working with my Leica 3A rangefinder I’d missed the focus.
And so as a result of this visual flaw, the potentially iconic image didn’t make my cut of presentable images. I filed the negative, then I misplaced it. For more than 32 years it remained unseen. I present it now only as a warning.
Even as a 17 year-old, nothing annoyed me more in my own photography than missing the focus. Back then there was no autofocus, so when I missed, I couldn’t blame the technology.
My lesson: get the focus right. Once you’ve missed it you can’t fix it. (Although with digital sharpening you can cover your tracks a little).
In the longer months, there’s nice morning sun on the north side of the tracks at Palmer, Massachusetts and this seems to offer a potentially good vantage point.
There are several interesting structures here: including the former Union Station (now the Steaming Tender restaurant) and the old Flynt building (painted grey and lavender with fluorescent pink trim).
Yet I’ve found that placing a train in this setting rarely yields a satisfactory composition.
Here’s the on-going compromise; using a wide-angle perspective if I place the train far away, it tends to get lost in the scene. And, yet when it’s too close it obscures the old station building. The Flynt building either dominates on the right, or ends up cropped altogether. A telephoto view here presents its own share of complications.
The other day, I turned on to South Main Street in time to see the CSX local freight (symbol B740) west of the New England Central diamond (crossing). This gave me just enough time to park the car, walk briskly across the street, set my exposure and use my FujiFilm XT1 to make this sequence of photos.
Not bad for grab shots, but they still suffer from my visual quandary as described.
Puzzling through these sorts of vexations is part of my process for making better photos. Sometimes there’s no simple answer, but then again, occasionally I find a solution.
In the meantime I present my photos as work in progress.
Brian Solomon’s Tracking the Light is a Daily Blog.
I exposed these two views from almost the same angle on the South Main Street Bridge in Palmer, Massachusetts.
In 1984, Conrail operated the old Boston & Albany, and the main line was then a directional double track route under rule 251 (which allows trains to proceed in the current of traffic on signal indication).
SEPW has stopped on the mainline, while the headend has negotiated a set of crossovers to access the yard and interchange. That’s the head end off in the distance.
I made this 1984 view on Plus-X using a Leica fitted with a f2.8 90mm Elmarit lens.
The comparison view was exposed on July 25, 2016 using a Lumix LX7 set at approximately the same focal length. Although similar, I wasn’t trying to precisely imitate the earlier view and was working from memory rather than having a print with me on site.
CSX daylight operations through Palmer, Massachusetts can be a bit sparse these days.
This morning, I was on my way back from some errands and I noted that the local freight (B740) was holding on the controlled siding at CP83 and a New England Central local was stopped south of the Palmer diamond. So I pulled over and parked.
The points at CP83 were made for the main line and the westward signals were all showing red. Armed with this information I concluded that an eastward freight must be close at hand.
I walked up to the South Main Street bridge and gave it a few minutes. Before long an eastward intermodal train came into view with a relatively new General Electric ‘Tier 4’ six-motor in the lead.
My guess is that this train is CSX symbol freight Q022 that runs to Worcester, Massachusetts (but if anyone has better information, I’m open to amending my guess).
Tracking the Light sometimes posts more than once per day!
I was on my way to New London, Connecticut in late 1996 when I first learned of the news that CSX was to make a bid for Conrail.
It was a big surprise to most observers. Ultimately CSX and Norfolk Southern divided Conrail.
Armed with the knowledge of Conrail’s pending split, I made many images to document the final months of Conrail operations.
Step back a decade: In the mid-1980s, I’d photographed the end of traditional double track operations on Conrail’s Boston & Albany line.
Long rumored, the B&A’s conversion from directional double-track (251-territory) to a single-main track with Centralized Traffic Control-style dispatcher controlled signaling and cab signals began in late 1985. It was largely complete three years later.
A year or so before the work began, I was sitting in an engine cab and a Conrail crewman pointed out to me that the railroad had re-laid one main track with continuous welded rail while the other line remained jointed.
“See that jointed track, that’s the line they’re going rip up. Better get your pictures kid.”
Sound advice. And I took it to heart. By anticipating the coming changes, I made many prized photographs of the old order—before the work began.
I continued to photograph while the work was in progress, but that’s not my point.
Having observed New England railroading for the better part of four decades, I again have a sense that change is in the works for railways in the region.
Will today’s operators remain as they are for long? Will traffic soon find new paths and may some lines—now active—dry up? Will those antique locomotives, more than four decades on the roll soon be sent for scrap? Those are the questions we should think about. Take nothing for granted and keep a sharp eye for images.
While, my crystal ball remains clouded, I’ve learned not to wait for the big announcement. I hate standing in lines to get my photos or realizing I missed an opportunity when the time was ripe. Act now and stay tuned.
Tracking the Light Offers Insight and Stories Daily.
It was a day of big excitement. Up north, Guilford was in a knot as result of a strike action. Bob Buck phoned me early in the morning to say that ‘The Boot’ (the colloquial name for Amtrak’s Montrealer) was detouring to Palmer on the Central Vermont, then west on the Boston & Albany (Conrail).
Using my dad’s Rollei model T loaded with Kodak Tri-X, I made the most of the unusual move.
This was nearly a decade before Amtrak’s Vermonter began to regularly make the jog in Palmer from the CV/New England Central route to the B&A mainline.
And, it was only four months before Conrail ended traditional directional double-track operations between Palmer and Springfield.
I’d met some photographers at the Palmer diamond and encouraged them to take advantage of my favorite vantage point at the rock cutting at milepost 84, just over the Quaboag River from the Palmer Station.
As detouring Amtrak number 61 approached with a former Santa Fe CF7 leading the train to Springfield, we could hear an eastward Conrail freight chugging along with new GE C30-7As.
This is among my favorite sequences that show the old double track in action.
Some of these photos later appeared in Passenger Train Journal. Long before I was the Associate Editor of that magazine.
The other day down in the valley I heard the roar of a train ascending the old New London Northern grade to State Line.
EMD diesels working hard.
“Hmm. That’s odd. Daylight move on the New England Central?”
In recent months, New England Central’s freight south of Palmer, Massachusetts has been largely nocturnal.
I thought I’d best investigate, I hopped in my car and headed south to intercept.
Driving toward Stafford Springs, Connecticut I heard a telemetry hit on my scanner. (That’s the FRED—the end of train device the sends a signal reporting air-brake pressure from the tail end of the train to the engineer’s cab.) I knew the train was close.
Then, chatter on the radio: engineer to conductor. They were working the ground. The train was switching.
I altered my path and went to the south switch at State Line siding at Crow Hill Road, Stafford.
There I found the train: An NECR local freight from Palmer putting cars in the siding.
Sixteen loads and five empties.
At one end was a GP38 that’s nearly as old as I am. At the other end was NECR’s Tunnel Motor, engine 3317. A former Southern Pacific engine.
That’s neat. I’d never seen NECR’s Tunnel Motor south of Palmer before.
Sorry, did I mention that New England Central’s reporting marks are NECR?
Back in March 1984, I wandered down to Palmer with my dad’s Rolleiflex Model T loaded with Tri-X.
It was a miserable day; typical early of early Spring wet, clammy and dark.
Yet, Conrail was running trains. A westward midday freight (remember those?) was blocked at the diamond for a Central Vermont train.
Using the Rollei’s square format, I composed some interesting images. Conrail’s Boston and Albany was still a directional double-track railroad back then. This was before the modern signals and single tracking that began in 1986.
I took the negatives home and processed the negatives in the sink, as I often did in those days. I was using Microdol-X for developer. I was cheap, and my developer was rather depleted by the time I souped this roll.
The result; unacceptably thin negatives that wouldn’t print well, even when subjected to a number 4 polycontrast filter.
It was a just a dark day in Palmer. Conrail in 1984 was common for me, so I sleeved the negatives, filed them away in an envelope and that was that.
Until a little while ago, when through the improved tools available to me through Lightroom, I was able to finally get the results I desired from these old photos.
After nearly 32 years, they are looking pretty good now!