Friday (July 5, 2019), I was rambling about with my cousin Stella—visiting from California—when we paused at Bardwell’s Ferry,.
The ferry is long gone. Instead a well-preserved pin-connected lenticular truss bridge carries the road over Massachusetts’ Deerfield River.
While we were photographing the bridge and river, I thought my ears tricked me; the rushing water sounded remarkably like a distant freight.
Since this wasn’t a serious rail-photo excursion, I hadn’t brought my scanner.
I went back to the car to get my omnipresent notebook, when I heard a whistle!
The flashers on Bardwell’s Ferry road illuminated, and sure enough there was an eastward Pan Am Southern freight approaching!
Working with my FujiFilm XT1 with 18-135mm zoom lens, I exposed this series of photos.
I assume that this was symbol freight 16R which forwards Norfolk Southern traffic from Enola (Pennsylvania) and East Binghamton (New York) to Pan Am’s East Deerfield Yard. Without a scanner or positive confirmation, guess is all I can do.
Alternatively, I could call this Tracking the Light post, ‘28N at Millers Falls.’
Whichever you like.
So what do you do in a situation where a train is coming directly out of the midday sun?
1) give up.
2) go for a sandwich.
3) take up plane spotting.
4) all of the above.
Or you can try something different.
The other day at Millers Falls, Massachusetts I exposed these views looking timetable west on the old Boston & Maine. Train 28N is an eastward autorack destined for Ayer, Massachusetts.
Using a super wide-angle 12mm Zeiss Touit, I set the aperture to the smallest setting (f22), which produces a sunburst effect. To make the most of this effect, I positioned an autumn branch between the camera and the sun.
This is the third in my series of farewell posts on the famed East Deerfield ‘Railfan’s Bridge.’
The McClelland Farm Road bridge over the Boston & Maine tracks at the west end of East Deerfield Yard (near Greenfield, Massachusetts) has been a popular place to photograph trains since the steam era. Work has begun to replace this old span with a new bridge to be located about 40 feet further west.
I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve exposed a disproportionate number of photos here. Yet, it has remained a good place for railroad photography for several logical reasons:
It’s at a hub; because of the bridge’s location at the west-end of Pan Am Railway’s East Deerfield yard, there tends to be a lot of action and opportunities to witness trains here. While waiting along the line can become tiresome, if not tedious, but there’s often something about to happen at East Deerfield.
The location above crossovers at the throat to the yard, this combined with yard leads and engine house tracks, plus the junction with the Deerfield Loop (that connects with the Connecticut River Line) west of the bridge make for some fascinating track work.
Elevation is always a plus.
There’s ample parking nearby.
The light in early morning and late evening here can be excellent. I’ve made some wonderful fog photos here, as well countless morning and evening glint shots. How about blazing foggy glint? Yep done that here too. And about ten days ago I got a rainbow.
The afternoon of June 29, 2017 was dull and overcast. Mike Gardner and I had arrived in pursuit of Pan Am Southern’s symbol freight 28N (carrying autoracks and JB Hunt containers). We’d also heard that its counterpart 287 (empty autoracks from Ayer, Massachusetts) was on its way west.
As it happened the two trains met just east of the bridge.
I exposed a series of black & white photos on Kodak Tri-X using a Leica IIIa with 21mm Super Angulon lens, while simultaneously working in digitally color with my FujiFilm X-T1 with 90mm lens.
Too many photos here? Undoubtedly. But I bet they age well. Especially when the old vantage point has finally been demolished.
Last week, on my way to Greenfield, Massachusetts, I learned there were a pair of westward freights heading over the old Boston & Maine Fitchburg route.
Pan Am’s EDRJ (East Deerfield to Rotterdam Junction) was nearly ready to depart East Deerfield yard, while empty autorack train symbol 287 (coming from Ayer, Massachusetts) was to run around it and proceed west first.
I opted for a different angle, deciding to make photos from the passenger platform built to serve Amtrak’s Vermonter in 2014.
I made these views with my FujiFilm X-T1 fitted with 18-135mm zoom lens.
Thin morning cloud/haze helped soften the effects of backlighting at this location.
Subtle control in post processing can really make a difference.
These images were adapted from the camera RAW files. I adjusted shadow contrast among other small changes to further balance for backlighting.
Here’s another case of dumb luck. The other day, when Mike Gardner and I headed for Pan Am Southern’s Boston & Maine at East Deerfield, we had vague notions that we’d follow one of their trains.
As with many of our photographic adventures, our plan was little more than a loose agreement that we’d explore and make photos. Mike does the driving, I help with the navigation and interpreting the scanner.
I’d brought a wide selection of cameras, including two Nikon film cameras and my old Rollei Model T for black & white work.
Early in our day we bumped into some fellow photographers who tipped us off on the westward approach of empty autorack train 287 led by Norfolk Southern 1069 painted to honor the old Virginian.
The Virginian is long before my time. It was melded into Norfolk & Western 7 years before I was born. However, I was familiar with the line through my father’s color slides.
As the day unfolded we learned that we had a pair of westward trains to work with. As noted in yesterday’s post, Pan Am’s EDRJ was working with recently acquired former CSX DASH8-40Cs. Initially, it was 287 with the Virginian painted locomotive that caught our attention.
Horace Greeley’s advice played out well that day! (But we aren’t as young as we were once).
Let’s gaze back in time; 30 plus years ago I was a young enthusiastic photographer with a 35mm Leica rangefinder. I was fascinated by the Boston & Maine, operated by Guilford Transportation Industries (as Pan Am Railways was then known).
B&M’s quaint operations, traditional signals, and antique General Motors diesels had a real appeal. Back then I focused on catching the EMD GP7s, GP9s, and GP18s, plus EMD switchers and run-through Delaware & Hudson Alco C-420s and C-424s.
I made hundreds of images trackside in those days.
On June 4, 2016, I picked up my old Leica, as I do from time to time, and loaded it with Ilford HP5 (often my choice film back in the day) and headed for Pan Am Railway’s East Deerfield yard before dawn, (as I have since I learned to drive 33 years ago).
Antiques still run the rails on Pan Am.
My lens of choice has a long history.
In the 1970s and very early 1980s, I’d often photograph with a Nikon 35mm wide angle made with a Leica screw-mount.
This lens had gone missing for decades and only recently re-emerged. In the interval it had seized up (as old equipment does when the lubrication dries out). My dad sent it for servicing and its now back in our arsenal of working photographic equipment.
Good lenses are relatively common these days. Most off the shelf digital cameras have pretty good optics compared with many consumer-grade film cameras of yesteryear.
But, truly great lenses remain hard to find.
This Nikon 35mm is a great lens. Not only is it sharp, lightweight and compact, but it has a distinctive optical quality that is rarely found with modern lenses. In short it has ‘that look.’ (look at the photos).
After exposing my film, I processed it with the aid of a Jobo film processor to my own custom formula.
Basically, I used a twin bath developer of Kodak HC110 with constant agitation at 71 degrees F for 4 minutes, 15 seconds. Stopbath for 30 seconds; twin bath fixer; rinse; permawash; and final wash. Negs were scanned as TIF files using an Epson V600 flatbed scanner at 3200 dpi . Nominal contrast adjustment was necessary with Lightroom.
Undoubtedly, someone will ask, ‘but isn’t that a lot of work?’
Yes, it is.
And, ‘Couldn’t you just convert your digital files to black & white?’
A few weeks ago, my friends and I met to explore recent changes to the old Boston & Maine Fitchburg Route (Pan Am Southern’s main line) including re-signaling and trackage upgrades.
Among the first places on our tour was Gardner, Massachusetts, where we found Norfolk Southern 66N, which is a loaded Ethanol train destined for the Port of Providence.
This was led by four Norfolk Southern DASH9-40CWs that were followed by an idler car and 80 cars of ethanol. The train was waiting on Pan Am rails for a Providence & Worcester crew to take it south from Gardner.
Among the recent changes was the installation of a crossover at the Gardner yard that makes it easier to make a progressive move from the old eastward B&M mainline track to the P&W, which facilitates operation of unit trains such as the 66N. This is a low-tech solution, as the switches are operated manually (of the ‘hand-throw’ type).
I made this series of images featuring the 66N with my FujiFilm X-T1.
Static and slow moving freights offer many opportunities for photography.
When we arrived the morning was clear and sunny, but over the next hour, clouds rolled in from the west and softened the light.
Thanks to Rich Reed, Paul Goewey and Felix Legere.
If I captioned this post, ‘23K passes Shirley’, would you have looked any way?
The other day when Paul Goewey, Bob Arnold and I were photographing trains at Shirley, Massachusetts, I exposed these views of the daily westward intermodal train symbol 23K that originates a few miles to the east at Ayer.
The Lovely Trees: These two massive trunks have fascinated me for years, and make for an excellent means to frame up a photo. Here, in the first view the intermodal train is almost incidental to the scene.
Which of these views of Norfolk Southern/Pan Am Southern’s 23K do you prefer?
It is always a delight to stumble upon something relatively unusual and have the foresight and knowledge to make the most of the opportunity.
The old Boston, Barre & Gardner was among the railroads gobbled up by the growing Boston & Maine during the golden years of American railroads. The line primarily extended from Worcester to Gardner and beyond to Peterboro, New Hampshire.
Historically, the route crossed B&M’s Fitchburg line on a set of diamonds in front of the Gardner station. Back in 1880, three passenger trains a day served the 27 miles between Worcester and Gardner.
By the 1950s, one lonely train covered the run, and this made its final journey on March 7, 1953. Check out Robert Willoughby Jones’ book Boston & Maine: Forest, River and Mountain for photos.
These days, the line between Worcester and Gardner is operated by Providence & Worcester, and I’ve featured it on several occasions on Tracking the Light, while a short vestige of the north end of the route extends from a connection with Pan Am Southern in Gardner to a shipper a short distance away.
Last week, Bob Arnold, Paul Goewey and I were photographing in Gardner when we noticed the flange ways were clear on this rarely used stub branch. ‘There’s got to be an engine up the line,’ I said, and we went to investigate.
We found our quarry, and waited for the locomotive to return.
As I explained to a friend later: this operation might happen every Monday, or only on odd number days following a full moon in months ending in the letter ‘R’, but in more than 30 years of photography in the area, none of us had ever seen it before.
Hooray for fortuity!
Tracking the Light posts new photos Daily!
[Tracking the Light also offers advice and insights on the how the photos were made.]
Good luck, bad luck; it’s all relative. Over the years I’ve made many visits to the Hoosac Tunnel. I recall a visit with my father in the mid-1970s, back when the way to East Portal was a dusty dirt road. We waited patiently for several hours, and eventually gave up.
The other day, a fellow photographer Tim Doherty and I drove up to the tunnel on spec, but with the anticipation of catching an eastward train. The rumor-mill had circulated reports that Norfolk Southern’s New York Central heritage locomotive was leading an eastbound.
We arrived at the tunnel, investigated a few angles, and were about to leave again, when the signals lit up: green-over-red-over-red.
As many of you know, I’ve authored a book on signals, and I know a little bit about the subject. The aspect displayed was clear, and since this was on the home signal for a siding, that means it was lined by Pan Am’s dispatcher in North Billerica. More to the point, the signal was dark when we arrived, and I know from previous experience that the signals here are approach lit.
The circuit for the signal at East Portal is relatively short. This meant we only a had couple of minutes to set up. Failing to recognize this could have cost us the desired photograph.
I needed some time to get ready: Exposure was problematic. There was a patch of sunlight immediately in front of the inky black of the tunnel portal, while part of the stone facing was also lit. Complicating matters, either condensation or exhaust was emanating from the tunnel portal causing a gauzy ill-defined patch at precisely the location where the locomotive would exit.
After a minute or two: a dull roar, followed by the gleam of the headlights, and soon the grade crossing bells were ringing. I set my camera manually, but I was cautious not to underexpose too severely, as a black locomotive against the blackness of the tunnel could be difficult to rescue in post processing.
When the locomotive exited, the combination of the ditch lights, headlight and white ‘raccoon stripes’ made for a slightly brighter front end than I anticipated. But I only had a few instants to make my photographs and if I wasted time trying to refine the exposure, the moment would be lost.
I exposed a burst of images with my Fujifilm X-T1 digital camera, knowing at the time the exposure was too bright. I then popped of a couple of color slides with my Canon EOS-3 with 100mm telephoto. I think my slides were closer to the mark (regarding exposure) than the digital images.
After the fact, I worked with the Camera RAW file to balance the exposure; and so my end result is pretty good. I’ll be curious to see the slides when they return from the lab.
Our bad luck? The night before, the locomotives for this train had been swapped out at Binghamton, NY, and so we caught a fairly ordinary Norfolk Southern Evolution-Series GE diesel instead of the one-of-a-kind New York Central-painted heritage locomotive.
Oh well: total elapsed time at Hoosac Tunnel, less than 15 minutes! So, I’m not complaining.
It was back on January 12, 2014, when I made this view of Pan Am Southern’s symbol freight EDMO (East Deerfield Yard, Massachusetts to Mohawk Yard near Schenectady) in the Berkshire hills at East Portal.
To make these photos, I temporarily co-opted a mound of snow and ballast to gain added elevation for a better view of the bridge.
The famous Hoosac Tunnel is across the road behind me. Soon the train will enter its murky depths.
I’d followed the train on its ambling journey upgrade from East Deerfield, This is another age old tradition for me, dating back to the early 1980s.
Back in the day, the challenge would have been to stay with the train to Mechanicville, New York. “To the River!” As we’d declare. (The Hudson, that is).
Today (Dec 19, 2014) Amtrak operated a test train north from Springfield, Massachusetts on Pan Am Southern’s recently rehabilitated Boston & Maine Connecticut River Line in preparation for re-routed Vermonter service (expected to begin at the end of this month).
My father and I went out to document this special move, then went over to the New England Central route to photograph the Vermonter on its present route.
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.
The BIG CHASE: Pan American Southern’s EDRJ, November 2013.
In yesterday’s post, I waxed nostalgic about the old Boston & Maine, illustrating it with images made around East Deerfield on November 21, 2013.
One of the highlights of the day was midday westbound freight, train symbol EDRJ (East Deerfield to Rotterdam Junction) that departed the yard on the Hoosac Tunnel route.
One of my favorite railway activities in the 1980s was a good westward chase on the old B&M. Nothing made this better than a good consist of locomotives. Last Wednesday was like stepping back 30 years. (Sort of).
As we’d say, ‘To the River’ (meaning ‘to the Hudson’).
Although we only got as far as the Vermont-New York state line before the light faded, the spirit of the chase (and chases from year’s gone by) was with us.
Thinking up new ideas everyday takes a lot of effort, so today, I’ll rely on clichés and old ideas with a new twist to fill the gap.
Back in the day, in the 1980s, I’d wander up to the Boston & Maine at East Deerfield where I’d photograph trains on well-worn rights-of-way led by first and second generation EMDs. I was thrilled to find freight trains on the move!
The poor ‘ol B&M had seen better days. New England had been in industrial decline since World War I. It was my understanding that the old phrase ‘it’s gone south,’—meaning ‘it’s gone to the dogs’—originated when New England’s textile industries began closing and heading to the Carolinas and Georgia. (Never mind Southeast Asia, China and what not).
Guilford Transportation came about and melded Maine Central with B&M and briefly with D&H. For a few years the railroad was really busy. Traffic was on the upswing, new intermodal trains were introduced, and run-through locomotives from D&H, Maine Central, as well as Norfolk & Western/Norfolk Southern became common.
Then a souring passed over the scene. ‘All that glitters is not gold’, as they say (paraphrasing an English poet), and the well-trodden paths to the Hoosac Tunnel and along the Connecticut quieted for a time.
Things changed again with the dissolution of Conrail. Now Guilford is Pan American Railways and Pan Am Southern. Metallic blue paint has begun to replace charcoal and orange. And traffic is on the rise.
Yet to me, while there’s been some changes, the old B&M is a throwback to another time.
Yes, there’s a few new signals, some new welded rail here and there, and some nice fresh ties. Many of the old searchlight signals and signal bridges are gone and here and there the tracks have been trimmed back. But the B&M has the appearance of retro railroad. It’s like classic rock with spin.
Last week, on November 21, 2013, my old friend Paul Goewey and I went up to East Deerfield. It was like old times. First and second generation EMD diesels were moving freight in every direction while decaying vestiges of New England industry could still be found at every turn.
Just sayin’ it seems to me that at the end of the day, it is what it is, and MORE!
New England is famous for its autumn foliage. When making railroad photos in the season, are the leaves the subject, the setting or simply background?
On the morning of October 17, 2013, I made a series of photographs of Pan Am Railway’s (Pan Am Southern) westward freight symbol 190ED between Erving and East Deerfield. Leading the train were a pair of SD40-2s in the latest corporate scheme.
I made my way to the former Boston & Maine bridge over the Connecticut River where there was some very colorful foliage in the foreground and background. Incidentally, this is the location of the ‘icon photo’ used to introduce Tracking the Light.
As the freight eased across the bridge, I had ample time to compose several images. Working with my Canon EOS 7D with 40mm lens, I exposed a non-conventional image focused on some foreground foliage, and used a low aperture to deliberately allow the locomotives to be out of focus.
I then changed my focus to the locomotives and bridge and exposed several more conventional images. I also had time to pop off a color slide with my dad’s Leica M4.
I realize that the image focused on the leaves won’t appeal to everyone. But I find it a bit evocative. It’s more about the foliage than the train, yet the train remains the subject. You cannot help but see the engine’s headlights, like evil eyes, peering from beyond the leaves.
As an aside, the lead locomotive interested me. Pan Am 606 is a variation of the SD40-2 produced with a longer than normal short-hood or ‘nose’ to house 1970s-era radio-control equipment. At this point in time this feature is a left over from an earlier time and its original owner. Pan Am neither has a need to use such locomotives in mid-train remote service, nor is the locomotive like to remain so equipped. But it is a visually distinguishing feature that sets it apart from other locomotives on the railroad.
Applying an Old Technique with Today’s Technology.
The other day I arrived at Pan Am Southern’s Boston & Maine East Deerfield Yard shortly after sunrise. Although not a wheel was turning, there was some nice light and I made a selection of images.
My challenge was in the great contrast between the ground and sky. With my Lumix LX3, I found that if I exposed for the track area, the dramatic sky was washed out (too light), and if I exposed for the sky the tracks area was nearly opaque.
With black & white film, I would have compensated my exposure and film development to maximize the information on the negative, then dodged and burned critical areas on the easel in the dark room to produce a nicely balanced print. I’d done this thousands of times and had my system down to fine art.
I applied this same basic philosophy the other morning at East Deerfield. I made several exposures from different angles. In one of these I slightly overexposed the sky to retain some detail in the track area.
The in-camera Jpg from this still appears both too dark and too contrasty (from my perspective having witnessed the scene). Rather than be content with this inadequate photograph, I took a copy of RAW file that I exposed simultaneously (one the benefits of the LX3 is it allows both a Jpg and a RAW to be exposed at the same time) and imported it into Photoshop. (I always work from a copy and I NEVER manipulate or alter the original file).
Under the ‘Image’ menu, I selected ‘Adjustments’ and then ‘Curves’; I then adjusted the curve to produce a more balanced over all exposure. This is possible because the RAW file has more information (detail) in it than is visually apparent.
While this improved the image, I still wasn’t satisfied. So I selected the ‘Dodge and Burn tool’ (which appears in the tool bar as a angled gray lollipop). Using the ‘Dodge’ function, I very slightly and selectively lightened track areas and foliage that I felt appeared too dark.
Then I used the ‘Burn’ function to selectively adjust the sky areas. If I’ve done this successfully, the scene should appear very close to the way I saw it. Similar techniques can be used to make for surreal and unnatural spectacular landscapes. While I may do that later, that’s not my intent today.
While modern tools, like those of the traditional darkroom, allow for improvement over in-camera images, the effort does take time. I estimate I spent 10-15 minutes adjusting this photograph.
Because this adds time to the work on the photograph, I don’t want to have to do this any more often than necessary. Most of my photographs are ready to go ‘in-camera’ (as it were).
Exactly two years ago, I delivered my brother Sean to the Amtrak station in Berlin, Connecticut. He was on his way back to Philadelphia after a brief visit to Massachusetts. Amtrak’s Berlin agent, Bill Sample, is always very friendly and helpful, so we prefer Berlin over some of the closer stations.
I made this image of the southward shuttle train using my Canon EOS 7D with f2.8 200mm lens. There’s a lot of history in this simple photo. The train is led by a cab-control-car rebuilt from one of the old Budd-built Metroliner multiple units. Today’s single main track doesn’t tell much of a story, but Berlin was once a busy junction.
While Pan Am Southern’s route toward Plainville and Waterbury diverges here (at the left), this only sees about one round trip per week. Historically there was a diamond crossing here between New Haven Railroad lines. Also, one of New Haven Railroad’s earliest experimental electrified schemes reached Berlin, but I’m not sure if that would have been in this scene or not.
If all goes according to plan, the double track to Springfield, Massachusetts will someday be restored.
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.