On this day 38 years ago, the Consolidated Rail Corporation assumed operation of various bankrupt railroads in the northeastern United States, including Penn-Central, Erie-Lackawanna, Lehigh Valley, Central Railroad of New Jersey, and the Lehigh & Hudson River.
Conrail was bought and divided by CSXT and Norfolk Southern in the mid-1990s, and ended its independent operations in Spring 1999.
During the 23 years that Conrail dominated northeastern freight railroading, I made tens of thousands of photographs of its operations and equipment. In 2004, the book that Tim Doherty and I authored on Conrail was published by MBI. I believe this is something of a collector’s item now.
25 Years Ago, Conrail Demolished Palmer’s Boston & Albany Freight House.
During the 1980s, Conrail demolished many disused structures along the Boston & Albany line. The East Brookfield freight house went in 1984, Worcester’s went in 1986. In January 1989, I noticed that the railroad was preparing to erase Palmer’s B&A landmark.
The wrecking machine was parked out in front and had already taken a bite out of the northeast corner of the steam-era red brick structure.
I proposed a short article to the editor of Palmer Journal Register. The newspaper supplied me with a roll of black & white film and processed it for me. I photographed the building from every angle and wrote the article that appeared about a week later.
Conrail made short work of the old building, which had stood at the west-end of the yard near Haley’s Grain Store. Today there is almost no evidence of the building.
For me it had been tangible evidence of the old Boston & Albany—never mind Conrail or Penn-Central. While its usefulness to Conrail may have ended, I recalled speaking with the agent there on various occasions in previous years.
I still have the negatives that I exposed with my Leica M2 and I’ve scanned these using my Epson V600.
When I was growing up in New England, Penn Central was a railroad that everyone loved to hate.
It was hated for representing a decaying industry. It was hated for its unimaginative paint scheme and its Spartan image.
It was hated for not being the sum of its parts and not being the railroads that spawned it. It was hated for its financial debacles.
I didn’t hate Penn Central.
To me it was fascinating, and in my earliest memories, it was the railroad. It was E-units and passenger trains. It was GG1s under wire. It was yards full of freight cars worked by old Alco S-switchers. It was Grand Central Terminal and Boston’s South Station.
But by the time I really become conscious of Penn Central, it had already been melded into Conrail. I have a few true Penn Central photos, but they aren’t very good.
I made this image in 1986, ten years after Penn Central’s operations had been conveyed to Conrail. At the time I often made ‘details’—close up views of railroading.
For me the texture of the image shouts the ‘Penn Central’ of its detractors.