Recently, my girlfriend Kris Sabbatino and I decided to build a model railroad.
For a prototype we selected eastern Pennsylvania anthracite country.
I began scouring my archives looking for material.
Part of my inspiration for this model railroad began many years ago when I was looking through my father’s photographs of Reading Company’s Iron Horse Rambles that he exposed over a five-year period beginning in 1959. Many of these photos were made from the excursions or on chases through eastern Pennsylvania. Most were not captioned at the time of processing, which often makes location details elusive but also part of the dreamlike mystery of building the scale railroad.
In 2007, I assembled a book titled the Railroads of Pennsylvania, and made a detailed study of the region.
In 2014 and 2015, I was researching on books on steam locomotives and made several trips with Pat Yough to photograph the Reading & Northern.
The model railroad will blend together all of this inspiration and much more.
As part of a new on-going feature on Tracking the Light, I’ll be reporting on progress with this model railroad and the source material from which we draw.
The Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania is one of my favorite American railway museums both because of its great collection of Pennsylvania Railroad, Reading Company, Conrail and Amtrak equipment, and for its stunning interior presentation that makes railroad equipment compelling to look at.
I exposed these photos on a visit in mid-November 2017 with Pat Yough having spent the afternoon photographing the nearby Strasburg Railroad at work.
Among the fascinating aspects of the museum’s static collection are the numerous vintage freight cars that span a century of service. Too often the common freight car—the backbone of American railroad freight transport—is overshadowed in preservation by more glamorous equipment.
Earlier this month, in the high-summer light, while traveling from Reading & Northern’s Reading Outer Station on its former Reading Company Budd Cars (Budd Company Rail Diesel Cars otherwise known as RDCs), I wondered about photo locations along Reading & Northern’s lines.
Back in the day (lets call it the early 1960s) my father, Richard Jay Solomon, photographed Reading Rambles along these same Reading Company routes (and also occasional put the company’s regularly scheduled passenger trains on film).
For years, I’d looked at these slides without fully grasping where they were taken.
One trip over the old Reading answered many questions. Around each bend, I recognized locations, thinking ‘Ah Ha! So that’s where Pop made THAT photo’ and so on. (I’m still waiting for Pop to finish labeling his slides; he’s got about as far as 1960 thus far. HINT: Don’t wait 57 years to label your photos).
In the Lehigh Gorge, Pat Yough and I chatted with our friend Scott Snell—an accomplished member of the railway photo fraternity. Scott offered us the opportunity to ride with him as he chased the Budd cars back toward Reading.
Having traveled up by rail, we jumped at the opportunity to make photos of our train in late afternoon summer sun. So we traveled with Scott by road from Jim Thorpe to Reading, by way of Tamaqua, Port Clinton and Hamburg, Pennsylvania.
Here are some of my results thanks to Scott and Pat’s knowledge of the line.
Just checking to see if you are reading this correctly.
Last weekend, July 8 and9, 2017, Patrick Yough and I made trips to Reading, Pennsylvania to photograph and travel on Reading & Northern’s former Reading Company Budd RDCs.
I grew up with the old ‘Budd cars’ and it was neat to see these machines on the roll again.
Budd introduced it’s self-propelled ‘Rail Diesel Car’ in 1949, and sold them to many railroads across North America. These cars were most common in the Northeast, and the Reading Company was among the lines that made good use of them in passenger service.
I exposed these views using my FujiFilm X-T1 with Zeiss 12mm Tuoit lens.
Tracking the Light is on Auto Pilot while Brian is Traveling.
Is it a retro railroad fantasy to make images that resemble those of the late-Reading Era in 2015?
Traveling with Pat Yough, I made this selection of photographs at the former Reading Company yards at Cressona, Pennsylvania in December 2015.
Back in the 19th Century, Philadelphia & Reading consolidated various railroads primarily for the movement of anthracite. In its heyday, this railroad was one of the busiest and most profitable in the United States.
Coal demand and transport has changed dramatically in the last 130 years.
Reading Company’s operations entered a long decline in the 20th century and were finally folded into Conrail in 1976. Reading & Northern emerged as a Conrail spinoff in the 1980s.
Today, using a host of vintage railroad equipment R&N provides freight service and seasonal excursions in the spirit of the old Reading Company. Anthracite remains among the commodities moved by the railroad.
R&N paints its vintage locomotives and some freight cars to resemble those of the late-era Reading Company.
The line between documentation and photo recreation is blurred.
Through select cropping, I can either reveal the nature of the passenger excursions, or at first glance make R&N’s excursions operation appear like a Reading Company freight from the mid-1970s, or even its own weekday freights.
When does documentation become a re-creation? In the case of R&N does such a distinction even matter?
R&N offers a window on the old order, which is a relief for a railroad photographer aiming to step back from the contemporary scene dominated by massive class I carriers with modern six-motor safety-cab diesels moving unit trains of coal, ethanol and intermodal containers, and modern passenger trains.
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Saturday morning, Pat Yough and I photographed Reading & Northern’s handsome Pacific, number 425, on a fall foliage excursion from Port Clinton to Jim Thorpe, Pennsylvania.
The weather was perfect; clear and cool.
I exposed this image on the old Reading Company at Zehners, Pennsylvania on the line from Port Clinton to Tamaqua.
My intent was to show that the locomotive is a Pacific type (4-6-2). What better way to do this than with a nicely lit broad-side view?
All told, it was an excellent morning!
What I can’t convey in still images is the sound of the whistle echoing up the valleys, and the bark of the exhaust as the engine worked upgrade, complete with the occasional burst of beats that results from the drivers slipping on wet rail.
Kudos to the Reading & Northern’s operating department for a job well done.
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Tracking the Light presents three photos: a Classic station and a short freight.
Pat Yough and I arrived at the grade crossing in Tamaqua, Pennsylvania just as the gates came down. Lucky me! My goal was to photograph the old Reading Company station for a new book I’m putting together. This was a bonus.
Acting quickly, I positioned myself for a few images. Since, I’d never been to Tamaqua before, I didn’t have much time to find photographic angles. Luckily the train stopped, which gave us time to expose a few more photos.
After the short freight departed we waited for dusk to make night shots of the station, which was my original plan.
Philadelphia area transit is provided by SEPTA. The city’s eclectic collection of routes and modes has its origins in the 19th Century. In Philadelphia’s heyday, a myriad of railways laced the city and pulsed with passengers. One hundred years ago, 500 million fares were collected annually on Philly’s streetcars alone.
Pennsylvania Railroad and Reading Company vied for suburban fares, and both railroads electrified key routes in the early decades of the 20th century. This foresight continues to benefit Philadelphia to the present.
Sadly, while Philadelphia once enjoyed one of the most extensive streetcar networks in the world, much of this was gradually dismantled during the second half of the 20th century. Yet, a few key streetcar routes survive. Here and there tracks tell of past glory.
I visited my brother Sean in Philadelphia in early July, giving me ample opportunity to experience SEPTA and its buses, streetcars, subways, and railroad operations.
Center City is what Philadelphians call ‘down town’. While SEPTA’s operations reach myriad points across the region, Center City is the focus of most public transport.
Here are a collection of views of Philadelphia and its public transport.
This day last year (June 29, 2012), Pat Yough, my brother Sean and I, spent the evening photographing the final runs of SEPTA’s 50 year old Silverliner IIs and IIIs. These were working the short run on the former Pennsylvania Railroad line to Cynwyd.
More than 50 years earlier, my father Richard Jay Solomon had photographed, similar and then new PRR Silverliners on the same line. Back then tracks and electrification continued across the Schuylkill River to Manayunk and beyond to Norristown. Today, SEPTA serves these locations by the former Reading Company line that ran largely parallel to the old PRR line.
On Wednesday January 2, 2013, I revisited Philadelphia’s old Reading Terminal with my brother Sean and Michael Scherer. It was still a functioning passenger terminal when I first visited this iconic railroad facility in the late 1970s with my family. In 2007, I covered its history in my book Railroads of Pennsylvania.Here’s an excerpt of my text:
In the 1890s, Philadelphia & Reading invested its anthracite wealth in construction of one of Pennsylvania’s most ornately decorated company headquarters and passenger terminals. Facing Philadelphia’s Market Street, one of downtown’s main thoroughfares, Reading Terminal represented an ostentatious display of success, but one that now has benefited citizens and visitors to Philadelphia for more than a century.Like many large railway terminals of its time, Reading Terminal followed the architectural pattern established in Britain, perfected at London’s St. Pancras station. This pattern features two distinct structures for the head house and train shed. The Reading station architect, F. H. Kimball, designed the head house to rise nine stories above the street and its façade is made of pink and white granite, decorated with terra cotta trimmings. Behind the head house is the functional part of the station, an enormous balloon-style train shed—the last surviving North American example—designed and built by Philadelphia’s Wilson Brothers. The terminal closed as a result of consolidation of Philadelphia’s suburban services on November 6, 1984. Its modern underground replacement—SEPTA’s Market East Station—is nearby.
Designed by Philadelphia’s Wilson Brothers and built by Charles McCall, Reading Terminal’s vast balloon shed is the last surviving example of its type in the United States.
For several years I’ve been eyeing the view from Laurel Hill Cemetery as a place to make a railway photograph of the former Reading Company bridges over the Schuylkill. I was intrigued by combination elevation and the complexity of the scene. My brother Sean and I scoped this out last winter, but the light was dull and trees blocked the angle I wanted for a southward train. Recently the view was improved as a result of extensive tree removal around the river-side of the cemetery. Yesterday, Sean, Mike Scherer and I investigated photographic views from Laurel Hill. Our timing was right; I made this image of CSX’s symbol freight Q439 rolling across the bridge at 2:22 pm. I’m pleased with this effort, since catching a train here has been a challenge and the angle is a new one for me, yet I see room for improvement. Finding a train here an hour or two earlier in the day might offer better light on the side of the locomotives, while a slightly longer lens would tighten my composition.