When I was at the Rochester Institute of Technology, once or twice a year Kodak would gift photo students with a selection of new products to try.
On this occasion, I had been given a sample of two rolls of the latest Ektachrome.
A professor gave us a vague assignment to make color photographs, so I wandered up to Lincoln Park, a junction on Conrail’s Water Level Route west of downtown Rochester, New York, and exposed these photos.
There I found local freight WBRO-15 working with GP8 7528. The crew was friendly and quite used to me photographing of their train.
Back in 1987 my serious railroad photos were exposed using 120 black & white film or on Kodachrome 25. These Ektachromes were an anomaly. After the assignment was turned in, I relegated the remaining images to my ‘seconds box’ and forgot about them—for 31 years!
I found them back accident the other day, and so scanned them post haste.
I thought my Rochester friends would get a kick out of seeing them. How much has changed since March 11, 1987?
It was a bright and clear Sunday morning in January 1988 when I exposed this Kodachrome 25 slide with my Leica M2 with 50mm Summicron at Rochester & Southern’s Brooks Avenue Yard near the Rochester Airport.
Last week, I wrote about violating one of the cardinal rules of good railroad photography, that is aiming directly into the sun. In question were some views along the Ware River Railroad, er . . . sorry, rather the Mass-Central, as it is now known.
It may come as a shock to some readers of Tracking the Light, but this was not my first time aiming the camera toward the sun when photographing trains!
What I present here is an unusual image. Not because it is a trailing view of an Amtrak Turbotrain racing through North Chili, New York (rhymes with Dubai rather than Silly Hippie) on its way to Grand Central. (Yes, the Turbos went there back in the day). But, because I’ve opted to make a mid-morning silhouette in an unlikely way.
A thin layer of cloud had softened the morning sun. I was working with a Linhof Karden Color B 4×5 view camera fitted with a 90mm Schneider Super Angulon lens and Tri-X black and white sheet film (manufactured nearby in Rochester, New York).
Photographing moving trains with a view camera is no easy task, and on this day I had the camera firmly set up on a heavy tripod.
However, one advantage to the view camera is the ability to lift the front plane of the camera. This allowed me to keep the camera level while obtaining more sky area without causing unnecessary distortion to the train.
I’d set up the camera well in advance of the Turbotrain’s passing. Back in 1987, when I made this image there were no cell phones nor Julie to provide me with schedule updates.
Behind me was the Union Road grade crossing (long since replaced with an overpass). I had only one shot and I wanted to place the rear nose of the Turbotrain such that it didn’t intersect the trees to the right or the silhouette effect would be lost.
Another advantage of the 4×5 media is the ability to capture much greater amounts of information than possible with smaller film formats. As a result, I was able to capture superb tonality across a wide exposure range.
Admittedly this black & white negative had always vexed me in the darkroom. However, I scanned it the other day, and using Lightroom found that the contrast manipulation I was unable to achieve chemically, was easily accomplished with digital adjustment.
Rochester & Southern’s yard at Brooks Avenue was just a ten minute drive from the Rochester Institute of Technology.
When I was in college, I had an open arrangement with the railroad to make photographs, and during the late 1980s I often dropped by to exercise my cameras.
In April 1989, I made these photographs of Genesee & Wyoming Alco C-424M 62 on the Brooks Avenue scale track.
The Alco Century’s well-balanced cab design made these among my favorite classic diesels. I’d photographed the C-424Ms on Delaware & Hudson, Genesee & Wyoming, Guilford, and finally on Livonia, Avon & Lakeville’s Bath & Hammondsport line.
Here I’ve worked the yard office into my composition that makes for nice juxtaposition of shapes. Black & White film handles the backlit situation well and retained detail in shadows and highlights.
On August 21, 2010, some friends and I caught this loaded CSX ethanol train symbol K644 working eastward past the Amtrak station at Rochester. In the distance is the old Kodak tower.
This scene, exposed less than five years ago is now completely changed:
Amtrak is preparing for construction of its new Rochester Station.
Last week, my friend Otto Vondrak sent current images from Rochester of the old New York Central era canopies being dismantled; the classic cast iron ‘Rochester’ sign having been removed for safekeeping.
At the time I made this digital photo, I also exposed a single frame of Ektachrome slide film. It was my last roll of Ektachrome, and my last frame in the camera, and it seemed doubly apropos; to make my last Kodak slide in Rochester, and of a pair of Iowa, Chicago & Eastern/Dakota, Minnesota & eastern locomotives painted in colors remarkably similar to those use on the old Ektachrome film boxes.
I’m holding back that slide for future publication.
Should I head to the mainline (Conrail’s water level route) or explore branch lines? Do I stick with Conrail or seek out a short line? These were among the quandaries facing my photographic choices when I had some time off from college.
As a photography student at the Rochester Institute of Technology, I had a full schedule of classes, labs, and projects. I was a ‘work-study’ student, which implied I had to spend about 25-30 hours a week toiling for peanuts on top of classes, assignments & etc.
My point is that I had very little free time, and rarely a full day off, and so when I made time to make railway photos, there were tough choices (like mainline versus branchline; Conrail versus those other outfits).
Now and again I’d cheat. (I don’t mean on exams). A bright sunny day? Now who will miss me in class?
Unfortunately on a glorious October day, one RIT’s photo professors and I had the same idea. We were both photographing the Livonia, Avon & Lakeville freight. We crossed paths at Avon, New York. We knew that each of us should be someplace else, and we knew where that was. He said to me, “I won’t say anything . . .”
Often I’d head to the mainline. My time was short and I wanted results, and Conrail rarely disappointed. Sometimes I’d select a known good spot, and work through my exhaustive reading list while waiting for a headlight to appear.
Other times, when the sun was out, I’d take a more aggressive approach and select my locations purely based on photographic merit and move from place to place as suited the action and the light.
Lincoln Park, Rochester, New York, January 8, 1986.
It was a cold afternoon with more than a foot of fresh snow on the ground. Soft wintery sun made for directional pastel lighting, ideal for railway photography.
I found this Baltimore & Ohio local freight working sidings adjacent to Conrail’s former New York Central mainline. At the time, what interested me was the GP30 still wearing B&O blue with the classic capitol dome on the nose, and the caboose. By that date both types of equipment were getting scarce.
Technically, CSX had been the umbrella over Chessie System (the marketing name for the affiliated B&O, Chesapeake & Ohio, Western Maryland railroads) for several years. But this didn’t seem important to me. I was blissfully unaware of CSX, or that it planned to soon sell B&O’s former Buffalo, Rochester & Pittsburgh lines to Genesee & Wyoming.
In fact, by summer, B&O operations would be conveyed to G&W’s newly created Rochester & Southern, and two years later remaining BR&P lines to G&W’s Buffalo & Pittsburgh.
Even more dramatic, in 1987 CSX would meld B&O into its new CSX Transportation; a system-wide rebranding that would soon affect all of CSX’s railroads. Ironically, one of the first locomotives I photographed in CSXT paint was a former B&O GP30!
Does anyone even remember friction bearings? By the 1990s, these were all but a forgotten technology, replaced with the omnipresent roller bearings. Southern Pacific’s season sugar beet racks were once of the few exceptions and continued to work until about 1992 with the old technology.
However, prior to that in January 1988, I had a class project at the Rochester Institute of Technology (Rochester, New York) that involved making photos of railroad workers. I’d arranged through the Rochester & Southern to spend time around Brooks Avenue Yard.
I spent a lot of time there, relative to what was required of me for the class.
At one point the general manager, or someone in the know, directed me to a rip track where workers were packing friction bearings. This was really an arcane aspect of railroading.
I exposed a series of black & white negatives in the 645 format using my father’s Rolleiflex Model T. It was a dull cold day. I think I was using Verichrome Pan (rated at 80 ISO) to get a period effect. I used a wide aperture, probably f3.5, which gave me shallow depth of field.
Verichrome was a difficult material to work with in low light and my negatives were very thin.
To make the most of these photos I used an unusual printing technique: I intentionally printed the photo darker than normal, then used a potassium-ferrocyanide solution to bleach the highlights. I did this both across the print in a tray, and using a cotton swab on select areas such as the around the journal boxes.
The result is more or less as you see it here. This print has been in a box since 1988 and has hardly ever seen the light of day. (Incidentally, in case the name doesn’t suggest it to you, potassium-ferrocyanide is decidedly unhealthy, so use it cautiously, if you must.)
I don’t think my professor was especially impressed with my results. What did he know about bearings anyway?
Among my favorite locomotives are Electro-Motive’s classic end-cab switchers, of the sort introduced in the mid-1930s with EMC model SC.
I became familiar with this type as a result of an O-Gauge Lionel NW-2 dressed for Santa Fe that my father bought for me about 1972. Later, I watched and photographed full scale switchers on Penn-Central, Conrail and Boston & Maine.
This type in effect emulated the shape of the common steam locomotive, allowing the engineer to look down the length of the hood, instead of a boiler. Electro-Motive wasn’t first to use this arrangement, which Alco introduced in the early 1930s. But, it was the Electro-Motive switcher that I found to have a classic sound and shape.
When I was studying at the Rochester Institute of Technology in the late 1980s, Rochester & Southern’s Brooks Avenue Yard was just a few minutes away. I routinely stopped by the yard to see what was going on.
At that time, R&S 107—a former Southern Pacific SW1200—could be routinely found drilling cars. Over the years, I made a number of images of this old goat.
I left Rochester in 1989. I wonder what has become of this switcher? Does it still sport the SP-order oscillating lights?
In November 1986, Kodak supplied me with a free roll of TMax 100 black & white film as part of a ‘care package’ of new products for students in the Photographic Illustration programs at the Rochester Institute of Technology .
The T-Max black & white films were brand new at the time. They were significant because they used a new ‘T’ grain that featured flat silver halide grains that were supposed to reduce the visual granularity in the film (and lower the film’s silver content).
On this bright sunny morning, I went trackside in Rochester to expose my free film. I had Kodachrome 25 in my Leica M2, so I borrowed my roommate’s Canon A1 for the film test.
I photographed a variety of Conrail trains on the former New York Central Water Level Route. I made this image of Rochester & Southern’s Belt Line local crossing the former Buffalo, Rochester & Pittsburgh bridge over Water Level Route at Lincoln Park, west of downtown Rochester. (In 1986, Genesee & Wyoming’s Rochester & Southern assumed operation of the former BR&P 4th Sub-division from CSX’s Baltimore & Ohio.)
Leading R&S’s local was Alco RS-3m 211 leased from the recently formed Genesee Valley Transportation.
The locomotive has a long and colorful history. It featured both a large steam generator and dynamic brakes (thus the high short-hood) and was one of only five RS-3s were built this way: four served Western Maryland, while this one went to the Pennsylvania Railroad but later was traded to the Lehigh Valley, becoming its 211. After 1976, Conrail replaced 211’s original Alco-244 diesel with a recycled 12-cylinder EMD 567 engine.
On the morning of November 4, 1987, I made a speculative foray to P&L (Pittsburgh & Lehigh) Junction near Caledonia, New York. At the time I was living in nearby Scottsville, and I’d occasionally check P&L to see if anything was moving.
P&L Junction had once been a very busy place. Here the original Genesee & Wyoming had connected with Lehigh Valley, Buffalo, Rochester & Pittsburgh, a branch of the Erie, and New York Central’s so-called ‘Peanut Line.’By 1987, the only railroads left were G&W and its Rochester & Southern affiliate.
I was fortunate to find a southward train and I made this image of a southward G&W salt train heading across the diamond with a vestige of the old Peanut Line (that G&W used to reach a couple of miles into Caledonia). A classic ‘tilt board’ crossing signal protected the diamond.
Today, it seems that G&W railroads are everywhere. I even saw a G&W company freight in Belgium a couple of weeks ago. Back then, I couldn’t have imagined that this New York state short line would reach so far!