On May 14, 1985, I exposed this photo of Pioneer Valley Railroad’s stored RS-3 203 at the railroad’s Westfield, Massachusetts yard.
PVRR was one of the Pinsley-owned railroads.
In 1985, my photographic efforts were supported by a shoe-string budget. I’d buy bulk 100-foot rolls of 35mm black & white film to roll my own cassettes. At the time I was working with a 1938-vintage Leica 3A with a screw-mount Cannon f1.8 50mm lens.
I’d process the film at college using Kodak D76.
Three decades later I’d scan the negatives. I have hundreds of rolls from that era picturing thousands of scenes, most of which can never be repeated.
It was my second visit to Eagle Bridge, New York inside a week.
On this visit, We’d driven here on spec looking for Pan Am’s EDRJ (East Deerfield to Rotterdam Junction). No luck with that this time, but on arrival I’d noted that there were loaded grain cars on the interchange for the Battenkill Railroad.
Well, the Battenkill is known to run on weekdays; this was a Friday, its interchange had been delivered, but as of 1:30pm the Battenkill hadn’t come down to collect it yet.
The Battenkill’s primary attraction is its continued operation of vintage Alco RS-3 diesels. While the RS-3 was among the most common types built in the 1950s, only a scant few survive in traffic today outside of museums. (Perhaps a reader can supply a list?).
It was one of those days where I was following my instincts.
As profiled yesterday, we’d started out after the New England Central; diverted to Pan Am Railway’s East Deerfield yard, then focused on the westward freight EDRJ (East Deerfield to Rotterdam Junction).
More than 30 years ago, I’d travel to East Deerfield in search of antique locomotives in regular service. My friends and I would delight in finding old EMD switchers, plus GP7s, GP9s, and the rare GP18s at work.
Better were run through freights with Delaware & Hudson Alco diesels. If we found an interesting consist on a westward freight, we’d follow it up toward the Hoosac Tunnel and beyond into Vermont. A good chase would bring us clear to the Hudson River Valley at Mechanicville.
The catch phrase ‘to the River!’ has come mean a day-long chase to the Hudson.
So when Paul Goewey and I started west after the EDRJ on Tuesday February 9, 2016, it was my hope to re-live and re-create one of those great 1980s chases. And, after all this train essentially had a 1970s era lash-up of engines and was well suited to the spirit of the exercise.
After photographing EDRJ at the East Portal of Hoosac Tunnel, we followed the narrow switchback road up the mountain to Route 2, and then drove west from North Adams. We’d heard on the radio that EDRJ was to work at Hoosick Junction and meet the eastward intermodal train symbol 22K.
‘We’ll drive directly to Eaglebridge (New York) and intercept the 22K there.’
When we crested a hill near Eaglebridge, I pointed out the little used tracks of the Battenkill Railroad. Paul said, ‘looks like something has been over the line recently’
And then I saw a wisp of blue smoke (not Merle Travis).
“It’s an Alco!”
Indeed it was. We’d stumbled on to the Battenkill local working with a pure former Delaware & Hudson RS-3.
I’d photographed the Battenkill on various occasions over the years, but always with elaborate planning and careful arrangements. Since neither of us had been to Eaglebridge in many years (at least four for me), to arrive in time to catch this elusive operation was a true find.
The caveat: if we’d stayed with EDRJ we’d missed the Battenkill.
Soon we were ambling up the Hoosic Valley making photographs of one of New York State’s more obscure railways.