Tag Archives: semaphore

Style-S Semaphore Where You Wouldn’t Expect to Find One.

In my books on railroad signaling I’ve chronicled the history of Union Switch & Signal’s Style S semaphores.

See: Classic Railroad Signals

In the 1980s and 1990s, I made a project of photographing these three-position semaphores on Conrail’s former Erie Railroad route.

Recently a Style S signal has appeared in Palmer, Massachusetts in front of the railroad-themed ‘Train Masters Inn’.

A recent photo of the preserved US&S Style S semaphore in front of the Train Masters Inn on South Main Street in Palmer, Massachusetts. Can you spot the erroneous installation?

I asked the owner where he got it, and he indicated from a dealer in Ohio.

For point of comparison, I’ve included a few of my photos of semaphores along the old Erie.

This was a signal near Erie’s 242 milepost. The style of blade is a bit more modern than the signal in Palmer as it uses a different counterweight arrangement. However careful comparison between this blade and the preserved blade should lead to a conclusion.

Certainly, the signal in Palmer has similarities with the Erie’s; same type of blade as used on older installations, same type of finial.

Careful observers will notice the operating mistake in the way this preserved signal was installed; something that could be easily rectified.

A Susquehanna SD45 roars west at Canaseraga, New York on the old Erie Railroad mainline. Exposed on Kodachrome in May 1988.
Conrail’s BUOI is running on track 1 against the current of traffic so the semaphore is displaying ‘stop and proceed’ as this is automatic block signal territory. Believe it or not, this was exposed on May 7th, 1989 following a freak late season snow storm.
So I ask, where did this signal come from? Is it from the old Erie? And if so, where .I’d like to know.

The Train Masters Inn is a B&B located near the old Palmer Union Station. See: train masters inn.

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Erie Railroad Semaphore—Canisteo River Valley at Cameron, New York.

Erie Railroad Semaphore—Canisteo River Valley at Cameron, New York.

I made this view during a snow squall at Cameron, New York in 1987.

This wasn’t yesterday. Exposed on black & white film using a Rolleiflex model T.

This shows the old Erie Railroad mainline at the Canisteo River Road grade crossing near milepost 314, a line then operated by Conrail.

That’s my old 1973 Plymouth Scamp parked by the side of the road.

The subject of the photo is the vintage Union Switch & Signal Style-S three-position upper quadrant semaphore.

I was on an exploratory trip of the Canisteo River Valley that contributed to many photographs of trains in this supremely scenic area.

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NI Railways: Castlerock Semaphore Finale—October 2016. Six Photos.

Among the last active installations of ‘somersault’ signals has survived on NI Railways at Castlerock, County Derry, Northern Ireland.

The somersault is an antique variety of two-aspect semaphore where the signal arm and spectacle (lens) frame are separate pieces and move in opposite directions when the aspect changes. The name stems from a description of the signal motion.

Earlier this month Denis McCabe, Stephen Hirsch and I traveled from Dublin to pay a final visit to this classic signal installation and make photographs of modern NI Railways railcars with the antique hardware.

New NI Railway’s signalling is underway on this section of the Coleraine-Derry line. It is my understanding that in early November, NIR plans to close Castlerock’s cabin (signal tower) and the signals will be removed from service as part of a larger re-signalling scheme that will also eliminate this station as a passing point.

The starting signal to Derry has been cleared by the signalman at Castlerock.
The starting signal to Derry has been cleared by the signalman at Castlerock.
This rear view of the same signal provides a sense for how the signal works. Unlike the more common semaphore arrangement, the arm and lens housing are separate pieces, but interlocked for coordinated movement.
This rear view of the same signal provides a sense for how the signal works. Unlike the more common semaphore arrangement, the arm and lens housing are separate pieces, but interlocked for coordinated movement.
An NIR railcar from Derry to Belfast approaches Castlerock. I've intentionally focused on the old signal, rather than the NIR railcar. Fear not railcar enthusiasts, I have sharp photos of NIR railcars on the move! Exposed using my FujiFilm X-T1 digital camera.
An NIR railcar from Derry to Belfast approaches Castlerock. I’ve intentionally focused on the old signal, rather than the NIR railcar. Fear not railcar enthusiasts, I have sharp photos of NIR railcars on the move! Exposed using my FujiFilm X-T1 digital camera.
Looking toward Belfast at Castlerock from the down platform. Soon this view will be forever altered, as the platform I'm standing on will no longer be served and the signals will be removed.
Looking toward Belfast at Castlerock from the down platform. Soon this view will be forever altered, as the platform I’m standing on will no longer be served and the signals will be removed.
A Derry-bound NIR railcar approaches Castlerock as viewed from the footbridge.
A Derry-bound NIR railcar approaches Castlerock as viewed from the footbridge.
A trailing view of the Derry-bound train. Exposed using my FujiFilm X-T1 digital camera.
A trailing view of the Derry-bound train. Exposed using my FujiFilm X-T1 digital camera.

Although, I’d visited Castlerock previously, it had been a few years since I last photographed these old signals at work.

Special thanks to Colin Holliday reminding me of the pending changes to Castlerock signaling!

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A Value of Film-A Digital Photographic Lesson.

Back in the day, when I set out to make photographs, I had a finite number of images that I could make on any given adventure based on the amount of film in the camera bag.

It might be one roll, or ten, but the number of exposures was a distinct number. Not only that, but certainly in my younger days, there was a definite cost to each and every photo exposed.

When I was in college I could afford just 74-76 frames of Kodachrome per week and still eat. (Sometimes I cheated and starved). On the morning of January 14, 1989, I put this New York, Susquehanna & Western SD45 on film carefully placing the the old upper quadrant semaphore in the frame. I had my two rolls of Kodachrome, and probably some black & white, but a lot of ground to cover.
When I was in college I could afford just 74-76 frames of Kodachrome per week and still eat. (Sometimes I cheated and just starved). On the morning of January 14, 1989, I put this New York, Susquehanna & Western SD45 on film—carefully placing the the old upper quadrant semaphore in the frame. I had my two rolls of Kodachrome, and probably some black & white, but a lot of ground to cover that day. I knew that the old Union Switch & Signal Style S signals were on borrowed time, and I might not have another chance to make this  photograph.

This was a limitation, but like many handicaps it encouraged discipline. Every time I released the shutter I wanted to make the photo count. At times I’d experiment with exposure, lighting, and angles, but I avoided gratuitously wasting film.

Running out of film before the end of a trip could be a disaster.

Yet, I found that my photography was at its best at the very beginning of a trip (when I still had plenty of exposures left) and toward the end (when I was making the absolute most of each photo, and really concentrating the mechanics of making photos having benefitted from days of being in the field).

In the 1950s, my dad would set off on a two week trip with just 6-10 rolls of Kodachrome. He’d carefully budget each day’s photography. Just imagine visiting Chicago in 1958 with its vast array of classic railroads but only allowing yourself to make 15 photos during the whole day.

By comparison today, digital photography doesn’t impose such limitations. You can buy storage cards that will hold hundreds (if not thousands of images). Even if you run out, you can go back and erase select images to free up space.

True, digital-photography allows great freedom to experiment, there’s no cost associated with each and every frame, nor the level of concern that you might run out. In retrospect, it was that strict limitation of film that often helped me craft better photos.

Think about it.

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Upper Quadrant Semaphore on the old Erie Railroad.

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In the 1980s, I made hundreds of images of upper quadrant three-position semaphores along the old Erie Railroad in New York State, a line then part of the Conrail system.

A Union Switch & Signal upper quadrant semaphore blade, exposed on Kodachrome 25 using a Leica M2 with 200mm Telyt lens.
A Union Switch & Signal upper quadrant semaphore blade, exposed on Kodachrome 25 using a Leica M2 with 200mm Telyt lens.

I focused on this semaphore near Tioga Center, New York in August 1988. This is part of a sequence that portrayed the signal in its three position and this image is of the ‘approach aspect’.

Learn more about American semaphore practice in my book, Classic Railroad Signals published by Voyageur Press.

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Tracking the Light Extra: Unusual Semaphore in an Unexpected Place

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Every so often, I stumble upon something that flummoxes me.

On St. Patrick’s Day, I was enjoying the evening’s celebrations with some friends at The Full Shilling in Finglas (in north suburban Dublin).

This is a large shop (drinking establishment) with lots of décor characteristic of a Dublin Pub.

On the way to the loo, I looked up and was startled to find a three-position upper quadrant semaphore blade.

Three_postion_upper_quadrant_blade_at_Full_Shilling_in_Finglas_P1410933

‘What’s this? And, what’s it doing here?’

As the author of two books on American signaling, I’m reasonably well versed in semaphore practice. (see: Classic Railroad Signaling; Railroad Signaling. Also see: Barnes & Noble.)

On the surface, it looks a like a standard pattern three-position upper-quadrant semaphore blade, commonly used by many American railways beginning about 1908.

The flat-end red blade with white stripe would have been typically used for an absolute signal that display a full stop in its most restrictive position.

There’s one critical difference with this semaphore blade; it’s a mirror of the signals typically used in the USA.

On most American railways, semaphore blades were oriented to the right, while in British practice (which includes Ireland) they are oriented to the left. (New Haven railroad was an exception).

I would guess that this signal is an adaptation of the American pattern for service in Britain or Ireland. But where did come from? And how did this anomalous signal blade find its way to Finglas, which is not even on a railway line.

At the moment, this stands as one of signaling’s great unsolved mysteries.

Do you know the story behind it?

 

Canadian National Caboose passing Monson Semaphore.

This old upper quadrant semaphore was located in Monson, Massachusetts about a mile from the Palmer diamond. It served as a fixed distant to the absolute signal protecting the crossing and was always in the diagonal position indicating ‘approach’.

I made this image on July 20, 1986 of a northward Central Vermont freight (probably job 562).

Purists may note that Canadian National referred to its cabooses as ‘Vans’. More relevant was that by this date, cabooses were becoming unusual in New England. Conrail began caboose-less operation on through freights a few years earlier.

Exposed on July 20, 1986 using a Rolleiflex Model T with ‘Super slide’ insert to make for a roughly 645-size black & white negative.
Exposed on July 20, 1986 using a Rolleiflex Model T with ‘Super slide’ insert to make for a roughly 645-size black & white negative.

Even rarer in New England were semaphores. Yet this one survived until very recently, when Central Vermont successor New England Central finally replaced it with a color-light. See earlier post: Monson Semaphore Challenge.

A minor point regarding this composition; I’d released the shutter a moment too soon, and so the left-hand back of the caboose visually intersects with the semaphore ladder. This annoys me. Sometimes I like a bit of visual tension in an image, but in this case it doesn’t work.

 

Not that I can go back and try it again, as much as I’d like to!

 

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A Camel in the Snow.

General Electric delivered Conrail’s ten C32-8s in 1984. These were a group of unusual pre-production DASH-8 locomotives, and earned the nickname ‘camels’ owing to their humpback appearance.

I’ve always liked these distinctive locomotives and I had ample opportunities to photograph them on Conrail’s Boston & Albany route in the 1980s and early 1990s.

Exposed on Kodak black & white film using a Rolleiflex Model T with 75mm Zeiss Tessar lens.
Exposed on Kodak black & white film using a Rolleiflex Model T with 75mm Zeiss Tessar lens.

In March 1988, I was skipping class at Rochester Institute of Technology and photographing along the former Erie Railroad in New York’s Canisteo Valley.

In the afternoon, light rain had changed to snow. I was set up by the semaphores at milepost 308 west of Rathbone, New York and caught Conrail’s westward doublestack train TV301 roaring through the valley with nearly two miles of train in tow.

In the lead was C32-8 6617, an old favorite from my travels on B&A. I find it hard to believe that this locomotive was less than four years old at the time.

The old Union & Switch Signal Style S semaphores were decommissioned in January 1994.

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Prague Dawn.

In January 2009, Tim Doherty, Denis McCabe and I made photos at a suburban branch station called Praha-Ruzyne, situated west of Prague’s historic center and near the Vaclav Havel (international) Airport. A wire operated semaphore caught my interest.

This scene presents a lesson in composition. It was a visually interesting but stark environment to make photographs.

The Czech capital is a fascinating city with some of Europe’s finest architecture. Unfortunately, none of this is present at Praha-Ruzyne, which is characterized by urban development stemming from the country’s austere period of Soviet-influence.

I opted to work in silhouette and exposed this color slide for the highlight areas of the sky while allowing shadow areas to go black and be virtually free from distracting detail.

  Photograph made using a Canon EOS 3 with 100mm lens and Fujichrome slide film.

Photograph made using a Canon EOS 3 with 100mm lens and Fujichrome slide film.

My challenge was placing the semaphore mast and blade in a position that makes it most prominent. I’ve balanced the composition by putting this signal diagonally opposite from the diesel railcar at lower right. The red lights on the back of the railcar immediately attract the eye, while the semaphore draws it back again.

In the middle is a lone figure crossing the line which both adds a prominent human element that offers a sense of scale, while imposing a poetic element of; ‘man versus his environment’.

The trackage arrangement makes for a complex pattern that reflects the light of the morning sky . On the hill above the train is a large building that hints at the greater urbanity of the scene. Without it, the image might be mistaken for a photo of a rural village.

Two specially difficulties were the array of vertical lighting masts which distract from the semaphore, and the railing along the line that visually interferes with the trackage, but adds a layer of depth.

The trees in the distance beyond the tracks are slightly diffused by morning haze and contribute to sense of depth—an especially important element in this silhouetted view, which would otherwise be flattened by the minimalism imposed by my choice of exposure.

How might this image compare with one at the same location exposed on a bright summer afternoon?

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Resignalling at Boyle; Ten Years ago.

Between 2003 and 2008, Irish Rail converted most of its peripheral lines from traditional control using mechanical semaphore signals and electric train staff to a Mini-CTC (centralised traffic control) system with colour-light signaling.

In May 2005, the signals at Boyle on the Sligo Line reflected this pending transition. The new hardware was in place, but the old semaphores were still doing their job. By the end of the year the signal towers on the Sligo Line had been closed and the day of the semaphore was done.

Station sign at Boyle on Irish Rail's Sligo Line.
Station sign at Boyle on Irish Rail’s Sligo Line.
Boyle resignalling looking east May 2005 Brian Solomon photo 0024052
Looking up road (toward Dublin) at Boyle in May 2005.

Brian Solomon will be presenting a illustrated talk to the Irish Railway Record Society in Dublin on Thursday February 12th at 7:30pm.This is titled  Ireland in Colour, Bo-Bo’s, Rail Freight and Signal Cabins.

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Semaphores at Polly—Tracking the Light Daily Post.

A Nearly Literal Interpretation of the Southern Pacific Logo.

Semaphores at Polly, New Mexico; exposed on Kodachrome 25 using a Nikormat FT3 fitted with a 28mm Nikkor lens. Exposure calculated manually using a handheld Sekonic Studio Deluxe photocell.
Semaphores at Polly, New Mexico; exposed on Kodachrome 25 using a Nikormat FT3 fitted with a 28mm Nikkor lens. Exposure calculated manually using a handheld Sekonic Studio Deluxe photocell.

In January 1994, I spent several days photographing along Southern Pacific’s Tucumcari Line in central New Mexico.

One morning I made this image of the sun on the horizon with classic Union Switch & Signal Style B lower quadrant semaphores at Polly.

For me it is nearly the literal translation of SP’s safety logo with semaphores and the sun. The only difference is SP’s sun was setting (thus the ‘Sunset Route’) while mine is rising.

I’ve published variations of this image many places, including my original signals book titled Railroad Signaling. Presently, I’m working on its sequel, classic signaling which will focus on steam-era hardware.

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Semaphore Dawn—Tracking the Light Daily Post.

Adrian, New York, May 1987.

 A thick Spring fog blanketing the Canisteo Valley acted as a sound envelope. The combination of moisture and the valley’s walls produced an acoustic environment that enhanced the railroad experience. Making this special was the almost total void of other human made sounds.

The trickle of  water from the nearby Canisteo and a light breeze through the trees was punctuated by the distant roar of an eastward train. Engine noise and the clatter of freight cars gradually swelled as it worked from Hornell down the valley on the former Erie Railroad.

I’d positioned myself at lightly used private crossing near westward signal 318 (measured in miles from Erie’s Jersey City terminus). A hint of blue in the sky marked the rising sun.

After more than ten minutes, I’d listened to the mournful warning blasted for the public crossing in the village of Adrian, two miles to the west. The roar grew louder. Then finally, there was a hint of headlight piercing the fog.

Semaphore at dawn
Delaware & Hudson’s symbol BFOA (Ford autorack train destined for Ayer, Massachusetts) blasts by a former Erie upper quadrant semaphore east of Adrian, New York at 5:20am on May 16, 1987. This vintage signal, one of several dozen protecting the railroad in the Canisteo Valley was the primary intended subject. This image was first published in Pacific RailNews in the 1990s. Images like this one will help illustrate my new book; Classic Railroad Signals that I’m now assembling for publication later this year by Voyageur Press.

My college roommate had lent me his Canon A1 35mm SLR, which I’d loaded with professional Kodachrome 25 slide film. I had this tightly positioned on a tripod.

 

When the train began to illuminate the scene, I opened the shutter. This closed again moments before the headlight of the lead locomotive left the scene, leaving a truncated streak of light to represent the train’s passage.

 

Images like this one will help illustrate my new book; Classic Railroad Signals that I’m now assembling for publication later this year by Voyageur Press.

 

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Tomorrow: Like the Ribs of some Ancient Beast.

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DAILY POST: Black & White Scrapbook


Scans of Prints Showing Limerick Junction

Irish Rail
A Dublin bound train has the starting signal to depart Limerick Junction. In the lead is a Class 201 General Motors diesel number 215 (again!). Limerick Junction North Cabin is at the left. Exposed with a Rollei model T on black & white film.

On May 16, 2001, I was on my way from Dublin to Kilarney by train. Rather than take the most efficient route, I aimed to wander a bit on the way down.

I changed trains at Ballybrophy for the Nenagh Branch to Limerick, then traveled from Limerick to Limerick Junction where I’d time my arrival to intercept the weekday 10:34 Waterford to Limerick cement train.

At the time I was making good use of my Rolleiflex Model T to document Ireland and Irish railways in black & white.

I’d process my negatives in my Dublin apartment and make 5×7 proofing prints at the Gallery of Photography’s darkrooms at Meeting House Square, Temple Bar. Often, I schedule one day a week for printing.

Over the course of a half dozen years, I exposed several thousand black & white images, and made hundreds of prints. Sometimes I’d give prints to friends on the railroad. On more than one occasion I’d later visit a station or signal cabin and find my work displayed on the wall.

However, most of the prints remain stored in boxes. While this may help in their preservation, it doesn’t allow people to enjoy the images.

Here I’ve displayed just a few photos, where instead of scanning the negatives, I’ve scanned prints and this shows both my cropping of the image and the borders. I developed a distinctive border style for my square images that I felt worked well with the format.

In the dozen years that have passed since I exposed these photos, Limerick Junction and the trains that serve it have changed dramatically. The semaphores, cement trains and Class 121 diesels are all gone.

Irish Rail 133 works the Limerick Junction-Limerick push-pull set as the train departs the Junction on May 16, 2001. After this train departed, the signalman in the cabin gave the cement train the signal to cross the Cork line (at right), then reverse into Limerick Junction.
Irish Rail 133 works the Limerick Junction-Limerick push-pull set as the train departs the Junction on May 16, 2001. After this train departed, the signalman in the cabin gave the waiting cement train the signals to cross the Cork line (at right), then reverse into Limerick Junction.
Here a pair of Class 121s leads the 10:34 Waterford-Limerick empty cement across the 'square crossing' at Limerick Junction. In America, we'd probably call this the 'Diamond at Limerick Junction'. Although this image was exposed as a square, I cropped the negative in printing to better focus on the railway infrastructure. The top third or so of the original negative just show clouds.
Here a pair of Class 121s leads the 10:34 Waterford-Limerick empty cement across the ‘square crossing’ at Limerick Junction. In America, we’d probably call this the ‘Diamond at Limerick Junction’. Although this image was exposed as a square, I cropped the negative in printing to better focus on the railway infrastructure. The top third or so of the original negative just show clouds.
The Cement train crew gets off the engines after stabling the train in the sidings. After exposing these photos I boarded a train for Mallow and Tralee.
The Cement train crew gets off the engines after stabling the train in the sidings. After exposing these photos I boarded a train for Mallow and Tralee.

 

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END OF YEAR POST

Tracking the Light in 2013.

Searchlight signals
Blue sky and red signals; the old Boston & Maine-era searchlight protects the Bellows Falls diamond. In the steam era an old ball signal protected this crossing, then with Rutland Railroad.

Here, a potpourri of images illuminated the net; covering everything from unit oil trains to obscure eastern European transit. So, looking back, 2013 has been a productive and busy time for Tracking the Light.

My original intention with Tracking the Light was to disseminate detailed information about railway photographic technique. Over time this concept has evolved and I’ve used this as a venue for many of my tens of thousands of images.

Among the themes of the images I post; signaling, EMD 20-cylinder diesels, Irish Railways, photos made in tricky (difficult) lighting, elusive trains, weedy tracks and steam locomotives are my favorites.

Since March, I’ve posted new material daily. I’ve tried to vary the posts while largely sticking to the essential theme of railway images. I hope you’ve enjoyed the posts and will tell your friends about this site! There’s more to come in 2014!

Happy New Year!

Brian Solomon

General Motors Electro-Motive Division SD45 diesels
Southern Pacific 7547 leads a manifest freight timetable east at Brock, California, on SP’s East Valley line on April 28, 1991. This 35mm Kodachome image was scanned with an Epson V600. Minor adjustments were necessary using Photoshop to lighten exposure, correct contrast and color balance. The photo is seen full-frame.
Wisconsin Central
Wisconsin Central as viewed from across a cornfield at Byron, Wisconsin on December 3, 1994. Exposed with a Nikon F3T with 28mm wide angle lens on Kodachrome 25 color slide film. Scanned with a Epson V600 scanner. No post processing except as necessary to scale image for internet use and insert byline tag.
Bord na Mona
Bord na Mona trains are loaded with peat. A section of temporary track sits in the foreground. Exposed with a Canon EOS 7D fitted with a 28-135mm lens.
New England Central freights
New England Central freights 604 and 606 at Palmer, Massachusetts. Lumix LX photo.
2-10-0 locomotive
Exposed with a Nikon F3T with 24mm lens with R2 red filter on Fuji Neopan 400, processed in Agfa Rodinal Special.
Bluebell Railway.
My known good spot: here a Bluebell train works the bank north of Horsted Keynes. Lumix LX3 photo.

See: Burlington Northern at Sunset, Whitefish, Montana July 5, 1994Tram in Olomouc, Czech Republic, 2008Donner Pass Part 1Bluebell Railway Revisited, July 2013-Part 2Boston & Albany Milepost 67, Brookfield, Massachusetts; Irish Rail, Wellingtonbridge, County Wexford, December 2005 . . .and more!

 

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Screamer kicks up snow near Shirley, Massachusetts. Canon EOS 7D with 100mm lens. Contrast adjusted in post processing.
Screamer kicks up snow near Shirley, Massachusetts. Canon EOS 7D with 100mm lens. Contrast adjusted in post processing.
Croydon Tram
This tram was difficult to miss in its iridescent special livery.
Tube station.
The National Gallery and Trafalgar Square are among London’s largest tourist attractions. This poster describes Victorian interest in art and places photography in period context. Lumix LX3 photo.
New General Electric DASH8-40B on New York Susquehanna & Western
In 1989, New York, Susquehanna & Western served as the court appointed operator of Delaware & Hudson. By virtue of the 1976 Conrail merger, D&H had been granted trackage rights on the former Erie Railroad route from Binghamton to Buffalo, New York. On this March morning, a new NYS&W General Electric led an eastward double stack train on the old Erie near West Middlebury, New York, 384 miles from Jersey City.Exposed on 120 Kodachrome transparency film with a Hasselblad 500C with 80mm Zeiss Planar lens

 

Locomotive drive wheel
A study in motion: drive wheel, cylinder, valves and valve gear of locomotive 92212 at Kingscote. Canon EAS 7D photo.
PRR Suburban Station.
The former Pennsylvania Railroad Suburban Station as seen in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in July 2013. Lumix LX3 photo.
rail freight

I made this photograph with my Canon EOS 7D with f2.8 200mm lens, set at ISO 400 f 4.5 at 1/1000th. In post-processing I made minor adjustments to contrast and saturation to match how I perceived the light at the moment of exposure.

 

Irish Rail Gray 077 Leads Ballast Train
A landscape view of Irish Rail’s HOBS at Islandbridge Junction near Heuston Station in Dublin on August 2, 2013. Canon EOS 7D photo.
Pan Am 618 roars west at Wisdom Way on November 21, 2013.
Pan Am 618 roars west at Wisdom Way on November 21, 2013.
Distant signal for Nicholastown gates. Nikon F3 with 180mm lens, Fujichrome slide film.
Distant signal for Nicholastown gates. Nikon F3 with 180mm lens, Fujichrome slide film.
Oil train catches the glint.
Away we go into the sunset hot in pursuit of an oil train. Canon EOS 7D with 100mm lens set at f6.3 1/1000 second at ISO 200.
CSX_oil_train_K040
First of four eastward unit oil trains; CSX K040 with a mix of CSX, KCS, and BNSF locomotives.

 

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DAILY POST: Winston Hill, Montana, 1994.


Semaphores and Double Stacks.

I love technological contrasts and parallel compositions. This simple photograph works with both motifs.

Semaphore
What makes this photo work for me, isn’t just the technological contrasts and functional symmetry, but also the textured sky. This was difficult to exposure for properly, but serves an important visual element. If it was overexposed, it would represent a defect that would distract from the signals, while if it had been a blue dome, it would have dramatically altered the visual contrast of the image.

 

A westward Burlington Northern double-stack container train rolls downgrade on Montana Rail Link’s former Northern Pacific mainline over Winston Hill, east of Helena.

I used a relatively short shutter speed to allow a little bit of motion blur, while waiting for an appropriate gab between the stack wells to show both eastward- and westward-facing semaphores.

These upper quadrant blades were powered by General Railway Signal Type 2A base of mast mechanisms, a standard type of signal hardware installed by Northern Pacific in the steam era.

By the early 1990s, double stack container traffic was new and growing, while semaphore signals were relics from an earlier era and rapidly being replaced.

What will be the 2014 equivalent of this photograph? A state-of-the-art LNG-fueled locomotive passing a classic searchlight?

Interested in railway signaling? See my book Railroad Signaling available from Voyageur Press/Quayside Publishing

Also See: Erie Mainline RevisitedCuriously Seeking Erie Semaphores and Susquehanna SD45 and an Erie Semaphore, Canaseraga, New York.

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DAILY POST: Focused on the Details

 Irish Rail Close-up and Real.

Footbridge at Clonmel, County Tipperary on November 19, 2004. Exposed with a Nikon F3 on Fujichrome slide film.
Footbridge at Clonmel, County Tipperary on November 19, 2004. Exposed with a Nikon F3 on Fujichrome slide film.

It would be something else if it were unreal, no?

I’ve always liked to make macro views of railways. Examining the texture, colors, and shape of the equipment, track and structures allows for better appreciation of the subject.

One of the best times to make close ups and detail photographs is under dramatic lighting; low sun or stormy light, where richer qualities make for more pleasing tones. Even the most mundane and ordinary subjects seem more interesting with great light.

Yet, detailed views can also make use of dull days when by focusing on texture and using extreme focus can compensate for flat lighting.

Irish Rail made for an especially good subject for detailed images, in part because there was so much antique equipment to photograph. Well-worn infrastructure is inherently fascinating. Here out in the open metal has been doing a job for decades and often it shows the scars from years of hard work, like an old weaver’s time weathered hands.

I’ve made hundreds of Irish Rail close-ups over the years. Here a just a few. Look around railways near you and see what you find! Sometimes the most interesting photographs can be made while waiting for trains.

Distant signal for Nicholastown gates. Nikon F3 with 180mm lens, Fujichrome slide film.
Distant signal for Nicholastown gates. Nikon F3 with 180mm lens, Fujichrome slide film.
Signal cabin interior at Rathmore. I like lever 23 the most.
Signal cabin interior at Rathmore. I like lever 23 the most. Exposed with a Contax G2 fitted with a 16mm Hologon, focused manually.
Crows congregate on the Carrick on Suir footbridge on December 11, 2004. I made this image with my Nikon F3 with a 180mm Nikkor telephoto while waiting for an empty sugar beet train. Do you think the crows care about blue NIR diesels?
Crows congregate on the Carrick on Suir footbridge on December 11, 2004. I made this image with my Nikon F3 with a 180mm Nikkor telephoto while waiting for an empty sugar beet train. Do you think the crows care about blue NIR diesels?
On Spring evening, Enfield cabin catches a fading wink of sunlight.
On Spring evening, Enfield cabin catches a fading wink of sunlight.
Irish Rail.
Irish Rail 175 basks in the November sunlight at Mallow, County Cork. Canon EOS 3 with 24-70mm zoom lens.

Also see: Irish Rail at Ballybrophy, June 2006Irish Rail Freight April 25-26, 2013 and Looking Back on Irish Railways 1998-2003

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DAILY POST: Sugar Beet at Thomastown, November 2003


NIR 112 Leading Empties Under a Stormy Sky.

 Irish Rail’s 2003-2004 didn’t go as planned. Just as the season was gearing up, the Cahir Viaduct on the Limerick Junction-Waterford line collapsed under laden cement train, closing the line and forcing the detour of sugar beet trains via the much longer Waterford-Cherryville Junction route.

This complication for Irish Rail was a boon for photographers as it resulted in sugar beet trains running in places where they didn’t normally go.

This was especially timely, because the portion of line from Athy to Waterford West was still under control of traditional signal cabins with mechanical semaphores and the electric train staff system. But not for much longer! An all-color light mini-CTC control system was being installed and was finally commissioned in Spring 2004.

I began the morning of November 29, 2003 in Dublin, where it was cold, dark and very wet. It was one of those days where horizontal rain is the norm and it never gets bright enough for the street lights to shut off.

Despite the bad weather, a fellow photographer and I headed toward Cherryville Junction by road with visions of intercepting sugar beet trains on their diversionary route. Somewhere between Kildare and Cherryville, the ever-elusive NIR 112 (on long term loan to Irish Rail) roared uproad with an empty beet train returning from Mallow to Wellingtonbridge.

We reversed direction, and went to Kildare, where I exposed a ‘record shot’ of the train. My exposure was noted at f2.8 1/8th of second. (What some of us would call ‘f-dark at a week’ meaning; ‘hopeless exposure for a moving train.’)

Undaunted we pursued this unusual train toward Waterford, taking advantage of crossings with other trains on the single track line. Near Thomastown, we passed through a front.

This was like a line drawn across the sky! To the north it remained foul and dark, to the south clear, cold and bright! We made our way to an overhead accommodation bridge on the Dublin side of Thomastown station where I exposed this view of the train approaching the home signal.

Northern Ireland Railways 112 is a General Motors diesel built to the specification of Irish Rail’s 071 class. In 2003, it was on loan to Irish Rail and worked a great variety of trains. On the morning of November 29th, I made this view of it approaching Thomastown with an empty sugar beet train. The home signal was placed unusually high and setback from the line for sighting reasons.
Northern Ireland Railways 112 is a General Motors diesel built to the specification of Irish Rail’s 071 class. In 2003, it was on loan to Irish Rail and worked a great variety of trains. On the morning of November 29th, I made this view of it approaching Thomastown with an empty sugar beet train. The home signal was placed unusually high and setback from the line for sighting reasons.

I count this among my truly unusual Irish railway photographs.

Also see Tracking the Light’s:  Irish Rail at Taylorstown Viaduct, December 8, 2001 and  Irish Rail, Wellingtonbridge, County Wexford, December 2005.

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DAILY POST: Susquehanna SD45 and an Erie Semaphore, Canaseraga, New York.


How Change Affects Composition.

On April 7, 1989, I exposed this Kodachrome slide at f4.0 1/125th of a second using my Leica M2 with 35mm Summicron lens. Today, if I visited the same location, I’d make a completely different image because all the elements that encouraged this composition are gone. This slide is a little bit of history.
On April 7, 1989, I exposed this Kodachrome slide at f4.0 1/125th of a second using my Leica M2 with 35mm Summicron lens. Today, if I visited the same location, I’d make a completely different image because all the elements that encouraged this composition are gone. This slide is a little bit of history.

Three elements of this image interested me when I exposed it on April 7, 1989.

The Union & Switch & Signal Style S upper quadrant former Erie Railroad semaphore; New York, Susquehanna & Western’s former Burlington Northern SD45; and the unusual grade separated mainline, where the eastward track is on a higher level than the westward line.

I could write in detail about anyone of these three things. And someday I will. But not now.

Instead, I’ll examine the composition in a effort to offer a lesson on observing change.

The reason I made this photo in the way I did was specifically to juxtapose the signal with the locomotive. The grade separation not only offered added interest, but facilitated the over all composition because it allowed the locomotive to be relatively higher in the frame while enabling me to include the entire signal (complete with base of mast mechanism and subsidiary boxes/equipment) without producing an unbalanced image.

Today, none of the main elements in the photo are in place. If you were to visit Canaseraga, New York (located about 10 miles railroad-west of Hornell on the former Erie Buffalo mainline) you would find that the semaphore is gone; as is the old eastward main track. If by chance there’s an SD45 in the photo (unlikely, but not inconceivable) it would be on the close track.

In other words, the essential components of the image have changed to such a degree that there is little reason to consider making a photo at this location. And that’s the point!

When photographers (myself included) make railway images, they consciously and unconsciously include (and exclude) line side infrastructure which helps define and structure the photographs.

Changes to railway infrastructure alter the way we see the railroad, and thus the very way we compose and plan photographs. By anticipating change, we can make more interesting images and preserve the way things look for future viewers.

When trackside make careful consideration for those elements you may include or deliberately exclude. Might you be missing a potentially great image by trying to avoid some wires or litter along the line? Is an old fence potentially a graphic element that not only will help located the photo in the future but also key to a dramatic composition?

It is these types of thoughts than can make the difference when trying to compose great (or at least, relevant) railway photos.

See: Erie Mainline Revisited and Curiously Seeking Erie Semaphores.

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Erie Mainline Revisited

On August 22, 2010, Norfolk Southern SD60M 6777 leads symbol 048—a special move of James E. Strates cars—working eastward at West Cameron, New York. Photo made with a Canon EOS 7D in manual mode fitted with a 24mm lens; exposure f3.5 1/500 at ISO 200. (Jpeg and RAW files exposed simultaneously)

Originally Posted September 28, 2012.

On Sunday August 22, 2010, fellow photographer Pat Yough and I were making photos in western New York south of Rochester, when we got word of an unusual train on Norfolk Southern’s former Erie Route. Having worked this territory for more than 25 years, I navigated a course cross country to intercept our mystery train south of Silver Springs at Castile, New York. We were both curious to see what this was. As it turned out it was a single SD60M leading a portion of the James E. Strates Show train. We made our photo at Castile near the remains of old Erie Railroad water tower, then chased eastward. We followed it to Swain, Canaseraga, Arkport, and to Hornell, New York, then into the Canisteo River Valley. Among the locations we chose was at West Cameron, New York, a spot on the inside of curve, where in the 1980s I’d often photographed Conrail and Delaware & Hudson trains passing a former Erie Railroad  Style-S upper quadrant semaphore (see Curiously Seeking Erie Semaphores posted on September 23). Conrail had single-tracked the old Erie route through the Canisteo Valley in 1993-1994, so it had been a long time since the semaphore came down, yet a portion of the old westward main was retained at West Cameron for use as a setout track, so despite changes, this location didn’t look substantially different to me than it had ‘back in the day’ .

In 1988, Conrail SD50 6700 leads eastward BUOI (Buffalo to Oak Island) carrying New York City subway cars rebuilt by Morrison Knudsen at Hornell. This passes a semaphore on the westward main track at West Cameron, New York. Photo made with a Rollei Model T, a twin-lens reflex featuring a 75mm f3.5 Zeiss Tessar lens. Exposure calculated with a Sekonic Studio Deluxe hand-held light meter. Negative scanned with an Epson V500 scanner.

Afterwards, I searched back over my 120-size black & white negatives, and located this view made with my old Rollei model T of Conrail’s BUOI in 1988. Compare these two photographs made at virtually the same location, at approximately the same time of day, yet more than 22 years apart. There are many advantages to working the same territory repeatedly over the years. While familiarity may lead to boredom, it can likewise lead a photographer to make interesting comparisons.

A lesson: keep making photographs despite changes that appear to make the railway less interesting.

Monon Semaphores, Romney, Indiana, June 24, 2004

Old General Railway Signal Semaphores In Corn Country.

CSX’s former Monon was among the last bastions of semaphores in automatic block territory in the United States. I made this image on the morning of June 24, 2004. While the line only saw a few trains in daylight, there were enough moves to keep the signals busy.

GRS Type 2A signals.
Exposed on Fujichrome with a Nikon F3T and Nikkor 180mm lens. The blade on the left displays ‘clear’, while that on the right shows ‘approach’. A northward train was on its way.

I wrote about this signal installation in my 2003 book, Railroad Signaling, published by MBI. This has since been reprinted as a softcover book. See: Quayside Press.

 

 

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MBTA at Walpole, Massachusetts, March 2, 1988

New EMD F40PH-2C with Classic Semaphore.

In the late 1980s only a few active semaphores remained in New England. One of the best places to see them was at the crossing of former New Haven Railroad lines in Walpole, Massachusetts.

Walpole, Massachusetts.
MBTA F40PH-2C crosses the diamond at Walpole. In 1988 this was still protected by New Haven-era semaphores. Exposed on Koadchrome 25 film using a Leica M@ and 35mm Summicron lens.

I made this photo of a new Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority F40PH-2 leading an outward train on the Franklin Line on the afternoon of March 2, 1988. The attraction for me was the contrast between the new locomotive and the ancient signal.

A variation of this image appeared in TRAINS Magazine some years ago. I exposed it on Kodachrome 25 using my Leica M2 with a f2.0 35mm Summicron.The combination of clear New England light, Leica optics, and K25 film enhanced the scene.

 

 

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Genesee & Wyoming at P&L Junction, November 4, 1987

The Original G&W.

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.

Genesee & Wyoming at P&L Junction
Genesee & Wyoming SW1500 47 crosses the Peanut Line at P&L Junction. Thin autumnal high clouds softened the morning sun. The photo was exposed with a Leica M2 with 50mm Summicron on Kodachrome 25 slide film.

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!

 

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Bluebell Railway Revisited, July 2013-Part 2

Kingscote Station.

Kingscote Station
Bluebell staff on the platform at Kingscote. Exposed digitally with my Canon EOS 7D.

For many years Kingscote was effectively Bluebell’s northern terminus. That changed this year when the extension to East Grinstead was finally opened along with the direct connection to Network Rail.

Now, as a quiet mid-point on the Bluebell line, it embodies all the qualities of a small town passenger station from a time long ago. Adding to the rural solitude is a ban on visitor automobiles in the car park. (Railway riders are encourage to use other stations on the line).

The facilities are faithfully decorated to convey the spirit of long ago. I appreciated a lack of modern intrusions. Not so much as an electronic beep could be heard during my brief visit. (I turned off the various sounds uttered by my digital cameras!). I should have brought my Rollei Model T for effect.

During my hour visit at Kingscote, I was rewarded with the arrive of a wedding special hauled by a diminutive locomotive named ‘Bluebell’ and decorated appropriately.

Bluebell Railway at Kingscote.
Vintage sign inside Kingscote Station. Lumix LX3 photo.
Bluebell Railway at Kingscote.
Station offices look like something from the late steam era. Notice the old manual typewriter. Lumix LX3 photo.
Bluebell Railway at Kingscote.
Waiting room at the Bluebell Railway station in Kingscote. Lumix LX3.
Bluebell Railway at Kingscote.
A period poster decorates the street side of Kingscote Station. Lumix LX3 photo.
Bluebell Railway at Kingscote.
Locomotive ‘Bluebell’ is ready to depart Kingscote on the Bluebell Railway. Lumix LX3 photo
Locomotive drive wheel
A study in motion: drive wheel, cylinder, valves, crosshead and valve gear of locomotive 92212 at Kingscote Station. Canon EOS 7D photo.
Bluebell Railway at Kingscote.
London Transport locomotive L150 leads a train of Metropolitan Railway carriages at Kingscote in July 2013. Canon EOS 7D with 28-135mm lens.

 

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Amtrak’s Southwest Chief east of Las Vegas, New Mexico, September 1998

 

 

General Electric Genesis Diesels and Style T Semaphores.

Railways can offer tremendous technological contrasts. Among my photographic themes is juxtaposition of the oldest technology along side the most modern. When I made this image, there was roughly 60 years between development of the signals and the locomotives.

Amtrak with Semaphore
Exposed with a Nikon F3T and Nikkor f2.8 24mm lens on Fujichrome slide film. I didn’t record my exposure, but the image was made at dusk, and I probably had the camera set to about 1/2 second at f2.8

I made this image during an exploration with Mel Patrick of the former Santa Fe mainline across northern New Mexico and eastern Colorado. At that time BNSF still maintained many of the old Union Switch & Signal Style T-2’s dating from the steam-era.

The Union Switch & Signal Style T-2 was featured in my book Railroad Signaling published by Voyageur Press. Here’s an except from my text: “US&S’s T-2 is a three-position upper quadrant type with a top of mast mechanism. Typical semaphore height measured 22 feet 6 inches from the ground to mechanism.”

Traffic on this line was relatively light, with only Amtrak’s Southwest Chief and a couple of BNSF freights daily. Then, as today, most of BNSF trans-con freight was routed via the Belen Cutoff (through Abo Canyon) to the south.

 

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Tracking the Light in Review

 

Light, Camera, Philosophy . . .Action! (Hopefully).

Kodachrome slide of a Central Vermont freight train at Windsor, Vermont.
Central Vermont Railway at Windsor, Vermont. Originally posted with Installment 1 on July 19, 2012.

About 10 months ago (July 2012), I started Tracking the Light. In the short time span since then I’ve had about 19,000 hits. While small numbers compared with Gangnam Style’s viral You-Tube dance video (with more than 1.7 billion hits), it’s a gratifying start. (BTW, there are some train scenes in Gangnam Style,  so it isn’t a completely random reference).

 

Reading Terminal clock
Reading Terminal clock on Market Street, Philadelphia. Exposed with a Canon 7D with 28-135mm lens. Originally posted on January 4, 2013.

In my introductory post, I offered a bit of my background with a taste of my philosophy on the subject of railway photography; ‘There is no ‘correct way’ to make photographs, although there are techniques that, once mastered, tend to yield pleasing results. I hope to expand upon those themes in these Internet essays by telling the stories behind the pictures, as well as sharing the pictures themselves.’

Irish Rail trains
Irish Rail Intercity Rail Cars converge on Islandbridge Junction, May 2013. Lumix LX3 photo. I routinely post images of Irish railways. Check regularly for updates. Also, I have a special page on Dublin that is more than railway images. For more Irish Rail click here!
Irish Rail empty timber train.
An empty timber from Waterford near Donamon, County Roscommon, Ireland. Canon 7D with 100mm f2.0 lens.

What began as an infrequent opportunity to share work via the Internet has evolved into a nearly daily exercise. In the interval, I’ve learned a bit what makes for an interesting post, while working with a variety of themes to keep the topic interesting.

TTC Streetcar Toronto.
TTC Streetcar at corner of King and Queen Streets, Sunnyside, Toronto, February 8, 2010.
Lumix LX-3 set at ISO 80. Originally Posted February 8, 2013

Regular viewers may have observed common threads and topics. While I’ve made a concerted effort to vary the subject matter considered ‘railway photography,’ I regularly return to my favorite subjects and often I’ll post sequences with a common theme.

Occasionally I get questions. Someone innocently asked was I worried about running out of material! Unlikely, if not completely improbable; Not only do I have an archive of more than 270,000 images plus tens of thousands of my father’s photos, but I try to make new photos everyday. My conservative rate of posting is rapidly outpaced by my prolific camera efforts.

New England Central GP38 3850 leads train 608 at Stafford Springs on January 25, 2013. A series of difficult crossings in Stafford Springs is the primary reason for a 10 mph slow order through town. Especially difficult is this crossing, where the view of the tracks is blocked by a brick-building. Protection is offered by a combination of grade crossing flashers and traffic lights. Canon 7D with 40mm Pancake Lens; ISO 400 1/500th second at f8.0. In camera JPG modified with slight cropping to correct level and scaling for web. A RAW image was exposed simultaneously with the Jpg.
New England Central GP38 3850 leads train 608 at Stafford Springs on January 25, 2013. A series of difficult crossings in Stafford Springs is the primary reason for a 10 mph slow order through town. Especially difficult is this crossing, where the view of the tracks is blocked by a brick-building. Protection is offered by a combination of grade crossing flashers and traffic lights. Canon 7D with 40mm Pancake Lens; ISO 400 1/500th second at f8.0. In camera JPG modified with slight cropping to correct level and scaling for web. A RAW image was exposed simultaneously with the Jpg. Originally posted on January 26, 2013.

Someone else wondered if all my photos were ‘good’. I can’t answer that properly. I don’t judge photography as ‘good’ or ‘bad’. Certainly, some of my images have earned degrees of success, while others have failed to live up to my expectations (It helps to take the lens cap ‘off’). Tracking the Light is less about my success rate and more about my process of making images.

Bord na Mona
A couple pair of laden Bord na Mona trains struggle upgrade, laying sand down as they ascend a short steep grade on the run back toward Mountdillon. This is the same stretch of track pictured in Irish Bog Railways–Part 2. Originally posted on March 4, 2013

I’m always trying new techniques, exploring new angles, while playing with different (if not new) equipment.

The most common questions regarding my photography are; ‘What kind of camera do you use?’ and ‘Have you switched to digital?’ I can supply neither the expected nor straight-forward responses. But, in short, I work with a variety of equipment and recording media. I aim to capture what I see and preserve it for the future. I try to have a nice time and I hope to entertain my friends.

 

Learn my secrets, click here. This image was made in Spring 2012 on Fuji Acros 100 film exposed with a Leica 3a and 21mm lens and processed for scanning.
Learn my secrets, click here. This image was made in Spring 2012 on Fuji Acros 100 film exposed with a Leica 3a and 21mm lens and specially processed for scanning.
Eastward Delaware & Hudson symbol freight 'Jet1' passes semaphores at milepost 320 (measured from Jersey City) east of Adrian, New York on May 14, 1988.
Semaphores are one of my themes. See my post from September 23, 2012. Eastward Delaware & Hudson symbol freight ‘Jet1’ passes semaphores at milepost 320 (measured from Jersey City) east of Adrian, New York on May 14, 1988.

Stay tuned for the details!

Thank you for your support!

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Railroads at night in Palmer, Massachusetts.
Originally posted on December 1, 2013. CSX Q427 rolls through Palmer, Massachusetts, at 11:01 pm on November 30, 2012.
Notice the photographer’s shadow superimposed on the blur of the train. Single exposure with Panasonic Lumix LX-3 with Leitz Summicron lens, zoom set to 5.1mm, ISO 200, exposed in ‘A’ mode with +2/3 over-ride, f2.2 at 7 seconds.
Entirely exposed with existing light; no flash.

 

CSX General Electric Evolution-series diesels work west at Palmer, Massachusetts on May 17, 2013. Exposed digitally with my Canon EOS 7D.
CSX General Electric Evolution-series diesels work west at Palmer, Massachusetts on May 17, 2013. Exposed digitally with my Canon EOS 7D.

 

CSX Q264 at West Warren, Massachusetts.
CSX Q264 at West Warren, Massachusetts.

 

Martinez, California, as viewed from Carquinez Scenic Drive. Canon EOS 3 with 100-400 mm lens, Fujichrome slide film.
Martinez, California, as viewed from Carquinez Scenic Drive. Canon EOS 3 with 100-400 mm lens, Fujichrome slide film.
The number plate on a smoke box door catches the hint of a blue sky beyond. Canon EOS7D with 28-135mm lens.
The number plate on a smoke box door catches the hint of a blue sky beyond. Canon EOS7D with 28-135mm lens.

 

 

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Bluebell Railway April 20, 2013—Part II

Attention to Details.

Bluebell Railway
Luggage on the platform at Horsted Keynes on April 20, 1948, no sorry, make that 2013.

 

Bluebell Railway
Old advertisement at Sheffield Park.
Bluebell Railway
Nameplate on locomotive Stowe inside the engineshed at Sheffiled Park. Lumix LX3 photo.

One of the great features of Britain’s preserved Bluebell Railway is its exceptional attention to detail. Everywhere you look there is something to make the past, alive. Old advertisements, piles of luggage, semaphore signals, cast iron warning signs, and buckets of coal.

You hear the clunk of a rod moving a signal blade from red to green, followed by the shrill guard’s whistle and the slam of a wooden door. Then a mild hiss as the automatic brake is released and the sharper hiss from the locomotive as it eases off the platform. Yet, the Bluebell experience isn’t all about its locomotive, or its trains. The Bluebell is a railway experience.

Semaphores.
Outer home semaphore on the Bluebell Railway near Horsted Keynes. I’m especially impressed by Bluebell’s  great attention to period railway signalling (two ll’s). Canon EOS7D with 28-135mm lens.

 

The number plate on a smoke box door catches the hint of a blue sky beyond. Canon EOS7D with 28-135mm lens.
The number plate on a smoke box door catches the hint of a blue sky beyond. Canon EOS7D with 28-135mm lens.
Bluebell Railway.
A class 9F 2-10-0 emits wisps of steam on the platform at Sheffield Park. Lumix LX3 photo.
Old railway posters
Southern Railway advertisements hint of the glamour of railway travel from another era. Lumix LX3 photo.

The time warp ends when you arrive back at East Grinsted, where you insert your ticket with its magnetic stripe into automatic barriers, then board a modern electric multiple unit with sealed windows, plastic décor and space-age loos that look like they belong on the set of Star Trek.

Crews chat on the platform at Sheffield Park. Lumix LX3 photo.
Crews chat on the platform at Sheffield Park. Lumix LX3 photo.

 

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Bluebell Railway April 20, 2013

Visiting a Preserved Steam Railway.

The Bluebell Railway is Britain’s first standard gauge preserved steam railway. It dates from the early 1960s, and for more than 50 years has offered excursions over a scenic portion of former Southern Railway, ex London, Brighton & South Coast Railway. Today the railway runs from East Grinsted to Sheffield Park (south-southwest of London), and includes a relatively long tunnel.

Bluebell Railway.
Departing Kingscote behind a British Railways class 9F on April 20, 2013. Canon EOS 7D with 28-135mm lens.

Bluebell, like many of Britian’s steam railways, is a fully functioning preserved line, complete with stations, signal boxes (towers), authentic period signal hardware (including semaphores), engine sheds and lots of staff (presumably mostly volunteers), all of  which contributes to the appearance of an historic British railway. In other words, it’s like a time machine!

Bluebell Railway.
Bluebell’s staff wear period railway attire. Canon EOS 7D with 28-135mm lens.

On Saturday April 20, 2013 David Hegarty and I traveled from London by train via East Croydon to East Grinsted. It was a beautiful clear bright day. Bluebell had just recently reopened its line for connections to British rail network at East Grinsted.

Bluebell Railway.
New track! On April 20, 2013, our train from East Grinsted navigates the recently completed connection from the British rail network. After more than five decades of isolation from the British rail network, Bluebell is finally connected.

While not especially photogenic, I found the new East Grinsted transfer a big improvement for reaching the Bluebell. On previous visits, I’d hired a car and drove directly to Horsted Keynes—a mid-point station on the Bluebell. All things being equal, its nice to arrive by rail.

Engine driver on the Bluebell.
Enginemen on Southern Railway 2-6-0 1638 at Horsted Keynes. Exposed with a Canon EOS 7D with 28-135mm lens.

It was interesting to travel behind steam (British Railways 2-10-0 class 9F) over newly laid track. We spent a full day wandering up and down the line by train. At one point we went for a long hike following signposted footpaths to a known good spot (what friends like to call a KGS). I’d found the spot, north of Horstead Keynes, about 10 years ago.

Bluebell Railway.
Bluebell’s dinner train departs Sheffield Park on April 20, 2013. Canon EOS 7D with 28-135mm lens.

Biggest challenge to making photos on the Bluebell is their operating practice of locomotives facing north, which can present some difficult lighting angles considering most of the line is on a north-south alignment.

Bluebell Railway.
My known good spot: here a Bluebell train works the bank north of Horsted Keynes. Lumix LX3 photo.
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New GE’s Roll East on the former Erie at Canaseraga, New York

Conrail’s former Erie Route, April 1989.

NYS&W GE's.
Exposed on Kodachrome 25 (PKM) with a Leica M2 and 50mm Summicron.

While on the topic of the former Erie Railroad, I thought I would post this unpublished view of brand new New York, Susquehanna & Western Dash8-40Bs working a Delaware & Hudson freight on Conrail’s former Erie route between Hornell and Buffalo, New York.

The new units were ordered by NYS&W during its brief court-ordered operation of D&H between 1988 and 1990.

I started following this train earlier in the day. It was a typical western New York morning, with fits of sun bursting through a deck of thick gray clouds.

That’s the reason for this unusual composition: for a moment the sun emerged to flush the front of the bright yellow GE’s. I made a spot decision to photograph the train more distant than I’d originally intended.

At that time, Conrail was only maintaining the old number 2 track (eastward mainline) for 10 mph. Most traffic was routed on the number 1 main (traditionally the westward track) that was in much better condition. However, by Spring of 1989, Conrail’s Erie route was bursting with traffic. To avoid congestion, Conrail’s dispatcher opted to keep this D&H train bumping along at 10mph, while westward traffic stayed on the faster track.

East of Canaseraga, the Erie line was in characteristic grade separated arrangement that probably dated from Underwood-era improvements in the early 20th century. If I write my book on the Erie, I’ll be finally able to confirm this fact.

In the early 1990s, Conrail reconfigured this portion of the Erie. It replaced the traditional directional double-track with a single-track main and centralized traffic control-style system. The change resulted in abandonment of the number 1 main at this location, and spelled the end for the steam-era Union Switch & Signal Style-S upper quadrant semaphores.

Just for the record, I made several closer views of this train.

For more on the former Erie Railroad, see my earlier posts including: Vestiges of the Erie Railroad near Kenton, OhioErie Code Lines—Horseheads, New York, October 5, 2009, and Erie October Morning.

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Polish Time Machine

Polish scene with horses and railway tracks.
A horse-drawn wagon crosses the line at Nowa Weis, Poland. The semaphores have ‘x’s’ on them indicating they are out of service. Exposed on 120 black & white film with a Rollei Model T.

One my favorite images from the April 2002 Polish adventure is this timeless scene of three middle-age men on a horse-drawn wagon crossing the line at Nowa Weis. I caught this on film shortly before sunset with my Rollei. It was on PKP’s (Polish National Railways) secondary line that runs southeast from Wolzstyn to Leszno across through unspoiled pastoral countryside. The largely steam operated and under-maintained railway, added to a rural charm that harked back to another generation. For me it was like stepping back a half century, or more.

See yesterday’s post:  Revenue Steam in Poland, April 2002 

Also: Derelict Steam Locomotive Poland, May 2000

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American Gallery: Southern Pacific Siskiyou Memories

Between 1990 and 1992, I made a series of trips to Southern Pacific’s Siskiyou Line in northern California and south-central Oregon. This fantastic stretch of railroad was characterized by exceptionally steep grades, sinuous alignments, stunning scenery and ancient lower-quadrant semaphore signaling. As a signal enthusiast, I was fascinated by the large numbers of active Union Switch & Signal two-position semaphores used in automatic block service. While these vintage signals could be found elsewhere on SP’s system, there was no greater concentration than on the Siskiyou in Oregon. Another attraction were SP’s collection of classic Electro-Motive diesels, including 1950s-era SD9s (technically SD9E after overhaul) and my favorite 1960s/1970s-era SD45/SD45T-2s famed for their powerful 20 cylinder 645 engine.

Afternoon sun backlights classic Union Switch & Signal lower quadrant semaphores on Southern Pacific’s Siskiyou Line in Oregon’s Rogue River Valley, in May 1990. Photo exposed with a Nikon F3, 35mm PC (‘shift’) lens on K25 slide film. Photo by Brian Solomon

At the time I was in a photographic transition: I had just discovered the virtues of the Nikon F3, while still working with my old staple tool, a classic Leica M2 range-finder. This moment of transition and discovery of Nikon’s single lens reflex (SLR) system made my early Siskiyou trips especially exciting. There’s nothing better than have a new tool in a new place! The flexibility, functionality, and ease of use of the F3 SLR was a revelation. Everywhere I turned I saw new photo possibilities! Among the lenses I played with was a Nikkor 35mm PC ‘shift’ lens that allowed adjustments with the front element to correct for linear distortion often associated with wide angle lenses—a tool valuable for keeping semaphore masts parallel to the film plane, and thus avoiding the effect of them visually ‘falling away’ when photographed relatively close. And fun for making skies more dramatic.

More than twenty years later, I still work with my F3T occasionally, as I find it’s strengths are not afforded in any other system. With more than 2,000 rolls through its body, and working on shutter number 3, this old work horse owes me nothing. Like SP’s SD9s, the F3 is tool that has its place, long after more modern and more powerful machines have been acquired to supplant it!

Southern Pacific SD9Es lead a local freight near Phoenix, Oregon in April, 1990. Photo exposed with a Nikon F3, 35mm PC (‘shift’) lens on K25 slide film Photo by Brian Solomon

My visits were well-timed too! SP’s operations of the Siskiyou route were about to wind down. I caught the last gasp of big-time railroading on what had once been SP’s primary route to Oregon, but which had been supplanted more than 60-years earlier by the Cascade route’s Natron Cutoff via Klamath Falls and Cascade Summit. All of my images were exposed with Kodachrome film, primarily K25 (ISO 25). I’ve scanned my images using a Epson V600 flatbed and scaled and optimized the scans for digital display using Adobe Photoshop.

Feel the ground shake! Southern Pacific’s ‘West Ashland’ (symbol MERV-M; Medford to Rosevile) led by SD45 7481 on the ascent of Siskiyou Summit in May 1990; Nikkor 105mm lens on K25 slide film. Photo by Brian Solomon

Gallery Post 2: Looking Back on Irish Railways 1998-2003

Mechanical lower-quadrant semaphores protected the line at Athenry, County Galway in February 1999. New signaling installed with the Mini CTC program replaced semaphores on the Galway line in Spring 2003.

During the past 15 years I’ve witnessed a complete transformation of Irish Railways. Virtually no aspect of the network has been free from change. My fascination upon setting foot in Ireland in 1998 was the extraordinary combination of vintage American-made General Motors diesels, British-style mechanical lower-quadrant signaling, steam-heated carriages, vacuum braked freight trains, not to mention the friendly staff. I owe my ability to have made an extensive documentation of Irish railways to the excellent hospitality and generosity of the Irish Railway Record Society, Railway Preservation Society of Ireland (RPSI), and, of course, the staff at both Irish Rail and NI Railways/Translink. Presently, I’ve been going through the first five years of my 35mm slides for the program I’ll present to the Irish Railway Record Society at its Heuston premises in Dublin at 7:30 pm on November 8, 2012. Titled “Ireland from an American perspective; 1998-2003,” this will feature some of my favourite colour work from an era now ten years gone. In examining hundreds of images, I’m reminded just how much things have changed. Below is just a sampling of the pictures I plan to present; all were exposed on Fuji slide film largely with Nikon 35mm cameras.

A signalman works the lever frame at Waterford Central Cabin in June 1998.

Now the site of Celtic-Tiger era apartments; in July 2001 this was the busy North Wall freight yards in Dublin. Virtually nothing in this view remains today.

An empty passenger train crosses the viaduct at Laytown in August 1998.

Irish Rail 182 leads a shale train at Birdhill, County Tipperary on May 28, 2001.

An Irish Rail liner approaches Claude Rd, Dublin on a warm evening in May 2000.

Former Great Northern Railway (of Ireland) 4-4-0 Slieve Gullion works an RPSI special at Connolly Station, Dublin in May 2001.

A short train of empty beet wagons crosses the Taylorstown viaduct on its way to Wellingtonbridge, County Wexford on December 8, 2001.

Only a stone’s throw from the Point Depot; in August 2000 new DART suburban electric multiple-units are being delivered at Dublin Port

A sunny morning on December 10, 2001 greets Irish Rail 166 with a bag cement train at Thurles, County Tipperary.

An RPSI Strawberry Fair Special on the Dublin & South Eastern route near Rathdrum in July 2001.