Tag Archives: Stafford Springs

Three Views at Stafford Springs.

Yesterday I processed a month’s worth of black & white film; two carefully-exposed rolls of 35mm Ilford HP5.

Among the first images on the first roll were these three photographs at Stafford Springs, Connecticut on November 26, 2019.

I often work with multiple cameras, and previously on Tracking the Light, I posted a digital color view of New England Central 608 working northward at this same location.

My process is a specialized two-stage development formula aimed to maximize detail and tonal range.

Incidentally, Scott Hartley reminded me that Central Vermont/New England Central has referred to this location simply as ‘Stafford,’ a fact that dates back to New London Northern days.

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New ENgland Central November Sunrise at Stafford Springs

Yesterday morning (November 26, 2019) was misty with a hint of orange in the sky.

New England November mornings can make for cosmic settings for railroad photos.

I made my way to downtown Stafford Springs to catch New England Central’s 608 winding its way through town.

Working with my FujiFilm XT1, I exposed this 90mm view of the northward freight as it crossed Route 32 in the center of town at 717am. (A little earlier than I expected).

Three GP38s in the classic New England Central blue and yellow (or navy and gold, if you prefer) paint scheme were in the lead.

It was the start of an auspicious and productive day of railroad photography!

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New England Central 608 at Stafford Springs—Part 4.

Last Tuesday was another sunny afternoon, and so another opportunity to photograph 608 New England Central rolling through downtown Stafford Springs, Connecticut!

This time I worked with my FujiFilm XT1 with 12mm Zeiss Touit lens.

As the train eased through town I made my way to another location for an additional photograph. Stay tuned!

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New England Central 608 Stafford Springs—Part 3.

As New England Central 608 approached downtown Stafford Springs on January 14, 2019, I set my Nikon F3 to expose a textured image.

The old buildings adjacent to the tracks are as much of a visual attraction as the train itself.

Working with an f1.8 105mm lens, I exposed three frames of Kodak Tri-X.

To process the film, I used my custom tailored split process, that uses two developers, followed by selenium toning of the fixed negatives. This maximizes the tonality of the film, while giving me glossy highlights. A secondary effect of the toner is the slight lavender hue.

After processing, I scanned the negatives in color using an Epson V750 scanner.

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Stafford Springs and New England Central 608: Part 2.

On Wednesday, December 12, 2018, I revisited the scene at Stafford Springs, having made photos there two days earlier.

In fact, I’ve been photographing trains passing this Connecticut village since the early 1980s, but I find it always helps to try to look at an old place with fresh eyes.

I like the arrangement of old brick buildings, the tracks along the creek/old mill race, and other elements characteristic of southern New England.

Working with my FujiFilm XT1 with 18-135mm lens, I exposed these views of New England Central 608 on its return journey from Palmer to Willimantic.

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New England Central 608 at Stafford Springs, Connecticut: Part 1.

In recent months, New England Central’s Willimantic-Palmer freight, job 608, has been largely nocturnal while the railroad undertook a major rehabilitation program.

New rail, ties and crossing protection have been installed. The switches at State Line are improved. And the railroad is in the best shape it’s been in decades.

Monday morning, December 10, 2018, I heard 608 working north through Monson.

That afternoon, I heard the train on its return run. So Pop (Richard J. Solomon) and I headed out to intercept it.

We caught it at both ends of the siding at State Line, then proceeded to Stafford Springs, where I made these views using my FujiFilm XT1 fitted with 12mm Zeiss Touit lens.

High contrast low December sun proved challenging. To make the most of the light, I applied an external graduated neutral density filter tapered and positioned to hold the sky exposure.

Compare the camera produced JPG file with adjusted RAW images. (There is no ‘right’ and ‘wrong’. The JPG reflects a ‘pre-profiled’ camera setting based on Fuji’s Velvia color setting. The RAW’s were adjusted by me to reflect conditions at Stafford Springs.)

In post processing, I worked with camera RAW files by lightened shadows, darkened highlights, and reduced overall contrast while warming color temperature and slightly boosting saturation.

Camera produced JPG using the ‘Velvia’ color profile. Other than scaling, this image was not modified in post processing; color, contrast etc are a result of the pre-profiled JPG setting.

This version was adjusted from the Fuji RAW file and reflects the changes discussed in the text.

File adjusted from the camera RAW.

As we departed Stafford, I noticed a better angle to catch the train. Stay tuned!

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Frosty Morning Stafford Springs; White Balance.

I made these views of New England Central job 608 working timetable northward at Stafford Spring, Connecticut.

It was about 7:30am, and the sun was just tinting the eastern sky.

Rather than set my camera with ‘auto white balance’ (a typical default setting), I opted to fix the white balance with the ‘daylight’ setting.

Auto white balance arbitrarily selects a neutral color balance and adjusts the balance based on the conditions at hand. This is a useful feature in some situations, such as photography under incandescent lighting, or in situations with mixed lighting, such as in a museum or subway.

However, auto white balance settings have the unfortunate effect of minimizing the colorful effects of sunset and sunrise and so using the ‘daylight’ setting is in my opinion a better alternative.

But there’s really much a more complex problem; the way that digital cameras capture images is completely different to the ways the human eye and brain work in fixing visual stimuli. You could write a book on that!

Downtown Stafford Springs, Connecticut.


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Is the closer view better?

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Sunrise on the New England Central—Working with RAW.

A side-benefit for me of transatlantic jet lag is that I’m wide awake for sunrise.

The other day, I drove to Stafford Springs, Connecticut as the sun was rising.

Typically New England Central 608 passes the village between 7 and 730 am. On this day it appeared about 724 am.

Working with my FujiFilm XT1 with 12mm Zeiss Tuoit lens, I made a series of images of the freight passing.

I carefully exposed my RAW files to retain some sky detail, intending to adjust exposure, contrast and color in post processing.

It would be fallacious to suggest that the RAW file represents reality. It doesn’t.

It is important to understand that the camera RAW file is an equivalent of a ‘negative’ in film photography. The RAW file simply represents the raw data as captured by the camera sensor. This data requires interpretation to produce an image that resembled what the human brain perceives.

I made a series of small adjustments to highlights, shadows, color temperature, and color balance, while working with masks in the sky to control detail and color.

My only regret is that my graduated neutral density filters were still packed away in my luggage, as these would have been useful in this situation by allowing for improved sky detail by effectively selective expanding the dynamic capture of the sensor.

I’ve included both the RAW file (scaled for internet) and my interpreted post-processed JPG. To give hints as to what I’ve done, I’ve also included screen shots of the Lightroom work windows.

This the uninterpreted image. It is a JPG because this necessary for internet presentation. My RAW file was about 33MB which is far too large for presentation here. Significant to my interpretation is that there is greater detail stored in the RAW file than immediately evident in its presentation on the computer screen. Specifically, there is more color and detail in the sky than displayed here.

This is a screen shot of the Lightroom work window of my RAW file. The red blotch in the sky indicates a loss of data in that area owing to over exposure.

This is my finished image following post processing in Lightroom.

Screen shot showing the alterations on the sliders in the Lightroom work window. Notice the relative placement of data in the histogram (graph at upper right).

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Orcuttville in the Fog, New England Central 608 on the Roll.

A thick layer of fog in Stafford, Connecticut made for an excellent environment for dramatic photos.

New England Central 608 (Willimantic – Palmer way freight) was on its northward leg, when I caught it approaching Connecticut Route 319 at Orcuttville.

A lone GP38 was at work this day with more than 20 cars in tow.

Exposed using a FujiFilm XT1. The tricky part of this photo was balancing the exposure of the headlight/ditchlights with ambient light. I prefer the overall exposure slightly on the darkside for greater drama. Compare with the Lumix LX7 image below.

New England Central 608 with GP38 3845 approaches the crossing at Orcuttville. Exposed using a Lumix LX7.

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New England Central—Southward with 608 on May 17, 2017.

Earlier in the month I’ve highlighted various photographic adventures with New England Central 608 (freight that works from Willimantic, Connecticut to Palmer and back). Today’s post focuses on the southward journey.

Over the years, I’ve photographed many trains climbing the former Central Vermont Railway grade over State Line Hill, and beyond into Connecticut, so this chase is old hat for me.

Yet, I’m always looking for a new angle, or to place today’s train in a classic setting that I may have captured years ago.

These views are all from the morning of May 17, 2017 and exposed with my FujiFilm X-T1 digital camera.

Do you have any favorites?

New England Central 608 at Bunyan Road in Monson, Massachusetts.

New England Central 608 from Academy Hill/Main Street Monson, Massachusetts.

New England Central 608 at Stateline looking toward Monson, Massachusetts.

New England Central tracks at Stafford Springs, Connecticut.

Tight telephoto view of NECR 608 at Stafford Springs, Connecticut.

South of Stafford Springs, Connecticut.

New England Central 608 viewed from the Track 9 Diner in Willington, Connecticut.

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New England Central—Making the Most of a Sunny Morning.

Lately, New England Central’s (NECR) Willimantic-Palmer freight 608 has been running on favorable schedule for photography.

If you’ve been following Tracking the Light lately, you might have gleaned the mistaken impression that New England Central’s northward freight can only be photographed hard out of the sun at Stafford Springs, Connecticut.

In fact  on its present schedule there are many nicely lit photographs of the northward run between Willington, Connecticut and Palmer, Massachusetts, this time of year.

And, when the crew turns quickly at Palmer, there can be a host of very nicely lit locations in the southward direction.

It helps to know where and when to go. I’ve been at this a while. Back in Central Vermont Railway days (precursor to New England Central) and before I could drive, I’d chase this line on my bicycle. By the time I was 15 I knew all the best angles.

These views are from one productive morning a few weeks ago. More to come!

Leica view on black & white film—Ilford HP5 rated at 320 ISO, processed in Ilford Perceptol developer and toned with selenium. NECR 608 northbound at Plains Road Willington, Connecticut.

NECR 608 northbound at Plains Road Willington, Connecticut. FujiFIlm X-T1 digital photo using in-camera. Velvia color profile.

Stafford Springs, Connecticut.

NECR 608 northbound at Stafford Springs, Connecticut.

NER 608 about to cross Rt319 north of Stafford Springs.

A few minutes later at Stateline (on the Massachusetts-Connecticut border). Note the passing siding. I’m standing on Route 32 looking southward.

Leica view at Stateline.

Washington Street in Monson, Massachusetts, near the site of the old Central Vermont Railway Monson Station (gone more than 60 years).

Leica view on HP5 at Washington Street.

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Making use of a dull Morning—Another Take of 608.

So, if I called this Stafford Springs, Connecticut Part 3, would you be interested.

In truth, this is less about Stafford and its morning freight train and more about lighting and technique.

In two previous posts [see: New England Central at Stafford Springs, Connecticut—Again, and Going Against the Grain  I’ve detailed my efforts at photographing New England Central 608 working through Stafford Springs in harsh morning sunlight. This post depicts the same train on a dull morning, but also in black & white (Sorry Dave Clinton, but it has to be done).

I’m using the same camera-lens combination; a Leica IIIa with a screw-mount f3.5 Nikkor 35mm lens. This time loaded with Ilford HP5. My process is about the same as in my earlier post New England Central at Stafford Springs, Connecticut—Again.

This time, I processed it using Ilford Perceptol developer diluted 1:1 with water; after fixing and rinsing, negatives were toned in a 1:9 selenium solution for eight minutes, rewashed and scanned.

 One small change; in this instance, I gave the film a little more toning than previously, which should make for slightly more silvery highlights. This is a subtle change, and probably barely perceptible on internet presentation.

New England Central 608 at Stafford Springs at 7:20am on May 10, 2017 ; exposed using a Leica IIIa with f3.5 Nikkor 35mm lens at f4.5/f5.6 1/200th second on HP5.

A slightly closer view of New England Central 608 at Stafford Springs. I’ve made this on at a slightly lower angle.

Compositionally, I’ve made an effort to include the village and not just focus on the locomotives.

I’m by no means done with this project, and I’ll continue to post with more photos and insights over the coming weeks. (Including some color views to please Dave and others morally opposed to black & white).

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New England Central at Stafford Springs, Connecticut—Again.

Call this ‘Part 2’—More hard light.

A few days ago, I displayed black & white photos I made at Stafford Springs, Connecticut in hard morning sunlight. See: Going Against the Grain.

Where the earlier images used an unusual film type (Foma Retropan), today’s image was made on Ilford HP-5, but with some special processing.

On May 9, 2017, New England Central freight 608 works timetable northward through Stafford Springs, Connecticut. Exposed on Ilford HP-5 using a Leica IIIa fitted with a Nikkor f3.5 35mm lens. Film was processed in Ilford Perceptol developer diluted 1:1 with water; after fixing and rinsing, negatives were toned in a 1:9 selenium solution for six minutes, then rewashed and scanned. The sky area received some localized exposure adjustment in post-processing, while there was some overall contrast adjustment to improve the appearance of the image.

In both posts, black & white photos feature New England Central 608 (a freight that runs between Willimantic, Connecticut and Palmer, Massachusetts) passing downtown Stafford Springs shortly after sunrise.

Today’s image was exposed from Main Street in Stafford on the opposite side of the tracks from the earlier photos, which provides a different perspective on the train and village.

Part of this exercise is aimed at demonstrating black & white photographic technique, however I’m also hoping to show how different angles at the same location can result in significantly different photos.

Also, that it’s possible to make interesting photos in difficult lighting situations, if you apply a creative approach to your photography.

I’m done here yet! To be continued on another day.

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Going Against the Grain.

Sometimes, I push the limits.

The other morning in Stafford Springs, Connecticut, I exposed this view of New England Central’s northward freight that runs daily from Willimantic, Ct., to Palmer, Massachusetts.

The train was coming hard out of a clear morning sun. Using a Leica IIIA fitted with a Nikkor 35mm screw-mount lens, I exposed this view on Foma Retropan 320.

Retropan is a comparatively coarse grain emulsion that offers a distinctly different range of tones than expected with Ilford HP5, Kodak Tri-X, or other black & white films in the same sensitivity range.

It also produces a characteristic halo-effect in bright highlight areas.

I processed the film more or less as recommended using Foma’s specially formulated Retro Special Developer, and then scanned it with an Epson V750 Pro flatbed scanner. I made minor adjustments to contrast in Lightroom.

As I anticipated, my results from this experiment are more pictorial than literal.

A photo of the setting at Stafford Springs, Connecticut.

New England Central’s freight with EMD diesels working long-hood first at Stafford Springs, Connecticut. Retropan’s halo effect combined with the large amounts of flare from the sun hitting the front element of the lens contributes to this interpretive image.

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New England Central at Stafford Springs—August 23, 2016.

The familiar sound of 645 thunder down in the valley spurred me into action.

A southward New England Central freight was climbing Stateline Hill in Monson, Massachusetts. This is an old routine (and yes, I’ve written about this before.)

When I hear a train coming through Monson, I have a few minutes to get organized. In this instance, a brilliant clear blue dome with nice morning light was the deciding consideration.

En route, I heard the southward train get its ‘paper’ (radio–issued track authority) to proceed toward Willimantic, Connecticut. In this instance, I was alerted to the location of the train; south of milepost 55 (near the Massachusetts-Connecticut state line).

I headed for my preferred spot in downtown Stafford Springs, Connecticut south of milepost 49.

FujiFilm XT1 digital photo.
FujiFilm XT1 digital photo.

One advantage of Stafford Springs is that the railroad makes an east-west twist through the village on its otherwise north-south run. This favors the morning light for a southward train.

The other advantage is Stafford’s quaint and distinctive New England setting.

Here's the trailing view that shows the village.
Here’s the trailing view that shows the village.

Photos exposed digitally using my FujiFilm XT1

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Snow and Old EMD Diesels: Stafford Springs February 1985.

It was a great day for black & white photography.

Fluffy snow had been falling all morning. Central Vermont’s freight arrived in Palmer and quickly organized to continue south.

I followed the train’s steady progress over State Line Hill, then set up in downtown Stafford Springs, Connecticut where I made these photos on Ilford FP4 black & white negative film using my Leica 3A with 50mm lens.

Central Vermont southward freight at Stafford Springs, Connecticut on February 2, 1985.
Central Vermont southward freight at Stafford Springs, Connecticut on February 2, 1985.

Trailing view of the same train crossing Route 32 in Stafford Springs.
Trailing view of the same train crossing Route 32 in Stafford Springs.

For me this pair of images does a great job of exemplifying my experience with Central Vermont in the mid-1980s when three, four, five, six, and sometimes seven vintage GP9s would work tonnage freights. The sounds of those old diesels still resonates in my memory.

Would these images have be improved by modern color digital photography? Would they survive for 31 years with virtually no attention from me? For that matter, where will these old negatives or the scans be in another 31 years?

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New England Central Job 610—Genesee & Wyoming Style

A Pair of Pumpkins on the Move.

Genesee & Wyoming
New England Central job 610 crosses the CSX diamond at Palmer, Massachusetts on October 28, 2013. Canon EOS 7D 200mm lens.

Genesee & Wyoming acquired Rail America some months back and so now New England Central is one of the many G&W family railroads.

While several locomotives have been painted in the new corporate colors (or rather, G&W’s traditional paint scheme), many of New England Central’s locomotives remain in various former liveries, including the railroad’s original blue and yellow.

On Monday October 28, 2013, New England Central job 610 (a turn that runs from Willimantic, Connecticut to Palmer, Massachusetts) sported a pair of nicely painted G&W locomotives.

My dad and I made chase of this train on its southward run. I exposed digital still photographs, while Pop made some video clips with his Lumix LX7.

The sun was playing tag with us, but the locomotives were so bright and clean it hardly mattered if the sun was out or not.

Genesee & Wyoming
The view from Smith’s Bridge on Stafford Hollow Road in Monson, Massachusetts where Bob Buck exposed dramatic photos of Central Vermont steam more than 60 years ago. New England Central job 610 climbs the grade toward State Line. Canon EOS 7D fitted with 20mm lens.

Genesee & Wyoming's New England Central.
Richard J. Solomon (at left) exposes a short video clip as New England Central job 610 passes Stafford Springs, Connecticut. Canon EOS 7D fitted with 20mm lens.

Genesee & Wyoming's New England Central.
New England Central job 610 works south of Stafford, Connecticut on October 28, 2013. Canon EOS 7D fitted with 20mm lens.

See yesterday’s post: New England Central at Eagleville Dam, Connecticut

Also check out previous posts: Genesee & Wyoming at P&L Junction, November 4, 1987Two Freights 24 Hours ApartSeeking the Elusive Orange Engine(s)New England Central at Stafford Springs, Connecticut on May 21, 2013, and New England Central at Millers Falls, Massachusetts, December 9, 2012.

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New England Central, South of Stafford Springs, July 16, 2013


Today’s Freight.

New England Central
New England Central, South of Stafford Springs, July 16, 2013

I rarely post photos the same day I make them. Today is an exception. Why? Because, I feel like sharing this image now rather than waiting. It’s a photo I made a little more than an hour ago of New England Central’s southward freight running from Palmer to Willimantic, Connecticut.

I exposed this using my Canon EOS 7D and 28-135mm zoom lens. The flexibility of the zoom allowed me to more easily frame the locomotives with grade crossing signals at the right. The train was still en route to Willimantic by the time I was home and downloaded the images.



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Clearing Snow After the Blizzard: February 10, 2013

Railway snow removal
Shafts of morning sun illuminate exhaust from the Palmer yard office, while snow is blown from tracks at New England Central’s yard on February 10, 2013. Temperature = 0 Fahrenheit; image exposed digitally with a Canon 7D and 200mm lens; ISO 200.

The media loves storms; and they always have. New England’s first big snowfall of the on February 8th and 9th, seems to have made news everywhere. Friends from London called to say that the New England storm was a lead-in story on BBC.

New England Central at Washington Street, Monson—looking north before the storm, Friday February 8, 2013. Lumix LX-3 photo.
New England Central at Washington Street, Monson—looking north before the storm, Friday February 8, 2013. Lumix LX-3 photo.

Railway tracks covered in snow, Monson, Massachusetts
Two days later: New England Central at Washington Street, Monson—looking north after the storm, Sunday February 10, 2013. Lumix LX-3 photo.

On the morning the snow began, I made a few photos at Washington Street in Monson with my Lumix LX-3 (for later comparison). Historically this was the site of Monson’s railway station, gone nearly 60 years now. Blankets of snow fell on Monson, Massachusetts through the day on Friday and into Saturday. I spent Saturday clearing off cars and whatnot, as you do after a heavy snowfall. The railroads were quiet, and a general ban on highway travel, plus dire road conditions discouraged me from going anywhere to make photos.

Chruning blades of the snow-blower clearing Palmer yard. Canon 7D with 200mm lens.
Churning blades of the snow-blower clearing Palmer yard. Canon 7D with 200mm lens.


Snow removal at Palmer
Clearing New England Central’s Palmer Yard on February 10, 2013. Canon 7D with 200mm lens.

New England Central's Palmer Yard on February 10, 2013.
New England Central’s Palmer Yard on February 10, 2013.

This morning (February 10, 2013) I aimed for Palmer, where it was clear and bright, but all of 1 degree Fahrenheit. Between 18 inches and 2 feet of snow covered the ground, with drifts several feet deep in places. Yes, it was a good dump, but not a record by my estimation. I’ve seen more snow.

Clearing New England Central’s yard was a bucket loader fitted with a snow blower. This made for a few impressive scenes, which I’ve tried to capture here. However, in general, traffic on the railways was quiet. CSX sent a set of light engines east. These stopped about a mile west of Palmer (milepost 84.5) because what I understood to be an axle problem with one of the General Electric locomotives. After a few minutes, these were on the move, and I made some views of CSX passing the old Palmer Union Station at CP83—now occupied by the Steaming Tender restaurant—a favorite eating place of mine.

CSX in snow at Palmer.
Mid-morning on February 10, 2013, CSX light engines roll eastward passed CP83 in Palmer, Massachusetts. The old Palmer Union Station is now the Steaming Tender restaurant. Canon 7D with 28-135 zoom lens. Exposed at ISO 200 f10, 1/1000 second, metered manually.


About noon, New England Central dispatched a pair of GP38s south as ‘Extra 608’. Although once standard, today finding a pair of New England Central’s yellow and blue GP38s together is a rare treat. These ambled southward through Monson over Stateline Hill (so named because it crests near the Massachusetts-Connecticut border), which allowed ample opportunities for photographs. Extra 608 was destined for Willimantic to help clear the line and collect interchange left by the Providence & Worcester. All in all, this was a productive day for photography. I worked with my Lumix LX-3, Canon 7D, and Canon EOS-3. The Velvia 50 I exposed won’t be processed for a while; I’m on the big green bird tomorrow afternoon! Perhaps while traveling, I’ll write a detailed post on my experience exposing railway images in the snow.

Railway locomotives in Monson, Massachusetts
New England Central extra 608 approaches Bridge Street in Monson, Massachusetts on February 10, 2013. Canon 7D with 100mm f2.0 lens.

Railway locomotives at Stafford Springs, Connecticut.
New England Central extra 608 at Stafford Springs, Connecticut on February 10, 2013. Lumix LX-3 photo.

Stafford Springs, Connecticut.
Trailing view of New England Central GP38s passing Stafford Springs, Connecticut. Canon 7D with 40mm pancake lens.



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