So what do you do when you find an old roll of black & white film? A roll that has sat, exposed but unprocessed, for years, for decades.
You could throw it away. But that would be a dumb thing to do. There is another option.
Back in July 1991, my old pal TSH (a regular Tracking the Light reader) and I made an epic two and half week trip across the American West.
On that trip I exposed dozens of rolls of Kodachrome 25 slide film using my Nikon F3T. But I also brought my Leica M2, and exposed a few rolls of black & white film.
While I processed some of the black & white shortly after the trip, for reasons I can’t justify, two rolls of Ilford FP4 remained unprocessed.
These have followed me through the years. I had them so long that I’d forgotten when I’d exposed them. They were mixed in a bag with other unexposed film.
Several years ago, I worked out a special process for getting good results from old black & white film. I’ve processed rolls up to 40 years after exposure and found presentable images on them.
Although the latent image remains in the film’s silver halide crystals for decades, simply processing the film in the ordinary fashion won’t yield desirable results.
I’ve found it necessary to work with multiple stage development, which requires unusually long process times. Key to making this work is a carefully measured antifogging solution. I will detail this process in future posts.
Yesterday on Tracking the Light I displayed views of Metro Rail from the First Street Bridge in Los Angeles.
Here are few views of trains from the bridge.
This scene reminded me of Germany’s Rhein Valley with busy lines on opposite sides of a river; except cast in concrete, without much water or unspoiled scenery, hemmed in by urban growth and decorated with graffiti. Oh, and the trains are diesel-powered rather than electric.
The broad, largely dry concrete channel is symbolic of the chronic drought in Southern California.
Although unworldly, the environment around the Los Angeles River is undoubtedly familiar to many people because of its prominent role in Hollywood Films and popular television.
Back in 1994, I’d made a project of Southern Pacific’s famous Coast Line focusing on the line between Watsonville Junction and Santa Barbara, California.
Traffic was sparse compared with other SP mainlines. Yet there were 2-3 through freights in each direction daily, plus Amtrak numbers 11 and 14—the Coast Starlight.
Last week, I decided to revisit Gaviota, California to make photos of the Coast Starlight. I often require images of this popular train as illustrations in books and magazines, and my 1994 Kodachrome slides are now a bit dated.
However sparse through freight was on the Coast in 1994, it was busier then than now. I neither saw nor heard of any Union Pacific trains on the move during my exploration, and the only active UP presence I noted was that of a passing HyRail truck and a track gang.
Amtrak 14 was on time and the pleasant mix of sun and coastal mist made for a nicely lit scene that captures the spirit of this supremely scenic run.
The magnificence of the former Southern Pacific crossing of California’s Tehachapi Range is the antique sinuosity of the line combined with the bucolic nature of the terrain and unusually heavy freight traffic.
Last weekend, I made these views near Tunnel 2 between Bealeville and Caliente using my FujiFilm XT1 digital camera.
A nearly new Union Pacific GE tier 4 in fresh paint was an added attraction to the uphill Z-train (UP’s term for a priority intermodal run).
Sometimes after making all the wrong moves, luck falls on your lap.
It was Thursday, October 22, Mike Gardner and I had traveled to Brattleboro, Vermont to intercept the southward New England freight, job 611. Instead of my usual route via back roads, we opted for I-91, then got caught in terrible traffic in the town. By the time we reached the yard, 611 had departed.
To Millers Falls we went, only to learn we missed the train by moments. “Now what?” Mike asked.
So, we went over to Pan Am’s East Deerfield Yard, near Greenfield, Massachusetts. Where trains converged from all directions.
Eastward freight, symbol 14R, came into view led by Union Pacific SD70M 3947. “What is this, the Feather River Canyon?”
This was not hard to take; clean Union Pacific locomotives from the famous ‘Railfan’s Bridge’ at East Deerfield West.
I’ve made countless photos from this well established vantage point, but it’s always nice to get something unusual. The bridge itself is on borrowed time, so my philosophy is make use of it while I can.
Seven years ago today, I exposed this photograph on Fujichrome slide film while working on my book Railroads of California (Voyageur Press, 2009).
This appears on page 58. My original photo caption read:
Union Pacific SD70M 4772) works east on the old Western Pacific on 10 May 2008. Railroad enthusiasts have long praised the WP’s Sierra crossing because of its easy access to parallel Highway 70. This view was made from a pull off on Highway 70 east of Portola, California. Alternative angles on the same spot are available from the old highway below.
As it turned out my final caption as published in the book was more elaborate.
Related to this image, although not specified in the caption is today’s date: May 10th.
This is a significant day for American railroading. On this day in 1869, the famous golden spike ceremony marked the joining of Union Pacific and Central Pacific Railroads at Promontory, Utah, an event signifying the linking of east and west.
Also on this day in 1893, New York Central & Hudson River Railroad engine 999 made its legendary sprint across New York state where west of Batavia, New York it was reported to have hit 112.5 mph, a figure that was often claimed as a world speed record.
At dawn on June 9, 1996, I was set up near the west end of the old Kate Shelley Bridge. Mist clung to the valley floor as the sun painted the sky to the east.
Across the cornfield to the west I could hear an eastward Union Pacific freight blowing for highway crossings, the roar of its locomotives gradually getting louder.
I opted for this semi-silhouetted view. My subject is the bridge; the train is meant to be incidental. Yet the train makes the photos more interesting, and the couple of Conrail engines in the large consist of locomotives provide added interest for the keen observer.
This was little more than a year after Union Pacific had absorbed Chicago & North Western.
A decade later, UP began construction of a new bridge here using a modern structure. I imagine that the scene is much changed today.
On June 14, 1993, the world’s largest operating steam and diesel locomotives worked together on the Oregon Trail Special. Brian Jennison and I photographed these massive machines at Quartz on their ascent of Union Pacific Encina Hill east of Baker City, Oregon.
At 9:49am on July 29, 2009, I exposed this image of Union Pacific 5526 leading an eastward double stack train on the former Western Pacific at Sand Pass, Nevada. At the back of the train, another General Electric diesel is working as a ‘distributed power unit’ (a radio controlled remotely operated locomotive).
Phil Brahms and I were exploring the former Western Pacific route across one of the most remote and lightly inhabited regions of the continental United States. This is lonely, barren, wind-swept and wide-open country where you can see for great distances.
Rail traffic was sparse, but we found about four to five freights per day in daylight.
The desert gets much bigger after sunset; the haunting sounds of the wind blowing across the desert floor in the dead of night and the radiant sky with stars blazing above cannot be captured on film. Yet these things stay with you.
That morning, I wrote in my notebook, ‘at dawn, before sunrise, I climbed a hill—coyotes were howling to the east (of me).’
Tracking the Light posts new material every morning.
Union Pacific on Donner Pass; Standing in Steinheimer’s Footsteps.
Among my favorite locations in California is the spectacular overlook at ‘American’ or ‘Old Gorge’ (if you have a really old time-table) located on the former Southern Pacific crossing of Donner Pass east of Alta.
Here the railroad crawls out on ledge high above the waters of the American River. It’s a on sustained 2.2 percent grade, so eastward trains are in full throttle which makes for sublime sound show.
I was in position on an overcast afternoon, October 30, 2003. The American River Canyon was filled with a thick fog. To the west I could hear traditional EMD 16-645E3 diesels roaring in Run-8. That meant SD40-2s. Real locomotives.
As the train approached, the atmospheric pressure changed and the fog rose out of the canyon and enveloped me. Although it was only the day before Halloween, all of sudden it began snowing furiously. Visibility dropped to nil, and the roar of the eastward freight grew intense.
Working with my Rolleiflex Model T loaded with Kodak Tri-X, I exposed a series of images. It was a memorable moment on Donner.
Tracking the Light posts new material every morning.
Union Pacific’s Encina Hill in eastern Oregon on June 12, 1993.
Pleasant Valley siding on Union Pacific’s mainline in eastern Oregon is aptly named. I made this image on Kodachrome 25 while traveling with Brian Jennison.
We’d driven up from Nevada to intercept Union Pacific’s Challenger, locomotive 3985, that was running trips toward Portland. The weather was excellent and this was a good excuse to photograph this remote but scenic section of heavily traveled steeply graded mainline.
I remember the scent of sage and the wide open skies and the relative quiet; qualities I associate with the great American west.
The afternoon of July 26, 1993 was one of those lucky times when everything falls into place.
Fellow photographer TSH and I had hired a Chevy van at the San Francisco airport and drove to the shore of the Great Salt Lake, then worked our way back following Union Pacific’s Western Pacific route across Nevada.
Near Wendover (on the Utah-Nevada line) we came across a struggling westward coal train. One of its locomotives had failed, and it was making poor progress. It had three manifest trains stacked up behind it.
Armed with this knowledge, and having the best light of the day ahead of us, we drove west to the famed Arnold Loop, where Western Pacific’s engineers had designed a sweeping curve to maintain steady elevation. (Running west from the Nevada-Utah line the railroad ascends a continuous 35-mile 1 percent grade, and crests at 5,907 feet above sea level, 15 miles beyond Silver Zone Pass.)
While not a complete circle, such as that used further west at the Williams Loop near Blairsden, California, this loop arrangement is an excellent place to photograph trains.
To the east is the wide expanse of desert punctuated by Pilot Peak some ten miles distant.
We got ourselves in position; cameras loaded with Kodachrome 25 and planted on tripods, and a clear blue dome above us. To the east we could make out the four trains in the distance, seeming to crawl over the landscape like tiny worms. Soon the first of the trains was upon us. These followed every ten minutes or so for the next 45 minutes.
I’ve used my images from this day in several books and calendars. This one slide is well published.
We were spoiled by the experience. The next day on the Western Pacific wasn’t as productive. Such is the luck of desert railroading!
Classic Image in California’s Feather River Canyon.
In the early hours of May 18, 1990, I departed Sacramento, California destined for the former Western Pacific mainline through the Feather River Canyon.
On the drive, I saw a pair of eastward trains in the Central Valley north (railroad timetable east) of Marysville. This sighting influenced my decision to work the lower regions of the canyon, rather than driving through on Highway 70 toward Keddie and Portola, as I had done on previous trips.
A bit west of Pulga, there’s a long and winding dirt road that drops from Highway 70 down toward the North Fork Bridge. Finding it is counter intuitive. On an earlier trip I’d become rather lost trying to find the bridge. A Northern California DeLorme Atlas ultimately provided me the necessary navigational tools.
Having reached the bottom of the road, I hiked into position before 8am and waited on the side of a hill overlooking the modern open spandrel concrete arch bridge. This is late-era construction, built in the 1960s when construction of the Oroville Dam resulted in flooding of the lower Feather River’s North Fork which required relocation of Western Pacific’s line out of the canyon via a series of tunnels and bridges.
At 8:15 am, Union Pacific DASH8-40C 9174 rolled westward across the bridge with an APL double stack train. The sun hadn’t fully hit the bridge and I was happy that the stacks bought me additional time on my anticipated pair of eastbound trains.
The westward stacks must have met the first eastbound at James, a CTC siding immediately west of the Canyon (and another favorite place for photos). Just 20 minutes after the stacks had passed, the first eastward train emerged from the tunnel on the west side of the bridge. I made several exposures, bracketing from f4.5 to nearly f5.6 1/125th of a second on Kodachrome 25 film.
Exposure in the Feather River Canyon can be deceiving. Because of the depth of the canyon, less skylight reaches the tracks than in open territory. Also, the dark green trees and bushes lining the canyon walls absorb a considerable amount of light. The result is that direct and unfiltered sunlight isn’t as bright as it seems.
Careful use of my handheld meter was crucial in calculating the accurate exposure, but I still felt compelled to make fine adjustments as the train rolled into view.
The second eastward train was 20 minutes behind the first. I stayed for the rest of the day in the lower reaches of the canyon and photographed five more Union Pacific trains by 6:09 pm.
Caption: Union Pacific C30-7 2474 works an eastward train over the North Fork Bridge near Poe, California on May 18, 1990. Exposed using a Nikon F3 with 135mm lens on Kodachrome film. The camera was mounted on a Bogan 3021 tripod with a ball head.
In June 1993, I traveled with fellow photographer Brian Jennison to eastern Oregon to make images of Union Pacific’s Challenger (locomotive 3985) which was working its way east over the Blue Mountain grades. After a couple of days with the steam locomotive, we wandered into central Idaho, exploring locations along the Union Pacific mainline. This image was made looking east toward the Snake River at UP’s timetable location called Reverse (Idaho Division, Third Subdivision at milepost 393 between Glenns Ferry and Mountain Home). Have you noticed there’s been a theme over the last few days?