Trying to see the railroad differently; I’ve been photographing the former Boston & Albany Ware River branch for more than 30 years, so finding new angles is a bit of a challenge.
On July 10, 2014, I met Mike Gardner, Paul Goewey and Brian Jennison in Palmer with the expressed goal of following Mass-Central’s daily freight northbound.
It was a bright morning following a night of heavy rain and mist still clung to the valleys. Mass-Central was working with GP38 1751, one of two locomotives acquired last year and custom painted into a variation of the 1950s-era Boston & Maine ‘Bluebird’ livery.
After the train passed Thorndike, (a few miles from Palmer yard), it slowed to a craw then stopped unexpectedly. Trees had fallen on the line. This delayed it while crews cut the trees with chain saws. In the mean time, Paul showed me an angle near Forest Lake that I’d never seen before.
Track speed on the line is a casual 10 mph. The trick isn’t trying to keep up with the train, it’s trying to stay focused on the subject. In addition to the slow running, Mass-Central spends a lot of time switching freight cars, and often in places that aren’t conducive to summer-time photography.
South Barre is as far as the Mass-Central goes. Beyond that the old B&A branch is abandoned. Having done well with the northward run, we opted for lunch, then moved on to other lines.
I worked with three cameras; my Lumix LX7 and Canon 7D, plus my old Rolleiflex Model T. (This isn’t the same old Rollei, that I used back in the 1980s, but one similar to it.) Unfortunately, it wasn’t functioning perfectly in the morning, and I missed a few photos before I got it working. Now, to process the film!
On June 26, 2013, a variety of errands that brought me to Ware, Massachusetts. I knew the Mass-Central’s daily freight ought to be in the area, but I wasn’t sure where it was. (Pardon pun).
I checked Ware yard; not there. So I drove north along the line. Since it is my understanding that the railroad is expected to acquire some nicely painted GP38s, I was curious to see what engines were working that day.
No sign of the train at Gilbertville, so I continued northward along Route 32 toward Creamery. My sixth sense was tingling. I knew the train was close.
At Creamery, Boston & Maine’s Central Massachusetts line once had a grade separated crossing with Boston & Albany’s Ware River Branch, and when B&M retrenched in the early 1930s, a connection was built between the two lines just to the north (east) of this crossing. Further retrenchment over the following decades resulted in almost complete abandonment of the Central Massachusetts line in the area.
Today, a portion of the Central Mass route at Creamery is now a rail trail. I paused at the trail, inspected a bit of an old cross-tie and then listened. . . wind rustled in the trees, then in the distance I heard a low air whistle. I turned my head. It was coming from the south. Had I overtaken the train, or had I missed it?
A second blast, confirmed my suspicions; I’d missed the train between Gilbertville and Creamery. I jumped in my car and headed briskly back toward Ware. I overtook the train a mile north of town.
At Ware, Mass-Central had some work at Kanzaki Specialty Papers—a customer served by a short surviving section of the former B&M line that connects with the B&A route south of Ware Yard.
I caught the train shoving down, then waited a few minutes for the locomotives to return. In this way I executed several photos of the rare NW5 (one of just 13 built by General Motors Electro-Motive Division) on rare track
I could tick off that errand for the day! Mass-Central NW5, check.
My brief encounter with Mass-Central’s borrowed GP15-2 on May 10, 2013 (see Quaboag Valley in Fog and Sun, May 10, 2013 encouraged me to seek out this locomotive and spend some more time photographing it on the former Boston & Albany Ware River Branch.
This branch is one of my longest running projects. Back in 1981, I rode my 10-speed bicycle from Monson to Ware to make photographs of Mass-Central’s recently acquired EMD NW5, number 2100. Now, more than 30 years later, that old engine is still on the property, and I’ve been up and down the line by road (and rail) dozens of times.
Despite this familiarity, at least once a year (if not once a season) I’ll take a photo-trip along the line. So, having a nice freshly painted locomotive against fresh spring leaves is a good excuse to get out and the exercise cameras.
Much of the line is on a southwest-northeast angled alignment; and since trains tend depart northbound in the morning from Palmer and return after midday, I’ve found that the southward return chase can be the most productive for making clean locomotive images.
On Monday May 13th, I spent the morning writing and running errands. Then in late morning, I followed Mass-Central’s line up to Gilbertville where I waited for the weekday freight to pass on its northbound run. (Just to clarify; the weekday freight is all I’d ever expect to see. The days of Boston & Albany’s steam hauled mixed train and milk specials have long since passed!)
My timing was good, and after a little while the GP15-2 rolled through northbound with two cars. Not much of a train, but it collected a few more cars near Creamery and continued to South Barre where it worked for about an hour delivering and collecting freight cars.
As expected, the southward chase offered better angles and nicer train. Not only did the southward train have a decent consist of cars, but the sun made some well-timed appearances.
I made photos with both film and digital Canon bodies as well as my Lumix LX-3, while following all the way south to Palmer (where Mass-Central interchanges with both CSX and New England Central).
I’ve learned to take advantage of unusual or new motive power on the branch, as things can (and do) change quickly. To use a cliché; it’s best to strike when the iron is hot! I was pleased with my results featuring the GP15-2 and I wonder what motive power I’ll find next time I follow the line?