When I was at the Rochester Institute of Technology, once or twice a year Kodak would gift photo students with a selection of new products to try.
On this occasion, I had been given a sample of two rolls of the latest Ektachrome.
A professor gave us a vague assignment to make color photographs, so I wandered up to Lincoln Park, a junction on Conrail’s Water Level Route west of downtown Rochester, New York, and exposed these photos.
There I found local freight WBRO-15 working with GP8 7528. The crew was friendly and quite used to me photographing of their train.
Back in 1987 my serious railroad photos were exposed using 120 black & white film or on Kodachrome 25. These Ektachromes were an anomaly. After the assignment was turned in, I relegated the remaining images to my ‘seconds box’ and forgot about them—for 31 years!
I found them back accident the other day, and so scanned them post haste.
I thought my Rochester friends would get a kick out of seeing them. How much has changed since March 11, 1987?
On April 9, 1988, I exposed this view on Conrail’s heavily used former New York Central System ‘Water Level Route’ west of Silver Creek, New York.
Clear skies and bright afternoon sun were ideal when exposing Kodachrome 25.
For this image of Conrail SD50s working westbound I used my Leica M2 fitted with an f2.8 90mm Elmarit.
Using a telephoto with a Leica rangefinder was always a bit tricky.
Although a window in the M2’s viewfinder provided a pretty good sense for the limits of the frame offered by the 90mm lens, the camera didn’t offer any sense of the effects of visual compression or limited depth of field that are inherent to this focal length in the 35mm format.
Yet, the combination of Leica glass and Kodachrome 25 allowed me to make some exceptionally sharp images.
I consulted my notes from that year, and found that I’d photographed extensively on that day! (Hooray for my old notebook!)
At the time I was about a week away from completing my course work at the Rochester Institute of Technology, where I earned a BFA in Photographic Illustration, and I was making good use of the fine Spring weather in Western New York State.
That day I began my photography on the Water Level Route at East Rochester, and worked my way eastward toward Lyons, New York.
I was particularly fascinated by the abandoned truss bridge over the old New York Central west of Newark, New York. This had carried the Newark & Marion, which had served as part of the Pennsylvania Railroad. [See: AbandonedRails.com for more about this line. ]
On an earlier trip, I’d photographed this bridge on a dull day using a 4×5 camera.
On May 13th, I worked with my Leica M2 exposing Kodachrome 25 color slides, and featured Conrail trains passing below the bridge.At that time SD50s were standard locomotives on many of the railroad’s carload trains.
Later, I explored other vantage points along the busy Conrail east-west mainline.
Thanks to Ciarán for encouraging this foray into my slide archive!
It was 2:48pm, when I made this image of Amtrak train 63, the Maple Leaf approaching Ivison Road—named for the Ivison farm at the center of the photograph.
I’ve allowed the road to occupy the dominant portion of the frame; yet the train remains the subject. At the time, an Amtrak F40PH with Amfleet was just about as ordinary as it got and I wanted to put the train in its environment to make for a more interesting image.
A westward van train raced along the Water Level Route, its horn sounding for the North Lake Street Crossing—the blaring Doppler effect announced its passage. For a moment it captured everyone’s attention.
CLICK: I exposed this frame of 35mm black & white film at the decisive moment when the lead GP40-2 was visible on the crossing. A fallen bicycle on the sidewalk, turned heads, and the hint of motion blur of the train tells a story.
Twenty six years passed before this image saw the light of day (or that from a back-lit computer screen). I’d processed the film at the Rochester Institute of Technology and sleeved the unprinted negatives. Recently, I scanned this roll of Plus-X and found on it this photograph.
Here’s a view from my summer wanderings with TSH in July 1987. We’d camped along the Water Level Route at Lake City, Pennsylvania and spent the day watching and photographing trains.
The morning weather began heavy and damp, but as the day continued a thunderstorm rolled off Lake Erie and cleared the air.
Conrail was busy and presented an unceasing parade of trains. For this view, showing a pair of SD50s, I used my father’s Rollei Model T. I went low to emphasize the weedy grass, while using the old station to frame the train and provide historical context.
The combination of the grass, the thick white sky, and hazy light says ‘Summer’ to me.
This day, twenty four years ago, April 12, 1989, I sat in the morning sun at School Road in Batavia, New York, 399 miles from Grand Central Terminal. This was a favorite location to watch the Water Level Route on a weekend morning. At the time I was a student at the Rochester Institute of Technology, I lived south of Rochester at Scottsville, New York, and it was about a half and hour drive to this lightly used crossing. Here I’d read, write in my notebook, and document the passing parade of Conrail freights and the occasional Amtrak train. A talking equipment detector a few miles to the west would alert me to approaching eastward trains, but westward trains might creep up on me. These tended to be crawling, as there is a slight grade up the Niagara Escarpment known local as Byron Hill. ‘Hill’ is a relative term, since this grade seemed almost invisible to the eye. However, freights powered for the low-grade run from Selkirk to Buffalo would stagger up this nominal rise. On this morning, the distinctive chug of General Electric 7FDL diesel engines caught me ear above the twittering birds and the rush of a light breeze. Before I knew it the gates were motoring down and lo and behold, a westbound was coming down the hill.
My Leica M2 was fitted to an f4.0 200mm Leitz Telyt using the awkward Visoflex II attachment, which effectively transformed my rangefinder into a single-lens reflex. This entire contraption was positioned on my recently acquired Bogen 3021 tripod with ball-head. (The ball arrangement seemed like a good idea when I bought it, but I was forever fighting it to make fine adjustments with long lenses.) This morning, I had everything all set up and pre-focused; I exposed a couple frame of Kodachrome 25. Leading the train was one of Conrail’s unusual GE-built C39-8s, a favorite model because of its angular cab-arrangement.
Six weeks after I made this image, I graduated from R.I.T. and by end of September that year, I was on my way to California. The old crossing at School Road closed a number of years ago as part of a grade crossing elimination scheme. Last summer, I unexpectedly found a former Conrail C39-8s at Lansdale, Pennsylvania along with a few of its ilk in black Norfolk Southern paint, but that’s a story for another post.
On the eve of assumption of operations by Conrail in Spring 1976, my father and I had explored railway operations in the New York City area. Twenty-three years later, we spent a long weekend in New York’s Mohawk and Hudson Valleys photographing the last days of independent Conrail operations before the railway was divided between its new owners CSX and Norfolk Southern.
On the morning of May 29, 1999, I made this dramatic image of a westward Conrail double-stack train blasting along the former New York Central Water Level Route at Fonda, New York.
Evidence of the old New York Central can be seen in the wide right of way left over from its four-track days, and the steam-era signal bridges with classic General Railway Signal searchlights. In the last few years, CSX has replaced most of the NYC-era signals with modern hardware.
Leading the train was one of Conrail’s ten C32-8s, a pre-production model built by General Electric in 1984, unique to Conrail (although nearly identical in appearance to the slightly more powerful C39-8, bought by Conrail and Norfolk Southern). This one was dressed in Conrail’s short-lived ‘Ballast Express’ livery.
A variation of this image was published by RailNews, shortly before that magazine concluded operations. Hard to believe that both Conrail and RailNews have been gone nearly 14 years.