It was raining in Dublin, but clear and bright in Wellingtonbridge, County Wexford on 13 December 2003 when we visited to observe Irish Rail’s sugar beet operations.
Working with a Rollei Model T that I’d bought in San Francisco a few weeks earlier, I exposed a sequence of 120-size black & white photos on Kodak Tri-X of NI Railways 112 (on long-term loan to Irish Rail) that was shunting four-wheel sugar beet wagons for loading.
To obtain greater shadow detail and superior overall tonality, I rate the film at ISO 200 (one stop slower than the advertised 400 ISO) and processed it in a dilute bath of Ilfotec HC high-contrast developer.
For presentation here, I scanned the negatives last week using an Epson V750 flatbed scanner and then scaled/sized the TIFs for internet viewing.
You could make wall-size prints from the original negatives.
December 23, 2002 was a cold, wet, dark and mucky; in other words, typical sugar beet weather.
We were visiting the cabin at Wellingtonbridge, watching the machine load beet into ancient-looking four-wheel corrugated wagons. A steady ‘thump, thump, thump’ as the roots plopped into the wagons.
It wasn’t great for photography. But the driver of the laden beet (soon to depart Wellingtonbridge for Mallow, Co. Cork) said to me, ‘Get your photos now, this is all going away . . .’
Sadly, his prophecy came true. Old 129, a class 121 diesel built by General Motors at La Grange, Illinois in 1961, was cut up for scrap only a few months after I exposed this black & white photograph.
Irish Rail’s sugar beet traffic carried on for a few more years (three more than I thought it would). The last laden beet train departed Wellingtonbridge in January 2006. Afterwards, it was a downward spiral. Today, the wagons and loading machine are gone; the cabin is closed and the line rusty.
Yet, in the intervening months and years, I returned dozens of times, and made photos at all times of day and night. By the time the last beet train turned a wheel, I’d made hundreds of images of operation.
A Classic Photograph from A Dozen Years Ago Today.
It was just 12 years ago—December 8, 2001—that I stood in the damp grassy field overlooking Taylorstown Viaduct, Co. Wexford, to make this image of freshly painted General Motors 141s leading an empty sugar beet train toward Wellingtonbridge.
Sugar beet season typically ran from late September until just after Christmas and was a great time to make Irish Rail freight photographs. Operations were focused on loading trains at Wellingtonbridge and tended to result in a series of daylight movements over the scenic South Wexford line.
Between 1999 and 2006, with the help of my Irish friends, I made dozens of trips to photograph, record and experience the sugar beet season. The weather wasn’t always fine; often it was dark and rainy but there were sunny moments like in the scene pictured here.
Unfortunately, sugar beet operations ended in early 2006, and a few years later Irish Rail closed the line between Waterford and Rosslare Strand to regular traffic. The bridge and tracks remain, but movements on the line are now very rare. The locomotives and wagons were scrapped a few years ago.
Between September and January Irish Rail moved sugar beet from a loading facility at Wellingtonbridge to a processing factory in Mallow county Cork. In the last beet season, six days a week Wellingtonbridge loaded six to seven trains.
This was Irish Rail’s most intensive freight operation and operated with a fleet of ancient looking four-wheel beet wagons.
Short sidings at Wellingtonbridge required the shunting of most laden trains. On this frosty clear autumn afternoon, I made a variety of images on Fujichrome with my Nikon F3T to capture the atmosphere of this operation.
What sticks in my mind were the background sounds of conveyors dumping freshly harvested beet into the old wagons and the signal cabin with its mechanical signals and Victorian-era electric staff machine and bells. The scene is all quiet today.
General Motors Single Cab Diesels Wander Far and Wide in their Final Years.
In their final few years of service, Irish Rail 124 and 134 worked a great variety of services. For me, simple knowing these two engines were out there, made photographing Irish Rail more interesting.
Sometimes I knew where they were, other times one would appear unexpectedly. Occasionally they’d get paired together and stay that way for a while, but more often than not, they’d be paired with one of the 141/181 class Bo-Bos.
All of my images of 121s at work were made on film (slide and black & white negative). By the time I’d acquired my first digital camera, old 124 and 134 were no longer active.
Sifting through my slides from their last five or six years, I’ve found numerous images of these engines. As I’ve mentioned previously, every time I saw one, I expected it to be the last time, so I made the most of every opportunity. Here’s a lesson: never expect that you’ll see something again; so photograph to the best of you ability when you have the chance.
In 2003, Irish Rail operated its sugar beet trains via Kildare because the normal routing between Waterford and Limerick Junction was closed as result of a bridge collapse at Cahir, County Tipperary. On December 6, 2003, I was in place at Cherryville Junction (where the Waterford Road joins the Cork Road—a few miles west of Kildare Station) to catch a laden sugar beet train on its way from Wellingtonbridge, County Wexford to Mallow, County Cork. (Since there is no direct chord at Cherryville to allow a movement from the Waterford Road onto the Cork Road in the down direction, this sugar beet train would continue up to Kildare where the locomotive would run around, thus allowing the train to reverse direction for its onward journey to Mallow.)
It was a characteristically dull day. I was working with a Rollei Model T (120 size roll film fitted with a f3.5 Zeiss Tessar) and Fuji Neopan™ 400 film. Key to obtaining the desired tonality was my process. For developer I used Agfa Rodinal Special™ 1:32 with water for 7 minutes, then after dual fixing baths, Perma Wash™ for 3 minutes, and 10 minutes in running water, I toned the negatives in selenium solution (mixed 1:9 with water) for 9 minutes, then re-washed for 20 minutes in running water. (Warning: selenium is poisonous and should be handled with extreme care in a well-ventilated room). See: Installment 6: Black & White revisited; Old Tech for a New Era part 2—Secrets Revealed!.