Monday afternoon, August 19, 2019 was hot and humid as I rambled through Massachusetts’ Quaboag Valley completing errands.
Driving west on Route 20, I reached the flying junction with Route 67, where I saw the head-end of CSX Q264 roar below me with two modern GEs in the lead.
The train had a good roll-on, so I knew it was making a run for the grade up through Warren. I diverted from my path west, and drove post haste east on Route 67 to find a location to picture this eastward freight.
In the afternoon there aren’t a lot of options. The old B&A has become unpleasantly overgrown with brush, and the back lit summer sun doesn’t offer a flattering portrayal of modern GE diesels.
I opted for the overhead bridge at West Warren, where I made these views with my Lumix LX7.
Although it was still sunny, I could see the storm approaching from the west. Shortly after I arrived home there was lightning, thunder and a violent deluge.
Last Tuesday, June 25, 2019, I’d photographed an eastward CSX intermodal train at Palmer, Massachusetts that took the controlled siding at CP83 and then eased up to the east end of the siding at CP79.
I took a chance and drove expeditiously to West Warren in anticipation of a westward freight. I was rewarded for my efforts.
The lighting was tricky but colorful. The sunrise was heavily tempered by clouds rolling in from the west.
To make the most of the contrasty scene, I used a Lee graduated neutral density filter over the front of my lens to reduce exposure in the sky, and then underexposed the entire scene by about two thirds of a stop. I used the in-camera histogram to gauge my exposure by aiming to obtain minimal loss of detail in highlight and shadow areas. To the eye, my RAW files seem a little dark, but this is by intent.
In post processing, I lightened shadow areas while controlling highlights in an effort to replicate scene as I saw it.
Such are the challenges with modern photography. With black and white film, I would have exposed for the shadows and printed for the highlights, but that technique won’t work with digital photography. Where black & white film could hold great detail in dense highlights, but suffered from thin and detail-less shadow regions, digital sensors have the opposite sensitivity range.
In late 2017, I got lucky and caught this heritage locomotive on several occasions, after years of it eluding me entirely.
This afternoon (April 24, 2019), thanks to a tip from my friend Paul Goewey, I caught old 156 again, albeit second unit out, on today’s westward Amtrak Lake Shore Limited (Boston section), train 449.
The view is from the bridge over the railroad and Quaboag River at West Warren, Massachusetts.
Photos exposed using my FujiFilm XT1 with 27mm pancake lens set to the Velvia color profile. Files exported from the camera as JPGs and scaled using Lightroom for internet presentation. No adjustments to contrast, color or exposure.
Here’s my holiday card. Amtrak’s westward 449 led by heritage locomotive 156 passes West Warren, Massachusetts, Sunday December 10, 2017.
Amtrak 156 has been on my list for a long time. Of all the Amtrak paint schemes over the years, this is by far my favorite.
Although I caught 156 second unit out three days earlier (see yesterday’s Tracking the Light), this locomotive had eluded my photography for years. Apparently it had been assigned to the Vermonter for a month a few years ago, but I was out of the country.
Every other time it was some place, I was some place else.
But finally everything came together; first snow of the season, Amtrak 156 in the lead, and soft afternoon sun at one of my favorite former Boston & Albany locations; the engineer gave me a friendly toot of the horn, and I’m pleased with the outcome of the photos.
I hope you have a great holiday season and you find your 156 in the new year.
Tracking the Light wishes you Seasons Greetings too!
The other morning I was aiming for a haircut. I arrived early and the barber wasn’t open yet, but I noticed an eastward CSX intermodal train on the old Boston & Albany that was slowing for the Palmer diamond.
I was on Route 20, about a mile west of Palmer, Massachusetts. I turned the car around, and immediately proceeded east in pursuit. (Haircuts can wait). However, road works at the New England Central bridge over the road caused me a critical delay.
Although the intermodal train was likely blocked, I wasn’t making any progress either, and I still had all of Palmer to get through in morning traffic. As a result, I took a detour and cut over the mountain using Old Warren Road—a favorite shortcut of Bob Buck’s that he showed me many years ago.
This saves several miles, but doesn’t follow the tracks.
As a result, I was able to be in place at West Warren several minutes ahead of the train. After exposing these views I retraced my steps and returned to my original mission!
In my family we have a forty year old tradition of going to photograph the Lake Shore Limited.
The other day my brother arrived up from Philadelphia for the holidays, and I asked, “would you like to go up to West Warren to see the Lake Shore? It has some specially painted engines today?”
So my brother, father and I went to the bridge over the line near milepost 75. We timed our arrive very well. After only a 5 minute wait, Amtrak train 449 with two specially painted General Electric Genesis diesels rolled west along the Quaboag.
Sean said, “Wow, it came by really fast!”
I couldn’t help by find his comment ironic, since I recently composed an opinion piece for Trains Magazine on the topic of the trains operating too slowly. But that’s the topic for another time . . .
[Click the link to Brian Solomon’s Tracking the Light for the full effect!]
The long days of June offer distinct lighting. In the morning the sun rises earlier and further north than the other times of the year, and this makes for photographic opportunity if you know where to look.
These days much of the Boston & Albany route east of Palmer is a tree tunnel, but West Warren has a nice vista with characteristic 19th century New England mill buildings complete with a mill-dam on the Quaboag River.
As long as I’ve been making photos on the old Boston & Albany mainline, there’s been a westward intermodal train that passes through the Quaboag Valley early in the morning.
In Conrail times it was symbol TV9 (TV=Trailvan; Boston to Chicago). With the transition to CSX operations this became Q119. Now with revised intermodal terminals and changes to train symbols, I think this morning train carries the Q019 symbol (which runs from Worcester, Massachusetts since the closure of Boston’s Beacon Park yard a few years ago).
In the 1990s, I’d identified West Warren as a place to catch this train on the long days; where the sun rises on the north side of the tracks for about 10-20 minutes. This only occurs over a span of about three weeks, and provides the backlit glint effect that offers a distinct view at this classic location.
The other day, all the pieces came together. The weather was perfect; I was in place at my location with cameras at the ready at the moment the sun illuminated the north-side of the tracks; and CSX’s westward intermodal train passed at precisely the right moment.
Ok, how about then and when? (click on the link to Brian Solomon’s Tracking the Light to see the modern view).
These photos were exposed 28 years apart from essentially the same place in West Warren, Massachusetts.
One view was made of an eastward Conrail freight in March of 1984; the other of an CSX freight at almost the same spot on November 15, 2012.
In both situations I opted to leave the train in the distance and take in the scene.
Over the years I’ve worked this vantage point with a variety of lenses, but I’ve chosen to display these two images to show how the scene has changed over the years.
In the 1984 view notice the code lines (the ‘telegraph poles’) to the left of the train and the scruffy trees between the railroad and the road. Also in 1984, the line was 251-territory (directional double track).
The other day Jim Shaughnessy invited me over to look at some photographs.
Over the years Jim has contributed many excellent images for my books. I’ve lost track of the many different books of mine that feature his work, but at least 20 titles.
Presently, I’m gathering material for a detailed look at the Boston & Albany and Jim has hundreds of images of the B&A route in the New York Central and Penn Central eras.
Personally I find these photographs fascinating. Decades before I found the B&A and made photographs, Jim had been there to explore many of the same locations.
Compare the above view with a photo I made on December 28, 2015 of Amtrak’s Lake Shore Limited at the same location.
In the 45-year interval between images, the railroad was reduced from directional double track to a single main track and the old road bridge over was replaced with a modern span that is slightly higher.
In recent years, CSX has undercut the line and cut back much of the brush along the right of way.
Jim’s Penn Central photo is just one of the many I’ve borrowed for consideration in the B&A book.
While I was visiting Jim, my friend Dennis LeBeau phoned from East Brookfield and set up the next day’s adventure which has ties to the B&A project among other things. Stay tuned for more!
I just scanned this old negative a few minutes ago. (If you’re not viewing this on Tracking the Light, you’ll need to click the link to get the full effect of the image.)
Back in late 1996, friend Doug Moore (and Tracking the Light grammar and fact checker) had lent me a Baby Speed Graphic (sorry I don’t recall the specific model.).
This camera used a roll film back and featured both a leaf shutter and a focal plane shutter, which made it useful for exposing railroad photographs.
Among the images I made was this view of a westward Conrail freight from the bridge at West Warren. Tracking the Light viewers will likely recognize the location as I’ve often posted pictures from here.
Using Lightroom I was able to make some simple contrast and exposure adjustments that greatly improved the overall appearance of the photo.
Sometimes familiar locations work best. In the past, I’ve made many photographs along the Boston & Albany at West Warren, the combination of easy of access, scenic environment, identifiable scene, and excellent afternoon lighting continue to make it one of my favorite places to photograph Amtrak’s Lake Shore Limited, train 449.
The afternoon of October 12th was clear and bright with hints of autumn color tinged in the trees. My father and I opted to intercept 449—one of the few trains running at that time of the day on a Sunday—and so we put ourselves in position on the road bridge near the old mill race. After a short wait the train came into view.
I worked with my Canon EOS 7D and Lumix LX7, my father exposed a photo using his vintage Rolleiflex Model T on a Gitzo tripod, and used his Lumix LX7, plus Minolta Mark IV light meter and various other bits and pieces.
This maintained our long tradition of going out to photograph the Lake Shore Limited that dates back to the 1970s.
Tracking the Light posts new material every morning.
This was among the negatives lost for most of the last 30 years. Today, it interests me for several reasons.
In 1984-1985, I went through a phase where I made a lot of night photos. I employed a variety of techniques, and made hundreds of black & white images (and a few color slides too).
This image depicts Amtrak’s westward Lake Shore Limited (train 449) passing beneath the bridge at West Warren, Massachusetts on the Boston & Albany route.
I only vaguely recall making the photograph above. Today, it is more like looking at someone else’s work than my own. I like it because it features the highway bridge over the tracks while allowing the train to be just an incidental streak of light. The famous mill dam water fall (featured in many West Warren photos) is clearly evident at the right.
It is one of the few photos I have at West Warren that shows the double-track. Conrail discontinued the directional double track arrangement between Palmer and East Brookfield in 1986, two years after I exposed this photo.
Over the years I’ve made many photos at West Warren, and regular viewers of Tracking the Light should find the name familiar. Yet, this view is the only one I’ve come across from this angle. It puts a new perspective on the place. Would this viewpoint be conducive to a modern daylight image?
Compare with the photo I made in January 2014 from the bridge (and featured in an earlier post).
Difficulties of Photographing in the Spring and Summer.
That’s just what you want to read about right now, isn’t it!. Gosh, those awful warm months with the long days, soft sunlight and thick foliage.
Well, here I have two views, both made at about the same location off Route 67 in West Warren, Massachusetts at approximately the same time of the morning. Both views show a CSX eastward freight.
The first was exposed on July 31, 2010; the second two views were made on May 10, 2013. While I’ve used one of these views in a previous post (see: Quaboag Valley in Fog and Sun, May 10, 2013 ), I thought these made for an interesting contrast with the earlier image.
The primary difference is that in the interval between 2010 and 2013 CSXT cut the brush along the Boston line and performed undercutting work at West Warren. This is just one of many locations that benefited visually from such improvements.
A secondary difficulty about photographing when foliage is at its summer peak is selecting the optimum exposure. In the 2010 image, I took a test photo and allowed for some nominal overexposure of the locomotive front in order to retain detail in the foliage. I then made a nominal correction in Photoshop during post processing to make for a more pleasing image.
Here we have an instance where everything came together nicely.
On Friday January 24, 2014, I’d got word that Amtrak’s heritage locomotive number 822 was working the westward Lake Shore Limited, train 449
This was the second time in a ten-day span that I’d be alerted to a heritage locomotive on this run. As noted in my January 18, 2014 post, Amtrak’s Lake Shore Limited, the weather wasn’t cooperative on my previous attempt at catching an Amtrak heritage locomotive.
By contrast on January 24th it was clear but very cold. I opted to make the photo at West Warren, where it’s nice and open and there’s a distinctive landscape.
Normally, Amtrak 449 passes East Brookfield at 1:30pm, and Palmer about 1:50pm. West Warren is roughly halfway between them, so I aimed to be there no later than 1:35pm
As it happened, 449 was delayed on Charlton Hill and passed more than 15 minutes later than I’d anticipated. Other than resulting in my nose getting a bit cold, this delay produced little effect on the photograph.
I opted for a traditional angle because I wanted to feature the locomotive as the primary subject this scenic setting. I picked a spot on the road bridge over the Quaboag River where I could make a view that included the old mills and waterfall, as well as a side view as the train got closer.
Working with my Canon EOS 7D fitted with a 40mm pancake lens, I set the motor drive to its fastest setting, and exposed three bursts of images as the train rolled east on CSXT’s former Boston & Albany mainline.
Since the camera’s buffer will quickly become saturated when making multiple photos in rapid succession, I was careful to wait until the train was nearly where I wanted it in each of the three sets.
Autumn Color and Mirror-Like River Make for a Diorama-Like Setting.
The rugged unsettled Quaboag Valley between Palmer and West Warren is a beautiful place, but difficult to work with photographically. Access is limited and the narrow valley combined with heavy overgrowth shadows the line much of the day.
My favorite vantage-point is this twin stone-arch bridge near West Warren. Since my last visit, logging efforts have opened the vista a bit more, allowing a slightly higher view of the tracks.
On October 23, 2013, I learned that CSX’s Q022 (eastward Intermodal container train destined for Worcester) was about an hour away, so I put myself in position to make a photograph.
The season’s leaves were just past peak, which is my preferred time to make autumn images of trains. Why? I’ve found that when almost all the trees are orange, brown and yellow, with hints of red, images seem more autumnal than when some trees are their most brilliant shades of red and orange but others remain green.
A stroke of luck was the very still day: there was virtually no wind while relatively low water-levels in the Quaboag allowed for a mirror like reflection of the bridge and train. This effect is much harder to achieve when the sun is out causing light breezes that tend blur the surface of the water.
In yesterday’s post, I told about working with a Hasselblad and 120 Kodachrome. Although, 35mm slide film was my stable format for more than 25 years, I’ve periodically dabbled in larger formats.
I made this image of CSX’s former Boston & Albany mainline at West Warren, Massachusetts in October 2000 using a Rolleiflex Model T with f3.5 Zeiss Tessar lens to expose 120 size Fujichrome Velvia 50.
While I have many images of trains at West Warren, this remains among my favorite. The trees and brush had been cleared from the north side of the tracks, opening up a angle on the tracks not often possible here. I’ll like the stumps too. My grandfather would have approved.
The lack of train allows for good juxtaposition between the railway, waterfall, and old mill buildings on the far side of the Quaboag River. If I’d let a train into the scene, it would either cause a distraction or block the waterfall. One solution to this puzzle is to work from the other side of the tracks, but that loses the timeless quality offered by this angle.
Nearly peak autumn color is a nice touch, while soft overcast light adds to the autumnal atmosphere.
Caption: The former Boston & Albany mainline along the Quaboag River in October 2000, exposed with a Rolleiflex Model T on 120 Fujichrome Velvia 50.