Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Three Jersey Nights

Photo 2447 Norfolk Southern; Phillipsburg, New Jersey September 7, 2012
Norfolk Southern; Phillipsburg, N.J.; September 7, 2012
Part of my photographic arsenal includes four Alien Bees, studio strobes that can synchronize with my camera for night shots of moving trains. During the summer months they often don't get much use (mostly because it doesn't get dark until after 9:00, making for a long night), but as the autumn comes in and darkness comes earlier, they provide a nice way to make up for the shorter shooting time during daylight. Let's take a look at three recent shots.

First up we head along Norfolk Southern's ex-Lehigh Valley main line in Phillipsburg, N.J., on September 7. Fellow photographer Tom Nanos was visiting from Connecticut, as since he is also armed with strobes we decided to head out for some shooting. The shot we had envisioned was from the Main Street bridge looking west, with the former Central Railroad of New Jersey passenger station in the shot. The first train to show up, however, was a westbound train, which made us head to the other side of the bridge for a tighter shot passing restored PU tower (above). While I have four strobes, this was done with only two -- one with a telephoto reflector aimed down at the train, and one with a wider-angle reflector aimed at the tower. The flash power on the tower was cut back to about half to avoid over-exposing the tower.

Photo 2471 CSX Transportation; Belle Mead, New Jersey October 11, 2012
CSX Transportation; Belle Mead, N.J.; October 7, 2012
About a month later Tom was back in New Jersey again and we went over to the former Reading Company passenger station and freight house at Belle Mead on October 7. A relocation project for U.S. Route 206 resulted in the bridge over the railroad being moved back a couple hundred feet and during construction the town took the time to begin making the area a historic district. Trees were removed from the south end of the passenger station and the grass gets mowed every now and then, but otherwise no funds have been allocated to further improve the property. We were looking for a westbound (geographically southbound) train here, and this time we were rewarded with one train in the proper direction. For this shot I used three strobes. Two were across the track from where I was standing, one pointed at the passenger station and another at the nose of the train. The third was just off to my right, throwing light on the end of the freight house and on this side of the locomotive.

A few days later a coal train came into southern New Jersey to serve the power plant in Deepwater. One of Norfolk Southern's "heritage units" (locomotives painted in the livery of a now-extinct railroad that makes up the modern NS system) was the trailing locomotive on the southbound trip, but since the locomotives are run around the train for the return trip, the heritage unit -- painted for the Reading Company -- would lead north. We knew the crew was called out of Abrams Yard near Norristown, Penn., in the early evening and taken by van to Deepwater. We (my brother Bruce and friend Mike Burkhart) watched as the crew arrived at around 10:00 p.m. and began putting the train together at around 11:00. Once it looked like the train was almost ready to head north, we went to downtown Penns Grove to set up. Bruce had shot a heritage unit here before, and the train showed up then at about 1:00 a.m. But this time 1:00 came and went with no sign of the train. Finally, we heard the dispatcher call the train on our railroad radio asking if they were ready to leave -- this was around 2:00 a.m. The crew responded in the affirmative, and about 20 minutes later they passed through downtown.
Photo 2472 Norfolk Southern (on Conrail); Penns Grove, New Jersey October 14, 2012
Norfolk Southern; Penns Grove, N.J.; October 14, 2012
This is a fairly small scene that required only two strobes. I had a wide-angle strobe set up on the right side of the street pointing at the Colonial Hotel, and a second strobe with a telephoto reflector set up on the left side of the street pointing at the train. 

Now that winter is approaching and darkness will be coming before 5:00, I'm looking forward to getting out more with the strobes.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Cool Chromes -- Cab Units

Cool Chromes is a semi-regular mini-feature looking at some slides that have recently passed through my scanner.

Photo 2003 Conrail; Harrisburg, Pennsylvania April 29, 1998
Conrail; April 29, 1998
In this edition of Cool Chromes we'll look at "cab units," the classic E-units and F-units built by the Electro-Motive Division of General Motors. Both types featured the streamlined "bulldog" nose. E-units had a pair of three-axle trucks and were built for passenger service; F-units had a pair of four-wheel trucks and saw service in both freight and passenger service.

We start off with a pair of E8 locomotives leading Conrail's Office Car Special (OCS) past the Amtrak (ex-Pennsylvania Railroad) station in Harrisburg, Penn. Conrail maintained three E8 units for business trains; when Conrail was split up between Norfolk Southern and CSX, the E8s were sold to businessman Bennett Levin of Philadelphia, where they have since been restored to their original Pennsylvania livery. 

Next we head to the Jersey Shore for an E8 leading a commuter train on New Jersey Transit at Red Bank on August 30, 1980. In the late 1970s into the early 1980s the former New York & Long Branch became a bastion for E-units. It was one of the last strongholds of six-axle cab unit power in regular passenger service. This shot was badly overexposed as shot; I've worked on it in Photoshop a little and still haven't got the colors as I remember them -- but then again, I could be remembering the colors as they were supposed to be, and not as they actually were. The E8s didn't get much maintenance (or paint) late in their careers. 
Photo 2045 New Jersey Transit; Red Bank, New Jersey August 30, 1980
New Jersey Transit; August 30, 1980
Photo 1824 Southern Railroad of New Jersey Woodstown, New Jersey
Southern Railroad of New Jersey
Let's stay in New Jersey for the next shot. Now we're on the Salem Branch of the former Pennsylvania-Reading Seashore Lines in Woodstown, N.J. (I don't have an exact date for this one, but it's probably 1996 or 1997). The line had been sold to Salem County and was (and still is) operated by the Southern Railroad of New Jersey. The SRNJ leased a pair of F3 units, one from the Tri-State Chapter of the National Railway Historical Society and one from the Anthracite Railroads Historical Society. The two units originally worked for the Bangor & Aroostook in Maine, but were purchased by the historical groups and restored into the tangerine-and-blue of the Central Railroad of New Jersey (Jersey Central Lines). At the time the duo was one of the oldest sets of cab units in regular freight service in the U.S., but still drew little attention from photographers for some reason. In the years since this photo was taken, the two have since been relocated to Steamtown National Historic Site in Scranton, Penn., given a new paint scheme of the Delaware, Lackawanna & Western, and put into semi-regular service hauling passengers on the old Lackawanna main line.

We conclude our cab unit tour at the Illinois Railway Museum in Union, where we find an ex-Milwaukee Road E8 sitting in the back lot on July 21, 1993. While this looks bad, IRM has one of the best track records of restoring, maintaining and otherwise taking care of its equipment of any private (i.e. non-government) railroad museum in the U.S. Despite its appearance, this E8 is in very good hands.
Photo 1770 Illinois Railway Museum; Union, Illinois July 21, 1993
Illinois Railway Museum; July 21, 1993

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Random Ramblings - Connecticut Night

Photo 2469 Connecticut Eastern Railroad Museum; Willimantic, Connecticut October 6, 2012
Connecticut Eastern Railroad Museum; October 6, 2012
One of my favorite night photo sessions each year is held at the Connecticut Eastern Railroad Museum in Willimantic. And even though I've gone once a year for the last several years (and twice one year!) I still find some new angles to shoot, thanks to the efforts of scene coordinator Tom Nanos and the volunteers of the museum. This year (October 6 for those keeping score at home) we did station interior shots for the first time (above) with some pretty decent results.

The museum has a variety of equipment, and one of the favorite pieces for night photography is the former New Haven FL9. This year the classic EMD cab unit was posed at the museum's grade crossing and a flagman was positioned to protect the crossing. We were using synchronized flash for the shots, allowing for exposures of less than one second, but to get the lantern "swing" we opened the cameras for a few seconds while the flagman moved the lantern, then fired the flash.

Photo 2470 Connecticut Eastern Railroad Museum; Willimantic, Connecticut October 6, 2012
Connecticut Eastern Railroad Museum; October 6, 2012
As is usual, after the session we looked at our results and found a few things we'd like to do differently -- it's always a mix of improving old shots and finding new ones. The FL9 scene could use two small tweaks -- turning off the red class lights on the diesel and losing the flag (leaving the flagman with just a lantern). Still, it's a pretty cool shot. I look forward to the 2013 edition of the night session.

Monday, October 08, 2012

Adirondack Weekend

Photo 2444 Adirondack Scenic; McKeever, New York September 2, 2012
Adirondack Scenic; McKeever, N.Y.; September 2, 2012
For Labor Day weekend I was invited up to the Adirondack Scenic Railroad to conduct a night photo session in conjuction with a railfan weekend and the 20th Anniversary celebration of the railroad. With events on Saturday and Sunday on the long weekend, I headed north from New Jersey on Thursday night.

After getting a night shot at Susquehanna, Penn., of a New York, Susquehanna & Western freight under a massive coaling tower (a shot I detailed in this blog post) I continued my scheduled all-nighter by going up to Harpursville, N.Y., on the former Delaware & Hudson (now Canadian Pacific, but seeing a lot of Norfolk Southern traffic) and setting up my strobes for whatever came along crossing the bridge there. I had set up a little before midnight, and got an eastbound train a little later. There was another angle I wanted, so I kept the lights set up and fell asleep in the front seat of the car, hopeful that either a horn or a radio transmission would wake me up if anything else showed.

It was a radio transmission that got my attention. A train went through a defect detector just west of the bridge and I cleared my sleep cobwebs, grabbed my camera and ran out onto the parallel highway bridge. A couple of cars went by, probably wondering what I was doing in the dark with a camera pointed at the bridge. I soon heard the train blowing for the crossing just off the west end of the bridge and the train rumbled into the scene.
Photo 2436 Norfolk Southern (on D&H); Harpursville, New York August 31, 2012
Norfolk Southern on Canadian National (D&H); Harpursville, N.Y.; August 31, 2012
It was only then that I noticed it was 5:30 a.m. and the sun was just beginning to brighten the eastern sky. There wouldn't be time for another train before daybreak, so I tore down the lights, got about another hour of sleep and headed north.

The plan was to spend the day on the Water Level Route of the former New York Central (now CSX Transportation). I had never been to Little Falls, N.Y., and did some exploring there, but wound up spending much of the day near Utica. The railroad was absolutely hopping, with trains running non-stop. As the day came to an end, I was on the platforms at the Utica Amtrak station getting trains in the last afternoon light before heading to the Adirondack Scenic at Thendara. Lodging would be Van Auken's Inn, directly across the street from the Thendara depot.
Photo 2424 Amtrak; Utica, New York August 31, 2012
Amtrak; Utica, N.Y.; August 31, 2012
The next morning I watched the crews put the displays for the railfan weekend together and visited some of the displays at the depot (including a locomotive simulator, where I stalled a train in a snowstorm on a steep grade). The 20th Anniversary speeches occurred when the morning train from Utica arrived, then I rode first class from Thendara down to Otter Lake on the rear platform of a Baltimore & Ohio business car. At Otter Lake the two F-units powering the train ran around to the north end, putting them up against the rear platform for the return trip.
Photo 2441 Adirondack Scenic; Otter Lake, New York September 1, 2012
Adirondack Scenic; Otter Lake, N.Y.; September 1, 2012
Returning to Thedara, we found a rap group making a video on one of the railfan weekend display locomotives -- Mohawk, Adirondack & Northern M420W No. 2045. We watched with amusement as the group danced and recorded on the running boards of the locomotive, then had the rapper and part of his posse pose for a "railroad publicity shot."
Photo 2442 Mohawk, Adirondack & Northern; Old Forge, New York September 1, 2012
Mohawk, Adirondack & Northern; Thendara, N.Y.; September 1, 2012
That evening we did several shots at the Thendara depot for the night photo session. Don Chaudruc, the mastermind behind the railfan weekend, posed in several of the shots at the classic ex-New York Central depot.
Photo 2443 Adirondack Scenic; Old Forge, New York September 1, 2012
Adirondack Scenic; Thendara, N.Y.; September 1, 2012
On Sunday morning I took a drive through the busy tourist town of Old Forge, just up the street from Thendara. The sun was in and out, but I decided to drive down to McKeever to the bridge to photograph the morning train from Utica behind the railroad's freshly painted RS18s. It was cloudy when I walked into the bridge, but a large hole opened up at just the right time and I got a decent shot of the train in full sunlight (see the top photo in this entry). 

It was time to start heading back towards New Jersey, so I bid farewell to the great folks at the Adirondack Scenic and drove south (but only after another crack at the locomotive simulator -- this time I took an Amtrak train up the grade, topped the hill and promptly ran away down the opposite side at 80 m.p.h. until I wrecked). The Water Level Route was shut down to all freight because of a bridge replacement project near Albany, but Amtrak was getting through. Among the passenger trains I shot, I got the Lake Shore Limited passing eastbound through Amsterdam, N.Y.
Photo 2445 Amtrak; Amsterdam, New York September 2, 2012
Amtrak; Amsterdam, N.Y.; September 2, 2012
I had wanted to get over to Mechanicville and check out the restored railroad interlocking tower there. XO Tower at one time protected the crossing of the Boston & Maine and Delaware & Hudson; today it's Pan Am Railway and Canadian Pacific that pass by. Upon getting there, the sun wasn't quite where I expected -- it favored a northbound train, preferably on the D&H. I had about an hour I could wait, so the odds were against me seeing anything shootable -- but just as it was time to leave the northbound signal near the tower lit up and I was rewarded with a northbound CPR train, complete with a locomotive from CP component railroad Iowa, Chicago & Eastern in the lead.
Photo 2446 Canadian Pacific; XO Tower, Mechanicville, New York September 2, 2012
Canadian Pacific; Mechanicville, N.Y.; September 2, 2012
From here it was time to head home. A quick stop at the new-ish station at Rensselaer revealed the platforms were off-limits to all but ticket holders, so I packed it in and headed back to the Garden State, wrapping up another adventure.

Thursday, October 04, 2012

Cool Chromes -- From the Bridge

Cool Chromes is a semi-regular mini-feature looking at some slides that have recently passed through my scanner.

Photo 2468 Union Pacific 8444 and Frisco 1522; St. Louis, Missouri June 1990
Union Pacific 844 and Frisco 1522; St. Louis, Mo.; June 1990
In this edition of Cool Chromes we'll look at a few shots taken from a bridge. We'll start our selection with a view of Union Pacific 4-8-4 No. 844 (sporting the spiffy Greyhound scheme it wore for a few years) along with Frisco 4-8-2 No. 1522 in St. Louis in June 1990. The pair had been a part of the National Railway Historical Society Convention in the Gateway City, and the 844 had to head back to Cheyenne while the 1522 needed to get back to the National Museum of Transport in the St. Louis suburbs. Since the 844 was heading that way anyhow, the 1522 was tucked in behind the Northern and dropped at the museum grounds. Here the two are getting ready to get on the train for the westward trek.

Photo 2467 Caltrain; San Francisco, California June 20, 1999
Caltrain; San Francisco, Calif.; June 20, 1999
Next we have a shot from the Left Coast. Caltrain operates commuter service between San Francisco and San Jose (with some trains continuing on to Gilroy). Leaving San Francisco on the former Southern Pacific, trains pass through three tunnels in the city limits. The first tunnel's south portal is at Cesar Chavez Street (formerly Army Street) and the third pops out just north of the Bayshore commuter station. This scene is from the middle tunnel, from the Williams Avenue overpass on June 20, 1999. This train is actually pushing north -- the train is going away from the bridge into the tunnel.

Back in 1999 Metro-North Railroad, the commuter operator for trains running north and northeast out of New York City, painted a pair of FL9 locomotives into the paint scheme of the New York Central to celebrate the 150th anniversary of NYC and Metro-North predecessor Hudson River Railroad's arrival in the city of Peekskill. The duo is seen here heading north on the NYC Water Level Route emerging from the tunnel under Breakneck Ridge just north of Cold Spring, N.Y.; the view is from the pedestrian bridge at the Breakneck Ridge station. The pair retained their NYC colors and most often worked separately until they were donated to museums.

Photo 2205 Metro North; Breakneck Ridge, Cold Spring, New York October 2, 1999
Metro-North; Breakneck Ridge, N.Y.; October 2, 1999
Our final view from a bridge is at Port Royal, Penn. Since we just saw a shot above from the former New York Central, we need to give NYC's premier rival, the Pennsylvania Railroad, its due. After going to Penn Central and then Conrail, the ex-Pennsy main line ultimately wound up in the hands of Norfolk Southern. In this scene from October 2000 we see a NS eastbound auto rack train (led by SD40-2 No. 3397 still in Conrail paint) passing a couple of ex-PRR signals in Port Royal, Penn.
Photo 2145 Norfolk Southern; Port Royal, Pennsylvania October 2000
Norfolk Southern; Port Royal, Penn.; October 2000

Monday, October 01, 2012

Random Ramblings -- Unspectacular

Photo 0254 East Broad Top; Rockhill Furnace, Pennsylvania October 2002
East Broad Top; Rockhill Furnace, Penn.; October 2002
We're entering October, and traditionally that would be a time for a staple of heritage railroading -- the East Broad Top Fall Spectacular in Rockhill Furnace, Penn. The Fall Spectacular replaced the Winter Spectacular in the 1980s when winter operations became too hard on the machines and men needed to run the railroad. Since the change, hundreds of the narrow gauge faithful would descend on Rockhill Furnace (a suburb of Orbisonia) each Columbus Day weekend.

Over the years the number of locomotives in service for the Spectacular dwindled. From four in the 1980s heyday down to three, then down to two. Finally, for the last few years, only 2-8-2 No. 15 has answered the call. This year, no steam will operate. Nonetheless, the Friends of the East Broad Top will still be around and the folks across the street at the Rockhill Trolley Museum will still be running almost everything that runs. Even though there is no steam in the Aughwick Valley, if your travels take you near the area during the holiday weekend stop in and take a trolley ride and see the improvements being made to the EBT by the Friends. It'll still be worth your time.

In the meantime, let's go back to the days of yore (actually October 2002, and in full disclosure mode I'll tell you that this was actually shot shortly after the 2002 Spectacular during a charter organized by Carl Franz). EBT 2-8-2 No. 14 works its way through the shop complex at Rockhill Furnace, with the sand tower on the left. What's spectacular about the Spectacular is its absolutely unspectacular scenes -- this was just a plain ol' everyday occurrence in the 1940s and 1950s. Sometimes a steam engine going to work in the morning is spectacular in its own little way.

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