No I'm not giving up my view camera, Speed Graphic, or Tri-X film, but I am now working in Photoshop and doing inkjet prints. I wasn't expecting to do that, I didn't expect that inkjet technology could equal the traditional darkroom, but there have been advances. I also did not think that I wanted to climb a new learning curve as would be required by changing methods, but events transpired to cause me to kind of sneak up on it. I've also been having problems with my favorite silver gelatin paper, Ilford Galerie.
The thing that got me into working with Photoshop and investing in the full version of it, I have CS3, was working with scans of historic negatives for my upcoming book Where Steam Moved Mountains, the Nevada Northern Railway. (More on that below, in fact if you want to avoid a long discussion about digital printing you can skip to the news items at the end.) Previously, I had been scanning my own prints and using those scans on the web, for printing catalogs of my work, email, etc., but nothing that I considered exhibition quality work. I wanted better than that for my book, and I wanted better than the indifferent prints you could get of historic images if the darkroom work were done by an outside lab as would happen with images from museum collections. But, I reasoned, if a museum could send a photograph out to a lab for printing, why not for scanning, then I could produce a print from the scan that met my own standards. For the last two years I have been getting those scans and working on the images in Photoshop.
Right, Two Beer Bottles, 2008 >>
Since digital images would reproduce the same in a book, that is ink on paper, as images that had been printed in the darkroom, I also began scanning some of my newer negatives and working on the images in Photoshop for use in the book. And the prints that I was getting using my old Epson 1280 looked very good, but . . . not up to what I could do in the darkroom. They weren't as smooth, there was a clumping of the ink that led to a graininess, etc. Still, I was learning.
And I was beginning to develop some special techniques of my own. The one thing that I knew that digital technology could do, that the traditional darkroom could not, was manipulate the response curve of the materials and I wanted the ability to do this. This is done primarialy with the Curves command in CS3, but also with the Shadows & Highlights command and, if working from digital capture images the Black & White command. My old version of Photoshop Elements did not have these features so these were some of the reasons that I acquired CS3. I developed several standardized curves of my own to lighten, darken and adjust the contrast of the images.
<< Left, Jackson's Napa Soda #1, 2006
One set of these is intended to emulate the response curve of traditional silver gelatin paper. I noticed that digital print could look flat, lacking the drama I was used to in black and white photography. But on examining the image's histogram I would find that there was a full range of tonality from pure black to paper white. So why did it look flat, and more importantly, what could I do about it?
Right, ATLAS E-Z SEAL, 2008 >>
Photoshop had some preset curves, a couple of which were for increasing contrast. Interestingly, the endpoints of these curves did not change, that is pure black and pure white were not effected, but the curve had a shallow "S" shape, the darker parts of the image were depressed becoming darker, the lighter values raised and the contrast of the middle tones expanded. And the images looked contrastier despite there being no change in the maximum black or white. This was a good clue, but not the final answer. I was not yet getting the look that I wanted. Then it hit me. The curve that I wanted was one that emulated the response curve of a traditional black and white emulsion, not an "S" but rather a curve with a short shallow curve at the base or toe and a long straight mid section that rolled off at the top like the curve of a shoulder. I tried this and instantly it gave me the look of a traditional black and white print. As every image must be taken on its own terms, I developed several closely spaced preset curves with different straight line slopes. These can be used as is or as a point of departure for further changes.
I also developed a set of closely spaced curves to darken and lighten images. These move the center of the curve up or down, but do not effect the black or white end points. I later developed some variants on Photoshop's linear contrast curve which increases contrast without making as big a change in the shadows or highlights.
<< Left, Three Bottles #2, 2006
Well, all this is fine, but I hadn't made the move to doing serious work using injet technology. Then I read something by Brooks Jensen editor of LensWork Magazine. Brooks was developing a new product called LensWork Special Editions Folios, these are a series of fine art photographic folios each with a body of work by a different photographer. You can read about this at www.lenswork.com/specialeditions/l ws.html, but the significant thing for me is that he had done a series of tests with different photographic media to determine which produced the best results.
Right, Sand Dune #1, Death Valley, 1974 >>
Brooks stated that the clear winner was Harmon FB AI paper, a gloss finished neutral toned paper with a photo baryta with alumina coating, the same coating used on traditional silver gelatin photographic paper. This paper has the same look and feel as a traditional darkroom enlarging paper.
But this was only half of Brooks' recommendation. The other half was for the use of Epson's new K3 ink sets. These feature three shades of black, Photo Black, Light Black and Light Light Black which help to achieve smooth tonal gradations and end the clumping or graininess of the earlier inkjet technologies which relied on a single black. In addition, this technology also features advanced black and white settings with which one can produce warm toned, cold toned, sepia toned or any color toning desired in a black and white print.
(While the paper has the same look and feel, I found that the surface is more easily damaged than silver gelatin papers. The gloss is also a bit glossier than non-ferotyped gloss silver gelatin paper.)
<< Left, Sand Dune #3, Death Valley, 1975
Well I took serious note of Brooks' recommendations. I had heard about the new baryta coated papers by various manufactures, but had not yet seen anything printed on them. I was also aware of working with multi shades of black from various vendors, but again had not seen any results. It was also confusing as to how to coordinate the profiles of the different products and I knew that I would have to buy and experiment with a variety of products to find whcih best suited my needs and I didn't want to have to invest in a new printer just to find out what its prints looked like. Samples available in stores did not tell me how my own style of image would look.
Right, Corta Madera Wye, Corta Madera, California,1973 >>
Not having answers to the above questions had kept me from attempting to take the next step in the digital darkroom. In the mean time I had begun to have problems with my favorite traditional darkroom paper, Ilford Galerie. Number four paper had not been available for several years and I printed about an eighth of my photos on it. Then the last time I worked in the darkroom their #2 paper began printing like #1 and #3 like #2. Not good. The #2 that I had bought was good for only a few of my photos and there was nothing that would work with what I had been doing on #3. That meant that I could only print about half of my images on this paper.
<< Left, Oil Refinery, Poles & Reflections, Mococo, California,1975
Ilford's Galerie had lost contrast before. It happened somewhere around 1998. I talked to their representatives about it, but got no satisfaction. My impression was that they had their heads up their ass on the problem as they either could not recognize or denied what was happening. Anyway, I was in search of an answer to the problem but had not found one.
Right, Sunset, Poles & Reflections, Mococo, California,1975 >>
But now I had Brooks' recommendation which was in fact a possible complete solution to the various problems. So I ordered an Epson 2880 printer, which uses the K3 inks, and some of the Harmon paper. (Harmon by the way is a successor company to Ilford.) The result was everything I could have hopped for and more. The neutral paper white base of the Harmon FB AI was a good match for the neutral white of Galerie and with the 2880's advanced black and white controls I could dial in the slight warmth of Galerie's blacks and mid tones. Furthermore the blacks or Dmax and the brightness of the Whites were every bit the equal of Galerie. In short the printer, inks and paper could both match and equal the best of what I could do in the traditional darkroom and at the same time produce prints with the same look and feel that I had had before.
<< Left, Goat Oil Well #5, Coalinga, California, 2000
But there was more. With the power and flexibility of Photoshop I could now hold detail in the shadows and highlights that I just could not get in the darkroom. Using Photoshop's unsharp masking I could also sharpen the images, or selective parts of them, and so make the photos even crisper.
Interestingly, and with significant financial saving, I found that while the paper base was not as brilliant, Epson Photo Paper Glossy, the one with 3 star on the box, is such a close match to FB AI that I can use it for work prints. With the Epson paper selling for about 40% of the price of the Harmon it's well worth using. The Epson paper is easy to find, the Harmon a little harder, I get the later from www.climaxdigital.com
Right, Zebra Oil Well with SignsThis left sign tells us that this is an endangered species area, the next warns of detectable amounts of carcinogenic chemicals, the third sign warns "Entering Potential H2S Poisonous Gas Area," The last sign prohibits illegal substances, firearms, weapons, persons under the influence, etc. . . . subject to search., Coalinga, California, 2000 >>
To give an example, let's look at Eccentric Crank, S.P. 4449 (see above), it's perhaps my most iconic image. The negative is thinner than I would like, I blame this on a bad batch of Tri-X. In the negative you can see detail on the black side of the wheel behind the eccentric crank, but it is very faint. In the darkroom, I could hold only a little of this detail in the print, the rest was lost in the blackness. If I lightened the print to hold some of this detail the blacks would become pale and the overall photo would lose its punch. Now with Photoshop and inkjet technology, I could bring out those details and still hold the blacks. The whole image now has a three dimensional quality, a depth that it lacked before. Additionally, the castle nut on the crank was outside of the images depth of field, that is it was not sharp. With selective sharpening I was largely able to correct this problem.
I've included both a scan of a fairly recent silver gelatin print and the digital image here. I don't know if you can see the difference in the shadows on your particular monitor, but differences in the brightness of the polished metal should be apparent. The castle nut should also look different.
<< Left, Great Western Growers #14, Coalinga, California, 2004 >>
Right, Great Western Growers #17, Coalinga, California, 2000 >>
But sharpening has its challenges. Sharpening with unsharp masking is done with an algorithm that recognizes edges and then darkens one side and lightens another. If you overdo it the image looks very unnatural. That is easy to see on the monitor and correct, but just how much sharpening is needed varies by image. Clouds present a challenge, if you try to sharpen them they tend to get a posterized look, that is they start to look like flecks not soft billowy things. I found that in most cases clouds should not be sharpened.
The ability to to change the response curve of the paper was always something that I wanted to be able to do. Some images/subjects just do not respond well to the response curve of the graded papers that I was accustomed to using. Case in point, my recent macro series on antique bottles. In the darkroom I wanted to hold the blacks in the shadows and the bright sparkles in the glass, but this pushed the mid-tones into somewhat dark shades of gray, darker than the quality of light shining through glass. The problem was that the sparkles were so bright they forced the middle tones down. Now with inkjet technology I could shift the mid-tones to where I wanted them and hold the translucent quality of the glass.
<< Left, Strain Warehouse #61, Arbuckle, California, 2005
Then there is the convenience of not having to go out in the darkroom, set up the chemicals, secret yourself away from the world for a whole day at a time, work standing up, etc, etc. Now I can sit at my desk, work for as long or as short a period of time as I like, spend a little time here and there. It has encouraged me to mine my files and print a number of things that had gotten lost in the shuffle and to go back and print a few early works that I hadn't printed in years and that I knew I could do a better job on.
Right, Strain Warehouse #50, Arbuckle, California, 2005 >>
For a number of years, I could not reprint my early sand dune pictures. They required a #4 paper and even when Galerie was available in #4, it did not have the contrast of the early days and I just couldn't print them. Now the contrast is not a problem.
I took these two images on trips to Death Valley that I made with a friend back in 1974 and 75. I had been inspired by the sand dune photos that I saw in a Ben Meadow's book on Edward Weston and I wanted to do some of my own. Like Edward, I expanded the contrast of the scene to make a more graphic statement about the forms of the dunes. The actual shadows of the dunes are not nearly as black as they are rendered here, in fact they are not black at all.
I also went back and reprinted Corta Madera Wye , my first really successful large format image, Sunset, Poles and Reflections , and Oil Refinery, Poles and Reflections . It had always been hard to get a satisfactory print of the later two in the darkroom, but with Photoshop it was not a problem.
<< Left, Strain Warehouse #72, Arbuckle, California, 2005
A few more words about these images, Corta Madera Wye is my first meaningful large format image. It was early spring 1973 and I had been out with my new view camera a couple of times already, driving around trying to find something to photograph. This can be very frustrating, looking, looking, looking, not really knowing quite what you're looking for. Hoping to find something with that Ansel Adams or Edward Weston look. I'd made a number of exposures, but I just knew that none of them really sang. On this outing, I was driving back from Muir Beach, the air was slightly hazy, just enough to take the edge off the light in distant views. As I came off the freeway headed for the San Rafael Bridge, I happened to look back and the quality of the light on the water caught my eye. It reminded me of another photo I had done a few months earlier. I was previsualizing what the print could look like, just as Ansel Adams had preached.
Right, Strain Warehouse #51, Arbuckle, California, 2005 >>
I stopped the car, set up the camera and made an exposure. I used a used 240mm tele-artron that I subsequently traded in to get something else. The negative includes the railings of the bridge and the sky above, plus quite a bit more on the right. When I printed it I wasn't happy. The bright hazy sky just didn't work in the composition. But I kept looking at the print, there was something there. I started looking at all my images trying to see if I could get something more out of them by cropping. It worked with this one producing the image you see here.
This image is important to me. It contains all the elements of much of my later work, the industrial subject, the tight composition, the recognition of light, the exploration of space, the study of form. As a composition, it leads your eye into and around the subject. While I have other images in my large format oeuvre from this period, it would be more than a decade, and work on my Grain Elevator Series, before I could consistently do work of this quality.
<< Left,Lundberg Family Farms #1, Richvale, California, 2005
Sunset, Poles and Reflections and Oil Refinery, Poles and Reflections were made at the same spot, facing in different directions, perhaps on the same day, I can't remember now. The location is along the S.P. Mococo Line just east of Martinez. The road here is now closed to the public. Again it was a matter of being out driving around looking for photographs.
I remember taking both images, but the memory of Sunset is particularly poignant. It was close to sunset, the sun is actually right in the middle of the picture. The back of the camera was in its own near black late afternoon shadow, the scene was very bright. I could work without having to bother with the focusing cloth. The light, the water, the reflections, the whole scene, despite a seemingly mundane location, was simply glorious. (I later returned to this spot and the drainage canal was dry, the magic was gone.) I worked through several compositions with different lenses. After I had exposed my last sheet of film, I felt like I was going out in a blase of glory. This was easily the best shoot. In the darkroom it was always hard to get the print values for the tank cars right. Now, 30 plus years later, digital technology, plus a better sense of what the image should look like (John Sexton once told me that there should be magic in those tank cars) and I'm finally truly happy with the results.
Right, "Sutter Basin Growers Co-op #3,Knights Landing, California, 2005 >>
Among the newer pieces that I've worked through are some oil well photos from 2000 and some grain elevators from 2004 and 2005. Of these, the Strain Warehouse photos were made while I was conducting a grain elevator/view camera workshop and the Sutter Basin Growers Co-op views were done while driving home the next day. I had done quite a few images at Strain back in 1985, hence the high image numbers, but Sutter was new to me.
<< Left, "Sutter Basin Growers Co-op #08,Knights Landing, California, 2005
I should also mention that I have been working with some images done with my Canon G9. I wrote about this camera in my last newsletter, but since then I've learned how to better make use of its features and I now have a number of what you might call serious images that I've done with it. This last February I was in Ely again for the Winter Photo Shoot. I used the view camera for a few night shots, I used the Speed Graphic for a number of the runbys, but I also did quite a few photos with the G9. These included some of the runbys, photos in the yard and a number of detail shots inside the RPO apartment of the mail/baggage combine and details in the Repair In Place (RIP) building and other structures. A number of these turned out to be fine images and a few have already been included in Where Steam Moved Mountains .
The G9 is a great camera and can take wonderful photos. You can also use it in circumstances where the big cameras are too slow and cumbersome. That is it's great for doing grab shots and doing them well. The photo, Tower of Smoke , at the top of this newsletter, is one such image.
All of the G9 photos shown here were shot in Camera RAW. Those files were converted to 16 bit Tiff files and the Photoshop work done in that format. Of course the RAW files are in color and some of the preliminary work was done in color and saved as a color file before conversion to black & white. Yes, I am starting to do some work in color.
Right, "Sutter Basin Growers Co-op #7,Knights Landing, California, 2005 >>
Working with the color RAW files from the G9 has both advantages and challenges when you convert the files to grayscale. You can just discard the color information by directly converting the file to grayscale or you can use the black and white command to adjust the grayscale sensitivity of each individual color. This is analogous to using color filters with black and white film, except that you can see and adjust the effect on the computer monitor. By adjusting the grayscale conversion of different colors you can get different shades of gray and thereby enhance the contrast of an image. In the G9 images shown here, this is how I rendered the sky as darkly as I did.
<< Left, A Canon G9 image Headlight & Dynamo Exhaust, East Ely, Nevada, 2009
But there are problems. I have almost always used a yellow filter when shooting black and white under blue skies this darkens the blue of the sky, cuts distant haze, and darkens open shadows which are lit by skylight. This makes clouds stand out against the sky and enhances the graphic quality of shadows. But when using the Black and White command to get the same effect, digital noise gets magnified and what seemed a smooth continuos blue tone becomes grainy or worse yet blochy. This was not a problem when shooting film. The solution was to carefully select the blue parts of the sky, this takes a lot of work, and then apply the Median command with a setting of about 50 pixels. This smooths out or blends everything together, only preserving gradual changes in image tone. Good bad or indifferent, this also removes the grain from the sky. Using this I was able to get the skies I wanted.
Much as I like the results with the G9, it's better than anything I was ever able to do in 35 mm black & white and better than a lot of what I've seen from medium format, there is still something about the quality of large format sheet film that it just doesn't have. And then there is the disipline of shooting with a view camera. So I'm not ready to give up my big film cameras. Still, I'd like to try one of the full frame DSLR cameras and see how it compares.
Right, A Canon G9 image Yard Scene with Spreader, East Ely, Nevada, 2009 >>
The next big advantage of digital technology is that if you want extra prints, or prints of a different size, you can change a few settings insert the desired size paper and hit print and out it comes. In the darkroom I always made extra prints once I had perfected the image as it was just too much work to go back and print them again, but if I later wanted a different size print, I did have to go back and do it again. Now that I can print on demand, all the time and expense of maintaining a stock of prints has been eliminated making it a lot easier and cheaper to have prints for sale.
<< Left, A Canon G9 image N.N. 93 with Rods Down, East Ely, Nevada, 2009
Because it is easier and less expensive, I have decided to offer my inkjet prints at a lower price point, about one third less that the price of my silver gelatin prints. I still have a large stock of silver prints and these are still available at the old prices. These new lower prices will allow me to sell my work in venues where my work was previously too expensive. I have continued to number the inkjet prints in the same edition series as the silver prints.
Right, A Canon G9 image Runby with 93, East Ely, Nevada, 2009 >>
One final thing that I want to cover before I move on to other news and that is about print size. The digital papers are not available in the same sizes as traditional darkroom papers. 8x10 has become 8-1/2 x 11, letter size. I prefer this as it looks better on the 14 x 18 inch boards and frames that I like to use for this print size.
<< Left, A Canon G9 image No. 218 Frost Killer, RIP Building, East Ely, Nevada, 2009
11x14 must be printed on 11x17. At first I was annoyed by the waste of expensive paper with this, but then I realized that I was not stuck with wasting expensive paper if I wanted a grater aspect ratio than 4x5. Rather than not use the full 11 x 14 inch sheet as I had done in the darkroom, I could now do, say, a 10 x 15 inch print, maintaining the same approximate number square inches as in an 11 x14 inch print. There is no equivalent to 16x20 but 13x19 is available, this is the widest I can put through my printer anyway. This works out to about 13x16-1/2 inches at the 4x5 aspect ratio, but again the aspect ratio can be adjusted to maintain the same number of square inches in the print.
Well that's probably more than most of you wanted to learn about digital printing. Since my last newsletter back in August there have been a few other developments.
BOOK ON HOLD I won't go into the whole story, but Stanford University Press, my publisher, has placed Where Steam Moved Mountains on hold until the economy, and presumably book sales, improves. I am continuing, however, to make revisions and additions to the book. Among these has been a section on Railway Post Office practices, the railroad's spreaders, the use of some of the G9 photos, see above, etc.
Right, A Canon G9 image Geared Axles, RIP Building, East Ely, Nevada, 2009 >>
TRIP TO ELY In February I attended the second weekend of the Nevada Northern Railway Museum's Winter Photo Shoot. Unfortunately, #93 dispite having is running gear completely rebuilt at a cost of several hundred thousand dollars was still suffering from hot bearings and could only be steamed around the yard. But this it did all day on Saturday and there were a number of fine photo opportunities. On Sunday we went out on the line with diesels, Alco RS3 #109 took us up to Keystone in the Morning and EMD SD9 #204 took us out over several miles of newly restored mainline towards McGill Junction, new milage for me.
But what was wrong with 93? A latter analysis showed the problem to be metallurgical. New crown brasses had been made for the locomotive (these are the non-moving part of the driving axle bearings), but they were failing. An analysis was made to compare the metal of the new and old bearings. The new bearings were of leaded red brass alloy, but the old ones were of bearing grade bronze. Enough said.
<< Left, A Canon G9 image 204 on Mainline, Mainline between Hiline and McGill Jct., Nevada, 2009
WINTERAIL After doing a presentation in 2007, the annual rail photography fete Winterail in Stockton has become a March event for me. Not only is there some excellent photography to be seen, but I get to catch up with a lot of people I don't see that often. An extra treat this year was a visit to Stafhi Pappas father's place on the north side of town, where I got run his live steam S.P. C17 (that's a EP&NE/EP&SW/SP 2-8-0) and see his collection of belt drive lathes and other machine tools.
I'm hoping to put together a video of the 1993 C&TS triple headed steam rotary operation for a future Winterail.
Right, "Theodore Ole Osmundson, Jr. >>
THEODORE OSMUNDSON, 1921 - 2009 On April 9th, after a brief illness, my father passed away. He had been in declining health for a number of years and his passing came as no surprise. My dad was really a tremendous guy, he was not just my father, but also a business associate and a very good friend. The family is planning a memorial service to celebrate his life on July 11 at the Unitarian Church in Kensington. A number of people have asked to speak about him, some coming from quite far to do so. I will speak and also introduce the others. Anyone who wishes to attend is welcome, contact me for details. After I get all my thoughts about him organized for this event, I will write a longer piece for a special newsletter.
<< Left, A Canon G9 image David Plowden & Gordon Osmundson, Lake Forest, Illinois, 2009
CONVERSATIONS ABOUT PHOTOGRAPHY In April I attended the annual Conversations about Photography put on by the Center for Railroad Photography and Art in Lake Forrest, Illinois. www.railphoto-art.org/conference This year was my forth time and in my opinion the best conference yet. It was expanded from a one day event to starting with a Friday evening reception and ending with a workshop about getting photos published in magazines on Sunday morning. Trains Magazine took a more active role than in years past, with Matt Van Hattem, senior editor, explaining how Trains selects and uses submitted images. Jim Wrinn Trains editor and Steve Barry editor if Railfan & Railroad were also much in evidence.
I was pleased to see that one of my favorite photographers, David Plowden, www.davidplowden.com, one for whose work I have a special affinity, also took a more active role than in years past. I'm also pleased to say that he has been taking an interest in my work and wanted to know why he hadn't received one of these newsletters since last August.
Right, A Canon G9 image Metra Commute Train, Lake Forest, Illinois, 2009 >>
PHOTO 52 My friend Marshall Berman is a photography instructor at San Francisco City College. He teaches lighting and hosts a lecture series class called Photo 52. Five evening lectures are given per semester on Monday evenings at 6:30. He has been after me for several years to attend these lectures and this year I finally decided to do it. I went to each of the Fall and Winter/Spring lectures this year and last, and some of the photography that I saw was little short of amazing. There have been both commercial and fine art photographers, people with clients like IBM and Gucci, a guy who paints with light in junk yards and another who does his photography from kites.
<< Left, A Canon G9 image Station Platforms, Lake Forest, Illinois, 2009
ART ON THE MAIN I received an email inviting me to participate in Art on the Main in Walnut Creek in May. In the past I had stayed away from art fairs as my work sold at a higher price point than the work usually sold at these art fairs, but with the lower prices of my new inkjet prints, I thought it was time to give it a try.
I put together a cross section selection of my photography including sand dunes and other landscapes, work that has not been seen in galleries, but that I thought would have popular appeal. I also had some antique bottles, trains, cars, tools, a couple of grain elevator photographs and two mannequin portraits from my Route 66 series.
Next a canopy had to be put together. I used a 10x10 foot folding structure from OSH to which I added three plywood sides on which to display the framed prints. A folding table and chairs, plus my little folding display bin for prints rounded out the display.
Right, A Canon G9 image Southern Pacific Bell, Lake Forest, Illinois, 2009 >>
<< Left, A Canon G9 image Bagage Cart, The town square can be seen across the street, beyond the cart. Lake Forest, Illinois, 2009 >>
It turned out to be a very hot day. The event was poorly attended. I didn't sell anything. That's the bad news. But I did learn a lot. There was another photographer, Jeffery Murray www.jefferymurrayphotography.com , a few booths down who made his living selling his work at art fairs. He told me that some events were better for high end art than others and this one wasn't all that high on the list, and he gave me info on where the better ones were. I did receive a lot of positive comments about my work and it was interesting to see which images attracted the most attention. So I'm going to try this again.
TRAIN WATCHING IN LAKE FOREST This Newsletter has grown bigger than I planned, but before I bring it to the end let me ask the question "What do you do if you have an afternoon to kill in a strange town?" Well you go train watching, of course. I had an afternoon in Lake Forest so I went to check out the local railroads.
There were three north-south lines between my hotel and Lake Forest College where Conversations was held. The western most line is the former Milwaukee Road route and today is the Metra/Amtrak line to Milwaukee. I didn't spend any time on this line and saw no trains. Next and parallel to Highway 41 is a freight only Union Pacific line the origins of which I haven't been able to find out. It seems to handle a modest number of heavy freights. The easternmost line is former Chicago & North Western, now U.P. and also handles Metra Trains. Just to the north is the northen end of the Elgin, Joliet and Eastern running east and west, from Lake Michigan, a lightly traveled freight line, just acquired by Canadian National. I only saw the later where it crossed Highway 41 and have not seen any trains on it. I concentrated on the former C&NW line through the heart of Lake Forest.
<< Left, A Canon G9 image Depot Interior, Lake Forest, Illinois, 2009
Right, A Canon G9 image Bell Plaque, Lake Forest, Illinois, 2009 >>
This line is double track with A.B.S. and, being a former C&NW line, it features left hand operation. Lake Forest gives every appearance of having grown up around the depot. The well maintained and nicely landscaped, fine historic depot is directly across the street from the town square/business district. This line handles an impressive number of Metra trains with service at least comparable to that of Caltrain on the San Francisco Peninsula. With gallery commute cars and F40PH locomotives, the trains are quite similar too.
I spent from around 3:00 pm until almost eight. I met several conference attendees on the station platform, not hard to identify as they were guys with cameras, and after it got dark we headed for the Green Lantern, a local watering hole across from the depot with a view of the tracks.
A good crowd got off every train that stopped and there were a few trains that skipped the station. There seemed to be more trains after 6:00 pm than before. In the photos, the crowd on the station platform is waiting for a southbound train (left hand operation) to take them into Chicago for a Friday evening. I was impressed by the seemingly endless parade of trains and this is only one of many routes radiating out of Chicago, the railroad capitol of North America.
Right, A Canon G9 image Depot Interior Detail, Lake Forest, Illinois, 2009 >>
<< Left, A Canon G9 image Chicago Bound Passengers Waiting for the Train, Lake Forest, Illinois, 2009
A FINAL NOTE Obama, Biden and Transportation Secretary LaHood had just made an announcement about funding Fast Trains, speeds up to 110 mph, with money from the stimulus package. Many of the routes would radiate out from Chicago and it was front page on a local paper. That front page was posted on the wall above a urinal in the men's room at the Green Lantern and I saw guys reading it and saying things like "far out" and "hey cool."
A President from the RR capital, a Veep who commutes on Amtrak and a Transportation Secretary from Illinois, at last an administration that gets it about trains. Whatever you think about these guys, they are going to be good for our favorite mode of transportation.
Now, how about some Fast Trains for California.
<< Left, A Canon G9 image Metra Gallery Cars, Lake Forest, Illinois, 2009
Right, A Canon G9 image Metra Meet, The train on the left track is in push mode and is going away, Lake Forest, Illinois, 2009 >>