Friday, December 28, 2007

2007 (Digital) Highlights

Photography By Justin Franz

While most of my photography is done with a group of old beaten up Minoltas and Canons, loaded with K64, I have grabbed a few 'digi' shots using at first an Olympus point and shoot but more recently a Canon Rebel XTi. Here are a few Digital Highlights of 2007.

The winter of 2007 was a tough one for railroads in New England and the northeast as lines from Maine to New York dispatched plows to clear the way. In fact in one week, over a dozen were called to the front lines across New England and New York. Here a Washington County plow extra clears trail at Lyndonville, Vermont.

In March 2007 Mike Confalone, Joe Posik, Tim Franz and myself headed south for three days of shooting on CSX's Mountain Sub. With tough grades and stunning scenery, its a place thats hard not to love. On day two we lensed this eastbound coal drag at Newburg, West Virginia.

While the second part of our trip was sunny, day one found us in the mist of a major winter storm. After slipping and sliding around the roads all morning, we decided it was time to get some tire chains. Mike shows his approval of our new addition.

Soon enough the snow retreated and the often overlooked 'Mud Season' took its place. With its train in tow, three Montreal, Maine and Atlantic c30-7s attack the grade a Cookshire, Quebec on March 31, 2007.

One place I spent sometime this Summer was my much overlooked backyard, aka Guilford Rail System's branches out of Waterville, Maine and its mainline between there and Leeds Jct, also known as the 'Backroad.' One afternoon in Waterville this classic scene unfolded before me as a GRS engineer talked with a father and his son. Taking a quick break from burning the K64, I got this shot.
In mid-August I headed west to start school at the University of Montana at Missoula. Missoula is also the heart of regional railroad Montana Rail Link. On a late summer afternoon we follow the MRL Gas Local up Evero Hill. Near by the Blackcat Forest Fire continues to smolder.

From dealing with snow in West Virginia to dealing with fires in Montana - Railfanning in 2007 had its challenges.

With a semester of college done I headed for home in December. Just a day after Christmas, I top off 2007 with a chase of the Maine Eastern, seen here at Wiscasset, Maine.

Changing Seasons - A Decade of Railroading in Vermont's Northeast Kingdom.

Story and Photography By Justin Franz

Authors Note: The following was originally written for CTC Board Magazine but just as the images were about to be sent out, news came that the magazine would be undergoing a change in publisher. Since then the article and images (which were scanned by George Melvin - Thanks George.) have sat with no place to go. So with out further to do......

Headed North: CP Rail local at Newport, VT. August 1996

Every April the scars of winter along the Connecticut River are washed away as budding green bring the welcoming sight of Spring. Yet foliage isn't the only change in the valley, the railroads that serve the region have gone through the same in the past three decades - from being major bridge routes connecting Canada with the northeast, to shortlines left only to serve local industry, or abandoned right-of-ways - a shadow of an era gone-by.

One such route is the former Canadian Pacific Newport and Lyndonville Subdivisions that stretches from the Quebec-Vermont border south through an area known as the Northeast Kingdom, named so by former Vermont governor George Aiken, to Wells River Jct. where an interchanged was made with the Boston and Maine. During the 1970's, Daily pool-trains between the two lines would ply the rails from Newport, Vermont and East Deerfield, Mass with combinations of CP Alco Centuries in the flashy action red and B&M GP7's sporting the classic minute-men blue.

By 1996, the CP Vermont operations where vastly different from what it had been only a few years earlier. The once important gateway had now been made secondary with the acquisition of Delaware and Hudson in 1990. With a majority of traffic now going down the D&H, the Newport and Lyndonville Subdivisions where only kept alive by local traffic. While it was certainly not the place to find high-density main line action, Newport, the heart of the Vermont operations was high on any railfans list with the continued use of MLW RS18's, cabooses, and five man crews - It was a place where traditional railroad was rule, not the exception. And it was with that in mind that I made my first trip to the area in August of 1996, even if I didn't know it at the time. More than anything it was another day trackside with my Dad. Having only graduated from a Fisher-Price toy camera to real film a year or so earlier, my knowledge of what I was trying to photograph was little, But I knew there was something different about this place. A reputation stemming from slide shows with my dad and other photographers who would always be putting up images on the screen from the most recent trip to the area. From my front-row seat, on the floor just below the projector, I could see that Newport was a special place. That hot and humid August day in Vermont was spent chasing an image of railroading that was running short on time. Within a month CP Rail would cease operations in Vermont and the time-warp that was Newport would be gone forever.

The 11-th Hour: CP Rail RS18 1856 heads south near Sutton, VT
in August, 1996. CP Rail would leave Vermont by the end of
the month.
Two years later, on another summer day in 1998, I again found myself in Newport - On this day photographing the Northern Vermont Railroad, new operator of the line and a member of the Bangor and Aroostook System that took control of CP Rail trackage east of Montreal in 1995. Much had changed since 1996, missing were the Alco's, cabooses, and five-man crews, replacing it was the image of a new regional that was ready for business with a group of GP35's appearing in a stylish maroon and grey resembling that of the lines previous owner. The future seemed bright for the first time in many years. Plans for trailers of frozen-French fries from northern Maine to move over the former CP trackage through Maine, Quebec, and Vermont and then to southern New England reopened the former B&M line south of Wells River Jct. to White River Jct. where interchange was made with the New England Central. It was the first time since the New Hampshire and Vermont, a shortline owned by CSF Acquisitions Inc, ceased operation on the line in the mid-1990's. That dormancy would become the downfall of the service as the track south of Wells River Jct. was plagued with problems. But Vermont was not the only trouble spot for the regional as poor business decisions would send the system into bankruptcy in 2001. On January 9, 2003 the Bangor and Aroostook System was taken over by Railworld Corp. and reorganized as the Montreal, Maine, and Atlantic. Omitted from the MMA was the former Northern Vermont; south of Newport would be under the control of the Washington County, a part of the Vermont Rail System.

Short Lived: NVR local north of Lyndonville, VT in the summer
of 1998.

A New Day?: WACR power in Newport. April 2006.

And so it was on April 21, 2006 that I was driving north on I-91 towards Newport. Conversation, in-between a few extra winks of sleep, was focused on locations to shoot the pending southbound local - Not far from my thoughts however was my first trip to the area ten-years earlier and the change that this line -and I - have seen in the past decade. The early spring day was spent following the Washington County local south to Wells River Jct, where it swapped cars with its counterpart from White River Jct. Budding tree's brought the Valley alive, a welcome sight after a long winter and an interesting parallel to the last three decades of railroading in the Valley. What the future has in store for rails of the Northeast Kingdom is any one's guess. Has the Washington County and Vermont Rail System brought a new season to the former CP or is this a just a momentary pause in a long, hard winter?

Stability: While the names and power may change, the
scenery, like Jay Peak in the background doesn't. The
southbound WACR local has just left Newport yard. April 2006

Changing Seasons: Does the WACR signal a

bright future? Only time will tell. WACR local

outside of Wells River, VT. April 2006.


This is what happens when I get bored on a cold winter night.

After looking at many great railfan photography sites by guys like Ryan Parent, Tom Nanos, Paul Birkholz and Blair Kooistra, I finally decided to get off my butt and do the same. So here it is. While I'm no computer wizard (heck I still shoot Kodachrome 64 as my main film) I think I should be able to figure this out and post the occasional photo or story.

Anyway, here's a quick bit about me: I'm from central Maine and have been doing rail photography since I was a kid, thanks to the help of my father, Tim Franz. I'm currently a student at the University of Montana at Missoula studying journalism. Course that means I spend time in both Montana and New England, which from a railfan point of view is hard to beat. Besides studying (ha!) and doing photography I also work on the occasional article, some of which can be seen in the pages of Railroad Explorer Magazine, and edit the Montana Rail Link News Column for Railroads Illustrated Magazine.