Book Review: Modern Diesel Power

I was recently contacted by Voyageur Press to review 3 Brian Soloman authored books.  The first two reviews are for books initially published in 2011. The third will be published next month.  Look for these reviews sprinkled in with regular content. 

As a railfan motive power strikes me as one of the most fascinating parts of railroading.  In the 1970s’s and 1980s, while in my formative years as a railfan, locomotives were very interesting to follow since most every locomotive type since the dawn of the diesel era was still on the road.  Many models of Fs, Es, Geeps, Alcos, and GEs all still roamed the Northwest and made the head end of trains an interesting surprise.  Business economics and the desire for greater efficiency changed the railroad’s philosophy about locomotives and as we moved through the 80s and 90s the great diversity of locomotives waned.  Call it progress or call it a crying shame, these factors led us to the less diverse locomotive landscape we see today.

Modern Diesel Power addresses diesel locomotives as they matured through the 1980s, 1990s and into the 2000s.

Divided into four chapters, the book first tackles the two major manufacturers, General Electric and Electro Motive Division.  In these chapters Brian Soloman details the freight locomotives GE and EMD turned out during this period covering the major models, design considerations, and technological improvements.

In the final two chapters Mr. Soloman looks at Passenger Locomotives and Switchers.  These are both unique sub categories of modern locomotives thanks to the variety of locomotive designs and features which are unique to particular railroads, lines, or locations.  In the passenger chapter the development of the GE and EMD products are discussed as well as Motive Power’s latest offerings.  The switcher chapter primarily focuses on “Gensets” and how manufacturers are looking at the development of low emissions, high reliability locomotives which railroads can place into environmentally and politically sensitive areas to replace older less efficient units.

I found the organization of each chapter pleasing and easy to digest.  At the beginning Mr. Solomon provides several pages of general overview covering the major models and their design characteristics.  Once the main text body ends the details begin!  As the chapters transition to a photograph oriented structure, detailed captions hold many additional details describing some of the most unique developments or one-off items.  In a sense it is like taking a stroll through a railroads back lot looking at their collection of locomotives and having someone explain all the unique variations in front of you.

My expectation of the book was that it would contain many Brian Soloman photographs.   I was truly surprised though at the sheer number which were Mr. Soloman’s.  My impression is he gets around as there was almost no area of the country which didn’t have a Brian Solmoman photo!  Most of the photographs are standard railfan faire, with well lit subjects and few shadows.  As a documentary book these photographs fit in perfectly and provide wonderful examples of the details Mr. Soloman writes about.  I found a few gems in the book like Chris Guss’ flash photo of Indiana Railroad’s SD9043s and Mr. Soloman’s pan shot of a GO Transit MP40PH leaving Toronto.  I thought these stood out as exceptional work.  You too may find something special in the more than 200 locomotive photographs presented.  To top it off the publisher saw to it that all the photographs presented were reproduced nicely and with accurate color rendition.

The book is published in paperback at 6.5″ X 8.25″ with glossy pages.   I think this size is just perfect to carry with you into the field and use as reference.  If you prefer to digest it all at once, it is a quick read, taking me between 2 and 3 hours to read cover to cover.

All four chapters combined do a wonderful job of covering the major design, efficiency, emissions, and technology improvements which have come into play in the last 30 years. If you are a locomotive rivet counter this book likely doesn’t cover all the details you want.  It is not a spotters guide.   However, if you are a railfan who enjoys locomotives and is looking for a handy reference this book is perfect.  I grew into railranning during the period this book covers and despite feeling like I had a good understanding of all the locomotive developments over the last 30 years I learned a few things.

Recommendation:  Buy Modern Diesel Power if you want to understand diesel locomotive development over the last 30 years and would like a concise, well illustrated reference.

Modern Diesel Power is available for purchase on the Voyageur Press website, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble.  It is also available as an e-book!

Saturday in the Gorge II

Back to my mid-April visit to the Gorge.  As I mentioned in my previous post I was up early so I’d be in position for sunrise at tunnel 2 east of Cooks.  I was there on time and my first train passed at 6:45, literally 2 minutes after the sun popped over the horizon and came up over the only  cloud.  Too bad it was a westbound.  Fortunately there was a train in the Cooks siding waiting to head east so I’d have perfect fodder in just a few minutes.

While waiting for the eastbound to arrive I had a nice conversation with a native who was minding his fishing rig below the hill.  He was very curious what I was up to and wanted to make sure that I wasn’t going to steal his fishing gear.  Once he saw the camera gear he realized I was another railfan and we ended up having a nice conversation about railfanning and the number of trains that pass through the gorge.  He went to his rig and retrieved a fish before he headed on his way.

At 7am the eastbound was finally out of the siding and popped out of the tunnel into the morning rays.  Well worth the effort to get up early.

Next time I’ll have a few photos from around Maryhill which include a snow capped Mt. Hood….


My Lightroom Workflow – 2012

This entry is part 10 of 12 in the series Lightroom

Searching through the dogcaught archives I realized it has been a very long time since I last discussed my photo processing work flow.  So much has changed since that last post that there’s no way to reasonably cover all the technology updates I’ve experienced.  Instead I will focus what is going on today.

Software wise I use Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 4.0, Adobe Photoshop Elements, and Adobe Photoshop CS6 Beta.  Obviously the CS6 Beta won’t be around forever, but it is nice to play with.  With Adobe’s new subscription model if I do have to have it I can always subscribe for a month with little effort. Dropbox also plays a key role.

My workflow actually starts before I capture an image.  Before I shoot I turn on GeoTagr for iOS on my phone.  GeoTagr runs while I’m shooting to capture the GPS coordinates of the images I shoot.  When I’m done with the shoot I have GeoTagr dump the track file into Dropbox on the phone so I can effortlessly pick it up on my laptop during image processing.  This is a relatively new part of my workflow but it is quite valuable to me since with a few clicks all of my images magically will appear on a map!

Here’s my 2012 workflow:

At the shoot:

1.  Ensure the camera time matches the GeoTagr time on my phone.
2.  Start GeoTagr tracking.
3.  Shoot photos in RAW.
4.  Stop GeoTagr tracking and send the track file to Dropbox.

Back at my laptop I import:

1.  Pull the CF card out of my camera and insert it into the card reader.
2.  In Lightroom I begin the import process.  I have an import preset which does the following to all of my images as they are imported:
– rename the files to include the date (20120502 for example)
– apply my default metadata (IPTC Copyright and Creator information)
– move the files to my dedicated original image storage hard drive (or my local hard drive when I’m on the road)
– if all the images have things in common I will apply keywords in the import dialog (usually just the event name)
3. Next is the back up process.  I use ChronoSync on my Mac (I’ve used SyncBack on PC for the same chore) to send the imported image files to a second drive on my home network.  This normally runs at 6pm daily or I may manually force a backup.  Once on the second drive the images are backed up to my offsite storage using Backblaze.
4. The full CF card goes into my bag for use in the future.  I pull out the next card in order, insert it into the camera and format it.  The camera is now ready for the next shoot.

Next is the mapping and keyword process:

1.  Each image is assigned an event which describes the reason I’m taking the photos.
2.  Each image is assigned additional keywords which describe the content of the image.  For my railroad images I do keyword the engine numbers and other equipment numbers for future reference.  As an example one of the images from my recent trip to the Gorge has the following keywords:  2012 04/14 Gorge, BNSF 7244, Mountain, Mt. Hood.  The photo above has these:  2012 04/29 G+ Photowalk, Switch, Track
3.  Each image is placed on the map in the Lightroom map module using the following process:
–  import the track file from the shoot from Dropbox.
–  select the images to apply GPS coordinates to and choose apply.
–  if the images don’t have GPS coordinates available I will drag the images onto the map manually.
4.  The last part of the keyword process is to check my smart collections which identify photos without keyword and map information.  If those collections are empty I’ve been successful in key-wording and mapping all the images from the shoot.


This is complicated enough it would likely warrant a post of its own.  Each image is different so giving you my exact formula for an image is really only good for that image.  The stylization of each image is obviously quite subjective and what I would do is way different than what you would do.   I will say that these general steps are involved:

1.  For panoramas or HDR export the images to Photoshop for pano or HDR file creation and return them to Lightroom
2.  Apply Global Reset preset (see Michael Frye for more information on the Lighroom 4 reset I use)
3.  Apply Lens Corrections preset.
4.  Apply Basic panel adjustments.
5.  Crop if necessary (sooner or later depending on the image).
6.  Stylization to taste.
7.  Sharpening to taste.


I make extensive use of Lightroom’s Publish Services.  I have numerous services set up for hard drive, 500px, Facebook, Flickr, and Picasa (Google +) sharing.  When I’m ready to share an image I drag it over to one of of the Publish Services and simply click the publish button. For images I export to my hard drive (generally these are for my website, computer wallpaper, printing to certain print services) I have set up publish services so that I have somewhat of an accounting of what I’ve output.  All of my exports go to a specific Exports folder completely separate from the original files.  If I need to reference a file I’ve exported I can find it somewhere in my Publish Services.

Final Thoughts

As you can imagine this process is always evolving.  Just compare the 2007 version to today! Software updates and improvement happen pretty regularly so I try to stay in sync with those.  I’m always looking for ways to streamline my process and reduce the amount of time I spend cataloging and editing images. I’d rather be out shooting than at home in front of the computer!

Saturday in The Gorge

On the 14th I spent an impromptu day in the Columbia River Gorge watching trains and hanging out with some friends.  I decided to make a full day of it so I was up at 4 and on the road at 5.  My goal was to be at tunnel 2 east of Cooks when the sun came up and my timing was impeccable as I was able to sit on the shore of the mighty Columbia and watch the sun pop over the mountains to the east.   It was a beautiful morning…as long as you could stay out of the wind.  I fought hard to keep everything on the ground while perched up on the rock just east of the tunnel.  Brutal.

I captured three trains there but I’m not quite ready to share those images just yet.

I followed the last eastbound to Bingen where it met a manifest.  A 10mph slow order and the slow down for the meet allowed me to get ahead to capture the image above of the train winding around the rocks and across the Locke Lake fill.  These guys were in a hurry to get to Lyle to meet the Builder so I let them go about their business and found a place to photograph 27.

More about the day in my next post…


Big Mountains, Little Train

This entry is part 4 of 4 in the series Montana April 2012

Central Montana has no end to scenery.  Despite visiting the area for 6 straight years now I’ve never stopped west of the Hay Creek trestle near Geyser.  Why?  Who knows.  It seems like a prefect location with the tracks nicely in the foreground and the Highwood mountiains and their foothills in the background.  It could be I’ve not stopped here because there is no nice place to park.  In this part of Montana that’s not an excuse though as there is plenty of room off the highway shoulders.

This time I did stop and I captured the Lost Local on its return to Great Falls passing below the Highwoods.  In the morning when the local went south there was a couple of inches of snow on the ground.  As the day moved along the clouds cleared and the sun came out.  Away went the snow. In fact by 1:30PM when I photographed this location the heat waves coming off the grass were quite strong.  It is interesting how things can change so quickly during a Montana spring.

One last thing about the Lost Local.  It has always fascinated met that more often than not it will have exclusively BN green locomotives.  How do they do that?  Someone in Great Falls must have some skill at getting just the right power.