Macro vs. Micro

Railroads are generally thought of as extremely large, heavy and powerful entities. Their primary design and function was to be able to travel great distances with the aid of engineered cuts, fills, bridges and tunnels that enabled locomotives and their cars the ease of crossing wide plains and tall mountain ranges with great speed and ease.

With this fact in mind, it is easy to understand why the vast majority of photographic and artistic attention has been dedicated to illustrating the drama and excitement of railroads and their locomotives while conquering these geographic barriers.

What I have chosen to examine in this edition is some of the inner workings of a few of the overlooked pieces of hardware that is, or was at one time, a vital part of making the drama and excitement of crossing those mountain ranges and desert plains possible. Lanterns, semaphores and incandescent bulbs were once widely used on every railroad in the United States, North America and elsewhere around the world. The advancement of technology, the LED and computer chip to name a few, has rendered all of these items undesirable and in some cases illegal. Most are no longer visible in the landscape of today’s mainline railroad environment.

Interior of Lantern – Nevada Northern Railway

In 1908, the Corning Glass Works of New York developed Pyrex glass based on a request from the railroads to produce lantern glass that would not break when the hot glass was struck by rain or snow. Corning developed globes made from low-expansion glass that could withstand the abuses of weathering and rough handling by employees who readily broke the flint type glass globes of previously manufactured lamps and lanterns. Pyrex was later developed for use in switch lamps to act as a heat deflector and also to prevent the wind from blowing out the flame inside of the lamp housing. Pyrex was introduced to the public in 1925 and became universally accepted as tough, durable cookware that has since been used in millions of homes around the world. This photo is a study of a lantern at the Nevada Northern Railway that I made in 2009.

Union Switch & Signal Style B Semaphore

The Union Switch & Signal Style B semaphore was once the preeminent choice of signaling for railroads such as the Southern Pacific and Union Pacific. Developed in the latter part of the 19th century, the lower quadrant semaphore was a major step forward in railroad signaling and therefore the device quickly became synonymous with safe rail travel. The Southern Pacific even used a graphic version of the Style B semaphore surrounded by their familiar circular company logo. The particular signal in this photo was once located on the Southern Pacific’s Siskiyou line through Oregon at milepost 623.7 near Cottage Grove, Oregon. The shot was made in September 2000 shortly before many of the Style B’s were removed from service.

Interior of drive system – Style B Semaphore

Resembling a somewhat advanced version of one of A.C. Gilbert’s Erector Sets, we’re viewing a close up study of the inner workings of the venerable Style B reduction gear and chain drive. This is the drive system that when actuated by current, regulates the position of, in this case, the “Home” and “Distance” aspects displayed by the spectacles and blades. This is part of a series of photos I made exclusively for The Trackside Photographer in June of 2016.

Motor – Style B Semaphore

The heart of the Style B semaphore is its motor. This relatively small motor is capable of lifting the two 20 ft connecting rods, both of the heavy cast iron spectacles and the porcelain covered blades into the proper aspects as dictated by the current sent through the code line. The reduction gears are a great aid in enabling this low voltage motor to have the ability to lift the heavy apparatus. The glass bezel has been removed in order to reveal the fine craftsmanship of this century old signal in what was really one of the first steps in electro-mechanical robotics.

US&S Style R Signal

Concentric circles radiating outward from the filament inside this US&S Style R signal are a result of viewing the device from the open rear service door of the signal. The circle effect is caused by the Fresnel lens of Kopp Glass heritage. As glass bulbs with tungsten filaments eventually replaced kerosene illuminated signals and switch-lamps, the glass bulb is being nudged aside by the Light Emitting Diode or LED. For almost 100 years, the bulb was the heart and soul of every type of railroad signal imaginable. From CPL to wig wags, they all employed some form of the bayonet mount signal grade bulb. This image was made from a signal in my small collection displayed in my own back yard, which is why I was able to leisurely create this view.

Hand Lantern

An Adams & Westlake hand lantern once used on the Denver & Rio Grande Western is probably no stranger to cold snowy evenings. The many years of use and abuse by brakeman and conductors alike is obvious in the state of its dilapidated top and disconnected bar still circling and protecting the fragile glass globe that has also seen better days. But what character this piece of railroad history has! I’m sure if it could talk it would speak of tall tales of harrowing adventures, swinging at the end of a caboose or a galloping goose while winding in and out of the highest passes the Rocky Mountains had to offer. This photo was made during one chilly evening in the relative safety of the East Ely Yards of the Nevada Northern Railway in February of 2009.

Switch Lamp

Adams & Westlake, also known as Adlake, offered to their railroad customers many styles and variations of kerosene burning switch lamps. The large fuel tank seen at the bottom of the lamp would hold enough fuel for the flame to burn for many hours without a refill. Of course you would still need someone to light the flame in the evening and put it out in the morning. As you can imagine, it was quite a labor intensive activity to keep entire railroad yards full of these lamps fueled and illumined every night of the year regardless of adverse weather conditions one may encounter while preforming this duty. Many yard track switches are still protected by lamps but have long since converted to electrically powered devices such as the US&S ES (electric switch) 20. But even these signals are now, or have been, replaced by signals using LED illumination. Recently I was in Japan and saw an example of what appeared to be an Adlake type switch lamp. However this particular model was sporting LED’s in place of the traditional colored glass rondels. The photo above was made at the Nevada Northern Railway in February of 2009 with the kind permission of the director of the railroad.

Switch Lamp and Hand Lantern

Switch lamps are often times used as a foreground element but seldom are they the primary concern in the composition. This observation was a motivating factor in creating the last few images seen in this edition. In order to accomplish a series of images concentrating on these devices, I needed two elements to come together simultaneously. First, I needed access to a railroad that would allow this sort of photographic activity on their property and secondly, I needed access to a collection of kerosene burning lanterns and lamps. I found both of these requirements conveniently located in one place: the Nevada Northern Railway (NNRY) in Ely, Nevada. Every February for the last ten years I have conducted the night photo shoots at the railroad. But the evening photo shoots only took place during one evening out of the three days the event was being held, leaving at least two other nights available for other activates. With the kind permission of the management of the NNRY, and after the locomotives and rolling stock were all tied up for the night, I set out in the early hours of the evening to start making exposures just as the sun set behind the mountains to the west of town. Fresh snow and azure blue skies formed the perfect backdrop to show off the dramatic and vibrant colors of these old lamps. We actually used kerosene to light the lamps and lanterns, and at least one flashlight to rim light the dark, rusty bodies of the lanterns for better separation against some of the muted colors of the buildings in the background. Since 2009, when I first started doing this series, I think I’ve produced about twenty five images where lamps and lanterns are the primary element in the photo. The lamp in the image above is an example of a competitor to the Adams & Westlake Co, The Dressel Railway Lamp and Signal Company, with the D&RGW hand lantern by its side.

I have enjoyed a good long run photographing railroads and trains. As with any endeavor you wish to master, you must start with simple compositions. Perhaps it’s simply shooting the train at the station or the train at the grade crossing, or maybe it’s shooting a train while crossing a bridge. Capturing images like these help master your technique, learning shutter speeds, f-stops and framing. These are all basic elements in the process of learning to document the world around you as you see it, in your time and place.

I’m very grateful for the efforts of those photographers that preceded me. Their mastering of rail related subjects to the point where I was inspired enough to imitate them is the basis of my work today. Then at some point in the game, one develops the desire to express something more than shooting the train at the station, the crossing or the bridge. You search for other subject material that challenges you to create your own mark, you own style that hopefully will inspire others to document and create their own vision with whatever image-capturing devices the future holds for them.

For the most part, I think I have accomplished everything I needed to accomplish in shooting kerosene lamps at night in the snow. I’ve moved on to explore other subjects in railroading. Maybe they’ll show up here on this site in some future edition of The Trackside Photographer.

Steve CrisePhotographs and text Copyright 2016
See more of Steve’s work at


Prairie Elegy

SK Imperial 1 1986

The Trackside Photographer is pleased to present a new gallery of photographs by Eric Gagnon.

Prairie Elegy documents the final days of Western Canada’s Wooden Crib Grain Elevators. These evocative pictures record a time 30 years ago  when the iconic structures were disappearing from the prairie landscape.

Eric wrote about his trip in “Wheat Filled Wonders” which we published in June. Now he generously shares 43 additional photos taken during the 1980’s as he traveled across Saskatchewan and Manitoba, following the tracks of the Canadian Pacific and Canadian National railroads that served the grain industry. The wooden elevators are now gone.

Prairie Elegy is listed under the Galleries menu at the top of the page, or click here to view.

Railroad Town:
 Bude, Mississippi

Bude, Mississippi

During a visit to Mississippi in the spring of 2013, I visited the small, out of the way, town of Bude which is about halfway between Brookhaven, MS and Natchez, MS. Bude was once a bustling railroad town built around a large sawmill. Today there is not much left but a sleepy main street and the old train depot.

Former Mississippi Central Depot, Bude Mississippi

The Natchez Railway, which provides service between Natchez and Brookhaven, passes through Bude and interchanges with the Canadian National in Brookhaven.

Former Illinois Central Gulf caboose 9452, built in 1970, was used as the yard office in Gloster, Mississippi for the Gloster Southern Railroad. It was moved to Bude in 2011 and is used as the Natchez Railway yard office.
History of Bude
From Depot, Bude, Miss. Sysid 92294. Scanned as tiff in 2008/11/03 by MDAH. Credit: Courtesy of the Mississippi Department of Archives and History
Depot, Bude, Mississippi – Courtesy of the Mississippi Department of Archives and History

Founded in February, 1912 the Homochitto Lumber Company bought up vast tracts of timber in Franklin, Amite and Adams counties and selected a mill site in Franklin county. The town of Bude grew up around the new mill, which employed 800 people when it opened in 1913.  The town continued to grow, attracting many businesses and stores including a Ford dealership, a theater, and a bowling alley. In 1936, the timber was cut out, the sawmill closed and Bude began its long decline.

The historic photos below are used with the kind permission of Mississippi Rails, a website devoted to the history of railroads in Mississippi. Many additional period photographs and a detailed history of Bude and the sawmill are available on their Homochitto Lumber Company page.

A passenger train arrives at the Mississippi Central depot in Bude.
The mill, the depot and the town of Bude from the air in 1920.

After the Homochitto Lumber Company closed down in 1936, the town of Bude was deprived of its primary source of employment and prosperity. It was not unusual for towns to spring  up and then disappear as vast tracts of cypress and southern yellow pine in the Southern Timber Belt were logged.

Bude fared better than many former sawmill towns. Today there are still a few stores along Bude’s main street and the town is neat and well maintained. American Railcar Industries operates a repair facility in Bude.

Although the Homochitto Lumber Company brought Bude into existence in 1913, the railroad was a necessary ingredient in the town’s success and the railroad plays a key role in sustaining the town into the 21st century. Photographs from the early years of the 20th century are a stark contrast to a modern view of the town, but the railroad still runs through Bude, and the depot still stands as a reminder of better days.

An old freight wagon waits in the shadow of the empty depot.
An old freight wagon waits in the shadow of the empty depot.

Edd FullerPhotographs and text Copyright 2016


The Eads Bridge
  St.Louis, Missouri

Overview - Eads Bridge, St. Louis, Missouri
Overview – Eads Bridge, St. Louis, Missouri

The Eads Bridge in Saint Louis, Missouri crosses the Mighty Mississippi in the shadow of the Gateway Arch, and is one of the most iconic bridges in the United States. In addition to being the oldest bridge across the Mississippi at St. Louis, it continues to serve significant commuter rail traffic between East St. Louis and St. Louis.

The bridge was first conceived in 1867, with construction beginning the same year. James B. Eads was chosen to design the bridge. Although he had no prior experience in bridge building, all parties involved felt confident he could restore St. Louis to its former glory with the new bridge. The first challenge was the regulations of the Mississippi River. Steamboat Companies set unheard of restrictions for bridge building, which would require the radical design that exists today. The design chosen was an arch, with three spans. These arches would be constructed of iron tubes, and set upon masonry piers and abutments. The Keystone Bridge Company did the fabrication for the owner, the Illinois & St. Louis Bridge Company.

Once construction began, the bridge would see an immense number of challenges. The first involved the depth in which the piles would be driven. Caissons were driven nearly 100 feet below the river surface. The process by which this happened killed 13 men, and paralyzed another 2. It involved putting compressed air in the caisson, and filling it with stone until bedrock could be hit. In addition, once work on the arches began, the superstructure could not be constructed with falsework. Instead, a cantilevered technique was used which involved “launching” from the piers. The spans would meet and be completed in the middle. On July 4th, 1874 the bridge was dedicated. President Ulysses S. Grant dedicated the bridge, while General William T. Sherman drove the golden spike. The bridge was constructed with two decks, one for rail and one for road. The approaches consisted of stone arches of various sizes and shapes.

Despite the accomplishments and achievements of the bridge, it was bankrupt within the year. Railroads boycotted the bridge because of poor planning and access to it. When the bridge was finally sold to the Merchants Exchange during bankruptcy, it went for about 1/5 of the original estimated worth. This caused the Bank of Missouri to fold, and led to the indictment of several officials involved with the bridge. However, Eads did not face trouble.

The Merchants Exchange eventually lost control of the bridge to the Terminal Railroad Association in the late 1880s. Fearing a monopoly of the river crossings, this led to the construction of the equally impressive Merchants Bridge upstream.

Modified arch
Modified arch – Eads Bridge – St. Louis, Missouri

By the 1970s, the rail deck would be abandoned and unused. In 1989, the bridge was exchanged for the MacArthur Bridge downstream with the City of St. Louis. Modern trains were too large for both the bridge and approach tunnels. However, in 1993, the MetroLink Light Rail began operations on this corridor. This put the bridge back into service for rail traffic. At the same time, the road deck was closed for reconstruction. It reopened in 2003.

West Approach - Eads Bridge - St. Louis, Missouri
West Approach – Eads Bridge – St. Louis, Missouri

In 2016, the bridge is considered to be one of the most significant engineering achievements ever. The largest arch is 533 feet long, nearly 200 feet longer than the previous longest arch. The caisson construction also was highly significant. Because of the bridge’s historic importance, it was dedicated as a National Historic Landmark in 1964, and added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1966. Despite all the recognition, it has been renovated many times. Some of the original stone arch approaches have been replaced with newer spans, such as girders. The original highway approaches have been replaced as well. In addition, the bridge is undergoing another reconstruction in 2016.

Inside station - The Eads Bridge - St. Louis, Missouri
Inside station – The Eads Bridge – St. Louis, Missouri

Today it remains one of the strongest and most significant bridges ever built. It presently carries two tracks of MetroLink, with stations on both the west and east end. The bridge is one of the most iconic structures in the area, and perfectly complements the area down by the Gateway Arch.

Overview - The Eads Bridge - St. Louis, Missouri
Overview – The Eads Bridge – St. Louis, Missouri

John MarvigText and photographs Copyright – 2016
See more of John’s work at John Marvig’s Railroad Bridge Photography

Editor’s Notebook

Harper's Ferry, West Virginia - December 2015
Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia – December 2015
Waiting for trains
It starts with the sound of a horn in the distance and the gleam of an approaching headlight. Suddenly, you are in the presence of huge thundering, fast moving machinery. In just a few seconds, the locomotive has passed by and you watch until the EOT marker has disappeared around the next curve. Photographing trains is fun and exciting; waiting for trains—not so much.

In December, 2015, I was on the platform of the former B&O station at Harper's Ferry, West Virginia, staring across the Potomac river and hoping for a train to emerge from the tunnel on the other side. With nothing much to do while I waited, I took photos of the station, the railroad bridge, the tunnel portal, and an old passenger shelter across the tracks from the station. The train never did show up, and I finally gave up. Evening was coming on and it was getting cold.

I came home with no train pictures. That happens quite often, but I enjoy exploring the railroad landscape, and if a train comes along, it's a bonus. There are great photographic opportunities along the tracks even if the train never arrives. This is the simple idea behind The Trackside Photographer.

So, the next time you are trackside waiting for that train, take a close look at the railroad landscape. You might be surprised at what you find. Take a picture and send it to us for The Trackside Gallery. We would love to hear from you.


The Center for Railroad Photography & Art recently announced the 2016 John E. Gruber Creative Photography Awards program. This year, there are two categories: one for “Exceptional images from mobile device cameras” and one for “Most evocative images by living photographers.” The contest is open to all, there are no entry fees and no limit on when the photographs were taken. If you are interested, more details may be found on their website.

Edd Fuller, Editor
Your thoughts and comments are welcome.


Newhall, California - February 9, 1971
Newhall, California – February 9, 1971

Completion of Southern Pacific’s San Joaquin line in 1876 was Los Angeles’ first rail connection to the rest of the country. It required a 6976 foot tunnel between the Santa Clarita and San Fernando valleys.

I photographed the west end of the tunnel (by timetable direction) on the afternoon of February 9, 1971. Why this date? Early that morning the 6.6 magnitude Sylmar Earthquake caused major damage in the area, killing 44 people. I drove up to see how the tunnel had held up, and the view through it correctly indicated there were no problems.


However, just past the far end of the tunnel, the interchanges of Interstate 5 with Interstate 210 and California Highway 14, then under construction, had collapsed on the tracks.

Sylmar, California – February 11, 1971

The railroad was back in service in a few days, but the highway bridges took over a year to rebuild, with strengthened columns.

History repeated itself in 1994 when the Northridge Earthquake again caused bridge collapses at the interchange. The road closures resulted in a major increase in Metrolink service on what was now their Antelope Valley Line, and this increased service remains today.

Gordon Glattenberg – Photographs and text Copyright 2016