During the course of my correspondence with Doug Bess about his article “My Railfan Experience in Germany,” it came out that he and I were in Germany at almost exactly the same time in ’71 and ’72. To my knowledge, our paths never crossed—Doug was stationed in Wiesbaden and I was stationed in Mannheim—but his story brought back many memories.
I bought my first 35mm SLR (a used Minolta SR7) in Germany and learned about developing and printing in the darkroom on the base. I remember the first roll of film I ever developed. With my roll of 35mm B&W film in hand, I checked out a tank and reel and went into the loading booth which was like a telephone booth (remember those?) except of course with no windows. In addition to being dark, it was hot and nearly airless. With a deep breath, I opened the film canister and began trying to load the film on the stainless steel reel by feel in the total darkness. I don’t know how long it took, but people kept knocking on the door and asking “Are you alright in there?” and “How much longer are you going to be?”
Eventually I stumbled out into the light with the film in the tank and finished developing that first roll. I don’t remember what was on it, but it wasn’t trains. Most of my pictures of working steam were taken about a year later. From the distance of some 45 years I regret that I did not take better advantage of the opportunity to photograph steam operations in Germany. Even though I knew that steam railroading was nearly a thing of the past, the German steam trains seemed commonplace to me at the time, and I felt no urgency to photograph them. As a result, when I go through my old negatives from Germany, there is a disappointingly small number of railroad photographs.
But fortunately, there were others, like Doug, who captured that time when steam was still a part of daily life in Germany. It was a time that would soon draw to a close. The world changes. Steam is gone. Old buildings that we mean to photograph are torn down. New buildings rise up and block the view. Floods, hurricanes, tornadoes can alter both the man-made and natural landscape overnight. Take pictures now. Nothing lasts forever.
Edd Fuller, Editor – Photographs and text Copyright 2017