In the summer of 1992 I attended an industrial archaeology field school at Harpers Ferry, West Virginia and spent my free time investigating railroad action around Martinsburg, Winchester and the surrounding Shenandoah Valley. Two years later, my annual Christmas stocking-stuffer book was Michael Flanagan’s illustrated novel of railroad paintings, Stations: An Imagined Journey which to my surprise was set in the same geographic area. I was immediately drawn to the paintings, many of which looked like familiar places. The narrative seemed cryptic on the first reading. But I kept returning to the book, which eventually led me on my own journey, a personal exploration that rewarded me with a deeper understanding of my attraction to the railroad landscape.
The East Tennessee and Western North Carolina Railroad (ET&WNC) was a mainly narrow gauge line that ran from Johnson City, Tennessee to Cranberry, North Carolina. The original intent of the line was to haul high-grade iron ore from the mines at Cranberry to transfer points in Johnson City. The ET&WNC began operations in 1881 as far as Cranberry, and by 1918 the railroad reached Boone, North Carolina. The ET&WNC was also laid with dual gauge tracks from Johnson City to Elizabethton, Tennessee and served two rayon plants there. The little narrow gauge served the people of the mountains faithfully for many years, and become known affectionately as “The Tweetsie.”
In the forward to his new book, The Railroad and the Art of Place, David Kahler writes ". . . I learned that photographs of moving trains were not everything. Some of the most evocative visual images could be made without rail activity." It is a theme that resonates with the mission of The Trackside Photographer.
Jeff Brouws, in his essay which appears in the book (and is reprinted below), discusses Kahler's work in relation to the depression era work of the Farm Security Administration photographers, particularly Marion Post Wolcott, as well as the photographers of the more recent New Topographics movement. With its focus on the visual and cultural landscape shaped by the railroad, The Railroad and the Art of Place holds a unique place in the context of railroad photography, and indeed, transcends the genre.
With a broad appeal not only to railfans, but to anyone who loves great photography, this book will find a place in the library of railfans, artists, photographers and historians alike.
David has been generous to share his work on The Trackside Photographer in the past, and we are pleased to recommend his new book to our readers.
When you start out watching trains as a kid, most of what occupies your attention is the locomotive—big and noisy and powerful. After that, the rest is just legions of freight cars and (when I was young) a caboose bringing up the rear end. I’ll admit that I gave little thought as to what the trains hauled or where they were from or where they were headed—all I wanted to see were locomotives, especially those of the minority builders. Time and age changed that; I began to step back away from the tracks and look at all that was happening around the railroad. Read more
In 1872 Collis P. Huntington took an overnight float trip down the New River from Hinton to Hawk’s Nest to see where his railroad was going. By 1873 the line was finished. By 1874 the first branch line (Laurel Creek, Quinnemont) was open as was the first mine (Laurel Creek, Joseph Beury). Cutting ever deeper through the mountains, the New River exposed four coal seams world famous for high quality, high BTU coal. Read more
While construction of the Pacific Railroad ostensibly began during the Civil War, it was not until that great conflict was over that it really got rolling. In a race for government subsidies and land grants, the Central Pacific built eastward from Sacramento, California, while the Union Pacific built westward from Omaha, Nebraska. The two railroads met at Promontory Summit, just north of Great Salt Lake, Utah Territory, on May 10th 1869. It was a watershed moment.