Among my nearly annual visits to the Canadian West, 1984 was a momentous year . At Portage la Prairie, Manitoba, I spent time trackside observing and photographing the many Canadian National (CN) and Canadian Pacific (CP) freight trains, as well as VIA Rail passenger trains that emanated from the provincial capital of Winnipeg, fifty-five miles to the east. At Portage, more lines (subdivisions) spread out. During that June visit, my genial hosts (aunt and uncle!) let me use their Toyota to visit many nearby Manitoba towns.
While the Western Canadian grain industry was contracting—undergoing major changes—I realized that the handwriting was on the wall for Canada’s wooden “country” elevators. Consequently, I made the effort to photograph them. While doing so, I noticed myriad trackside details that completed the Manitoba trackside scene. Read more
In Part Two, we had just begun to explore Fayette Station, West Virginia. Here Route 82 (one way from the north side of the Gorge and back up the other side) descends the mountain to the river then back up along the south side. Before the New River Gorge Bridge was built, Route 82 was how the Gorge was crossed at this location. At that time it was two way but for years now it has been limited to one way traffic.
Fayette Station is a busy place during the warm months. It is a center of activity for raft take-outs, rock climbing, viewing the bridge and for several waterfalls which are within walking distance. It also has a great rail fan location which I’ll get to later. Read more
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