20 Memorable Railroad Photographs of the 20th Century

The selection comes from photographers with a distinctive style and a body of work in railroading. We did not include well-known photographs such as Alfred Stieglitz’s “In the New York Central Yards” in 1903 or Lewis Hine’s work portraits of the Pennsylvania Railroad in 1921, since these photographers only occasionally made views of railroading.

* RH indicates that the photograph appears in Railroad Heritage, No. 1

Frank W. Blauvelt (1850-1929)
Pennsylvania Special at Bergen Cut, 1902
Blauvelt is known for early, sharp photographs of fast moving trains. He recorded thePennsylvania Special (later Broadway Limited) and 20th Century Limited in 1902, the first year they operated. Blauvelt, president of a New York City plumbing supply firm, photographed moving trains from the 1890s to 1910s. Some of his glass plate negatives are in the Munson Paddock Collection at Lake Forest (Illinois) College.

J. Foster Adams (1882-1962)
Fast freight near Fairchild, Wisconsin, 1904
Adams, a grand nephew of a Wisconsin lumberman, started taking pictures of railroads in 1902 while a clerk in Fairchild, Wisconsin. He settled in Portland, Oregon, about 1913, where he became a successful commercial photographer, making photographs of the Northern Pacific and Great Northern. RH, page 7

William G. Landon (1892-1979)
Empire State Express, panned at 70 mph, 1911
Landon showed creativity with pioneering panned views of such trains as the New Haven’s Bay State Limited and the New York Central’s Empire State Express. Landon attended Yale Scientific (Sheffield) but left to become a worker for the New York Central, where he studied locomotives first hand. King Daniel Ganaway’s “Spirit of Transportation”is reproduced from the Fort Dearborn Magazine, a bank journal that published many of Ganaway’s photos. Ganaway, an African American butler, learned photography on his days off.

“Spirit of Transportation,” 20th Century Limited, Chicago, 1918

King Daniel Ganaway (1883-1944)
“Spirit of Transportation,” 20th Century Limited, Chicago, 1918
Ganaway, an African American butler in Chicago, learned photography on his days off. His “Spirit of Transportation,” one of two photographs in the 15th annual exhibition at Wanamaker’s Department Store in Philadelphia in 1921, won first prize, besting Edward Weston, May Ray, and Paul Strand, all of whom became prominent in photographic history. Later, he worked for the Chicago Beeand managed the Chicago Bureau Art Studio.

Perrie Mahaffey (1887-1961)
Broadway Limited at night, Latrobe, Pennsylvania, 1930
Mahaffey was art director and staff photographer for the Pennsylvania News, a company newspaper published in Pittsburgh. He made the night photograph of theBroadway Limited taking on water at the track pans by spreading flash powder for 500 feet along the right of way. “Its portrayal of intense dynamic action was made possible by the most elaborate and pretentious set-up ever attempted in the realms of advanced professional photography,” according to the Pennsylvania Railroad. “Marshall’s Meteor Scores Again,” the flash powder company advertised. RH, page 6

William Rittase (1887-1968)
Chesapeake & Ohio, Clifton Forge, Virginia, 1944
Rittase, an industrial photographer with a studio in Philadelphia, did photography for eastern railroads in the 1930s and 1940s. His work appeared in Fortune and other magazines with photographs by prominent photographers, although he is virtually unknown today. The trademark photograph–carefully posed, technically advanced steam locomotives–was made from a high structure at the terminal. RH, page 9

Alfred W. Johnson (1896-1972)
Capitol Limited, leaving Chicago in winter, 1930
Johnson roamed far and wide in the Chicago area and beyond to photograph and illustrate railroading, recording for all time the locals, heavyweights, and streamliners from the 1920s to the 1970s. A commercial artist, he concentrated his efforts on film when documenting the railroad scene but also produced paintings for railroad companies and railroad enthusiasts.

Charles M. Clegg (1916-1979)
End of track, San Luis Valley Southern, Blanca, Colorado, 1940s
Clegg, who studied photography with J. Ghislain Lootens, collaborated with Lucius Beebe in documenting traditional railroading during the days of steam-powered trains and short lines. Together, they produced 17 books, including Mixed Train Daily(1947) which told about the country railroad, “a familiar bread-and-cheese institution whose implications are as wide as the American way of life itself.” RH, page 8

Philip R. Hastings (1925-1987)
The Mohawk, New York Central No. 3005, Shelby, Ohio, 1955
Hastings, who started taking railroad pictures in 1937, was widely published in books and magazines. He is remembered especially for his teamwork with David P. Morgan,Trains editor, which resulted in the magazine’s twilight of steam series from 1954 to 1958, republished as The Mohawk That Refused to Abdicate and Other Tales(Kalmbach Books, 1975). Hastings received the Railway & Locomotive Historical Society’s national railroad photography award in 1985.

O. Winston Link (1914-2001)
Maud Bows to the Virginia Creeper, 1956
Link, who received a degree in civil engineering in 1937, went to work as an industrial photographer immediately after graduation. His famous night photographs of steam on the Norfolk & Western were made on 20 trips to Virginia between 1955 and 1960. Link was not on an assignment; he did the photography on his own time because he felt it was important to preserve N&W’s locomotives on film. He “managed to create some of the most eccentric and exhilarating works of photographic art ever seen,” Malcolm Jones wrote in Preservation (November/December 1999). RH, page 8

David Plowden, Winnetka, Illinois
Phoebe Snow at Scranton, Pennsylvania, 1964
Plowden’s first published photograph was in Trains in 1954. After graduation from Yale with a B.A. in economics in 1955, he went to work for the Great Northern as assistant to the trainmaster in Wilmar, Minnesota. His career as a profession photographer started in 1959 when he became assistant to O. Winston Link. Many books and exhibitions have followed, and awards have included the R&LHS photography award in 1989.

Dick Steinheimer, Sacramento, California
Southern Pacific steam helper at Saugus, California, 1947
Steinheimer, often called the “Ansel Adams of railroad photography,” is well known for his half century of outstanding rail photography. The book, Done Honest and Truewith text by Ted Benson (Pentrex, 1999) received high praise for its reproduction of Stein’s black and white photos. Steinheimer works in all kinds of weather. A photograph of the Denver & Rio Grande Western at Thistle, Utah, in 1951 was made in below zero weather.

Robert Hale (1912-1992)
Union Pacific Big Boy, No. 4015, 1950s
Hale, stepson of an Illinois Central worker, best showed fast moving steam locomotives with pan shots, blurring the rods and drivers. The background and foreground, also blurred, added drama to his locomotive views. After serving in the Navy for 20 years, Hale attended the Art Center School of Photography at Los Angeles. He returned to the Navy during the Korean War, then worked for Southern Pacific and the Army Corp of Engineers before retiring in 1972 and moving to Arizona. RH, page 9

James P. Gallagher (1920-2002)
Maryland & Pennsylvania, Gross Trestle, 1955
Gallagher produced spectacular, mostly black and white views of railroading in Maryland and West Virginia in the 1950s. He graduated from college in 1942, then served in the Army Air Force as a communications officer. After the war, encouraged by prizes won in amateur photo contests sponsored by the Sunday Sun of Baltimore, he recorded the steam to diesel transition. His photography is featured in Trackside Maryland: From Railyard to Main Line (Greenberg, 1992). RH, page 10

William D. Middleton, Charlottesville, Virginia
Chicago & North Western, Madison, Wisconsin, 1955
Middleton, a registered civil engineer, has been a transportation historian and journalist for the past 50 years. His 15 books about the history of electric railways and railroads in North America include The Time of the Trolley; The Interurban Era; When the Steam Railroads Electrified; South Shore: The Last Interurban; and most recently,Landmarks on the Iron Road: Two Centuries of North American Railroad Engineering. Middleton received the senior achievement award of the Railway & Locomotive Historical Society in 1984. RH, page 11

Jim Shaughnessy, Troy, New York
Central Vermont No. 20, the Washingtonian, St. Albans, Vermont, 1956
Shaughnessy’s first published railroad photo was in 1952. He has recorded changes in railroading in New England and throughout the U.S., resulting in an award from the Railway & Locomotive Historical Society in 1987 for lifetime achievement in photography. He received a degree in civil engineering from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in 1955. RH, page 10

Henry W. Griffiths Jr. (1916-1997)
Union Pacific Challenger #3712 pushes train out of Ogden, Utah, 1956
Born and raised in Boise, Idaho, “Hank” Griffiths inherited his fondness of railroading from his Uncle Fred Luff, a pensioned brakeman. In the 1930s, Griffiths began to record the railroad scene with black and white photography, his mainstay. He served in the U.S. Navy in the Pacific during World War II. After surviving a department store fire, which nearly trapped him in the basement photo lab, he joined the Boise Fire Department, where he retired as a captain in the late 1970s. He then worked full time for Morrison-Knudsen Corporation through the 1980s operating the darkroom and serving on the staff of the company magazine.

Ted Benson, Modesto, California
Sierra Railroad, “First Light, Canyon Tank,” 1985
Since 1966, Benson has had nearly 2,500 railroad photographs published in magazines and books. He received a national award for lifetime achievement in railroad photography from the Railway & Locomotive Historical Society in 1998. Boston Mills Press published his personal monograph, One-Track Mind, in 2000. Benson, a photographer with McClatchy Newspapers since 1970, was promoted to photo team leader at the Modesto Bee in 1997. Benson lives only 14 miles from the Sierra Railroad shops in Oakdale. RH, page 10

John Gruber, Madison, Wisconsin
Steam Locomotive silhouette, Cloquet, Minnesota, 1962
Gruber, editor of Vintage Rails magazine from 1995 to 1999, has been a free-lance railroad photographer since 1960, received a railroad history award from the Railway & Locomotive Historical Society in 1994 for lifetime achievement in photography, and appeared on the Tracks Ahead television program (volume six) in 1995. He is contributing editor at Classic TrainsRH, cover

Mel Patrick, Denver, Colorado
Sunrise, D&RGW main line between Cedar and Mounds, Utah, 1996
Patrick, a native of Chicago who migrated to Colorado, is known for his synchronized electronic flash night photos in the late 1960s and early 1970s, multimedia slide shows, and night views of the Colorado/Utah desert in the 1990s. The photograph won first prize in the March 1997 Trains photo contest.