J. Parker Lamb Collection


J. Parker Lamb (b. 1933), one of the deans of post-World War II railroad photography in the United States, is donating his remarkable photographic works to the Center. Lamb initiated the transfer in 2015 and is carefully overseeing the process, sending batches of his negatives along with digital scans. The Center’s collections staff has begun transferring Lamb’s negatives into archival binders and numbering the photographs to match the organizational schemes of our other collections.

Lamb retired in 2001 after a distinguished tenure in the engineering faculty of the University of Texas in Austin. His hundreds of published photographs display a talent that is at once journalistic and artistic, as seen in Steel Wheels Rolling (Boston Mills Press, 2001), a portfolio of his work, and his several other books. In 1991 he received the Fred A. and Jane R. Stindt Photography Award from the Railway & Locomotive Historical Society. “While other well-known photographers provided most of the imagery of the passing of steam, it was Parker who provided the best contextual images of the conquering diesels,” the citation said.

Born in Boligee, Alabama, Lamb moved with his family to Meridian, Mississippi, in 1938 before his fifth birthday. While Boligee had been a tiny crossroads on the Alabama Great Southern, Meridian was a busy junction city with three class one railroads and one short line. A friendly tower operator, Guy Horton, taught Lamb about railroad operations. Lamb’s train watching became more serious with his discovery of Trains and Railroad magazines right after World War II. That led Lamb to begin making photographs in 1949, when he was in the 11th grade.

Legendary Trains magazine editor David P. Morgan helped Lamb develop as a fledgling photographer. During his college years at Auburn University, 1951 to 1955, Lamb made his first submission to Trains, and the editor replied with an encouraging letter. “Over the next four to five years, he kept encouraging me to take more pictures because he said they didn’t have much material from the South. So I must give considerable credit to his encouragement in my younger days,” Lamb said.

From Auburn, Lamb went to Dayton, Ohio, for a two-year military tour as an officer at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, and then to Champaign, Illinois, where he earned a graduate degree from the University of Illinois. He began his teaching career in 1961 with two enjoyable years at North Carolina State University in Raleigh, and then moved to Austin in 1963. He has photographed railroads along every step of the way, both locally as well as while traveling.

Lamb began digitizing his images in 2004. He recently completed this decade-long process, paving the way for his work to find a permanent home in the Center’s extensive collection. He expressed his thinking this way, “I received a lifetime of satisfaction and enjoyment during the creation of these images, and I hope that others will be able to use them to learn about American railroads in the twentieth century.”

—John Gruber, adapted from his Winter 2000 article in Classic Trains

J. Parker Lamb. Photograph by Nancy Lamb, from Trains magazine

Lamb Collection Overview

  • Gift of J. Parker Lamb
  • 2,700 B&W negatives in six groups (as of March 2017, with more on the way)
  • 1940s to 1980s (as of March 2017)
  • Group one focuses on Ohio and Indiana in the mid 1950s
  • Group two focuses on Illinois and surrounding states in the late 1950s
  • Group three focuses on North Carolina and surrounding states in the early 1960s
  • Group four focuses on the Gulf States from the late 1940s to the early 1980s
  • Group five focuses on the Gulf States from the early 1950s to the early 1980s
  • Group six focuses on Texas from the early 1960s to to the late 1980s
  • Group seven focuses on Texas and British Columbia from the early 1970s to the late 1980s

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