Leo King Collection


Leo King (1938–2011) grew up in Providence, Rhode Island, and developed an avid interest in trains while in grammar school. He was known to favor train watching, which soon evolved into train photography, over regular classroom attendance. He particularly photographed trains at Providence’s mile-long East Side Tunnel (with portals under Benefit and Gano Streets). Providence’s Union Station practically became a home away from home for him, while journeys made with other members of the former New England Railfan Association offered many photo opportunities and lessons about railroads. In 1972, he won first place for a black-and-white print in the National Model Railroading Association’s “Evergreen Convention” hosted by the Pacific Northwest Region. Along the way he earned a bachelor of arts degree.

Leo had several careers, and he worked transportation into all of them. He served in the Air Force. He learned to fly light planes like Cessna 172s, Piper Cherokees and Warriors. He also was a bridge operator at Mystic River, Niantic River (Nan), and “Conn,” over the Connecticut River (Old Lyme Draw). Beginning in 1988 he worked for Amtrak between Boston and New Haven as a train director and block operator. For thirty years he was an editor and writer, “particularly in transportation topics,” as he put it. He contributed articles to Railfan & Railroad, RailNews and Passenger Train Journal. Leo also worked as a radio broadcast anchor and reporter for various Rhode Island radio stations. Towards the end of his life, he edited a weekly online magazine, Destination: Freedom published by the National Corridors Initiative. He photographed avidly wherever he lived and worked, even in Alaska with the Air Force. He retired to Middleburg, Florida, near Jacksonville, in 2002, maintaining his interest in writing about railroads and in railroad photography as long he was physically able.

King donated his photography collection to the Center, and it is particularly strong on the New Haven Railroad during the 1950s in black-and-white and the Alaska Railroad during the early 1970s, in both black-and-white and color. Frank Keller graciously helped us identify many of the Alaska Railroad workers that King photographed. Thanks in part to a grant from the Tom E. Dailey Foundation, the collection is fully processed as of summer 2016, and we are delighted to share highlights here.

Leo KingYoung Leo King in the cab of New Haven steam locomotive no. 3020 in his hometown of Providence, Rhode Island, in the 1950s.

King Collection Overview

  • Gift of Leo King
  • 5,000 B&W negatives
  • 1,000 B&W prints
  • 200 color transparencies
  • 1940s to 1990s
  • Coverage focuses on the United States, especially New England and Alaska
  • Funding for processing and digitization provided in part by the Tom E. Dailey Foundation

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