2019 Conference Wrap-up

The Center’s annual Conversations conference moved to a new date in September this year in light of the many events surrounding the sesquicentennial. Though numbers were slightly fewer this year with an attendance at 137, attendees traveled from a total of twenty-four states and four different countries to enjoy the gathering in Lake Forest.

For the first conference weekend in recent memory the skies smiled down and offered beautiful weather in the high 70s. The weekend opened on Friday with a brilliantly performed play by the National Railroad Hall of Fame, entitled Lincoln and the Railroad. Presentations began on Saturday morning and run through Sunday afternoon. We enjoyed a diverse array of presenter topics from commercial to social documentary photography, rail advocacy, and much more. We were also fortunate to have a wonderful selection of talented and passionate docents assisting us throughout the weekend.

Thank you to all attendees for traveling such great distances to join us at Conversations 2019. You can download the program here (28 MB PDF file).

Our next conference will be Conversations 2020 at Lake Forest College on April 17-19, 2020. We will post more details here as they become available.

2019 Information

Location: The campus of cosponsor Lake Forest College (campus map), thirty miles north of Chicago. Learn more about the City of Lake Forest online or download the PDF overview.

  • As in past years, we will begin with a reception and an optional dinner on Friday evening. The reception begins at 5:00 in the Glenn Rowan House, with dinner service commencing at 6:30 in Calvin Durand Hall.
  • Saturday will feature a full day of presentations, breakfast, lunch, an evening reception with drinks and appetizers, and another optional dinner. The day begins at 8:30 in the Lily Reid Holt Memorial Chapel. Doors open at 8:00.
  • Sunday will conclude the weekend with additional presentations from 8:30-12:15 in the McCormick Auditorium of the Johnson Science Center. Doors open at 8:00.


  • Ben Bachman, Forever West: Railroads, Mythology & Photography
  • Gil Bennett, A Brush With History
  • Jennifer Bodine, A. Aubrey Bodine: He Did the Common Thing Uncommonly
  • Barre Fong, Chinese Railroad Workers: Roots and Routes
  • John Free, Photographing in the Southern Pacific Freight Yards in the 1970’s
  • Oren and John Helbok, Two Viewfinders… One Point of View
  • Charlie Hunter, En Train Air – Advocacy, Art, and Adventure along the Santa Fe Trail
  • Ron Perisho, A.J. Russell: The Transcontinental Railroad in 3D
  • Eric Williams, Encounters With Art
  • Short presentations by conference docents

Your Photographs: After purchasing your tickets, please send one of your recent photographs, preferably from the past year, for inclusion in a presentation of attendees’ photographs at the conference. Send one JPEG image file, either 1920 pixels wide or 1200 pixels high, to info [at]

Patrons: If you feel strongly about the conference, consider becoming a patron (use the Paypal link above). Patrons help offset travel costs for presenters, and the twenty-five patrons of Conversations West and Conversations Transcontinental also provided funds for scholarships in 2019. Patrons are recognized in the program and receive free tickets for all print raffles.

Scholarships: Up to four scholarships, funded by conference patrons, are available for young, new, and/or emerging photographers and artists to cover ticket prices, two nights of lodging (double occupancy), and partial travel expenses to and from the conference. The deadline is July 19, 2019; applicants will be notified of their status by July 26, 2019. Download application here.

Please let us know in advance if you have any special dietary needs, and we will make every effort to accommodate them.

Hotel rooms are again available at:

Use these links or mention the Center when you call to receive our special rate, which will be available until August 14 or whenever the block of rooms has been filled.

Filmmaker Barre Fong will present oral histories of descendants of workers on the original Central Pacific Railroad. Photograph by Eric Baumgartner

Dates and Times

Friday, September 13

  • Conference reception, (Glen Rowan House), 5pm
  • Dinner, (Calvin Durand Hall), 6:30pm
  • Play by National Railroad Hall of Fame, 8pm

Saturday, September 14

  • Coffee and pastries, (Wood Lounge), 8:00am
  • Welcome, (Reid Hall), 8:30am    
  • Jennifer Bodine, (Lily Reid Holt Memorial Chapel), 8:45am    
  • Gil Bennett, 9:30am
  • Break, (Wood Lounge), 10:15am
  • Oren Helbok, 10:45am
  • Barre Fong, 11:30am
  • Lunch, (Calvin Durand Hall), 12:15pm
  • CRPA updates and Legacy Society, (Lily Reid Holt Memorial Chapel), 1:30pm
  • Break, (Wood Lounge), 2:30pm
  • Ben Bachman, 3:00pm
  • John Free, 3:45pm
  • Conclusion, 4:45pm
  • Reception, (Glen Rowan House), 5:00pm
  • Dinner, (Calvin Durand Hall), 7:00pm

Sunday, September 15

  • Coffee and pastries, (McCormick Lobby), 8:00am
  • Eric Williams, (McCormick Auditorium), 8:30am
  • Conference Docents, 9:15am
  • Break, 10:00am
  • Ron Perisho, 10:30am
  • Charlie Hunter, 11:30am
  • Conclusion, 12:15pm

Flatcars carrying plupwood stand on a siding at the sprawling West Virginia Pulp and Paper Company at Covington, Virginia, in 1960. Photograph by A. Aubrey Boudine.