Trains that Passed in the Night: Railroad Photographs of O. Winston Link

Hot Shot Eastbound, Iaeger, West Virginia, 1956
HOT SHOT EASTBOUND, IAEGER, WEST VIRGINIA, 1956: On the hot night of August 2, 1956, while the Iaeger Drive-In was showing Battle Taxi, a Korean War movie, Winston Link made his most famous photograph. Requiring two exposures on separate sheets of film, one for the image on the movie screen and the other for the rest of the photograph, the “Drive-In Movie” photo has been reproduced worldwide. Perhaps it is so popular because it brings together so many things Americans care about: love, cars, movies—and the steam railroad. Copyright W. Conway Link.

O. Winston Link, a Brooklyn, New York, native and commercial photographer became well-recognized for his complex images of factory and industrial plant interiors. For Link, the steam railroad was a vital ingredient to “the good life” in America, an essential part of the fabric of our lives. It is this quality—of life, not machinery—which he captures so artfully in his photographs.

Link’s photographs showcase the final years of steam railroading on the Norfolk & Western Railway, the last major railroad in America to operate exclusively with steam power. They are regarded as one of the best records of this long vanished type of locomotion, yet the broad appeal of Link’s photographs is derived not so much from the images of the steam locomotives themselves, but from the way in which their inclusion expresses the photographer’s deeply felt respect for the quality of life that the steam railroad reflected and supported for so many years in the United States.

In fact, the emphasis in Link’s photographs is often placed more directly on life along the railroad line than on the locomotives and trains themselves. In many of these images a locomotive or train is found in the background only, often subtly. Given the time frame the images were recorded (1955-1960), Link’s railroad images also offer a unique look back at the automobiles, small towns, and yes—even the hairstyles and fashions in vogue a half-century ago.

The last Norfolk & Western steam locomotive was taken out of service in May 1960. Link returned to New York following the last of his many trips to Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland and North Carolina (the states in which his 2,400 Norfolk & Western Railway images were recorded) and continued his career as a commercial photographer. His subsequent portfolio of work included documenting construction of the Verrazano Narrows Bridge in New York Harbor, and doing photography for Volkswagen of America as well as a number of advertising agencies. Link died of a heart attack on January 30, 2001, near his home in South Salem, New York.

Trains that Passed in the Night: Railroad Photographs of O. Winston Link, was organized by Thomas H. Garver and produced in collaboration with the Center. As a programming option, Garver gave a one-hour presentation providing context and depth that assists viewers in fully appreciating the exhibition. He worked as Link’s assistant for a year in the 1950s and was later Link’s business agent. He is also the author of the text of the second book of Link’s Norfolk & Western photos and was the organizing curator of the O. Winston Link Museum in Roanoke, Virginia.

This exhibition is no longer in circulation.

Tom Garver, Link’s one-time assistant and former agent, address a standing-room crowd during the exhibition opening at Purdue University in 2013.

About the Exhibition

This exhibition is no longer in circulation. Thank you to the many venues that hosted it.

Normal version

  • 36 black-and-white prints
  • 21×25 inches, matted and framed original prints, signed by photographer
  • 1 introductory panel and 36 exhibition labels
  • 180 linear feet

Extended Version

  • 50 black-and-white prints
  • 21×25 inches, matted and framed original prints, signed by photographer
  • 1 introductory panel and 50 exhibition labels
  • 250 linear feet


Previous venues

  • Cokato Museum, Cokato, Minnesota, May 30 through September 5, 2016
  • Temple Railroad & Heritage Museum, June 5 through August 26, 2015
  • Weisman Art Museum, Minneapolis, Minnesota, July 26, 2014, through February 8, 2015
  • Grohmann Museum, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, January 17 through April 27, 2014
  • Purdue Universities Gallery, West Lafayette, Indiana, January 7 through February 17, 2013
  • Reynolda House Museum of American Art, Winston-Salem, North Carolina, February 19 through June 19, 2011
  • Midland Center for the Arts, Alden B. Dow Museum of Science and Art, Midland, Michigan, October 2 through December 23, 2010
  • Lancaster Museum of Art, Lancaster, Pennsylvania, August 7 through September 27, 2009
  • California State Railroad Museum, Sacramento
  • Southeast Missouri Regional Museum of Southeast Missouri State University, Cape Girardeau, Missouri, 2005