Virtual Conversations: A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to CRPA

If you’re missing a good railfan road trip right now, you will not want to miss our next presentation for Virtual Conversations, “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to CRPA,” by Oren Helbok and George Hiotis. See it now on YouTube.

For the past few years, George and Oren have turned their trips to the Center’s annual conference in Lake Forest, Illinois, into extended photography expeditions through the Northeast and the Midwest. While seeing trains was their initial goal, they found so much more, and they will regale you with some of their favorite stories and photographs in their presentation.

Helbok was born in the Bronx in 1965 and ran away from a steam locomotive the first time he heard one, at age two, but he very quickly turned around. Oren learned the technical aspects of film photography from his father, John, and spent twenty-five years in darkrooms before raising children and then going digital. Now running a non-profit arts organization in central Pennsylvania, Oren lives closer to more active steam locomotives than he could in any other place in the U.S.

Hiotis is a professional photographer who saw the beginning of his career by borrowing the family camera to take pictures of trains. He made his very first picture at the Jersey Central station in nearby Westfield in the mid-1950s, and his interest advanced beyond the hobby stage in the early 1970s. He has nurtured a great passion for railroads, in both their mechanical and human aspects, most often aiming for an unusual representation. He has won two grand prizes and one second prize in the Trains magazine photo contests.

Learn more about Virtual Conversations, the Center’s first-ever online conference.

This photograph by Oren Helbok shows a South Shore Line commuter train passing through Michigan City, Indiana, on September 16, 2019.

Virtual Conversations: Mikado’s Farewell

Our next presentation for Virtual Conversations is “Mikado’s Farewell – China’s Last Steam Railroad,” by Travis Dewitz and Todd Halamka. View it now on YouTube.

Dewitz and Halamka made a two-week winter visit in 2018 to photograph steam locomotives at a remote coal mine railroad in China, located 2700 kilometers northwest of Beijing. Scott Lothes moderates a discussion between them about their trip, photography, and experiences.

Halamka is a practicing architect and founder of Todd Halamka + Partners in downtown Chicago. His focus on railroad photography began in 2011, combining his lifelong love of trains and the outdoors with his fascination for image making.

Dewitz is a photographer based out of Eau Claire, Wisconsin. He has been published or featured in National Geographic, Trains magazine, Bakken Business Journal, Un-Sung Magazine, Vogue Italia, Cinamagic, Child Model Magazine, International Contemporary Artists Vol. XII, Amtrak brochures, Volume One, and Railfan & Railroad magazine. He is also the author of Blaze Orange – Whitetail Deer Hunting in Wisconsin.

Learn more about Virtual Conversations, the Center’s first-ever online conference.

A worker at the SanDaoLing coal mining railroad in northwestern China walks past a JS-class 2-8-2 steam locomotive in 2018. Photograph by Travis Dewtiz

Virtual Conversations: Return to Copper Country

Our first presentation for Virtual Conversations is “Return to Copper Country: Rediscovering the railroads of Clifton and Morenci, Arizona,” by Scott Lothes. View it now on YouTube.

The copper mining region of far eastern Arizona is home to spectacular railroading and intriguing industrial history. Lothes, the Center’s president and executive director, became fascinated with the area during a college internship in 2000. He recently returned and was pleased to discover that, like a good wine, they have grown even more interesting with time.

Lothes became the Center’s full-time executive director in 2011, after serving on its staff part-time since 2008. In 2013 he succeeded John Gruber as president and editor of the Center’s journal, Railroad Heritage. He is a regular contributor to Trains, Railfan and Railroad, and other railroad publications, with more than fifty bylined articles and some 500 photographs in print.

Learn more about Virtual Conversations, the Center’s first-ever online conference.

Arizona Eastern Railroad train 203 emerges from Tunnel 1 and is about to enter Tunnel 2 on the steep climb out of Clifton, Arizona, on March 9, 2020. The train is hauling copper concentrate milled at Freeport-McMoRan’s Morenci Mine, the largest copper mine in North America. Photograph by Scott Lothes

Virtual Conversations

Railroads connect us across time and space. And in these unprecedented times, we could all use a few more (socially-distanced) connections.

We hope you will connect with us on Saturday, April 18, when the Center for Railroad Photography & Art hosts our first-ever online conference, Virtual Conversations.

We had planned to host our annual Conversations conference over the weekend of April 17-19 at Lake Forest College, just north of Chicago. On Monday, March 16, we made the difficult decision to cancel that event. But our community still has so many stories to tell and images to share, and digital technology provides us more ways to connect now than ever before. So the show will go on!

Please save the date of April 18. Virtual Conversations is a free event, open to anyone who wishes to join. We will send more details as the day draws closer.

Register to receive email updates, and stay tuned here as well as on Facebook and Instagram.

Palouse Falls, Washington, 2011. Photograph by Scott Lothes

Conversations 2020: cancelled

With the rapidly evolving situation of the coronavirus/COVID-19 and the CDC’s recommendation not to hold gatherings of 50 or more people for the next eight weeks, the Center for Railroad Photography & Art has come to the difficult decision to cancel Conversations 2020.

Please know that we will gladly refund all registration fees for both the conference presentations and dinner options. We have decided not to offer rollover rates for next year’s conference due to our fiscal-year accounting as well as the uncertainty of next year’s expenses and fees. Please send an email to or call Hailey Paige at 608-251-5785, extension 103. We should be able to issue refunds via Paypal promptly; refunds by check will take more time and we ask for your patience.

If you have already made a hotel reservation at the Hilton Garden, Residence Inn, or another local hotel, please note that you will need to cancel these reservations. Contact information for the Hilton Garden and Residence Inn:

  • Hilton Garden: (847) 735-8374
  • Residence Inn: (847) 615-2701

We will bring as many of this year’s scheduled presenters as possible to Conversations 2021. We expect next year’s conference to take place at Lake Forest College at roughly this same time of year. Stay tuned for more details to come.

Thank you so much for your understanding of this unprecedented situation and your enthusiasm for our community. We look forward to getting everyone together next year under better circumstances.

The staff and board of the Center for Railroad Photography & Art