Celebrating 150 Years of Railroad Labor

The Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET) was founded as the Brotherhood of the Footboard in Detroit, Michigan, on May 8, 1863. The union—the nation’s earliest—has represented the interests of its members for 150 years and is celebrating that history with an anniversary meeting in Detroit on May 8, 2013. Sponsored by the North American Railway Foundation (NARF), the Center for Railroad Photography & Art attended and brought its traveling exhibition, “Still a World Apart: 150 Years of Railroaders at Work.”

The exhibit showcases the lives and stories of railroad workers, and it includes a preview of the Center’s “Faces of Chicago’s Railroad Community: Photographs by Jack Delano” exhibition. That project is also sponsored by NARF and opens at the Chicago History Museum on April 4, 2014.

The Center congratulates the BLET on 150 years and thanks the NARF for its ongoing support of the Center’s exhibitions, publications, and programs. See more photographs from the anniversary meeting on the Center’s Flickr site.

BLET members viewing the Center's exhibitionAttendees of the 150th anniversary of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen, held in Detroit, Michigan, viewing the Center’s exhibition, “Still a World Apart: 150 Years of Railroaders at Work,” sponsored by the North American Railway Foundation.
The History of the BLETCenter member John Fasulo’s iconic image, “The Engineer,” is featured on a special publication about the 150-year history of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen.

Raves Resound for 2013 Conference

Record attendance of 170, exceptionally well-received presentations, and a flurry of congratulatory emails marked the Center’s 2013 Conversations about Photography conference at Lake Forest College, April 12-14. Sponsors included host Lake Forest College, Trains and Classic Trains, Canon, Railfan & Railroad, Leoni Engineering, and the Railway & Locomotive Historical Society. Twenty of the Center’s members supported the event as patrons.

The conference was number eleven for the Center, and “the best ever for me,” according to photographer John Fasulo of Beacon, New York. He added, “The ‘out of the box’ presentations broke new ground and were thought-provoking. Bravo!”

One regular attendee congratulated the Center on “a fantastic mix of subjects.” And he reminded us that you can’t always judge a book by its cover. “The sleeper hit for me was the Stations presentation. When I saw it in the program I didn’t expect much, as I’m not familiar with the book and the title doesn’t give much hint as to what’s inside. But Matt Kierstead’s enthusiasm for the subject, as well as his detailed analysis of what the author [Michael Flanagan] was trying to get at, made for a really compelling presentation, and I’ll be on Amazon today to place my order.”

During the Center’s report on its 2012-13 activities, founder John Gruber and his family were introduced. (Grandson Martin Gruber was on hand and seems to have contracted the railroad bug, as has his uncle, Dick Gruber, John and Bonnie Gruber’s older son. Wife Bonnie and granddaughter Tamara were also on hand.) The audience gave John a two-minute standing ovation in recognition of his establishing the Center, founding its Railroad Heritage journal, launching the Conversations conference, and presenting nearly innumerable exhibitions and other publications. Scott Lothes, Gruber’s successor, noted that everyone looks forward to continuing contributions from John.

A thirty-page, full-color program contained examples of works featured in the presentations and exhibitions, providing attendees with an instant souvenir and collectible. (Before you know it, copies will appear on eBay.)

Presenter Pablo Delano, who talked about the work of his father, Jack Delano, noted that he “got a lot of warm, heartfelt feedback.” The Center received several written comments from attendees who are looking forward to the Center’s forthcoming Chicago History Museum exhibition featuring the elder Delano’s portraits of Chicago railroaders taken in 1942-43. It opens April 4, 2014, and the Center is working on ways to incorporate a visit to the exhibition and a special program about it for the 2014 conference.

Michael Froio, a photographer from Williamstown, New Jersey, and also a presenter, remarked “It is exciting to be a part of a community that has such a diverse approach to celebrating our railroads through art and photography.” David Lester, a transportation historian and writer from Atlanta, said, “Great selection of presenters this year, and I particularly enjoyed the railroad journalism panel discussion.” Lester also congratulated the Center on “all of the hard work that went into this.”

Hyde Perce of Kenilworth, Illinois, seconded the endorsement of the arrangements and added praise for Lake Forest College’s cuisine: “I have to sign up for next year just to get my annual ‘fix’ of pecan rolls.” He also noted the conference’s general conviviality: “One of the really fun things I enjoy is just meeting conference attendees. Such a nice group of people.”

George Hamlin, a transportation consultant from Fairfax, Virginia, best stated a common sentiment: “Pat yourselves on the back, relax for a brief period, and then move on to more outstanding efforts.”

Just what the Center plans to do.

Matt Kierstead
The “sleeper hit” of the 2013 conference for many attendees was Matt Kierstead’s deconstruction of the book Stations: An Imagined Journey, by Michael Flanagan. Photograph by Hank Koshollek. See more photographs on the Center’s Flickr site.

Barriger Exhibition at St. Louis Mercantile Library

Through June 2013. St. Louis Mercantile Library, First Floor, 7606 Natural Bridge Road, St Louis, Missouri. “Along the Line: 1930s Railroad Photographs by John W. Barriger III” is now on display at the St. Louis Mercantile Library. The exhibition features black-and-white prints of photographs made by John W. Barriger III (1899-1976), whose deep love for railroading led him to create one of the most far-reaching photographic surveys of the nation’s railroads ever undertaken. Most of the photographs in the exhibition focus on the 1930s, when Barriger led the railroad division of the Reconstruction Finance Corporation, a federal agency that oversaw loans to railroads during the Great Depression. After World War II, Barriger served four different railroads as president, continuing to photograph while advocating for “super-railroads.” For his myriad contributions to the industry, the National Railroad Hall of Fame in Galesburg, Illinois, inducted Barriger into its pantheon of leaders on June 23, 2012. The Center, the Hall, and the John W. Barriger III National Railroad Library in St. Louis worked together to present this exhibition.
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Double-headed westbound steam freight train on the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railroad in Burlington, Iowa, in the 1930s. Photograph by John W. Barriger III, collection of the John W. Barriger III National Railroad Library.

Center’s Board Elects New Leadership

The Center for Railroad Photography & Art’s twelve-member board of directors has decided, with unanimous votes, who will guide the organization following the end of founder John Gruber’s presidency on March 1. The board named Scott Lothes as president and executive director, the latter a position he has held since August 2011. The board also created a new position, chairman of the board, to which it elected T. Bondurant “Bon” French. Gruber, who will remain on the Center’s board and active in several projects, said, “Bon French’s support of the Center has been an inspiration. He is dedicated to railroad photography and understands the Center’s mission. He is highly qualified to serve as the Center’s first chairman of the board.”

French, who joined the Center in 2002 and its board in 2009, brings a wealth of business, financial, and cultural knowledge to the organization’s leadership. Bon manages the Chicago-based investment firm, Adams Street Partners. In addition, he serves as a trustee of Northwestern University, as a member of the Kellogg Graduate School of Business Dean’s Advisory Board, and on the board of the Chicago History Museum. An active railroad photographer, he has photographed more than 650 different railroads in the United States and Canada. French commented, “I am pleased to continue to help the Center grow and prosper in any way I can. It is marvelous how many different talents we have on the board.”

Lothes joined the Center’s staff on a part-time basis in 2008 and has steadily taken on more responsibilities. He is an award-winning photographer and widely published author, with more than 300 photographs in print and 40 bylined articles to his credit, including many in Trains and other railroad magazines. At the Center he has also proved his remarkable skills as an executive. Lothes said, “The Center is on a great path thanks to John Gruber’s vision and dedication, the loyalty of our members, and the board’s strength and support. I am grateful for their confidence and look forward to a bright future.”

Over the course of the past few years, the Center has enjoyed a robust expansion in both scope and practice. The coming “Faces of Chicago’s Railroad Community: Photographs by Jack Delano” exhibition at the Chicago History Museum represents a substantial advancement in the Center’s efforts to showcase the role of railroad photography in public history. In addition, another outstanding “Conversations about Photography” conference is slated for Lake Forest College this April 12-14. Educational, inspirational, and entertaining, the conference remains the highlight of the year for many railroad photographers.

The Center continues to thrive and evolve as a vibrant, nationally recognized organization, looking ahead to many years of continued success in promoting the incredible wealth of visual arts and images associated with railroading. We look forward, as well, to the continued support of our many colleagues, members, and fans.

The Center’s board of directors has elected Bon French as Chairman of the Board and Scott Lothes as President and Executive Director. Lothes (left) and French are shown addressing the crowd at Conversations about Photography 2012, the Center’s annual conference. Photographs by Steve Crise.

John Gruber, Center’s Founder, Resigns Presidency

John Gruber, the principal founder of the Center for Railroad Photography & Art in 1997, has announced his resignation as president, effective March 1. He will remain on the Center’s board of directors and continue to serve as a volunteer.

He said, “I thank the directors and members for their enthusiastic support through the years, and am confident the Center will continue to prosper under its new leadership. I will be taking advantage of the opportunity to continue writing and photography projects and books, which have been delayed during my years at the Center.”

Mel Patrick, a renowned railroad photographer and long-time Center member, speaks for many with these remarks, “In my mind, John is one of three people who I identify as having brought ‘class’ to the hobby that we share with such passion—the other two are Lucius Beebe and David Morgan. John has always been a quiet giant in our field, encouraging the new photographers as well as recognizing those who came before us. Well done, Mr. Gruber; we all stand in your shadow and are thankful for all that you have given us.”

Gruber, a native of Prairie du Sac, Wisconsin, graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and spent much of his professional career in its publications department. He has been a freelance railroad photographer and writer since 1960, and he served as the editor of Vintage Rails magazine from 1995-99. He received a lifetime achievement award for photography in 1994 from the Railway & Locomotive Historical Society (R&LHS). Gruber is a founding member of the Center, having signed the incorporation papers in 1997. Since then he has served as its only president and editor of its journal, Railroad Heritage.

Thanks to an early partnership that Gruber helped forge with the Archives and Special Collections department of Lake Forest College’s Donnelley and Lee Library, the Center has become an important repository of railroad images. Its holdings include the photography of railroad watercolor artist Ted Rose and the photography of former Trains magazine editor Wallace W. Abbey, which Trains helped fund with its 2010 preservation award. Recent acquisitions include the collections of railroad photographers John F. Bjorklund, Hal Lewis, and Fred M. Springer.

Under Gruber’s leadership, the Center has grown to become a nationally significant arts and education nonprofit organization devoted to railroading in North America—the only such institution. Its programs serve the substantial community of railroad photographers—amateurs and professionals—on the North American continent. Its traveling exhibitions have appeared in railroad and art museums across the country, including the Haggerty Museum of Art at Marquette University, Milwaukee; the California State Railroad Museum, Sacramento; and Grand Central Terminal in New York City.

The Center has produced 31 issues of Railroad Heritage since Gruber launched the journal in 2000, including critically acclaimed special issues, Railroad History in a Nutshell and Railroad Preservation in a Nutshell. Recently, two Railroad Heritage articles have received the David P. Morgan Article Award from the R&LHS—the top prize for articles published on railroad history in any American publication.

Also under his leadership, every spring since 2003 the Center has hosted an annual conference, “Conversations about Photography.” It has grown from a one-day event with forty attendees to three days and 160 attendees. All but one has been on the campus of Lake Forest College, including the 2013 edition, which will be April 12-14.

Gruber also conceived and promoted the Center’s largest project to date: “Faces of Chicago’s Railroad Community: Photographs by Jack Delano,” an exhibition at the Chicago History Museum, April 4, 2014, to August 10, 2015. The project will bring Delano’s 1942-43 highly diverse American railroad story in pictures to one of the nation’s foremost public history museums. Gruber has played and will continue to play vital roles in research, writing, and publishing the catalog.

The Center’s board of directors will meet on February 27 to elect a new president. Executive director Scott Lothes, hired full-time in August 2011, will take over editorial duties of Railroad Heritage and continue to manage the organization’s day-to-day activities. Gruber sees a bright future for the Center, saying, “It has been rewarding to see the Center prosper and become the leading railroad visual arts organization in North America. The Center now has a well-qualified board and executive director to move it forward.”

John Gruber, David Kahler, and Nona HillJohn Gruber (left) with vice president David Kahler and board member Nona Hill at the Center’s Conversations about Photography 2012 conference.