Inside the Ronald C. Hill Collection

Presented by Heather Sonntag, with special guests Jeff Brouws and Tim Tonge

Tuesday, March 28, 2023
7:00 p.m. (U.S. Central Time), on Zoom

YouTube Link

After spending nearly 15 months processing the Ronald C. Hill Collection of approximately 27,000 items including color transparencies, negatives, and prints, Heather Sonntag sees Ron Hill as “the whole rail-fan package.” Join us to hear how Heather first learned about railroad photography through Ron’s impeccable camera work that spans 60 years from 1957 to 2018. She will provide an overview of Ron’s long career in heritage train preservation, book publishing, darkroom printing, and rail-fan tripping. Also focusing on his color slides, Heather will showcase Ron’s tremendous “roadside railroad photography” (coined by Jeff Brouws) from the Center’s Visual Heritage Archive, celebrating the many zingers along the mainlines and narrow gauge tracks in Ron’s beloved Rocky Mountain West and elsewhere across North America.

Ronald C. Hill (1937-2023) recently passed away on January 23, 2023, at the age of 85. Ron gifted his collection to the Center, which spans from the 1950s to the 2010s and includes coverage from much of the United States, western Canada, and Europe. Read more about Ron’s tremendous legacy on our website:


Heather Sonntag joined the Center in 2020 as an associate archivist. She holds a doctorate in cultural history with a focus on 19th-century photography albums and a master’s of library and information studies from UW-Madison. She has interned with the Library of Congress, and also works as an assistant archivist of visual materials at the Wisconsin Historical Society.

Jeff Brouws is a member of the board of directors for the Center for Railroad Photography & Art and had been a friend to Ron Hill for over 50 years. He brings the Center knowledge of 19th and 20th-century photography and a broad background in publishing, with seven photography books to his credit. His photographs can be found in numerous public and private collections.

Tim Tonge is a member of the Center for Railroad Photography & Art and knew Ron Hill since 1977 when he met him at the Colorado Railroad Museum. Tim was browsing the book section and admiring one in particular, which he voiced out loud to the man next to him. The stranger (and coincidentally author of that publication) said “thank you.” That began a 45-year friendship between Ron and Tim. The two have traveled together across California, New Mexico, and Wyoming as well as the CRP&A conferences.


This event is free.
This presentation will be recorded and be made available on our YouTube page,





Ron Hill at Tehachapi, California, in 1977. Photograph by Jeff Brouws


Canadian Pacific FM C-liner no. 4052 at Fernie, British Columbia, Canada, on August 20, 1966. Photograph by Ron Hill, Hill-21-02-17

Valentine’s Day Special – Join or renew to get a free issue of Railroad Heritage 2018:3

We love our members! This Valentine’s Day we want to celebrate the best part of our organization – YOU! Be one of the first 15 people to join or renew between February 7-14 to receive a special Valentine’s edition of our journal Railroad Heritage 2018:3. Join or renew at

*UPDATE: All issues have been taken, thanks for your support!

In this heartfelt issue, Kate Botkin regales readers on how she “married into” railroading. Her cover story What I Did For Love tells how she ultimately fell in love with railroad photography after marrying and traveling to more than twenty countries with her husband Bill Botkin. Kate’s skills grew and she became a talented photographer in her own right. Both Kate and Bill Botkin have promised their collections to the Center for Railroad Photography & Art.

Other articles include:

  • Railroad Expressionism: Trains, loneliness, and hope in the art of Catherine Gibbs
  • Looking Again: After Promontory – How photographers have viewed transcontinental railroads
  • Inside the Exhibition: Wallace W. Abbey
  • Fashionable People Traveling By Train: The first modern Dutch railway posters
  • Out of the Archives: Metadata revisited: best practices and prioritizing 
Cover image: Jitong Railway QJ class 2-10-2 steam locomotive no. 6986 westbound at Yuzhoudi, China, at sunrise on December 14, 2004. Photograph by Kate Botkin

A Passion for Color: The Railroad Paintings of John R. Signor

Tuesday, February 21, 2023
7:00 p.m. (U.S. Central Time), on Zoom

Available on YouTube

In our next free online program, John Signor will showcase his spectacular paintings of the American rail industry, with a focus on western lines. Best known for his books and bird’s-eye view maps; John will relate his journey from a high school student through various attempts to depict his passion for trains. He started by creating art in various media and culminated in a transition to oil paints nearly forty years ago. He will regale those who influenced the path of his career and the lessons he has learned along the way.


Blessed with a natural ability, John Signor always dreamed of being an artist and pursued that direction through college. He was working as a freelance graphic designer in San Francisco in 1974 when his career took a turn and he was hired out with Southern Pacific as a Brakeman/Conductor. John’s interest in railroading and his efforts as a researcher, writer, artist, and cartographer merged over time and he went on to author more than a dozen books on western railroad history and contribute to many other books and periodicals.


This event is free.

This presentation will be recorded and be made available on our YouTube page,




Citrus Belt Retrospective. Painting by John Signor

History of the Beer Line, in-person lecture by John Kelly – Pilot Project MKE

Wednesday, February 8, 2023
7:00 p.m. (U.S. Central Time), in-person lecture
Event runs from 6:00 – 9:00 pm

Pilot Project MKE is the latest stop for the traveling photography exhibition Milwaukee’s Beer Line. The exhibition will be on view in the taproom from January 23 to February 15.

On Wednesday, February 8, local historian John Kelly will deliver a history of the Beer Line. The event starts at 6:00 pm and the lecture begins at 7:00 pm. Pilot Project will be hosting beer specials and 15% of the proceeds made during the event will be donated to the Center for Railroad Photography & Art.   

Pilot Project: 1128 N 9th Street, Milwaukee, WI 53233

The exhibition Milwaukee’s Beer Line was curated and produced by the Center for Railroad Photography & Art. Since statehood, beer has played an integral role in the growth of Wisconsin’s industry while bringing Milwaukee national fame. What might be less obvious, but no less important, was the profound role that rail transportation played in this story. The traveling photography exhibition Milwaukee’s Beer Line narrates the rise, fall, and rise again of Milwaukee’s beer industry through the eyes of the Milwaukee Road’s Beer Line, a branch line that serviced the city’s three biggest breweries – Schlitz, Pabst, and Blatz – in the mid-century.

This event is free to attend


Learn more about the Center for Railroad Photography & Art:

Learn more about Pilot Project:




Photograph by Wallace W. Abbey, collection of the Center for Railroad Photography & Art, Abbey-01-148-07

Rio Grande Steam Finale: Narrow gauge railroad photography in Colorado and New Mexico

In the 1950s and 1960s, many of the nation’s greatest railroad photographers journeyed to southwestern Colorado and northern New Mexico to document the final years of the Denver & Rio Grande Western’s spectacular narrow-gauge railway. They were driven by a fever for which there was no cure: the chance to photograph half-century-old trains operating on rails spaced three feet apart, the last remnants of an empire.

Drawing from thousands of images of the Rio Grande narrow gauge in the Center’s archive, editors Scott Lothes and Elrond Lawrence gathered the finest work on this rich subject by Tom Gildersleeve, John Gruber, Victor Hand, Don Hofsommer, Jim Shaughnessy, Fred Springer, Richard Steinheimer, and Karl Zimmermann. Inside Rio Grande Steam Finale you’ll find a stunning gallery of black & white and color images, lavishly presented and many published for the first time, covering the narrow gauge from Alamosa to Chama, Durango, Farmington, and Silverton.

Engaging essays by Hofsommer and Zimmermann, both of whom experienced the narrow gauge first-hand in the 1960s, provide context and personal insights. Extensive captions add context to the stories of the photographs, which trace the pattern of typical train operations of the era. The book concludes with a chapter of color images of today’s Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad and the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad.

  • Hardcover, 10×10 inches, 228 pages, more than 200 photographs and two essays
  • Endpaper map and elevation profile by David Styffe
  • $60 plus $5 for domestic shipping
  • International shipping is available; please inquire by email at info [at]

Cover photo: Denver & Rio Grande Western locomotives 497 and 487 hammer up the four percent grade to Cumbres, Colorado, under a dramatic sky at Windy Point on October 3, 1967. Photograph by Victor Hand