Virtual Conversations, April 18, 2020


An online conference about railroad photography and art
A free event on April 18, 2020

Virtual Conversations has concluded. Thank you to all of those who joined us for our first-ever online conference. Throughout the day we enjoyed a very passionate and engaged audience, with over 400 participants tuning in.

Thank you to all the presenters and volunteers who devoted countless hours to help make this event happen in such a short period of time. You have our endless gratitude!

Did you miss any of Virtual Conversation’s presentations? No problem! The pre-recorded shows are already available on YouTube. We have also recorded all of the live presentations and will add them to YouTube in the coming weeks.

In the meantime make sure to check out our attendees’ photography gallery and Human Connections, a series of galleries that examine the global connection of railroading, on our conference webpage.

We are delighted with the turnout and success of Virtual Conversations. The response from you and our community has been incredibly heartening. Thank you so much for joining us, and be sure to let us know what you think in our feedback survey following the event.

  • Pre-recorded presentations are available for viewing on our YouTube channel.
  • Live presentations were presented using Cisco’s Webex; live presentations will also be recorded and made available for later viewing on our YouTube channel.

Download the Conference Program (17.6 MB)


Pre-recorded shows to be released on YouTube throughout the week:

Saturday, April 18, live sessions on Cisco Webex (all times are U.S. Central)


Gil Bennett, “Railroading with a Brush: The Building of a Painting”
Live: view on YouTube

This presentation will chronicle the history of railroad paintings in America from 1869 to the 2000s. The presentation will review small to big steam railroads, the streamline and transition era, the diesel revolution, the standard diesel electronics and mega mergers, and the hi-tech diesels electronics of today.

Bennett has been painting professionally since 1984 and is proficient in both oil and watercolor. He is a commissioned artist who has worked for both large corporate businesses on advertisements and individual buyers looking to revive nostalgic memories. He also paints landscapes, portraits, western themes and landscapes, but prefers to paint his favorite subject – trains.

Travis Dewitz

Todd Halamka

Travis Dewitz & Todd Halamka, “Mikado’s Farewell – China’s Last Steam Railroad”
Pre-recorded: view on YouTube

Photographers Travis Dewitz and Todd Halamka made a two-week winter visit in 2018 to photograph steam locomotives on a remote coal mine railroad in China, located 2700 km northwest of Beijing. Scott Lothes will moderate 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.


Adrienne Evans, “Collections Update: Virtual Conversations Edition”
Live: view on YouTube

CRP&A Archivist Adrienne Evans will give an overview of the Center’s holdings and an update on the Railroad Heritage Visual Archive’s projected growth. Current and recently completed processing work as well as how the Collections staff plans to move forward during the outbreak of Covid-19 will also be discussed. Expect to see some gems from the most recently digitized batch of Jim Shaughnessy’s historic glass plate negatives and exciting new additions from some yet-to-be-announced new acquisitions!

Evans is the archives manager at the Center for Railroad Photography & Art. She received her master’s degree from UW-Madison’s School of Library Information Studies in 2014. She worked at History Colorado for two years before coming to the Center in 2017.


Fred Frailey

Kevin P. Keefe

Fred Frailey & Kevin P. Keefe, “ The Railroad, As J. Parker Lamb Saw It”
Live: view of YouTube

Fred Frailey and Kevin Keefe offer a wide-ranging selection of photographs from the camera of J. Parker Lamb, one of the key figures in railroading photography during the steam-to-diesel transition era of the 1950s and ’60s. Keefe and Frailey will trade anecdotes about Lamb — each worked extensively with him as authors and editors — and present some of Lamb’s best black-and-white work, much of it from the Center’s new book The Railroad Photography of J. Parker Lamb, as well as additional images from the Center’s Lamb collection. 

Frailey is one of America’s best-known railroad writers. His new book Last Train to Texas is just out from Indiana University Press, joining such other Frailey classics as Blue Streak Merchandise and Twilight of the Great Trains. He has written for Trains magazine for more than forty years and at the end of 2019 ended a long stint as one of its columnists. A Texas native, Frailey studied journalism at the University of Kansas and worked at the Kansas City Star, Chicago Sun-Times, and U.S. News & World Report before he enjoyed a long tenure as editor of Kiplinger’s Personal Finance.

Keefe is a member of the Center’s board of directors and is a columnist and blogger for Classic Trains magazine. He studied journalism at Michigan State University, worked for eleven years in daily newspapers, and spent twenty-nine years at Kalmbach Publishing Co., where he was a member of the Trains staff for thirteen years, eight as editor. He later served as the magazine’s publisher. He retired in 2016 as Kalmbach’s vice president-editorial. Keefe’s book, Twelve Twenty-Five: The Life and Times of a Steam Locomotive, in 2016 won the Notable Book Award from the Library of Michigan.


Justin Franz, “Winners and Losers: The Changing Map of the Northern Transcons”
Live: view on YouTube

In “Winners and Losers,” Justin Franz offers a look at the phenomenon of railroad towns along the northern transcontinental corridor. He focuses on how it played out along the Great Northern in Northwest Montana through contemporary images of the area’s two railroads: BNSF Railway’s main line over Marias Pass and the Mission Mountain Railroad’s Kalispell Branch.

Franz is a writer, editor, and photographer who lives in Whitefish, Montana, just steps away from the former Great Northern Railway’s mainline. Franz grew up in Maine where he acquired his interest in trains from his father who spent ten years as a railroader. In 2007, Franz moved to Montana and later graduated with a degree in print journalism from the University of Montana. Franz recently became the associate editor of Railfan & Railroad and Railroad Model Craftsman magazines. His work has appeared in Trains Magazine, Railroad Heritage, Travel & Leisure, Atlas Obscura, New York Times, and Washington Post.


Helbok (left) & Hiotis (right)

Oren Helbok & George Hiotis, “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the CRPA”
Pre-recorded: view on YouTube

Oren Helbok and George Hiotis regale adventures they have had over the past ten years on their travels to the Center for Railroad Photography & Art’s annual Conversations conference in Lake Forest.

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.


Elrond Lawrence, “Rails Along the Mother Road: the Southwest Transcon”
Live: view on YouTube

This personal journey will begin with images from the Santa Fe Railway era and leap forward to examine BNSF’s dynamic Transcon from New Mexico to Southern California, seeking out the traces of Santa Fe heritage that still evoke its mystique. We’ll follow iconic Route 66, where mid-century migrants once traveled in search of a new life, before reaching the sprawl of today’s Los Angeles.

Lawrence is a writer, photographer, and public relations professional with a passion for railroads and vintage highways. He grew up in Fontana, California, within sight of Santa Fe Railway’s Second District mainline and former U.S. Highway 66; weekend trips to the desert with his parents sealed his love for trains and the open road. Elrond authored the book Route 66 Railway and his work appears in Trains, Railfan, the NRHS Bulletin, and other publications. He lives along California’s central coast near Salinas with wife Laura and three cats and is active in Southern California rail preservation.


Dennis Livesey, “Steam, Steam, Steam! 45 Years of Exploring Fire, Water, and Steel”
Live: view on YouTube

In a presentation spanning a 45-year timeline, Dennis Livesey explores just what fire, water, steel is all about. Fascinated by the steam locomotive from the age of five, he has repeatedly sought it out, trying his utmost to unearth what attracts him to this; man’s first machine that tells you at every turn it is alive.

Long ago, Dennis Livesey saw the light. He is not sure if it was a New Haven Railroad headlight or his father’s slide projector but in either event, he was bitten both by railroads and photography. A graduate of NYU Film School, he had a 34-year career as a camera technician in the movies. Along the way, he convinced an incredible lady named Mel to marry him and raise two outstanding children. Now a camera specialist for a large camera retailer and a volunteer conductor at Steamtown, he photographs trains whenever the light is right.


Scott Lothes, “Return to Copper Country: Rediscovering the Railroads of Clifton and Morenci, Arizona”
Pre-recorded: view on YouTube

The copper mining region of far eastern Arizona is home to spectacular railroading and intriguing industrial history. Scott 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.


Ken Rehor, “My Travels with Steinheimer, Styffe, Benson, Dorn & Kooistra… Decades Before I Met Them”
Live: view on YouTube

This essay explores a Midwestern teenager’s photographic education from the Masters of Western rail photography – decades before he met them.

Ken Rehor has been fascinated with trains since before he could speak. First there was Dad’s pre-war Lionel train under the Christmas tree, followed by an epic family journey on the Super Chief to Los Angeles. Model trains eventually led to model train photographs, and then Trains Magazine.


Camron Settlemier, “Beautiful Fragility: Railroad cinematography in the Pacific Northwest”
Pre-recorded: view on YouTube

Camron Settlemier explains the motives and techniques of using video, rather than still imagery, for capturing some of the Pacific Northwest’s dying shorelines and branch lines during the turn of the last century. 

While still in college, Camron Settlemier got his first video camera to capture the last summer of the Southern Pacific In Oregon. For the next thirteen years he put all available time, money and resources to pursue his interest in railroad videography, capturing some of the most vulnerable and interesting shorelines and branch lines in the Pacific Northwest. He is also known for professional Steam Videos, first working with Goodheart Productions, and later forming his own video company, Marcam Productions. In 2007 Marcam Productions was the first to release a steam railfan video in the US on High Definition Blu-ray, the “Legends of Steam” series. Today Camron subsists in his hometown of Albany, Oregon and dreams of inventing a time machine to go back to a period of time worth videoing.


Presenter Gallery

Attendee Gallery

Human Connections

Human Connections

Railroads connect us across time and space. Lately, we have all had to reconsider the meaning of space and how we measure the distance between friends and family, between coworkers, and between nations. In these times of suffering and uncertainty it is easy to feel alone. That is why some of the most important reminders we can give ourselves are the memories of connection.

Virtual Conversations stemmed from an idea to keep our membership connected while we have to stay physically apart. The tremendous response we received came from across the globe, and well beyond our membership. Whilst readying for this conference over the past month we were reminded that railroading does not only connect those involved in our organization but, in fact, it connects the world.

Though we have witnessed a horrible side-effect of globalization in the past four months with the spread of COVID-19, it is important to not forget the beautiful diversity our world holds and how railroads serve to connect its many corners for the better. From workers to passengers to railfans, the imprint of railroading touches people of all races, genders, or creeds. The following galleries demonstrate the global impact of railroading and the human connections this technology fosters.

Human Connections uses images from the Center for Railroad Photography & Art’s Wallace W. Abbey, John F. Bjorklund, Victor Hand, J. Parker Lamb, Ted Rose, and Fred Springer collections and images from the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division. The works of Todd Halamka, Scott Lothes, and Bill Schafer are also featured.

Let these galleries serve as a reminder that although tracks connect cities and countries, people stand at the heart of these machines that connect the world.

Hailey Paige
Exhibitions and Events Coordinator

A group of young boys gather near the track of the Hedjaz Jordan Railway (HJR), in Amman, Jordan, on July 15, 1991. HJR steam locomotive no. 71 pulls a passenger train along the outskirts of the city. Photograph by Fred Springer. © 2020, Center for Railroad Photography and Art, Springer-Hedjaz-ZimZam(1)-02-27


We recommend downloading and testing Webex prior to the start of Virtual Conversations as it may take a few minutes for the application to get up and running. We will conduct testing sessions during the week of April 13-17 and encourage you to attend one to ensure that your system will work properly. We will announce times by April 13 via email and on this website.

Center staff will not be available to troubleshoot on the day of the conference due to limited resources. If you are experiencing connectivity issues, the most likely cause is lack of bandwidth on your end. We recommend that no other devices that use significant data be used during the conference, and if you have a wireless connection, you may want to sit near your router. If problems persist, it may simply be due to a lack of bandwidth or heavy usage. Our best advice is to exit the conference, close the application, reopen it, and rejoin. Also, make sure to close all other applications and webpages on your computer while using Webex. We apologize for not being able to provide more assistance, and we will record all of the presentations and make them available on our YouTube channel the following week.