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This gallery consists of color slides taken between 1969 and 2000. Although they cover a lot of geographic ground, I regret that the one part of the country I hadn't visited up to the time I stopped taking transparencies was the Southeast (where I now live). You'll find a disproportionate amount of Northeast material, some Midwest, and quite a bit of Colorado, Utah and the Southwest. Don't assume that the current mix of photographs is representative of the final gallery when complete; there are over a thousand slides yet to be posted (I hope on a monthly basis) and if your favorite railroad isn't currently represented it may very well be in a future update.

You won't find any "art" photography here. My intention has always been to preserve a record of railroad physical plant as much as possible. For the same reason you won't find many "roster" type shots here; in fact a large number of these photos contain no trains at all. I leave the identification of particular models of diesels to those interested in such matters.

Although these shots were originally taken for my own enjoyment, the passage of over forty years since some of these were made inevitably adds a certain amount of historical interest, particularly considering that most of these railroads, if they exist at all today, are now submerged into much larger entities. Many of the tracks, signals, stations, etc. depicted here are now empty fields or have been overbuilt with strip malls and the like.

Why are these slides square?

Kodak Stereo Camera
The Kodak Stereo Camera in well-earned retirement.

Well, almost square (1:1.117 to be reasonably precise). These slides were taken with a Kodak Stereo Camera (not to be confused with the Kodak Stereo Realist) bought secondhand in 1969. Some of the older readers among you may remember the big 3D craze of the fifties, when movies featuring arrows, trains, etc. coming right at the audience were all the rage (sound familiar?). Like its more recent manifestation the 3D craze petered out pretty quickly, but while it lasted several camera companies marketed stereo cameras of various sorts, of which the Kodak Stereo Camera and Stereo Realist were two of the most popular. These cameras, although they used ordinary 35mm slide film, exposed two images at once, each roughly square, and interleaved on the film in a space-saving configuration. They then had to be cut apart and the stereo pairs matched up (hopefully not mixing up right and left, which produced a truly awful effect) and mounted on special mounts. During the time that I actively used this camera I took around two thousand slides total, stopping only when it became impractical to get reliable mounting done.

The Stereo Camera didn't have great lenses, and interchangeable lenses were pretty much unknown due to the difficulty of getting the optics right for properly aligned left and right images, so these slides aren't nearly as sharp as those taken with high quality 35mm slide cameras (in addition, focusing was totally trial and error using the tick marks on the lenses, as they had no rangefinders). Also over the years many of the slides (especially those taken on cheap film, which at first was pretty much all I could afford) have color-shifted and/or faded quite badly. I've done my best to restore these (using Adobe Photoshop Elements) to something resembling their original colors, but there are limits to what one can recover from a slide that's mostly magenta and not much else.

Why is it Erie and not Erie Lackawanna?

The Erie Lackawanna merger occurred almost a decade before the earliest of these slides were taken; in fact many of the major mergers predate these slides. The railroad merger mania of the second half of the twentieth century (which with a few exceptions began around 1960) resulted in a constantly changing alphabet soup of railroad names and the complete disappearance of many into what ultimately ended up as the mega-systems of today. At the time most of these photos were taken, the names and paint schemes had changed (or were starting to) but the railroads themselves hadn't. Signals, stations, junctions and the like remained unchanged for a surprisingly long time; even today one can occasionally find semaphore signals, such as a distant signal on the former Southern Railway in Talladega, Alabama.

To me it is endlessly aggravating to see maps in railfan publications with lines labeled CSX, NS, UP, as if this is useful information. For those of us interested in railroads as objects of historical importance it's far more useful to know that a line is former Erie or New York Central as in many cases this still, even today, will suggest what types of signals, station architecture, and so on will be encountered.

For this reason I've chosen to give railroad names as they were prior to the 1960 start of the merger movement, with the actual name of the railroad as it was when the slide was taken in brackets. So, Erie [Erie Lackawanna] indicates that the subject of the photograph is former Erie property, although the actual owner at the time was the Erie Lackawanna. Just to help keep things straight I've included a list of railroads and their merger history.

Acknowledgements

At the time of writing this, the oldest of these slides were taken 48 years ago (1969). There are limits to what memory can do, especially when some slides have minimal information penciled onto the back of the mount. I have extensively relied on a large number of sources to fill in the many gaps, without which this gallery would be just another mass of pictures. Below are a few that I've found to be most useful.

Train Watcher's Guide to Chicago (written and published by John Szwajkart). I purchased a copy of this (I believe it was advertised in Trains magazine) before my first railfanning trip to Chicago in 1970, and it was absolutely invaluable. It still is, after having gone through two more editions, and I was delighted to see that Mr. Szwajkart still maintains an active website (home.earthlink.net/~szwajkartj/) after all these years. The information gathered in this little paperbound volume is priceless, and no serious train watcher intending to visit the Chicago area should be without it. Thank you, John.

Trains magazine. As I began preparing these slides for posting I started (mostly for fun) rereading back issues, starting in the 1940s. To my amazement, I found myself keeping a pad nearby to jot down useful information as I encountered it. Reading old copies of Trains is watching history in the making.

Merging Lines and Main Lines by Richard Saunders (Northern Illinois University Press). I encountered the first of these two titles in a local university library under the name The Railroad Mergers and the Coming of Conrail. It was the best history of United States railroading since 1950 that I had ever encountered, and I was delighted when Northern Illinois University Press decided to issue an expanded version of it under the name Merging Lines. I was even more delighted when Mr. Saunders prepared a sequel (Main Lines) that if anything was better than the first. No person trying to make sense of the constantly shifting railroad scene since 1950 should be without these.

Wikipedia. Well, duh.


Last updated 2/1/2018. Text and photo ©2018 Lamont Downs.