Photographs & History

Photographs and History

Interview | The Trackside Photographer

Recently I had the opportunity to talk with Edd Fuller, editor of The Trackside Photographer; a blog focused on the railroad landscape. I am excited to share this interview about my ongoing work and how it ties into a central theme inspired by history. The following is the interview in its entirety as it was posted last week on The Trackside Photographer. Enjoy! 


Trackside Interview #3 - Michael Froio

Michael Froio is a photographer who focuses on the history of the industrial era and its relation to the modern landscape. His work has been published by the National Railway Historical Society, and he has presented lectures for the Center For Railroad Photography & Art, the Library Company of Philadelphia, and chapters of the National Railway Historical Society and Pennsylvania Railroad Technical & Historical Society. Michael teaches photography at Drexel University and manages the school’s darkroom and photography facilities. Michael’s work may be seen on his website

The expansive Rockville Bridge stretches across the Susquehanna River, and remains the worlds longest stone arch bridge. Rockville a testament to the Pennsylvania Railroad’s engineering legacy, part of Michael’s ongoing project From the Mainline, a culmination of interests and ideas focused on the railroad and the landscape it travels.

The expansive Rockville Bridge stretches across the Susquehanna River, and remains the worlds longest stone arch bridge. Rockville a testament to the Pennsylvania Railroad’s engineering legacy, part of Michael’s ongoing project From the Mainline, a culmination of interests and ideas focused on the railroad and the landscape it travels.

Edd Fuller, Editor, The Trackside Photographer - Michael, I want to thank you for your generosity in sharing your work with our readers and for taking the time to talk with us. I usually start by asking about your interest in railroads, and we will get to that later, but first let’s talk about photography. You have chosen a career in photography. How did that come about?

Michael Froio - Thanks, Edd, It is a pleasure, and honor, to share my work with the Trackside Photographer, I have a tremendous amount of respect for what you are doing.

How did I get into photography? Hm. Well, I always had an interest in making photographs, at least since my young teenage years. At that time it very simply tied into my interest in trains. I wasn’t particularly good at making train photos, but while exploring the railroad (often with my father) I was always compelled to document what we found. When I started college, I had no idea what I wanted to be when I grew up. Taking prerequisite classes like English lit and math classes bored me out of my mind. A friend and classmate mentioned he was taking a photo class, so I enrolled in Photo 110. My professor, Rachael Fermi (granddaughter of Enrico Fermi - the creator of the atomic bomb) was an incredible character. She did a terrific job teaching the foundations of photography while encouraging creativity, craft and an understanding of composition. After a few classes, I took a job as a lab monitor, mixing chemicals and managing the darkroom, typically during the evening hours. It was during this post that I fell in love with photography and the idea of teaching.

Moving on from Community College, I enrolled in Drexel University’s Photography Program. I found Drexel’s program was a perfect balance of technical and creative instruction; not an art school type program, but a curriculum focusing on how to visually communicate through photographs, and that they could function in both a commercial or fine art context. I think the course that had the most significant impact on me was the Large Format class. It was a challenging course technically (I still hold the record for reshoots of my exposure and development test for the zone system) but by far the most rewarding, producing these large, 4◊5î negatives. After graduating, I began work in the field as Assistant Facilities Manager at the Drexel Photo Program, and was then promoted to Facilities Manager. Working in an environment I’ve been invested in has been incredibly rewarding, including being part of bringing the 10,000sq. ft. facility into the 21st century, several lab re-designs and helping develop an evolving curriculum. I am also very fortunate to have the opportunity to teach in the Program, including foundation coursework for our majors, and an Advanced Black & White Printing course, among others. Drexel not only helps me to sustain my family and provides an opportunity to teach, but also affords me the ability to pursue my personal work, allowing me to find my purpose in photography.

Edd - Much of your photography has focused on the industrial landscape and architectural history. What sparked that interest?

Michael - As an artist, you go with your gut. I responded to these types of places without knowing why, but from the first time I composed an image of a building or landscape, the gears were turning. What is it about this site? Why am I compelled to make a photo here? It’s intuition at first, the eye sees something long before the mind connects the dots. I had to sort of go with it. It took time to understand that my interest in photographing a landscape or type of architecture comes from a fascination with our history, whether civic, industrial, or social. It took time to see the inter-relatedness of civic institutions, industry and architecture; to see that public buildings spoke to the wealth, power, progress and civic pride cities large and small shared, but that purpose-driven industrial architecture and landscapes were the working class spaces behind that civic pride. This notion still compels me to make photographs today, whether along the Main Line or anywhere else; our country’s history is a significant thread that continues to weave throughout my creative work.

Bordentown Bluffs, Crosswicks Creek, Mercer County, New Jersey.

Bordentown Bluffs, Crosswicks Creek, Mercer County, New Jersey.

Edd - On your website, I particularly enjoy the photography in The Watershed Project which is not about railroads. You write that it  "is about the beauty of the benign and unremarked place, challenging our perception of the natural landscape..." This seems to apply to your railroad photography as well. Tell us a bit about this project, and how it fits with your overall vision of the landscape.

Michael - The watershed project was a logical progression of my senior thesis work, both of which largely took place in Southern New Jersey and the Delaware Valley. For thesis, I was looking at the open spaces of Salem and Cumberland Counties, mainly farmland, recognizing that such space has unfortunately become rare in the so-called Garden State. Through work on that project, I began taking notice of beautiful, unconstructed spaces of a wholly different type in the same region, mainly along the Delaware River and Bay. They were undefined areas, places that didn’t seem to have a purpose on their face, but where locals would hike, hunt, fish, etc. Were these preserved spaces? Did they belong to a more extensive network? What was the purpose of these places? How did these swaths come to exist? As I continued to examine these areas, I expanded my reach into less idyllic places, where these fringe, improvised landscapes abutted industry - airports, refineries, or dredging dumps. These were the places you might see from a highway, seemingly barren spaces. Yet, once you entered them and escaped the noise of the neighboring areas I found many were incredibly beautiful, seeming more pristine and isolated than any number of curated, patrolled, trafficked National or State Park areas. All these places made me think more and more about how we perceive the landscape around us. We understand farmland; it has a purpose, it produces a tangible result, as do industrial spaces. Parks are designed for recreation, cities and town centers are designed to serve the needs of their populations. But these unremarked tracts remain mostly undefined. The French term Terrain Vague highlights the idea that these spaces represent a diversion from our traditional understanding of the landscape and how we as a society identify with and interface with these areas. They are landscapes that may have once had a purpose but have become places void of definition - neither park, nor act of preservation nor productive, planned, commercial or social spaces. Yet they become places where only locals with intimate knowledge of the area have reason or standing to redefine the area with no need of a formal plan. The Watershed project and the previous works that lead to it, were an important part of learning how to understand and interpret the landscape.

Edd - Your work encompasses many different aspects of industrial and architectural history, but the railroad seems to hold pride of place. How did your interest in railroads come about?

Michael - While it is all interrelated, the railroad is at the beginning of it all, it was what compelled me to pick up a camera in the first place. The work featured on my website is organized in three succinct portfolios and speaks to an evolution of sorts in the way I work, the Main Line Project being the current capstone. It started with a desire to better understand the landscape, which came with the Watershed portfolio and all previous projects that led me there. The Relic portfolio helped to develop an understanding of how to weave history into creative works, and how photography can be a documentation tool while still being original. The Main Line Project was the culmination of those ideas, as well as countless other creative discoveries that have come as result of the ongoing work.

Edd - How did the Main Line Project come about?

Michael - The idea of the Main Line project was not a new one; in fact, I started it initially as my thesis work, and failed miserably because I didn’t understand what it was that I wanted to portray within the concept of the railroad itself. When I began the Main Line Project, in 2007, six years after that failure, the first year of photographs barely acknowledged the railroad at all, instead focusing on towns and industry along the line. It was my usual approach from work on the Watershed and Relic projects, but in a different environment. It wasn’t until I read an essay by John Stilgoe and his seminal book The Metropolitan Corridor that a light went off. Stilgoe’s concepts of breaking down and understanding constituent elements within the whole of the railroad landscape were right there in front of me, and I had been photographing these attributes without even realizing it. Remember that whole gut reaction first then the mind connects the dots? Well, here I was. Not long after that discovery, I began looking at ways to expand the reach of the project, ways to better connect the contemporary work within the historical framework of the subject. I found the research aspect of the project was generating as much excitement for me as being out in the field making photographs. As a result of my research, my imagery was more informed, my work process was more productive, and my viewpoint was evolving. As a result, the railroad itself began to play a more prominent role in the project since it takes, as you say, pride of place, the very thing that sparked this whole photography thing for me.

Northbound Waiting Room, Pennsylvania Station, Wilmington, Delaware. 

Northbound Waiting Room, Pennsylvania Station, Wilmington, Delaware. 

Edd - Your photographs in From the Main Line reflect the history of a railroad, but that history is interpreted in the context of the current landscape, which your black & white photographs capture beautifully. I sense though that your interest in the Pennsylvania Railroad extends beyond the railroad itself. What does the railroad tell us about the culture and history that lies along the tracks?

Michael - The railroad is the thematic tie that binds the project together (if you’ll pardon the pun), but for me, since the Pennsylvania Railroad ceased to exist well before my time, it’s the remaining contemporary landscape rather that reflects back to the railroad and its connections to neighboring towns and the landscape. For example, in the modern context, the railroad is often just passing through, void of any link to the town. In other places, there survives just a fragment from a more significant system or merely a scar in the landscape. I have always considered the railroad as a sort of linear history corridor, and along that tangent, one can learn how settlements were founded, thrived, withered, centralized and so on. This inhabited landscape repeats over and over again, showing the once significant relationship between the railroad and these cities and small towns, all through the back lots of America. It is also important to recognize that the railroad wasn’t always the first connection between these towns; early trade routes, canal systems, and other vital parts of early civilization and commerce all intertwined with the railroad corridor. All of these elements in the landscape create a dialogue, my job as a photographer is to interpret those connections, all the while making meaningful photographs.

Edd - You mention the work of William H. Rau as having influenced your work, How do Rau’s late 19th and early 20th century photographs of the Pennsylvania Railroad inform your 21st century understanding?

Michael - Every year, I give a lecture to one of our resident faculty member’s Photo History Classes, about the dialog between contemporary and historical works of art. The lecture is held at the Library Company of Philadelphia, where the Rau collection is on deposit. The visit gives students an opportunity to see how historical works can influence contemporary imagery, placing side by side Rau’s original prints commissioned by the PRR with my own. The discussion of dialog, in my case with Rau’s work, has been a multifaceted and informative relationship.

In 2003 I first discovered Rau’s work when visiting an exhibition at the Library Company titled "Traveling the Pennsylvania Railroad." I wasn’t particularly captivated by 19th Century work at the time, but the press images looked great, and the subject certainly could not be rivaled. My knee-jerk reaction to this work was, "Wow! How could work made over 120 years ago feel so contemporary?" I loved that his work was about the railroad, but distinct from any work I had ever seen previously. In all books or publications I’d been exposed to, the train itself took a prominent role in the photograph. I found Rau’s work so compelling in its difference from this paradigm in that Rau’s work focused on the destination, the engineering marvel of the railroad itself and how it brought order and civility to the landscape. The train itself was secondary, it was more of a harmonious, machine in the garden if you will. Of course, I bought the book that accompanied the exhibition and studied the images. That show in 2003 planted the seed that led me back to the railroad when I applied for a grant with the Center for Emerging Visual Artists to begin the Main Line project in 2007.

Previously, I mentioned when I started the Main Line project my work focused more on the landscape, hardly acknowledging the railroad, something I had not quite figured out how to incorporate subtly. I turned to the Rau Collection at the Library Company of Philadelphia for insight, contacting Prints and Photographs Curator Sarah Weatherwax, who was very gracious with her time, allowing me to study reference prints and then later Rau’s original mammoth plate albumen prints. Having Rau’s work in front of me, one on one, was pivotal, it was like a recharge of the creative battery in between photo trips. Rau’s work as a photographer was spectacular; they were crisp, sharp gorgeous prints, gleaming with information. More importantly, the content helped me understand a railroad that was becoming worthy of its self-proclaimed title, "The Standard Railroad of the World," with details of the railroad’s extensive system-wide improvements carefully tucked away in corners of these massive photographic prints.

I continue to take inspiration from Rau today, but I’ve also turned to his predecessors, like Purviance and Gutekunst who were also commissioned to photograph the PRR in earlier times. Outside of the PRR commissions, photographers like William Henry Jackson, AJ Russel, and Carleton Watkins who were being commissioned to document the opening of the west by rail also provide great insight on how the railroad changed our relationship with the landscape.

Abandoned Pratt Deck Truss Bridge, spanning the Little Juniata River, part of the remains of the former Lewisburg & Tyrone Railroad, a PRR subsidiary.  

Abandoned Pratt Deck Truss Bridge, spanning the Little Juniata River, part of the remains of the former Lewisburg & Tyrone Railroad, a PRR subsidiary.  

Edd - I know that a lot of research goes into a project like “From the Main Line.” Tell us about your working methods in the field. What do you look for? What draws you into a scene. Do you know where you are going to shoot in advance, or do you find your photographs while exploring the area?

Michael - I have found a synergy between what I like to call armchair scouting, historical research and my fieldwork. There is obviously a great deal of initial planning, especially since I often have limited time to travel. I do most of my scouting on Google Maps, saving and marking locations, based on previous visits, target locations, or intriguing names or landmarks within the landscape. I’ll note what time of day the light is right for a particular area, say a prayer to the cloud gods, and then start planning a trip. When I get out in the field, I do reference the maps, but the serendipity of discovery in the field is also very important. I can’t tell you how many times I have obsessed over a location only to get there and be disappointed, but on the way to that place find some incredible scene. Research indeed informs and helps to plan a trip, but I still rely on my intuition in the field while making photographs.

Its tough to say what draws me in to a particular scene; Sometimes it’s a subject, whether it be a relic or landmark of the railroad, town or a natural feature. There are however, with in those more spontaneous moments, the combination of light, feeling, and often a sense of scale or a dramatic play between the railroad and surrounding landscape that will make for a great image. There isn’t a specific formula that I can say goes into making an image like this, but there is nothing more exciting on a day shooting than being enroute to a location at dawn, and that morning light is playing in the clouds, or across the trees. That first photograph of the day is always critical, once it happens, its game on until the end of the day.

Outside of shooting or actively planning a trip, I am constantly analyzing my work, looking at prints or even on screen, conducting a mental audit of an area, looking to decide if I have enough work to convey a sense of place to a given area, before I move on to other locations. So far I haven’t been able to just turn my back on an area and say “I’m done here,” but the goal is to convey a story for each region or division within the project, touching on the character of the landscape, towns and the defining attributes of the railroad itself.

Edd - There is a consistency of vision in your black and white work that forms a strong unifying element in “From the Main Line." Most of this work is done in large format film. What prompted you to work in this way? What does large format black & white film bring to the project?

Michael - I don’t want to demystify the notion that large format has a great deal to do with the product, but to be honest, as I look back and begin to incorporate more and more digital capture I realize it was more my approach, composition, and style, that unify the work. Large format for me is a tool; at the time I started the project it was the main tool I used simply because digital wasn’t there yet, not for me. How can you justify trading a 5x7 negative for a 20-megapixel camera? You can’t; they aren’t even in the same ballpark. There are merits of the large format camera and I do love using it, as it provides a wonderful connection to the craft of making photographs. But once I started working with the advancing technology of digital capture in depth, during my commissioned work for Conrail I began to see how powerful this tool could be when used correctly.

When I commit myself to change like moving to digital, it’s after I have weighed all benefits and drawbacks of each tool. I have a few friends I will often confide in, who are not necessarily photographers, but people who will give me their honest opinion, whether I like it or not. One of these people, Anthony, a dear friend, who would often roll his eyes and harass me when the digital camera came out, sat down one evening with some work prints I made. He had never seen any of the digital work printed, just either on camera or on a laptop after a day of shooting. He sat there quietly thumbing through the prints, sighed and looked at me and said, “you’re right, the change to digital has not impacted your vision, your work, not in a negative anyway.” That was the confirmation that my transition into using digital capture was successful. A change in tool didn’t impact my vision. There are a lot of people who will argue the merits of film or digital, but after many years making pictures, the results are what matter to me. The tool you use to make pictures, whether it has a sheet of film loaded in it or a 50mp sensor, makes no difference to me, as long as you do it well.

Delair viaduct, span replacement project documentation for Conrail Shared Assets Operation, Port Richmond section, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  

Delair viaduct, span replacement project documentation for Conrail Shared Assets Operation, Port Richmond section, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  

Edd - Several years ago, you were commissioned by Conrail Shared Assets to document the reconstruction of the Delair Bridge in New Jersey. From black & white view cameras to color video production is quite a leap, but you bring it off beautifully. Tell us about how this project came about and how you decided on the best way to tell this story.

Michael - The commissioned work for Conrail Shared Assets came from a working relationship with, and mutual respect for, railroad engineering and history within the company’s engineering department. When I was first approached about the span replacement project at Delair, a video was being considered to document six 3-day, 72-hour outages, which were being planned over a 15-month period. 72 hours of video per outage meant 432 hours of raw footage. Who has the time to watch that, never mind the resources to archive, cull from, and edit such a massive collection? Did they want a feature film as a result? We proposed instead the use of time-lapse, essentially taking sequences of still photos at timed intervals, and then processing the stills into video clips. We could still convey the scope of work while touching upon all the needs of the client, and each outage could be distilled down to a three or six-minute edit.

There was, however, one minor hitch. At the time, I had not taken digital capture very seriously, not to mention that I’d never even worked in video at all. I knew I was approaching the deep end of the pool, but it is often opportunities like this that afford the ability to grow and learn. Another challenge for me as an image-maker was knowing that there was no possible way I could do this on my own. To rectify that, I contacted Samuel Markey, a former student who was now working with time-lapse and video in his own business. Our work ethic, ideas, and personalities synced perfectly. It was the right move. With each outage, we quickly learned what did and did not work and what we needed, in terms of both equipment and visuals. It was also very fortuitous to have a client who was open to ideas, suggestions and supporting whatever ridiculous request we may have thrown at them. Over three years Sam and I continued to push production levels as we worked on three major projects for Conrail - two at Delair, and one at Paulsboro, NJ. We forged relationships with the contractors and Conrail’s Bridge & Building and Engineering departments, delivering a product that was visually interesting while meeting the needs of the client for documentation. In the end, we got to be in places nobody from the outside would have access to, to make a meaningful and creative documentation of large-scale engineering projects in the railroad tradition. Overall, it was a fantastic and educational experience.

Edd - Creatively, what is your greatest challenge?

Michael - I think my biggest creative challenge is how to draw a diverse audience to my work, especially the Main Line Project. The success of this project so far has been the fact that it can function on multiple levels ñ historical, engineering, landscape studies, transportation, contemporary photography, etc. I am always looking for feedback, trying to edge out where the best responses to my work originate, be they blog publications, single images, portfolios, and exhibitions. Trying to keep my work fresh and relevant is my biggest priority. I often get asked, “When will the project be done?” I don’t know… I am still learning, still enjoying the discovery process and the dialog with the landscape and historical works. I feel like the project still has plenty of energy, the challenge is how to harness, and it keep it exciting, for me and for my audience.

Controlled Burn, along Alloway Creek, New Bridge Road, Salem County New Jersey. 

Controlled Burn, along Alloway Creek, New Bridge Road, Salem County New Jersey. 

Edd - What projects are you currently working on? Any new projects in the pipeline?

Michael - I wouldn’t necessarily say there are any new projects in the pipe, but rather evolutions of existing work. I continue to explore my native area of Southern New Jersey. The idea of making a long-standing body of work about a familiar landscape or place is fascinating to me. It is something that evolves alongside your life, while you take root and raise a family, a process that changes our views with age. These life experiences change how we perceive things, the landscape included. It’s exciting to me to have a back burner project to step in and out of occasionally, that I don’t have to think about too much, but can occasionally revisit. It allows time for the oft-viewed, rarely seen landscape to rest, and my vision to watch the change and evolution of photographs, slowly take place. It’s a familiar place to test out ideas, to keep the tools sharp if you will.

Edd - One of the concerns that is often voiced by organizations devoted to historic preservation is “Where are the young people who will carry on this work?” Since you teach young photographers who are just starting out, I am curious if any of your students display any interest in documenting and interpreting the past, or are they more tuned in to the trendier aspects of contemporary photography.

Michael – It’s interesting; photo students seem to come wired with an interest of all things old, maybe it’s the historical connection with photographic traditions, perhaps it’s nostalgia, or the modern urban exploration phenomenon, but students do indeed incorporate these notions into their work in various ways. Some students focus on documenting industrial and social landscapes, and when they do, of course, we all (faculty) encourage them to find their voice and how they can use it to make a living. Every student is different, and you have to leave your work out of the equation, to ensure they understand why they are drawn to a subject, and not just teaching them to emulate someone else’s work without understanding why. It is a delicate balance, as landscapes and history are not for everyone, but I do think there is a contingent of young adults that will carry the torch in preservation. I also think the next generation of preservationists and hobbyists are bringing a significant change in how we present and share ideas and organize and socialize with groups.

Making photographs can often be mainly a solitary exercise, especially for me, wandering the ruins of a vanished railroad or other forgotten spaces in-between. Beyond image capture, processing is also a solo act, alone in a darkroom, studio or office. But photography doesn’t occur in a vacuum, and sharing results is key to the undertaking. This is the advantage the next generation of preservationists and hobbyists will have, the enhanced ability to find and organize social groups to present and share ideas. It’s this difference I think will keep the goals of documentation and preservation alive and well moving forward.

Edd - The curriculum at Drexel requires photography majors to learn film photography and darkroom processing. What do students in this digital age, many of whom have never been exposed to “analog” photography, make of this? And why do you think that learning what is now seen by many as obsolete, is important to their education?

Michael - We don’t teach a lot of film-based technique, but what we do teach is incredibly important to the education of a photographer. The most important benefit of a student working in large or medium format film is that it teaches the student to slow down - how to look, think, and craft an image on the ground glass, how to meter and expose, develop and print the negative. Regardless of the tool, it’s important to learn that every step in the process is intertwined. It’s not that these skills can’t be learned in digital, but learning film technique forces the issue, because the results are absolute. If you go through all the steps, run the film, and the negative is less than optimal, you have to do it again, attempting to figure out what you did wrong in your process. If you have a RAW file that is poorly exposed, there are still options to recover something. In short, with film, the stakes are higher. You can’t teach “too much” of the “how” and “why”, the critical thinking part of the process. It’s this that’s too easy to lose in a photographic education absent of the analog process. After mastering those problem-solving skills, whatever tool a photographer chooses from the toolbox will be treated the same. Each format has its purpose, and today, there is nothing better or worse between them. Anyone arguing solely for the merit of film-based capture is romanticizing the process, and one asserting the supremacy of digital likely never understood or experienced what film is truly capable of. It’s a tool, just like the hammer. What matters, in the end, is how you use it.

Former Pennsylvania Railroad 1888 Pratt truss bridge spanning the Susquehanna River.

Former Pennsylvania Railroad 1888 Pratt truss bridge spanning the Susquehanna River.

Edd - You have a strong affinity for black & white in your own work, and of course you still work with film. How do you think your work would be different if you were working in digital color?

Michael - I learned color in the darkroom during my education and never really felt connected to it, the process was limiting, and the introduction of color to a photograph brought a whole new layer of subjectivity to an image. Now that I shoot a good bit of work digitally, I do see my work in color, albeit briefly, and so far, it’s done nothing for me, my mind just tunes it out. I certainly admire what others are doing in color, and of course, the big names like Richard Misrach, Edward Burtynsky, and Robert Polidori are awe-inspiring, but I’m just not feeling it for my work. Much of my work is focused on places outside their times, adding color would change this significantly. It would be too connected to reality and the present.

Edd - Railroads are an unusually visual subject. Railfans are photographers almost by definition. I can’t think of any special interest that has as strong a connection to photography as railroading. Why do you suppose this is?

Michael - I think there are a lot of hobby groups that make a natural fit with photography; of avid hikers many landscape photographers are made, and birding another one, but yes, photography is indeed a prevalent predilection in the railfan community. The connection appears to goes back to preservation again, be it of moments, places or things; and nostalgia for the railroad generally, since subjects loaded with nostalgia seem to be prime targets. Sometimes they seek to answer questions: What was that branch line’s purpose? How many passenger trains stopped at this now dilapidated depot? Or express a regional fandom. Countless fallen flag railroads each have their cult following; in many cases, their fans never even saw the original road in operation. Fortunately for all of us interested in this genre, preservation by photograph has been intertwined with the railroad itself since the dawn of photography, creating a visual anthology of railroading by both professional and amateur photographers alike. Still today, the only thing constant in the railroad industry is change, and photography seems to be the most common form of preservation.

Outside of the simple “preservation by photograph” approach, some railfans try to emulate the greats like Shaughnessy, Plowden, Hastings, Steinheimer, and Link. That is a beautiful thing; it reflects an intelligent and passionate response to the visual proficiency of these noted photographers, who left an undeniable mark on the entire industry and hobby. Technology has also played a significant role in the advancement of the genre. The flexibility of higher level ISO sensitivity in digital, the extended dynamic range, instant feedback, and being limited by only the space on their memory card, photographers have advanced their rail photography to levels that would make some of the greats envious. The point is, what drives a lot of these people is passion, whether they are good at making photographs, or it is a simple visual record to model a structure, you really can’t deny the important intersection of railroads and photography in our community.

Franklin Boro, and Main Line, from East Conemaugh, Pennsylvania.

Franklin Boro, and Main Line, from East Conemaugh, Pennsylvania.

Edd - Do you have a favorite among your own photographs, one that is particularly meaningful to you? Tell us about it.

Michael - I am always hesitant to answer questions like this, but if I had to single one out, I’d say, Franklin Boro, from East Conemaugh, PA is pretty damn close. I remember seeing it on the ground glass, it was an image I made while I was reading Stilgoe’s Metropolitan Corridor, and it reinforces the connection between the railroad and the landscape. Layers of history stacked up on the mountainside, having seen an evolution of transportation and industrial history from those lofty views. Some would see a place like this as sad or depressing; I find these types of locations intriguing and beautiful. It’s a key image in the project.

Edd - And one last question. If you could spend a day photographing alongside any photographer from any era in the history of photography, who would it be, and why?

Michael - That is easy, William H Rau, however, I would need a little more than a day! I’d love to be in the meetings with PRR officials planning Rau’s campaigns in the 1890’s. To see what the expectations were from the client, and understand what Rau brought to the table, how they came to select the locations and the logistics of access. Being in the field would be interesting to see how they handled his photographic train and moving that incredibly bulky camera (his smallest was a 18x22” glass plate camera) all around an active railroad. I can only imagine some dispatcher pounding out messages on the telegraph telling the crew to move him along so he could get back to running trains!

Edd - I look forward to seeing where your exploration of the railroad landscape takes you, and thanks for letting us come along for the ride!

Michael - As always Edd, thank you, it’s a pleasure to be able to present my work like this, you don’t always have the opportunity to reflect back on your projects and ideas. This interview has been a great way to analyze my perspectives and assess how my ideas in photography and preservation have developed over the years. I know my approach to the subject is different from a lot of photographers interested in railroading, I hope this shed a little light on how and why I make the images I do. Thanks again for the opportunity, and keep up the great work on The Trackside Photographer!

Winter News | Interview & Exhibitions

Former Pennsylvania Railroad Pratt truss bridge spanning the Susquehanna River. Selinsgrove, Pennsylvania.

Former Pennsylvania Railroad Pratt truss bridge spanning the Susquehanna River. Selinsgrove, Pennsylvania.

New Interview | The Trackside Photographer

Recently I had the opportunity to talk with Edd Fuller, editor of The Trackside Photographer, a blog focused on the railroad landscape. I am excited to share this interview about my ongoing work and how it ties into a central theme inspired by history. Follow the link to learn more about my process, creative work and how my interest in both the landscape and railroads has woven its way into my projects for many years. To read the interview visit The Trackside Photographer, or click the image above! 

Northward view, Susquehanna River, Marysville, Pennsylvania.

Northward view, Susquehanna River, Marysville, Pennsylvania.

Exhibitions | Current

2017 Members Exhibition | Main Line Art Center
Through January 3, 2018

I currently have a piece hanging in the 2017 Members Exhibition at the Mainline Art Center, in Haverford, PA. The exhibition is a celebration of the MLAC members’ support and creative energy, featuring a range of works from photography, sculpture, painting, printmaking, and ceramics. 

Gallery Hours are Monday through Thursday: 10 AM to 8 PM, Friday through Sunday: 10 AM to 4 PM. This exhibition is free and open to the public. The Main Line Art Center is located at 746 Panmure Road in Haverford PA, offers free parking, and is easily accessible from public transportation. 

South Fork Creek, Soukesburg, Pennsylvania

South Fork Creek, Soukesburg, Pennsylvania

Exhibitions | Upcoming

9 New Jersey Photographers | Stockton University
January 16th through March 28th, 2018

My work will be part of an upcoming exhibition curated by Stephen Perloff, editor of the Photo Review and the Photograph Collector; the show spotlights nine NJ based photographers. An artists reception will be held Tuesday, March 6th at 5 PM followed by a talk with curator Stephen Perloff at 6:30 PM. More information will follow as the event approaches. 

The Stockton University Art Galleries are located on Lakeside Lane, Galloway, NJ in Galloway, NJ. Parking is available at the Lakeside parking area. 

Christiana | Last Stop in Lancaster County

Previously, on the former Pennsylvania Railroad mainline we left off in Lancaster County at Mine Ridge, the highest point on the PRR east of the Alleghenies. The route closely follows the original 1834 alignment of the PRR's predecessor, the Philadelphia & Columbia Railroad, crossing through a gap in the ridge between Lancaster and Chester Counties and the divide between the Susquehanna and Deleware Watersheds. From the west, the line climbs the grade between Kinzer and Gap on a series of reverse curves in short succession following a brief tangent, attaining the summit at roughly milepost 50. The eastward descent starts into another  1-degree curve positioning the line into a long straight until reaching Christiana, the last station along the line in Lancaster County. In Christiana, the line again navigates another series of reverse curves flanking the town center followed by a sharp curve at North Bend where the line crosses into Chester County.

A modern-day view of the 1912 era Christiana train station. While manufacturing has left communities like this, the historical character and old buildings speak to the Borough's importance in industrial history throughout the United States in the 19th Century.

A modern-day view of the 1912 era Christiana train station. While manufacturing has left communities like this, the historical character and old buildings speak to the Borough's importance in industrial history throughout the United States in the 19th Century.

The area around Christiana took root in the 1690's after King Charles II granted William Penn 45,000 square miles of land west of the Delaware River. Originally part of Chester County, Sadsbury Township was part of a land transfer to establish Lancaster Country in 1729. As a result, Sadsbury Township spanned the new county line, and thus became two separate townships by the same name in each of the neighboring counties. By the dawn of the 19th Century, Christiana began to develop around the crossroads of the Lancaster and the Gap & Newport Turnpikes, both major eastern trade routes. The opening of the Erie Canal in 1825 would rival many of these roads taking away commerce and trade from the port city of Philadelphia, thus affecting developing towns along the way. The Commonwealth's answer was to build a state-owned system utilizing a railroad between Philadelphia and the Susquehanna River and a canal system west to Pittsburgh, including a series of inclined planes to cross the Alleghenies. The new rail line, called the Philadelphia & Columbia, brought great promise for developing communities like Christianna. The railroad and the larger Mainline of Public Works would allow people and industry to connect with markets outside their region, providing a potentially unlimited opportunity for commerce.

The P&C commenced operations in 1834, around the same time local businessman, William Noble constructed a foundry and blacksmith shop along the line in Sadsbury Township, Lancaster County. Ten years later Hugh McClarron opened a grain and produce business, and by 1846 Samuel L. Denney purchased the foundry from Noble, adding a machine shop to the operation. By 1847 the growing village became officially known as Christiana, named for Noble's first wife. Denny's endeavor followed suit, and the new Christiana Machine became a focal point of industrial commerce in the area. 

View looking west from the mainline, showing the old (left) and new (right) alignments of the right of way. Soon the old right of way and overpass would be removed. Cattle pens and a siding in the immediate foreground are in the vicinity of the freight house which still stands today. Note the absence of the fourth track which indicates that this view was before 1895. Library of Congress HAER collection.

View looking west from the mainline, showing the old (left) and new (right) alignments of the right of way. Soon the old right of way and overpass would be removed. Cattle pens and a siding in the immediate foreground are in the vicinity of the freight house which still stands today. Note the absence of the fourth track which indicates that this view was before 1895. Library of Congress HAER collection.

Annotated map of the Borough of Christiana illustrating the original P&C alignment (red) and the relocated mainline (white), part of the PRR's line improvements completed in 1895. Note the Atglen & Susquehanna Branch in the bottom left, which would not be completed until 1906, joins the right of way to the east of here.

Annotated map of the Borough of Christiana illustrating the original P&C alignment (red) and the relocated mainline (white), part of the PRR's line improvements completed in 1895. Note the Atglen & Susquehanna Branch in the bottom left, which would not be completed until 1906, joins the right of way to the east of here.

By the 1880's the failed Mainline of Public Works had long since been sold to the Pennsylvania Railroad, putting Christiana alongside one of the most ambitious interstate rail transportation systems in the land. The town itself thrived, now a borough of 800 residents, complete with a new library association, bank, and town newspaper. Christiana was home to a diverse base of manufacturing with much of its output shipped by rail. Christiana Machine, once again under new ownership, evolved from making farming implements to the production of water turbine equipment and later other elements for power transmission systems for shipment all over the developing nation.

Growing with the ever-increasing traffic demands the PRR was amidst an era of improvements in the 1890's, addressing both capacity and infrastructure limitations. Symbolized by the PRR's impressive stone bridges and four-track system, the improvements program targeted issues that stemmed from the early construction of the right of way. In this particular region, the engineers and contractors building the P&C mainline encountered springs, and quicksand while excavating the pass over the Gap Summit. The compromise was less cutting to avoid the muck resulting in steeper grades. Cheif Engineer William H. Brown looked to finish what the P&C could not accomplish some fifty years before.  As a result, measures were taken to re-grade and realign the railroad between Gap and North Bend. 

In Christiana, the tracks were shifted from the old P&C right-of-way to a new alignment altogether, moving the tracks some  150' to reduce the curvature and accommodate the expansion of the right of way to four tracks. The realignment necessitated moving the large brick freight house some 40' east and the abandonment of the existing Bridge Street overpass. Construction of its replacement called for the use of a "new" Whipple style iron truss span, repurposed from improvements undertaken on the Philadelphia, Wilmington & Baltimore, where the mainline crossed White Clay Creek below Wilmington. 

The remains of the original Philadelphia & Columbia stone arch bridge crossing Pine Creek still survive despite being part of the right of way that was abandoned during the 1890's line improvements between Gap and Atglen, Pennsylvania. The structures at the left are part of what was Christiana Machine, one of the first industries in Sadsbury Township to take advantage of the railroad's expanded market reach.

The remains of the original Philadelphia & Columbia stone arch bridge crossing Pine Creek still survive despite being part of the right of way that was abandoned during the 1890's line improvements between Gap and Atglen, Pennsylvania. The structures at the left are part of what was Christiana Machine, one of the first industries in Sadsbury Township to take advantage of the railroad's expanded market reach.

At North Bend, where the railroad arcs from a north-south to an east-west orientation through the gap in the North Valley Hills, a substantial cut was excavated at the base of Zion Hill,  accommodating the wider right-of-way, reducing curvature from the previous P&C alignment. The 1895 annual report from the PRR notes the completion of this segment of four track line from Atglen to Gap, among other places. Not much else would change in Christiana except for the construction of a modest new passenger facility and pedestrian subway along the Gay Street underpass in 1912. 

While Christiana lost passenger service in 1952, the station remained open as a Railway Express office until 1962. Though much of the region's manufacturing shifted away from smaller communities like Christiana, the landmark brick freight house and passenger station survive, the former becoming the home of the Lancaster Chapter of the National Railway Historical Society who restored the building to its original condition. The Lancaster Chapter, chartered in 1936 is the founding Chapter of NRHS and a very accomplished group in the field of preservation of railroad structures and equipment.  The mainline today serves the Amtrak Keystone Corridor, hosting some thirty trains a day, still rolling through Christiana and the right of way improvements of the late 1800's.

 

An Essential Element for Steam

The pinnacle of 19th Century steam is depicted here in 1891, leading the Pennsylvania Railroad’s premier train, The Pennsylvania Limited. While many paid attention to the expansive systems, track, and stations, water and fuel were the essential elements to keep steam-powered locomotives running across the road. William H Rau Photograph, Collection of American Premier Underwriters, Inc.

The pinnacle of 19th Century steam is depicted here in 1891, leading the Pennsylvania Railroad’s premier train, The Pennsylvania Limited. While many paid attention to the expansive systems, track, and stations, water and fuel were the essential elements to keep steam-powered locomotives running across the road. William H Rau Photograph, Collection of American Premier Underwriters, Inc.

The steam engine may be viewed as the prime transformational technology that drove the Industrial Revolution. In their early stationary forms, their reciprocating plant's powered pumps, before the conversion of reciprocating motion into rotary motion widened their application to driving factory machinery and powering turbines to generate electricity. Making the steam engine mobile, however, was the critical advance enabling the development of the powered railroad. Developed in the United Kingdom, then adapted and introduced in the US, early locomotives and railroads were simple affairs, toting little more than carts and carriages. But the rise of the railroad's importance in the vast and expanding American landscape opened a revolution of railroad building throughout the second half of the 19th Century. Larger, faster, and more sophisticated steam engines were needed to span such great distances, and American industry responded, eventually making the giant steam locomotive an iconic symbol of the American experience. On the line, however, engineers faced the challenge of providing enough water to slake the thirst of this new breed of iron horse – no small challenge, given that the average steam locomotive could consume eight times more water than fuel by volume. Early water stops along the railroad were dependent on the naturally-occurring bodies of water that crisscrossed the route and were often susceptible to seasonal issues, like freezing and drought. As a result, by the late 19th Century, railroads like the Pennsylvania began to invest considerable capital into developing extensive water networks that fed strategic water stops. One such example of this modernization came with the construction of the Atglen & Susquehanna Branch.

A 1938 facilities map depicting the Octotraro Water Company’s distribution system that served the PRR Mainline and Atglen & Susquehanna Branch, which included seven water stations. Collection of Pennsylvania American Water Company, Hershey, PA. 

The Octoraro Water Company

1928 advertisement in the Saturday Evening post boasting of the PRR’s $50 million investment in water infrastructure for the good of the Iron Horse.

When work commenced on the building of the A&S, an essential detail in completing the road started quietly in the local townships. The rights of seven small water companies were purchased to create the Octoraro Water Company; their sole customer was the Pennsylvania Railroad. Drawing from the 200+ square mile Octoraro Watershed the company would build a supply network to feed the busy PRR Main Line and A&S branch in Southern Lancaster and Chester Counties. Fed by the Mc Crea and Pine Grove pumping stations water was piped north to Mars Hill, the highest point on the A&S and home to a 10 million gallon distribution reservoir and water stop. From Mars Hill, the pipeline split with a 10” main heading west to Martic and a 24” supply line east to Thorndale feeding an additional six distribution facilities in between. The Octoraro network was just one of many under the PRR's portfolio of water resources system-wide, many of which constructed during the same era. As a result, the trackside facilities were often of a standard design and appearance. Despite being out of view and a relatively obscure part of railroad infrastructure, these remote facilities often featured a stately stone gatehouse accented with a conical slate roof, granite steps leading to the top edge of the impounding basin and ornamental iron fencing around the perimeter. 

Though the employment of modern water distribution systems was a great benefit to the railroad, the logistics of water stops still resulted in lost time and operational bottlenecks. Railroads abroad were looking for ways to mitigate the inefficiency of the water stop as early as the 1850's. Cheif Engineer, John Ramsbottom of the London & North Western Company of Brittain was called upon for such a solution when the road sought to shorten express train schedules. Ramsbottom's answer was a system of water troughs positioned in the gauge of the track, allowing specially equipped locomotive tenders to take water without stopping. The water is transferred from the trough at speed into the tender's cistern via a mechanical scoop that could be lowered by the operating crew. Though it took some time to perfect the concept, by the turn of the century rail lines all over the Great Western system were employing these troughs, but only a hand full of American roads adopted similar technology, the Pennsylvania was one of them.

Detail views of surviving distribution reservoirs that served the seven water facilities on the Octoraro Water network. L) Staircase leading to the top of the impound basin, note granite steps and wrought iron fencing. R) Masonry gatehouse at the former Thorndale facility. 

While most track pans on the PRR were installed concurrently with the expansion of water networks several installations predate the turn of the century, with the very first one constructed in 1870. At its peak the Pennsy employed roughly 20 of these facilities spread across the system to expedite traffic, keeping the timely stops to a minimum out on the main.  On the Octoraro system, Atglen was the only water stop to utilize track pans, demanding roughly 40%  or 750,000 gallons, of the 2 million gallons the local network consumed daily. The reservoir and gatehouse sat above grade on the top of Zion Hill; water was piped down to a combination pump house and steam plant situated between the mainline and the A&S branch. A total of six troughs, four on the mainline and two on the A&S were part of an elaborate system supplemented by steam pipes that kept the pans from freezing in winter and a cobblestone drain system to draw overspray away from the trackbed. 

"Up ahead the trough appears, a long slender slot between the tracks, growing swiftly larger. In the cab, an alert hand tightens on a lever. The trough draws near more swiftly, rushes under the locomotive as though stung into a final burst of speed. The hand jerks sharply. Below, beneath the tender, the scoop darts down - plows a swishing furrow along the shallow trough. A rush of water funneled upward... a final speed driven spray as the tank in the tender overflows and the scoop springs back into place. The Iron Horse has had his drink...The Limited roars on its way unchecked."  - Saturday Evening Post, 1928. 

The  PRR touted their investment in the 1926 report, The Growth, and Development of the Pennsylvania Railroad Company, stating, "the Pennsylvania constructed a water supply system that embraced 36 reservoirs and intakes supplying a total capacity of 3 billion gallons, fed into 441 miles of pipe for distribution. Its network furnished over 14 billion gallons in 1926 drawn from over 27,300 acres of mountain land owned by the railroad, all the benefit of a $30 million investment."  By 1928 editorial ads placed in the Saturday Evening Post, boasted a $50 million investment that supplied over a million gallons a day to the iron horse. A subsequent ad from the same year featured the headline,"The Iron Horse scoops a drink at nearly a mile a minute!" Focused on the analytics of track pans, it boasted, "such track tanks, save an amazing lot of time in a day or month.  6700 trains make up the Pennsylvania's vast daily fleet. Suppose each train saved 10 minutes during a day's run. Then 1117 hours a day are saved - over a month and a half every day!" 

Like the trains themselves that benefitted the American public, the railroad's contributions to the development of water distribution systems were a great benefit to the general public, laying the framework for public systems countrywide. Today many of these same resources serve a public role, having been sold off after the railroads moved to electric and diesel propulsion. 

Fire on the Line!

The massive Safe Harbor Bridge was just west of the temporary block station named Fire which was put into service in 1959. The block station and crossovers were located on the A&S Branch up on the embankment pictured here in the top right of the image, the Columbia & Port Deposit Branch is the line in the foreground.

The massive Safe Harbor Bridge was just west of the temporary block station named Fire which was put into service in 1959. The block station and crossovers were located on the A&S Branch up on the embankment pictured here in the top right of the image, the Columbia & Port Deposit Branch is the line in the foreground.

In a previous post, Managing the Line, we detailed the operations of dispatching trains on the Atglen & Susquehanna branch, one particular anomaly escaped the article. Thanks to the work of Abram Burnett who interviewed the late H. Wayne Frey a former PRR Block Operator, I am pleased to share an account of a brief occurrence on the A&S that necessitated an additional block station for a short time.

On Thursday, July 30th, 1959 Philadelphia Region general order No. 710 was put into effect to address a rising situation on the A&S branch just east of the Safe Harbor Bridge over the Conestoga River. Officials and crews discovered settling in the eastbound main (No. 1 Track) the result of an underground blaze ignited by a recent brush fire on the embankment. Officials found that the fill the A&S rode on comprised of dredged material that was suspected to contain river coal making the soil susceptible to fire.

Annotated track chart and General Order No. 710 effective July 30th, 1959 outlining the implementation of temporary block station Fire, Documents from the late H. Wayne Frey courtesy of Abram Burnett. 

Officials faced the issue of how to mitigate the situation while keeping trains moving through the area. The railroad installed a set of electric powered crossovers and signals between the compromised No. 1 track and the in-service No. 2 track to create a single-track gauntlet of approximately 700 feet. The railroad established a block station aptly named Fire; In service 24/7, the small wood shack outfitted with four small table interlocking switches (two for switch controls, two for signals) operated around the clock until sometime between February and April of 1961.  The stub-ended sides of the crossovers on No. 1 were retained to house tank cars supplied by Dupont Chemical who was contracted to extinguish the fire. As a means to prevent the situation from compromising the No 2 main track, the railroad drove sheet piles in between the tracks and installed a pipe system to feed the chemicals and water down into the subterranean fire.  Late in 1959, the nearby Susquehanna River was experiencing particularly severe ice jams that impacted the Columbia & Port Deposit Branch located at the bottom of the same smoldering embankment. A road crew on the Port Road brought a train to stop in the vicinity of Safe Harbor due to ice when an underground explosion occurred blowing out a part of the embankment. Fearing the worst the crew jumped from their locomotive. Fortunately, the worst injury was the broken ankle of the engineer, and there was no significant loss of life or property. In the first quarter of 1961, Dupont successfully extinguished the fire, and the A&S resumed normal operations. With No. 1 track rebuilt and the tempory switches and signals removed, the railroad closed its newest block station just shy of two years in existence. 

 

Lancaster County | Main Line Tour Recap

Greetings! As we wind down from Summer and enjoy the Fall like weather that seemed to come a month early in the Northeast, I wanted to take a moment to play catch up on a few things as I prepare to release some new content on the Main Line tour of the former Pennsylvania Railroad. We left off in southeastern Lancaster County chronicling the Main Line and Atglen & Susquehanna Branch as they approach the Chester County line along the South Valley Hills. Before I get started on new content, I figured it might be fun to put together a post recapping some of the articles that lead up the current position in the series since they have spread out over two years! 


On the Main Line

Looking west into Eby's curve the railroad traverses a fill across the timeless Amish farmland as it enters the Pequea Valley. The curve used to host four main tracks like much of the main line, but much of the heavy tonnage would be diverted away from this segment after the  Atglen & Susquehanna branch opened in 1906. 

Looking west into Eby's curve the railroad traverses a fill across the timeless Amish farmland as it enters the Pequea Valley. The curve used to host four main tracks like much of the main line, but much of the heavy tonnage would be diverted away from this segment after the  Atglen & Susquehanna branch opened in 1906. 

Crossing Mine Ridge | Passing through the pastoral Lancaster County landscape the eastbound ascent of Mine Ridge takes the PRR mainline around a series of reverse curves that carry the railroad over the 560’ summit dividing the Pequea and Chester Valleys. Gap, a quaint community whose history dates back to when William Penn visited the area late in the 1600’s is located at the crossroads of the Philadelphia & Lancaster Turnpike and the Newport Turnpike.


Typical views between Lancaster and Lehman Place Junction include simple frame buildings and unspoiled views of the rich agricultural landscape inhabited by the Amish and Mennonites.

Typical views between Lancaster and Lehman Place Junction include simple frame buildings and unspoiled views of the rich agricultural landscape inhabited by the Amish and Mennonites.


God's Country | The PRR in Eastern Lancaster County - Leaving the city of Lancaster behind, the Main Line of the Pennsylvania Railroad snakes its way through small hamlets like Bird in Hand, Ronks, Gordonville, Leaman Place Junction and Kinzer arcing gently through the heart of central eastern Lancaster County. Known as Pennsylvania Dutch Country, this area is home to a large population of Amish and Mennonite farmers offering a unique contrast between modern living and the simple life these people traditionally live.


The western end of the Downingtown & Lancaster Branch joined the PRR Main Line just east of the Conestoga River bridge. This undated view of ES tower with its classic wood frame structure looks east on the main line where it collapses from four to two tracks to cross the Conestoga. Left and behind the tower you can see the diverging route of the D&L. Image is from the collection of the Lancaster History Archive

The western end of the Downingtown & Lancaster Branch joined the PRR Main Line just east of the Conestoga River bridge. This undated view of ES tower with its classic wood frame structure looks east on the main line where it collapses from four to two tracks to cross the Conestoga. Left and behind the tower you can see the diverging route of the D&L. Image is from the collection of the Lancaster History Archive

The Downingtown & Lancaster Branch | On Philadelphia Division, we take a diverging path from the Main Line and Low Grade as we leave the Lancaster area to explore the former Downingtown & Lancaster Railroad, an interesting branch line operation that may have been the result of early efforts to expand the PRR soon after its charter. 


In a beautiful image by William H. Rau, we see the Conestoga River bridge, one of Brown's first stone bridges. Utilizing the figure and boat as a device for scale in the foreground Rau is looking south, as noted by the finished facade of the bridge. To the left out of view is the Lancaster Water Works which still survives today. Photograph collection American Premier Underwriters, Inc.

In a beautiful image by William H. Rau, we see the Conestoga River bridge, one of Brown's first stone bridges. Utilizing the figure and boat as a device for scale in the foreground Rau is looking south, as noted by the finished facade of the bridge. To the left out of view is the Lancaster Water Works which still survives today. Photograph collection American Premier Underwriters, Inc.

William H Brown: The Tale Of Two Bridges In 1881 a rising figure in the Pennsylvania Railroad by the name of William H. Brown was promoted to chief engineer. At 45 years old the Lancaster County native had 31 years under his belt working his way from a rod man on a survey crew in 1850 to the top of one of the most ambitious engineering departments in the railroad world. Brown had a reputation for knowing every grade, curve, and crossing on the PRR. As the chief engineer, his tenure was likely one of the most notable in the transformation of the Pennsylvania Railroad’s physical plant.


As built the Lancaster Cut-Off was intended to bypass traffic not serving the City of Lancaster; the route is the sole surviving main line for Amtrak and Norfolk Southern operations based out of Dillerville. On the east end of the Cut-Off, the grade of the Old Line is visible at former CG interlocking where the two lines split. (L) In the brush to the left, you can make out the diverging path of the Old Main in the gap in the trees. (R) The broad area around the railroad looking east is where the Old Line connected to the Cut-Off and Main Line east. Just out of view is the Conestoga River Bridge.

As built the Lancaster Cut-Off was intended to bypass traffic not serving the City of Lancaster; the route is the sole surviving main line for Amtrak and Norfolk Southern operations based out of Dillerville. On the east end of the Cut-Off, the grade of the Old Line is visible at former CG interlocking where the two lines split. (L) In the brush to the left, you can make out the diverging path of the Old Main in the gap in the trees. (R) The broad area around the railroad looking east is where the Old Line connected to the Cut-Off and Main Line east. Just out of view is the Conestoga River Bridge.

New Line: PRR's Lancaster Cut-Off | Opening in 1883 the Lancaster Cut-Off was part of a series of main line improvements to eliminate excessive grades, traffic congestion and operational issues associated with the original main line through downtown Lancaster. Under the direction of chief engineer William H. Brown a two-track bypass running along the city’s north side was constructed between Dillerville and an interlocking named CG where it joined the existing main line just west of the Conestoga River.


The Atglen & Susquehanna Branch

This 1906 view shows the wood frame tower at Quarryville (Milepost 10.8), the first interlocking tower west of Parkesburg. "Q" had control over the two main tracks and four additional sidings to manage helper movements assisting trains to Mars Hill Summit. Additionally, four water columns were available to top off steam locomotive tenders on their journey east or west. Image collection of William L. Seigford

This 1906 view shows the wood frame tower at Quarryville (Milepost 10.8), the first interlocking tower west of Parkesburg. "Q" had control over the two main tracks and four additional sidings to manage helper movements assisting trains to Mars Hill Summit. Additionally, four water columns were available to top off steam locomotive tenders on their journey east or west. Image collection of William L. Seigford

Managing The Line: Communications On The A&S | Running over 53 miles in length the PRR's Atglen & Susquehanna Branch was a shining example of modern railway construction, running across rolling countryside and up the Susquehanna River on a gentle gradient. Fittingly for such a contemporary piece of railroad engineering, another advancement of modern times accompanied the line: the telephone.


Quarryville Station, view before the Lancaster Oxford & Southern abandonment in 1917. Note the dual gauge trackage in the foreground, an area shared by the LO&S and the PRR. Image Walter G. Minnich Jr. collection, Southern Lancaster County Historical Society

Quarryville Station, view before the Lancaster Oxford & Southern abandonment in 1917. Note the dual gauge trackage in the foreground, an area shared by the LO&S and the PRR. Image Walter G. Minnich Jr. collection, Southern Lancaster County Historical Society

Quarryville: 19th Century Railroading With Big Aspirations | Quarryville has always been a crossroad of activity in the fertile farmlands of Southern Lancaster County. Farmers purchased lumber, grain, and fertilizer here and reciprocally exchanged their bounties in town and beyond via the local county railroad, a lifeline to the outside world. Commonly known as the Quarryville Branch this rail line had an interesting early history that started with big hopes and ended with financial disaster.


This cut excavated on the Manor Township section of the Atglen and Susquehanna illustrates the massive scope of ongoing work. The temporary narrow gauge track used to haul some of the 1.3 million cubic yards of debris is evident in the cut complete with a steam shovel at lower right, one of the key pieces of equipment for such work. Harry P. Stoner photograph, Columbia Historic Preservation Society

This cut excavated on the Manor Township section of the Atglen and Susquehanna illustrates the massive scope of ongoing work. The temporary narrow gauge track used to haul some of the 1.3 million cubic yards of debris is evident in the cut complete with a steam shovel at lower right, one of the key pieces of equipment for such work. Harry P. Stoner photograph, Columbia Historic Preservation Society

The Engineer And The Contractor | BY 1903 William H. Brown, the man who earned the nickname the stone man for his preference of masonry bridge construction was winding down a rewarding 44-year career with the Pennsylvania Railroad, 32 of which he served as Chief Engineer. Brown's tenure was part of an era that was arguably one of the most transformative times for the PRR's infrastructure and right of way. His role in the construction of the Low Grade, especially the Atglen & Susquehanna segment would be his last major project before reaching the mandatory retirement age of 70.


An excavation crew pauses with a rail mounted steam shovel that appears to be down for repairs. Steam shovels and air powered drills were initially utilized to excavate the right of way in Manor township as well as the deep cuts along the line to the east. Kline Collection, Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania, PMHC

An excavation crew pauses with a rail mounted steam shovel that appears to be down for repairs. Steam shovels and air powered drills were initially utilized to excavate the right of way in Manor township as well as the deep cuts along the line to the east. Kline Collection, Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania, PMHC

The Cost Of Labor: Constructing The A&S | Today when you walk along the path of the former Atglen & Susquehanna Low Grade it is a very peaceful experience. There’s no shortage of lush foliage shrouding rock cuts blasted out of the rolling hills, the elevated fills and stone masonry look they were there since the beginning of time, and the railroad itself is long gone. Today it is hard to fathom the purpose of such a resource and even more challenging to imagine the human struggle that was involved in creating such a line.


View looking south from the Martic Forge Trestle reveals the rugged terrain the PRR had to contend with when creating the Low Grade, cutting through hills and spanning valleys to maintain an acceptable ruling grade for moving high volumes of heavy freight. 

View looking south from the Martic Forge Trestle reveals the rugged terrain the PRR had to contend with when creating the Low Grade, cutting through hills and spanning valleys to maintain an acceptable ruling grade for moving high volumes of heavy freight. 

Revisiting The Atglen & Susquehanna | Returning to the Atglen & Susquehanna Branch, part of the PRR’s Low Grade freight network we pick up from Shenk’s Ferry where the line pulls away from the Susquehanna River to cross southern Lancaster County. From the high fill above the river the A&S makes a hard turn east to face the first formidable obstacle; crossing the switch back divide between Martic and Conestoga Townships in the rugged Pequea Valley.

Rau Symposium This Week!

The work of William Rau has played a tremendous role in the ongoing project, From the Main Line, providing both inspirations in an aesthetic and historical context. Learn more about my relationship with Rau's work for the Pennsylvania Railroad this week at the Southern Alleghenies Museum of Art - Altoona, where I will present a lecture on Wednesday, August 16th. (Left Image by William H. Rau, collection of the Altoona Public Library)

The work of William Rau has played a tremendous role in the ongoing project, From the Main Line, providing both inspirations in an aesthetic and historical context. Learn more about my relationship with Rau's work for the Pennsylvania Railroad this week at the Southern Alleghenies Museum of Art - Altoona, where I will present a lecture on Wednesday, August 16th. (Left Image by William H. Rau, collection of the Altoona Public Library)

Rau Symposium - SAMA - Altoona: This Wednesday, August 16
In conjunction with the ongoing exhibition William H Rau, Urban, Rural, Rail, I will be speaking at a symposium along with Penn State - Altoona history lecturer Julie Fether who curated the show. My talk will focus on Rau's imagery and how it continues to inspire my project, while Julie will discuss how the show evolved, tying in influences from Harvard Landscape Studies Professor, John Stilgoe's writings and ideas on the "art and practice of 'seeing' landscape." 

If you are in the area, please join us! The event is at the SAMA - Altoona location on Wednesday, August 16th from 11AM-1PM, lunch provided, and costs $15 ($14 for SAMA members). Reservations are required by calling the museum at (814) 946-4464 or emailing altoona@sama-art.org. 

Ongoing Exhibition: William H Rau: Urban, Rural, Rail
On view through September 9th, 2017. Southern Alleghenies Museum of Art - Altoona

The current exhibition on display at the Southern Alleghenies Museum of Art, Altoona has more than a month remaining and is generating a lot of great feedback so far. The exhibition features a selection of Rau's Pennsylvania Railroad images from the Altoona Public Library collection, along with several images from the Main Line Project. If you are in the area, the exhibition at SAMA - Altoona is a must see! 

Summer News and Events

Greetings! I hope everyone is having a great summer and taking some much deserved time off to enjoy the season with family and friends. Here is a quick list of some upcoming and ongoing events pertaining to the Main Line Project! 

Semi-automatic signals beckon outside the window of the station waiting room in Chester, Pennsylvania on the former Chesapeake Division mainline to Washington D.C., 2016.

Semi-automatic signals beckon outside the window of the station waiting room in Chester, Pennsylvania on the former Chesapeake Division mainline to Washington D.C., 2016.

They All Fall Down | Lamenting the loss of a classic PRR Signal - The Position Light
I am very excited to have a new article featured on the blog, The Trackside Photographer this week. The piece focuses on the Pennsylvania Railroad's classic Position Light signals, many of which face an uncertain future as railroads push to implement Positive Train Control. It's a sizable article featuring a lot of imagery, several which have never been published. Please pay the Trackside Photographer a visit if you haven't already, they are doing a fantastic job featuring a diverse range of photographers and writers whose work focuses on the railroad landscape, it's an honor to have work published there! 

Plate 36. B.Q. Tower and Signals - Bellewood, Pennsylvania, Middle Division (III-895), William H Rau, Altoona Public Library Collection. One of 27 images currently on display in the exhibition William H. Rau: Urban, Rural, Rail at the Southern Alleghenies Museum of Art - Altoona.  

Plate 36. B.Q. Tower and Signals - Bellewood, Pennsylvania, Middle Division (III-895), William H Rau, Altoona Public Library Collection. One of 27 images currently on display in the exhibition William H. Rau: Urban, Rural, Rail at the Southern Alleghenies Museum of Art - Altoona.  

Ongoing Exhibition: William H Rau: Urban, Rural, Rail

On view through September 9th, 2017. Southern Alleghenies Museum of Art - Altoona

The current exhibition on display at the Southern Alleghenies Museum of Art, Altoona has more than a month remaining and is generating a lot of great feedback so far. The exhibition features a selection of Rau's Pennsylvania Railroad images from the Altoona Public Library collection, along with several images from the Main Line Project. If you are in the area, the exhibition at SAMA - Altoona is a must see! 

Rau Symposium - SAMA - Altoona: August 16

In conjunction with the ongoing exhibition, I will be speaking at a symposium along with Penn State - Altoona history lecturer Julie Fether who curated the show. My talk will focus on Rau's imagery and how it continues to inspire my project, while Julie will discuss how the show evolved, tying in influences from Harvard Landscape Studies Professor, John Stilgoe's writings and ideas on the "art and practice of 'seeing' landscape." 

The event is at the SAMA - Altoona location on Wednesday, August 16th from 11AM-1PM, lunch provided, and costs $15 ($14 for SAMA members). Reservations are required by calling the museum at (814) 946-4464 or emailing altoona@sama-art.org. 

Pop- Up Exhibition: The Study at University City - Philadelphia
On display through September 30th. 

An excellent opportunity came up recently to showcase some work from the Main Line Project, at the Study, a beautiful new Hotel in University City, central to Drexel University's campus at 33rd and Chestnut Streets, in Philadelphia. The small show includes ten pieces from the project and is free and open to the public. If you're in the area, please stop in and have a look! 

The Study at University City, 20 S 33rd St, Philadelphia, PA

Photographs & History Celebrates Seven Years!

View of the westbound home signal, from the Bustleton Branch, Holmesburg section, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Holmesburg was an interlocking and commuter station along the main line and the location where the Bustleton Branch diverged. Countless locations alongside the railroad have a backstory, Photographs & History expands beyond the contemporary photograph to tell these stories. 

View of the westbound home signal, from the Bustleton Branch, Holmesburg section, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Holmesburg was an interlocking and commuter station along the main line and the location where the Bustleton Branch diverged. Countless locations alongside the railroad have a backstory, Photographs & History expands beyond the contemporary photograph to tell these stories. 

One June 17th, 2010, I mustered enough courage to publish my first post, on the blog, Photographs & History. What seemed to be a monumental event was, in reality, two sentences and a photograph, but what would come of Photographs & History is another story. I started the blog to explore the importance of pictures in understanding the passage of time, concerning both personal memory and as documents of change. The blog format allowed me to bring historical context to my images, something I had never considered previously. Since starting the blog, history has become a connecting thread throughout many of my projects. Whether personal or commissioned, it seemed natural for the text and historical imagery to be an integral part of my work to further the viewer's experience. Seven years later, here we are! From the early times of using the Wordpress platform to the current format,  integrated with my website; I have published over 250 posts, from simple one image location views to more complex pieces like the Main Line Series, the blog has become an essential component of my work. 

I look forward to future of Photographs & History, in the cue, you can expect more articles chronicling the railroad, insight on my creative process as an artist, and much more. Thank you to everyone who has followed along, I am grateful for your kind words and support over the years! 

Exhibition & Press: William H. Rau: Urban, Rural, Rail

It goes without saying that the work of William H. Rau has had a tremendous influence on my ongoing project, From the Main Line, so it gives me great pleasure to announce that I will have several pieces included in an exhibition at the Southern Alleghenies Museum of Art titled William H. Rau: Urban, Rural, Rail in the heart of Pennsylvania Railroad territory, Altoona, Pennsylvania. The exhibition runs through September 9th and will include a symposium on August 16th in which I will discuss the role of Rau's imagery and how it has both informed and influenced my own. The exhibition has already received some terrific feedback, including this recent feature in the Altoona Mirror. I look forward to sharing more about this incredible show while continuing to explore the dialog with Rau's imagery for both inspiration and historical reference in documenting the former Standard Railroad of the World

Quadruple Track – Tanks, Monmouth Junction, New Jersey c. 1891. William H. Rau. The Altoona Public Library Collection

Quadruple Track – Tanks, Monmouth Junction, New Jersey c. 1891. William H. Rau. The Altoona Public Library Collection

Rau’s work captured the Allegheny landscape of the 1890s

SAMA-Altoona exhibits more vintage photographs
By Altoona Mirror Staff Writer  - Cherie Hicks

Another batch of cutting-edge photographs that captured the Allegheny landscape in the 1890s is now on display at the Southern Alleghenies Museum of Art.

“William H. Rau: Urban, Rural, Rail” features 27 albumem and sepia-toned photographs taken by the commercial photographer who was commissioned by the Pennsylvania Railroad. The show, curated by Penn State Altoona history lecturer Julie Fether, runs through Sept. 9.

The exhibition takes viewers on a “photographic trip with Rau,” in which “hidden worlds become exposed ‘openings,'” a late 19th-century term used to describe landscape and landscape photography, Fether said.

“It shows not just the landscape that the railroad carved through, but the mark that the railroad made on the landscape and in the communities it created,” she said.

Main Line, looking west, Altoona, Pennsylvania. One of four images from the Main Line project accompanying the collection of Rau images in the exhibition at SAMA- Altoona

Main Line, looking west, Altoona, Pennsylvania. One of four images from the Main Line project accompanying the collection of Rau images in the exhibition at SAMA- Altoona

The exhibition follows the different PRR divisions that Rau tracked, from the Brooklyn Bridge in New York City to Pittsburgh. Rau (rhymes with how) was a successful commercial photographer in Philadelphia when the PRR commissioned him to travel its main line and take pictures of the beautiful scenery in an effort to lure tourists onboard trains.

“Today, these photographs are a testament to the emergence of photography used to promote travel and tourism,” Fether said. “Attracting the young and old, rich and poor, to the glamor of railroad travel, the rails provided an opportunity to participate in the power of acute observation from the window of a passenger car and experience new communities along the way.”

Rau, who died in 1920, produced a total of 463 photographs in his project, 273 of which are considered the Altoona collection and are owned by the Altoona Area Public Library and housed by SAMA. The other photos from the railroad project are owned by The Library Company of Philadelphia.

The current show is a follow-up to another exhibition of Rau photographs that Fether curated at SAMA-Altoona in 2015. With the museum only able to display about three dozen at a time, Fether said she had a theme in mind as she sifted through binders of 8-by-10-inch prints in the Altoona collection of Rau’s work.

Philadelphia, 50th Street Yard (West), c. 1891. William H. Rau. The Altoona Public Library Collection

Philadelphia, 50th Street Yard (West), c. 1891. William H. Rau. The Altoona Public Library Collection

As she was culling, she searched online for other Rau-related work and stumbled on Michael Froio, a Drexel University professor of photography whose contemporary work has been influenced by Rau.

“Even as the railroad has declined, there’s a timelessness to these pictures,” Fether said. “What do they look like today? That is why I reached out to Michael.”

The exhibition includes four black-and-white, contemporary pieces from Froio’s own project called From the Main Line that complement and pay homage to Rau’s photographs, Fether said. One such work is called “Main Line Looking West, Altoona, Pennsylvania,” and Froio said he clearly remembers the first time he saw Rau’s work.

“While I was instantly captivated by the subject matter in Rau’s photographs, it was more the approach of his work that left a lasting mark, illustrating not only the railroad but the engineering, landscape and architecture along the line,” he said. “The imagery by Rau left us with a rich visual legacy to derive tremendous amounts of information about the railway, the landscape and the energy of the industrial age.”

In Images like "Woodvale Yard, Franklin Boro, Pennsylvania", Rau's work both informs and inspires through understanding the history of place while responding to aesthetically choices like the use of light, composition and technical process. 

In Images like "Woodvale Yard, Franklin Boro, Pennsylvania", Rau's work both informs and inspires through understanding the history of place while responding to aesthetically choices like the use of light, composition and technical process. 

It shows “the prominent role the Pennsylvania Railroad played in developing the United States and the continual improvements they made to better themselves in the process,” Froio said.

Fether explained that part of Rau’s allure was how technically advanced he was for his time, experimenting with new photographic methods and constantly perfecting the process. Most of his pictures were printed on albumen photographic paper, or a paper coated with egg white and chemicals. PRR provided him with his own rail car, in which he could sleep and produce negatives and prints, and Rau did not disappoint.

“It is an absolute honor to be a part of this show, having a chance to hang work next to Rau’s,” Froio said.

Froio and Fether will be lead speakers at a symposium on Rau’s work and legacy at SAMA-Altoona on Aug. 16 at 11 a.m. Froio will discuss Rau’s influence on his own work. Fether said she will explain how the exhibition evolved. She also will explain some writings that are part of the show from John Stilgoe, a professor of the history of landscape development at Harvard University, and others on the “art and practice of ‘seeing’ landscape.”

The public is invited to the program, which costs $15 ($14 for SAMA members) and includes lunch. Reservations are required by calling the museum at (814) 946-4464 or emailing altoona@sama-art.org.

A Visual Legacy  - Using Historical Imagery to inspire Contemporary Works

At the dawn of the industrial revolution, the American railroad became the vehicle at which life’s pace was set. Growing in the east and expanding across the western frontier the railroad was responsible for America’s success. Engineering such a system at such a rapid speed was no small task, the men who ran these companies understood the value of their accomplishments and wanted to share it with the world. To tout these new transportation systems and lure travelers to ride this modern marvel the railroads turned to another new product of the industrial age: photography. 

Jacks Narrows, from Mapleton. Images like this view of the Juniata taken by Frederick Gutekunst during a photographic commission during the 1870's is one of many that inspire my work, in both a historical and aesthetic context. Frederick Gutekunst photograph, Collection of the Library Company of Philadelphia

Railways committed major resources to illustrate their networks, employing some the most preeminent photographers of the time. With the Pennsylvania Railroad's corporate headquarters located in Philadelphia, the epicenter of photography in the US during the 19th Century, it was no coincidence that the PRR was one of the largest supporters of this endeavor.  The company employed photographers for a multitude of tasks including the glamorous commissions illustrating the railroad and its destinations for the Centennial and Columbian Expositions to the more mundane day-to-day documentation of massive engineering projects taking place all over the system. 

Grogan Hollow, former PRR Philadelphia & Erie Branch, Clinton County, PA. Contemporary images inspired by historical views: Much like Gutekunst's views of the 1870's my photographs attempt to explain the railroad's context in the modern American landscape, not always focused on the trains themselves but more importantly the landscape they traveled. 

Grogan Hollow, former PRR Philadelphia & Erie Branch, Clinton County, PA. Contemporary images inspired by historical views: Much like Gutekunst's views of the 1870's my photographs attempt to explain the railroad's context in the modern American landscape, not always focused on the trains themselves but more importantly the landscape they traveled. 

While photography and the railroads redefined the 19th Century’s perception of space and time, surviving imagery leaves us a rich visual legacy to derive tremendous amounts of information about the railway, the landscape and the energy of the industrial age. It is this imagery that feeds my creativity and imagination, which allows me to visualize the prominent role the Pennsylvania Railroad played in developing the United States and the continual improvements they made to better themselves in the process.  These volumes of visual assets are the foundation of what inspires my work; the photographer’s technical and aesthetic ability, the conceptual ideas and the resulting images rich with information foster a continued dialogue with my image making, inspiring new works from views of the past.

This is a brief excerpt from the upcoming lecture “Continuing a Legacy, Photographing the Pennsylvania Railroad” which I will present next Tuesday, May 9th for the Harrisburg Chapter of the National Railway Historical Society. The lecture is part of the Harrisburg Chapter’s monthly meeting and is free and open to the public.

The Pennsylvania Railroad | A Legacy in Images

May 9th, 2017 | Meeting begins at 7 PM
National Railway Historical Society | Harrisburg Chapter

Hoss’s Steak and Seahouse
743 Wertzville Road
Enola, Pennsylvania

A Collaborative Effort

Many photographers, myself included are loners when it comes to working, in fact for me, there are only a few people I typically will travel with while making photographs, and most of them are not photographers. For many years my photography was an individual effort; However, when Conrail Shared Assets inquired about an opportunity to document a major engineering project on the Delair Bridge in 2013, I jumped at the chance, knowing right away this was no job that could be executed successfully by myself. 

Enter Samuel Markey, a former student, and fellow Drexel alumni; Sam was doing some fantastic work on his own, including video and time lapse projects. From the first site visit, our work ethic, visual aesthetics, and synergy gelled well together; We played off of each other's ideas as the project progressed over the six outages in as many months. Through the initial Delair project and subsequent commissions with Conrail, we continue to work together to further the production levels of projects, turning a basic construction documentation into a creative piece that satisfied the client's needs while creating a visual record that could easily be understood by the general public. It's been over three years since I began working with Sam, and along the way, I have had the privilege to include other incredibly talented people, like Michael Legrand who provided aerial footage at Delair and Justin Geller who scored original soundtracks for the project's final edited pieces. 

The creative commissions that came as a direct result of my personal work documenting the former Pennsylvania Railroad have been a terrific experience, opening new opportunities to work outside my comfort range with like minded people. At the end of the day, pushing your work and building a network of collaborators is an exciting opportunity to take both your creative and commercial work in new directions, I look forward to sharing the what the future holds for these creative collaborations.

This excerpt is a brief preview exploring the role of creative collaboration, an element that was essential in producing this project for Conrail Shared Assets Operations. Join me this Saturday for a lecture about the commissioned work for Conrail that came as a direct result of the Mainline Project. The talk starts at 1:30 PM and is free and open to the public.  

Creative Commissions | April 29th, 1:30 PM.

Pennsylvania Railroad Technical & Historical Society
Philadelphia Chapter

Drexel Hill Methodist Church | 600 Burmont Road, Drexel Hill, PA   
This lecture is free and open to the public. 

Spring News and Events

 Historical Image Credits (bottom row) L,R. W.T. Purviance, Collection of the New York Public Library, C. Frederick Gutekunst, Collection of the Library Company of Philadelphia

 Historical Image Credits (bottom row) L,R. W.T. Purviance, Collection of the New York Public Library, C. Frederick Gutekunst, Collection of the Library Company of Philadelphia

The Pennsylvania Railroad | A Legacy in Images
Please join me Tuesday, May 9th for the rescheduled lecture for the Harrisburg NRHS chapter, exploring the important role historical imagery plays in my ongoing project, From the Main Line, A Contemporary Survey of the Pennsylvania Railroad. The lecture is part of the Harrisburg Chapter’s monthly meeting and is free and open to the public.

May 9th, 2017 | Meeting begins at 7 PM
National Railway Historical Society
Harrisburg Chapter

Hoss’s Steak and Seahouse
743 Wertzville Road
Enola, Pennsylvania


The 2017 Mainline Art Center Spring Gala and Fundraiser Exhibition

Buy a Print, Support a Great Cause! This piece will be part of the Main Line Art Center's 2017 Spring Gala and Fund Raiser exhibition. The Gala is Saturday, April 29th, and the exhibition runs April 30th through June 3rd, 2017. Please visit the Main Line Art Center's Website for more information. 

Creative Commissions | Upcoming Lecture

FROIO_TSP_009.jpg

Please, join me for a lecture I will be giving Saturday, April 29th, exploring how my creative projects lead to large scale project documentations for Conrail Shared Assets. The lecture will discuss the technical challenges, equipment, and logistics of documenting three major railroad infrastructure projects in the Delaware Valley. Through previously unreleased images, videos and plenty of behind the scenes views, the presentation illustrates what was required to accomplish a cohesive and creative documentation of classic large-scale railroad engineering projects.

April 29th, 1:30 PM. The lecture is free and open to the public.

Pennsylvania Railroad Technical & Historical Society
Philadelphia Chapter

Drexel Hill Methodist Church | 600 Burmont Road, Drexel Hill, PA   

NRHS Harrisburg | Lecture Postponed

One train in an endless parade of eastbound traffic works its way slowly up the West Slope on the former Pennsylvania Railroad main line in Portage, Pennsylvania

One train in an endless parade of eastbound traffic works its way slowly up the West Slope on the former Pennsylvania Railroad main line in Portage, Pennsylvania

Due to the impending Nor'easter, the Harrisburg Chapter has decided to cancel the lecture for Tuesday, March 14th; the event will be rescheduled for May 9th. I will send out more information as the new date gets closer.

Upcoming Lecture | The Pennsylvania Railroad: A Legacy in Imagery

Stone bridges crossing the Neshaminy Creek, Pennsylvania Railroad Trenton Cut-Off, part of the Low Grade Freight Line between Morrisville and Enola, Pennsylvania. Join me March 14th to learn how historical imagery inspires new works in my ongoing project documenting the former Pennsylvania Railroad and the landscape it travels.  

Stone bridges crossing the Neshaminy Creek, Pennsylvania Railroad Trenton Cut-Off, part of the Low Grade Freight Line between Morrisville and Enola, Pennsylvania. Join me March 14th to learn how historical imagery inspires new works in my ongoing project documenting the former Pennsylvania Railroad and the landscape it travels.  

"In the Packsaddle, On the Conemaugh" Vintage photomechanical reproduction. Images like this were mass produced in travel books to entice travelers to ride the rails or to provide a visual memoir of one's trip. Today these images provide a unique view into the PRR's past taming the wilds of Pennsylvania. 

"In the Packsaddle, On the Conemaugh" Vintage photomechanical reproduction. Images like this were mass produced in travel books to entice travelers to ride the rails or to provide a visual memoir of one's trip. Today these images provide a unique view into the PRR's past taming the wilds of Pennsylvania. 

At the dawn of the industrial revolution, the American railroad became the vehicle at which life’s pace was set. Growing in the east and expanding across the western frontier the railroad was responsible for America’s success. Engineering such a system at such a rapid speed was no small task, the men who ran these companies understood the value of their accomplishments and wanted to share it with the world. To tout their new transportation systems, luring travelers to ride this modern marvel and experience the American landscape railroads turned to another new product of the industrial age: photography. Railroads employed some the most preeminent photographers of the time, outfitting darkroom cars, placed under the direction of senior passenger agents to see that their photographer had the best accommodations to illustrate their pride and joy. 

While photography and the railroads redefined the 19th century’s perception of space and time, surviving imagery leaves us a rich visual legacy to derive tremendous amounts of information about the railway, the landscape and the energy of the industrial age. It’s this imagery that feeds my creativity and imagination, allowing me to visualize the prominent role the Pennsylvania Railroad played in developing the United States.  These volumes of visual assets are the foundation of what inspires my work; the photographer’s technical and aesthetic ability, the conceptual ideas and the resulting images rich with information foster a dialogue with my image making, inspiring new works from pictures of the past.

Please join me Tuesday, March 14th for a lecture exploring the important role historical imagery plays in my ongoing project, From the Mainline, A Contemporary Survey of the Pennsylvania Railroad. The lecture is part of the Harrisburg Chapter’s meeting and is free and open to the public.

March 14th, 2017 | Meeting begins at 7 PM
National Railway Historical Society
Harrisburg Chapter

Hoss’s Steak and Seahouse
743 Wertzville Road
Enola, Pennsylvania

Philadelphia | Lecture Friday, February 17th

Susquehanna River Bridge, Perryville, Maryland. Images like this provide the visual clues of the evolution of the PRR network; the surviving piers of the 1866 Philadelphia, Wilmington & Baltimore Railroad bridge spanning the Susquehanna stands adjacent to its replacement completed by the Pennsylvania Railroad in 1906. Learn how I draw inspiration from historical imagery to create contemporary images that explore the surviving infrastructure of the PRR while considering its impact on the surrounding landscape. 

Susquehanna River Bridge, Perryville, Maryland. Images like this provide the visual clues of the evolution of the PRR network; the surviving piers of the 1866 Philadelphia, Wilmington & Baltimore Railroad bridge spanning the Susquehanna stands adjacent to its replacement completed by the Pennsylvania Railroad in 1906. Learn how I draw inspiration from historical imagery to create contemporary images that explore the surviving infrastructure of the PRR while considering its impact on the surrounding landscape. 

Please join me Friday, February 17th at the Philadelphia Chapter of the National Railway Historical Society's monthly meeting conveniently located on Drexel University's main campus. I will be presenting a lecture on my ongoing photographic project, From the Main Line: A Contemporary Survey of the Pennsylvania Railroad. The project explores the Pennsylvania Railroad, one of the most celebrated corporations in American history, operating the largest railroad in the United States for over 120 years. The PRR, as it was known, developed a unique high-capacity network that still carries trains throughout the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic region. After the merger of the PRR with long-time rival New York Central in 1968, the network has changed considerably, separated by various successors into distinct corridors for both freight and passenger operations. What remains provides the visual clues of the PRR's monumental infrastructure and its contributions to developing the American way of life.

Inspired by the work of William H. Rau, commissioned by the Pennsylvania Road in the 1890’s to document the railroad and its destinations, "From the Main Line" is an exploration of the landscape along the former Pennsylvania Railroad. Examining both the inhabited landscape developed along the line while celebrating the grace of an engineering marvel undertaken over 150 years ago. Through a two-fold approach, photographs look at the context of the railroad in the landscape and also work to emulate the viewpoint of what the passenger might experience from a railcar window. The story of how this railroad influenced the development of United States is told by illustrating the transitioning landscape, uncovering the layers of growth, decline and rebirth of small towns, industrial areas and city terminals that were once served by this historic transportation system.

The lecture is Friday, February 17th, 2017, part of the NRHS Philadelphia Chapter’s monthly meeting. The program is free and open to the public and will begin at 7:30 PM in 121 Randell Hall (accessed though the Main Building), Drexel University, 3141 Chestnut Street, Philadelphia. Drexel University's campus is centrally located near 30th Street Station and is easily accessible by bus, rapid transit and regional rail. For more information please contact me directly at Michael@michaelfroio.com. 

Winter News & Events

Northbound waiting room, Pennsylvania Station, Wilmington, Delaware. This remarkable space is part of the 1907 Frank Furness station in the city of Wilmington and is one of two new images included in the Professional Artist members Exhibition. 

Northbound waiting room, Pennsylvania Station, Wilmington, Delaware. This remarkable space is part of the 1907 Frank Furness station in the city of Wilmington and is one of two new images included in the Professional Artist members Exhibition. 

PROFESSIONAL ARTIST MEMBERS EXHIBITION 2017

Opening Reception Tonight: Friday, January 13th, 2016. 5:30 - 7:30 PM

I have two new prints from the Main Line project included in the 2017 Professional Artists Network Exhibition at the Main Line Art Center. The group exhibition features the work of roughly 50 artists and runs from January 13 – February 11, 2017. Gallery Hours are Monday – Thursday: 10 am to 8 pm and Friday – Sunday: 10 am-4 pm. The exhibition is free and open to the public. Mainline Art Center | 746 Panmure Road in Haverford PA


Mainline Art Center | 2017 Meyer Family Award for Contemporary Art Finalist
For the second year in a row The Mainline Art Center of Haverford, Pennsylvania selected the Main Line project as one of seven finalists for the 2017 Meyer Family Award for Contemporary Art. The competition featured over 200 applicants, awarding three solo shows to artists representing a diverse base of mediums while honoring an additional seven finalists with Professional Artist programming throughout 2017. For more information on programs and exhibitions at the Mainline Art Center visit their website


Some new work for the Mainline Project was recently included in Alexander Benjamin Craghead's article for Railroad Heritage, the quarterly journal of the Center for Railroad Photography & Art. Image credits, clockwise from the top left; John Sanderson, Stuart Klipper, John Sanderson and Travis Dewitz. Reproduction courtesy of the Center for Railroad Photography & Art.

Some new work for the Mainline Project was recently included in Alexander Benjamin Craghead's article for Railroad Heritage, the quarterly journal of the Center for Railroad Photography & Art. Image credits, clockwise from the top left; John Sanderson, Stuart Klipper, John Sanderson and Travis Dewitz. Reproduction courtesy of the Center for Railroad Photography & Art.

The [Rail]Road Belongs in the Landscape | J.B. Jackson and the Photographic Depiction of American Railroads

I am honored to be part of a fantastic article written by Alexander Benjamin Craghead for the Center for Railroad Photography and Art's quarterly journal Railroad Heritage. The article delves into the writings and lectures of landscape studies scholar John Brinckerhoff Jackson, exploring how his work has influenced several generations of noted photographers who's imagery focuses on the railroad landscape. It is a privilege to be featured among several accomplished photographers and peers including Edward Burtynsky, Jeff Brouws, Travis Dewitz and John Sanderson in a thoughtful piece that celebrates work about the railroad but not implicitly the trains themselves. The Center has taken significant initiatives to expand the horizons of both rail enthusiasts, historians and photographers alike while broadening the reach of this genre beyond the average audience. Craghead teaches American Cultural Landscapes at the University of California, Berkeley, a class started by J. B. Jackson many years ago. He'll be presenting more on the subject of Jackson and railroad photography at the Center for Railroad Photography & Art's annual Conference in Lake Forest, IL at the end of April. 


Upcoming Lecture | Philadelphia Chapter, National Railway Historical Society

LANC_CPTR_GRID_Crop.jpg

I’ll be presenting a lecture on my ongoing photographic project, From the Main Line: A Contemporary Survey of the Pennsylvania Railroad for the Philadelphia Chapter of the National Railway Historical Society. Inspired by the work of photographer William H. Rau, who was commissioned in the 1890’s to document the PRR and its destinations, the project explores the transitioning landscape along the former PRR main line from New York to Pittsburgh, highlighting the unique vernacular of facilities and infrastructure built by the PRR. This project combines historical research and original imagery to present a creative documentation of one of the most important railroads in American history.

The NRHS was founded in 1935 by a group of rail historians. It has since grown from 40 founding members to include over 13,000 men and women of all ages and professions in every state and many foreign countries, making it the nation’s largest rail preservation and historical society. The Philadelphia Chapter, established in 1936 is one of the founding chapters and has been instrumental in preserving the local railway scene. The lecture, on Friday, February 17th, 2017, is part of the Philadelphia Chapter’s monthly meeting. The program is free and open to the public and will begin at 7:30 PM in 121 Randell Hall, Drexel University, 3141 Chestnut Street, Philadelphia. More information to follow as the date approaches. 

Lunch & Learn Lecture | Perkins Center for the Arts

View of the Pennsauken area landscape from the historic Delair Bridge, a vital rail link between Southern New Jersey and the national rail network. Understanding the history of the landscape plays a significant role in much of my work, the Lunch and Learn lecture will provide insight into my creative process and how I integrate these themes into my work

View of the Pennsauken area landscape from the historic Delair Bridge, a vital rail link between Southern New Jersey and the national rail network. Understanding the history of the landscape plays a significant role in much of my work, the Lunch and Learn lecture will provide insight into my creative process and how I integrate these themes into my work

Much of my work has drawn inspiration from the history of the local landscape and the influence the industrial age had in the Northeastern region. Please join me next week at the Perkins Center for the Arts in Moorestown, NJ for an informal talk about my projects and how social and industrial history inspires and informs my work, including the Relic and Watershed series as well as my ongoing project From the Main Line, a contemporary survey of the Pennsylvania Railroad.

The event is January 5th from 12:30-1:30 in the historic home of the Perkins family on Evergreen Lawn in Moorestown, New Jersey. Lunch & Learn features culturally focused lectures, demonstrations, performances, and more. The series is designed to connect with and introduce opportunities to working and retired adults with interest in learning more about the cultural connections, creators and opportunities existing in South Jersey. Admission is free and attendees are encouraged to bring their lunch to the event.

Lunch & Learn: Photographs & History
January 5th, 2017 12:30-1:30PM

Perkins Center for the Arts – Moorestown
395 Kings Highway
Moorestown, NJ 08057 United States
856-235-6488

Of Railroads and Holidays

The 1932 painting "On Time!" by Griff Teller was part of a series of paintings commissioned for the PRR's annual calendar. Reproduced countless times author Dan Cupper wrote in the book "Crossroads of Commerce" that Teller's celebrated painting, "stirs a longing for - and makes a powerful statement about - railroading that melts boundaries of time and geography." This painting was an image used time and time again to illustrate the ability of the Pennsylvania, particularly in the Holiday season. Grif Teller reproduction collection of the Author

The 1932 painting "On Time!" by Griff Teller was part of a series of paintings commissioned for the PRR's annual calendar. Reproduced countless times author Dan Cupper wrote in the book "Crossroads of Commerce" that Teller's celebrated painting, "stirs a longing for - and makes a powerful statement about - railroading that melts boundaries of time and geography." This painting was an image used time and time again to illustrate the ability of the Pennsylvania, particularly in the Holiday season. Grif Teller reproduction collection of the Author

1948 holiday advertisement for the Pennsylvania Railroad.

1948 holiday advertisement for the Pennsylvania Railroad.

For many the railroads have long been associated with the holiday season. The notion of the long journey home to see loved ones or the family tradition of setting up the model trains from generations ago under the tree seems universal. TV and Cinema have celebrated the train countless times during the holiday season, like when Ralphie, his brother, and friends marveled over the window display of Lionel trains in the cult classic, A Christmas Story. Or when the Hollywood production based on Chris Van Allsburg's 1985 book, The Polar Express has the Pere Marquette 1225 take a central role in making the journey to the North Pole.

For over fifty years trains were just as essential to the holiday as the Christmas tree itself. Railroads prided themselves on the herculean effort of moving passengers, mail, and packages to ensure everyone and everything arrived on time for Christmas. Seasonal ads illustrated a concerted effort between Santa Claus and the transportation networks while traveling children slept snug in the berths on the latest streamlined train. Toy trains have been part of the American experience since the turn of the century. Lionel became the gold standard, leading the pack in producing electric powered trains for well over 60 years but some also took preference to the American Flyer and smaller competitors when constructing a holiday layout.

Today trains still play an integral part of the holiday season; at home, families continue the model railroad tradition started generations ago.  On the rails, our mail and packages don't specifically travel in railcars, but the trucks they get loaded into and containers they are shipped by are neatly stacked on the decks of flatcars making up one land ship after another of merchandise, parcels, and gifts heading for a coveted spot under the tree. Like the golden years of the railroads, armies of men and women work around the clock to keep the trains rolling; on the ground, in the cab and remote dispatching centers, often missing time with their loved ones to ensure the trains get through.
 

An eastbound container train descends the Allegheny mountains approaching the famed Horse Shoe Curve near Altoona, Pennsylvania. The contemporary railroad still plays a vital role in transporting the goods to stores and packages to homes around the country. Container ship lines as well as UPS, Fed Ex and trucking companies J.B. Hunt among others rely heavily on the use of the railroad to ensure merchandise makes it to the stores and packages get delivered in time for a spot under the Christmas Tree.

An eastbound container train descends the Allegheny mountains approaching the famed Horse Shoe Curve near Altoona, Pennsylvania. The contemporary railroad still plays a vital role in transporting the goods to stores and packages to homes around the country. Container ship lines as well as UPS, Fed Ex and trucking companies J.B. Hunt among others rely heavily on the use of the railroad to ensure merchandise makes it to the stores and packages get delivered in time for a spot under the Christmas Tree.

Whatever place the railroad has in your holiday season, share it with future generations. Consider expanding upon the trains handed down from family or start a new tradition of visiting a local model railroad, or perhaps take the kids or grandkids for a ride on a holiday themed excursion. While the train has been central to the holidays for many years, today it serves a different role, a diversion from the fast paced electronic lifestyles we indulge in day after day. An excuse to slow down and celebrate family time and traditions over generations. May you all have some time to rest and relax during the holiday season celebrating friends and loved ones!

From my family to yours, Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays and may you all have a safe and healthy New Year!

Sincerely,

Michael Froio