Photographs & History

Photographs and History

Celebrating Horseshoe

The Kittanning Reservoir occupies the gap created by Burgoon Run, where J. Edgar Thomson was faced with a decision of spanning the gap or filling the smaller Glen White and Kittanning Runs. The purpose of utilizing the horseshoe design is evident in the elevation changes of the railroad, visible above the gap along the left and right hillsides. 

The Kittanning Reservoir occupies the gap created by Burgoon Run, where J. Edgar Thomson was faced with a decision of spanning the gap or filling the smaller Glen White and Kittanning Runs. The purpose of utilizing the horseshoe design is evident in the elevation changes of the railroad, visible above the gap along the left and right hillsides. 

In 1851 J. Edgar Thomson, the first Chief Engineer of the young Pennsylvania Railroad began construction of the Mountain Division between the Johnstown area and Altoona.  Thomson faced two significant obstacles on the division, how to tunnel through the solid rock walls near the summit and how to get the Main Line from Altoona west up the mountain.

An eastbound descends into Horseshoe Curve, seen from the Kittanning Reservoir. 

An eastbound descends into Horseshoe Curve, seen from the Kittanning Reservoir. 

Thomson's endeavor for the PRR was not the first route over the Alleghenies in Blair County. The Allegheny Portage Railroad, part of the state-owned Main Line of Public Works completed in 1834, utilized a series ten inclined planes, five on either side of the summit, to surmount the Alleghenies. It proved to be a slow and dangerous part of an already arduous journey that required train, canal and these inclined planes to travel across the Commonwealth, taking some 4.5 days. 

View eastward from atop of Tunnel Hill, where Thomson faced the challenge of building the line through solid rock requiring cuts and tunnels nearing the Summit. 

View eastward from atop of Tunnel Hill, where Thomson faced the challenge of building the line through solid rock requiring cuts and tunnels nearing the Summit. 

Thomson opted to by-pass the troubled Main Line of Public Works and the APRR all together, turning west from the Juniata Valley in Altoona. To maintain a route with a ruling grade of 1.8% the new railroad would hug the foothills toward the summit, utilizing the natural topography of the ridge to Kittanning Point. Here, the Kittanning and Glen White Runs converge in the valley of Burgoon Run creating a significant challenge. Faced with a decision of spanning the considerable gap of Burgoon Run, Thomson, instead employed Irish laborers wielding pickaxes and shovels to fill the gaps of Kittanning and Glen White Run and thus completing the arced curve around Burgoon Run that became known as the Horseshoe Curve.

A helper set nears the point of the Allegheny Summit in Gallitzin, Pennsylvania, west of the Gallitzin and Allegheny Tunnels. 

A helper set nears the point of the Allegheny Summit in Gallitzin, Pennsylvania, west of the Gallitzin and Allegheny Tunnels. 


The line over the Alleghenies and Horse Shoe Curve opened on for service on February 15, 1854. Though the State Works attempted to improve their route by opening the New Portage Railroad in 1855, it ultimately failed, later becoming part of the PRR system, serving as an alternative route in times where traffic warranted its use. After 164 years of continual operation Horseshoe Curve continues to be a vital piece of rail transportation infrastructure, a testament to Thomson’s engineering ability in constructing one of the most celebrated railroads in American history. 

Winter Exhibitions

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9 New Jersey Photographers | Stockton University - Through March 28th, 2018 | Pictorialism, Pure or Straight Photography, Modernism, Social Documentary Photography, Post Modernism - like any other art forms, photography has had its share of dominant styles promoted by leading practitioners, critics, curators and by publications, and enshrined in galleries and museums. But today every style, every ism, every mode of making and printing photographs vies equally for attention and appreciation. 

This group of New Jersey photographers represents that diversity in striking ways. Some document the actual world unadorned, from images of the landscape to those of the inner city. Some make pictures that are totally abstract. Some take the world as it is. Some construct what they are going to photograph. Some print using present digital technologies, some using traditional 20th-century chemical processes, some using older alternative photographic processes. Some do not even use a camera, relying instead on light itself or even photographic chemicals alone to create an image. 

In an era where almost none of the billions of photographs made every year are ever printed, this exhibition not only presents some of the wide diversity of image making among photographic artists today, but allows us to contemplate the exquisite nature of the photographic print as an object. 

Stephen Perloff, Curator. 


I am honored to be part of this incredible exhibition curated by Stephen Perloff, editor of the Photo Review and the Photograph Collector. The exhibition, featuring the work of 9 NJ based photographers is on view through March 28th, with a closing reception and talk with Curator Stephen Perloff on Tuesday, March 6th at 5 PM.

The Stockton University is located at 101 Vera King Farris Drive, Galloway, NJ.  The campus Art Galleries are located in L-wing adjacent to the Performing Arts Center; visitors can park in Lots 6 or 7.  


In addition to the  9 NJ Photographers show, I also have several pieces hanging in two ongoing group exhibitions on view in the Delaware Valley. 

Photography 37 - Perkins Center for the Arts  - Through March 26th

Perkins 37th annual photography exhibition exemplifies the best and most innovative work by photographers from throughout the Mid-Atlantic region and beyond. This year's exhibition was juried by Hope Proper, renowned collector, former Curator of Exhibitions & Founder of Perkins Center’s Annual Photography Exhibition. 

Gallery Hours
Thursdays & Fridays 10 am - 2 pm
Saturday & Sunday 12 pm - 4 pm
This exhibition is free and open to the public.

Perkins Center for the Arts
395 Kings Highway | Moorestown, NJ 08057 


2018 Professional Artist Members Exhibition - Main Line Art Center - Through February 15, 2018

2018 Professional Artist 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
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
746 Panmure Road, Haverford PA

Holiday Wishes - From The Main Line

A light set of Norfolk Southern helper locomotives nears the Allegheny Summit in Gallitzin, Pennsylvania, on the original line opened by the PRR in 1854. 

A light set of Norfolk Southern helper locomotives nears the Allegheny Summit in Gallitzin, Pennsylvania, on the original line opened by the PRR in 1854. 

Since the Pennsylvania Railroad started moving trains across the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, a railroad empire began to take shape, eventually becoming a leader in the industry, an innovator of technology, and the model of the modern corporation. The storied history of the Pennsylvania Railroad is a big part of the American story, connecting people and industry, moving them safely and efficiently across the land. 

When I set out some time ago to document the Pennsylvania Railroad, I had an idea of what to expect, what I might learn, and what I would see along the railroad. What I did not anticipate, is how many wonderful individuals and organizations I would come to work with or the opportunities I would have to share the Main Line project. Reflecting on another incredible year, I would like to thank you all for your continued support. The Main Line project and all its associated endeavors continue to move ahead, and 2018 is shaping up to be an excellent year for new projects, exhibitions, and opportunities. I have put together some of my favorite holiday posts for you to enjoy and as always new content will resume in the new year.
 
From my family to yours, Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays and may you all have a safe and healthy New Year!

Sincerely,
 
Michael Froio


Of Railroads & Holidays | 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. (Read More)


The Liberty Limited "AND NOW, in time for the holidays, I bring you the best Christmas story you never heard." A heartwarming story from Ronnie Polaneczky's article published in the Philadelphia Daily News on December 22, 2005

It started last "We have to let them know we care," Vivian told Bennett. So they organized a trip to bring soldiers from Walter Reed Army Medical Center and Bethesda Naval Hospital to the annual Army-Navy football game in Philly, on Dec. 3. Christmas, when Bennett and Vivian Levin were overwhelmed by sadness while listening to radio reports of injured American troops. (Read More)


Holiday Traditions - This time of year, family and friends come together to celebrate the holidays with traditions developed over generations. As a part of our family tradition, I have the pleasure to read to my children on Christmas Eve as my father did before, the fabled poem, The Night Before Christmas by Clement Clark Moore. First published anonymously in December of 1823, it is now the tradition in many American families to read the poem on Christmas Eve.

The story and illustrations presented here were made in 1953 by Pennsylvania Railroad employee, William W. Seigford Jr. who maintained an office at the Harrisburg Passenger Station. (Read More)


Model Trains | A Holiday Tradition -  As a welcome change from my normal writing and research I have often celebrated the tradition of digging out the model trains of various vintage after Thanksgiving for the Christmas season in various articles and images. Last year I highlighted an icon of the 20th Century: The Lionel Company. I grew up with my father's Lionel trains, loving the idea of these rugged three-railed trains, the smell of ozone and smoke pellets, the automated accessories, the die-cast metal, but in reality, the noise of those things scared the hell out of me! (Read More)

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.

 

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 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   

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

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

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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. 

Managing the Line: Communications on the A&S

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

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. By the time the A&S opened for business in 1906, the PRR was rapidly working towards constructing one of the world's largest private telephone networks, laying cable along its system for critical functions like dispatching trains in addition to providing an extensive "in-house" communication network. The PRR's interest in telephone technology dates back to 1877 when officials invited Thomas A. Watson, assistant to Alexander Graham Bell for a demonstration in Altoona. While the railroad made a modest investment for non-critical communication following this meeting, it wouldn't be until 1897 when the technology was employed to dispatch trains entirely by phone on the South Fork Branch of the Pittsburgh Division.

The Pennsylvania Railroad maintained standard plans for watch boxes and telephone shelters among countless other items on the property. These structures were common along the Atglen & Susquehanna Branch; At one point there were 11 watch box locations in addition to line side telephones were spaced approximately 1.25 miles to provide direct contact with block operators and dispatchers in the event that a track inspector needed to report a problem with the line. Collection of Pat McKinney, courtesy of  Rob Schoenberg's PRR page

The Pennsylvania Railroad maintained standard plans for watch boxes and telephone shelters among countless other items on the property. These structures were common along the Atglen & Susquehanna Branch; At one point there were 11 watch box locations in addition to line side telephones were spaced approximately 1.25 miles to provide direct contact with block operators and dispatchers in the event that a track inspector needed to report a problem with the line. Collection of Pat McKinney, courtesy of Rob Schoenberg's PRR page

As technology was improved, the PRR began investing heavily in building a communication network, and by 1920 almost the entire system was dispatched by telephone. East of Paoli in the electrified territory, cable was laid in an underground duct system, west of Paoli the cable lines were often above ground on lineside poles and west of Harrisburg an extensive line side open wire system was employed. By 1955 the PRR boasted some impressive statistics in their company magazine, The Pennsy stating, "Today the PRR's network is generally accepted to be the largest private telephone system in the world. Its transmission lines stretch 41,000 miles. It's cost, together with that of the associated Teletype network, totals $35 million. On any typical day, PRR lines carry an estimated half-million calls." 

With the start of operations, the A&S was dispatched by phone from Harrisburg, out on the line local control via eight block stations provided the means for changing tracks and relay orders to passing trains. These included Parkesburg (PG), Atglen (NI), Quarryville (Q), Shenks Ferry - (SF - later Smith), Cresswell (CO), Columbia (LG-42), Marietta (RQ) and Wago Junction (WJ). Additionally, the PRR constructed 11 watch boxes along the A&S that were staffed 24/7 due to the continuous risk of washouts and cave-ins with the numerous cuts, fills, culverts and bridges along the line. Track inspectors could reach dispatchers via the watch boxes or line side phone boxes spaced roughly every 1.25 miles for field access in the event a situation should arise.

L.  Shenks Ferry (Smith) interlocking tower circa 1967. This tower survived the electrification and addition of automatic block signals in 1938 and was employed as needed in the event of a wreck or track work in the area. Photo by William R. Fry, Jr.  R.  LG27, one of 11 watch boxes on the A&S Branch, located just west of the Safe Harbor Viaduct where sharp cliffs and rock cuts posed concerns. These were staffed 24/7 and equipped with the necessary tools, a stove and telephone box for inspectors to conduct their work while staying in constant contact with block operators and dispatchers. Collection of the Southern Lancaster County Historical Society

L. Shenks Ferry (Smith) interlocking tower circa 1967. This tower survived the electrification and addition of automatic block signals in 1938 and was employed as needed in the event of a wreck or track work in the area. Photo by William R. Fry, Jr. R. LG27, one of 11 watch boxes on the A&S Branch, located just west of the Safe Harbor Viaduct where sharp cliffs and rock cuts posed concerns. These were staffed 24/7 and equipped with the necessary tools, a stove and telephone box for inspectors to conduct their work while staying in constant contact with block operators and dispatchers. Collection of the Southern Lancaster County Historical Society

Consolidation of block station and train order offices began during the Depression, with Quarryville placed out of service on August 11th, 1928. More change in operations came with the final phase of electrification completed in 1938. The project, which included the installation of automatic block signals and the implementation of established Current of Traffic Rule 251 eliminating the need for intermediate manned block stations. An additional benefit of the signal system was the integration of slide detector fences in areas prone to rockslides, eliminating the need for staffed watch boxes. Cola tower opened in Columbia sporting a 120 lever centralized traffic control machine, dispatching over 175 miles of freight only territory.  Under its jurisdiction on the A&S were Cresswell, LG-42 and Marietta (Shocks) as well as trackage down the Port Road south to Holtwood. Parkesburg was also rebuilt, relocated to a one of a kind brick single story building, containing a 39-lever Union Switch & Signal Model P interlocking machine. The last block station of note proved to be a bit of mystery, NI at Atglen just a few miles west of Parkesburg closed sometime between 1928 and 1945 based on various employee resources, but at this time I have found little else to narrow the dates of its demise. By the time electrification was complete all but one remaining manned block station survived on the A&S between Parkesburg and Cola; Shenks Ferry (SF), later renamed Smith, was retained as a part-time facility due to its location approximately midway between Cress and Parkesburg. While Smith ultimately met its demise, Cola survived into the Conrail era, closing in March of 1987, followed by the A&S in 1988. On the opposite end of the line, Parkesburg survived well into the 21st Century under Amtrak. The closing of Parkesburg during the Keystone Corridor improvements was the first in a string of tower closures that mark the end of an era in technology and dispatching that lasted longer than the company that helped pioneer the technology.

 

End of an Era

One of the last remaining Amtrak AEM-7s heads north with a regional train through Holmesburg Junction in Northeast Philadelphia shortly before retirement in February of 2016. Photograph by Patrick Yough

One of the last remaining Amtrak AEM-7s heads north with a regional train through Holmesburg Junction in Northeast Philadelphia shortly before retirement in February of 2016. Photograph by Patrick Yough

Class GG1 electric locomotive number 4868 pulls The Congressional circa 1965. Amtrak's AEM-7 was the successor of the highly regarded GG-1 both of which had successful careers on the Northeast Corridor, only time will tell if the Siemens ACS-64 will prove to be a worthy replacement.

Class GG1 electric locomotive number 4868 pulls The Congressional circa 1965. Amtrak's AEM-7 was the successor of the highly regarded GG-1 both of which had successful careers on the Northeast Corridor, only time will tell if the Siemens ACS-64 will prove to be a worthy replacement.

While I don’t typically write about motive power and rolling stock on the railroad, this week, with much fanfare a workhorse of Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor will go to the stables for the last time. The venerable Amtrak AEM-7 locomotive fleet built by the Electro-Motive Division of General Motors has been the common face of regional and long distance trains up and down the Corridor for over 37 years, logging over 220 million miles in the process. Developed after testing Swedish and French electric locomotives in the 1970’s the units were designed after the successful Swedish class Rc4. Ultimately the AEM-7 fleet would replace Amtrak’s hand-me-down fleet of 30 class GG-1 electrics of Pennsylvania Railroad/Raymond Loewy fame after the purchase of General Electric E60’s failed to deliver in the mid-70’s. Utilizing electrical components supplied from Swedish company ASEA and shells constructed by the Budd Company in Philadelphia, EMD manufactured 54 of the units for Amtrak in three separate orders; 1977 (30 units), 1980 (17 units) and 1988 (7 units). Maryland Area Regional Commuter Service (MARC) and Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (Septa) also made subsequent orders while New Jersey Transit purchased a fleet of its successor, the ALP-44. The boxy double-ended 7000hp motors (PRR term for electric locomotives) were considered lightweight, weighing just 101 tons and were capable of a maximum speed of 125mph

Over the years they have affectionately received the nickname Swedish Meatball or Toasters because of their origin and size and were widely regarded as a success, being the second long-standing fleet of electric locomotives to ply the former PRR territory since the GG-1. The AEM-7s have been replaced by Amtrak’s new fleet of 70 Siemens built ACS-64 class motors, based on the successful EuroSprinter platform. Only time will tell if the Sprinters prove to be a match to the durability of the Meatball or the holy grail, the GG-1. While the last AEM-7 on Amtrak’s roster is dropped, several remain in service for Septa and MARC but on short time; Septa has placed an order for 13 new ACS-64 units and MARC will drop all electric powered service all together, converting all Penn Line trains to diesel with new Siemens Charger series locomotives. While it can always be argued that the lines and styling of the GG-1 coupled with its battleship like design will never be replicated the AEM-7’s durability has certainly made it a worthy successor in hauling passengers safely up and down the Northeast Corridor for almost 38 years. 

From the Main Line | Upcoming Exhibiton

I am excited to share the details on my upcoming exhibition in Scranton, Pennsylvania featuring work from the ongoing project, From the Main Line. Scranton, though never served by the PRR could not be more of an appropriate venue to put together an exhibition exploring the relationship between railroads and the landscapes they travel. The Electric City is situated in the heart of Anthracite Coal Country and has a rich history largely associated with being at the crossroads of six railroad companies at its peak and home to the the sprawling Delaware, Lackawanna & Western Railroad locomotive shops.  The railroads played an important role in the city of Scranton, providing extensive access to the nation's rail network while providing a wealth of jobs to the regional economy, much like the many places I’ve photographed throughout my time on the PRR.

Today Scranton is home to several major universities, the Steamtown National Historical Site as well as several other interpretive museums that explore the role railroads and coal played in the regional economy. Plan a trip to see the exhibition and visit some area attractions; the city is very easy to navigate and there are several wonderful places to stay in town and of course, plenty of choices for lunch and dinner. The exhibition opens next Friday, March 4th and will run through April 30th at the Camera Work space, located in the Marquis Gallery, in the historic Laundry building in downtown Scranton, Pennsylvania.

Hope to see some familiar faces at the opening!

Sincerely, 

Michael Froio

Interview | From America with Love

As mentioned last week, here is the interview I did with photojournalist and educator Niko J Kalliantiotis for the project From America with Love a curated platform hosted by the organization Orama Photos, Greece. The interview discusses the Main Line Project as well as my overall approach to photography and will be part of a larger survey showcasing the current state of contemporary American photography. Enjoy! 

From the Main Line is a project that draws on many personal interests and is intended to be a long term investment creatively. Franklin Boro and Main Line, View from East Conemaugh, Pennsylvania.

From the Main Line is a project that draws on many personal interests and is intended to be a long term investment creatively. Franklin Boro and Main Line, View from East Conemaugh, Pennsylvania.

NJK: You have been working on the Railroad project for approximately ten years. Can you please discuss the nature of the project from its inception to its current state

MFP: When I started the project From the Main Line, I was looking for something that connected a number of different personal interests, something big that I could dive into in phases and that would provide a sort of long-term return creatively. The railroad is what initially led me to pick up a camera, I wanted to get back to the subject but not in the sense of the trains themselves, I instead wanted to focus on the surviving infrastructure and landscape. I chose the Pennsylvania Railroad (PRR) because of its historical significance and the amount of surviving elements that would provide visual clues to juxtapose its past and current importance.  My initial approach was pretty simple, go out and follow the railroad between Harrisburg and Pittsburgh exploring the railroad right of way and the places the railroad served. 

Between trips I took a lot of time to look at the work and figure out what was missing, what the project needed to convey the scale and significance of the PRR. I turned to the historical work of William H. Rau, a commercial photographer who was commissioned in the 1890s by the PRR to illustrate the railroad for marketing purposes. The work really struck me on both a technical and conceptual level. Here you had a photographer who was looking at the pinnacle of transportation and engineering utilizing a medium that was also coming into its own. Photographing a railroad that spanned the wilds of western PA, a corridor of modernity that was the lifeline for industry and people alike, an engineered landscape very different from its surroundings. It was Rau’s work and others like him that enlightened me to just how significant the railroad was, not just in the sense of the their engineering accomplishments but also how towns and industry flourished because of the railroad’s presence. In addition to Rau the writing of Harvard Landscape Studies professor John Stilgoe helped to better understand the physical, cultural and social impact the railroads had, and how to sort of recognize these attributes in my own work. From this research my approach became more informed, thus did the work. I was beginning to realize my photographs along with writing and historical resources could do a more effective job in telling the story of the railroad and the towns it served. It was the story of America’s rise in the industrial revolution, developing the east and concurring the west. My role is to illustrate and disseminate the layers of history along this engineered landscape. Utilizing both the exhibition format and a more in depth blog format allows the work to be both creative and historically informative, something that really appeals to my creative approach. Like the photographers before me who were hired to document the American scene, I continue a tradition in celebrating one of the most important transportation networks in the United States and how it remains a different but vital part of the American landscape. 

NJK: There is a consistency in the aesthetic decisions and a timeless quality in the work. Can you talk briefly about your concept behind those aesthetic decisions?

MFP: Photography is great medium in that for me it is still part science, part creativity and make no mistake about it, the two are closely related. I typically work with a view camera, which lends itself to a slow methodical way of making pictures. The process, from lens selection, composition, exposure, development, scans and print is all very intuitive, very intentional. Recently I have introduced digital capture into the mix and even that is treated the same way. I have preferences in what light I like to work in, though sometimes beggars can’t be choosers, when you are 100 miles from home and railroad officials have committed to you for the day you have to make due with what you’re given. Being a good photographer means knowing the limits of your materials and how to manipulate what you have to get it to fit your visual aesthetic. I prefer black and white, I tend to print a little dark and a little flat, I like my work to be void of people, not because I don’t like them, but really because its about the timeless quality of these landscapes. The hand of industry and the railroads is implied, it doesn’t always need to be seen. 

NJK: I find in the mood and testimony of the photographs a link to the current industrial situation in small town America. Is there a connection towards that territory or is the project strictly based on the documentation of the PRR?
 

MFP: Like many other photographers in this genre I am not trying to make a political statement I am simply conveying the information to the viewer (though that sounds a bit oversimplified). Yes the work is about the railroad, but if you don’t connect it to the landscape it travels and the industry it serves or once served you are missing the point. The landscape and the railroad developed for two reasons, need and opportunity, there is a very important relationship between the two, and when industry or the railroad left small towns, it brought despair, hardship and wave of social and economical issues. 

I was in Mingo Junction, Ohio on a trip once, home to a massive Wheeling-Pitt steel plant and part of the PRR main line to St Louis. I stopped to ask a gas station attendant if I could use the property to make a photograph of the mill, his reply was, “take all the pictures you want, the mill just closed yesterday, over 500 people are without jobs now”. I haven’t been back since, but I bet its different, I bet its pretty sad, but you know what, I’ve been to the towns where the mill still works, its not much different these days, the culture has changed. The owners of these mills are often international corporations, they aren’t building communities to attract employees anymore, and they are barely treading water to stay alive in cutthroat markets. In the ten years I have been doing this I have seen whole neighborhoods disappear, mills close, even rail lines abandoned, its part of the life cycle and unfortunately some parts of the country suffer from it more while others are insulated from just how bad it gets when the jobs leave town. The railroad is literally the string that threads together modern economies and those of the past, its an essential part to understanding the importance and heritage of these places and one of biggest reasons I embarked on this project. 

While From the Main Line is about the railroad I also take great care to consider the neighboring economies past and present to understand the larger life cycles of the surrounding landscape. View from West Singer Street, Johnstown, Pennsylvania.

While From the Main Line is about the railroad I also take great care to consider the neighboring economies past and present to understand the larger life cycles of the surrounding landscape. View from West Singer Street, Johnstown, Pennsylvania.

NKJ: From where do you derive inspiration for your work and what are some of the difficulties working on a project of such a large scale?

MFP: My inspiration comes from a number of sources. Photographically I can ramble off a dozen or more photographers: Walker Evans, Frank Gohlke, David Plowden, William Clift, William Rau, Carleton Watkins… the list goes on. But I also draw inspiration from the virtually nameless photographers, illustrators and graphic artists who worked for the railroads at various capacities. Graphic artists that captivated the fascination of potential travelers in brilliant full color adds, illustrators that sold albums of lithographs highlighting scenic vistas along the main line. Company photographers who were the day-to-day people chronicling the less than glamorous life of small towns and railroad construction and maintenance, anonymous photos of natural disasters and even the occasional train wreck. They captured the energy, excitement and details of life along the line; for this project it is often the historical imagery that feeds the creative imagination.

As far as working on a large-scale project, I don’t see any issues to it; it’s like a long-term investment. In this day and age people have such a short attention span I often wonder if I am shooting myself in the foot, but our quest in life is to do something you enjoy and be excited about right? Well, guess what… I still am after 10 years. When I am not excited anymore, I’ll stop and move on, but honestly with the depth of history of the PRR and the landscape it travels I don’t see myself loosing interest anytime soon. For me its not just about making art, it’s about preservation and that is not always something that happens overnight. 

NJK: What are your intentions in communicating the work with the public and how do you promote and distinguish your work among a dense photographic community?

MFP: While I target the photographic community, most of my aim is toward a larger audience. I accomplish this through the usual mix of social media, email campaigns, and networking. Last year I had the opportunity to put together an exhibition for the Monmouth Museum in Lincroft, NJ, a sort of a visual history of the last 100 years of railroading. It was great to put my work in the context of some the photographers in my top ten list of all time favorites, it was also fun to put together a show that had a level of visual sophistication that transcended a show of just a bunch of “train pictures” as some people would dismiss it as. 

I try to distinguish my work as being creative but also historically minded. I haven’t seen too many people with the level of commitment to a subject like this who have the balance between a good photographic and historical aesthetic, but as you said this is very saturated market. I am certainly not the only one reinventing the wheel. 

NJK: How is the work received among the preservation community, considering the historical component?

MFP: In the historical field abroad the work has been received with open arms, and I am forever grateful for that. These are people that have worked so hard to preserve so many facets of the late Pennsylvania Railroad and many others, some even worked from the railroads at one point or another. I was born 8 years after the company’s demise; I am just going on imagination and my visual ability to present historical facts and images along side my own perception of the railroad. To me the recognition from the historical community is more important and far more gratifying than making it big in the art world, it’s a diverse group of people who never cease to amaze me with their generosity, intellect and conversation. 

NJK: What is your advice to students and emerging photographers?

MFP: Don’t let a rejection set you back, present yourself as a professional and work as such. Even if it’s an assignment that doesn’t peak your personal interest dive into it head on, you might learn something. If you want to work in the field or be successful stick to your passion and always look to different mediums to expand your outlook on a given subject.

NJK: What is your opinion on the current state of American Photography, and the work that is promoted by photography dedicated platforms and social media nowadays?

MFP: I think it’s the same as it was 100 years ago. There are a lot of talented photographers out there, some rise to the top, some stay in the middle and others go unknown. The difference today is technology has leveled the playing field to a certain degree, but in reality, if you want to be successful you need to be visually literate and able to convey an idea in your own creative and unique way. That goes for fine art or commercial work. Social media floods us with visual resources day in and day out, most of it is crap, a few get lucky, but you can always pick out the professionals in their imagery, composition and presentation.

Crossing Mine Ridge

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. 

With Mine Ridge in the distance a fill carries the main line towards the summit from the west as it crosses between the Pequea and Chester Valleys. This area defined the ruling grade on the main line of the Philadelphia Division and continues to be the most challenging part of Amtrak's Keystone line. 

With Mine Ridge in the distance a fill carries the main line towards the summit from the west as it crosses between the Pequea and Chester Valleys. This area defined the ruling grade on the main line of the Philadelphia Division and continues to be the most challenging part of Amtrak's Keystone line. 

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. The small village of roughly 1900 residents is divided by the first pair of significant curves on the main line including the 4° Eby’s curve and the 4° Gap curve. To attain the summit the railroad climbs a .56% ruling grade and enters a cut on the Gap curve through Mine Ridge, limiting trains to a maximum of 50mph. Through William H. Brown's improvement years there were several attempts to reduce curvature of the route, but an ambitious project was proposed to eliminate the curves all together in the first quarter of the 20th century. With an estimated cost of $2.7 million, the realignment would require the removal of a large piece of Mine Ridge to eliminate a total of four curves with one large gentle arc, increasing speeds from 50 to 90 mph and reducing average travel time by 1.5 minutes. Alas the realignment was deemed too costly for the time and was never revisited, leaving the same basic arrangement that survives today now part of Amtrak's Keystone Line.

God's Country | The PRR in Eastern Lancaster County

Leaving the city of Lancaster the PRR Main Line snakes its way across the rich agricultural landscape of Pennsylvania Dutch Country in central 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.

Plate 68: Mill Creek Bridge. Facing the southern facade of a virtually brand new bridge spanning Mill Creek, photographer William H. Rau frames the special photography train staged on the bridge. Very little has changed here with the exception of the concrete reinforcement and catenary towers as seen by the inset photo below taken in 2013. William H Rau image collection of American Premier Underwriters, Inc.

Plate 68: Mill Creek Bridge. Facing the southern facade of a virtually brand new bridge spanning Mill Creek, photographer William H. Rau frames the special photography train staged on the bridge. Very little has changed here with the exception of the concrete reinforcement and catenary towers as seen by the inset photo below taken in 2013. William H Rau image collection of American Premier Underwriters, Inc.

The Main Line, part of the original Philadelphia & Columbia Railroad was the site of several improvements including grade separation and curve realignments along the route. Often in winter while riding the south side of the train the bare trees reveal traces of abandoned alignments especially around Kinzer where an early stone arch bridge and small fill once crossed Vintage Road south of the “new” main line. Eastbound trains face a .56% ruling grade approaching the crossing of Mine Ridge on a typical stretch of right of way for the PRR; Several brick freight houses survive, all constructed in a similar style around 1860, W.H. Brown era overpasses and culverts and two notable stone masonry arch bridges that cross the Mill Creek near Smoketown and the Pequea Creek in Paradise, all under a veil of catenary from the final 1938 phase of electrification.  

At Leaman Place Junction, connection was made with the Strasburg Railroad now a well known tourist operation that was originally chartered in 1832 to connect with the P&C. Operational by 1837 utilizing horse drawn coaches on rails the Strasburg purchased a locomotive constructed by the Norris Locomotive Works named the William Penn in 1851. 

 

Typical views along this stretch of the PRR Main Line include simple frame buildings and unspoiled views of the rich agricultural landscape inhabited by the Amish and Mennonites.

Typical views along this stretch of the PRR Main Line include simple frame buildings and unspoiled views of the rich agricultural landscape inhabited by the Amish and Mennonites.

By the 20th Century the Strasburg had changed ownership several times and passenger ridership suffered from the competition of Conestoga Traction Company’s streetcar routes into the city of Lancaster. Ultimately the line was put up for abandonment in the late 1950’s when Henry K Long, an area railfan organized a non-profit to save the line.  Commencing tourist operations in 1959 the Strasburg railroad has been a cornerstone of Lancaster County’s tourism trade offering steam powered train rides through the unspoiled PA Dutch countryside. The railroad has been unique in its mission, centered not only on operations but also working to preserve the historical landscape and feel of a turn of the century railroad while running a healthy freight business and a full service shop for Strasburg and contract restorations.