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!

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.

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! 

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

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. 

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

A Little Love From the Home Office

As many of you know I am a working professional photographer and educator, having run the facilities at Drexel University's Photography Program, part of the Westphal College of Media Arts and Design for 15 years. The last 12 of those years I have also taught various subjects in the medium sharing my experiences in photography with the next generation of great image makers. This week the College spotlighted my work documenting the Pennsylvania Railroad and it comes with great pride that I can share the piece here. Having the opportunity to work in a creative environment has largely shaped who I am and having my alma mater and employer recognize this work is a great honor.  Enjoy! 

MIKE FROIO'S RAILROADS

August 4, 2016

Michael Froio, Professor and Photography Facilities Manager, is often found in the Paul Peck Center’s Photography studios. However, if you’re lucky, you might find him at the break of dawn just about anywhere there’s train tracks, rail yards, or train stations. It’s not that Michael is a solitary individual, it’s rather that the focus of his work is largely based on lush landscapes, historical architecture and all aspects of the former Pennsylvania Railroad, which he uses to produce stunningly rich black and white photography. “From the Main Line,” Froio’s impressive ongoing project, operates as an homage to the industrial achievements of the past 150 years in which he documents the infrastructure and landscape that’s developed alongside the Pennsylvania’s ecology. “Much of what they engineered and built over 100 years ago remains a vital part of the Mid-Atlantic’s railroad infrastructure today, a testament of their foresight and engineering abilities” says Froio. His gorgeous photography is generally accompanied by meticulously researched text that recounts and pays tribute to the importance of railroads in our region and the nation. We strongly suggest you visit Michael’s terrific website and consider signing up for his pictorially vibrant, textually rich, and fascinating newsletter. 

Froio is inspired by the work of William H. Rau, who documented the railroad in the 1890’s, and by the social and industrial history and landscape studies writers John Stilgoe and Robert Adams. His earlier works were made possible by using a large format view camera, a process that forces the photographer to spend a dedicated time with the subject. In recent years he’s begun utilizing digital formats, yet he still treats his work with the same emphasis as with the view camera: spending time with the subject.

Froio most recently served on a panel as part of The Muse Behind the Artist at The Print Center, an event sponsored by Penn’s Village. In March, From the Main Line was exhibited at the Camerawork gallery in Scranton, Pennsylvania. 

Continuing A Legacy | Photographing the Pennsylvania Railroad

The Rockville Bridge, circa 1875, from the album entitled, "Scenery of the Pennsylvania Railroad" by Frederick Gutekunst. Collection of the Library Company of Philadelphia

The Rockville Bridge, circa 1875, from the album entitled, "Scenery of the Pennsylvania Railroad" by Frederick Gutekunst. Collection of the Library Company of Philadelphia

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 travellers to ride this modern marvel and experience the American landscape railroads turned to another new product of the industrial age; photography. Employing some the most preeminent photographers of the time, railroads outfitted special cars placed under the direction of senior passenger agents to see that their photographer had the best accommodations to illustrate their pride and joy. By no coincidence was the Pennsylvania Railroad one of the biggest supporters of this endeavor being their corporate headquarters of Philadelphia also happened to be the epicenter of photography in the US in the 19th Century. The PRR employed photographers for a multitude of tasks including the glamorous commissions to illustratate 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. 

Horseshoe Curve, William T Purviance, Circa late 1860's. Collection of the New York Public Library. 

Horseshoe Curve, William T Purviance, Circa late 1860's. Collection of the New York Public Library. 

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 railroad, the landscape and the energy of the industrial age. It’s this imagery that feeds my creativity and imagination, that 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 ideals and the resulting images rich with information foster a continued dialogue with my own image making, inspiring new works from images of the past.

This is a brief excerpt form the upcoming lecture “Continuing a Legacy, Photographing the Pennsylvania Railroad” which I will present on February 13th for the Philadelphia Chapter of the Pennsylvania Railroad Technical and Historical Society

 

Winter News And Events

A new year brings new opportunities and so far 2016 seems to be living up to that expectation! Here are the latest updates for the first quarter of 2016. There will be several opportunities to view work from the Main Line and Watershed projects and soon I will be sharing a recent interview and lecture that are in the works. Stay tuned for more in the coming months and as always, thank you for your continued support!

Historical Imagery Credits: L. Collection of Michael Froio, C. Frederick Gutekunst, R. William N. Jennings, Both Collection of the Library Company of Philadelphia

Historical Imagery Credits: L. Collection of Michael Froio, C. Frederick Gutekunst, R. William N. Jennings, Both Collection of the Library Company of Philadelphia

Upcoming Lecture: I am pleased to announce the first of several presentations of a new lecture I have been researching that explores the legacy the Pennsylvania Railroad left behind in photographs and how that imagery has influenced my own work. The presentation looks at several noted photographers commissioned to photograph the railroad while tying them to a visual dialogue with my own contemporary works exploring the former Pennsylvania Railroad. 


News Briefs

Bay grass and ATV trails, Tinicum Township, Pennsylvania. One of two images from the Watershed series selected for an award by juror Heather Campbell Coyle for the Perkins Center for the Arts exhibition Photography 35. The show opens January 31st and runs through February 26th and is free and open to the public. 

Bay grass and ATV trails, Tinicum Township, Pennsylvania. One of two images from the Watershed series selected for an award by juror Heather Campbell Coyle for the Perkins Center for the Arts exhibition Photography 35. The show opens January 31st and runs through February 26th and is free and open to the public. 

Perkins Center for the Arts: Photography 35: I am happy to note that I have two pieces from the Watershed series in the Perkins Center annual juried photo exhibition, Photography 35 one of which received honors from juror Heather Campbell Coyle, Curator of American Art at the Delaware Art Museum. The exhibition runs from January 31st through February 26th, 2016 with an opening reception on Sunday, January 31st from 1-4 PM. This exhibition is free and open to the public, for more information visit the Perkins Center online

Main Line Art Center | 2016 Meyer Family Award for Contemporary Art Finalist
The Main Line Art Center of Haverford, Pennsylvania selected the Main Line project as one of seven finalists for the 2016 Meyer Family Award for Contemporary Art. The competition featured over 200 applicants and awarded three solo shows to artists representing a diverse base of mediums while honoring an additional seven finalists with Professional Artist programming throughout 2016. For more information on programs and exhibitions at the Main Line Art Center visit their website

Upcoming Interview: Photojournalist and Educator Niko J Kalliantiotis interviewed me for a new project titled From America with Love a curated platform hosted by the organization Orama Photos, Greece. The interview is part of a larger project showcasing the current state of contemporary American photography. Stay tuned for more, I will send out the interview when it goes live! 

Upcoming Exhibition: From the Main Line: A Contemporary Survey of the Pennsylvania Railroad | Camera Work Gallery, Scranton, Pennsylvania 

I am very excited to announce the first solo exhibition featuring the Main Line project in a town rich with railroad history. The show will feature some 20 images from the project in a gallery space located in the historic Laundry Building in downtown Scranton. The show runs from March 4th through the 29th, with an opening reception on March 4th from 6-8 PM. More details will follow in the coming weeks! 

Happy Holidays! Seasonal Favorites from Photographs & History


Dear Friends,
 
Reflecting on another wonderful 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 with 2016 shaping up to be a great year for new projects, exhibitions and lectures. 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 and Happy New Year!
 
Sincerely,
 
Michael Froio


The Night Before Christmas | Paintings by PRR employee William W. Seigford Jr.

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. They were displayed in the station during the Christmas season alternating with other decorations for several years until Seigford was transferred to Cincinnati in 1956. The paintings were never displayed in Cincinnati but remained in Seigford’s possession until he retired from Penn Central as General Foreman of Passenger Locomotives and Cars in July of 1974. After retirement he returned to the Lancaster area and subsequently donated the paintings to Amtrak’s Lancaster Passenger Station for display during the Christmas season. Surviving the Pennsylvania Railroad and Penn Central, all 12 original paintings hang proudly in the beautiful 1929 waiting room under the watchful eye of Amtrak employees Richard Peiffer and Donna Whitney, who facilitated the making of these reproductions for future preservation.

I would like to acknowledge Mr. William (Bill) L. Seigford for his help on this post as well as his continued support on the Main Line Project, his knowledge and generosity have been a invaluable resource.


Lionel Trains | A Holiday Tradition

Lionel 2173WS Steam Turbine Set, Circa 1951. This set was loaded with action cars like the animated milk car and side dumping coal car. This set listed for $62.50 that is roughly 550.00 in today's money!  Collection of the author.

Lionel 2173WS Steam Turbine Set, Circa 1951. This set was loaded with action cars like the animated milk car and side dumping coal car. This set listed for $62.50 that is roughly 550.00 in today's money!  Collection of the author.

With modest beginnings Joshua Lionel Cowen and Harry C. Grant founded the Lionel Corporation in 1900, building model trains for retail window displays to help draw consumers to their stores. In 1906 the company responded to the increasing demand for the electric trains in the consumer market and developed its trademark three-rail “standard gage” track to simplify wiring and use of accessories.  By 1915 Lionel would supplement the large standard gage with the budget minded O scale which would later become the standard size of their product lines. Lionel’s use of sharp advertising was ultimately responsible for tying model trains to Christmas, making them popular presents during the holidays, establishing traditions that survive today.  By WWI Lionel was one of three major US manufactures of toy trains, surpassing competitor Ives as the market leader by the 1920’s. Lionel’s growth and aggressive ad campaigns further led to Ives' bankruptcy in 1928. More


Revisiting the Atglen & Susquehanna

The Bridge at Martic Forge

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 switchback divide between Martic and Conestoga Townships in the deep Pequea Valley.

 

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. 

The Martic Forge trestle was situated between two deep cuts excavated through Prospect and Red Hill deriving its name from a neighboring charcoal iron furnace that was active during the Revolutionary War. Utilizing a similar approach to the Conestoga (Safe Harbor) and the Little Brandywine Creek crossing in Downingtown, the trestle is a combination of 10 plate steel deck girders on bents supported by masonry piers with an inverted deck truss for the expanded section over the creek itself. The bridge measured approximately 630’ long and soared 149 feet above the valley floor. The structure was originally constructed with an open timber deck, which was later closed and ballasted at an unknown date. In addition to spanning the creek, the Low Grade also crossed the Pequea Electric Railway, a trolley line that ran until 1930 between Lancaster and retreat camps near the village of Pequea where the creek empties out into the Susquehanna. Places like the Martic trestle illustrate the Low Grade’s intention to bridge the land rather than to foster growth in between, soaring over life in the valley, a theme common to this line across southern Lancaster County. 

Construction of the Martic Forge Bridge was completed in 1905. These remarkable photographs illustrate the challenge the PRR had constructing this bridge in the remote Pequea Valley. (L) Image collection of The Kline Collection, Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania, PHMC (R) Columbia Historic Preservation Society, Columbia, PA

Construction of the Martic Forge Bridge was completed in 1905. These remarkable photographs illustrate the challenge the PRR had constructing this bridge in the remote Pequea Valley. (L) Image collection of The Kline Collection, Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania, PHMC (R) Columbia Historic Preservation Society, Columbia, PA

Over the last few years Martic Township has restored the deck of the Martic Forge Bridge, providing the current eastern anchor point on the continually growing Low Grade trail. Visitors are treated to beautiful views of the Pequea Valley where countless freights once moved in an area that was largely inaccessible until the railroad’s abandonment. 

The Martic Forge Bridge is now a major highlight on the Martic Township section of the Enola Low Grade rail trail. Once the Conestoga bridge in Safe harbor is complete hikers and cyclists will be able to travel from Creswell to Martic on one continuous and very scenic section of the former PRR Low Grade. 

The Martic Forge Bridge is now a major highlight on the Martic Township section of the Enola Low Grade rail trail. Once the Conestoga bridge in Safe harbor is complete hikers and cyclists will be able to travel from Creswell to Martic on one continuous and very scenic section of the former PRR Low Grade. 

The Paoli Local: 100 Years of Electrification on the Pennsylvania Railroad

At 5:55 AM, Saturday, September 11th 1915 the first scheduled electric powered train departed Paoli for Philadelphia marking the beginning of one of the most famous railroad electrification projects in the United States. 

Overbrook Station marks the location where the Pennsylvania Railroad crosses from the Philadelphia city line into the suburban district knows locally as the Main Line. This location is full of PRR character including the station built in 1860, a PRR standard design interlocking tower and the original details from the first phase of the PRR's great electrification project. 

Overbrook Station marks the location where the Pennsylvania Railroad crosses from the Philadelphia city line into the suburban district knows locally as the Main Line. This location is full of PRR character including the station built in 1860, a PRR standard design interlocking tower and the original details from the first phase of the PRR's great electrification project. 

At the close of 1910 the Pennsylvania Railroad had certainly accomplished some remarkable projects. The building of Penn Station and the Hudson and East River Tunnels was an engineering feat that put the railroad at a major advantage over many others, giving them direct access to New York City while establishing a through connection to New England markets.  Out of necessity the new terminal utilized trains running on a proven direct current third rail system, as steam engines would literally suffocate passengers in the lengthy tunnels. The PRR had already begun utilizing DC propulsion on routes previous to the terminal as a way to economize operations and included subsidiaries Long Island Railroad and part of the West Jersey & Seashore. To the north the New Haven had just inaugurated heavy electrified main line service utilizing a new alternating current installation in 1907, but with little time to observe the New Haven’s technology the PRR’s conservative management instead chose the proven DC system.

Soon after the New York terminal project was completed, engineering forces turned their attention to a major traffic bottleneck in the PRR’s corporate home of Philadelphia. Broad Street Station, built by the Wilson Brothers in 1881 and expanded by Frank Furness in 1892-93 was a 16-track stub ended terminal that was situated in the city center directly across from city hall. Broad Street saw a host of trains including commuter and long distance trains that stopped, terminated or originated here; because of the nature of a stub end terminal and a lengthily and congested reverse move to the engine facilities west of the Schuylkill River, trains faced a host of delays limiting Broad Street’s capacity and efficiency. In order to ease congestion the PRR turned to engineering consultant Gibbs & Hill to develop a solution utilizing electric traction, but this time with AC propulsion. Now several years into the New Haven’s electrification the PRR could capitalize on their triumphs while incorporating technological advances to perfect the new installation. A simplified infrastructure and commercial power purchased from Philadelphia Electric made AC propulsion very economical over DC which required the railroad to construction dedicated power plants. With a supply agreement in place the PRR and Philadelphia Electric could easily expand the network over the next several years, sharing the power generation expansion cost with other commercial and industrial customers.

The western terminus of the 1915 electrification was Paoli, Pennsylvania just 20 miles west of Broad Street Station. Here in a modern view we look west toward the interlocking tower and former shop facility used to service the MP54 MU cars. Telltale details of the 1915 electrification include both the lattice style and tubular trolley poles that support the catenary system. Note: This photograph was taken with Amtrak permission under watchman protection, the author does not condone any type of trespassing on railroad or private property. 

The western terminus of the 1915 electrification was Paoli, Pennsylvania just 20 miles west of Broad Street Station. Here in a modern view we look west toward the interlocking tower and former shop facility used to service the MP54 MU cars. Telltale details of the 1915 electrification include both the lattice style and tubular trolley poles that support the catenary system. Note: This photograph was taken with Amtrak permission under watchman protection, the author does not condone any type of trespassing on railroad or private property. 

The initial phase of electrification would be a costly investment due to the complexities of the Philadelphia Terminal’s trackage.  Once completed however, it could not only support electrified Paoli service but also main line service to Wilmington, Trenton, the West Chester Branch and Chestnut Hill branch freeing up valuable terminal space while maximizing the benefit of the initial cost. Power would be supplied by the Schuylkill River generating station and transmitted across the river to the Arsenal Bridge sub-station then on to the West Philly, Bryn Mawr and Paoli sub-stations. Here the 25 cycle 44,000 volt single phase power would be stepped down to 11,000 volts and fed to trains via overhead trolley lines supported by cable suspension supports strung between tubular steel trolley poles. The route to Paoli was 20 miles in length and electrification included wiring a coach yard and service facility in the West Philadelphia shops as well as a new facility in Paoli, a total of roughly 93 miles of track. Initially limited to just the Paoli commuter runs the electrification would power some 80 plus trains a day while affording an 8% overall increase in capacity at Broad Street. Though this seems like a small advantage for such a significant investment, the PRR looked to the future making this the first of several steps to dramatically increase capacity by expanding electric operations off the initial hub.

Two of the original sub-station buildings still survive along the main line at Bryn Mawr (L) and Paoli (R). Note to the right of the Paoli sub-station the vacant land which was the location of the Paoli shops.

Two of the original sub-station buildings still survive along the main line at Bryn Mawr (L) and Paoli (R). Note to the right of the Paoli sub-station the vacant land which was the location of the Paoli shops.

While planning, design and construction of the Paoli electrification was taking place, the PRR turned to the proven class P54 steel coach that was already in production. Though only a basic coach design the PRR had incorporated provisions in the plans to accommodate electrification and operating components when it was time to develop a fleet of self-propelled multiple unit (MU) cars. These motorcars would largely makeup the initial fleet of the PRR’s electric operations until suitable locomotives were developed to haul long distance trains. Classified as MP54's many were already in electrified service on the Long Island and WJ&S utilizing DC propulsion. The MP54 fleet eventually comprised of over 1400 cars; 480 ran on the PRR proper, 923 on the Long Island Railroad and 18 on the WJ&S /PRSL, some of which outlasted the PRR itself, remaining in operation through 1981.

Detail of the Union Switch & Signal interlocking machine at Paoli tower. Though still in service the interlocking plant here and the facility's importance has been greatly reduced with the elimination of the shops. The model board reflects the abandoned #2 and #3 main tracks west of the interlocking. 

Detail of the Union Switch & Signal interlocking machine at Paoli tower. Though still in service the interlocking plant here and the facility's importance has been greatly reduced with the elimination of the shops. The model board reflects the abandoned #2 and #3 main tracks west of the interlocking. 

With the first phase of electrification a success the railroad continued expansion from the Broad Street terminal, next on the Chestnut Hill branch in 1918 and the White Marsh branch in 1924. Concurrent to the expansion of the PRR’s electrified network other notable projects commenced, one of great importance was the Philadelphia Improvements. With heavy construction beginning in 1927 the PRR sought to replace Broad Street Station with a new subterranean station and office tower called Suburban Station and Penn center respectively. All north-south oriented main line trains would utilize a new through station on the west bank of the Schuylkill River called 30th Street Station. East-west trains utilized an upgraded facility out on the main line in North Philadelphia to eliminate the need to reverse out of the terminal to continue after stopping since 30th was actually off the New York-Pittsburgh Main Line. Commuter trains in and out of Suburban would also service 30th Street from a separate upper level reducing the concentration of travelers separating commuter operations from the long distance and regional trains. 

Though the massive Philadelphia Improvements took years to complete electrification continued at a rapid rate extending south to Wilmington on the main line including the branch to West Chester in 1928 and north on the main line to Trenton and the Schuylkill Valley Branch to Norristown in 1930 completing the electrification of all Philadelphia region suburban lines. Further studies reiterated the economical advantage of electrification outside the commuter zones for regional and long distance trains between New York, Philadelphia, Washington DC and Harrisburg, prompting PRR president William Wallace Atterbury to close the gaps in electrification beginning late in 1928. Despite the Great Depression the electrification project continued through 1933, completing the retrofit of the New York Terminal for AC traction and finishing catenary work to complete the network to Wilmington and Paoli. Understanding that Wilmington would not be a suitable southern terminal for electrification, catenary was pushed south to Washington DC including Potomac Yard, financed by a $70 million loan secured from depression era federal recovery programs. Beginning in January of 1934, various reports say up to 20,000 men went to work, comprising of furloughed railroad employees and new hires in the electrical / construction trades to complete the electrification of the New York – Washington DC main line, which opened for business on February 10th 1935. As a result of the success on the north-south “corridor” the PRR sought to complete electrification from the eastern seaboard west to the Harrisburg terminal including all associated freight and passenger main lines. Work commenced on the Low Grade from Morrisville to Enola, the main line from Paoli to Harrisburg, the Columbia Branch and Port Road. Completed in 1938 the entire electrification created a powerful conduit that put the railroad in an excellent position to handle the impending pressure of wartime traffic demands.

View looking east at the western limits of the Paoli interlocking plant. Number 2 and 3 track mains (center tracks) are basically stub end sidings here used occasionaly for track and maintenance equipment. The surviving infrastructure of the electrification reflects various generations of expansion including the massive singnal bridge, tubular trolley poles and the sub-station. This would have been some of the western most electrified trackage until the 1938 expansion to Harrisburg.  Note: This photograph was taken with Amtrak permission under watchman protection, the author does not condone any type of trespassing on railroad or private property. 

View looking east at the western limits of the Paoli interlocking plant. Number 2 and 3 track mains (center tracks) are basically stub end sidings here used occasionaly for track and maintenance equipment. The surviving infrastructure of the electrification reflects various generations of expansion including the massive singnal bridge, tubular trolley poles and the sub-station. This would have been some of the western most electrified trackage until the 1938 expansion to Harrisburg. Note: This photograph was taken with Amtrak permission under watchman protection, the author does not condone any type of trespassing on railroad or private property. 

The electrified infrastructure of the PRR Main Line has remained visibly the same over the ensuing decades despite modifications and renewal. Surviving the Pennsylvania Railroad, Penn Central, Conrail and Amtrak the sub-stations, tubular catenary poles and surviving interlocking towers remain along with many original station buildings preserving the character of the Main Line, a name synonymous not only with the railroad but towns along the route to Paoli. As Amtrak continues to renew their electric traction system the original details of the 1915 electrification, now part of the successful Keystone Corridor could be on borrowed time. There are plans being developed that would call for a total replacement of the 1915 era catenary system. The construction of larger modern support towers similar to those found on the Northeast Corridor will allow Amtrak to move feeder and transmission lines to the railroad right of way much like later phases of electrification did. For now while you ride the Paoli Local or one of Amtrak’s Keystone Service trains take note of the historical infrastructure that survives, that infrastructure around you was part of the one the most ambitious and successful railroad electrification projects in the world!

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. 

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

Early History: Surviving segment of Thomson’s Poker Game? No sooner than the completion of the Pennsylvania Railroad’s Main Line from Harrisburg to Pittsburgh the fledging carrier looked to expand its empire by purchasing rights, property and franchises to gain entry to new markets and expand upon their existing system. Largely driven by third president, J. Edgar Thomson, one of the largest single objectives was to gain direct access to Philadelphia. This would require control of the Philadelphia & Columbia Railroad, an 82-mile rail route that connected Philadelphia to the canal system at the P&C’s western terminus Columbia, all of which was part of the state-owned Main Line of Public Works. Though poorly engineered and in deplorable condition due to the mounting debt of the entire operation, the route had potential if the right funding could be secured and a staff of knowledgeable railroad men could be utilized to plan and execute improvements. This however would not be the problem for Thomson; it was more so the state who demanded a hefty sum for the Main Line of Public Works in its entirety with the clause that all parts of the system be improved and remain operational.  Thompson's response? Build another railroad and marginalize the state system.  Thus attention was focused on the recently incorporated Lancaster, Lebanon & Pine Grove Railroad, a start up enterprise looking to establish a connection between the Norristown Railroad and the Harrisburg, Portsmouth, Mount Joy & Lancaster Railroad which would essentially make the need for the P&C irrelevant. Founded in 1852, Christian Spangler a prominent Philadelphia businessman was named commissioner of the new line. Spangler, also a PRR board member would soon be named president of the railroad in 1853.  In the spring of the same year survey crews worked between Lebanon and Cornwall doing just enough work to look like the Lancaster & Pine Grove would come to fruition.

Detail of the 1855 map under Chief Engineer H. P Haupt shows the proposed Lebanon, Lancaster & Pine Grove Railroad (across the upper center area of the map) which would eliminate the need to purchase the State's failing Main Line of Public Works. Though the route was never built the similarities of the line with Downingtown & Lancaster branch makes one wonder if the property had once been considered to be part of the plan had the Commonwealth and the PRR never came to terms. Map collection of the Library of Congress

Detail of a 1911 PRR system map showing the New Holland Branch, symbolic of the corporate restructuring that rolled the D&L franchise into the PRR portfolio of lines and assets. Map Collection of the author

Detail of a 1911 PRR system map showing the New Holland Branch, symbolic of the corporate restructuring that rolled the D&L franchise into the PRR portfolio of lines and assets. Map Collection of the author

In 1854, facing the reality of an investment that now accounted for almost all of the Commonwealth’s debt, fear of financial ruin motivated the state legislature to pass an act to sell the Main Line of Public Works in its entirety for the highest bidder above 10 Million dollars. The PRR wouldn’t budge; Thomson continued his bluff letting contracts to begin minimal construction with no intention of building an actual railroad but rather to force the hand of canal commissioners to sell on the PRR’s terms and price point.  For the next three years Thomson continued to wage his bets, showing public support for the construction of the Lancaster & Pine Grove. In 1855 the state legislature authorized another sale complete with operational clauses for the State Works to be sold at a minimum bid of $7.5 million; still no takers. Finally in 1857 a third bill was authorized for sale at or above $7.5 million including all rolling stock and property.  With no other offers the PRR took control of the Main Line of Public Works in its entirety on August 1st, 1857.  Now that Thomson had the last piece of railroad to complete a wholly owned main line between Philadelphia and Pittsburgh the Lancaster & Pine Grove Railroad would be dropped.

 

While the bidding war for the PRR to assumed control of P&C raged on, the East Brandywine Railroad had chartered in 1854, building an 18 mile line between the main line at Downingtown and Waynesburg (later Honebrook), Pennsylvania. Commencing operations in 1860 and reorganizing as the East Brandywine & Waynesburg Railroad Company the railroad extended another ten miles west to New Holland by 1876 operating in rich agricultural country. The line was operated by the PRR under leases until June of 1888, when the property was sold under foreclosure and the company reorganized as the Downingtown & Lancaster Railroad Company.  The road would later be extended from New Holland to Conestoga Junction, a total of 9.8 miles, opening for traffic in September of 1890 with the PRR operating the entire line as agent. The Downingtown & Lancaster was never intended to operate as a primary route, with a ruling grade of 1.6% westward, but the rural line did service the agricultural region with connections to the main line at both ends. When comparing the proposed route of the Lancaster & Pine Grove on Herman Haupt’s 1855 map the uncanny similarity of the route with parts of the D&L makes one wonder if the alignment is surviving property that was pawn to Thompson’s high stakes poker game to gain control of the P&C. 

 

The eastern end of contemporary operations is centered around Musselman Lumber in New Holland proper. Trackage here used to feature a wye track for turning locomotives, a freight station (which is now occupied by a screen printing company) and several public delivery tracks. The branch continues to the far eastern end of town and terminates around New Holland Concrete but currently no customers are utilizing rail east of this area

The eastern end of contemporary operations is centered around Musselman Lumber in New Holland proper. Trackage here used to feature a wye track for turning locomotives, a freight station (which is now occupied by a screen printing company) and several public delivery tracks. The branch continues to the far eastern end of town and terminates around New Holland Concrete but currently no customers are utilizing rail east of this area

The Downingtown & Lancaster in the 20th Century: In 1903 the 37.5 mile line, property and franchises were officially purchased by the Pennsylvania Railroad and operation remained much the same as it had for some time. New Holland was one of the larger centers for traffic on the branch, originally home to New Holland Machine, Musselman Brother’s Feed and Lumber, EM Rutter & Co. among several others. One particular company stood out later becoming a major shipper on the branch; New Holland Machine. Founded in 1875 by Abraham Zimmerman a black smith and mechanical genius, Zimmerman began offering his services to area farmers in need of repair or fabrication of farming equipment. Zimmerman grew his business carefully watching the rising need for the internal combustion engines in the farming industry.  Despite imperfect designs Zimmerman saw potential in these machines and sought to improve them by developing a new freeze proof water-cooled engine.  By 1903 Zimmerman had incorporated the New Holland Machine Company hiring 40 employees to mass-produce the engines in a facility located on Franklin Street.  Other items in Zimmerman’s product line included feed grinders, rock crushers and wood saws. By 1911 the company had grown to 150 employees and in 1927 the company employed 225. In 1947 the Sperry Corporation purchased New Holland Machine becoming Sperry-New Holland. Since the acquisition the company has changed hands several times and is now a brand of CNH Global which is majority owned by Fiat International. The New Holland, PA location remains the North American headquarters and is one of the largest plants for manufacturing hay tools in the world.

The frame combination freight and passenger station at Leola provided very modest accommodations for passengers up until 1930 when service was discontinued. 

The frame combination freight and passenger station at Leola provided very modest accommodations for passengers up until 1930 when service was discontinued. 

William L. Seigford hired with the PRR in December of 1959 and was later promoted and transferred from the West Coast territory of the PRR to the Harrisburg Division where he was assigned to the Lancaster Territory. Locally based in the Lancaster area, part of his territory included the New Holland Branch. Among other major shippers, Bill worked closely with Sperry – New Holland, who received both inbound steel from various mills and shipped finished product. At one particular time during the final years of the Penn Central era Sperry was experiencing a surge in production and the railroad had difficulty providing the necessary flat cars on a daily basis to move the finished product. Bill recalls, “Sperry’s traffic manager came up with the idea to charter a small plane to fly over the railroad in order to scout empty flat cars sitting in yards or sidings and insisted I go with them. We flew over Enola then on up the Middle Division to Lewistown where they (Sperry) loaded flatcars at the public delivery tracks with product from their Belleville Plant.” Through a stop off arrangement written in the PRR tariffs, these flat cars would be partially loaded in New Holland then shipped to either the Mountville plant or Lewistown to be completed depending on what dealers out west needed in their shipment. During the early Conrail era, Philadelphia’s marketing offices quickly realized they were loosing money on the additional stop off and sought to put an end to the unprofitable arrangement. Shipment of outbound loads tapered off ending in the early 1980's but the plant continued to received inbound steel for a few more years until Sperry had the necessary trucking companies to haul both. 

The D&L faced several abandonments with the first major change in the 1950’s when 8 miles were abandoned severing the line’s end points. By the 1960’s the entire east end from Downingtown was gone and Honeybrook (formerly Waynesburg) was the far end of the branch from Lancaster. Conrail continued to cut the line back eventually making East Earl the end of the line. Today trackage ends on the far-east end of New Holland near New Holland Cement. The remainder of the extant line in service connects with the former PRR Main Line in Lancaster at Conestoga interlocking continuing 12.8 miles to the end of track. Though Sperry-New Holland doesn’t ship by rail the branch remains very profitable, being served today Monday through Friday by Norfolk Southern's locals H28 and H29 (afternoon relief crew) and is home to major shippers like Dart Container, L&S Sweeteners, RR Donnelley Printing and several others.  

I would like to acknowledge both William L. Seigford and Mark Hoffman for taking the time to show me around the branch and share a wealth of information on the operations and local history of the New Holland branch through its later PRR, PC and Conrail operations.

Preserving the legacy of the Pennsylvania Railroad

At the close of 2014 the Greer Family donated a remarkable piece of Pennsylvania Railroad history in the form of an oversized album of large format photographs made by Frederick Gutekunst (1831-1917) a native of the Germantown section of Philadelphia. Operating out of a studio at 7th and Arch Streets for more than 50 years Gutekunst was considered one of the preeminent photographers in the post-Civil War era. Some of his subjects included noteworthy people like Thomas Eakins and Walt Whitman but also extended beyond portraiture to include architecture and the built environment of the PRR. Before this album surfaced most examples of his work were in the form of stereo views, making this collection of 16x12” large format prints incredibly rare.

Plate 61, Allegheny Tunnel, Galitzen, Pennsylvania. One of 91 beautiful images from the Album of Frederick Gutekunst's photographs recently donated to the Library Company of Philadelphia by the Greer family. Image collection of Library Company of Philadelphia

Plate 61, Allegheny Tunnel, Galitzen, Pennsylvania. One of 91 beautiful images from the Album of Frederick Gutekunst's photographs recently donated to the Library Company of Philadelphia by the Greer family. Image collection of Library Company of Philadelphia

The portfolio, dating from ca. 1875, titled simple “Scenery of the Pennsylvania Railroad” represents one in a series of campaigns the PRR embarked on to celebrate the railroad as a destination, touting the freshly manicured railroad dissecting the wilds of Pennsylvania, following serpentine rivers, paralleling the canals the road made obsolete; a symbol of modern engineering and progress in America. Fittingly the railroad chose photography over traditional illustrations and paintings, providing a tangible image which potential travelers could connect to, a portal into the world of the PRR and the landscape it traveled. Like his contemporary William H. Rau, Gutekunst utilized the large plate view camera to portray the growing railroad as the country recovered from the American Civil War. This remarkable portfolio illustrates the Pennsylvania Railroad before the grand system improvements started under Chief Engineer William H. Brown and his successors, which would last from the late 1870’s well into the first decade of the 20th Century.

On the Conemaugh at Lockport, Pennsylvania, by Frederick Gutekunst. Up until the PRR portfolio surfaced, much of Gutekunst's work for the PRR was only known to exist in stereo views like this. Image collection of Library Company of Philadelphia.

On the Conemaugh at Lockport, Pennsylvania, by Frederick Gutekunst. Up until the PRR portfolio surfaced, much of Gutekunst's work for the PRR was only known to exist in stereo views like this. Image collection of Library Company of Philadelphia.

What makes this donation even more special, especially to PRR preservationists is that we owe a great debt of gratitude to a former Pennsylvania Railroad employee for having the foresight and pride in his employer to save the portfolio.

David St. John Greer, was born in Philadelphia in 1914, his father a laborer and his mother a seamstress. Settling in New Jersey, David completed high school in Pemberton, NJ and enrolled in a 4-year business administration program at Drexel University. Graduating from Drexel in 1937, Greer would begin a 32-year career with the Pennsylvania Railroad. Though the details of his early years with the company are limited, in 1943 despite being exempt as a railroad employee to serve during WWII, he felt compelled to serve his country and enlisted in the Navy. Greer was never deployed in active war but was appointed as the Assistant Supervisor of Exports for the PRR Port of Philadelphia and later served as the District Property Transportation Officer in the Port of Philadelphia Customs House while also acting on the Ports Conditions Committee. Greer was released from active duty in January of 1946 as a Lieutenant returning to his civilian job with the PRR. Over the next 11 years Greer worked all over the system as a Supervising Agent for important terminals like Williamsport, Harrisburg, the company piers of New York, and Philadelphia. In 1953 he was promoted to Superintendent of Stations in the Pittsburgh Region and later the Chicago area from 1955-57. By the end of 1957 Greer was promoted to Manager / Director of Freight Stations and Motor Service on the entire system, responsible for all stations and trucking companies owned by the PRR. In 1968, the fateful year long time rivals PRR and NYC merged Greer was appointed Director of Stations system wide where he served just one short year, deciding that he could no longer work for the merged railroads.

David St. John Greer, pictured here in the center of the middle row (dark suit) was a devoted Pennsylvania Railroad employee who purchased the Gutekunst album after the ill fated merger of the PRR and rival New York Central in 1968. After being in their possession for over 45 years the Greer family decided to donate the album to the Library Company of Philadelphia where it will  join a sizable collection of Gutekunst's work along side the William H. Rau commissions for the PRR. Image courtesy of the Greer Family. 

David St. John Greer, pictured here in the center of the middle row (dark suit) was a devoted Pennsylvania Railroad employee who purchased the Gutekunst album after the ill fated merger of the PRR and rival New York Central in 1968. After being in their possession for over 45 years the Greer family decided to donate the album to the Library Company of Philadelphia where it will  join a sizable collection of Gutekunst's work along side the William H. Rau commissions for the PRR. Image courtesy of the Greer Family. 

During that last year, the PC worked to wipe the slate of documents and ephemera from the PRR archives offering items for sale to employees and later holding public auctions. It was here that Greer purchased the Gutekunst Album along with a number of other pieces of PRR memorabilia. Greer’s son, David, recalls, “My father loved the PRR and hated the merger. He particularly loved freight operations. He worked in places that included many of the locations in Pennsylvania pictured in the [Gutekunst] photographs and felt a close kinship to the railroad and the state of Pennsylvania. He took good care of the album but would occasionally sit and look at the photos much as I have done for the past twenty years.” David’s father gifted many of the other items he purchased at auction after his retirement, but held on to the album of photographs. “I think it is telling he kept the photographs, clearly the most valuable piece of railroad memorabilia he had. He also kept things that I think reminded him of the good times on the railroad. As an example he kept and displayed the menu from his dinner on the last run of the all Pullman Broadway Limited. The train crew signed the menu and he kept it along with some of the serving pieces that were used for this dinner. I think he felt that the end of the Broadway Limited was the end of an era. He flew to Chicago on business so that he could ride home on the Limited’s last eastbound trip as an all Pullman train, disembarking at Paoli near his home.”

Survived by his daughter Ann Hiros and son David Greer, David St. John Greer passed in December of 1993, leaving the album among other items with the family. In late 2013 I had heard about the album surfacing through PRRT&HS archivist Charlie Horan and in March of 2014 had the pleasure of meeting David on a train trip to Pittsburgh riding the Juniata Terminal Company PRR 120 and the Warrior Ridge (A Ride on the Pennsylvania). Dave expressed his interest in donating the album to a place that not only could care for it properly but also make it accessible to the public. Given my experience with the Rau collection housed at the Library Company of Philadelphia I suggested that David consider the institution, not only because of Gutkunst’s Philadelphia connection but also because of the existing collection of his work already at the LCP. It would also bring together two very important collections of photography that focused on the Pennsylvania Railroad from the 19th Century. At the close of 2014 the Greer family ultimately decided the album belonged in LCP’s permanent collection, adding to an incredible archive of 19th Century prints and photographs. We are lucky to have this resource preserved where it will ultimately be digitized for many future generations to enjoy in the honor of David St John Greer and photographer Frederick Gutekunst.

Watershed Project - Upcoming Exhibition

Bluffs on Crosswicks Creek, near Bordentown, New Jersey. This is one of 14  images from the Watershed series that will be part of an exhibition at the Perkins Center for Arts - Collingswood. The show opens Saturday, March 14th with a reception from 6-9pm.

Bluffs on Crosswicks Creek, near Bordentown, New Jersey. This is one of 14  images from the Watershed series that will be part of an exhibition at the Perkins Center for Arts - Collingswood. The show opens Saturday, March 14th with a reception from 6-9pm.

Watershed: The southern half of the Delaware River Basin is steeped in history, once the backbone of shipping and manufacturing and home to countless communities along its banks. The Delaware itself and the many unremarked tributaries that feed into it play host to a diverse Eco system that thrives along side industrial sites, refineries and countless miles of swamp and unremarked landscapes covered in bay grass, scrub pines and oaks. There is a feeling of emptiness in these landscapes, an absence of human life. Scars left behind from dredging dumps and brownfield sites only highlight nature’s resilience to recover these swaths, its ability to thrive even under the duress of neighboring highway noise, pollution and encroaching housing developments. The Watershed Project is about the beauty of the benign and unremarked place challenging our perception of the natural landscape while celebrating an important resource of the greater Delaware Valley.

I am excited to announce that I will be included in a three person exhibition that will open next Saturday, March 14th at the Perkins Center for the Arts in their Collingswood location.  Along with artists Keith Yahrling and Amy Becker I will be showing work from the Watershed Project. The exhibition runs from March 14 - May 2, 2015 with an opening reception on Saturday, March 14 from 6-9 pm. The Perkins Collingswood facility is located at 30 Irvin Ave., Collingswood, NJ 08108. Normal exhibition hours are Tuesdays & Thursdays 10 am – 2 pm, Saturday 10am – 2 pm. The exhibition and opening is free and open to the public. Collingswood offers some terrific options for dining so its a perfect opportunity to get out for a night of art and entertainment. Hope to see you there!

Delair Project: Highlight Video Is Live!

The Delair project highlights are live! This documentation included fourteen months of work, at times utilizing up to three photographers, working a total of over 800 man-hours to capture 10 terabytes of imagery through bitter cold, snow, rain and miserable heat, day and night. I would like to thank the people at Conrail and all the contractors and consultants for their assistance and patience, without them this project would not have been possible. I would also like to acknowledge the assistance of Samuel Markey who was an integral part of the entire production and Michael Legrand who’s aerial footage added another dynamic to this already massive undertaking. Please click the image above to check out the highlights of the Delair Improvements Project and as always feedback is much appreciated!

Thank you for your time and support!

Michael Froio

Michael Froio Photography, LLC

Delair Bridge Project: Upcoming Release

In the spirit of anticipation I am excited to announce the release of four trailer videos this week for the upcoming public debut of work from the 14 month project documenting the rebuilding of Conrail Shared Assets Delair Bridge. The Delair Bridge, completed in 1896 and heavily modified in the late 1950’s is a vital link between Conrail’s South Jersey operations and parent companies CSX and Norfolk Southern's transportation networks. With this upgrade Conrail can now handle heavier loads and larger trains fostering economic growth in Southern New Jersey. This project is part of an $18.5 million Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grant awarded to the South Jersey Ports by the US Department of Transportation.

I was initially asked to provide a basic documentation for the project which grew into a major production conducted over 6 - three day/ 72 hour scheduled outages where up to 13 bridge spans were replaced and track renewed. As you can imagine a project of this scope cannot be done by one person; I was fortunate enough to work with two other very talented Drexel Photography graduates; Samuel Markey (Class of 2011) who contributed his extensive knowledge of time lapse production, shooting and editing and Michael Legrand (Class of 2000) who provided aerial footage which added an amazing element to the documentation. At times we utilized up to six cameras to capture the various crafts working together to meet the tight deadlines the railroad required in order to minimize service disruptions. Several contractors including Cornell Steel, Thackray Crane and Railworks were managed by Jacobs Engineering to complete scheduled work within the allotted 72 hour slot through snow, rain, extreme temperatures and physical conditions. Next week you can expect more trailer releases and the finished highlight reel which is slated to go live late in the week. I hope you enjoy the work! As always please feel free to comment and share!