Some time ago we left off on the Main Line tour in Christiana, Pennsylvania, crossing from Lancaster to Chester County, traversing the North Bend Cut along Zion Hill. What seems today like another unremarked view from the Main Line, the area around North Bend was a place essential to operations on one of the busiest transportation networks in the country. In the Brown era of the late 19th Century - early 20th Century, North Bend saw the realignment and expansion of the mainline, construction of the Atglen & Susquehanna Low Grade, the installation of the Atglen water pans, and later in 1938 the final phase of electrification. The endless parade of traffic during World War II was followed by a long, slow decline of the PRR system, visualized by the rationalization of the physical plant and facilities that continued well into the Penn Central, Amtrak and Conrail eras. The photographs here depict over 100 years of change on the ever-evolving railroad landscape.
Photographs & History
In 1851 J. Edgar Thomson, the first Chief Engineer of the young Pennsylvania Railroad began construction of the Mountain Division between the Johnstown area and Altoona. Thomson faced two significant obstacles on the division, how to tunnel through the solid rock walls near the summit and how to get the Main Line from Altoona west up the mountain.
Thomson's endeavor for the PRR was not the first route over the Alleghenies in Blair County. The Allegheny Portage Railroad, part of the state-owned Main Line of Public Works completed in 1834, utilized a series ten inclined planes, five on either side of the summit, to surmount the Alleghenies. It proved to be a slow and dangerous part of an already arduous journey that required train, canal and these inclined planes to travel across the Commonwealth, taking some 4.5 days.
Thomson opted to by-pass the troubled Main Line of Public Works and the APRR all together, turning west from the Juniata Valley in Altoona. To maintain a route with a ruling grade of 1.8% the new railroad would hug the foothills toward the summit, utilizing the natural topography of the ridge to Kittanning Point. Here, the Kittanning and Glen White Runs converge in the valley of Burgoon Run creating a significant challenge. Faced with a decision of spanning the considerable gap of Burgoon Run, Thomson, instead employed Irish laborers wielding pickaxes and shovels to fill the gaps of Kittanning and Glen White Run and thus completing the arced curve around Burgoon Run that became known as the Horseshoe Curve.
The line over the Alleghenies and Horse Shoe Curve opened on for service on February 15, 1854. Though the State Works attempted to improve their route by opening the New Portage Railroad in 1855, it ultimately failed, later becoming part of the PRR system, serving as an alternative route in times where traffic warranted its use. After 164 years of continual operation Horseshoe Curve continues to be a vital piece of rail transportation infrastructure, a testament to Thomson’s engineering ability in constructing one of the most celebrated railroads in American history.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
Recently I had the opportunity to talk with Edd Fuller, editor of The Trackside Photographer, a blog focused on the railroad landscape. I am excited to share this interview about my ongoing work and how it ties into a central theme inspired by history. Follow the link to learn more about my process, creative work and how my interest in both the landscape and railroads has woven its way into my projects for many years. To read the interview visit The Trackside Photographer, or click the image above!
Exhibitions | Current
2017 Members Exhibition | Main Line Art Center
Through January 3, 2018
I currently have a piece hanging in the 2017 Members Exhibition at the Mainline Art Center, in Haverford, PA. The exhibition is a celebration of the MLAC members’ support and creative energy, featuring a range of works from photography, sculpture, painting, printmaking, and ceramics.
Gallery Hours are Monday through Thursday: 10 AM to 8 PM, Friday through Sunday: 10 AM to 4 PM. This exhibition is free and open to the public. The Main Line Art Center is located at 746 Panmure Road in Haverford PA, offers free parking, and is easily accessible from public transportation.
Exhibitions | Upcoming
9 New Jersey Photographers | Stockton University
January 16th through March 28th, 2018
My work will be part of an upcoming exhibition curated by Stephen Perloff, editor of the Photo Review and the Photograph Collector; the show spotlights nine NJ based photographers. An artists reception will be held Tuesday, March 6th at 5 PM followed by a talk with curator Stephen Perloff at 6:30 PM. More information will follow as the event approaches.
The Stockton University Art Galleries are located on Lakeside Lane, Galloway, NJ in Galloway, NJ. Parking is available at the Lakeside parking area.
Previously, on the former Pennsylvania Railroad mainline we left off in Lancaster County at Mine Ridge, the highest point on the PRR east of the Alleghenies. The route closely follows the original 1834 alignment of the PRR's predecessor, the Philadelphia & Columbia Railroad, crossing through a gap in the ridge between Lancaster and Chester Counties and the divide between the Susquehanna and Deleware Watersheds. From the west, the line climbs the grade between Kinzer and Gap on a series of reverse curves in short succession following a brief tangent, attaining the summit at roughly milepost 50. The eastward descent starts into another 1-degree curve positioning the line into a long straight until reaching Christiana, the last station along the line in Lancaster County. In Christiana, the line again navigates another series of reverse curves flanking the town center followed by a sharp curve at North Bend where the line crosses into Chester County.
The area around Christiana took root in the 1690's after King Charles II granted William Penn 45,000 square miles of land west of the Delaware River. Originally part of Chester County, Sadsbury Township was part of a land transfer to establish Lancaster Country in 1729. As a result, Sadsbury Township spanned the new county line, and thus became two separate townships by the same name in each of the neighboring counties. By the dawn of the 19th Century, Christiana began to develop around the crossroads of the Lancaster and the Gap & Newport Turnpikes, both major eastern trade routes. The opening of the Erie Canal in 1825 would rival many of these roads taking away commerce and trade from the port city of Philadelphia, thus affecting developing towns along the way. The Commonwealth's answer was to build a state-owned system utilizing a railroad between Philadelphia and the Susquehanna River and a canal system west to Pittsburgh, including a series of inclined planes to cross the Alleghenies. The new rail line, called the Philadelphia & Columbia, brought great promise for developing communities like Christianna. The railroad and the larger Mainline of Public Works would allow people and industry to connect with markets outside their region, providing a potentially unlimited opportunity for commerce.
The P&C commenced operations in 1834, around the same time local businessman, William Noble constructed a foundry and blacksmith shop along the line in Sadsbury Township, Lancaster County. Ten years later Hugh McClarron opened a grain and produce business, and by 1846 Samuel L. Denney purchased the foundry from Noble, adding a machine shop to the operation. By 1847 the growing village became officially known as Christiana, named for Noble's first wife. Denny's endeavor followed suit, and the new Christiana Machine became a focal point of industrial commerce in the area.
By the 1880's the failed Mainline of Public Works had long since been sold to the Pennsylvania Railroad, putting Christiana alongside one of the most ambitious interstate rail transportation systems in the land. The town itself thrived, now a borough of 800 residents, complete with a new library association, bank, and town newspaper. Christiana was home to a diverse base of manufacturing with much of its output shipped by rail. Christiana Machine, once again under new ownership, evolved from making farming implements to the production of water turbine equipment and later other elements for power transmission systems for shipment all over the developing nation.
Growing with the ever-increasing traffic demands the PRR was amidst an era of improvements in the 1890's, addressing both capacity and infrastructure limitations. Symbolized by the PRR's impressive stone bridges and four-track system, the improvements program targeted issues that stemmed from the early construction of the right of way. In this particular region, the engineers and contractors building the P&C mainline encountered springs, and quicksand while excavating the pass over the Gap Summit. The compromise was less cutting to avoid the muck resulting in steeper grades. Cheif Engineer William H. Brown looked to finish what the P&C could not accomplish some fifty years before. As a result, measures were taken to re-grade and realign the railroad between Gap and North Bend.
In Christiana, the tracks were shifted from the old P&C right-of-way to a new alignment altogether, moving the tracks some 150' to reduce the curvature and accommodate the expansion of the right of way to four tracks. The realignment necessitated moving the large brick freight house some 40' east and the abandonment of the existing Bridge Street overpass. Construction of its replacement called for the use of a "new" Whipple style iron truss span, repurposed from improvements undertaken on the Philadelphia, Wilmington & Baltimore, where the mainline crossed White Clay Creek below Wilmington.
At North Bend, where the railroad arcs from a north-south to an east-west orientation through the gap in the North Valley Hills, a substantial cut was excavated at the base of Zion Hill, accommodating the wider right-of-way, reducing curvature from the previous P&C alignment. The 1895 annual report from the PRR notes the completion of this segment of four track line from Atglen to Gap, among other places. Not much else would change in Christiana except for the construction of a modest new passenger facility and pedestrian subway along the Gay Street underpass in 1912.
While Christiana lost passenger service in 1952, the station remained open as a Railway Express office until 1962. Though much of the region's manufacturing shifted away from smaller communities like Christiana, the landmark brick freight house and passenger station survive, the former becoming the home of the Lancaster Chapter of the National Railway Historical Society who restored the building to its original condition. The Lancaster Chapter, chartered in 1936 is the founding Chapter of NRHS and a very accomplished group in the field of preservation of railroad structures and equipment. The mainline today serves the Amtrak Keystone Corridor, hosting some thirty trains a day, still rolling through Christiana and the right of way improvements of the late 1800's.
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
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.
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 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.
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.
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
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: 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.
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.
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.
Revisiting The Atglen & Susquehanna | Returning to the Atglen & Susquehanna Branch, part of the PRR’s Low Grade freight network we pick up from Shenk’s Ferry where the line pulls away from the Susquehanna River to cross southern Lancaster County. From the high fill above the river the A&S makes a hard turn east to face the first formidable obstacle; crossing the switch back divide between Martic and Conestoga Townships in the rugged Pequea Valley.
Rau Symposium - SAMA - Altoona: This Wednesday, August 16
In conjunction with the ongoing exhibition William H Rau, Urban, Rural, Rail, I will be speaking at a symposium along with Penn State - Altoona history lecturer Julie Fether who curated the show. My talk will focus on Rau's imagery and how it continues to inspire my project, while Julie will discuss how the show evolved, tying in influences from Harvard Landscape Studies Professor, John Stilgoe's writings and ideas on the "art and practice of 'seeing' landscape."
If you are in the area, please join us! The event is at the SAMA - Altoona location on Wednesday, August 16th from 11AM-1PM, lunch provided, and costs $15 ($14 for SAMA members). Reservations are required by calling the museum at (814) 946-4464 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ongoing Exhibition: William H Rau: Urban, Rural, Rail
On view through September 9th, 2017. Southern Alleghenies Museum of Art - Altoona
The current exhibition on display at the Southern Alleghenies Museum of Art, Altoona has more than a month remaining and is generating a lot of great feedback so far. The exhibition features a selection of Rau's Pennsylvania Railroad images from the Altoona Public Library collection, along with several images from the Main Line Project. If you are in the area, the exhibition at SAMA - Altoona is a must see!
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.
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.
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
The Pennsylvania Railroad | A Legacy in Images
Please join me Tuesday, May 9th for the rescheduled lecture for the Harrisburg NRHS chapter, exploring the important role historical imagery plays in my ongoing project, From the Main Line, A Contemporary Survey of the Pennsylvania Railroad. The lecture is part of the Harrisburg Chapter’s monthly meeting and is free and open to the public.
May 9th, 2017 | Meeting begins at 7 PM
National Railway Historical Society
Hoss’s Steak and Seahouse
743 Wertzville Road
The 2017 Mainline Art Center Spring Gala and Fundraiser Exhibition
Buy a Print, Support a Great Cause! This piece will be part of the Main Line Art Center's 2017 Spring Gala and Fund Raiser exhibition. The Gala is Saturday, April 29th, and the exhibition runs April 30th through June 3rd, 2017. Please visit the Main Line Art Center's Website for more information.
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.
For many the railroads have long been associated with the holiday season. The notion of the long journey home to see loved ones or the family tradition of setting up the model trains from generations ago under the tree seems universal. TV and Cinema have celebrated the train countless times during the holiday season, like when Ralphie, his brother, and friends marveled over the window display of Lionel trains in the cult classic, A Christmas Story. Or when the Hollywood production based on Chris Van Allsburg's 1985 book, The Polar Express has the Pere Marquette 1225 take a central role in making the journey to the North Pole.
For over fifty years trains were just as essential to the holiday as the Christmas tree itself. Railroads prided themselves on the herculean effort of moving passengers, mail, and packages to ensure everyone and everything arrived on time for Christmas. Seasonal ads illustrated a concerted effort between Santa Claus and the transportation networks while traveling children slept snug in the berths on the latest streamlined train. Toy trains have been part of the American experience since the turn of the century. Lionel became the gold standard, leading the pack in producing electric powered trains for well over 60 years but some also took preference to the American Flyer and smaller competitors when constructing a holiday layout.
Today trains still play an integral part of the holiday season; at home, families continue the model railroad tradition started generations ago. On the rails, our mail and packages don't specifically travel in railcars, but the trucks they get loaded into and containers they are shipped by are neatly stacked on the decks of flatcars making up one land ship after another of merchandise, parcels, and gifts heading for a coveted spot under the tree. Like the golden years of the railroads, armies of men and women work around the clock to keep the trains rolling; on the ground, in the cab and remote dispatching centers, often missing time with their loved ones to ensure the trains get through.
Whatever place the railroad has in your holiday season, share it with future generations. Consider expanding upon the trains handed down from family or start a new tradition of visiting a local model railroad, or perhaps take the kids or grandkids for a ride on a holiday themed excursion. While the train has been central to the holidays for many years, today it serves a different role, a diversion from the fast paced electronic lifestyles we indulge in day after day. An excuse to slow down and celebrate family time and traditions over generations. May you all have some time to rest and relax during the holiday season celebrating friends and loved ones!
From my family to yours, Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays and may you all have a safe and healthy New Year!
Well its fall, the weather is cooling off, the light is getting nice and its time to get back to work! I have a lot of good stuff in store for next couple of months including a big update of work on my website, a lecture for the Delaware Valley Chapter of the National Railway Historical Society and an article feature on the blog The Trackside Photographer, a platform that explores the larger idea of understanding the historic nature of the railroad landscape. Additionally I have a lot of great material in the cue for the blog Photographs & History, rounding out the exploration of the former Pennsylvania Railroad Atglen & Susquehanna Branch and continuing east exploring the mainline into Chester County, Pennsylvania.
Feature Article | The Trackside Photographer
A new article on the Main Line project goes live Thursday, October 13th on the blog The Trackside Photographer, a wonderful online publication that features photographers who's focus is documenting the ever changing railroad landscape. The article provides insight on my creative process while working on the Main Line project and is complemented by a cohesive gallery of imagery from the project.
Continuing a Legacy | Photographing the Pennsylvania Railroad
I am honored to once again present for the Delaware Valley Chapter of the NRHS. My lecture will explore the legacy of photographic imagery undertaken by the Pennsylvania Railroad and how it 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.
Delaware Valley Chapter, National Railway Historical Society | Friday, October 21st, 2016 | Lecture begins at approximately 8:30PM
Morrisville Public Library, 300 North Pennsylvania Avenue, Morrisville, Pennsylvania
New Work from the Main Line Project
The image above is one of many that is being readied for a big update of new work on the Main Line project. The update will include a new gallery of imagery which includes additional views from PRR divisions already represented as well locations on the New York and Maryland Divisions which were not previously represented in the project. Once live a series of singe image posts will begin in addition to the regular format to highlight the new work and the significance of these places in the history of the Pennsylvania Railroad.
Saturday, December 12th, 2015 marks the 116th year of the annual college football classic between the rival teams of the United States Military Academy of West Point, New York and the United States Naval Academy of Annapolis, Maryland. The tradition started in 1890 and has run continuously since 1899 with the exception of just four years. The event has been held in several cities over the years but Philadelphia was often the regular host as it was roughly equidistant from both academies. In Philadelphia the venue was held in several locations, games during the early 20th Century were held at University of Penn’s Franklin Field, in 1936 the game moved to Municipal Stadium, a product of the 1926 Sesquicentennial International Exposition. Municipal Stadium (later renamed JFK stadium) was located at the southern end of Broad Street and would remain the primary location until moving to the new Veterans Stadium in 1980 then to the Lincoln Financial Field in 2003.
Despite having limited public transportation access (the Broad Street Line to Pattison Ave would not be built until 1973) the move to Municipal Stadium was ideal for the event for two primary reasons; the stadium had plenty of capacity to handle the crowds and it was in close proximity to the PRR’s sprawling Greenwich Yard. Capitalizing on the location, the PRR transformed the rail yard from a major import - export coal and iron ore facility into a passenger station to receive thousands of midshipmen, cadets, spectators and dignitaries on game day. Requiring a year of planning and weeks of work "on the ground" before the event the railroad transformed the terminal and freight only Delaware Extension and West Philadelphia Elevated Branch into a high volume passenger conduit to connect trains from all directions to the venue for just a single day.
The Pennsylvania’s Army Navy game service quickly became one of the most concentrated passenger operations in the United States. Initial service in 1936 offered 38 special trains to the event and by 1941 the operation hosted 42. After a three-year hiatus due to the wartime travel restrictions rail service to the game resumed in 1946 with 37 trains continuing an annual tradition that operated at various levels under the Penn Central and Amtrak well into the 2000’s.
Though the Army Navy game trains eventually ceased, noted PRR preservationist and Philadelphia businessman Bennett Levin sought to bring back the tradition for a very special occasion. Saddened by the reports of injured troops returning from the war in Iraq and Afghanistan, Levin and his wife Vivian looked to renew the tradition providing a special day to honor these soldiers. The Levin family spearheaded an effort with the help of countless agencies, officials, private railcar owners and an army of volunteers to assemble a train of luxury private rail cars to operate a special train from Washington DC. Recovering troops from the Walter Reed and National Naval Medical Centers would be transported to Union Station boarding a train that would travel the original route of PRR specials to the Army Navy Classic in Philadelphia. After the train’s arrival at the former PRR Greenwich Yard, Septa busses would take guests the remaining distance to Lincoln Financial Field to enjoy the game from premium seats at the 50-yard line.
The Liberty Limited ran in 2005, 2006 and 2010. After the initial success of the 2005 trip the special was given a high priority by hospital commanders and medical treatment was arranged around the trip date to ensure troops could attend. The 2006 trip was the most sought after and eagerly anticipated “outside event” for troops recovering from war related injuries at both Walter Reed and the National Naval Hospital according to George Weightman, MD the Commanding Officer at Walter Reed. When announced, the 2006 trip sold out immediately with another 65 soldiers on a stand-by list. Not wanting to turn soldiers away, changes were made to the train’s consist to ensure no “soldier, sailor or Marine would be left behind!” The 2006 trip would ultimately take 132 wounded warriors, invited guests and 26 medical staff to the game. With no press, politicians or Pentagon officials these men and women were treated to a first class experience in honor of their sacrifice for our country.
Passing through the pastoral Lancaster County landscape the eastbound ascent of Mine Ridge takes the PRR mainline around a series of reverse curves that carry the railroad over the 560’ summit dividing the Pequea and Chester Valleys. Gap, a quaint community whose history dates back to when William Penn visited the area late in the 1600’s is located at the crossroads of the Philadelphia & Lancaster Turnpike and the Newport Turnpike. The small village of roughly 1900 residents is divided by the first pair of significant curves on the main line including the 4° Eby’s curve and the 4° Gap curve. To attain the summit the railroad climbs a .56% ruling grade and enters a cut on the Gap curve through Mine Ridge, limiting trains to a maximum of 50mph. Through William H. Brown's improvement years there were several attempts to reduce curvature of the route, but an ambitious project was proposed to eliminate the curves all together in the first quarter of the 20th century. With an estimated cost of $2.7 million, the realignment would require the removal of a large piece of Mine Ridge to eliminate a total of four curves with one large gentle arc, increasing speeds from 50 to 90 mph and reducing average travel time by 1.5 minutes. Alas the realignment was deemed too costly for the time and was never revisited, leaving the same basic arrangement that survives today now part of Amtrak's Keystone Line.
The railroad never stops, nor does the industry it serves. In the shadow of the Coatesville bridge spanning the west branch of the Brandywine River the former Lukens steel mill hums with activity around the clock providing jobs for people in the surrounding communities. As we enjoy the company of family during the holidays, men and women leave home to work in the plant day and night, producing specialized steel to build America's bridges, buildings and infrastructure. For some, working through the holidays seems unthinkable, to the folks in the steel or transportation industry its business as usual. Whether you are home with loved ones or on the job, I would like to wish you all a Merry Christmas !
This coming weekend the Center for Railroad Photography and Art will host its 11th annual Conversations about Photography Conference at Lake Forest College in beautiful Lake Forest, Illinois. Last year I had the opportunity to attend as a guest and had a wonderful time, making a lot of new friends and viewing some excellent presentations. This year I was invited speak at the 2013 conference, an opportunity that I am honored to have!
The Conversations Conference runs from Friday evening April 12th to Sunday April 14th and is host to a diverse group of guest speakers, ranging from illustrators, photographers and authors including a Sunday panel discussion on Railroad Journalism with a group of noted industry professionals. I will be in the Saturday morning line-up presenting my lecture, From the Main Line: A Contemporary Survey of the Pennsylvania Railroad.
In addition to speaking at the conference I will be part of a two person exhibition with Steve Van Denburgh displaying a selection of 15 pieces from the Main Line Project and a print to raise money for future Center programs.
Founded in 1997, the Center for Railroad Photography & Art has become America’s foremost organization for interpreting the intersection of railroad art and culture with America’s history and culture. Based in Madison, Wisconsin the organization collaborates with other institutions throughout the US to provide quality public programs associated with photography and art works in all media. Their efforts highlight a genre in American Art that has lacked a public voice outside its own community for quite some time. They publish a quarterly journal, Railroad Heritage and continue to put together some excellent exhibitions.
Some of their past programs include the following:
Railroads and the American Landscape: An exhibition of Ted Rose Paintings and Photographs.
The Last Steam Railroad in America: An exhibition of Railroad Photographs of O. Winston Link.
The Call of Trains: An exhibition of Railroad Photographs by Jim Shaughnessy to celebrate the release of Mr. Shaugnessy's book of the same title.
Requiem for Steam: The Railroad Photographs of David Plowden. An exhibition to celebrate the release of Mr Plowden's book of the same title.
While I realize many of you won’t be in Lake Forest this week, I encourage you all to check out the Center for Railroad Photography and Art, they have some terrific programs and a great web resource of their efforts and exhibitions past and present. If you are going to be attending, please be sure to say hello, I look forward to sharing my work and making some new friends!
Highball to Lake Forest!
Please join me at the Library Company of Philadelphia this Thursday for my lecture:
Understanding the Pennsylvania Railroad: Contemporary Photographs in Response to the Historic Works of William H Rau
Thursday, March 7, 2013
Reception for members and their guests at 5:30 p.m. Program from 6:00 p.m. - 7:00 p.m.
This lecture is free and open to the public with convenient public transit access from the
Septa Broad Street Line and Patco High Speed Line.
1314 Locust Street, Philadelphia, PA 19107
Hope to see you there!
I am excited to officially announce that I have been invited to present a lecture on the Mainline Project at the 11th annual Conversations about Photography Conference, a wonderful event put on by the Center for Railroad Photography and Art. Having attended for the first time this past April I was blown away by the variety and quality of the entire production, to be a part of the next conference is an honor for me! The lecture will tie into the article published recently about the Mainline Project in the NRHS Bulletin and will feature many new images for the continuing effort of documenting the former Pennsylvania Railroad system. The Center for Railroad Photography & Art has become America's foremost organization for interpreting the intersection of railroad art and culture with America's history and culture. Founded in 1997 and based in Madison, Wisconsin the Center works with photographers, writers, and historians across the country to achieve its goals. Since the beginning, the Center has offered high quality public programs associated with photography and art works in all media. Their annual conference, "Conversations about Photography," and awards program, both established in 2003, set the pace for national discussion about contemporary railroad photography and encouragement of young photographers to become a part of the community. Lake Forest College's archives and special collections department acts as a co-sponsor and hosts the conference. The announcement was released in the newest Railroad Heritage journal, the Center's quarterly publication, following Center founder John Gruber's excellent article about the Pennsylvania Railroad's use of photography throughout the company's 121 year history. The 2013 conference will be held at the beautiful Lake Forest Illinois campus April 12-14th, more details including additional featured guests, registration information and schedules will follow.