The Faces of Railroading

As “railfans” and modelers, we often tend to focus on the equipment, and occasionally, the infrastructure of the railroads that we study. One of the things that draws me to the photography of Jack Delano is the way he often included the human element of the railroad. You’ve likely noticed that many (most?) of the images that I’ve posted over these past months contain a railroader doing his or her job.

Today I thought I’d focus entirely on those folks. Mr. Delano took the time to take many portraits of the people he saw while documenting the various railroads. Below are a half dozen images representing just a tiny facet of the thousands of railroad employees. I wish it were practical to feature someone from all the various disciplines required to make a railroad function, but that would literally take a volume to do.

A.S. Gerdee, Switchman, C&NW RR
Mr. A.S. Gerdee, Switchman at the Proviso yard of the C&NW Railroad, April 1943
Frank Williams, Car Man, ICRR
Mr. Frank Williams, a Carman with the Illinois Central RR, Chicago, Ill, November 1942
Mike Evans, Welder, C&NW RR
Mr. Mike Evans, a Welder with the C&NW Railroad, Chicago, Ill., April 1943
Shop Worker - C&NW RR - 1942
Unfortunately this gentleman wasn’t identified other than that he was a Shop Worker with the C&NW Railroad, December 1942
James Lynch, Roundhouse Worker, C&NW RR
Mr. James Lynch, a Roundhouse Worker at the C&NW Railroad Proviso Yard in Chicago, December 1942
Joseph Pina, Boilermaker, AT&SF RR
Mr. Joseph Pina, a Boilermaker with the AT&SF Railroad in Albuquerque, New Mexico, March 1943

This post is dedicated to the thousands of workers who contributed to keeping those trains rolling.


Wiping Down the #3034

Chicago and North Western steam locomotive #3034 is about to get a good cleaning by a couple of women engine wipers. Jack Delano recorded this locomotive servicing ritual which included a bath and a wipe-down back in April of 1943. Ascending the stairs is Mrs. Marcella Hart, followed by Mrs. Viola Sievers. I noticed that I had posted a photo last year of Mrs. Sievers washing down the running gear of the locomotive . . . she was a busy lady, indeed!

The steamer is a C&NW “H” class 4-8-4 built by Baldwin Locomotive Works in 1929. She boasted 27″x32″ cylinders, had 76″ drivers, and ran 250 psi of steam pressure in her boiler.

Women Engine Wipers, C&NW Railroad

Central Vermont Steamer, #453

Here’s an interesting Jack Delano photograph that I spied over on Marty McGuirk’s blog. The subject is a Central Vermont 2-8-0 steamer, #453, and the location is Main Street in Enosburg Falls, Vermont. Jack recorded this image in September of 1941. I really like the composition of this photo, and the myriad of detail surrounding the train.

The locomotive itself is equipped with an externally mounted Coffin feedwater heater, which gives the front of the firebox the unusual look of an awning over the pilot deck. It appears that the crew has just spotted a couple boxcars at the feed mill/elevator at right (or perhaps has come to pick them up). The engine sports white flags, indicating that she’s in charge of an extra train. Presumably the rest of the train is a short distance back down the track.

At left we see a Shell service station, while across the street is the Enosburg Dairy store, featuring it’s dairy and ice cream products. And note the tiny popcorn stand with the American flag and a Shell sign on it’s flanks. Just visible beyond the flagpole is the dairy store milk bottle shaped sign, with (likely) a list of their offerings. The train obviously has the attention of a couple of young lads, while the older men pay no attention at all . . . likely they’ve seen it doing it’s work many times.

The automobiles in view span several decades, and it appears that the town hasn’t been completely covered in concrete or asphalt yet. Though it is September, the trees still hold their leaves, and one boy is seen wearing a short sleeved shirt and shorts . . . must be a warm day.

CV Steamer #453, Enosburg Falls, Vermont

In his blog posting, Marty featured this photograph, along with others, plus a map of the area. He is evaluating this scene for information and details for potential use on his new model railroad. You can catch his blog here: if you’d like to read what he’s up to. Scroll down to his post of Friday, June 21, 2019.


The Roundhouse

This is one of my favorite Jack Delano photographs. I posted it over two years ago during a discussion about wooden floors sometimes seen in roundhouses, and thought I’d re-post the scene in this series of Mr. Delano’s images.

We’re at the Chicago and North Western’s yard in Chicago, and it’s December of 1942. The roundhouse could be a rather chilly environment, and these workers helped combat the situation by burning coal in open steel “drums” to provide a bit of warmth. I suspect that these heaters were fabricated right there in-house, and I’m sure that they are contributing to the haze inside. Also note the tool carts and acetylene bottle. One can barely discern the silhouette of a worker in the distance just above the pilot of the steamer at center (click on the photo to see a much larger view).

If you look carefully you’ll notice the wooden block floor in this roundhouse. Such floors were fairly common in industrial facilities many years ago. They provided a surface that was resilient and “kind” to the heavy, metal components that would be placed (or dropped) on them. Click on the link above if you’d like to read the post on the topic.

CNW Roundhouse

Union Station, Chicago

In January of 1943 Jack Delano captured this stunning scene of sunlight pouring into the Union Station at Chicago, Illinois. For many years architects designed such structures with these towering ceilings, and with large expanses of glass allowing plenty of natural light to flood an area. And scenes such as this became commonplace within those facilities.

Chicago, Illinois. In the waiting room of the Union Station

LCRR Status Update

A little news concerning the Louisiana Central Railroad: most of you know that my small city suffered a horrific flood back in August of 2016. My home and train building took on about 15″ or so of flood water. My house reconstruction has been long completed, but not so the train building. The carpet, millwork, sheetrock, insulation and cabinets have been removed, and the building has been dried out and sprayed for mildew. But other than roughing in for another 10 or so electrical outlets (might as well take advantage of the opportunity), no restoration work has been done. Truth is, I have really dreaded doing all of the work that will be required, and I’m just “burned out” with construction.

But the urge to resume construction of the Louisiana Central itself is still there, and is perhaps even stronger. As a result, I have taken the first step toward that end.

I had determined long ago that the first order of business was to completely clear the building of everything with the exception of the layout itself. I learned what an enemy drywall installation (and the incredible dust it produces) can be during the house construction. Therefore, everything that isn’t screwed down must be packed away and moved into storage. The building had become a huge warehouse during my home reconstruction. And it took quite awhile to empty it of all the boxes of “stuff” that was stored within. Indeed, there are a handful of household items still out there. And I have been working at removing these things for the past year!

But now it was time to box up all of the railroad stuff. And to that end, I finally got a start several weeks ago. My goal is to get out there several times a week and fill a few boxes, moving them to my garage for storage. I’m making progress, and have packed and stored quite a bit. To be sure there is much left to do, but I can see the progress, and that is encouraging me to persist.

Of course the layout itself can’t be removed. My plan is to try encapsulating it (as well as I can) with the plastic sheets that painters use for that purpose. Fortunately there are no structures or scenery yet (just track and bare benchwork), so I don’t have to worry too much about damage. My biggest concerns are the Tortoise switch machines and the wiring junctions at the various terminal blocks. I’m going to try wrapping the switch motors with plastic wrap, and perhaps also tape this over those wiring junctions. There are also three electrical backboards filled with circuit boards and wiring. I think I can completely encase them in plastic as well.

Once all of this is done, I’ll start the process of re-insulating the lower walls, and then hanging the sheetrock. The latter will be tricky, as I have to work behind the layout legs and bracing. I may be able to temporarily remove the bracing though since all screws are accessible from the outside.

And that’s where things stand at the Louisiana Central.


The Susquehanna

And now for something completely different: For today’s offering I thought I’d take a little break from the weekly posts featuring Jack Delano images.

In 1980 Carstens Publications produced the book titled Susquehanna – New York, Susquehanna & Western RR. Shown here is the cover for that book, a beautiful photograph by the late Hal Carstens. I always loved this cover shot, and thought I’d investigate it a bit more. The book explains the scene inside the cover, and also has another shot taken on a different day, along with a bit more of the story.

It’s May of 1956 and the NYS&W (known locally as the Suzie Q) was running this short passenger train headed up by an Alco RS1 locomotive. The train has paused at the Crystal Lake depot in New Jersey, having come from Butler. The road’s fleet had formerly been painted in an elegant gray and maroon, but eventually adapted this austere silver scheme with black lettering and handrails. The combine is an ex-Erie Stillwell type painted to match their new Budd cars.

NYS&W Passenger Train - Crystal Lake, NJ

Crystal Lake was a resort area, and the building seen to the right of the station was the Crystal Lake Inn. It accommodated picnickers and bathers who would ride the Susquehanna from Patterson. Crystal Lake was man made, and it disappeared during the mid 1950s when the dam containing it finally collapsed. The station itself survived until the mid 1960s.

There are several interesting details in the scene, including the coal bin next to the depot, and the wig-wag grade crossing signals. Of note is Carsten’s automobile, a Studebaker Commander wearing the old Susquehanna colors, which the book says he wished he still owned.

White River Productions acquired the assets of Carstens Publications several years ago. I’ve noted that they are still offering this book for sale.


Departing Chicago on the B&O

A Baltimore and Ohio passenger train is seen departing Union Station in Chicago. It will travel via the Alton Road to St. Louis.

It’s a cold wintry night in January of 1943, and evidence of snowfall coming through the roof ventilation openings is seen on the tracks and platforms. Note the illuminated and raised platform between the tracks, the rest of the structure being rather dark and foreboding.

Photo by Jack Delano

B&O Passenger Train Departing

The Conductor’s Desk

For me, the caboose has always been one of the most interesting places to explore in railroading. Until generally the last decade or so of their usage on freight trains, a caboose was typically assigned to a specific conductor.  As such, they were often “accessorized” and decorated at the whim of the conductor, sometimes with help from his brakeman. Photographer Jack Delano captured this caboose image in January, 1943.

The scene is inside an Indiana Harbor Belt caboose, featuring the conductor’s work desk.  It’s a splendid study of the workspace that’s used by the boss of the train.  There are the usual railroad supplied appurtenances such as the oil lamp, the rack that holds rule books, timetables and other paperwork, and the wall mounted gauge which displays the train line air pressure.  Then there are the personal touches such as the pin-up photos, a thermometer, a couple cartoons, and even some photographs of (perhaps) the conductor’s pet dog.  Note the pencil holder tacked to the book rack, and the blackout applied to part of the lamp shade.  I wish we could tilt up the desk surface to reveal what is stored in its compartment. It’s one of those photos that begs to be studied, and doing so reveals a wealth of interesting detail.

IHB Caboose Conductor's Desk

Inside a “New” Cab

George Bertino is at the controls in the cab of his diesel freight locomotive ready to pull out of the AT&SF yard in Winslow, Arizona. Judging by the year of the photo, and the wear and tear in the cab, this is likely an EMD model FT locomotive.

Mr. Bertino is apparently a veteran of steam locomotives as evidenced by his dress in traditional overalls. Note the sleeve protectors, not usually necessary in this new environment.

This scene was captured by Jack Delano in March of 1943.

Cab of ATSF Freight Diesel

The Emporia Junction Tower

We’re heading back east now, with California far behind in the distance . . . indeed, we’re well into Kansas. Our Santa Fe train is passing by the AT&SF’s Emporia Junction tower located a bit east of the yard in Emporia, Kansas. The track crossing our main belongs to the Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railway (the Katy). This photograph is taken just inside of a wye, of which the northern extension is the start of the line up to Topeka. If one looks closely, the east leg of the wye can be barely discerned just past the signal bridge. The date is March of 1943.

Photo by Jack Delano

AT&SF Emporia Junction Tower

The Section Gang

The railroad infrastructure is a very maintenance intensive operation in itself. In the days before the mechanization that we see now, this work was done by manual labor. Track and bridge maintenance was a daily chore on railroads, and the track was divided into sections, each under the responsibility of a section gang, that is, a group of workers charged with maintaining their assigned area of track.

Jack Delano was traveling out west in March of 1943, where he documented some of the sights along the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway. In this image we see an Indian section gang aligning the track in the Santa Fe’s yard in Needles, California. More than a dozen workers are struggling to coax the track into it’s proper alignment. Imagine doing this kind of back-breaking work each day!