The Last Steam Railroad in America: From Tidewater to Whitetop

The Last Steam Railroad in America: From Tidewater to Whitetop

by O. Winston Link, Thomas H. Garver
     
 

In the mid-1950s the Norfolk and Western Railway began converting its operations from steam to diesel. Although the railroad ran some of the finest steam locomotives in the world and was a major coal-hauler, it decided to abandon steam. It was the last American railroad to do so. Coincidentally with the N&W decision, photographer O. Winston Link began to pursue a… See more details below

Overview

In the mid-1950s the Norfolk and Western Railway began converting its operations from steam to diesel. Although the railroad ran some of the finest steam locomotives in the world and was a major coal-hauler, it decided to abandon steam. It was the last American railroad to do so. Coincidentally with the N&W decision, photographer O. Winston Link began to pursue a decade-old vision of photographing steam railroading at night using synchronized flash. A chance assignment in Virginia brought him to the N&W and for the next five years Link traveled up and down its divisions photographing the trains, the towns, and the people who worked on the railroad and lived beside it. Winston Link published many of his fine N&W images in his first book, Steam, Steel & Stars, a classic of its kind. But many other of his splendid photographs did not appear in that book. Published here are striking portraits of the workers of the railroad, powerful images of the double-headed engine link-ups that pushed long coal trains up the Blue Ridge, and pictures along the length of the Abingdon branch, on which a single combined freight and passenger train ran only during daylight hours. These include some of his most charming scenes of the rural life in Virginia and North Carolina towns served by the N&W.

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Editorial Reviews

Ray Olson
From 1955 to 1960, commercial photographer Link devoted all the time he could to the Norfolk and Western Railway, which ran four lines in the upper South from its hub in Roanoke, Virginia. With the company's cooperation, he recorded what made it special—it was the last U.S. railway to operate with steam engines. Moreover, as Thomas H. Garver imparts in the generous accompanying text here, Link worked in ways then as rare as steam locomotives—with large, tripod-mounted view cameras and, because he preferred working at night when he could exert more control over lighting, he used scores of flashbulbs that were set off precisely at the time calculated to allow for a particular exposure. One album of those night images, Steam, Steel & Stars (1987), has appeared, and more of them are here, along with many daytime views and a little sampling of the few color pictures he made (including the only two color shots taken at night). Technical marvels, they are also aesthetic miracles, charged with human feeling because Link cared for the communities that lived along the NW and for the railroad's employees more than for its gigantic machinery and buildings and because he is a master of natural-looking dramatic lighting. His pictures are as lyrical as they are powerful, as numinous as they are romantically materialist: masterpieces.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780810935754
Publisher:
Abrams, Harry N., Inc.
Publication date:
09/01/1995
Pages:
144
Product dimensions:
11.75(w) x 11.04(h) x 0.87(d)

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