I came across this old Polaroid photo while going through my archives and I was struck with a wave of nostalgia. I don’t remember the exact date I shot this scene but a safe guess would be the late 1960s to early 1970s. The vantage point is from the US 27 overpass in Richmond looking to the west. For fun, I decided to scan the old photo and shoot the present day scene for comparison.

Looking west US 27 overpass, circa 1970s. Mike Cougill Photographer

PRR station trackage looking west, circa the late 1960s – early 1970s.

Looking west from US 27 overpass_09/2014. Mike Cougill photographer

The same vantage point in September, 2014

These photos, taken forty years apart, reveal many things that aren’t obvious at first glance. Going beyond the drastic changes to the track structure and the missing buildings, one can discern many other changes. You’ll note the preponderance of oil soaked ground in the older photo. Westbound PRR passenger trains would top off their fuel tanks during the station stop from the fuel racks next to the main. I vividly recall the fuel tender and his indifferent attitude toward running tanks over. Many’s the time gallons of diesel fuel spilled over onto the ground until he returned to shut off the flow.

Younger modelers brought up in an age of environmental sensitivity may find that hard to believe but it happened, regularly. Today, strict environmental regulations and cost saving mandates driven by the price of fuel rule all forms of commercial transport.

One might also glean some insight to the economic status in this part of town. The areas around the depot were in sad shape in the 1960s, with the 1970s being the bottom of the slide. Since then things have rebounded greatly. There is now a genuine sense of a small neighborhood featuring many shops, eateries and other businesses. The Daniel Burnham designed passenger depot recently underwent a multi-million dollar restoration and the area is now a thriving part of the overall community.

For the railroad, traffic began its decline in the 1960s and truly plummeted during the Penn Central and Conrail years until this line came under Norfolk & Western (NS) control in the late 1980s. NS eventually removed the trackage it didn’t need and significantly upgraded the rest.

I write a lot about learning to see details and how to discern the essence of a scene or object and TMC Vol. 10 is dedicated to this topic (available later this month). I write about  applying techniques from art and painting to modeling as a way of understanding the connection on a deeper level myself and also to share these insights so that you can apply them to your own work.

Our tendency as modelers is to focus on the obvious: the track plan, the trains, operations and we treat surrounding scenery like filler. but when given careful thought, such scenery can play a larger supporting role in the narrative we’re telling.

For old times, let me ask: what do you see here?