Okay Chris Mears here you go.

Chris invited me to take the Railfan Five Photo Challenge where one is to select five favorite photos that illustrate meaningful moments or scenes of railroading that influenced you in some way. Here are my five.

19th Street in the 1970s

This was a no-brainer. I’ve written many times about my childhood experiences of standing on this street overpass watching trains. Sadly, this is the only photo I ever took of the view. I’m guessing the date would have been in the late 1960s or early 1970s. This is an old Polaroid photo and that’s when my folks purchased such a camera. Long freights would come out of the yard via the left hand tracks and the sound and fury of multiple first generation diesels is still memorable. Sadly, nothing remains today. The overpass was replaced in the late ’70s and the yard is returning to forest. Only the two right hand tracks remain as Norfolk Southern’s Richmond Secondary.

Yard engine in the 1970s

This photo reflects the quieter and more influential aspect of my early railfan experiences. Taken half a block from home in Centerville, this is the yard engine from Richmond. He would arrive from the east (the direction I’m facing) and use the crossover to get around his cars as seen here. (A flying switch was the normal procedure.) Depending on the work he would switch the grain mill and/or Thoroseal. The house to the left was my grandmothers. Given the proximity to the tracks conversation was impossible in the living room when a train passed through town. And yes, the weathered building with red roof was a genuine woodshed complete with privvy, even in the 1960s. The joys of a bygone small town era.

Boxcar still life in the 1970s

Speaking of the mill, I love this shot of these two B&O boxcars. It’s almost a still life, reflecting the pre-covered hopper era when grain moved in boxcars. It also shows the relationship of the tracks to the street that I’ve mentioned numerous times. The left hand track goes on for two more blocks to the Thoroseal batch plant behind our house. It’s also part of the original rail line in this part of Indiana dating to the early 1800s. Wagon top boxcars were a favorite too.

Southern F units in the 1970s

The 1970s were a time of transition and restructuring for railroads. After the Penn Central and subsequent Conrail mergers I never knew what to expect to come through town. Imagine my surprise when this Southern trio of F-units (no less), showed up. Apparently there was some trouble with the sand lines and the crew is checking them out before the assault on Jackson’s Hill to the west of town. The blatt of an old style EMD air horn was music as they rumbled away. To this day, I’ve no clue how or why they showed up in Indiana. This is one of those rare moments of clarity when one snaps a decent photo of the anomaly.

Railfan Five Contemporary

Finally, something contemporary. I got this auto train coming out of the West Richmond siding a year ago. I love the quality of the early morning autumn light.

Warts and all, that’s my five. At this point I’m supposed to challenge two others to post their photos but most of the people I know have already done so or been challenged by someone else. So, I’m going to weenie out on that portion and doubtless set off the end of the universe by doing so. If you’d like to take up my slack here’s the guidelines.



  1. Chris Mears

    Well done Mike. This is terrific. Thank you.

    We’ve talked a lot about inspiration and I was reflecting back on our exchanges when I was working through my own Challenge submission.

    There’s just something about these shots that really speaks to a railway aesthetic I understand. Though I know comparatively little about railroading in the area you are describing above it relates to a style of railroading I know well from Atlantic Canada. Of the set, it’s that shot of the grain elevator I think speaks the loudest. I can picture what it must have been like to be trackside when the train arrived to spot cars at the elevator. I know what track in that condition sounds like. It’s this style of railroading that really reminds us of the mass and scale of a railroad. As the track expands under the weight of the train you get a real sense of how each component from the roadbed, through the track and up into the suspension of the railcar work together in concert to deliver the car’s load.

    Rambling aside, these are terrific pictures. Thanks for putting this together.


  2. mike

    You’re welcome Chris. Thanks for inviting me.