Recently, I was looking through my slide boxes and discovered one I had completely forgotten, containing "duds" and "rejects" of the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway Company. In my younger years, before I had accumulated thousands of slides, I segregated the "good" from the "bad" and the "ugly." Now I have so many slides that if I do not like one, I just throw it in the trash. Back then I held onto all of them, and I am very glad that I did, because I discovered a treasure of images that can no longer be taken, many of them quite competent photographs, I think. Some are close to 50 years old. I do not know why I rejected them, except that the Santa Fe ran through my hometown of Edmond, Oklahoma, and I may have felt that I could be particular because I had taken so many images of that railroad. That, however, is pure speculation, because my motives, whatever they may have been, are now lost in the low clouds of the late evening of my mind. The best of those old, once rejected images are now presented herein.
|Northbound manifest at Edmond, Oklahoma -- March, 1972.
One of my earlier posts is entitled, "I Feel Like the Rock Island":
In it I discussed not only the demise of the CRI&P but also how my own advancing decripitude was paralleling that of the railroad. Nothing in that regard has changed in the intervening years, but looking at the old slides that I had once considered unacceptable has given me a new perspective. I now realize that, as the Doobie Brothers put it, what were once vices are now habits. Or to put positive spin on it, using a Christian analogy: what once was lost has now been found. You may feel that those two statements are contradictory, and you may be correct. However, I would like to suggest that they are not mutually exclusive. It is possible to be both (1) falling apart, while at the same time (2) enjoying the scenery. Thus, though I still feel like the Rock Island, I have learned to dream of the Santa Fe.
|F Units north of Edmond, Oklahoma -- July 1971
Why the Santa Fe? Because in my youth -- I started taking railroad photographs in 1970, when I was 20 -- the Santa Fe was one of a handful of railroads that was not going broke and falling apart. Roads like the Rock Island, Milwaukee Road, Penn Central, Erie Lackawanna and many more were all spiraling out of control. I remember dreaming about working on a railroad crew, running across mountains and deserts, and my dreams always involved the Santa Fe. Once I understood the difficult lives of railroaders, however, I changed direction, like a rabbit running across an open field, and dreamed that after I graduated from law school, I would work as an attorney for the Santa Fe. Then I learned of the difficult lives of corporate lawyers, so I ended up working by myself.
Before the creation of Amtrak, I road Santa Fe's Texas Chief from Oklahoma City to Chicago and back. If on time, and it usually was, the northbound left the downtown station at about 8:00 pm, in time for me to catch one of the last seatings in the dining car. Darkness was beginning to fall like a slow rain as the Chief rolled through my hometown, and I was being seated for supper as the train stopped in Guthrie, the first capital of Oklahoma. One of life's pleasures is enjoying a good meal on a moving train, like savoring a fine wine. One can linger in the moment. If you close your eyes, you believe that you may be feeling contentment.
|F Units at Oklahoma City.
In those days, because I had no money to speak of, I made the overnight trip in coach. The reclining seats in the high-level chair cars were ample for my six foot frame, and the other passengers, all veteran train riders, knew enough to remain quiet through the night. Still, even though I was only 20 years old, sleep was intermittent, because portions of the roadbed were a little rough, and the clanging bells at crossing gates seemed ubiquitous. My body, upon sunrise, felt like the crumpled remains of a cardboard box.
I descended the stairs to the lower level facilities to wash my face and brush my teeth and took my place at the rear of a short line of fellow passengers. In those days, shortly before Amtrak, train riders were a mixed lot, with some riding because they would not travel by air, others because they just loved trains and others because train travel was almost as affordable as a commercial bus and extremely more comfortable for an overnight trip. Even so, my coach was only about 25 percent full, which the conductor said was about average. The Texas Chief was losing considerable sums and would continue to do so after the takeover by Amtrak -- right up to the train's eventual discontinuation in October of 1979.
|F Units in Oklahoma City.
|Caboose at Curtis Hill, Oklahoma.
The ride from Joliet, Illinois into Chicago was especially rough, like driving a pick-up through a mud hole. The conductor told me that the tracks were owned by Gulf, Mobile and Ohio and were not particularly well-maintained. I do not know if the ownership part of that statement was true, but the lack of maintenance part certainly was.
As we neared the big city, we began to see junk yards, smoke stacks, small houses huddled together in rows like sausages, highways jammed with vehicles, huge high voltage lines and towers that rose above the tracks like skeletons. I had never lived in an area dominated by heavy industry, and Chicago was a revelation. Many do not like the brick factories darkened by years of smoke. Many do not like the mile upon mile of railroad yards. Many do not like the cold winters and humid summers. But I was mesmerized. This place was big! Really big! I felt intimidated but determined not to allow anyone to find out.
|Two GP-9's power a local freight north of Edmond, Oklahoma, in 1971. Notice the jointed rail and caboose. Today (2019), this area is surrounded on all sides by houses, an elementary school and a gas station with about 15 pumps.
|Edmond, Oklahoma -- 1980's. Today, the tracks are hidden behind large cedar trees, and the cemetery is filled with headstones.
|Washita River in South Central Oklahoma -- 1980's.
The Deaborn Street Station where we de-trained was a monument to another era, when railroads were the only means of long distance travel, and railroad stations were built like cathedrals to the God of the rails. Opened in 1885 and the oldest of Chicago's passenger terminals, the three-story exterior and twelve-story clock tower combined pink granite and red brick topped by steeply-sloped roofs. Modifications following a 1922 fire included eliminating the pitched roofs. Following is an image from the early 20th century, before the modifications, when the station was in its prime.
By the time of my arrival, however, the station looked like an old man who had once been athletic and handsome but whose better years were in the past. Glimpses of the "old days" were still visible in the physique and eyes, but the general appearance was of decline. Here is a picture after the modifications, looking similar to what I saw upon my arrival in Chicago.
Unlike virtually all of the old railroad stations in Chicago, Dearborn Street somehow managed to avoid the wrecking ball. Today it has been reborn as an urban shopping mall, something like Union Station in St. Louis. I have not seen the latest incarnation, but a couple of friends have told me that it is looking a little run down. Aren't we all?
|A short local freight prepares to enter Big Canyon in the Arbuckle Mountains of south-central Oklahoma.
My friend Carl Graves and I were traveling together, and we were looking for a place to stay during our visit. (In those long ago days, the thought of making reservations had apparently not occurred to us.) Searching through the station, we discovered on one bulletin board an advertisement for the YMCA Hotel. I no longer remember the rates, but they seemed cheap enough for our meager budget. Plus, the accommodations appeared to be within walking distance.
This was long before suitcases had wheels. I was lugging the suitcase that my parents had given me upon graduation from high school. I no longer remember what I had packed, but it weighed more than I could comfortably carry, so we stopped every block or so to allow me to place the suitcase on the sidewalk and rest.
|Northbound grainer in the Arbuckle Mountains.
|Westbound trailers at Curtis Hill, Oklahoma, before the line was double-tracked.
|The station at Waynoka, Oklahoma, when it was still a division point.
|Waynoka, Oklahoma -- 1972.
I smile when I think of those times, because we were two twenty-year-olds from small town Oklahoma, bedazzled by the big city, trying desperately to act as though we knew what we were doing. My long hair hung well below my ears, and I was attempting, without much success, to grow a mustache. Young men strive in vain to look older, while old men strive in vain to look younger. Shortly after law school, I grew a scruffy beard so that judges would stop calling me "Young Man." I shaved it off before I turned fifty, because every hair on my face was white, and people were starting to call me "Old Man." Sooner or later, if you live long enough, you reach the point where you no longer care. I have reached that point.
|Fairbanks Morse H-12-44 is switching cars for the Santa Fe in Emporia, Kansas -- July 1972.
|Emporia, Kansas -- 1972 -- when the town was still a division point. The station has since been demolished.
|Ottawa, Kansas -- 1980. The track to the right is the old Missouri Pacific line to Pueblo, Colorado, which was abandoned when UP absorbed the MoP.
The YMCA Hotel opened in 1919, the brainchild of William Messer, who had conducted a study of University of Chicago students and discovered that there was no good place for young men to stay when they came to Chicago at Dearborn Station in the South Loop. The hotel opened with 1,821 rooms and soon was turning people away, so the structure was expanded to 2,700 rooms, making it the second largest hotel in Chicago. After the expansion, there were a huge lobby and restaurant on the first floor, a lobby and library on the second and meeting rooms on the next three. There was also a roof-top deck with great views of the city and Lake Michigan.
The rooms were tiny -- four feet by six feet -- like sleeping in a closet. By the time Carl and I stayed there, the place was in its death throes. It had once been fairly nice, but in 1970, it was dirty and smelly. Still, it was cheap. Because the rooms were so small, Carl and I stayed in different ones. Mine had a small window that looked down to the fifth floor ceiling surrounded on all sides by the hotel, open at the top like a mine shaft, a structure designed to create a draft through the rooms before the advent of air conditioning. At the bottom of the shaft, the ceiling of the fifth floor, detritus was piled several feet high, as though it had not been cleaned in decades.
|Fort Worth, Texas -- May 1972. These tracks are now buried beneath a huge freeway interchange.
|Seward, Oklahoma -- 1974.
The hotel closed in 1979 and sat vacant for several years. In the mid-1980's, it was gutted and rebuilt inside, and individual units -- one assumes larger than four feet by six feet -- were leased as apartments. In the late 1990's, the apartments were transformed into condominiums.
|Seward, Oklahoma -- 1973.
One of my fondest memories of that trip to Chicago was discovering, quite by accident, the Santa Fe's model railroad exhibit at the Museum of Science and Industry. The layout was gigantic. It seemed as large as a football field, though probably was not. The best views were obtained from the second floor balcony, where one could peer down in wonder at over 1,000 feet of track, sort of a precursor to modern day drone photography.
Since I was a small child, I have been fascinated by trains. I once spent hours along the Rock Island tracks in my home of Chickasha, Oklahoma, once part of the Chickasaw Nation, waiting for trains to arrive at the downtown station. I would put pennies on the track to be smashed by passing freights. I would stand outside in the backyard of my parents' house at night, listening to the far off whistle of a southbound freight train.
|Marland, Oklahoma -- 1975.
|Ottawa, Kansas -- January 1978.
|Raton Pass, New Mexico -- July 1979.
Looking at the Santa Fe model exhibit in the Museum of Science and Industry, I was transported back to my childhood. I stood transfixed on the second floor balcony, watching the model trains below as though they were the secret to the universe, assuming there is a secret. I could have spent days there, but I sensed that my friend Carl wanted to move on.
|Rio Puerco, New Mexico
Another vivid memory is my afternoon visit to the University of Chicago. I had read that the first active atomic pile -- brainchild of Enrico Fermi -- had been located beneath the stands at the old football stadium. The school had dropped the sport years ago, but I wanted to see where the atomic age began. Unfortunately, the stadium was demolished in 1957. By the time I arrived, a library had been constructed in its place.
My other memory of the university is that it was (and still is) located on the city's south side, surrounded by African-American neighborhoods, the residents of which were not particularly receptive to a European descendant from rural Oklahoma. I have never been shouted at so much as that day, though no one did anything more than shout. Two large middle-aged men shook their fists at me from across a street. I looked at them, wondering what they would do. They seemed puzzled that I would stand there, looking at them, saying nothing. It felt as though we were two rival tribes glaring at each other across a river that neither could navigate. Eventually they shrugged, laughed and walked away. I decided that it was time to head back to the YMCA Hotel.
|Rio Grande Valley, New Mexico -- July 1980.
|Rio Grande Valley, New Mexico -- July 1982.
|Curtis, Oklahoma -- August 1982.
|Curtis Hill, Oklahoma -- July 1977.
Part of my trip that day included riding one of the Chicago Transit Authority's (CTA's) trains. Although you may find this hard to believe, that initial trip to Chicago was the first time I had ever ridden public transportation. There were no street cars, subways, light rail or buses in my hometown. In fact, at that time (1970), there were no street cars, subways or light rail anywhere in Oklahoma. (That has changed now that Oklahoma City has, in 2019, instituted a new street car system. Although out of place in this article, here is an image of one of those new vehicles.)
I was also astounded to discover that Chicago has a subway system running beneath State Street. In 1970, the cars were old and musty-smelling, and the wheels screeched like finger nails on a chalkboard. (Does anyone under 50 even know what a chalkboard is?) Still, Carl and I spent hours riding the entire light rail system of the CTA, from one end of each line to the other. We even figured out a method by which we could purchase a single, cheap ticket, then keep riding trains all afternoon, eventually ending up at the destination for which we had purchased the original ticket. The method involved de-training at one station, crossing to the other side, then riding in the opposite direction. Whenever we came to a station that served multiple lines, we moved to a new one. I have no idea if the method would work today. I do believe that you can now purchase an all-day pass which allows one the freedom to see the entire system without having madly to switch stations every fifteen minutes or so. It is entirely possible that one could have purchased such a pass in 1970, but as I mentioned, in those days we operated on a very tight budget.
|Curtis Hill, Oklahoma -- 1982 -- before the line was double-tracked.
|Curtis Hill, Oklahoma -- 1982 -- Quinlan Siding.
We also visited the John Hancock Building which, when completed in 1968, was the second tallest building in the world after the Empire State Building in New York City. The structure was unique in that the walls at the base slanted upward at a slight angle to the top. The day before we rode the elevator to the observation platform, we read in the Chicago Tribune that someone had committed suicide by breaking a window near the top and jumping out. Because the walls slanted outward toward the bottom, the poor individual did not fall to his doom. Instead, he rolled and bounced down the side of the building like a boulder down a mountainside. Even today, after all these years, I still smile when I think of the image, though the death must have been terrible.
|Merchandise freights meeting at Avard, Oklahoma.
|Southbound manifest cresting Waterloo Hill north of Edmond, Oklahoma.
A few months later I discovered the concept of parallax -- difference in the apparent position of an object viewed along two different lines of sight, measured by the angle between those two lines.
Stellar parallax occurs when a star is viewed from the earth at two different positions in its orbit. The angle of difference is usually extremely tiny. The largest occurs when a star is viewed six months apart, when the earth is on opposite sides of its orbit.
What does this have to do with my images of tall buildings leaning at incredible angles? The film in a camera is held rigidly parallel to the instrument's back. When you tilt the camera up, the angle of the film's view is likewise tilted up in relation to the ground. When you look through the camera's viewfinder, however, your angle of view does not likewise tilt up. Instead, it remains perpendicular to the ground. Your angle of view is thus not the same as the camera's, which is why the images on your film look so different that what you saw.
The problem is corrected by bellows which allow the camera lens to be turned upward while the camera back remains perpendicular. The angle of the camera's view then remains the same as yours, and the image on the film looks the same as what your eyes reveal.
Normally, the differences in angle of view are so small as to be unnoticeable. Only when the camera is turned well off axis does the problem appear. That is why cameras for architectural photography employ bellows, such as that shown on the left.
Thus ended my career photographing skyscrapers from the ground. Instead, I turned to photographing the Texas Chief that we rode back to Oklahoma. The train was shiny stainless steel that glowed like small explosions in the afternoon sunlight. The nose of the first engine was bright red, outlined in yellow, with a small bulge extending rearward and then over the top of the cab, still outlined in yellow, while at the bottom curving forward, then reversing direction beneath a curved ribbon of bright stainless steel and running to the rear of the engine as a thin red line, topped by more yellow, just above the trucks.
The engines were called "warbonnets" because they were said to resemble the headdress of a Native American warrior. Santa Fe had adopted a Native American theme because its transcontinental mainline ran directly through the middle of several pueblos in New Mexico. The engines did not look like headdresses to me. They looked like art moderne sculptures in stainless steel, fitting descendants of the majestic steam locomotives they had replaced. Since the demise of the warbonnets, nothing in contemporary railroad motive power, to my mind at least, has even remotely approached their flamboyance.
|Warbonnets in San Diego.
|Southbound Texas Chief is crossing the Cimarron River in Oklahoma.
|Southbound Texas Chief north of Edmond, Oklahoma.
The inside of the train was as remarkable as the outside. Since the beginning of time, coaches had been constructed on a single level. You walked into the car like walking into a hotel room and found your seat. But the Santa Fe had come up with a different concept for long distance traveling -- multiple levels. On that railroad, when you walked into a coach, you were on a lower level that contained room for bags and other storage, plus multiple toilet-wash rooms. Coach seats were accessed by climbing a narrow staircase that curved 180 degrees in three sections to reveal long rows of fully reclining chairs for sleeping. When you looked out the window, you were not at ground level. You were at the level of an observation dome. The effect, to me at least, was stunning. Sitting in the cheapest coach seat felt luxurious. The ride in these "high-level chair cars" was also much smoother than a typical coach, like the difference between a pick-up truck and a sedan.
|Eastbound Super Chief at Ribera, New Mexico. High level chair cars are located between the baggage car and the observation car.
If you are observant, you will notice that the train immediately above bears Amtrak markings -- because the photograph was taken December 1971, seven months after Amtrak began operations on May 1, 1971. But Carl and I were riding home in the summer of 1970. Riding the Texas Chief back to Oklahoma that summer was like riding home from a football game in which your favorite team has just lost. Everyone was quiet, as though wondering how this could have happened. The only other time I have felt such pervasive apprehension was on a business flight to Chicago two days after September 11, 2001. The plane, like the Texas Chief, was only about 25 percent full. Everyone was filled with doubt. What, we wondered, would happen next?
|Curtis Hill, Oklahoma.
|Same location after snowfall.
|Curtis Hill, Oklahoma.
|Curtis Hill, Oklahoma.
The coach in which I was sitting was not completely filled with worry-warts, however. In the rear sat a family of four -- husband, wife, son, daughter -- dressed as though they had boarded the train in the 19th century. The father wore a black, broadcloth suit, though it was the dead of summer. His thick beard completely covered his shirt and looked as though it had not been shaved in years -- something like this:
The mother wore a calico dress and bonnet:
The son and daughter were dressed similarly to the father and mother, as though cut from the same bolt of cloth. They sat together, eating sandwiches out of a picnic basket in the mother's lap. They would take a bite, chew for a while, then sing a hymn quietly, not disturbing the few other passengers in the coach. After each hymn, they would eat more sandwich. In this fashion, they worked through several anthems before finishing their meal.
I guessed that they were Amish, though I did not start a conversation because I feel uncomfortable around strangers, especially those from another century.
|Curtis Hill, Oklahoma.
|Curtis Hill, Oklahoma. This was a run-through with Burlington Northern. At Avard, Oklahoma, it diverged off the Transcon and onto the old Frisco line to Tulsa. Frisco power is included in the consist because BN had recently swallowed the Frisco.
|Curtis Hill, Oklahoma.
One other strong memory I retain from the trip back to Oklahoma was eating breakfast in the dining car. The train left early in the morning, and because it was not crowded, breakfast seating was readily available. The meal was bacon and scrambled eggs, with orange juice and milk, and the food tasted marvelous as we rolled through the industrial heart of greater Chicago. We were served by a stooped man who seemed very old to me but was probably considerably younger than my current 69 years. He said he had worked for the Santa Fe his entire life, and that there were rumors the train would soon be discontinued. He did not know what he would do with himself in such a case, and I had no sage advise to offer, in part because, other than summer jobs between years of high school and college, I had not worked a day in my life. I think that was the first time I realized the personal hardships imposed by changes in technology. The process has been called "creative destruction," but I am not sure how creative it is to those caught in the maw of progress.
Soon after our return to Oklahoma, I purchased my first single-lens-reflex camera and began photographing railroads in earnest. Since I lived along a Santa Fe line, that railroad became the object of my affection. One thing I did not remark at the time, though looking back now is obvious, were the large number of F-units pulling freights. Having no frame of reference, I assumed that F-units were the standard for all trains. Little did I know how quickly they would disappear. I was fortunate enough to obtain several images, such as the following:
|Cimarron River, Oklahoma.
Once the F-units were gone, the art moderne styling that had originally begat New York Central's streamlined 20th Century Limited could no longer be found on American rails. Utilitarianism carried the day -- straight lines, no wasted space, no flare, no heart, no soul, just straight lines and more straight lines, like the "International Style" skyscraper -- a prismatic glass surface wrapped around a central service core, envisioned during the 1920s and 1930s by German architects who fled to America, notably Walter Gropius and Mies van der Rohe. The first such structures were built in America during the 1950s -- the UN Building (1952), Lever House (1954) and the Seagram Tower (1958) -- and they soon overran the landscape like locusts. As they proliferated, F-units disappeared, replaced by the following:
|U23B 6346 north of Edmond, Oklahoma.
|Another U23B north of Edmond.
|A GP 38 north of Edmond.
|An SD 45-2 east of Emporia, Kansas.
Near the end of its life, before the merger that created BNSF, the Santa Fe resurrected the warbonnet paint scheme on a new generation of locomotives that, while not art moderne, at least had some small sense of style. Although the product exclusively of straight lines, eschewing even the slightest notion of curved space, these new creations combined the "safety cab" design pioneered in Canada with another Canadian innovation -- ditch lights. Together they reinvigorated the front ends of freight locomotives. I have dubbed this style "Euclidean Ersatz Art Moderne."
|On the siding near Ribera, New Mexico.
|Westbound exiting Abo Canyon, New Mexico.
|Westbound manifest in the siding at Quinlan, Oklahoma, before the Curtis Hill line was double-tracked. The siding was torn up in 1995.
|Westbound stacks on Quinlan Siding.
|Eastbound trailers approaching Argentine Yard, Kansas City.
|A westbound freight has left Argentine Yard and is headed to Emporia, Kansas.
|Westbound Trailers have crested the grade out of the valley of the Rio Grande and are rolling toward the Rio Puerco, New Mexico. Monzanto Mountains tower in the background.
When it first ordered its own locomotives, Amtrak also attempted a straight-line, Euclidean version of the F7. Called the SDP40F, built by EMD, the locomotive quickly developed a nasty reputation for spontaneous derailment. Whether the reputation was deserved is beyond my ken. I do know that Amtrak traded most of the units back to EMD and replaced them with the FD40PH, another EMD product, which also attempted to mimic, in straight lines, the look of the F7. These new units apparently served the company loyally, without serious incident, until retirement in the 1990's. Following are images of the SDP40F and FD40PH on AT&SF trackage.
|SDP40F at Seward, Oklahoma -- 1974.
|SDP40F at Oklahoma City -- 1975.
|FP40PH at Eudora, Kansas -- 1982.
|FP40PH's at Raton Pass, New Mexico -- 1983.
As I write this, I am 69 years old. My father died recently at 97, and he told me that my age seemed quite young to him, so young in fact that he had trouble remembering what it felt like to do the things he enjoyed without pain, to remember the names of old friends, all of whom had predeceased him.
I told him that I was not without pain, that I was embarrassing myself more and more frequently by forgetting the names of people I had known for years and that several of my old friends had passed recently.
Growing old, he told me, was not a blessing. It was a curse. To die young is to be fervently desired, he said. The problem was, by the time you realized that, you were too old to die young.
So if I am not yet an old man, I am close enough to offer my own thoughts. That is why my mind still returns to that first trip to Chicago on the Texas Chief. Everything I remember about that trip is gone now -- the Texas Chief, the Santa Fe, the Chicago train stations, the world in which I grew up. I am beginning to learn the hard truth that those who do not die young eventually learn, that growing old in a world that you do not understand is the sum of the human condition. So tonight I will drink wine and look at my old slides again. Tonight I will dream of the Santa Fe.
To see my other posts, go to waltersrail.com. To see my photographs on Flickr, go to https://www.flickr.com/photos/jpwalters/.