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Beyond The Tracks – How Railroading Impacted American Workwear Pt. 2

A cold haze rolls into the narrow valley, engulfing the bare armatures of dormant trees in its path. It’s Winter in southwest Virginia. A lone figure unpacks the trunk and rear seat of his car —a virtual photography and recording studio on wheels —as the rising moon chases the black shadows of the treetops. Sprawling before the wool-clad man and his assistants is a double set of railroad tracks. With the equipment set up, a quick read of his watch confirms his timeliness. Studio lights, as bright as arc lamps, are switched on and shine to their full white-hot intensity while illuminating puffs of breath in the cold night air.


The artist and his assistants taking night shots. Image via National Parks At Night.

As though on cue from a film director, a shrill whistle blast echoes from behind the distant stone mountainside. Its high-pitched wail carries in everyone’s ears for moments afterward as the devices are readied. Steel rails rattle as if made from tin while the snaking train lumbers its way up the steep grade toward the vantage point. A column of smoke belches skywards from the massive locomotive which mixes it with billowing white steam which catches the studio lights. From the man’s perch, flashbulbs pulse and the reels of tape unspool onto more reels. These are the final pages of American steam railroading being written. A Brooklynite name O. Winston Link would capture some of the last images of the workers who tamed steam giants. The railroad industry, and the effect of railroading on American workwear, would change dramatically over the following decade.


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