Photos that You Wish You Had Taken

Posted by George Hamlin
on Thursday, March 15, 2018

I suspect that virtually all railroad photographers suffer from the same malady:  they didn’t start photographing railroads and trains soon enough.  Usually, this was due to the lack of a camera with which to take the photograph, but a related concern is the time period, experienced by many, before that first ‘good’ camera was acquired.

As a result, we’re forced to rely on memories of trains that we saw, or rode.  These can remain vivid, even after many years have passed, but there is the nagging concern that our memories may or may not be as accurate as we might like to think they are.  In addition, while memories can be shared with others, they’re not as convincing as photographs, which, right, wrong or otherwise, really do show how things existed “way back when”.

In the event that you grew up in a family where there was an active railroad photographer, you’re in better shape than most of us.  The photos of your memories may actually exist, and are often close at hand.  On the other hand, for those of us who didn’t grow up in this environment, it’s a far more frustrating situation.  

I’ve searched the family photo archives in vain for railroad shots.  During my youth, various family members, including me, made numerous train trips, both for business (in the case of my Dad) and pleasure, in particular to visit family.  Alas, while Christmas, birthdays and family vacations by automobile are well-recorded, photographically, there are no train photos to be found. 

Since they didn’t fall into the family documentary paradigm described above, there are, of course, zero photos of the once-numerous trips that were made to the Cincinnati Union Terminal’s engine facility in the early to mid-1950s, just to look at the locomotives.  Had Dad taken the camera even once, it would have been wonderful to preserve and amplify the memories of those happy times; but this never occurred to him, and since this was largely before my camera-wielding days, it didn’t occur to me to ask, either.

Once I acquired a Kodak Brownie “Holiday” I did begin to address this problem to some degree, but utilizing these 127 negatives (almost all black & white) for anything other than modest-sized prints is difficult, at best.  Unfortunately, this also coincided with the effective demise of summer evening jaunts in the car to the CUT roundhouse, probably due in large measure to the expansion of our immediate family, along with the commensurate time demands that this entailed.

The Holiday was eventually replaced by a Brownie “Starmite” which had a built-in flash (remember the tiny AG1B bulbs?).  The image quality was modestly better than its predecessor, but still not up to what was provided by either larger-format film cameras, or quality 35mm equipment.  In fairness, my first published photo emanated from the Starmite; I’m still not sure what possessed TRAINS to publish it in April 1963, but am glad that it happened.

In any case, about a year following this event I graduated to 35mm, via the acquisition of an Argus C-3, known colloquially as the “Brick”.  A number of images from it have made it into print, so now all I had to worry about in documenting my life as a railfan was having the means to go places to see trains, and being able to pay for the film and processing.

In recent years, via the Intenet, it’s become apparent that lots of people were out and about photographing trains during our formative years; in some cases even in the same places we frequented.  And, using the Internet’s resources, we now are often able to view photographic resources far beyond our family photo archives.

A case in point is the photo above, at the Shaker Square station of the Cleveland, Ohio-based Shaker Heights Rapid Transit, shot by the late Roger ***, on September 9, 1965.  Relatively late in my Starmite era, in the spring of 1964, I’d had a chance to shoot a SHRT PCC at the same location, but, of course, not in color.  And while I might have waited for the passenger to board the car before photographing it, Roger’s decision to include this helps establish the timeframe of the photo.  (Roger's photographs are in the collection of Mel Finzer. They are being scanned and posted by Marty Bernard.)  Other photos by Roger can be seen here: 

https://www.flickr.com/photos/129679309@N05/collections/72157660036921885/ 

So, while you truly can’t “go home again”, in terms of physically visiting the past, now we have a better chance of being able to see some of the rail scenes from our youth than existed even a decade ago.  I’d submit that the average railfan photographer’s “Holy Grail” time period is the five to ten years before their first “good camera” was placed in service; hopefully, the area you grew up in was frequented by others now sharing their photos online.  Enjoy the opportunity!

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