Rediscovering Beebe and Clegg

Posted by Justin Franz
on Tuesday, April 03, 2018

Chesapeake & Ohio 4-8-2 No. 546 leads a freight train. Lucius Beebe/California State Railroad Museum BC0174
A few months ago, I was talking to a friend when the subject of famed railfans Lucius Beebe and Charles Clegg came up. “They couldn’t take anything more than a three-quarter wedge shot,” my friend said. I tried to correct him, telling him I had seen an amazing presentation a few years ago about the pair and that there was so much more to their images than he knew. But my friend just didn’t believe me.

Now, thanks to a new book from the Center for Railroad Photography and Art, I’ll be vindicated. “Beebe and Clegg: Their Enduring Photographic Legacy” by John Gruber and John Ryan, assisted by Mel Patrick, showcases the iconic duo’s work as never before seen. Gruber and Ryan spent countless hours combing through the archives at the California State Railroad Museum to discover that many of the famous images from books like “High Iron,” “Trains In Transition” and “Mixed Train Daily,” had been drastically cropped and the original negatives revealed spectacular and creative scenes. “Their images are so much more impressive when you see the negatives,” Gruber says. “I think people will be really surprised when they see the book.”

Beebe was a New York socialite and a newspaper columnist, and had already published three railroad books when he met Clegg at a party in Washington D.C. in 1941. The pair formed a personal and professional relationship that lasted until Beebe’s death in 1966. After Clegg returned from military service during World War II, the two men traveled the country gathering material for a number of railroad photography books they published together through the 1940s and 1950s. While many railroad photographers considered Beebe and Clegg’s work “traditional” at best, there is no denying the impact they had on the hobby, having produced some of the first railroad books published.

A Frankfort & Cincinnati freight train crosses a trestle near Frankfort, Kentucky. Charles Clegg/California State Railroad Museum BC2146
Gruber, himself a noted railroad photographer and founder of CRPA, briefly met Beebe when he was a teenager. Gruber’s family was on a trip to California and they stopped in Virginia City, Nevada, where Beebe and Clegg lived in later years and ran a small newspaper. Beebe signed Gruber’s copy of “Mixed Train Daily,” the famous 1947 volume about short line railroads. Gruber has long been a fan of the pair’s work and wrote about them when he was editor of Vintage Rails in the 1990s.

Gruber says the new book is perhaps the most complete examination of Beebe and Clegg’s railroad photography. Many of the more than 200 images in the book have never been published before. The book also includes an introduction by Ann Clegg Holloway, Clegg’s younger sister, where she recalls some of the pair’s famous parties, including a champagne-fueled dinner aboard a Maryland and Pennsylvania Railroad mixed train.

If some of the images that have been released so far are any indication, “Beebe and Clegg: Their Enduring Photographic Legacy” is going to be a must-have book for many railroad enthusiasts.

“Their work was truly significant,” Gruber says.

“Beebe and Clegg: Their Enduring Photographic Legacy” will be on sale at CRPA’s Conversations 2018 in Lake Forest, Illinois on April 13 - 15. The book is also being sold online for $59.95 and will be shipped in mid-April after the conference.

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