Will the horse move? Thoughts on photographing animals with trains

Posted by Jim Wrinn
on Monday, August 19, 2019

There’s a famous W.C. Fields quote about never working with animals and children. I’m not 100 percent sure of the context of that statement: Perhaps that meant he was afraid they would upstage him, or perhaps that meant they were too unpredictable. Maybe both. I tend to think the latter. 


We’ve all tried over the years to incorporate various animals into our railroad photography. The famous have done it: One of O. Winston Link’s most famous photos, Maude bows to the Virginia Creeper, pays tribute to a mule and the Norfolk & Western’s Abingdon Branch. The legendary southeastern shooter H. Reid incorporated a cow and a dog into his famous photo, milking time on the Graham County, in which country folk near Robbinsville, N.C., display the basic technique of the dairy industry while the GCRR’s Shay No. 1925 clanks by. One of my favorite John Craft images of Norfolk & Western No. 611 was of a black stallion on the move with the iconic Class J rolling by in north Alabama. 


Those were the good ones. Most of the time, these photos go horribly bad. The animal moves, turns, does something incredibly embarrassing, or worst of all, moves out of the scene. It’s happened to me time and time again. Back in May, near Henefer, Utah, Big Boy No. 4014 and 4-8-4 No. 844 sent a field of fillies running out of view after I’d set up with others to record the ageless comparison of iron horse with flesh and blood horse. I did better in July near Grand Junction, when a small herd of horses ran the right way as No. 4014 left town. You can see that picture in the October issue that just went into the mail to subscribers. 


Occasionally, the horse does just fine. This image of Rio Grande 2-8-0 No. 315 working up Cumbres Pass on a photo freight in July 2009 at Dalton, N.M., is one of my favorites. I wish I knew this fine animal’s name, so I could praise him. Even W.C. Fields would have approved. 



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