An SP photographer who deserves to be known

Posted by Kevin Keefe
on Friday, November 13, 2020

Prints stamped for photographer W. E. Malloy Jr. have been a fixture in the Kalmbach library files for 70 years.
Any library with thousands of books and tens of thousands of photographs is bound to have its mysteries, and Kalmbach’s David P. Morgan Memorial Library is no exception. In the countless hours I’ve spent working in that hallowed room, looking for just the right black-and-white print, I’ve run into a familiar puzzle: Who was that photographer? 

It happened again this week while digging in the two file drawers of Southern Pacific photos. Here and there, in folders marked “Tehachapi” or “Bay Area” or “Coast Line,” I encountered a name both familiar and perplexing, that of W. E. Malloy Jr.

The engineer of SP cab-forward 4243 waves to photographer Malloy near San Luis Obispo. W. E. Malloy Jr. 
Judging from what I saw in the SP files, Malloy was active in the late 1940s and early ’50s, working with a 4x5 camera, likely a Speed Graphic. His work occasionally appeared in Trains throughout that era, but appears to have tailed off after the demise of steam. Beyond that, all I knew of him is his name, stamped on the back of his prints along with an address in the San Francisco suburb of Menlo Park.

There’s another thing about Malloy’s photos: his prints are approximately 9x11 inches, which makes them oversize in an archive dominated by 8x10s. That means they stick up above everything else when you open the file drawer, where they’ve been subject to wear and tear as eager editors plowed through the files over the decades. One edge of Malloy’s prints is almost always dog-eared.

SP F7s meet near Dunsmuir, Calif. W. E. Malloy Jr.
His prints are impressive, though, as you can see here. I like his unusual composition of 4-8-8-2 AC cab-forward No. 4243, raising hell with an eastbound freight at Oasis, near San Luis Obispo. Malloy was exacting about including the details: he made the photograph at 3:10 p.m. on June 9, 1951, shooting at 1/200th at f10 on Plus X film. The train was designated 2-920. 

Or how about Malloy’s beautiful shot of Black Widow F7 diesels meeting at Small siding alongside the Sacramento River just east of Dunsmuir? Again, the details: on the right is Extra 6293, meeting train 638 behind No. 6336, at 9:30 a.m. on July 18, 1953. This time he was using Super Panchro-Press Type B film, shooting at 1/250th at f9 with a K2 filter.

Tehachapi was a frequent haunt for Malloy. Hence, we have here two images, one showing AC No. 4229 on train 804 climbing just below Tehachapi Loop at 1:10 p.m. on February 20, 1953, the other taken two days later at 11 a.m., again showing train 804 but now with F7s approaching Marcel siding east of the Loop. 

SP 4-8-8-2 4229 climbs toward Tehachapi Loop with train 804. W. E. Malloy Jr.
The technical notations led me to believe he was possibly a professional photographer, but who knows? Who was he, really? How long did he photograph trains? What, apparently, caused him to quit? These photographs are 70 years old — is he still alive?

Alas, a search through Trains back-issue indexes turned up nothing. Ditto the biography files in the library. Google was a waste of time. I also checked with a number of SP experts and fans, one of which turned up some information from a 1961 Menlo Park directory, indicating that Malloy, likely age 55, was a safety engineer for an insurance company. 

I did manage to track down one person familiar with — nay, even inspired by — Malloy’s pictures. That would be photographer Ted Benson, a true California hall of famer. Ted’s body of work includes a lot on the SP. Although he is way too young to have encountered Malloy’s work in “real time,” i.e. the early 1950s, Ted became an admirer later.

SP train 804 approaches the west switch of Marcel siding on February 22, 1953. W. E. Malloy Jr.
“What I loved about Malloy was that he shot everyday railroading,” Ted told me. “Special events like WP’s California Zephyr detouring over Donner Pass were part of the portfolio, but I don't recall seeing a lot of excursions in his collection. Primarily it was regular old railroading and he just happened to be there — with a great eye for light and composition, not to mention fine darkroom technique.” 

Ted even followed in Malloy’s footsteps, almost literally. He recalls some of Malloy’s work done on Tehachapi, including a shot of a westbound train preparing to enter Tunnel 2 descending the grade at Allard, a couple of miles above Caliente. “The composition featured multiple reverse curves and the location became a standard for me — and several other photographers — as time went on,” says Ted. 

And that’s probably the biggest reason I wanted to present these images — to inspire. I’m disappointed I can’t convey a fuller, richer story about W. E. Malloy Jr., but how lucky we are that the legacy of a man like him can reach new audiences 70 years later. And, if anyone out there knows more than I do, please use the Comments section. We’d all like to know more about this man. 

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