Railroads helped build the United States—and the world—as we know it, uniting people across vast distances while redefining concepts of space and time. Railroads and photography grew up together, and the visual arts are particularly well suited to portraying and interpreting the enormous impact of the railroad on history, society, and culture. Since its founding in 1997, the Center for Railroad Photography & Art has been passionately committed to telling railroading’s stories through imagery: interpreting the past creatively, connecting it to the present while looking to the future.
The Center, a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit arts and education organization, achieves its mission through exhibitions, conferences, and publications that spring from its core commitment to collect, preserve, and then make widely available imagery that portrays the nearly 200-year history of railroads. While based in Madison, Wisconsin, the Center does not maintain a museum space or large facilities, but instead collaborates on its many projects with individuals and institutions ranging from museums and universities to libraries and historical societies. This approach allows the Center to focus on railroad imagery and the profound and moving stories it can tell.
Conversations, the Center’s annual spring conference, has been held annually since 2003 and sold out for the past three years. The much anticipated gathering at Lake Forest College has attracted hundreds to hear renowned presenters as well as to meet and develop relationships with those who share an expertise and interest in railroad imagery and its significance. In 2016 the Center organized its first-ever regional conference at the University of Connecticut at Storrs. High turnout of more than 100 registrants and incredibly positive feedback have the Center seriously considering more regional events.
Railroad Heritage Visual Archive maintained by the Center consists of more than 200,000 images. Archival work is conducted both in the Center’s offices in Madison, Wisconsin—led by full time professional archives manager Jordan Radke—as well as in partnership with professional archival staff at Lake Forest College. Recent collections preserved, catalogued, and made available include the complete works of such luminaries as Wallace W. Abbey, J. Parker Lamb, and Ted Rose.
Exhibitions prepared and circulated by the Center number more than twenty, seen at some seventy different venues across the country. These shows have enriched the lives of hundreds of thousands to the grand sweep of the railroad and its great impact. Most ambitious and successful was Railroaders: Jack Delano’s Homefront Photography, a collaboration with the Chicago History Museum that told the story of Chicago’s railroad community and attracted half a million visitors. Other exhibitions present the works of renowned photographers such as David Plowden, O. Winston Link, and Jim Shaughnessy. Venues have included the California State Railroad Museum, Cincinnati Union Terminal, Grand Central Terminal, Milwaukee’s Grohmann Museum, and the Weisman Art Museum in Minneapolis.
Publications have immeasurably expanded the Center’s national and international reach and reputation, while engaging more readers, producing new scholarship, and providing platforms for important stories and images that otherwise would not be published. Railroad Heritage, the Center’s journal, has grown from 20 pages, published twice a year, to a regular quarterly with at least 48 pages and a bold new design introduced in 2016. To accompany the Railroaders exhibition, the Center published a 200-page, hardbound catalogue that won national awards. Other books focus on collections, including a forthcoming retrospective on the photography of Wallace W. Abbey.
Directors and Officers
T. Bondurant French, Glen Ellyn, Illinois, Chairman
Bon French is the Executive Chairman of Adams Street Partners, one of the largest and oldest managers of private equity investment in the world. Begun in 1972, Adams Street has offices in Chicago, New York, Menlo Park, London, Singapore, Beijing, and Tokyo. Bon is a Trustee of Northwestern University and chairman emeritus of the Chicago History Museum. He is a member of the CFA Institute and a former director of the National Venture Capital Association. A life long rail enthusiast and photographer, Bon has photographed over 650 railroads and shortlines, principally in the United States and Canada. Bon worked as a brakeman for the Soo Line Railroad during the summers while earning an MBA from Kellogg Graduate School of Management.
Jeff Brouws, Stanfordville, New York
Jeff Brouws, born in San Francisco in 1955, has pursued photography since age 13. Over the ensuing 40 years, Brouws has compiled a visual survey of America’s cultural landscape. Besides being instrumental in helping organize our yearly conference, Brouws brings knowledge of 20th century photography and a broad background in publishing—his seven books include monographs on the works of Richard Steinheimer and Jim Shaughnessy, as well as Approaching Nowhere (2006), a compilation of his own imagery of America’s evolving suburban and urban landscapes. His photographs can be found in numerous collections such as the Whitney Museum of American Art, the San Francisco Museum of Art, and Harvard’s Fogg Museum.
Norman Carlson, Lake Forest, Illinois
Norm Carlson spent 34 years with Arthur Andersen, the last ten as the worldwide managing partner of the transportation industry practice; he began his second career as an independent consultant following his first retirement in 2000. Among his assignments was being chairman of the board of RailWorks and being a railroad trustee on two occasions during the regulatory review period. He is president of the Shore Line Interurban Historical Society and managing editor of its publication First & Fastest; moderator of the Sandhouse Group, the monthly railroad discussion group of the Transportation Center at Northwestern University; and past president of the East Troy Railroad Museum. He has number of publication credits and his photographic work has been published. Norm served in the First Infantry Division in Vietnam and was awarded the Bronze Star for meritorious service. He is a graduate of the University of Illinois.
H. Roger Grant, Clemson, South Carolina
H. Roger Grant, Kathryn and Calhoun Lemon Professor of History at Clemson University, is an active writer of railroad history. Included in his publications are company histories of the Chicago & North Western, Chicago Great Western, Erie Lackawanna, Georgia & Florida, and Wabash railroads. Some of Grant’s recent books are Visionary Railroader: Jervis Langdon, Jr. and the Transportation Revolution (Indiana, 2008), Twilight Rails: The Final Era of Railroad Building in the Midwest (Minnesota, 2010), Railroads and the America People (Indiana, 2012), and The Louisville, Cincinnati & Charleston Rail Road: Dreams of Linking North and South (Indiana, 2014). He is a native of Albia, Iowa, and taught at the University of Akron for 26 years before he joined the History Department at Clemson. Grant has had a lifelong interest in railroads, sparked in part by the trains of the Burlington, the Minneapolis & St. Louis, and the Wabash that served his hometown.
John Gruber, Madison, Wisconsin, Founder and Past President
John Gruber is founder of the Center for Railroad Photography & Art and previously served as president and editor of its journal, Railroad Heritage. He has been a free-lance railroad photographer since 1960, and he received awards from the Railway & Locomotive Historical Society in 1994 for lifetime achievement in photography and in 2009 for an article, “Railroading Journeys,” about the life, times, and photography of Lucius Beebe and Charles Clegg. He is contributing editor toClassic Trains, author of Classic Steam (2009), and co-author of Caboose (2001), Travel by Train, the American Railroad Poster (2002), Railway Photography (2003), and Milwaukee Road’s Hiawathas (2006). He edited Vintage Rails magazine from 1995 to 1999.
Nona Hill, Madison, Wisconsin, Treasurer
Nona Hill has been a rail enthusiast her entire life, having grown up next to the Milwaukee-Watertown-Madison line in Wisconsin. She and Clark Johnson, her husband, operate High Iron Travel, operator of the Caritas, the most widely traveled private car in America. Clark is on the board of directors of Iowa Pacific Holdings, which operates several short lines in the west, and the American Association of Private Railroad Car Owners. He is a former science adviser to the science committee of the U.S. House of Representatives. Nona is treasurer of Pro-Rail, a Madison-based passenger advocacy group, and vice-president of WISARP, the Wisconsin chapter of the National Association of Railroad Passengers.
David Kahler, Pittsboro, North Carolina, Vice Chair
David Kahler has practiced architecture for more than 30 years and has been recognized by his peers as a Fellow of the American Institute of Architects. After serving as the president of Kahler Slater Architects, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, for nearly three decades, Mr. Kahler founded DK Consulting in 2001 and serves as president and design adviser. Many projects for which he has been the design principal have won awards, including the Milwaukee Art Museum, Wisconsin State Capitol Restoration, the Haggerty Museum of Art at Marquette University, and the Pettit National Ice Center. The Milwaukee Landmark Lighting project received a national urban design award from the American Institute of Architects.
Kevin P. Keefe, Milwaukee, Wisconsin
Kevin P. Keefe was born in Chicago in 1951 and graduated from Michigan State University’s School of Journalism in 1973. At MSU, he was a key figure in the effort to restore Pere Marquette steam locomotive 1225. He has worked for daily newspapers in Michigan and Wisconsin, and as an associate editor and editor-in-chief (1992-2000) ofTrains. He became associate publisher in 2000, and, since 2005 he has been vice-president-editorial and publisher for Trains’ parent, Kalmbach Publishing Co., Waukesha, Wisconsin.
Albert O. Louer, Williamsburg, Virginia
A native of Highland Park, Illinois, the Chicago & North Western nurtured Louer’s interest in transportation and railroads. He was graduated from Lake Forest Academy and the College of William and Mary with a concentration in history. He started at Colonial Williamsburg in 1968, moving to Mystic Seaport in Connecticut and the Indianapolis Museum of Art. He returned to Colonial Williamsburg in 1982 as Director of Public Relations. In 1991, he moved into fundraising, first as Director of Corporate and Foundation Relations and now as Senior Director for Major Gifts. His interests and collections are in how the railroads developed marketing techniques and advanced the art and science of promotion.
Peter J.C. Mosse, New York, New York
Peter Mosse grew up in England where he witnessed the end of the steam era on British Railways. Following steam’s demise in 1968, he started traveling abroad to ride and photograph surviving steam and traditional railroads elsewhere. Over the ensuing forty years he visited more than fifty countries in that pursuit. In 1980, on impulse, he purchased a railroad painting and thus started what is now a collection of more than 150 railroad-themed, original works of art. Mosse has an MA degree from Oxford University and an MBA from the Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania. He worked in London and Kuala Lumpur for the UK Rothschild banking group before moving to New York in 1977 to set up a precious metals trading subsidiary, and he has lived in New York since then. He is treasurer of the Brasenose College Charitable Foundation (Oxford), serves on the audit and beneficiaries committees of St George’s Society of New York—the state’s oldest charity—and is a past international president of the Circumnavigators Club, which was founded in New York in 1902.
Michael P. Schmidt, Owosso, Michigan, Secretary
Schmidt—a collector of railroad photographs and paintings—is an orthopedic surgeon. In 1984 he moved to Michigan to complete his training in orthopedic surgery and has been in private practice in Owosso almost continuously since 1990. He is Vice Chief of Staff, Chief of Surgery, and serves on the board of trustees of his hospital. He is Assistant Regional Clerkship Director for the Central Michigan University School of Medicine. His interest in the images of railroading dates back to his days in Los Angeles where he and his brother rode bicycles the 20 miles to LAUPT to wander the platforms and get what pictures they could. Schmidt continues to photograph, draw, and paint railroad subjects. He collects railroad photographs, especially by photographers in the transitional period of the 1940s through the 1960s, and has started to acquire commissioned and noncommissioned paintings.
Richard Tower, San Francisco, California
Richard Tower is President of the Candelaria Fund, a private family foundation making grants supporting self-help programs to combat poverty and community-based organizations that preserve local history and culture. His career includes management stints with Amtrak and Southern Pacific, an executive position with Smith Barney Harris Upham & Co., and rail consulting work. He has served as Vice-President and Treasurer of the Cumbers & Toltec Scenic Management Corporation, and he has served on the boards of the Bay Area Electric Railroad Association and Western Railway Museum, Friends of the Cumbers & Toltec Scenic Railroad, BritRail Travel International, and the San Francisco Embarcadero YMCA.
Michael Ross Valentine, Ferndale, Michigan
Michael Ross Valentine is Vice-President and Co-Principal Valentine Robotics Inc. of Sterling Heights, Michigan. He also serves as adjunct faculty for robotics at several local colleges, and serves on the academic advisory board for Macomb Community College’s M-TEC education facility. Valentine Robotics was founded in 1996, and specializes in robotics and automation system programming, training and integration. He previously worked for the BNSF Railway and UPS. Valentine lived and studied at the University of Innsbruck, Austria, and is an avid photographer in the U.S. and abroad. He has written articles and had photos published in Trains, CTC Board, and foreign publications. He lives in the Detroit area with his wife Agnes from Austria, and their adopted daughter Maya Xia Shen Valentine from China.
Scott Lothes became the Center’s full-time executive director in 2011, after serving on its staff part-time since 2008. In 2013 he succeeded John Gruber as president and editor of the Center’s journal, Railroad Heritage. Fascinated by railroads from birth, Lothes grew up watching coal trains in West Virginia. He took up photography while attending college at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, where he was graduated magna cum laude in 2002 with a degree in Mechanical Engineering. To date more than 300 of his photographs have appeared in print, along with forty bylined articles in magazines including Trains, Classic Trains, Railfan & Railroad, and Railroads Illustrated, as well as two front-page travel stories in the Sunday Oregonian, Portland, Oregon’s leading newspaper. Lothes won the Trains and Canon photography contest in 2003, tied for first place in the Center’s 2006 Creative Photography Awards Program, and in 2008 staff at Trains selected one of his photos for inclusion in its “100 Greatest Railroad Photos” special issue. He presented at the Center’s 2008 conference, and he has made numerous multimedia presentations at Winterail, Summerail, the Autumn Leaf Slideshow, and Beecherfest. Prior to joining the Center, Lothes spent three years as assistant editor of the engineering magazine Sound & Vibration and two years as an English teacher at a high school in Hokkaido, Japan. He has also lived in Oregon and traveled extensively in Vietnam and China. Since moving to Wisconsin, he has undertaken a project to document the railroads of the Upper Mississippi River Valley, where he enjoys hiking and camping with his wife, Maureen Muldoon.
Jordan Radke began interning for the Center in January 2014, where his first project was processing the 47,000 color slides in the Fred M. Springer Collection. Radke completed his master’s degree from the University of Wisconsin’s School of Library and Information Studies in May 2014 and joined the Center full-time as its first archives manager in January 2015. His previous archiving experience includes work at the Wisconsin Historical Society and Engineering Hall of the University of Wisconsin. He received a bachelor’s degree in history from UW-Madison with a certificate in European Studies. An avid fan of all UW athletics and London’s Arsenal soccer team, Radke was co-captain of his high school travel soccer team and continues to enjoy recreational soccer in Madison. Working with the Center’s collections has piqued his interest in railroads and especially their relationships with landscapes and cities.
John W. Barriger III National Railroad Library
University of Missouri-St. Louis, Thomas Jefferson Library Building, 1 University Blvd., St. Louis, Missouri 63121-4499, 314-516-7253
California State Railroad Museum Library
111 “I” Street, Sacramento, CA 95814
The CSRM Library provides public access to the museum’s documentary collections. The Library is located next to the Museum of Railroad History on the second floor of the Big Four Building. The reading room is open to the public without charge Tuesday through Saturday from 1 to 5 p.m.
Cleveland State University Library
Rhodes Tower Room 320, 2121 Euclid Avenue, Cleveland, Ohio 44115, 216-687-2449
The Nickel Plate Railroad collection consists of files, drawings, and images of the railroad, especially as it passes through Cleveland. A general NKP Collection contains some small panoramic negatives of NKP views and Gerald Adams donated two albums of photos and many boxes of NKP drawings. In addition, the North American Railway Foundation underwrote the purchase of two other collections of Nickel Plate photographic negatives, one being from the company’s publicity department and the other from the personal collection of the late Mr. John A. Rehor, author of The Nickel Plate Story. While most of the material is unprocessed, NARF is funding preliminary work on the Nickel Plate and the Newburgh & South Shore collections.
Denver Public Library
10 W. Fourteenth Ave. Pkwy., Denver, Colorado 80204, 303-640-6200
The online collection contains 50,000 images of Native Americans, pioneers, early railroads, mining, Denver, and Colorado towns. Photographers of interest to railroad historians are listed here.
Photographer, Subjects Photographed, Call number or name
- George Beam, Railroads, Pueblo Indians, GB1
- William H. Jackson, The American West, W H Jackson
- Louis McClure, Architecture and Industry, MCC 1
- Otto Perry, Railroads 1915 to 1955, OP1
- Robert Richardson, Narrow Gauge Railroads, RR1
James J. Hill Library
80 W. 4th St., St. Paul, MN 55102
Historic photographs in the James J. Hill, Louis W. Hill, Reed Hyde, and L. Dorcy manuscript collections are available online. As part of the Hill Manuscript collection, the library houses more than 8,000 images that span a century of economic development in the American Northwest and Western Canada. Each image is available for purchase.
Lake Forest College
Lake Forest, Illinois 60045-2399, 847-735-5064
The Donnelley and Lee Library lists photos, mostly from the 19th century, in the Munson Paddock Collection. The library is named for Eliott Donnelley (1904-1975), a notable railroad enthusiast, modeler, preservationist, and book collector.
Museum of the Rockies
600 West Kagy Blvd., Bozeman, MT 59717-2730
The Museum of the Rockies has more than 20,000 photographs by Ron V. Nixon, made from 1916 to his death in 1989. The collection also contains records, correspondence and historical writings that span the steam, diesel, and electric eras in several states and Canada. There are 9,763 images and data records entered as of January 5, 2007. Nixon’s first published photograph was in Railway Age magazine in 1930, and later his work appeared in magazines, newspapers, rail company posters, advertisements, and calendars. He retired in 1975 as manager and wire chief for the Northern Pacific Relay Division in Missoula, Montana.
Web site devoted to railroad political cartoons, 1850-1940. The site contains hundreds of cartoons, with sources and some brief descriptions. High quality copies are available to interested parties. The cartoons come from the private collection of Mark Aldrich, the Marilyn Carlson Nelson professor of economics emeritus at Smith College. Aldrich is the author of several railroad-related books, including Death Rode the Rails: American Railroad Accidents and Safety, 1828-1965.
313 Price Place, Suite 13
Madison, Wisconsin 53705
info [at] railphoto-art [dot] org
We do not maintain our own museum space but instead partner with institutions across the country to host our traveling exhibitions. We enjoy visitors to our small office in Madison and we typically keep normal business hours of 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., Monday through Friday. Please check ahead of time to ensure that someone will be available to meet with you.