Now the John E. Gruber Creative Photography Awards Program, the competitive program started in 2002. It is devoted exclusively to contemporary railroad photography and attracts hundreds of entrants annually from North America, South America, Europe, Asia, and Australia. Winning photographs are published in the Center’s journal, Railroad Heritage®, and in Railfan & Railroad magazine, are displayed at the California State Railroad Museum, and appear on this website.
Gruber has been a photography and preservation activist in the railroad community since 1960. His own photography has been published widely, especially in Trains Magazine. “A remarkable, movie-like sequence” of June 18, 1961, photographs showing a Milwaukee Road passenger train passing into and through a tunnel at Tunnel City, Wisconsin, brought him widespread attention in the November issue of Trains that year. In its August 1965 issue, Trains devoted 18 pages and its cover to a Gruber photo story on Chicago’s Union Station—a highly unusual honor. One notable and often reproduced image, “It Could Be a Cathedral,” shows a nun in habit walking alone through the station’s ecclesiastical-looking colonnade.
In 1994, the Railway & Locomotive Historical Society presented Gruber with its Fred A. and Jane R. Stindt Photography Award. From 1995-99, Gruber edited Vintage Rails. In 1997 his intense interest in both photography and preservation, and his concern about the welfare and longevity of amateur and professional photographers’ work, led him to organize the founding of the Center for Railroad Photography & Art.
As an author Gruber has written Classic Steam, edited Railroaders: Jack Delano’s Homefront Photography (published by the Center in 2014), and is co-author of five other volumes of railroad-related images. He is a prolific writer of magazine articles, and recently wrote an introductory essay about preservation of railroad equipment for Joel Jensen’s Steam: An Enduring Legacy.