Railroad Heritage Visual Archive


John F. Bjorklund Collection
All 99 boxes and 55,000 color slides of the Center’s John F. Bjorklund Collection, a gift of his widow, Rose. Bjorklund wrote the location and date on the mount of every slide. The collection is a trove of information and imagery, dating from the 1960s to the 2000s and spanning the entirety of the United States and Canada. Photograph by Jeff Mast.

The Center cares for more than 200,000 photographs in its Railroad Heritage Visual Archive. The Collections and Acquisitions Committee of the Center’s board of directors and executive director Scott Lothes oversee new acquisitions. Preservation activities take place both in house and in concert with the Lake Forest College Library Archives and Special Collections, which has a recognized heritage of stewardship of more than a century. The Library considers the Center “a partner in promoting its railroad photographic holdings,” which the Center amplifies with materials it has acquired from nationally-known railroad photographers together with non-photographic works of railroad art. The Special Collections division at Lake Forest processes and conserves collections, often with financial support generated by the Center, and cooperates with the Center in publication of all its railroad holdings.

Archival work occurs daily in the Center’s office in Madison, Wisconsin, following the hire of Jordan Radke as full-time archivist in January 2015. Radke supervises graduate student interns from the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s School of Library and Information Studies. Utilizing facilities in both Madison and Lake Forest, the Center can handle multiple collections simultaneously to reduce backlogs and to ensure the processing of materials is up-to-date. Together the Center’s and Lake Forest’s collections have gained recognition as a nationally significant repository of railroad photography.

Download the Center’s Collections Management Policy (206 KB PDF file), prepared by the Collections and Acquisitions Committee and adopted by the full board of directors in November 2014.

Highlights include:

  • Wallace W. Abbey Collection, approximately 23,000 black-and-white negatives and 8,000 color slides, acquired in 2010
  • John F. Bjorklund Collection, 55,000 color slides, acquired in 2011
  • Ken Burbach Collection, approximately 1,800 color slides, acquired in 2011
  • Perry Frank Johnson Collection, approximately 5,000 black-and-white prints, acquired in 2009
  • Leo King Collection, approximately 14,000 images of various formats, acquired in 2006
  • J. Parker Lamb Collection, approximately 1,500 black-and-white negatives in four groups (as of May 2016, with more on the way), acquired in 2015
  • Hal Lewis Collection, approximately 1,000 images of various formats, acquired in 2011
  • Glenn Oestreich Collection, approximately 20 small boxes of prints and several thousand negatives, acquired in 2010
  • David Plowden Collection, approximately 150 black-and-white railroad publicity prints and 30 archival prints for exhibition, acquired in 2012
  • Ted Rose Collection, approximately 4,400 black-and-white negatives, acquired in 2006
  • Fred M. Springer Collection, approximately 8,000 black-and-white negatives and 50,000 color slides, acquired in 2011
  • Smaller collections from Lewis Ableidinger, Norm Adler, Chris Burger, Luther Gette, George R. Jones, Arno Lenz, Willis McCaleb, Bob Olmsted, Norbert Shacklette, ranging from a dozen of photographs to several hundred
  • Additionally, the Center assisted Lake Forest College in identifying and describing photographs in its Arthur Dubin Collection, with more than 400 examples available on


Many railroad photographers are deeply concerned about finding permanent homes for their work. If you are one of them, you may wish to consider the Center for Railroad Photography & Art, which has an active, selective acquisitions program through our Railroad Heritage Visual Archive. The Center currently cares for about 200,000 railroad photographs, both at our office in Madison, Wisconsin, and at the Archives and Special Collections of the Lake Forest College Library, our archival partner, in Lake Forest, Illinois. The staffs at both have strong histories of professionally archiving photographs, and also of presenting their holdings through publications, exhibitions, and conferences. Our interests span the world and the entire history of railroad photography, from the 1840s to today.


Because there are huge numbers of railroad photographs and because a great deal of specialized and costly work goes into processing photographs professionally, the Center carefully reviews all offers of photography donations before deciding which ones to accept. The review and decisions are made by the Collections and Acquisitions Committee of the Center’s board of directors.

If you would like us to consider adding your collection to our archive, please get in touch with us by sending an email to info [at] railphoto-art [dot] org. Please describe your collection briefly, including, at a minimum:

  • Size: the approximate total number of photographs and the amount of physical space they occupy
  • Format(s): Slides, negatives, prints, etc.
  • Range of years depicted, e.g., 1960s to 1990s
  • Geographic regions depicted
  • Railroads depicted
  • Details about how your collection is currently housed
  • Details about how your collection is currently organized and documented (please be accurate in your description)
  • If available, send an example of your organization scheme and documentation
  • If possible, send a few (no more than five) sample images as low resolution JPEGs

Before submitting, we recommend that you download a copy of our Collection Management Policy (206 KB PDF file). It provides valuable, additional information. Our Collections and Acquisitions Committee reviews all offers very thoroughly. Because the committee meets only four times a year, you may not receive a decision from us for three months or so. When we decide that we are not able to accept a collection, we make every effort to suggest other, often nearby institutions that photographers might pursue as a home for their work.

Quanah, Texas, by Fred Springer

Detroit, Michigan, by John Bjorklund
Kodachrome slides from the Center’s Fred M. Springer (above) and John F. Bjorklund collections.


The Center’s Railroad Heritage Visual Archive is a professional archive repository with collections housed at the Center’s office in Madison, Wisconsin, along with the Lake Forest College Library Archives and Special Collections in Lake Forest, Illinois. Led by Jordan Radke, Archives Manager in Madison, and Anne Thomason, College Archivist and Librarian for Special Collections at Lake Forest, the Center’s collections receive professional archive treatment. The Center follows established archival principles, with Radke and Thomason supervising work performed by graduate interns, to ensure the more than 200,000 materials in our possession receive proper care.

A newly acquired collection goes through several phases:

Phase 1: Arrangement and Description

  • This is the initial planning phase for any collection where we get familiar with its materials.
  • In this phase we will begin to organize the collection and create an inventory along with any information that can be used in a finding aid.
  • Questions to address:
    • What is in this collection?
    • What is the original order of this collection?
    • What are the main groupings of this collection?
  • Keep in mind:
    • Maintain original order if possible
    • Understand a collection’s provenance
    • Gain a general overview of a collection
    • Recognize the condition and extent of a collection’s materials

Phase 2: Processing

  • This phase involves long, tedious legwork but is essential in the general preservation and accessibility of the collection.
  • Once the collection is organized we can apply labels to binders and pages while correctly matching up the physical materials with a digital inventory that will include metadata.
  • Questions to address:
    • Are materials in archival safe housing?
    • Can this collection be digitized?
  • Keep in mind:
    • Use archival safe supplies such as plastic sleeves, polyethylene (PE) and polypropylene (PP), and heavy duty clamshell D-ring binders for photographic materials
    • Perform any necessary cleanup such as removing rusty staples or paperclips and replace with archival safe fasteners

Phase 3: Metadata and Finding Aid

  • Metadata, or data about data, are necessary to fully understand the materials in our collections. At the Center we record detailed metadata and embed that raw data into any digitized materials.
  • Once we have finished processing a collection we can create a detailed and cohesive finding aid. This is the best way for our users to understand the scope and content of a collection.
  • Questions to address:
    • Are all available metadata recorded?
    • Are there any unique metadata fields attributed to this collection?
    • Is the finding aid available online and beneficial to users?
  • Keep in mind:
    • Metadata can include information such as creator, title, description, date, location, and railroad name
    • Finding aids include collection summary, search terms, administrative information, biographical note, scope and content, and container list

Phase 4: Accessibility

  • In the final phase, we strive to make our collections available to the public and searchable online via finding aids.
  • Throughout the previous phases the Center will attempt to provide previews of collections online as they are processed.
  • Questions to address:
    • Can users find our collections online?
    • Where can we make our collections accessible?
    • Are the materials in our collections searchable?
  • Keep in mind:
    • The Center shares samples from its collections on its social media accounts with Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, Instagram, LinkedIn, and YouTube
    • The Center’s usage terms are for educational use only, please contact the Center for other usage requests
    • The Center’s copyright notice is: © YYYY, Center for Railroad Photography and Art, www.railphoto-art.org

Maddie Shovers, a graduate intern from the University of Wisconsin’s School of Library and Information Studies, scanning negatives from the Center’s Leo King Collection.Johnson binder
Prints from the Perry Frank Johnson Collection after Center staff members and volunteers rehoused them into archival-safe pages and binders.

Out of the Archives

Center office
“Out of the Archives” is a regular column in Railroad Heritage that brings to light the world of professional archiving, providing a regular forum to share selections from the Center’s collections and tips for maintaining your own photographs. Whether you are a photographer, collector, or avid fan, it is important to organize and preserve the materials you create or collect. In this digital version of the column, we will be delivering every installment to further promote the significance and standards of the archiving world. Please get in touch with Jordan Radke, Archives Manager, jordan@railphoto-art.org, if there are any topics you would like us to cover in the future.

Railroad Heritage Visual Archive
The Center’s collections, comprising some 200,000 photographs, form the basis of our Railroad Heritage Visual Archive. The team in Madison, Wisconsin, consists of Jordan Radke, Archives Manager, summer graduate archival interns and volunteers. We also partner with Lake Forest College, working with Anne Thomason, Archivist, along with graduate archival interns, to process and maintain Center materials housed in the college’s Archives & Special Collections in the Donnelley and Lee Library. Scott Lothes, Center president and executive director, and the Collections & Acquisitions Committee of the board of directors provide oversight.

Archival Principles
Here at the Center we adhere to established archival principles to ensure safety and accuracy. Our work as archivists includes:

  • Preservation. One of the Center’s main objectives is properly preserving our collections. This includes appropriately caring for and handling our materials by using archival-safe supplies, and providing a controlled environment where our collections are housed.
  • Processing. Processing materials is a long, tedious, and detailed endeavor. Organizing a collection appropriately sets up the rest of the processing work that includes any digitization and metadata entry. This work is essential to the long-term care and future accessibility of a collection.
  • Arrangement and Description. To maintain quick and easy retrieval of our materials, we organize every collection down to its individual items, if possible, given the time and resources available to us.
  • Accessibility. Finally, the Center will make sure that users have access to our processed collections. We create detailed finding aids to describe each collection and its contents and share images electronically through our websites and many social media outlets.

Out of the Archives

Additional Resources