Robert A. Hadley Collection

Biography

Robert A. Hadley (1912–2006) was born on May 10, 1912, to Florence and Frank Hadley in Bancroft, Michigan. Hadley grew up in a railroad family, giving him the opportunity to experience train culture firsthand. His grandfather was a longtime employee of the Grand Trunk Western (GTW), where he worked as a crossing watchman. When Hadley turned sixteen, he went to work alongside his grandfather, completing odd jobs at the GTW depot. This position instilled in him a deep love for railroading that he never outgrew.

During his teenage years, Hadley worked at a local theater chain. While initially hired as an usher, his responsibilities eventually included lettering advertisements and signs, which fostered an interest in art. Hadley’s work at the theater chain led to a position painting and lettering billboards with the Walker Company, a local advertising agency, where he continued to finesse his artistic capacity. By the time that he married Frances Eyre in 1934, Hadley had begun to apply his talent to a new passion: photography. He was so involved in his photographic work that he built his own darkroom, enlarger, and even prepared his own chemicals.

His obsession became a career in 1941 when he joined the military and worked as a reconnaissance photographer for the U.S. Army Air Corps. Hadley was stationed at a number of locations in the U.S in the years leading up to U.S. involvement in World War II, and he served in Glatton, Cambrideshire, England during the war. After his discharge in 1945, Hadley moved into commercial photography and began working for the Ferguson Corporation (later known as Massey-Ferguson), a farm implement manufacturer. Soon, his love for the railroad resurfaced, and he combined his two passions into one overarching hobby: photographing trains.

Hadley’s work is characterized by more than just the typical “wedge” shots. Trains are the stars of his photographs; however, he treated their settings as equally important. Hadley’s images depict trains traveling through stunning landscapes and historic building districts, conveying a grander view of the surrounding environment. Over the course of many decades, Hadley traveled across the United States and Canada, and he even ventured to Europe to capture these amazing images.

Hadley was very active in a number of railroading groups, including the GTW Historical Society, Steam Railroading Institute in Owosso, Michigan, and he even helped found the Michigan Railroad Club (where he held membership no. 1 with great pride) whose excursions he photographed and included in his collections. Though Hadley passed away on June 25, 2006, at the impressive age of ninety-four (amazingly, he was shooting up until this time), his images not only preserve his legacy, but also serve as an invaluable look at the history of railroading in North America.

For an extended profile, see Kevin P. Keefe’s article, “An Eye for the Machine,” in Classic Trains, Winter 2003, pages 64-69.

Robert Hadley Robert A. Hadley in 2003, age 91

Hadley Collection Overview

  • Gift of Apex Foundation
  • 6,618 black and white negatives
  • 1930s to 2000s
  • Coverage includes the United States, England, and Canada with particular emphasis on Michigan and the Upper-Midwest, as well as Colorado and Wyoming

Highlights