Shaughnessy was born in 1933 in Troy, New York, where he lived for most of his life. He began photographing railroads early, especially at Troy Union Station and then further afield as a teenager and beyond. He received an engineering degree from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, became a licensed professional engineer, and taught civil engineering courses. He retired in 1995 as the director of environmental health for Rensselaer County.
In addition to being a photographer and engineer, Shaughnessy was an author, historian, collector, presenter, and someone always eager to share his time and talents with anyone who was interested. He wrote numerous articles for many publications including Trains magazine, where editor David P. Morgan championed his work. His column, “The Shaughnessy Files,” was a fixture of Classic Trains magazine in recent years.
Shaughnessy’s books include two definitive railroad histories, Delaware & Hudson and The Rutland Road, both published by Howell-North Books. He received the Railway & Locomotive Historical Society’s lifetime photography award in 1987. More recently, his work was the subject of two monographs, The Call of Trains: Railroad Photographs by Jim Shaughnessy by Jeff Brouws (W.W. Norton, 2008) and Jim Shaughnessy: Essential Witness by Kevin P. Keefe, Brouws, and Wendy Burton (Thames & Hudson, 2017).
The Center prepared a traveling exhibition in conjunction with The Call of Trains that has traveled to five venues. Shaughnessy was a featured presenter at our Conversations conference in 2007 and Conversations Northeast conference in 2016.
“Of all the pioneers who revolutionized railroad photography in the postwar decades, few equal the status of Jim Shaughnessy, one of the deans of the field, especially as measured by his powerful images from the steam-to-diesel era of the 1950s and ’60s,” Kevin P. Keefe, a member of the Center’s board of directors, wrote in an obituary for Trains magazine. Center member Oren Helbok posted a beautiful tribute on his website, WhereSteamLives.net.
Shaughnessy is survived by his wife, Carol, son, Jim Jr., and two grandchildren. The family has designated the Center for memorial gifts, which we will receive gratefully and will help foster the digitization of his collection.
Gifts to the Center’s Shaughnessy Fund will help with the digitization of his collection.