Fred Springer (1928-2012), who started making railroad photographs in the 1940s in Colorado and New Mexico, gave his photographs to the Center along with a substantial donation to catalog and preserve them. His geographic reach of railroads continually expanded until he had covered most areas of the world. The gift included about 80,000 color slides and 7,500 black-and-white negatives.
“We cannot thank Fred Springer enough for the confidence he has placed in the Center,” said John Gruber, president, at the time of the gift. “The funds he has generously provided not only will preserve his collection but will also help us develop a system for dealing efficiently with large collections in the future.”
The city of Temple, Texas, named a park in his honor in 2011, recognizing his contributions to the development of its Railroad and Heritage Museum. The park is next to the Santa Fe depot, where the museum is located. Springer and his wife, Dale, moved to Salado, near Temple, in 1980. Today, they live in Santa Fe, New Mexico. They have three children–Kathryn Kuddes of Allen, Texas, Paul Springer of Jackson, Wyoming, and Carol Luttrell of Santa Fe, New Mexico, and three Luttrell grandchildren.
When he donated his library and sizeable timetable and pass collection to the Temple museum, he personally funded an archivist for several years to ensure the proper cataloging and preservation of the material. He recognizes not everyone has the capability to provide such funding but to the extent possible he hopes all donors of collections would attempt to provide some funding to support their donation.
Springer’s favorite railroads, represented in the collection, were narrow gauge: Rio Grande Southern, a 3-foot gauge line in southwestern Colorado, and the 2-foot, 6-inch Patagonia Express in southern Argentina. He and Dale rode the Express four or five times. “It is an unbelievable railroad, 402 kilometers long, the closest thing still running that is a replica of Southern Pacific’s narrow gauge in California. Both are in quasi-desert areas and parallel mountain ranges, the Andes in Argentina versus the Sierras in California. Only the gauge is different, 3 feet versus 2 feet 6 inches,” he said.
Springer easily recalled details of his family’s first trip on the RGS Galloping Goose out of Ridgway, Colorado. His negative envelopes confirm the date: August 19, 1950. “My family, five people, drove up. ‘That is not enough,’ said Ed Randow, superintendent of RGS. Bob Christian, a professor at Wichita State and family, arrived, bringing the total to nine people. That was enough to run Goose no. 4 that day. Off we went to Lizard Head Pass.” Springer adds that Henry Wolford operated the Goose on this and other trips the family made on the RGS.
As a member of Friends of the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic, he was rear brakeman on Goose no. 5 when it operated out of Chama, New Mexico, beginning in 1998.
Springer was proud of a form, signed by A. E. Perlman, giving him permission to ride D&RGW diesel/steam locomotives of main and narrow gauge freight trains, except the Silverton branch, effective August 15-25, 1950. He never used it, because he never found a narrow gauge train to ride. He was “not interested in the standard gauge—not in those days.”
Springer was a native of Washington, D.C., who grew up in Houston, Texas. He graduated in 1949 in engineering from Missouri School of Mines in Rolla, Missouri, and worked for Mobil Oil Corporation and subsidiary companies. “As a result my rail photography from the early 1940s until 1963 was largely Texas, the Southwest U.S. including New Mexico, and Colorado. I had three tours of duty in the New York headquarters 1963-67, 1968-1976, and 1983-85 at which time I retired and moved back to Texas.
“Those New York years resulted in photography of the Erie Lackawanna, Central of New Jersey, and various railroads in the northeast from West Virginia to the Maritimes provinces of Canada. We lived in Lake Bluff, Illinois, 1976-83, and my children all graduated from Lake Forest High school so that period got rail photography in the Midwest.”
After retirement he and Dale traveled the world by train, visiting almost every country in South America and Europe plus South Africa, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Jordan, Syria, Australia, and New Zealand. When they lived in Texas he made many trips to Mexico when steam was still alive in the 1960s and ‘70s.
His photography has been published in books by Mallory H. Ferrell on the Rio Grande Southern, West Side Lumber, and mixed trains down South; Richard Dorman on Colorado/New Mexico narrow gauge lines; James Ehrenberger on narrow gauge in Colorado; Steve Goen on the Santa Fe, Katy, Frisco, and Southern Pacific; plus Trains and Railroad magazines.
Railroad magazine profiled Springer in its May 1973 issue as Interesting Railfan No. 125. Freeman Hubbard, editor, wrote about Springer’s travels with friends for photography, especially Everett L. De Golyer, Jr., Dallas, Texas, who suggested to Springer that locomotives and trains are dramatic, but do not tell the full story of railroad transportation. “At Everett’s suggestion he rolled back his horizon, emerged from the parish into the empire, and begin clicking his shutter at other phases of railroading,” Hubbard wrote.
Hubbard chronicled, before Springer’s extensive overseas travel, his experiences with friends in the U.S. and Mexico. He and a teen-aged neighbor, Francis Winters, rode the narrow gauge out of Alamosa, Colorado, and camped near Cumbres Pass. Springer took long train trips with Bill Schaeffer of Houston. In 1961, a rush of business prompted three Texas shortlines to operate steam again, a happening Springer, Joe R. Thompson, and George Werner recorded on film. The three also went to Mexico and across the South to photograph steam. In New Jersey, he joined a live steam group.
Hubbard quoted Springer as saying, “I like to cover a short line’s typical work day, shooting the daily conduct of business, both road and yard operations, as well as equipment, depots, and other structures. Also crumbling old enginehouses and stations on abandoned routes overgrown with weeds, and the now-rare mixed trains, doodlebugs, and branch lines.”
Springer’s remarkable experiences have resulted in a remarkable collection, which the Center is proud to preserve. —John Gruber
Also see our related feature about Springer and the Rio Grande Southern on Trains Magazine’s website.