Stan Kistler


Westbound Union Pacific freight train leaving Cheyenne, Wyoming, just before it started snowing on November 4, 1956. Engines are 4-6-6-4 Challenger no. 3996 and 4-8-8-4 Big Boy no. 4009. The photo was made during a three-week road trip across the American West, which will be well-covered in Stan Kistler’s presentation at the conference.

Railroading became an important part of Stan Kistler’s life well before he recorded his first photographic image in 1943, at age 12. About half a century later, in 1996, the Railway & Locomotive Historical Society recognized Kistler’s long-term accomplishments with the prestigious Railroad History Award for Photography. As their citation states, “he has not only documented the railroads of the West, but crafted beautiful images that will last as long as railroads and their history endure.”

Stan grew up in southern California (San Diego and Pasadena—both of which were Santa Fe towns), and his long-term devotion to that memorable road resulted in many equally memorable images, 174 of which are featured in an acclaimed recent book titled “Stan Kistler’s Santa Fe in Black & White.” But the extent of Kistler’s work is much broader than just the AT&SF: he has recorded thousands of scenes along numerous other rail lines throughout western North America. From the mid-1940s onward, Kistler was devoted to monochrome imagery, and his darkroom work was superlative. He didn’t add 35mm Kodachrome to his camera bag until 1954, yet he nonetheless captured many colorful highlights of steam’s last days, and beyond, with that ASA 10 speed film and its successors.

Imagery also dominated Kistler’s professional career, which included graphic arts positions with the prestigious California Institute of Technology in southern California, and later with the Grass Valley Group (a division of Tektronix) in the Sierra foothills of northern California—not too far from Espee’s Donner Pass line. Stan remained an active railroading image-maker throughout his technical career and into retirement. Last November, the extended Kistler clan, including wife Brenda, their two daughters, and two grandchildren, celebrated his 80th birthday.

– Steve VanDenburgh