Beebe and Clegg: Their Enduring Photographic Legacy


The historic Sierra Railroad Shops and Roundhouse at Railtown 1897, a California State Park in Jamestown, remains one of the few fully operational original shortline roundhouse complexes in the country. Locomotive no. 34 heads the daily freight run from the lumber mills to the mainline connection at Oakdale. Today, as Sierra Northern, the line serves rail customers along its forty-eight-mile route between Oakdale and Sonora. Photograph by Lucius Beebe. California State Railroad Museum, BC1991.

With dramatic images and sweeping promotional strategies, Lucius Beebe—joined in 1941 by his life partner Charles Clegg—introduced railroad photography and the world of railroading to wide popular audiences. Their pioneering efforts established a broad market and wide appreciation for rail photography, leading to its far-reaching appeal in print today. With several prints never before seen by the public, the exhibition Beebe & Clegg: Their Enduring Photographic Legacy has been assembled by the Center for Railroad Photography from source material of the book of the same title (The Center for Railroad Photography & Art, 2018).

Beebe and Clegg met for the first time in April 1941 at a brunch in Washington, D.C. The two instantly hit it off and began what would become a lifetime partnership in both their personal and professional lives. For the next quarter of a century, they compiled an impressive publishing record, while Beebe also provided a prolific outpouring of texts for newspaper columns and national magazines such as Holiday, Town & Country, Esquire, Ford Times, Gourmet, and This Week.  

In their professional lives, Beebe and Clegg began by showcasing their own heroic images of trains, moving creatively ahead with pictures and texts, reaching a peak in Mixed Train Daily. They went on to recognize other venues and photographers, giving increased attention to railroad imagery, culminating in Great Railroad Photographs U.S.A.

At a time when railroad books were almost unknown, it took a celebrity writer of the stature of Lucius Beebe to transform the seemingly prosaic subject of railroads into books that beguiled the public. Beebe and Clegg pioneered the genre of railroad books, brought their material to mass-market audiences, and established themselves as household names. Their work built the foundation for continuing interest in creative railroad photography and helped aggrandize shortline and narrow-gauge railroading.

Beebe and Clegg were the right people at the right time to bring the heroism, charm, and history of railroading to the public. Their photography and their writing demonstrated the importance of railroading in community life and contributed to America’s historical legacy. Together Beebe and Clegg created more than thirty books on railroading and Western Americana. Their legacy has grown larger than the publications they produced, as they demonstrated that the railroad serves the nation as an icon of American experience.


Lucius Beebe (left) and Charles Clegg pose along the tracks of the Southern Pacific narrow gauge in the Owens Valley of California. Their pioneering efforts established a broad market and wide appreciation for rail photography. Beebe’s 4×5-inch Graflex Model B with an adapter for a film pack rests on the ground next to him, while Clegg holds his original Kodak Medalist with a black lens barrel. Clegg made the photo using a self-timer and tripod. It appeared on the dust jacket of Mixed Train Daily. Photograph by Charles Clegg (by timer). California State Railroad Museum, BC3411.

About the Exhibition

  • 20 black-and white print
  • 21×25 inches, matted and framed
  • 4 interpretive panels and 20 exhibition labels
  • 125 linear feet, total

Contact

To book a showing or get more information, get in touch with the Center at 608-251-5785 or send an email to info [at] railphoto-art [dot] org.

Upcoming Venue

  • California State Railroad Museum, September 21 2018 through March 2019

 

Charles Clegg, the pictorialist, captured a domineering plume of smoke rising vertically from Santa Fe locomotive 3214 and balanced the image with four crossbars of the railroad’s pole line. The brakeman stands on the locomotive, indicating that it is shoving the train up Raton Pass. Clegg made this photograph at Morley, Colorado, about 1945. The cone-shaped slack pile, visible in the background, reveals the remnants of nearby coke productions. California State Railroad Museum, BC1629.