It’s Work: 150 Years of Railroaders at Work

Jack Delano’s photograph of Santa Fe car repairman Robert Hill at Topeka, Kansas, is included in the Center’s Topeka exhibition.

The Center has several photography exhibits on display now. A common theme runs through them–showing the human aspect of railroading and telling the workers’ stories. They are a part of the Center’s three-year program, “Representations of Railroad Work, Past and Present,” funded by the North American Railway Foundation. The program also features galleries and a bibliography. Exhibits are available for travel; for most, regional photographs can be added to tailor exhibits to local audiences.

“It’s Work: 150 Years of Railroaders at Work” Continues at Topeka

The Center’s exhibition about railroaders and railroad work is at the Great Overland Station, 701 North Kansas Avenue, in Topeka Kansas, through May 1, 2009. The historic station, built in 1927, is an ideal location for “A World Apart: 150 Years of Railroad Workers at Work.” Union Pacific donated the station in 1998. After a redevelopment, the station reopened in 2004. The exhibit may be seen Tuesday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

While the center’s exhibit is national in scope, it includes Topeka area views. Jack Delano, a photographer for a federal government agency, the Farm Security Administration-Office of War Information, made three photos at the Topeka Shops in 1943. They show Robert Hill (1892-1963); Walter Mitchell (1897-1967); and Harry Tostado, who lives in California. Two are by a Lawrence photographer, Robert P. Olmstead, including a view at Lawrence in 1949.

Appropriately, the photographs are on display in a railroad center. Shawnee County had 1,081 railroad employees in 2006, according to the Railroad Retirement Board.

For this exhibit, the center presents about 37 photographs from across North America, beginning with a copy of a daguerreotype of the crew and locomotive Tioga, built for the Philadelphia & Columbia railroad in 1848. The images trace some of the changes in the railroad work environment, from the age of steam to the age of microchips. This exhibit highlights the human face of an industry that is dominated by machines and hardware. Technology has made the machines more powerful and the equipment more sophisticated, but behind technology are people who toil in an environment that is a world apart from most other industries. The exhibit had its origins in a three-year program, “Representations of Railroad Work,” funded by the North American Railway Foundation.