#368 – Library of Congress Images – a trip on the Santa Fe in Black & White

People talk about how in the digital age, there is a lot of ‘machine gunning’ of scenes with dozens of photographs taken, and not all with a great deal of care and attention. In looking through the photographs of the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe railway it seems that the practice wasn’t unheard of in the days of film. The sheer volume of photographs taken on this trip were astonishing when you consider that it was shot on medium format which has maybe 10-12 shots per roll, as opposed to the 36 on 35mm film. That said, I suppose if you’re an official photographer of the American Government, tasked with documenting the war effort, then your job is to fire away and let someone else pay the bills.

Compared to the majority of the scans from the Chicago and North Western, the ones from the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe railway are very flat. As I’ve mentioned before, this isn’t unusual with negatives, and they normally require work in the darkroom or photoshop to liven them up a bit. Clearly there must have been differences either in the film choice or the developing at the time, or possibly in some of the scanning software algorithms more recently.

This has meant that I’ve had to spend some time in Lightroom making some adjustments to them to bring them to life a little. Its hard working on someone else’s negatives as you didn’t see the scene in the first place so you’re making guesses as to how things looked and just how much contrast the scene and its parts should have.

One thing I did notice was how scratched the negatives were. Not so much volume of scratches, but large patches of them in certain area, most noticeable in the first one. Many are affected, and some I’ve managed to get rid of, but not all.


Barstow, California. A view of the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad yard at night


Argentine, Kansas. Freight train about to leave the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railroad yard for the west coast


An Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe passenger train passing through the Flint Hills district of Kansas




Vaughn, New Mexico. Conductor Ennis O'Niell of Clovis, New Mexico, who was about to leave on the return trip


Vaughn, New Mexico. Head brakeman Thomas H. Knight of Clovis, New Mexico about to leave Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad yard on the return trip


San Bernardino, California. Engines at the roundhouse

I don’t know how many engines were stabled at San Bernardino roundhouse, but it must have been dozens. The place is vast and lasted until 1995.


Isleta, New Mexico. Conductor of a passing freight train on the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad picking up a message


Clovis, New Mexico. D.L. Clark, engineer, ready to start his locomotive out of the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad yard


Clovis, New Mexico. Checking a locomotive as it leaves the roundhouse in the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad shops


Clovis, New Mexico. Refacing the tires of a locomotive with a Ledgerwood apparatus

 The fitter here seems tiny compared to the monolithic size of the engine and the coaling stage behind. Note also the enormous tender on this locomotive.




Walking the roof of the train. Something uniquely American about this.

2 Comments Add yours

  1. Another great selection Andy. I am awe struck by the size of these monsters…the shots with people next to the locos are the most telling, such as #4 and #9. The size of those piston rods and big ends is ridiculous. What I would give to have seen and worked alongside these machines…it’s hard to imagine that once they were a sight hardly worth comment. The men in the photos are given considerable dignity in the photographs, too. The collection feels like an important document , a strong sense of real Americana.


    1. andy says:

      Thanks Iain! It is a remarkable collection of images both in the fact that it exists in the first place due to the foresight of the Office of War Information, and also the fact that it has been both preserved, digitised and freely available. It is just a pity that it is sometimes somewhat haphazardly organised and present on the Library of Congress website, although the flip side to that is discovering an absolute gem of an image when you were least expecting to!


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