#426 – Library of Congress Images – Steel Mill Panoramas

Tennessee Panorama

I’ve never worked in the steel industry but I’ve visited the steelworks at Redcar and Scunthorpe and it’s an industry that, as a photographer, continues to fascinate me. The sights, smells and sheer physical size and complexity of the plants are rivaled only by oil refineries. The American steel industry, like the British one is a fraction of the size it once was, but what’s left still eclipses almost every other country on the planet.Untitled_Panorama1

There are hundreds, if not thousands of photographs of the steel industry at the Library of Congress which maybe demonstrate both the extent and importance of the industry to a rapidly developing America in the early years of the 20th Century. This was a time when Andrew Carnegie, a Scottish immigrant, started with nothing and built up a steelmaking empire that made him one of the richest men in the world – over $350 million dollars which he proceeded to give away in a philanthropic exercise that still has foundations and libraries in his name nearly 100 years after his death.

American Steel and Wire Company's plant, Cleveland, Ohio pano

Homestead Works (below) was Carnegie’s primary plant and was the scene of another bleak episode in American industrial relations when 10 people died during unrest caused by an industrial dispute in 1892.

Homestead Panorama

What is staggering is the scale of these places as they were all comparatively new at the time, but also the vast demand for iron and steel they were built to satisfy. The social consequences cannot be discounted as well, as this was a period of huge immigration and the knock on effect of that was the rapid expansion of towns and cities to accommodate the expanding workforces. The impact of this time can still be felt today with the closure of many of these plants resulting in large scale unemployment and related social issues especially in towns that were built to serve plants. But that’s another story!


#425 – Library of Congress Images – the night photography of Jack Delano

Illinois Central R.R., Chicago, Ill. Vernon Brower, riding the foot board of a diesel switch engine at the South Water Street freight terminal

I’ve featured quite a few of Jack Delano’s Library of Congress photographs on this blog over the last 18 months or so. Maybe it’s because he photographed subjects that I am interested in, but his photographs stand out for some reason. While some of the portraits of the railway workers on the Santa Fe and Chicago and North Western Railroad are clearly posed (the best candid photographs are always posed, a wedding photographer once told me), others are less obviously so and were probably done as a collaboration with the subjects who were carrying out their daily tasks. But they do have too much of a sense of occasion about them to be candids.

Santa Fe R.R. yards, Argentine, Kansas. Argentine yard is at Kansas City, Kansas

Chicago and North Western R.R., Mrs. Thelma Cuvage, working in the sand house at the roundhouse, Clinton, Iowa

This second selection (below) caught my eye though. Most railway photography is about the hardware – the locomotives, trains, the infrastructure and their place within the urban and rural landscapes where they are found. And of course, you will sometimes (occasionally) get some featuring people. This selection is not about any of these subjects. These are more abstract and are in my eyes about light and movement, They are created as a consequence of trains and people, but are not about trains and people. Or maybe I’m reading too much into them and he was simply killing time experimenting at the end of a shift or waiting for something to happen?

Interestingly, after the war Jack Delano moved into cinema, a route not uncommon for photographers including John Bulmer, a British Photographer who I will also be writing about at some point in the next 12 months.

Activity in the Santa Fe R.R. yard, Los Angeles, Calif. All switch lights, head lights and lamps have been shaded from above in accordance with blackout regulations. The heavy light streaks are caused by paths of locomotive headlights and the thin lines by lamps of switchmen working in the yard. Santa Fe R.R. trip

Illinois Central R.R., freight cars in South Water Street freight terminal, Chicago, Ill

View in a departure yard at C & NW RR's Proviso yard at twilight, Chicago, Ill.


#424 – Library of Congress Images – street running trains

Empire State Express (New York Central Railroad) passing thru Washington Street, Syracuse, NY-Edit

I posted some Library of Congress photos of coal trains running through the streets last year. This is something I noted as being quite unusual in the UK. These are some more examples, and this appears to be a full blown express train.

Boston and Maine Railroad depot, Riley Plaza, Salem, Mass-Edit

This is idle speculation on my part, but I suspect that due to the way the railway opened up America, i.e. the railway was there first and towns grew up around them, this was perhaps more commonplace in the USA than in the UK, where the only incursion of railways onto streets tended to be at level crossings (tramways excepted). There were some notable exceptions of course such as the Weymouth harbour branch and the original Welshpool railway, and of course the Welsh Highland Railway now runs through Porthmadog, plus several other obscure minor railways but for the most part, road and rail rarely met*.

Empire State Express (New York Central Railroad) passing thru Washington Street, Syracuse, NY-2-Edit

But none of these examples are heavyweight express trains. These depict the Empire State Express running through Syracuse in the early part of the 20th Century, and it looks to be quite a spectacle. Of course, road traffic 100 years ago was several orders of magnitude less than it is today which would have made the concept easier although I’m quite sure it was fraught with danger even in those times, where health and safety was at best an inconvenience and at worst non-existent.

But this kind of scene appears to have been not uncommon in bygone America (and may even perpetuate to this day for all I know?), as many towns grew up around the railway as the western expansion opened up previously uninhabited wilderness. contrast this with Europe where towns and villages pre-dated the railways and thus tracks in urban areas tended to be in cuttings, tunnels or embankments, only intruding on roads at level crossings where bridges were impractical.

O.Winston Link also captured some street running in one of this most famous pictures that I posted up a few years ago. The wide traffic free streets of the rural Virginia town photographed on a dark night in the 50’s are probably ideal conditions for running a large freight train through and a world away from a narrow European street which demonstrates why the concept is rare in Europe and the UK.


*Other examples that spring to mind are the largely disused railway network in Trafford Park, however, this was built as an integral part of the estate and from what I’ve seen of the remains, tended to run alongside the road network rather than sharing space with it. The Metrolink network in Manchester is a bit of a hybrid as it runs both on the streets and also along former Network Rail metals from Bury into Manchester city centre. I’m sure there are other examples, but nothing like what I’ve shown from America!

#417 – Library of Congress Images – A Beyer Garrett in Iran


I posted a while back some pictures I took of the former Beyer Peacock works in Manchester, and it coincided with stumbling across this photograph in the Library of Congress of the trains run by the allied forces on the Iranian Railways in WW2. I actually posted some photographs of British built 8F’s on the line a while back, but didn’t really pay much attention to this at the time, until I visited Gorton and dug out a reprinted Beyer Peacock catalogue I bought from MoSI as part of their Beyer Garrett centenary event in 2009.

Sure enough, in 1936, Beyer Peacock sold 4 Beyer-Garrett locomotives to Iranian State Railways for use on their northern section which crosses the Elburz mountain range.


#414 – Library of Congress Images – Streamliners and The Burlington Zephyr

Streamlined train, La Crosse, Wisconsin

Streamlined train, La Crosse, Wisconsin-4

A high speed streamlined stainless steel express train – is there anything more effortlessly Art Deco cool than this? Dating back to 1934, the Pioneer Zephyr trains must have seemed to have driven straight off the pages of a science fiction comic when compared to the typical steam locomotive of the day. FSA/8d25000/8d250008d25005a.tif

The power source was not as futuristic from a technological standpoint, but pointed to the future a – diesel engine that provided current to traction motors in the bogies. While this type of power unit had been tried before, it had not been used in anything as ambitious as this.

The Burlington Zephyr. East Dubuque, Illinois

At this time, diesel power was pretty much confined to shunting locos on British railways at the time. Perhaps due to the nations vast coal reserves and relative lack of oil in the UK (offshore reserves notwithstanding) diesel traction was fairly slow to take off on British shores. While there was some small scale experiments in diesel and petrol rail cars, as well as the electrification done by the Southern Railway, it was only really post war with the LMS D16 diesel locomotives was a new era signalled in Britain. Continental Europe was far ahead – Germany’s ‘Flying Hamburger‘ entered service in 1934

I’m no expert on diesel locomotives, so this is specualtion on my part, but I wonder whether the dieselisation of American railways started earlier than in Britain due to the nations oil reserves. While the country had huge coal reserves as well, the benefits of the internal combustion engine were well known, plus the huge refining capacity available maybe made it inevitable that diesel power would take over once the actual technology of diesel engines was perfected. While there were numerous experiments with diesel power in America, the Pioneer Zephyr was something of a trailblazer for the concept.

And maybe because of the greater number of railway companies, who didn’t all have their own locomotive building facilities, the importance of the independent locomotive builder was greater in America than in Britain (not that Britain lacked independent builders, but for the most part, their products tended to be either for industrial use or for export rather than domestic mainline use). Consequently, there was probably more of a market for innovations like diesel power than in Europe.

Either way, the Burlington Zephyr was certainly a success, the units ran until 1960. Other streamlined diesels quickly followed (with varying degrees of success) but the Zephyr made the headlines and stayed in them with publicity stunts such as the dawn to dusk run, and film appearances.


I love this film noir style photograph taken in Chicago Union station of the Denver Zephyr in 1943. It was taken by Jack Delano who took a lot of the photos I’ve posted before of the wartime American railways. A professional photographer, he later went on to become a film director and he had a great eye for light.



#411 – Library of Congress Images – A Princess Coronation in America


The Duchess of Hamilton with the Royal Blue on Thomas Viaduct

The 38 Princess Coronation class locomotives built by the LMS at Crewe works between 1937 and 1948 were some of the finest ‘top link’ steam locomotives built in the UK. For a while, no. 6220 held the world speed record at 113 mph although this did not last too long. The Princess Coronations power output of 3300hp was never surpassed in the UK though.

IN 1939, 6229 Duchess of Hamilton swapped identities with 6220 Coronation and was shipped off to the USA to attend the World’s Fair. Arriving in Baltimore, the loco and a set of articulated carriages were unloaded and dispatched to the Baltimore and Ohio (B&O) depot at Mount Clare and used in a number of publicity films and photoshoots. The most popular ones were of her were on the Thomas Viaduct with her B&O Railroad contemporary the ‘Royal Blue’.

To allow her to run on American metals, Crewe Works had installed an American bell, head lamp and buckeye coupling, and after leaving Baltimore, the train went on a 3000 mile tour of that covered Washington, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Louisville, Indianapolis, Chicago, Detroit, Cleveland, Buffalo, Albany, Boston, Hartford and many others before arriving in New York to take it’s place at the World’s Fair.

During the time of the exhibition though, events back home took a turn for the worse and Britain declared war on Germany. It was decided to be too risky to send the train back, so the loco was stored by the B&O at its Fell’s Point facilities in Baltimore and the coaches were taken to Jeffersonville, Indiana where they were used as living quarters for the US Army Quartermaster Corps. The locomotive was returned to the UK in 1943 and on her return to Crewe, she swapped identities back to No. 6229.

Duchess of Hamilton is now preserved in fully streamlined condition at the National Railway Museum in York, and looks splendid! It is interesting to note how small she looks in comparison to the American loco, which by US standards, is not huge.

I can highly recommend ‘The Duchesses’ by Andrew Boden, a very readable account of the class, more so than most railway books.




#410 – Library of Congress Images – Mackinac Dock

Arnold's Dock, Mackinac, Michigan pano

More steamers! This is a join up of two images to create a small panorama. It’s a bit distorted as the photographer perhaps didn’t reposition his camera too well between frames, but that’s always a problem if you’re photographing things close to the camera. I’ve had to crop quite a bit off the top and bottom to compensate, but it’s not come out too badly – you can see the curved horizon though where Photoshop has had to compensate.

I like the genteel feel of all these photographs of the steamers – the crisp white ship, the well turned out people on the dock all contribute to creating an impression of what it was like to travel on these ships at this time.

The Dock at Mackinac Island, Mich.-Edit

This one is taken a little closer up (and could have done with some straightening), and I’m intrigued by the huge stack of chopped wood on the dock. I thought that the steamers were coal fired, so I’m unsure if this is for fuel or for cargo.

The location is apparently Mackinac Dock, which I presume is on Mackinac Island, Lake Michigan. This became a popular holiday destination for residents of the cities of the Great Lakes from the 1880’s, and is still reached by ferry today. It’s not a steamer these days though, it’s a high speed catamaran.