Trains That Passed in the Night

From October 29 to November 26, Haverford College's Cantor Fitzgerald Gallery will host "Trains That Passed in the Night," an exhibition of O. Winston Link's five-year series of photographs documenting the last years of steam power on the Norfolk and Western Railway and of life in the small towns along the line.

Thomas H. Garver, who worked with Link on this project, will introduce the exhibition by giving a talk and slide presentation about Link and the railroad project on October 29 at 4:15 p.m. and on October 30 at 3:00 p.m.

By 1955, the Norfolk and Western Railways was the last major American railroad to operate exclusively with steam power. Realizing that the days of the steam locomotive were numbered, O. Winston Link wanted to preserve a record of the time and places associated with the steam locomotive, as well as its impact on people and relationships. Financing the massive project himself, Link created a visual document, a five-year series of photographs, of the last years of the steam locomotive and the Norfolk and Western Railway in Virginia, West Virginia and North Carolina.

From January 1955 to March 1960, Link spent days traveling on the railroad's passenger trains, watching for possible photo sites from each side of the train. He acquired maps and invited suggestions from railroad men, trying to find ideal spots to photograph. As he came to know the railroad, its often rugged environment and its colorful people, Link expanded his vision and began to photograph the trains as background to the life lived along the tracks.

He developed a strong personal style, using cameras that were usually fixed in place, mounted on heavy tripods and using large negatives, typically "4x5" in size. The dynamic qualities of his photographs came from his careful planning: the precise placement of the camera and equally careful placement of the lighting sources, with people and objects also arranged with an eye for the final effect. His interest was to create a precise and careful record of each scene being photographed. Link built a record that not only documented the locomotives themselves, but emphasized the benefits of the railroad to the life of the communities which it passed.

O. Winston Link's photographs of the Norfolk and Western Railway are documented in two books, Steam, Steel and Stars (1987) and The Last Steam Railroad in America (1995), which includes text by Thomas H. Garver.