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www.railfan.com FOUNDING PUBLISHER


HAROLD H. CARSTENS (1925-2009)


PRESIDENT AND PUBLISHER HENRY R. CARSTENS


VICE PRESIDENT JOHN A. EARLEY EDITOR


E. STEVEN BARRY


ASSOCIATE EDITORS WALTER C. LANKENAU OTTO M. VONDRAK


CONTRIBUTING EDITOR JAMES D. PORTERFIELD


COLUMNISTS


ALEXANDER B. CRAGHEAD THOMAS KELCEC GREG MONROE GEORGE M. SMERK JEFFREY D. TERRY WES VERNON


LEWIS ABLEIDINGER AND DAVID PLOWDEN SHARE THOUGHTS DURING A BOOK SIGNING AT THE CENTER FOR RAILROAD PHOTOGRAPHY & ARTʼS “CONVERSATIONS ON PHOTOGRAPHY” ON APRIL 16, 2011. PHOTO BY ALEXANDER B. CRAGHEAD


Breaking Down (Our Own) Barriers


THE RAILFAN HOBBY is often a solitary one. There are a wide variety of approaches to the hobby including collecting memorabil- ia, making photographs, or simply watching trains pass by. Although these can be group activities, in practice each trends towards solitude. Certainly my own experiences are rarely an exception. If I am out in the field with a camera, or buried in a stack of archive material, or working on a new writ- ing project, I am likely alone.


Yet one of the greatest aspects of this hob- by is getting together with fellow railfans. Ranging from large multi-day conventions to low key slide shows, there are events of all scales at nearly every season and in nearly every region.


My personal favorite? The annual “Con- versations” conference put on by the Center for Railroad Photography & Art. For those whose primary interest in railroads is through the making of photographs, this event is a must. Featuring exciting and in- teresting photography matched with engag- ing presenters, this three-day series is among the best anywhere. It is not, howev- er, what is shown on the screen that brings me back to this event each year. Instead, it is the interactions with others. Gatherings attract people of all age groups, regions, and interests. They help break down those walls within which we so often find ourselves practicing our hobby.


Stories abound. Want to understand what it was like to be one of the first women brakies on the Milwaukee Road? What about the mad dash of a photographer across Central and South America during the 1960s, in search of the rapidly disap- pearing steam locomotive? What was it like to seek out the forgotten traces of the origi- nal transcontinental railroad on the land- scape of the west? These are all things I have learned from going to events like the CRPA’s conference, stories I would likely not


4 APRIL 2012 • RAILFAN.COM have otherwise heard. We each approach railroad photography a


little differently. Some think of it as a form of artistic expression, while others see it as a strong aspect of a relaxing pastime. Yet at this conference—and for that matter with nearly every rail related event I have been to—what was self evident was how much everyone shared interests, regardless of age, background, or personal styles.


One fine example struck me at last year’s event. After a long day of presentations, I was in the room where various writers and photographers were gathered to sign books. There, I found my friend Lew Ableidinger kneeling on the floor, talking across the table


with one of our greatest living


photographers of railroads, David Plowden. Plowden had known Walker Evans and Ansel Adams, and had worked for the Great Northern briefly when they still ran big steam; on the other hand, Lew is likely too young to remember the purpose of a vinyl LP. Yet, both were too engrossed in dis- cussing their


love of photographing the


stark beauty of the Dakotas and the upper Midwest to care to note their differences. April is just around the corner, and once more I am planning my visit to the CRPA’s conference. If you’re interested in railroad photography, I strongly encourage you to join me. However, just as each of us approaches this hobby differently, there are many different gatherings that a railfan may attend. I recommend you try out a few, and find the ones that fit your interests. They make a welcome, educational, and just plain fun break from the often solitary nature of our hobby.


Alexander B. Craghead is a writer, photog- rapher,


watercolorist, and self-described “transportation geek” from Portland, Ore. You can reach out to Alex on our web site at www.railfan.com/departures.


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RAILFAN & RAILROAD (ISSN 0163-7266) is published monthly by Carstens Publications, Inc., 108 Phil Hardin Road, Newton, New Jersey 07860. Phone 973/383-3355. Henry R. Carstens, Publisher; Phyllis M. Carstens, Secretary-Treasurer. Periodical Postage paid at Newton, NJ 07860 and additional mailing offices.


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