Thursday, March 30, 2017

Photography Lessons from a Ladies' Tea

I bought this century-old photograph at a going-out-of-business antiques store in Fresno, California. There's something about the composition and the lighting that struck me, and I decided it would make the perfect gift for a young photographer friend of mine who is amazing at portrait work, and who is just getting started with her own business. With her indulgence, here are my thoughts about this photo, as they apply to any new professional photographer just getting into the game.

Dear Nafsheen,

See these three ladies? They sat one day at a table with a tea set, took a moment to have their photograph taken. Then they went on, they lived their lives, contributed to other's lives, and left their mark on the world. But are they remembered? Maybe, occasionally, by a grand child or great grandchild in passing, probably just as a name on a family tree. Sadly for their descendents, no one bothered to write their names on the photograph, but still...they are remembered because someone bothered to take the photograph.

A photographer, whose name is also lost to time, took the care to pose these ladies, compose the scene, carefully check the lighting. But the photographer also had to take the time to prepare the glass negative, load it into the camera, then afterward make the print and mount it. In those days, every photograph was a labor (with truly lots of labor) of care and creativity, not something taken lightly as images are today in the digital age.

The processes you and I use to capture moments in time, and moments of lives frozen for rememberance, might be somewhat different and more "technological", but keep in mind the bigger picture of what you are doing: you are giving permanence to a fleeting moment, to a memory. The people you photograph will grow old and one day pass from this world, but your passion and work will preserve their memories for those who follow them. By then, you and I will, in turns, have grown old and passed from this world, and our names likely will not be remembered either, but the evidence of our presence will always remain, the result of the few extra moments we take in composition, in lighting and exposing, our art, your art, will last, as you turn fleeting moments into solid memories. Always remember this, and let the significance of what you do shape every image that you make.


Sunday, March 26, 2017

Battle Mountain Survivor

This is a tale - and a photo - of survival. Our photo is of Nevada Central Railroad No. 5, a second-hand Baldwin 4-4-0 American steam locomotive from the 1876 that served the gold and silver mines around Battle Mountain, Nevada until things went bust in the 1930s. Though most of the Nevada Central ended up being scrapped, old No. 5 survived, a 19th century marvel now on display in the 21st century.

Completed in 1880, the narrow-gauge NCRR ran from the silver and gold mining center Austin to Battle Mountain (a town that never saw a battle and sits in a valley), where it connected with the Central Pacific's transcontinental line. How the railroad came to be is a story in itself. After a bitter fight, the Nevada legislature (overrideing the Governor's veto) authorized $200,000 as a Lander County subsidiary bond fund for the building of a railroad to serve the mines around Austin. Of course, there was a bit of western "politics" involved: the state senator that ramrodded this through was also the Secretary of the Manhattan Silver Mining Company, who owned most of the mining claims in the area, and whose company would pretty much solely benefit from the line's existence. The stipulation was that the line had to be built within five years.

No. 5 in about 1885. CSRM Collection
However, construction didn't start for another four and a half years, and by that time, the boom-period was just about over. Still, there were those state bonds that could be collected, so the Nevada Central Railway dove into constructing the 92 miles of rail line through the Reese River valley from Battle Mountain to Austin. As hard as they worked, though, the end of the track was still two miles from the Austin town limits with less than a day to go before the deadline. The Austin Town Board held an emergency meeting and knowing that the line meant potential prosperity and growth for Austin, they realized that if you can't get the rail line to the town, you can always take the town to the rail line, and agreed to extend the town limits out two miles, and thus the final rails were laid (some over frozen ground with no ballast) with only minutes to spare on February 9, 1880. The bond funds were secure!

No. 5 in better days. CSRM collection
To make the money stretch, the railroad bought mostly second-hand equipment. One of these purchases was Nevada Central No. 5. The locomotive was originally built by Baldwin Locomotive Works in Philadelphia (their builder's number 3483) for the North Pacific Coast Railroad as their No. 12, and was named Sonoma. When that road was purchased by the Northwest Pacific and converted to standard guage, Nevada Central got the locomotive cheap in 1879.

NCRR renamed the locomtive the General J.H. Ledlie, after the Union general who had been involved with the original building of the Nevada Central. It was an ignomious name, as General Ledlie had been cashiered from the service for dereliction of duty, having been drunk in his bunker when he was supposed to be leading his troops in a charge during Battle of the Crater, part of the Siege of Petersburg. Because of the general's absence, his troops were slaughtered.

In 1881, the Union Pacific had the idea of competing with the CP and building their own line across Nevada, to take advantage of the mining traffic. They bought the Nevada Central as a piece of that puzzle, but the mining bust led them to back away from the plan, and in October 1884 they purposely defaulted on an interest payment, letting the NCRR fall into receivership. Four years later and renamed the Nevada Central Railroad, the company pressed on under local ownership by the Stokes family.

The Nevada Central continually struggled with solvency, and could only generate a decent profit if all the mines around Austin were in full production. Most mining had ended by 1911, and the company survived - barely - by relying on wool and cattle traffic. By the mid-1930s, not even that was enough, and so on December 20, 1937, the Federal Interstate Commerce Commision authorized the line's abandonment and on January 31, 1938 all operations ceased and the Nevada Central was backrupt for the last time, Most of the equipment was sold for scrap. Most, but not all. No. 5 had continued to operate pretty much to the end, but instead of being scrapped, it was acquired by NCRR's General Manager, J. M. Hiskey, who then loaned it to the Pacific Coast Chapter of the Railway & Locomotive Historical Society.

In December, 1938, the locomotive was transported to the Southern Pacific shops in Berkeley, where she was gussied up to look like Central Pacific No. 60, the Jupiter, and (along with sister No. 6), was used to stage the famous driving of the Golden Spike ceremony at 1939 Golden Gate Exposition, a show produced by Art Linkletter. Our photo, then, was probably taken some time in late 1938.

On display at the CSRM. Photo linked from the CSRM page.
Following the end of the Exposition, No. 5 was put into storage until 1977 when she was transferred to the California State Railroad Museum. She was restored to her original appearance as the Sonoma, and is on display today. (Incidently, sister locomotive No. 2 was rescued from the scrappers by famed Disney animator Ward Kimball, who ran it on his own private back-yard railroad; more here.)

One final note from the perspective of a researcher: had the owner of this photo not written "Battle Mountain Nev" on it, this would have likely remained a completely anonymous photograph, without much of a clue (other than the "5") to begin researching. So, I'm very thankful that someone took the time to note where this photo was taken!

Some of the references I've drawn on for this story:

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Down on the farm - Horse Power

In the days when it took a lot of man- (and horse) power to bring in the harvest, a farmer's neighbors could be counted on to show up with their teams of horses to help out. Is that what this photo shows? Or is this just a bigger operation with a lot of hands employed? Either way, it looks like this crew is getting ready to do some serious work.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Mother, Daughter and the Spare Tire

I thought it a bit odd that this mother and daughter chose the spare tire to pose for. Maybe it had meaning, a story behind it? Maybe they'd actually had to change one?

Sunday, March 19, 2017

The Dock Bridge

So, I'm kind of a sucker for big industrial age steel constructs, and when I saw this photo in a pile of dollar photos, it went into the "buy" stack. Why? Because as an engineering marvel for its time, it's cool, that's why.

I had no idea of where this was, but a bit of searching, starting with Wikipedia's page on lift bridges, quickly showed that this is the Dock Bridge over the Passaic River between Harrison and Newark, NJ, and is on both the National and New Jersey Registers of Historic Places.

The bridge was originally built by the Pennsylvania Railroad as part of a $42 million passenger transportation project, and included Newark's Penn Station at Raymond Plaza, off to the right of our view. The west span (closest to the camera in our photo) was dedicated with appropriate pomp and circumstance for that era on March 24, 1935. At the time it was built, it was the longest three-track lift bridge in the world, with a span of 230 feet.

The east span, which opened in 1937, is actually a double bridge, with two tracks on one span and a third on the other. Today, the bridge is owned and operated by Amtrak, with the west span carrying three Amtrak Northeast Corridor tracks, and the east span hosting two PATH tracks and an Amtrak/NJ Transit track. Closed, the bridge provides a 24-foot clearance over the mean high-water mark (the Passaic River at this point is influenced by the daily tides), while fully open, the clearance is 135 feet. It takes between 15 and 20 minutes for the bridge to lift, allow a barge to pass, and then lower back into place.

According to the National Register of Historic Places documentation,
Aerial photo by Jack Boucher, April 1977; part of a NPS aerial
survey of historic places (Federal Gov't work, public domain)
Dock Bridge is the only vertical lift bridge on the Northeast Corridor railroad route. The structure is unique because of the operation of six tracks on three bridges with two lift spans. Dr. J.A.L. Waddell was one of the first to patent a simplified and improved design of vertical lift bridge in the United States. Vertical lift bridges of small spans and low lifts were constructed in Europe at a fairly early date, but no vertical lifts of any size were constructed until the late 19th century. The consulting engineering firm for the construction of this structure, Waddell & Hardesty, used the patent of Dr. Waddell in the design of the bridge.

This type is economical in construction and operation and has proven efficient in heavily trafficed areas because the span can be opened in less time than is required for a swing bridge. In addition, the span can be partially raised when height requirements are low. Heavy railroad traffic between New York City and Newark and the frequent openings necessary on the Passaic River make this structure critical to the operation of the Northeast Corridor railroad system. The machinery and electrical systems which were specifically designed for this bridge have not been significantly altered since their installation. Earle Gear and Machine Company of Philadelphia was the contractor for the machinery and the electrification was done by Gibbs & Hill.

Dock Bridge is an exceptionally important Pennsylvania Railroad engineering accomplishment. This lift bridge is an unusual engineering design in terms of its massiveness and double bridge lifts which operate independently. There are no other comparable railroad bridges in New Jersey, and it is one of the few double lift bridges in the country.

For those interested in some of the more technical details, the register also includes the following:
Aerial photo by Jack Boucher, April 1977; part of an NPS
aerial survey of historic places
(Federal Gov't work, public domain)
Dock Bridge over the Passaic River in Newark, New Jersey, a through-truss liftbridge, was constructed in 1935 by Waddell & Hardesty, Consulting Engineers, after the patent of Dr. J.A.L. Waddell. It was constructed for the Pennsylvania Railroad with T.W. Pinard, Chief Engineer of the railroad.

The structure consists of two deck girder approach spans 94 feet and 64 feet long, respectively; a through Warren truss, with verticals, lift span 230 feet long and two deck girder approach spans 64 and 68 feet long, respectively. Bridge A8.50 carries three tracks and C8.50 carries one track. PATH trains are carried on a separate span. The bridges are side by side and operate independently. This bridge has two sets of lift towers supporting three lift towers. The south towers support two bridge structures. Each span has the moving machinery located at the center of the span on the top chord of the trusses.
The substructure is 24 feet above mean high water and the abutments and piers are concrete with stone facings. There are timber fenders on both sides of the channel at the rest piers.

The main drive motors are 260-horsepower DC series wound electric motors. There are electro-hydraulic trustor brakes on each motor. The motors are geared through common spur reduction gears on shafts which transmit power to the cable drums. Cables run over the cable drums to the end of the span where they pass over an idler sheave to the bridge sheave. The bridges are raised and lowered by uphaul and downhaul cables. The counterweight cables are attached to the top chord of the trusses and run over sheaves. There is a 150 horsepower gasoline engine in the machinery house of each span. This engine serves as an emergency power source. There are compressors in the operator's house basement for bridge floor and rail locks. There are AC motor DC generator sets in the operator's house at the north shore. The bridge operator occupies the fifth floor of this house. The operator's level contains the signal interlock box, track model board, reversing drum controllers, and navigation light control. There is a cable tunnel below the river for cables carrying single-phase and 3-phase 4150-volt AC. The operator's level is the top floor of the five-level house on the north shore. The other floors contain railroad electrical equipment.

This photo provides a sense of scale to the massive bridge, as Amtrak's Vermonter crosses,
approaching Newark's Penn Station.
Photo by Tony Jin, used under CC-BY-SA 3.0 license.

A panaramic view of the Passaic Riverfront and the Dock Bridge in June 2015 on Wikimedia. The large tank in the background is gone.
Photo by Tony Jin, used under CC-BY-SA 3.0 license.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Our House - 6: Homemade House

This late 1800s house and family cabinet photo must have been extremely precious to someone, given how well-worn it is.

The back has an inscription that seems to have been written by a child (and in handwritting that looks feminine rather than masculine), which reads, "This was our first home Dad and Mother build it almost alone. This is where I was born. Father with Evelyn, Will on the stoll, Lucy, Mother with Anna Mary on her lap." Sadly, neither the writer nor the parents are named.

Monday, March 13, 2017

A Classy Date in a Model T

All dressed up for a classy evening, including their shiny new1926 Ford Model T sedan.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Tidelands Panarama

This, to me, is a fascinating photograph. I found this 180 degree panaramic print in two pieces (and found the pieces 3 years apart) in the same antique mall in Long Beach, California. This store has a lot of photographs of early Long Beach and the surrounding vicinity, which (along with the San Pedro Harbor) looks nothing today like it did years ago. Massive amounts of land reclamation now accommodate ports that load a gazillion containers from massive ships every day. I don't know for sure that this is a local (to Long Beach) scene, but I suspect it is.

Below, I've digitally cut the pan up into three pieces so you can get a better view:

And I've also digitally zoomed into some key parts:

A coach and two baggage cars suggests a local run that handled mostly mail. Maybe Southern Pacific?

Long Beach had (and still has) a lot of oil and natural gas wells, and the large tank in the background might be part
of that.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Rich School, Poor School

In the same antiques store, on the same day, I found these two mounted photographs, which from the clothing appear to come from about the same time period, but which show quite a contrast. First, the poor school:

And now the rich school. Everything from the quality of the clothes and the shoes (or lack thereof!) to the children's expressions, to the backing board that the photos are mounted on highlight the class disparity. Unfortunately, I have no information on where these schools were, nor any of the names of the children.

On the off-chance that some reader might recognize an ancestor, here are higher resolution crops of all the faces.

Monday, March 6, 2017

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Life at Moriards Hotel

This photo has been a bit of a challenge, to be sure. It appears to be a hotel or boarding house in the late 1800s, and there's no accompanying information as to where it is.

What struck me, though, was that for such an evidently popular place, there didn't seem to be a sign advertising the place, not even anything in the windows. As I stared at a very high-resolution scan of the print, I realized, though, that there was some writing present: the blank area between the first and second floor windows on the front seems to be a slightly brighter white, and there is evidence of very, very faint writing. So I re-loaded the image into Photoshop and started to work at enhancing the area. The results are on the right.

The difficulty is in making out the first letter. Discounting the first letter for the moment, there are at least five variations that are legitimate names: Boriards, Goriards, Horiards, Moriards, Poriards. Based on what I can discern of the first letter, my money is on Horiards or Moriards, and I'm favoring the latter.

Friday, March 3, 2017


Every Friday we bring you a vintage family photo with character, and this one has it in spades!

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Mabel and Irene's Buggy Ride

Behind this very handsome horse ride Mavel and Irene. Hand-written on the back of the photo is this: "Mabel and Irene at the soldier's camp early in the morning." Unfortunately, which camp this would be is forever lost.