By Bill Dobbins
www.billdobbinsphotography.com

loco
Some steam locomotives were huge, almost living beasts. They were complicated, hard to build and maintain, but in the 19th century they conquered the American continent. | Public Domain

Imagine this: for all of human history until the railroad was invented the fastest a human being could travel was the pace of a fast horse.  And the distance that could be traveled  was limited by the endurance of horses.  Hence the idea of relay riders for the Pony Express.  Use up one horse and switch to another.  But speed was still limited to about 40 mph and that only for sprints.

The modern railroad was made possible by the invention of the steam engine by James Watt in 1789.  The first full-scale working railway steam locomotive was built in the United Kingdom in 1804 by Richard Trevithick, Railroads gradually developed over the next few decades and by the 1830s they were becoming a favored means of transporting people and goods in an increasing number of countries around the world.

locomotive1
The earliest locomotives were slow and often dangerous. But railroads changed how far and how fast people could travel and goods could be transported. | Public Domain

As locomotive began to go faster than a horse, there were widespread beliefs that the human body could not endure speed of 60 mph or greater.  A woman’s uterus might fall out of her body, many feared.  It was thought the body might melt as speeds increased.  The fastest steam locomotive was clocked at 126 mph in 1938.  For the record, nobody melted and women’s bodies remained intact.

800px-US_Civil_War_railway_gun_and_crew
The Civil War in one sense became a competition as to which side had the best railroads. | Public Domain

As railroad locomotives got bigger and faster and tracks continued to proliferate, early photographs quickly discovered them as a great subject.  We have railroad photos from the 1840s on and even today many photographers and videographers still focus on railroads, locomotives and rolling stock.  For thousands of years, humans relied on the horse for transportation.  More much of a century, until the invention of the automobile, the railroad came to serve this function and is still and important means of travel and transport.

1870 US Railroads
A chart of American railroads in 1870. This would expand hugely with the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad, opening up the west to further development. | Public Domain
workers
Somebody has to build and maintain the railroads. Being a rail worker was and continues to be a very dangerous occupation. | Public Domain
Seattle_-_Railroad_Avenue_-_1900
By 1900, railroads had totally reshaped our cities and commerce. | Public Domain

We have many photographs from the 19th century of railroads, trains, railroad workers and such.  Of course, most of these images are of trains not moving because of the long exposure times necessary back then to make photos.  But there are many photos because steam locomotives back then were like space shuttles are today – wonderful pieces of extremely complex technology.

By the way, one of the greatest photographers of railroads was a friend of my family named O. Winston Link.  He did magnificent  images of steam railroads in the 1950s, capturing them must as they being rendered obsolete by the use of diesel-electric locomotives.  This was pretty much pre-strobe, so Link would set up arrays of dozens of flashbulbs to illuminate trains and buildings and even a drive-in movie.  The result was both photos that were both technical and artistic masterpieces.

For copyright reasons I can’t share his photos with you, but please click the link and see how wonderful they are.

Great-Train-Wreck-of-18561
This is an illustration as to how horrific train crashes were in the 19th century, with wooden cars reduced to splinters and huge loss of life. | Public Domain

One thing people have forgotten about early railroads was how dangerous they were.  Trains crashed and killed people on a regular basis.  The story goes that John D. Rockefeller, early in his career. was supposed to take a train from Pennsylvania to New York.  He missed his train, it then crashed and he might well have been killed – potentially altering history to a great degree.

As more safety innovations were introduced over the course of the 19th century the railroads were very slow to make use of them.  Mostly for reasons of cost.  Just as has been happening with tragic consequences in more recent years.

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Bill Dobbins is a pro photographer located in  Los Angeles. He is a veteran photographer and videographer who has exhibited his fine art in two museums and a number of galleries and who has published eight books, including two fine art photo books:

The Women: Photographs of The Top Female Bodybuilders (Artisan)
Modern Amazons (Tashen)
WEBSITES
BILL DOBBINS PHOTOGRAPHY
www.billdobbinsphotography.com
BILL DOBBINS ART
www.billdobbinsart.com
FEMALE PHYSIQUE SITES
www.billdobbins.com
EMAIL: billdobbinsphoto@gmail.com

RAILROAD MUSIC

CASEY JONES – JOHNNY CASH
The Most Famous Train Crash

JOHN HENRY – HARRY BELLAFONTE
A Steel Driving Man

OLD 97 – FLATT AND SCRUGGS
Going Downgrade at 90 Miles Per Hour.

WAITING FOR A TRAIN – JIMMY RODGERS
Early Movie Clip

FREIGHT TRAIN BLUES – FRED MCDOWELL
Delta Blues

FREIGHT TRAIN – ELIZABETH COTTON
This finger-picking style was enormously influential.

BIG STEEL RAIL – GORDON LIGHTFOOT
Carry Me Home To The One I Love

DOWN ON ME – BILL DOBBINS
Freight Train Gonna Take Me Anywhere I Wanna Be

 

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Bill Dobbins
Bill Dobbins THE BODY PHOTOGAPHER became well known for his male and female physique photos - images of the aesthetic, athletic body. Using the same distinctive personal style, characterized by strong graphics and a classic look in both color and BW, Bill Dobbins has also developed a body of work featuring fashion, beauty and glamor photos In a world in which so many images create a level of "noise" that makes it hard for advertisers to be noticed, Bill's work cuts right through the confusion and grabs the eye. Bill has created two art photos books: The Women: Photographs of the Top Female Bodybuilders (Artisan) and Modern Amazons (Taschen) and his fine art work has appeared in two museums and several galleries. WEBSITES BILL DOBBINS PHOTOGRAPHY www.billdobbinsphotography.com BILL DOBBINS ART www.billdobbinsart.com THE FEMALE PHYSIQUE WEBZINE/GALLERY www.billdobbins.com EMAIL: billdobbinsphoto@gmail.com