think as opposed to the modern railfan photographer, who is most
interested in equipment, and not very much interested in track, Dad was
the other way around," Jack said. "He focused on track and physical
facilities — bridges, interlocking plants, line changes, all the minutia
of detail and physical conditions of the railroads."
explained that nearly anytime his father rode a train "he'd go back to
the observation car and just camp, and usually have lunch brought to
him." Barriger prepared meticulously for the trips, arming himself with
timetables, grade profiles, track charts, and of course his cameras
and plenty of film packs. In his December 1943 "Super-Railroads" article
, he wrote, "It has been my great privilege to have
been afforded the opportunity to see most of the primary and principal
secondary-route mileage of the railways of this country."
on the rear, open platform of observation cars, Barriger viewed and
photographed nearly all of the nation's railroads during his time at the
RFC in the 1930s. His focus and his vantage encouraged views looking
straight down the receding tracks, while his fixed-lens folding cameras
limited him to a single focal length. Barriger never considered himself a
creative photographer; he viewed his work solely as documentation. Yet
he clearly had a good eye, and his views encompass much more than track.
Seen as a whole, Barriger's photographs form a time capsule of lineside
America during the Depression years.
Typically, Barriger's only
compositional decision involved when to release the shutter, and his
timing often was impeccable. He sought out the most significant aspects
physical plants, and these features filled the frame with both technical
and cultural details that firmly fix Barriger's photographs in both
time and space. Crowds of people line depot platforms and cross the
tracks just after Barriger's train has passed. Automobiles wait behind
manually controlled crossing gates. Signaling systems guard complex webs
of track at busy junctions and crossings.
Barriger turned around and aimed his camera at the front of his train,
looking down long strings of heavyweight coaches at big steam
locomotives crossing high bridges or passing dramatic scenery. And
sometimes he even disembarked and photographed from ground level during
station stops, capturing the depot activities of both trains and people.Photographic Legacy
In addition to its
breadth and variety, Barriger's photography is also well organized for a
collection of its size, which adds immeasurably to its value today.
Large albums, arranged by railroad, house pages upon pages of contact
prints made from his original medium-format, nitrate negatives. Many of
the pages contain detailed notes and diagrams that include caption
information and describe complex track arrangements.
women who worked as secretaries at the RFC and prepared exhibits,
remembered only as "Skippy" and "Swanny," cared for Barriger's
photographs. As Jack explained, "They did particularly well at mounting
and lettering photographs and this became a large part of their jobs.
They lived in Washington all during the '30s, and they set up these
albums and did the lettering with white ink. They were employees of the
RFC, but they did this basically with Dad's stuff. Later both married
and moved back to Iowa. Dad would arrange for them to come to the Monon,
the P&LE, and after 1965 to come to his home in St. Louis for a
week or two to keep the albums up to date.
"Before the RFC, any
photographs Dad had just got thrown in the drawer and probably never
looked at again," Jack continued. "But beginning in the RFC days, he was
careful to identify them and give the information to Swanny and Skippy,
and they would mount and catalog them." Barriger's photography remains
highly accessible today thanks largely to the efforts of these two
On June 23, 2012, the National Railroad Hall of Fame
in Galesburg, Ill., will induct Barriger III into its pantheon of
leaders in honor of his myriad contributions to the industry. In
conjunction with that recognition, the Center for Railroad Photography & Art
, the Hall, and the John Walker Barriger III National Railroad Library
in St. Louis, Mo., will present an exhibition of Barriger's photography
at the Ford Center for the Fine Arts at Knox College in Galesburg, Ill.
The exhibition is free and will be open to the public June 22-24 —
Friday from 3 to 5 p.m., Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Sunday
from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Preparation for the exhibition has included
culling hundreds of exhibit-worthy images from Barriger's trove; 34 will
be shown in honor of Barriger's avocation as a photographer. Researchers who would like to access Barriger III's scrapbooks should contact the St. Louis Mercantile Library.SCOTT LOTHES, a frequent contributor to Trains Magazine, is executive director of the Center for Railroad Photography & Art
in Madison, Wis. This story is excerpted from a longer feature of the
same title, which appears in issue No. 29 of the Center’s journal,
Railroad Heritage. You can join the Center to receive the journal or purchase copies on the Center’s website.