john, lord of steam locomotives

June 1, 2015 - single portrait

i am not specially interested in trains, engines and the railroad business, but the relics of the western pacific railroad company you can find all over the place in california always caught my eye, because i am fascinated by the gold rush era and everything that remained to be seeked and found. on a two weeks road trip that i made it a ghost-town-rally i stayed in jamestown one night and when i was about to leave the town in my black (i cursed the rental service hundred times for having me given a black car in august in california) dodge i passed a sign saying ‘railtown 1897 state historic park‘. because i didn’t make any plans on the whole trip but was just riding with the hills and spirit, so i decided to give it a quick look.

eventually i stayed more than two hours. i took the tour through the roundhouse which just started in the moment i entered the place. the guide was john. as he told me later he is retired from his job (i forgot what it was) and now shares his enthusiastic passion on historic trains with the public and rides the six miles steam train excursions on weekends to entertain the local public and visitors. the roundhouse also contains a fully equipped repair facility that is still in use by the railway, so he might also perform as a repairman. nevertheless this morning he appeared severely tired of being, started the tour with repeating ‘sorry, i got up bit early, i am slow today’ and convincing sighs of a really old man. but after a few minutes talking to the group of five visitors he became more and more brisk. he literally knew just everything and beyond. the other visitors as i learnt with shame were obviously very deep in the topic. i didn’t understand anything of the technical details but enjoyed running around all over the place taking pictures.

the roundhouse and the whole place is a paradise for photographers who are interested in old stuff: huge anvils, hooks hanging down from the ceiling, pots and baskets and buckets and tanks filled with small steal parts, spreaded oil cans, cables and heavy chains, rusty screws, tools, a lots of dust and spiderwebs, broken glass. in the centre reside three completely built-up steam locomotives: no. 2 (built in 1922), sierra no. 3 (built in 1891) and no. 34 (built in 1925). the sierra no. 3 appeared in numerous movie  productions as dodge city (1939), bonanza (1960’s), gunsmoke (1960’s), high noon (1952) and  little house in the prairie (1980’s), my favorite tv-series when i was little (i imagined myself as laura while my virtous sister was mary). this old steal lady is called the “most photographed locomotive in hollywood history”.

when i asked john for his portrait he turned out to be very shy but also flattered and willing. he posed for me in the driver’s cab of one locomotive and  like an experienced actor from the old western movies showed me his yearning engeneer’s face dreaming of the golden past when the steam locomotives still chuffed through the golden hills of good old california. after the tour when the other visitors went their way we talked for a while, but this time he asked me questions about my life, my trip, my plans and the strangers-project. he wanted me to share the whole album of pictures i took in the museum besides his portrait. i never expected a railroad museum that interesting, but john made it an experience for me. thank you, john. i hope you are well up!

› tags: 100strangers / blackandwhite / california / canon 5d / digital / photography / portrait / usa /


  1. IjonTichy says:

    an excellent piece of americana … 🙂

  2. Michele Hobza says:

    This is EXACTLY where Christy and Matt took the boys for a family outing this last weekend! They went to the Jamestown rail park and rode the train and saw all the locomotives. You know who was absolutely THRILLED to see all these “all-aboard-steam-engines-with-cow-crushers.” Of course, the adorable 4-year-old Aidan. We will see the family on Sunday for Father’s Day. We leave for your neck of the woods in one week!! Very excited! xoxo mom

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