I got an early Christmas present today from Paul vanMeter, rail fan extraordinaire and co-founder of Philadelphia’s VIADUCTgreene project: an introduction to the work of Howard Fogg, a Brooklyn-born artist and the Norman Rockwell of America’s railroad. He was also a fighter pilot during World War II, and over the course of a long career made hundreds of paintings of trains and locomotives that appeared on magazine covers, jigsaws, playing cards, calendars, and more. Below is Fogg’s 1957 painting “Christmas Mail, 1907,” from the marvelous postcard collection of Mark DiVecchio. According to vanMeter, the fireman who’s leaning out from his cab waving to the station agent is George Higgins of McKees Rocks, who later was killed in an accident. The elegant fellow on the platform holding his Christmas packages is Col. James M. Schoonmaker, one of the founders of the P&LE Railroad back in 1879.
There are more than 60 images on DiVecchio’s site, and I can’t think of a better way to enjoy your eggnog than scrolling through the entire collection. Friends in the Hudson Valley will enjoy paintings of the New York Central Railroad steaming past Bear Mountain and other favorite sites.
For a more contemporary, romantic elegy to America’s railroad I have a short pleasure to recommend: Elisha Cooper’s marvelous new illustrated children’s book Train. Cooper follows a series of different trains as they criss-cross the country: a commuter train on its regional run; a passenger train rolling along past houses, farms and fields; a freight train that makes its way across the Great Plains, going “So slow it’s hard to tell it’s moving,” and an overnight train that carries two young sisters who are happily bunked together in the sleeping car. The book closes with a high speed train that races across the pages into a City of the Future. Along the way we meet the characters, human and animal, that inhabit the great rail lines of America. Cooper kindly provided my favorite image of the train in moonlight (click the image to enlarge & read the text):
But to truly immerse yourself in the railroading zeitgeist you need a soundtrack, and there’s no better song than Steve Goodman’s City of New Orleans, sung by Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger, and friends. The clip below begins with Woody telling the great story of how Goodman pestered him to listen to the song in a Chicago bar, with the aid of a nice cold beer. The rest is history.
And for something more festively seasonal, here’s one of Paul vanMeter’s favorites. Listen for a bit, and turn up your speakers for the arrival of Tran 42, “The Pelican,” at Rural Retreat, VA, heading east on Christmas Eve from New Orleans to Washington, DC the same year that Fogg painted “Christmas Mail.” Enjoy, and merry Christmas.