This was posted on a military forum I hang out on earlier this evening. There are quite a few history buffs, train geeks and Americana junkies there, understandably, but I was still surprised to see something so close to home getting attention. Credit for bringing it to the forum posters attention goes to A Continuous Lean, where the photo is included in a neat look at the Super Chief.
I am kind of a geek for New Mexico rail history. My great-grandfather was the head machinist at the Belen, NM yards when the roundhouse was there. I grew up with pieces of steam locomotives in my backyard. I am not a huge train nut, but there is still something about them. Trains are cool. Trains are industrial, and mechanical and engineering-in-action and magic. The history and stories surrounding the railroad industry are equally magic. If you can't see it in this photo, you're lost and will never understand.
There are so many cool things going on in this picture, I'm sort of overwhelmed by it. It is a collection of some of the most iconic American images, all together as functional elements in a piece of reality. A reality long gone, before my time.
There is, of course, that fantastic engine. Its bright red and yellow preserved in perfect Kodachrome by Mr. Delano. There are men in denim work wear, carrying lunch, pumping diesel - Working and living a hard, earned, life. Men in suits, and hats (what happened to hats?). Those fantastic automobiles when cars really looked like, and were built like, something to be valued and appreciated.
Behind all this, in Mission-Revival glory are the old Albuquerque depot and the Alvarado Hotel, both gone and replaced by a tacky facsimile. Built in 1902, the Alvarado was one of the Harvey House hotels, and among the largest and most beautiful. It was demolished in 1970 and replaced with a parking lot. The rest of the original depot burned in the late Eighties or early Nineties. The reproduction buildings were put up later, a supposed tribute to the original.
A truly great photograph. An ordinary moment, frozen on film, that has in the passage of time become an amazing moment.