March 2016 Article

This Month's Article: March 2016
Photographers of the Nelson & Albemarle Railway, Part 3 - The Builder's Photographs

From the late 1880’s until late in the 1920’s, the 8” x 10” view camera was used to capture images of newly built locomotives onto dry plate glass negatives.  Those early photographers were themselves both artists and chemists having to eventually train technicians to develop the glass negatives so that they could have time to expose and process photographic paper prints in a darkroom setting.  It’s difficult to imagine today how those bulky cameras, mounted on a circular rail to allow the bellows to operate, were hoisted onto a sturdy tripod and positioned to photograph huge behemoths such as a steam locomotive.  Unfortunately, most if not all of these photographers were company employees and not necessarily documented as the photographer of any of the images.  The builder's photograph prints were used to sell locomotives, but often were framed for railroad company executives for display in their offices.  The Nelson & Albemarle Railway was no different than most industrial lines.  They didn't want to decorate the lobby with locomotive photographs.  Their goal was to sell the products being assembled in their mill from soapstone quarried nearby.  Fortunately, there were several builder’s photographs taken of the locomotives destined for use in Nelson and Albemarle counties both around the quarries at Alberene or Schuyer and on the N&A Railway main line delivering product to Rockfish or Warren. *** The earliest know builders photo of an actual N&A engine is of main line locomotive #9 built by Vulcan Iron Works as construction number
3045 in April 1920 (see our masthead for this builders photo from our collection).   It's featured in four publications:  Train Shed Cyclopedia No. 37 from November 1975 which is a reprint of the detail from Section 18 - Industrial Locomotives and Service Equipment of the Locomotive Cyclopedia of American Practice, originally published in 1930.  Number 9 also had its builders photos featured in Steam Locomotive & Railroad Tradition No. 13-14 of May 1963 in an article by noted rail photographer & author, H. Reid of Virginian Railroad fame.  The article also featured builders photos of N&A #12 and two builders photos of
N&A #11 - as built for the Culver & Port Clinton Railroad of Gypsum, Ohio and then as refurbished by Vulcan Iron Works at Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania before shipment to the N&A in April 1923. 
Again, #9's builders photo would be featured in the Richmond-Washington Line and Related Railroads book by Richard E. Prince and the #11 rebuild photo of 1923 shared the pages along with the builders photo of #10 from 1922 and the builders photo of #14 from 1925. 
Much later #9 would have its builders photo in Garth Groff's Soapstone Shortlines: Alberene Stone and Its Railroads.  Garth's booklet included builders photos of N&A #12 and #15 which was originally destined for the Chile Exploration Company but never delivered instead being sold to the Rhodes Construction Company which sold it to Virginia Alberene subsidiary Alberoyd Corporation of America in 1928. Alberoyd would eventually be folded into the soapstone company and become just another of the N&A family. 
A copy of the photograph can be found in the Library of Congress as are several of the as-rebuilt builders photos of Southern Iron & Equipment Company (SI&E) of Atlanta.  Rebuilt builders photos in the Library of Congress, primarily from SI&E, include N&A #1, originally built in May 1887 by Porter as Richmond City Railway #1 or "Belle" (c/n 836) and photographed as SI&E #1599 as rebuilt by their shops and N&A former Old Dominion #1, Vulcan c/n 675 built in 1905, photographed as SI&E #1600 as rebuilt.  Both locomotives left the soapstone property in 1920.  So, in total, the rebuilt builders photos in the Library of Congress include:  N&A #1, N&A former Old Dominion #1, N&A #4, and N&A #7.  ***  Another manner in which builders photos were created were as 'representative' of the locomotive.  Many locomotives were built to the same standard design by the American Locomotive Company in their Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania shops and when a large group of several hundred were built for the elevated railways of Manhattan, only a single photograph was made of locomotive 239
which was identical to the two engines that would become #5 and #6 of the Nelson & Albemarle Railway.  *** 
When diesels arrived on the Nelson & Albemarle Railway 30 years after #9 showed up, General Electric had taken builders photographs of each locomotive built beside their Erie, Pennsylvania works. 
Extra 2200 South magazine featured a series on the GE 44-ton locomotives in their May/June 1975 issue (#52) which featured the builders photo of N&A #1 44-ton diesel (c/n 30856).  Unfortunately no builders photo of GE diesel #2, a unique 35-ton unit (c/n 31768) or GE diesel #3, a 25-ton unit (c/n 31778) has been found though recently B&W photos of them were discovered when first delivered to Schuyler.  Builders photos are still made today, but with digital technology not only are the photographs easily taken, but also easily 'touched up' to improve the final picture.

While all photographs are in the Nelson & Albemarle Railway Historical Society's archives, they have been provided as low-resolution scans for this article.  See the roster (below) for other builder's photographs not shown in the article.  Send email to if you have any comments or questions or wish to contribute to future articles.  Copyright 2016 - Nelson & Albemarle Railway Historical Society.

UPDATE:  Chapters 4, 5, 6, 7, 10, & 11 are completed and with exception of Chapter 11, are in for editing.  Chapters 1, 2, 3 are in 2nd draft stage and Chapters 8, 8A, 8B are still to be written, while Chapter 9 is currently being written as the monthly articles on Photographers of the Nelson & Albemarle Railway are completed.