Railroading

the Hardware, the Landscape, and the People

Oren B. Helbok Railroading exhibition, train photos, steam locomotive photos

Current venues:

Community Cup -- Towanda, Pa.

     November 2019-February 2020

Greenwood's Furniture -- Tunkhannock, Pa.

     November 2019-February 2020

Thanks to the Kitson Arts Alliance for arranging these venues (half of the show at each)

Stay tuned for additional venues in 2020

Past venues:

 

Gallery 425 -- Williamsport, Pa.

    November 2018

Steamtown National Historic Site -- Scranton, Pa.

    December 2018 through March 2019

Sunbury Market House -- Sunbury, Pa.

    May 2019

Station Gallery -- Lock Haven, Pa.

    June-July 2019

Dietrich Theater -- Tunkhannock, Pa.

    Part of "Trains and Breakers", July-November 2019

 

 

 

Each of the images in the exhibition appears below, along with the artist's bio and caption information as on the wall of a gallery.

Born in the Bronx in 1965, Oren B. Helbok missed the age of steam on our nation’s railroads, but that doesn’t stop him from trying to relive it where and when possible.  Although he ran away from a steam locomotive the first time he saw one, at age 2, he quickly reversed course, and since 1972 he has photographed and ridden steam trains from approximately coast to coast.

Oren’s father, John, gave him his first camera, and his second one, and his third and fourth, all of them using film.  John taught Oren the technical aspects of developing and printing; Oren learned composition from his father and from the many, many books and magazines about trains that he pored over starting before he could read.  Oren’s mother, Miriam, also aided and abetted her son’s passion, including by taking trips across Canada and around the British Isles by train.

After having children starting in the late 1990s, Oren took a decade-plus-long break from “serious” photography (he took many thousands of snapshots of the kids during that time) before starting up again, with a borrowed digital camera, in 2009, and he never went back to film.  Since late 2015, he and his Nikon DSLR have spent almost 125 days at trackside.  No longer working in a darkroom, Oren uses free, downloadable GIMP software – “the poor man’s Photoshop” – and lets others do his printing.  Among his many influences, Oren counts American “art” photographers Walker Evans and David Plowden and less-well-known “railfan” photographers Jim Shaughnessy, Phil Hastings, and Richard Steinheimer.  Oren thanks the hundreds of people – railroaders, other fans and photographers, friends, and strangers – who have helped and shown kindness through the years.

Since moving to central Pennsylvania in 1992, Oren has worked as a carpenter, furniture-maker, zoning officer, and independent school administrator; he now directs the non-profit Exchange, which he helped found in 2009 on Main Street in Bloomsburg.  In 2001, Oren and his wife, potter Sara Baker, joined a dozen other artists to open the Artspace Gallery, and he served as its first treasurer; he has also served on numerous non-profit boards, and for two years in the 1990s he volunteered at Steamtown, in the restoration shop and in train service.  Oren lives with his family on East 5th Street in Bloom, within easy bicycling distance of almost everything.

Reading & Northern 425, Peacock's Lock Bridge, Schuylkill River, Reading, Pennsylvania, Oren B. Helbok photo

Reading & Northern #425 crossing Peacock's Lock Bridge
7 October 2017

Built before the Civil War by the Philadelphia & Reading, the first double-track main line railroad in the United States, this bridge just north of the city of Reading used to span the Schuylkill Canal as well as the river of the same name; the bridge draws its name from a long-vanished lock on the canal, which itself went out of business in 1931, having lost most of its
traffic to the railroad more than half a century earlier.

Strasburg Rail Road #89, enginehouse, steam locomotive, Oren B. Helbok photo

Strasburg Rail Road #89, East Strasburg enginehouse
16 February 2019

On the first day of the 2019 operating season, engineer Rick Musser backed #89 out of the enginehouse for the last time as a Strasburg Rail Road employee: At the end of the next week he would retire after more than 30 years with the company.  To mark the occasion, his 20-something son, Ryan, served as his fireman.

Reading & Northern fireman Chuck Trusdell, steam locomotive, firebox glow, Oren B. Helbok photo

Reading & Northern fireman Chuck Trusdell

    north of Reading, Pa.
13 October 2018

The harder a steam locomotive works, the more draft the exhaust produces, providing more air to the fire, producing more heat to burn more coal to make more steam – a virtuous circle which makes a fireman’s job somewhat easier.  He still has to shovel all of that coal, but at least he can feel confident that it will burn.  At night, the light from the firebox provides virtually all of the illumination in the cab.

Crossroads of the B. & O., Deshler Ohio, railroad crossing diamond, Oren B. Helbok photo

Diamond crossing
Deshler, Ohio
15 April 2016

Whenever trains hit these pieces of special trackwork at high rates of speed, they make a lot of noise; in places where one track crosses two or more tracks, one diamond right after another, they make a LOT of noise – veritable symphonies of heartpounding clangor, seemingly out of control but still rhythmic.  This diamond lies in a location once know as the “Crossroads of the B. & O.”

Strasburg Rail Road Santa train caboose marker light, Norfolk Southern Lancaster-based local freight, Leaman Place Junction, Oren B. Helbok photo

Strasburg Rail Road caboose and Norfolk Southern

    local freight
22 December 2018

The 4-1/2-mile Strasburg Railroad interchanges with Norfolk Southern at Leaman Place in Paradise Township, Lancaster County, Pa.  The serenity of this scene, as the local N.S. freight crew waits for the passenger train to leave before dropping loaded cars, offers no hint that more people rode this day – close to 6000 – than any other day in the railroad’s 186-year history.  It took 16 trains, running half-hourly, to accommodate everyone wanting to ride with Santa.

C.N.J. #113, Mill Creek Junction, Pottsville Pa, Railway Restoration Project 113, Oren B. Helbok photo

C.N.J. #113 at Mill Creek Jct. east of Pottsville, Pa.
29 September 2018

Before traveling to Schuylkill Haven for the 30th annual Borough Day celebration, #113’s crew took the engine to Mill Creek Junction to turn on the wye tracks there so the engine would face south and thus present her face to the Main Street crossing where she sat all day, boiling water – and a few lucky visitors to the cab got to blow the whistle.

Steam Into History York #17, driving wheel, 4-4-0, siderods

Drive wheel of Steam Into History #17
New Freedom, Pa.
23 December 2017

To make this photo, I held onto the locomotive’s grab iron with one hand, leaned out as far as I could, and held the camera with the other hand, aiming as much by sense of smell as anything.  Using a slow shutter speed emphasized the motion of the wheels and siderods, and I could count on the camera’s built-in vibration control — an example of modern technology making imagemaking possible that almost never could have happened in the past.

New Hope & Ivyland #40 crossing Inghamd Creek, New Hop

New Hope & Ivyland #40 at Ingham Creek
New Hope, Pa.
7 January 2018

Some years ago, a friend and I knocked on the door of a house whose yard backs up against this creek, hoping for access.  By sheer luck, the young man who lives there loves trains too, even volunteering at another nearby steam railroad.  So I did not have to trespass to take this photo, made while lying on the six-inch-thick ice.

Strasburg Rail Road #89 coupler, caboose, Santa train

Strasburg Rail Road engine #89 and caboose #20
9 December 2017

At Christmastime, the Strasburg runs two Santa trains simultaneously on weekend days, with the longer train carrying two Santas.  The trains meet halfway along the 4½-mile line and, since no child should ever see two Santas at once, all of the jolly old elves duck into the nearest rest room or closet when approaching the meeting point.  The Santa on Train 2 uses the caboose as his office, and he has given me leave to ride with him occasionally, making this photo from the platform possible.

Westbound Norfolk Southern freight on Port Royal Branch, East Pittsburgh, George Westighouse Bridge

Norfolk Southern intermodal train
East Pittsburgh, Pa.
22 April 2018

 

In a view made from the sidewalk of the 240-foot-high George Westinghouse Bridge, westbound trailers-on-flatcars look like an abstract sculpture against the brown early-spring landscape in the light of the late-afternoon sun.

Union Railroad slab train, Edgar Thompson Works, East Pittsburgh, Pennsylvana Railroad Broad Way, George Westighouse Bridge

Union Railroad slab train leaving the Edgar Thompson works
East Pittsburgh, Pa.
22 April 2018

 

Making a mockery of Earth Day, a set of Union Railroad switchers shoves a train of steel slabs out of the yard of U.S. Steel’s Edgar Thompson Works and up the ramp to the Union’s main line; Norfolk Southern’s former Pennsylvania Railroad “Broad Way” curves along the highway at the right edge of the scene. Photo made from the George Westinghouse Bridge, U.S. 30.

Everett Railroad #11 at Brookes Mills, cattails

Everett Railroad #11
Brookes Mills, Pa.
16 December 2017

Railroads almost always try to take the path of least resistance, in the lowlands along the rivers.  The broad valley of the Frankstown Branch of the Juniata River in Blair County offered the builders of the Morrisons Cove Railroad an easy grade when they drove their survey stakes in the 1880s, and the cattails give away the marshy nature of the ground to this day.

Everett Railroad #11, sunset along the Frankstown Branch of the Juniata

Everett Railroad along the Frankstown Branch of the Juniata
16 December 2017

 

After Thanksgiving, the Everett runs four Santa trains each Saturday, and I had photographed the first three on this day in the company of a good friend and his son.  For the last trip of the day, we decided to ride, and we staked out the baggage compartment, used by Santa to stockpile presents for the children.  After Santa and the elves left to visit with the passengers, we opened the sliding doors and rode like dogs in the back seat of a car, leaning way out and enjoying the coal-scented breeze.

Chicago L over Washington Street in the Loop

Chicago L train crossing Washington Street in the Loop
12 April 2018

 

After spending much of the afternoon helping visitors to the Chicago Bean get pictures of themselves with their phones, my friend George Hiotis and I got back to the serious business of documenting trains in the concrete canyons.

Metra 16th Street Tower, Chicago, outbound Rock Island District train, Chicago skyline at night

Outbound Metra Rock Island District train
16th Street, Chicago
15 April 2018

 

Exactly a mile from its departure point at LaSalle Street Station at the edge of the Loop, a Sunday-evening commuter train slows for the diamond crossings of the St. Charles Air Line.  Metra’s 16th Street Tower, built in 1901, leans precariously; why it remains in use in the second decade of the 21st century — when almost every other tower nationwide has succumbed to centralized dispatching centers — remains a mystery.

Amtrak maintainer, Canal Street Bridge, Chicago, Amtak main line, Pennylvania Railroad main line

Amtrak maintainer
Canal Street drawbridge, Chicago
13 April 2018

 

A mile and a half south of Union Station, the Canal Street Drawbridge spans the Chicago River.  Built by the Pennsylvania Railroad in 1913-14, the bridge once carried 300 trains a day.  Although not nearly as busy today, all of Amtrak’s trains to and from the east, plus dozens of switching moves around the large servicing yard, come and go this way.  Tracks take a beating, especially where they cross each other, and it takes a small army of maintainers to keep all of the bolts tightened.

Frankfort, Indiana, CSX eastbound freight, Nicholas waiting

Nicholas waits for a CSX freight
Frankfort, Indiana
18 April 2018

 

Frankfort once had twelve rail routes radiating from it, almost literally “to every point of the compass”.  Today it still has five, and a large yard just west of downtown.  On a Wednesday morning, a local resident on his way home got delayed at Gentry Street as an interminably-long CSX freight train, easily two to three miles long, crawled eastward.

Eastbound Norfolk Southern freight, Rockville Bridge, Susquehanna River

Eastbound Norfolk Southern freight
Rockville Bridge, Susquehanna River
23 December 2017

 

Completed in 1902, Rockville remains the longest stone-arch bride in the world — 3,820 feet over 48 arches.  On my way to Steam Into History in York County on a cloudy December day, I stopped north of the bridge, at Fort Hunter, to take pictures, and again south of it.  As I scrambled down the brushy bank, I saw the headlight of an eastbound train coming out onto the bridge — perfect timing!

Norfolk Southern, West Slope, Broad Way, dawn, looking east from Jamestown Road

Former Pennsylvania Railroad main line
Portage, Pa.
1 July 2018

 

My friend George and I got up at 4:45 a.m. so we could get out to the Jamestown Road bridge over the “Broad Way”, 14 miles west of Horseshoe Curve, before dawn.  On the drive from our motel, we passed through patches of dense fog, and the fog lasted for quite a while.  We stood on the bridge, mouths agape, as the sky lightened, turning colors we could not believe.  Even without trains, and perhaps especially without trains, the scene looked like a Japanese painting.

Iron Triangle, Columbus Avenue crossing, Fostoria, Ohio

Columbus Avenue crossing
Fostoria, Ohio
18 April 2018

 

Three double-track main lines cross in Fostoria’s “Iron Triangle”, and the city has built a “railfan park” within it; before the economic recession of 2008, more than 100 trains per day passed through town.  My friend George and I have visited the area on a few Midwestern trips and enjoy the early mornings and late evenings, when we have the streets to ourselves.  This photo owes its inspiration to Michael Flanagan’s book Stations, a meditation about why we railfans do the things we do.

Strasburg Rail Road enginehouse #89, portrait of engineer Ross Gochenaur

Strasburg Rail Road engineer Ross Gochenaur in the cab

   of engine #89
24 February 2018

 

A Strasburg employee since the Monday after he finished high school, Ross works in the airbrake shop and as a conductor, fireman, and engineer on the railroad’s passenger and freight trains.  While not a railfan when he started there, he has become deeply knowledgeable about steam railroading in all of its aspects and deeply passionate about it, and he does not take for granted that he gets to put his hand on locomotive throttles for a living.

Strasburg Rail Road snow Groffs Grove #89 engineer Ross Gochenaur

Strasburg Rail Road engineer Ross Gochenaur in the snow

  at Groff's Grove
9 December 2017

 

Nothing beats steam in the snow, when the elemental forces of fire and steam meet the elemental forces of air and ice.  This day had started gray and cold, but by noontime the snow fell with increasing intensity, making me very happy.  The crews on the trains dealt with it as they always have, mostly uncomplaining; the poets among them, Ross foremost, also gloried in the experience.

Strasburg Rail Road snow Blackhorse Road #89 engineer Ross Gochenaur

Strasburg Rail Road engineer Ross Gochenaur

   at Blackhorse Road
9 December 2017

 

Spending the day aboard Santa’s caboose, I enjoyed the privilege of riding “unsupervised”, so I could open up the window and stick my head and camera out — not allowed in the coaches, but here overlooked.  Ross will shortly bring the train to a stop so he can blow the whistle and passengers can listen for the echo — what the on-board narration calls the “ghost train” across the valley (in honor of the Lancaster, Oxford & Southern which ran not too far away before its abandonment in 1918).

Strasburg Rail Road snow Groffs Grove #89 #90 engineer Ross Gochenaur

Strasburg Rail Road engineer Ross Gochenaur meeting

    Train 1 at Groff's Grove
24 February 2018

 

The Strasburg bills itself as “America’s Oldest Shortline”, chartered in 1832 and in more-or-less continuous operation since sometime later in the 1830s (for the first decade and a half, with horses supplying the motive power).  Halfway along the 4½-mile line, the current owners built a passing siding in the late 1960s so they could operate two trains.  The uphill, westbound, train always stops here to let the downhill eastbound go by; Ross has his Train 2 well in control as he meets Train 1 at 1:39 p.m.

Steam Into History, York #17, New Freedom Pa, Stephen Lane

Steam Into History engineer Stephen Lane
New Freedom, Pa.
23 December 2017

 

Although it looks much like a 19th-century locomotive, the “York #17” only dates back to 2013, built to order for the historical start-up Steam Into History.  SIH operates a portion of the former Northern Central Railroad, on which Abraham Lincoln rode to and from Gettysburg in 1863; its engineer Stephen Lane has experience at a number of Pennsylvania heritage railroads and now out of college has gone to work as a management trainee at Norfolk Southern.

CNJ 113, Railway Restoration Project 113, Minersville, Jake Pothering

Jake Pothering raking the fire in C.N.J. 113

Minersville, Pa.
3 December 2017

 

After an almost 15-year restoration, Central of New Jersey #113 operated in 2013, and I got involved with the all-volunteer group then and manage the Web site — RRProject113.org — and Facebook page.  Among Project 113’s strengths, it has attracted a large number of very young and very dedicated people; Jake Pothering has yet to graduate from high school, but he already has a number of days of experience firing the locomotive, which burns a mixture of bituminous and local anthracite.

CNJ 113, Railway Restoration Project 113, Minersville, Mike Fenstermaker

Project 113 engineer Mike Fenstermaker
Minersville, Pa.
3 December 2017

 

Mike got his first experience working on steam back in the mid-1970s, when as a ten-year-old he got lowered into a cold locomotive boiler to clean out rust and scale (none of the other volunteers, all adults, could fit, or so they told him).

Black River & Western #60 Ringoes air compressor Rob Charles

Black River & Western volunteer Rob Charles

Ringoes, N.J.
10 December 2017

 

For many years, Rob did work on various parts of Black River’s locomotive in his nearby machine shop, but only after getting invited to ride in #60 did he get bitten by the railroading bug.  Now an experienced mechanic and a qualified fireman, he should get his chance soon to try for promotion to the righthand side, the engineer’s seat.

Steamtown BLW #26 in roundhouse

Jerry Dziedzic and Mike Oprisko in the roundhouse with

     B.L.W. #26
28 August 2016

 

Even indoors, early mornings and late afternoons make for the best lighting, as here in the Steamtown roundhouse as the sun pours its rays through the giant windows while the crew gets the locomotive ready for its day hauling passengers through the yard and up to the Nay Aug Gorge.

Steamtown engineer Chris LaBar at roundhouse doors

Steamtown engineer Chris LaBar opening roundhouse

     doors
28 August 2016

In 1968, the great railroad photographer Richard Steinheimer made an image of a Colorado & Southern enginehouse worker in Leadville, Colo.,
opening the doors to reveal an SD9 diesel.  When Chris LaBar opened the Steamtown roundhouse doors on this morning in 2016, no locomotive yet sat out on the turntable, but this image takes 100% of its inspiration from Stein’s masterpiece.

Steamtown volunteer engineer Seth Corwin as gandy dancer

Steamtown engineer Seth Corwin doing track

     maintenance
4 September 2016

Retired from duties on the full-size locomotives that pull Steamtown excursions, Seth — who started with the Steamtown Foundation in Vermont decades ago — now brings his live-steam models to Railfests. In
this photo, he performs the duties of a Brobdingagian gandy dancer on the small-scale track.

Steamtown volunteer Jerry Dziedzic cleaning ashpan on BLW #26

Steamtown volunteer Jerry Dziedzic cleaning the ashpan

     of B.L.W. #26
28 August 2016

Engine crews have to get up close and personal with their charges throughout their days’ work, hot and dirty in the summertime and cold and dirty in the winter.  Some manage to stay cleaner than others, and Steamtown volunteer Jerry Dziedzic looks none the worse for wear even as he practically hugs the injector pipe and applies water to the ashpan, purging it of the accumulated unburnable remains of the bituminous coal that he and other firemen had shoveled into the firebox over the previous 24 hours.

Steamtown BLW #26 in the yard

Baldwin Locomotive Works #26 in the Steamtown yard
28 August 2016

 

Early on a summer morning, the roundhouse crew has finished their ministrations, and the engineer and fireman bring the day’s star attraction out to the yard to pick up their train for “Nay Aug Limited” trips.  The ancient sandhouse tower appears above the engine, while in the distance the former Delaware, Lackawanna & Western locomotive shops provide an Industrial-era horizon.

Everett Railroad #11 Hollidaysburg steam

Young Everett Railroad passenger playing in steam

Hollidaysburg, Pa.
16 December 2017

 

Too young to understand fluid dynamics, or any of the workings of the locomotive in front of her, this little girl nonetheless experienced some of the magic of steam — okay, condensed steam, but made possible by the boiling water inside #11.  Nothing else like it in the world.