John E. Gruber, photographer, editor, author and friend—passed away October 9, 2018, aged 82.
John was a generous man with a keen eye who selflessly promoted railroad photography, history, art and preservation. He was visionary, multi-talented and prolific.
While early on he made a name through his clever insightful lens-work, John’s greatest contributions to railroad image making were through his promotion of other image makers and his abilities to connect people.
His legacy will be the many friendships he made, the ideas he fostered, and setting the bar ever higher for railroad image making.
Among the dozens of images I made of John over the last 25 years are these black & white photos from a trip we made together in 2016.
I always enjoyed John’s company; and his work inspired me in more ways than I can articulate. He and I collaborated on many projects, including no less than five books. He will be missed.
Rest in Peace John.
Here’s a link to a Trains podcast interview I conducted with John back in August.
In the 1950s and 1960s, My father made a project of photographing the Chicago, North Shore & Milwaukee, the distinctive interurban electric line connecting it’s namesakes.
Last month, John Gruber and I paid a visit to the Illinois Railway Museum at Union, Illinois. Like my father, John had focused on the North Shore. He made hundreds of excellent photographs that distilled the spirit of the railway.
North Shore was before my time, but I feel that I know the line thanks to my dad’s and John’s photographs, which were featured in books by the late William D. Middleton.
The railway may be gone 55 years, but key pieces of it’s equipment survive.
I made these digital views of preserved North Shore cars at IRM using my FujiFIlm X-T1 with 12mm Zeiss Touit lens. This flat-field super wide-angle lens is well suited to making images in the tight quarters of IRM’s car barns.
John Gruber has an on-going exhibit of his finest North Shore photography in the East Union Station at IRM. This will be subject of another Tracking the Light post.
Last week I traveled with John Gruber to the Illinois Railway Museum at Union. John needed to deliver some material in relation to his North Shore photo exhibit, and he wanted me to expose a few images of him with his photographs.
Between 1960 and 1963, John made a project of documenting the last years of operation of the Chicago North Shore & Milwaukee interurban electric line.
North Shore was an intensive electric line that connected the Chicago Loop (trains served downtown using the rapid transit ‘L’—[elevated line]) with Milwaukee, Wisconsin via Chicago’s northern suburbs. The line was well known for its articulated streamlined speedsters called Electroliners and its electrically cooked hamburgers known as Electroburgers. Operations concluded in January 1963.
John’s work is iconic. He exposed thousands of North Shore photographs and his photography goes well beyond ordinary images of the trains. He focused on people as well as machines, and preserved a feel for this unusual railway in motion.
Johns work was prominently featured in the pages of Trains magazine and in books such as those by the late William D. Middleton.
His current exhibit can be seen in the waiting room of the East Union station at IRM. It will be on display through the end of 2016.
Of course, while we were at IRM, we took the opportunity to travel the line, and visit some of the historic equipment (which includes several of North Shore’s cars).
In addition to a variety of digital photos, I exposed these black & white images with my Leica.
Rob McGonigal has reviewed my book The Twilight of Steam in his magazine Classic Trains. He gives special kudos to John E. Pickett’s excellent photography, while mentioning many of the contributing photographers including George C. Corey, John Gruber, Jim Shaughnessy, Ron Wright, and my late friend Robert A. Buck.
If you haven’t seen the book, check it out! I think it is my finest effort to date. All black & white and superbly reproduced. I’d examined thousands of period black & white photos and selected a choice few for inclusion. Not to be overlooked are the skilled efforts of Fred Matthews, Gordon Roth, Bill Vigrass, and Phil Weibler, who were all in the enviable position of being there when steam worked the rails.
One of the premises for the book is that the majority of the photographs were made when steam was still in regular revenue service. While there’s a few views of special trips, all the photos were made in the steam era. I’ve let a few diesels in too, albeit often off in the distance.
It was on June 19, 2010, that John Gruber, Henry A. Koshollek, and I drove from Madison, Wisconsin to Union, Illinois to photograph at the Illinois Railway Museum.
Among the attractions that day were a freshly restored former North Shore interurban car and the former North Shore Electroliner.
Back in the day, John was among the lucky ones who rode and photographed the North Shore in service. He was on hand for North Shore’s final runs in January 1963.
Later, John photographed Denver & Rio Grande Western’s narrow gauge steam in its final years. In August 1967, John had the rare opportunity to ride and photograph one of D&RGW’s very last revenue freights over Cumbres Pass, courtesy of David P. Morgan at TRAINS.
As a child, I recalled looking through an old dog-eared copy of that issue of TRAINS with John’s cover feature. Back then, I never could have imagined that I’d become friends with John, let alone work with him editing magazines.
Recently, John and I have collaborated on several book projects. He was an important contributor to The Twilight of Steam, which features some of his outstanding D&RGW photographs. John also helped make important connections, and introduced me to several of the participating photographers. It should be no surprise to readers when they read my dedication.
John and I have also authored book on American streetcars, expected this summer.
Last week, John Gruber and I called into TRAINS Magazine for a social visit.
John has been a regular visitor at TRAINS since David P. Morgan was editor. I’ve been calling by since 1994.
We pre-arranged for the visit during a conversation at Beecherfest. TRAINS’ Matt Van Hattem met us inside Kalmbach’s glassy office building and we spent an hour chatting with the magazine’s editors.
Editor in chief, Jim Wrinn was away on assignment in California where he was on a live-feed covering the pending movement of Union Pacific Big Boy 4014.
For me, railway photography has always been more than just images of tracks and trains, and I brought my Lumix into this inner publishing sanctum to make a few photos of the people that produce America’s most popular railway magazines.
John Gruber and I went over to Madison’s Lake Monona anticipating Wisconsin & Southern’s (WSOR) road freight heading to Janesville. I’m working against a deadline, so I brought the laptop with me to read, write and edit, while waiting for the train thus making dual use of my time. John said, ‘You’re putting me to shame!’ All he brought was a camera.
After a 40 minute wait, we heard a horn sounding for a crossing. But it wasn’t coming Madison as we expected. This wasn’t the southward train, but the northward run! So 20 minutes from sundown a pair of SD40-2s crawled across the causeway. It was here that Bill Middleton made some iconic photos more than 60 years ago. John remembered, “His first published picture in Trains; it featured the Dakota 400 crossing the bay.”
I exposed a few slides with my Canon EOS 3, and a flurry of digital images with my EOS 7D. Then we drove over to WSOR’s Madison yard, where we found another freight ready to leave. I made a few photos with my Lumix LX-3 in the fading light.
Dick Gruber did the driving, John offered historical context, while I made notes. We all made photos. I was working with three cameras; my EOS-3 film camera loaded with Provia 100F slide film, my EOS 7D digital camera, and Lumix LX-3.
John Gruber, says as we inspect a grade crossing near Sun Prairie, Wisconsin, ‘Passenger trains were allowed 75mph through here. The Hiawatha’s Atlantics worked here towards the end. It was probably the last regular trains they worked. When I saw them they were pretty dirty.’
Visions of high-speed service on this route were revived in recent years (as part of a Chicago-Milwaukee-Madison route) then dashed again when political philosophy interfered with transport reality. Track speed is 10mph, and the only service is Wisconsin & Southern’s (WSOR) local freights.
We drove from DeForest, pausing for lunch near Sun Prairie, to a lightly used grade crossing near Deansville where we intercepted the WSOR local freight. This was hauled by a clean pair of GP38s clattering upgrade with a long string of ballast cars and mixed freight at the back.
WSOR’s burgundy and silver makes for a pleasant contrast with rural scenery. I can only imagine what it was like with a streamlined A1 Atlantic clipping along with light-weight passenger cars at speed. Different worlds.
For more on Wisconsin & Southern locomotives click here.
Canadian Pacific’s former Milwaukee Road M&P Branch.
Dick Gruber, John Gruber and I, explored some former Milwaukee Road lines near Madison, Wisconsin on June 14, 2013.
“You hear a lot about deforestation these days,” Dick says to me, “I quite like it. What’s wrong with DeForest Station anyway?”
Having inspected the restored depot. We continued northward (timetable west) along Canadian Pacific’s former Milwaukee branch from Madison to Portage. We had good information that the weekday freight was working towards us. Since track speed is about 10 mph, there was little chance that we might miss the train.
However, we weren’t expecting to find a CP work extra with an SD40-2 and vintage Jordan Spreader doing ditching work. Another case of good luck on my part. I’ve said this before, but I often have good luck on the railroad.
A few miles north of DeForest, I said to Dick, ‘Turn here, I think that road crosses the line, maybe there’s a photo op.” Sure enough! There we see the spreader working. While watching the works, I gave John a quick lesson on how to work his new Canon 7D. In the meantime, the weekday freight crept up and we made photos of the two trains together.
This local freight was led by a GP38 and one of the new ‘Eco’ GP20Cs built by Electro Motive. It was my first experience with these new units. Dick was appalled with the appearance of the GP20C, “Ah! What do you call those engines? LODs! Lack of Design!”
The local got around the spreader and did a bit switching at an industrial park then continued past the DeForest Station toward Madison.
Soon we were heading toward Sun Prairie and Waterloo to intercept a Wisconsin & Southern freight working toward Madison. I’ll cover that in a future post.