John E. Pickett is among the great photographers I featured in my book The Twilight of Steam. A life long friend of Jim Shaughnessy (also featured), John has had the opportunity to photograph steam locomotives all across North America.
In the 1940s, he was fortunate to grow up in Canajoharie, New York, located just across the Mohawk River from New York Central’s four-track mainline at Palentine Bridge. His early experiences watching the parade of Hudsons, Mohawks, and Niagaras working the Water Level Route inspired him to make wonderful photographs of locomotives at work before diesels took over.
The Twilight of Steam features dozens of John’s images and tells of his experiences and techniques.
On Friday, May 17, 2013, John Pickett and I went for lunch at the Riverview Cafeat Stuyvesant, New York. This is one of John’s favorite places to eat, as it offers a view of both the former New York Central Water Level Route and the Hudson River, and sits a short walk from the old Stuyvesant railway station.
I was visiting John to review some black & white negatives for upcoming book projects. John has a wonderful collection of steam-era photographs, many that he exposed with his own lens, and I’ve published a number of these in recent books, including North American Locomotives published by Voyageur Press.
I enjoy perusing John’s files and finding hidden gems among his images.
One of the photos he made shows a New York Central streamlined J3a Hudson racing west through Palentine Bridge in 1946. John grew up in Canajoharie on the opposite side of the Mohawk River from Palentine Bridge and he has great memories of watching trains in the glory days of the New York Central.
Before we sat down for lunch, John consulted his Amtrak schedule and worked out the times for train 238 running south from Albany and train 281working north from New York City. It was a toss up as he figured they were both due about the same time. ‘How exciting! I wonder which will get here first?’
As it turned out, 238 came first, but rolled through at a crawl. Soon after it passed us, we could here 281 blasting north. John passed the train a friendly wave, and, to our delight, we saw that it had a classic New York Central round-end observation at the back! ‘That was Babbling Brook!’. Neat to see a vestige of the Great Steel Fleet (what New York Central called its Water Level route passenger service) still rolling along at speed.