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Trains and photography featured in exhibit and program

waynesboro depot pressWhat: History Exhibit “Life Along the Line: Rail images by O. Winston Link” accompanied by train memorabilia; Sponsored by the Augusta County Historical Society.
Where & When: R.R. Smith Center for History & Art History Gallery, now through September 15; Gallery is open Monday-Friday 10 a.m.-5 p.m.; Saturday 10 a.m.-4 p.m.; closed Sunday.
Cost: Free and open to the public

Special event: “Life Along the Line,” illustrated lecture, book signing, and exhibit reception
When: Saturday, July 27, illustrated lecture by author Tony Reevy, 4 p.m.; Book signing and exhibit reception 5-7 p.m.
Where: R.R. Smith Center for History and Art, 20 S. New St., downtown Staunton
Cost: Free and open to the public
For more information: Augusta County Historical Society, www.augustacountyhs.org; augustachs@ntelos.net; 540-248-4151.

Train enthusiasts and anyone seeking a nostalgic look at a vanished rural America will enjoy the “Life Along the Line” exhibit currently on display in the History Gallery at the R.R. Smith Center for History and Art. The exhibit, sponsored by the Augusta County Historical Society, features over 30 photographs from famed Norfolk & Western photographer O. Winston Link on loan from the O. Winston Link Museum in Roanoke. The display is complemented with model trains, rare and unusual train tools, local train memorabilia, cameras, and a video about Staunton’s own Gypsy Express, all on loan from local train enthusiasts and collectors.

The exhibit, open until September 15, will be showcased during a special free event on Saturday, July 27 at the Smith Center. On that day, author Tony Reevy, who researched and wrote, Life Along the Line, a book about Link, will present an illustrated program at 4 p.m. in the Smith Center lecture room. The program will be followed by a book signing and exhibit reception in the History Gallery from 5 to 7 p.m.

A prolific author and poet, North Carolina’s Reevy is also a train enthusiast. The senior associate director of the Institute for the Environment at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill weaves together Link’s personal and professional life in a fascinating story. The coffee table book features 180 of Link’s most famous photographs as well as a CD of the train recordings made by Link. Reevy’s program, which beings at 4 p.m., will feature many of Link’s photographs. His book will be available for sale and autographing in a reception in the History Gallery afterward (5-7 p.m.)

The program and the exhibit have appeal to persons of all ages. As Link set out to document the Norfolk & Western’s disappearing steam engines, his photography and audio recordings also preserved a rural American life that has disappeared. His work is known to many, but what fewer people know is that his historic photographic quest was launched locally in Waynesboro.

A half century ago New York advertising photographer O. Winston Link arrived in Augusta County to photograph Westinghouse air conditioner units. Link had already developed a fascination for trains during a work assignment near the Long Island Railroad in WWII. So it was only natural that while he was in Augusta County he would visit the Waynesboro railroad depot for a look around. At that time, the Norfolk & Western was the last rail line in the nation still using coal-fired steam engines. At Waynesboro Link found intact all the symbols associated with the great iron horse that had helped settle America: an old telephone, a telegraph machine, a manual typewriter, and an old clock. He was hooked.

He convinced the powers to be at N&W to give him unlimited access to the railroad and everything associated with it along the line. Five years and $125,000 later, Link had produced more than 2,000 black and white and 400 color images that told the story of an America that has now all but disappeared. The images are striking and represent technological advances in photography that were invented by him to document the trains. He noted that the biggest problem in shooting locomotives was lighting. Because he couldn’t move the sun or the tracks, he had to custom build arrays of flash equipment to get the perfect picture. He preferred shooting his photographs at night and worked hard at staging the scenes captured through his lens. The results were stunning. Link also recorded the sounds of the steam trains as they passed through the countryside. Included among his collection are photographs in Vesuvius, Waynesboro, and Grottoes.

Ironically, Link’s recordings were a hit first, by the late 1950s. It wasn’t until the 1980s that his photography began to be recognized as art. In 1987 he published his first photography book, Steam, Steel, & Stars. That was followed by The Last Steam Railroad in America, published in 1995.

Although he lived all his life in New York state, he agreed in 2000 to the concept of the O. Winston Link Museum to showcase his train photography. The museum was to be located in the historic Norfolk & Western Passenger Station in Roanoke. Link, who was born in 1914, died of a heart attack in 2001. Already under way, the museum named in his honor opened in 2004. The exhibits honor both the artistic talents of Link and the disappearing iron giants that he captured on film and tape.

“Life Along the Line” represents the first traveling exhibit mounted by the O. Winston Link Museum. The Augusta County Historical Society is honored to host the first stop for the exhibit, appropriately housed in the R.R. Smith Center for History & Art. When the four-story brick building began its life in the 1890s as the Eakleton Hotel, it was one of the finest railroad hotels in the South. The building was designed by famed Staunton architect T.J. Collins.

Complementing the Link images are a number of important railroad tools from the steam locomotive era as well as several model trains that are scale models of those seen in the Link photographs. Two cameras just like those used by Link are on display as well. Other objects represent the train legacy of the area. The metal “Staunton, Va.” sign facing out to the sidewalk once hung from the side of the Staunton C&O depot. At the back of the exhibit, visitors are invited to sit and watch the 20-minute video detailing the restoration of the Gypsy Express. Located in Staunton’s Gypsy Hill Park, the mini-train has been providing rides for both the young and young at heart for more than half a century.

Both the exhibit, which runs through September 15, and the program and reception on July 27 are free and open to the public. The History Gallery is open Monday-Friday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. The illustrated talk by Tony Reevy begins at 4 p.m. in the Smith Center Lecture Room. Visitors are encouraged to come early, as seating will be limited. The book signing and reception is from 5-7 p.m. in the Smith Center History Gallery. For more information visit www.augustacountyhs.org, email augustachs@ntelos.net or call 540-248-4151.

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