In 1955, while on a shooting assignment at the Westinghouse factory in Staunton, Virginia, a freelance industrial photographer and steam train enthusiast heard that Norfolk & Western Railway was still running steam trains in Virginia, and that one would be passing through nearby Waynesboro. The photographer, whose name was O. Winston Link, headed over to the depot in Waynesboro and made his first night shot of an N&W steam train.

Link was instantly hooked, and subsequently requested permission from the N&W to photograph the trains at night on railroad property. The railroad agreed, and the gifted photographer set about documenting a vanishing technology and way of life in rural Virginia. Link worked from 1955 to 1960 when the last steam train on the N&W was replaced by diesel. He made more than 20 trips to Virginia hauling a trailer full of the flashbulbs, wire, reflectors, power supplies, and 4x4 view cameras that were essential to his work.

In all, Link made over 2,400 images. Link visualized his images before he shot them, and when he arrived at a site, he knew exactly what he wanted. The N&W aided his work considerably by rescheduling and rerouting trains, and re-arranging cars at his request before a shoot. Many of those who worked for N&W or lived along the rail lines also befriended the voluble New Yorker who loved steam trains, often feeding him and putting him up during his stays in Virginia.

O. Winston Link was born in Brooklyn, but his Mom was from Drewry's Bluff near Richmond and his Dad was from Duffield in Southwest Virginia. Link received early recognition as a photographer at the age of 17 when he photographed a solar eclipse using an old camera and a pair of binoculars. He attended Brooklyn Polytechnic, where he was elected to both class president as well as class clown. Link trained as a civil engineer, but his real gift was visual storytelling. After school, he went to work for a publicity firm in New York as a photographer.

During World War II, Link worked at a secret lab at Columbia University where he employed his photographic skills and engineering knowledge to document top secret military projects. It is here that he photographed his first train - a Long Island Railroad (LIRR) steam locomotive that passed by his window billowing steam on a frigid winter day in New York. After the War, Link became a freelance industrial photographer and began to develop his signature style of composition and lighting and started adding people to his photographs to provide a human link to the machines.

O. Winston Link passed away in 2001, and in 2004 the O. Winston Link Museum opened in the ca. 1949 Norfolk and Western passenger station. By 1991 the station lay abandoned and deteriorated. In 2004 it was restored and given new life as the home of the O. Winston Link Museum and the Roanoke Valley Convention and Visitor Center. The museum features Link's photos and sound recordings as well as interactive, multi-media exhibits including a film and audio-video stations as well as an interactive diorama that lets you light a scene just like O. Winston Link.

The O. Winston Link Museum is located in downtown Roanoke quite close to the David R. and Susan S. Goode Railwalk and the Virginia Museum of Transportation that is home to the vintage steam trains that O. Winston Link loved so well. The O. Winston Link Museum is also close to the Taubman Museum of Art as well as numerous shops and restaurants in the City Market area. The Museum features a gift shop and is accessible to mobility devices.

History courtesy of and many thanks to Thomas H. Garver, O. Winston Link: The Man and the Museum, 2004 O. Winston Link Museum.

Pictured at the top: O. Winston Link, The Birmingham Special gets the highball at Rural Retreat, Va., 1957 (Library of Congress).

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The O. Winston Link Museum is located in downtown Roanoke quite close to the   Virginia Museum of Transportation that is home to several original steam locomotives, one of which - the 1218 - was photographed by Link.

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O Winston Link, on the left, and his assistant George Thorn with some of their lighting equipment, 1956.