Archival BLET photos used in art exhibit

Four photographs from the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET) archives are currently on display in an art and photography exhibit at the Carnegie Arts Center in Alliance, Neb.

The exhibition, sponsored by the Center for Railroad Photography & Art, is titled "It's Work: 150 Years of Railroad Workers at Work." The show runs from January 8-March 2.

The BLET photographs are by the late Richard J. Cook, former Director of Public Relations for the union, and were taken on September 26, 1983. They were originally published in the October 21, 1983, issue of "The Locomotive Engineer," at the time the Brotherhood's official monthly newspaper. The photos feature members of BLET Division 622 in Alliance, Neb.

One of the photos used in the exhibit, a 1983 photograph of Joel and Barbara Schafer, is on the Center's Internet archive, Joel is a member of Division 622 and retired on July 1, 2006; she is working as a BNSF locomotive engineer. The images were made available courtesy of John Bentley of the BLET Public Relations Department in Cleveland, Ohio.

The Center exhibit is a part of "Railroad Art," which includes paintings by Greg Garnett of Alliance. Mike and Medelice Wirtz are co-sponsoring "Railroad Art" with the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Foundation at the Carnegie Center, located at 204 West 4th Street, Alliance.

Appropriately, the photographs are on display in a busy railroad community that serves the Powder River Basin coalmines. Alliance is the county seat for Box Butte County, which had 1,209 railroad employees in 2005, according to the Railroad Retirement Board.

For this exhibit, the center presents 38 photographs from across North America, beginning with a copy of a daguerreotype of the crew and locomotive Tioga, built for the Philadelphia & Columbia railroad in 1848. The images trace some of the changes in the railroad work environment, from the age of steam to the age of microchips. This exhibit highlights the human face of an industry that is dominated by machines and hardware. Technology has made the machines more powerful and the equipment more sophisticated, but behind technology are people who toil in an environment that is a world apart from most other industries. The exhibit had its origins in a three-year program, "Representations of Railroad Work," funded by the North American Railway Foundation (NARF).

From its beginnings in 1997, the Center for Railroad Photography & Art, a nonprofit arts organized based in Madison, Wisc., has grown into a nationally recognized organization, the foremost group in America for promoting an understanding of the place of railroading in America's visual culture. It is committed to preserving Railroad Heritage in all its facets, and works with photographers, writers, and historians across the country to interpret the intersection of railroads, art, and culture. While maintaining its focus on exhibits, publications, conferences, and a web site (, the Center has expanded to include an ambitious Internet archive,, an initiative funded by the North American Railway Foundation and private gifts.

Some of the Alliance photos may be seen at

The Center is located at 1914 Monroe St., P.O. Box 259330, Madison, WI 53725-9330, phone 608-513-5291.

Above: Barbara and Joel Schafer in a photo published October 21, 1983, in "The Locomotive Engineer," the Brotherhood's monthly newsletter.

Below: Nearly 25 years later, the happy couple at Joel's retirement party in July of 2007. Barbara is still a working engineer.

"Barb and I had been married about a year at the time the photo was taken," Joel recalls. "We combined two families for a total of seven children. That first year we had one in every grade from six through12. Those seven have given us 21 grandchildren. It really was a shock to see what we looked like back at the beginning of our careers. I had been railroading six years and Barb four at the time the picture was taken.

"When we lost the brakemen jobs, Barb became an Engineer," Joel continues. "Within just a few years she had enough seniority that we were able to hold consecutive turns in our Alliance/Ravenna blueprint pool, which we continued to hold until my retirement in July 2007. It was a nice way to work until I reached retirement age. Barb has about a year and a half until her retirement. She never complains, but I know it must be tough when she has to go to work in the middle of the night and I don't.

"It has been a rough lifestyle the past 30 years. Not everyone can do it," Joel concludes. "On the other hand, the railroad has provided us with a better living than any of the other jobs available in this area. We have been able travel quite a lot, something I'm sure we couldn't have done otherwise. Looking back, Barb and I are both sure we made the right decision to make the railroad our careers."

Brother Schafer also noted that he and Barb have quite a few family members who railroad. They have a son-in-law who is an engineer and another who is a conductor. Two of Barb's brothers are railroaders - one a conductor and the other an engineer. Joel has a nephew who is a conductor, too, and both of their sons-in law are the sons of engineers.

This photo of Jack L. Scott, a retired member of BLET Division 622 in Alliance, Neb., was also used in the Center For Railroad Photograph & Art's exhibit. Brother Scott retired on January 22, 1998.



© 2008 Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen