This weekend, I had to go to Blacksburg, VA to help train some staff at a new sip and paint studio that’s opening there. While perusing the website of the hotel where I was staying, I discovered that the O. Winston Link Museum was only about a 45 minute drive, so I decided that the next day I would leave my training session and head off to a “training” session. Just in case you don’t know Mr. Link’s work, he spent 1955 to 1960 documenting life along the Norfolk and Western rail line. Now I’ll pause to let you laugh at my “training” pun. Go ahead. I’ll wait. Anyway, do a quick google search and you’ll see a ton of his stuff. They required really elaborate light set ups because he so often shot at night, and even if you’re not a train buff, his work is extraordinary.
In the late 1990’s, a train stopped on the tracks that went through my parents’ property, with some fancypants-looking car on the back. My dad grabbed his camera and ran down to the tracks and asked the engineer who was in the fancypants car. The engineer said it was some photographer guy named Link. My dad, being both an insane train buff and a photography buff, went racing down the tracks yelling, “Mr. Link! Mr. Link!” A very elderly Mr. Link came out and chatted with my dad, and allowed my dad to take a picture of him. After he had the roll of film developed, he mailed a copy of the photo off to Mr. Link, who promptly sent a thank you note and a check for $25. Dad sent a letter back thanking him for the check and saying the only reason he was keeping it was so that he could say he sold a photograph to O. Winston Link.
On my way there, I got a little lost (thank you, gps) and almost got t-boned by a caboose (now that would have been a story). I haven’t seen a caboose in ages (Kim Kardashian’s ass doesn’t count), but it was going really slowly so I was able to whip out my camera and snap a pic.
Eventually I found the museum and went in and for the bargain price of $5, gained entry into a treasure trove of train photography and portraiture. My favorite part was that there’s a listening station that plays dozens of recordings that Mr. Link took while riding the rails. So I sat in the station and closed my eyes and listened to a number of them. I found myself accidentally rocking in time to the clickety clack as though I were back on a train, too. I’m sure I looked like a complete idiot, but even once I realized it, I didn’t stop, because TRAINS, y’all. They must not get many young(ish) women in there, because the volunteers who worked there seemed a little astonished that I was there. I chatted up one old fellow who had been friends with Mr. Link and got to hear a couple fun stories about him that weren’t in the exhibit.
After my tour of the museum, I walked over to the market area in Roanoke and got some nosh and perused some stores, then wandered back to the tracks to take a couple more pictures. It was a drizzly day, but something about having visited the museum had lifted my spirits. I had been a little worried that being surrounded by all that train stuff would make me sad about my dad, but it turned out to be quite the opposite, and I found myself feeling really grateful that my dad had shared his nutty love for the rail with me.
And one more thing, in case you’re wondering, I found out from the volunteer that I chatted up that the O. stands for Ogle, which makes him sound rather dirty or lecherous or something, but the volunteer assured me that Mr. Link had not been either – just, as he described it – cantankerous with a smile.