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Our holdings include hundreds of glass and film negatives/transparencies that we've scanned ourselves; in addition, many other photos on this site were extracted from reference images (high-resolution tiffs) in the Library of Congress research archive. (To query the database click here.) They are adjusted, restored and reworked by your webmaster in accordance with his aesthetic sensibilities before being downsized and turned into the jpegs you see here. All of these images (including "derivative works") are protected by copyright laws of the United States and other jurisdictions and may not be sold, reproduced or otherwise used for commercial purposes without permission.

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[REV 25-NOV-2014]

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Retarder Tower: 1942

Retarder Tower: 1942

November 1942. "Chicago, Illinois. South classification yard seen from retarder operators' tower at an Illinois Central Railroad yard." Medium format nitrate negative by Jack Delano for the Office of War Information. View full size.

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To answer some questions, the levers in this photo were connected to the points by means of electrical connections. Previously they were mechanical, in that the levers pulled a number of point rods that activated the retarders and switch points. Sometime around 1930, IC upgraded their systems to a more modern type that used motors and electrical impulses to activate things. Believe it or not, though largely modernized, a similar system is still in use today.

Connection query

Can someone explain how the levers on the control panel were connected to the switches in the distance? Looks to me as if only a few inches of movement on the lever would activate a switch on the rails that must have been relatively large. How was it done? Cables? Motors? Is the same principle used in modern railroading?


Proviso yard would be C&NW RR, (UP RR today) not the IC, as for climbing up into RR towers, they were not hard to do, sure the stairs could be a little steep, but certainly not difficult to manage. I've been in a few towers myself for photo opportunities as well.

The Proviso Yards

Actually located in west suburban Hillside, Illinois. These yards are 1/2 mile from where I grew up in the 50s and 60s.

I bet you're right, ferrochrr. All the big yards in the "rail hub of the country" begin to look alike!

Something to consider

As we enjoy these photos, we should give a tip of the hat to the photographers who often risked life and limb to make them. In this Delano photo take a look at the tower off to the left. I've been in such towers, and whether Jack had to climb up a straight ladder or take an outside spiral stair, there are spots with no handhold and the top higher than it appears. Bulky photography equipment in those days would probably have hung from his body by rope as he climbed or pulled up hand over hand by rope - no easy task. Then they had to produce artistic photos and develop them carefully. Devoted people!

[In this case, Delano was shooting 120 roll film, most likely using a camera similar to the one he's shown with here. -tterrace]

Not a groupie

But a rail fan like me and many others who love trains, would this be Markham yard on the IC? (IC the train)

The ultimate

Train Set.

Fantastic image

I admit I am a railroad "groupie", but this picture is incredible.
Jack Delano may be the Ansel Adams of railroad images.

SHORPY HISTORICAL PHOTO ARCHIVE | History in HD is a vintage photo archive featuring thousands of high-definition images from the 1850s to 1960s. (Available as fine-art prints from the Shorpy Archive.) The site is named after Shorpy Higginbotham, a teenage coal miner who lived 100 years ago.

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