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Nocturne: 1942

Nocturne: 1942

December 1942. "Work goes on 24 hours a day at Chicago & North Western RR's Proviso Yard." 4x5 Kodachrome transparency by Jack Delano. View full size.


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The position of each switch in the yard is indicated to the switchmen at a glance by the color of the electric switch lights on the ladder tracks. I spotted a few other things: The two red lights towards the left hand side of the photo are the marker lights on a caboose, which were used to help protect and identify the rear of a train when on the road at night. Also, some switchman has left his kerosene brakeman's lantern sitting on the sill of the hump tower.

You just need a eye for this stuff

From all the time I spent in my dad's darkroom as a young boy. The C&NW shots on this site still amaze me.


The scene is an image of the Proviso hump. Cars were shoved over a manmade hill, to roll free to a designated track. The retarder operator sat in the upper level of the tower at right, controlling switches remotely, depending on the desired track a given car was to roll to. He also controlled several sets of retarders, devices that pinched to a degree the wheel flanges on a car, slowing it to avoid hard impacts when it coupled into the cut being built. Jack's shot was time exposed, and during the exposure the ghost MP boxcar rolled off the hump into the picture. Although it's difficult to make sense of in the image, the foreground mechanism is one of the retarder devices.


Great photo! It's my new desktop.

It makes 1942 look so serene and peaceful, of course it wasn't at all.

Still I wish I could step into that picture for a few hours and take a stroll around the Train Yard.

Switch lamps

These look like they were electrically lighted, and motorized (controlled from the yard office or tower). All manual (hand-operated) switches I've ever seen had kerosene lamps if they had lamps at all, in addition to painted metal "targets" to indicate their position.


The ghost car is great. Nice observation, Thump.

My question is what are those round "distortions" on the far left? Possibly water droplets magnifying and distorting the image behind them? What else could it be?

[Those are tank cars. - Dave]

Thanks for the blow up image, Dave. I see the edges of the cars now.

That indigo sky

That's the most blue blue I've seen in a long, long time. Kodachrome is amazing.

Dwarfed by the light

The interesting part of the photo to me are the numerous little switch lights around the yard. I'm far from an expert, but they appear to be a type of Dwarf light to indicate the direction of the switch points. I suppose their power came from electicity. Anyone have knowledge of these?


It is interesting that when you see pictures in color how much more modern they seem. I guess black & white creates some kind of romantic distance.

What 69 years?

This looks like it could have been taken last night.

Ghost Train

or one of them newfangled glass boxcars!

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