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Nebraska: 1938

Nebraska: 1938

November 1938. "Omaha, Nebraska. Railroad yards." Medium format negative by John Vachon for the Farm Security Administration. View full size.


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In the upper right, behind the tall smokestack, sits Johnny's Cafe. Established in 1922 and still serving today, it remains as one of the last artifacts of the Omaha Stockyards.

Smoke and Steam

As a twelve year old living in Geelong, near Melbourne, Australia, there was a pedestrian overpass above the main railway yards, similar to the road viaduct in this photo. I had a strong interest in trains, and a friend would join me after school to stand on the overpass and watch the action of the shunting trains in 1959. Most of the engines were still steam powered, and we always got a kick out of standing in the right spot to get a blast of smoke and steam as the locomotive passed underneath. Upon returning home, my mother would encounter me and immediately say: "You've been down at the train yards again, haven't you? Go get cleaned up." To her credit, I was never prohibited from visiting the railway.

The Brakeman's Club

The "brakeman's club" was not a social gathering. To apply the hand brakes, the brakeman (lower right of photograph) would turn a large brake control wheel located atop each freight car of the train. Every brakeman carried a thick brake “club” to help give them leverage in turning the wheel (and also to defend against hostile hobos!).

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