The Big Picture

A well-planned single image yells the story of 20th-century transportation

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Link had already timed the Norfolk and Western Freight No. 78, whose locomotive was "the most beautiful engine ever built," in his book. He had set up 42 flashbulbs throughout the scene (plus one to highlight his car). After he talked Allen and Christian into indulging him, Link climbed a ladder to his tripod-mounted 4 x 5 and waited.

His timing was perfect—he wrote of being able to see only the locomotive's distant headlight coming down the tracks—but it wasn't enough. The explosion of light washed out what was on the movie screen at the moment; he had to print the image of the plane from a negative he'd made separately of that night's showing. The film, Battle Taxi, has been forgotten. But Link's picture holds up as a one-frame narrative of 20th-century transportation.

Today, most of the Norfolk and Western towns are mere vestiges of a more prosperous time; Iaeger, about 1,500 people in 1956, has dwindled to about 320. But Link did, in fact, capture a way of life before it faded. "I was one man, and I tackled a big railroad," he once said. "I did the best I could."


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