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On the Road With Tom Donahue

Updated: Nov 13, 2023

The late Tom Donahue was a longtime WestConn Chapter member and a tower operator. He worked for the New Haven Railroad, Penn Central and Conrail. Tom was a prolific photographer.

Below is the first installment of a recurring feature in our monthly newsletter, the WestConn Manifest. It appeared in the February 2018 issue and was written by John Garofalo

Tom (T.J.) Donahue took approximately 25,000 railroad photos and slides by the time he passed away in 1998. Over the years, you have seen Tom’s work in books, magazines and calendars. Many of his photos have graced the pages of the WestConn Manifest. In this new feature, “On the Road (Railroad) with Tom Donahue,” I thought it might be interesting to open up Tom’s collection and look at where he traveled to capture trains on film. I think there is enough material for a few issues.

Prior to 1970, Tom arranged his slides by railroad in alphabetical order. From 1970 forward, they were stored in chronological order without regard to railroad. We’ll start with Tom’s older work. Up first (under “B”) will be the Baltimore & Ohio. In addition to slides, Tom shot black & white photos of the B&O. If you can’t wait for your favorite railroad to be featured, let me know and I’ll see if the order can be rearranged. New Haven Railroad fans don’t fret. You’ll be seeing plenty of Tom’s photos in an upcoming Morning Sun book.

If you didn’t know Tom, I hope you’ll enjoy this introduction into the work of a prolific railroad photographer. For those of you who knew Tom, you’ll remember how he agonized over getting the composition right when you see each photo.

After World War II, Tom railfanned with Bill Price, another well-known railroad photographer with whom he served in the U.S. Army. Bill lived in Frostburg, Maryland, a Western Maryland Railroad town, where he worked for a local newspaper. Visiting Bill, Tom was able to spend a good deal of time on the B&O and WM in the 1950s.

The two B&O images in this feature are scans of black & white negatives from the 1940s. The first shows P-1d locomotive 5043 (1911) working, as it brings train #21, the Washingtonian, up the steep grade leading to Sand Patch (PA). Train #21 provided through service between Baltimore and Cleveland, using the B&O to Pittsburgh, over the P&LE to Youngstown and the last leg to Cleveland via the Erie. Smoke, great lighting and classic B&O color position light signals combine to make this a wonderful shot.

In 1941, there were 33 passenger diesels on the B&O locomotive roster. EA, EB, E6A and E6B models covered trains around the system. E7s and E8s would be added starting in 1945. In the second photo, Tom captures early, sleek E-6 diesel locomotives (1940) heading up a long train with heavyweight equipment. The 2000 hp E-6 units were designated DP-3 locomotives on the B&O. The small number boards on these locomotives made it difficult for tower operators to record locomotive numbers on block sheets. A large number board was added to E6s, just under the headlight, in later years. Tom gets a friendly wave from the engineer. The absence of smoke is in stark contrast with the first photo.

Next time, we’ll see a couple more black & white B&O photos before taking a look at color B&O slides. Whether black & white or color, you can be sure that Tom left us a great record of his travels on the road... railroad that is.

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