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Deep History

OK, so why did I do this project in the first place?

I had already been photographing the railroad yards in Denver, 1976-78. Yes, the “Central Platte Valley,” the current location of Elitch’s, the Pepsi Center, Confluence Park, etc. Once called “Rice Yard,” owned by the Colorado and Southern Railroad (taken over by the Burlington Northern), and even had a roundhouse down there.

When I first came to Denver in 1974, I hated the place. It felt soul-less. Much of downtown was sorry, seedy, and abandoned. Too many blocks were urban-renewed for parking lots. Well, what do you expect from someone who landed there from Boston?!

I’ve always had a soft spot for trains. Two uncles were conductors on the New York Central, a strange job for Jewish men perhaps, but they were working class Jews. (I still have some New York Central pudding dishes.) In Brooklyn (Paradise lost), we lived very close to the el on Fulton Street. As I went to sleep at night I heard the clatter of the wheels of the BMT trains…and loved it. And my father sang me to sleep with “I’ve been workin’ on the railroad…” So it was a natural. [I did actually get to work on the railroad later on. Story for another time.]

Influenced by my friend, Dan Furey, from Metro State, I soon found my way down to the railroad yards of Denver. The yards and Lower Downtown were a revelation and I began to photograph like mad. You may ask, a skid row and an industrial zone? Those places felt authentic to me–maybe this was the “real Denver,” the historic Denver. If nothing else, they looked like New York to me, like Brooklyn, Paradise lost.

I also discovered Denver’s special light. In spring and fall, the sun’s rays lengthen and buildings and trains glow. I would get up at 5 am and head down to the yards to meet the rays of dawn. The splendor of photographing in that light was, well, splendid! Infrared film captured it even more beautifully. (I only see that light occasionally in Boulder, but I saw it in Pueblo).

Then in 1978…

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