By DONNA BETH WEILENMAN
MARTINEZ, Calif. – As soon as he could drive, Martinez author Ed Mackinson started exploring railroads, and soon bought a 35mm Nikkormat and a used Nikon F camera to start shooting pictures of locomotives and the cars they pulled.
Last year, Morning Sun Books published his first book, filled with a portion of those colorful photographs he has taken through the years. “Southern Pacific Trackside in Northern California 1974-1996” takes the reader on a geographic journey along the popular line that has since merged with Union Pacific Railroad.
This month, Mackinson’s second book is hitting store shelves and is being sold online. “Western Pacific Power in Color: The Last 25 Years” is another full-color book published through Morning Sun.
The first book is for sale locally at Just Trains, a popular model railroad store at Suite H, 5650 Imhoff Drive, Concord. The store’s owner, Jim Anthony, has ordered copies of Mackinson’s second book, too, and it’s due any day, he said.
Unlike Mackinson’s first book, the new one has photographs by other rail enthusiasts and chronicles most of Western Pacific’s locomotives in numerical order rather than by geography.
Mackinson, 59, became fascinated with trains as a child. Born in Santa Rosa, he grew up in Sebastopol, seeing trains even before his grandmother, Genoveva Grace Johnson, took him on an adventure when he was 5.
She drove the young Mackinson to a depot where a Petaluma and Santa Rosa train was stopped. The train crew saw the pair and allowed the boy to explore the train’s caboose.
“I was a rail fan first,” Mackinson said. As he described in his first book: “After that, there was no turning back.”
He earned a degree in history at California State University, Sacramento, in 1978, and promptly sought a job on the railroad.
“I couldn’t think of any other job I wanted to have,” he said. “It’s not always a walk in the park, but I wasn’t cut out to be an office type.”
By 1979, Mackinson had made his senior date as a brakeman on the Western Pacific Railroad. But the nation’s economic ups and downs caused him to be furloughed for several years. However, his railroad career resumed in 1988, when he became an Amtrak conductor.
He has worked on both the Capitol Corridor and San Joaquin routes that stop at the Martinez depot, and decided to move here as well. “I have been here since 1996, and I really love that place.”
Most recently, he’s been working in the Oakland railroad yard. And like many who work on the railroads, his career stems from his love of trains, a fascination he doesn’t even try to explain. In fact, he finds the question as perplexing to rail fans as it is for whom trains are just a land-based mode of transportation.
“Nobody knows,” he said. “I couldn’t tell you. It just affects some people.”
And many rail fans love taking pictures of trains.
For years, the annual Winterail exposition that took place in Stockton and now has moved to Corvallis, Oregon, gives fans and photographers opportunities to share video and slide presentations with others who like trains.
Mackinson said he had been approached by those who knew of his photography selection and who had urged him to develop a presentation for Winterail.
“But it’s nice to have something in your hand,” Mackinson said. “I felt that I had done all this photography and I’d been to all these places.”
So he developed an idea for his first book and presented his proposal to Morning Sun Books President Robert J. Yanosey.
Mackinson said he sought out the New Jersey company because it had published about 300 quality all-color books about various rail lines. “I own 100 myself,” he said.
Yanosey gave the book proposal the green light, and Mackinson spent a year trying to narrow down which slides – yes, he prefers shooting slide film to digital – would be included.
“Southern Pacific Trackside” has 128 pages of color photos as well as stories of the railroad’s history, concluding with Mackinson’s recollection of going to the Ozol yard near downtown Martinez Sept. 12, 1996, the original date set for the Southern Pacific-Union Pacific merger.
The date had been moved to Sept. 11, 1996, which Mackinson didn’t know until he visited the yard and saw a forlorn Engine 2546 parked near a worse-for-wear yard office. “It was time to go pick up my daughter at school,” Mackinson wrote, “so I snapped a picture of the 2546 and said goodbye.”
Neither his daughter, Joanna, a future teacher, nor Mackinson’s wife, Diana, a teacher herself, share Mackinson’s love of trains. But they both are supportive of his passion for the subject, he said.
After the success of the first book, Morning Sun asked Mackinson to compose a color photograph book on the Western Pacific.
“By and large, I was pretty familiar with the subject,” he said.
For both books, he had to winnow down photographs, examining 900 shots and deciding which would make the cut in books of less than 130 pages.
Tackling the new book presented Mackinson with challenges he hadn’t faced with the first book, which was a collection of his own photographs. While his collection provided many of the illustrations in “Western Pacific Power,” he didn’t have pictures of every locomotive, and had to reach out to others.
To do this, Mackinson turned to Jeffrey Ferris, a fellow rail fan he befriended about 40 years ago after they met at the Rio Vista Junction and the Northern California Railroad Club. The two often have made railroad photography excursions together.
Ferris had contacts Mackinson didn’t know, and he is skilled at finding other photographs and their images online.
But as the supply of photos came in, Mackinson discovered some had no identification whatsoever – “no name, no date, or where it was,” he said. “I had to work a little harder figuring out what was where.”
The problem was exacerbated by the fact the railroad that is the book’s subject is no longer in existence. “This went away in 1982,” Mackinson said.
However, the two managed to get both action and “roster” (static) shots of most of the Western Pacific locomotives.
The hardest photographs to find were of the locomotives of the Western Pacific’s subsidiary, Tidewater South. That connector line operated from Stockton through Escalon to Modesto, Turlock and Hilmar.
“They ran almost entirely at night,” Mackinson explained. The Tidewater South locomotives were on the railroad’s property only five years.
In addition, because many of the locomotives were diesel instead of the photographers’ preferred power type – steam – fewer pictures exist. Of the few that do, most are in black and white.
But Mackinson and Ferris secured permission to use a small color shot of Tidewater South 741. While it’s not the largest photograph in the new book, both men singled out the picture on page 15 as their prized score.
“We were very fortunate to find that,” Ferris said. “It made the book complete.”
One of Mackinson’s favorite shots was Ferris’s 1973 picture of an Alco 102 at the Oakland terminal. “He was wandering the streets of Oakland,” Mackinson said. Ferris happened on the locomotive by accident and got the picture. “Some things you know where they’ll be seen, and some days you wander about,” Mackinson said.
Sometimes the duo have found trains and locomotives to photograph; other times, they came home with adventurous stories.
While seeking out photographs at a logging mill office, the two noticed a man who was off in the distance, waving his arms and yelling.
Thinking he didn’t realize they had permission to be on site, the two ignored him until they heard an explosion so loud it shook the logging mill grounds and broke windows in the buildings.
They discovered that sometimes stored logs get tangled, and the only way to dislodge them is to use dynamite.
Ferris and Mackinson asked how long the operation would continue.
“They’ll probably do it all day. That guy’s crazy,” a yard employee said.
“We decided not to stick around,” Mackinson said.
Mackinson said he likes Southern Pacific locomotives, as do many California rail fans. But he also remembers them from having worked on the line’s west end at Stockton.
“The 6-axle SD9s struck me. They have a lot of character. They’re big and heavy.” Used in the 1950s, they were known more for their ability to pull tremendous weight rather than for lightning speed.
As for photography, Mackinson said he likes the challenge of catching images on branch lines that have trains that run intermittent schedules, maybe one a day or three days a week.
Like most rail fans, he gets many of his shots from nearby roadways or from bridges that give him a good view of the trains.
He said he likes capturing unusual shots, such as the one he got of the Western Pacific loop near Quincy. He photographed a train so long that both ends can be seen as it winds around the loop. That shot is on Page 106 of the new book.
Another favorite shot is the wye at Keddie, where rail fans stand by the side of California Highway 70 to get their photographs.
Mackinson said he is hopeful he’ll be putting out more Morning Sun books of railroad photographs.
“I like putting out a tangible product. I’m very historically-oriented. I enjoy putting that down on paper – ‘I was here; I saw it,’” he said. “I could do this forever.”