One Man’s Love Affair With Trains

I suppose we have all wished that we could have met a particular person while they were alive; you know, someone who shared an interest or a passion with us. For me, Richard Welling was one of those people. Welling, who died in 2009, is perhaps best known for his striking pen and ink drawings of the Hartford skyline, or some of his spectacular New York cityscapes in which the twin towers frequently stand out in a way he could never have imagined when he drew them decades ago.

Besides his meticulous renderings of urban scenes in the cities he loved most—Hartford and New York—Welling lavished much attention and love on trains of all kinds; steam, diesel and electric. That’s where I come in, CHS’s resident railfan.

Welling considered New Haven’s Union Station one of the best train watching spots in New England. On the station’s ready tracks a trio of Amtrak locomotives await assignment in the late 1970s. CHS 2012.284.3

Welling considered New Haven’s Union Station one of the best train watching spots in New England. On the station’s ready tracks a trio of Amtrak locomotives await assignment in the late 1970s. CHS 2012.284.3

CHS is fortunate to have recently acquired a very large collection of Welling’s drawings, along with most of the contents of his studio. In sorting through the material it is clear that Welling shared an appreciation of railroading not always evident in our times. In addition to what you would expect—locomotives and rail cars of all types—he also focused on the smaller things like a signal light perched south of Hartford’s Union Station, or a well-worn switch stand in the city’s freight yards. For the record, Richard Welling last lived on an upper floor of a building on Union Place, with an unobstructed view of Hartford’s Union Station and its approach tracks. He must have considered his digs a little bit of heaven on earth.

In looking through his railroad drawings I was particularly struck by one he executed showing a dilapidated switch tower in Old Saybrook. The tower housed levers that remotely controlled switches and signal lights at that busy rail junction. Built in 1912 by the New York, New Haven and Hartford RR, by the 1970s the tower was owned by Amtrak. Lacking funds for painting and basic upkeep, local volunteers (including myself) labored on weekends patching and painting the tower—a true labor of love. What Welling’s drawing does not capture is the experience of being perched on open scaffolding twenty feet in the air while a passenger train blows through the station at 80 mph! What a rush!

The Old Saybrook switch tower was 65 years old when Welling sketched it in 1977. Track realignment and electrification of the Shoreline route rendered it obsolete and the tower was razed in 1998. CHS 2012.284 coll.

The Old Saybrook switch tower was 65 years old when Welling sketched it in 1977. Track realignment and electrification of the Shoreline route rendered it obsolete and the tower was razed in 1998. CHS 2012.284 coll.

Welling harbored a fondness for steam locomotives, and he sketched survivors like the Valley Railroad’s #97 in Essex. But he was also enamored with more modern diesel and electric locomotives, frequenting the yards in New Haven and Hartford. Railroaders he met understood and appreciated his passion for their business, and as a result he was able to gain special access to both facilities and equipment in his quest to capture the essence of their world.

The artist’s interests extended to railroad employees and their jobs. Welling’s view captures the cluttered feel of the cab of a Conrail diesel freight locomotive. CHS 2012.284 coll.

The artist’s interests extended to railroad employees and their jobs. Welling’s view captures the cluttered feel of the cab of a Conrail diesel freight locomotive. CHS 2012.284 coll.

While I never did meet Richard Welling, we will all get a chance to appreciate his artistic gifts in an exhibition being planned for fall 2014. So stay tuned!

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About Rich

Richard C. Malley is the Head of Collections & Research at CHS. A maritime historian by background he previously served on the curatorial staffs of Mystic Seaport and The Mariners’ Museum in Virginia. He oversees research and collections functions at CHS.

3 thoughts on “One Man’s Love Affair With Trains

  1. Pingback: Shipwrecks, Slave Trade and Patriots Young and Old in Today's History Highlights - 8.9.2013 : New England Historical Society

  2. Pingback: One Veteran Salutes Another | inside the CHS

  3. Pingback: On the Tarmac with Richard Welling | inside the CHS

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