Link's Color photo--a witness account

NW Mailing List nw-mailing-list at
Fri Sep 3 21:25:01 EDT 2010

There is no mystery, based on the daylight test photos Link made (previously referred to as NW2134 and NW2135), that the color photo on the cover of Thunder on Blue Ridge was made near Bridge 90.  This location is near MP N-252.5, halfway between Boaz and Bonsack.  This is also very close to the west end of the passing track that started there and extended to the east past the Bonsack station, which is about a mile east of the photo location.  If the photo would have been made directly adjacent to Boaz siding, there would have been three tracks to the left of the shanty - right to left, one siding and two main tracks. As you can see, there is no siding. The photo was taken neither at Boaz or Bonsack. I can't post the two photos that would clear this up (NW 2134 and NW2135) without permission.

Dave Stephenson

From: NW Mailing List <nw-mailing-list at>
Subject: Re: Link's Color photo--a witness account
To: "NW Mailing List" <nw-mailing-list at>
Date: Friday, September 3, 2010,
5:41 PM

  Thanks to Ed King for posing the "Highball" discussion, which I,
    too, and no doubt others have pondered for some time.   

    I ran down the eyewitness citation to which I referred several days
    ago.  It is in Classic Trains, summer 2001 (v.2, n2), p. 32,
    where there appears a "box" on Highball within a feature article on
    Link's sounds of steam.  Quoted within the "box" is Link's assistant
    for the Highball shot, David Plowden:   

    "That train...I remember it whistling through the night when it
    started coming up the mountain.  It took, I would say, 45 minutes to
    a hour to get to us.  It was going no more than 15 miles an hour,
    working absolutely flat-out, both engines.  It means, it was a
    hair-raising experience to be right next to the track when these
    things went by, I tell you." 

    The "up the mountain" business and the 45-60 minutes:  sound like
    anything near Bonsack?  I know there are problems with the Blue
    Ridge analysis, but does not that description  favor a location well
    to the east of Bonsack? 

    Harry, I will eagerly await your finding on a shanty between Boaz
    and Bonsack.  Useful to a Blue Ridge-area modeler!   

    For those who do not have the CT article, I will add more from

    "This was a double-header they ran especially for Link; it was a
    sort of farewell present to him...   

    "You know," I said to Link, "the packings on these engines probably
    are going to be pretty loose.  They're old, being retired.  If we
    shoot them straight on, you're going to get nothing but [leaking]

    Link considered this, and said, "Yeah, you're probably right."   

    "Indeed, when the engines appeared, they were leaking from all ports
    possible.  If we had shot it head-on, all we'd have gotten was a
    great cloud of steam."   

    So:  an inimitable Highball going-away shot, thanks to an alert
    photographer assistant's caution.

    Notwithstanding the CT "box" citing Boaz as Highball's location (by
    Robert McGonigal, the "box" writer, not by Plowden, the witness, who
    is silent on the location), I think in light of the discussion over
    recent days we are presented with a story easily "up the mountain"
    to the east of Boaz.

    The article notes that "Link got N&W employee Bill Tanner to
    hold up a white lantern in a highball gesture"--having failed to get
    Plowden to pose with a red lantern.  Plowden:  "I'm an old
    railroader.  Red means only one thing.  If somebody holds up a red
    lantern in front of the train, they're going to dump the air."     

    Plowden continues:  "Link was incredibly nervous...because he
    realized that he had one shot and that was it.  Here was the
    railroad that had put on a doubleheader for him...the last
    time this would happen.  It was his last chance--can you
    imagine the strain on this man?  And so I remember him standing
    there as those engines came...He had predetermined exactly where he
    was going to fire the shutter, when the N or the O on that second
    tender passed a certain place.  So, when that engine passed the
    spot, Link fired the shutter, and lit up the night."   

    ...and imaginations for generations to come.   

    Frank Gibson   

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