Welcome to the official website of Byron Babbish.
Byron is a railroad photographer, writer and historian. He has written books and articles on railroads and has had many of his railroad photographs published. A retired attorney, his time is devoted to teaching law, playing violin, model railroading and writing.
From the author…
I started taking train photographs in 1974. I was just rekindling my interest in trains at the time plus I wanted a creative outlet and the single-lens reflex camera craze was in full swing at that time so I combined the two. I started taking color slide film (as that is what my family always used when I was a kid). I added black and white film in 1977 as my neighbor and friend, Kurt Jung, was using it and that was the medium that magazines used to publish photographs, as color was too hard and expensive for most magazines to handle at the time.
My first camera was a 35 mm Zeiss Ikon Contaflex that Kurt let me borrow (he was into large format at that time). It had a 35, 50 and 100 mm lens that came with it. I used this camera until 1978 when my bride, Elaine, bought me an Olympus OM-1n 35 mm camera for our first Christmas. I still use that OM-1n along with a couple others I have purchased used over the years.
Another neighbor and friend, the late Ned Finkbeiner, was the one who reintroduced me to trains. He took railroad photographs and taught me the ways to do so (“always take an approaching and then a passing photo of a moving train”) and gave me the one piece of advice I always followed: “Always use Kodachrome color slide film.”
Kurt taught me how to use black and white film and, most importantly, how to develop and print it myself. I first used his basement darkroom to do so, later using the one at the University of Detroit when I was student there. When Elaine and I were married I built one in the coal room of the house we rented in Hamtramck until we moved into our own house in 1983 where I built one in the utility room. I still have a darkroom in our current house. Kurt and I always experimented with development chemicals, always using slow speed Panatomic-X film (32 ASA) and pushing its exposure speed to as high as 400, all the while trying to get less grain than if we were using 400 ASA Tri-X film. We finally came up with a film developing process to do so using Kodak Elon Developing Agent along with other standard chemicals that met this goal. All of my black and white negatives taken since around 1978 were developed this way in my darkroom.
Olympus camera equipment was expensive and it was a couple years before I supplemented the standard 50 mm lens that came with my camera with other lens. The first additional lens I purchased was a Zuiko 35 mm lens, f2.8. I couldn’t afford the faster f2.0 version at the time. Then I purchased a new Zuiko 135 mm f3.5 lens, again not being able to afford the faster version. These were the three lenses I used for most of the period between 1978 and 2000 when I took the bulk of my railroad photographs. Over the years I bought more Zuiko lens in the used market.
Over the years I have had many photographs published in local and national magazines and in a few books by other authors. I also enjoy writing and would often write a railroad article for a magazine and supply the photographs for it, which appealed to many train magazine editors as they got a complete package for an article. I always felt that writing was just a means to have my photographs published. I wrote a column on Grand Trunk Western Railroad current operations for a the Grand Trunk Western Historical Society newsletter, The Semaphore, for a about ten years in the 1990’s and put together their annual railroad calendar during that time period. I also did a calendar for the Adrian & Blissfield Rail Road for a few years in the 2000’s.
I have approximately 25,000 railroad photographs in my collection, evenly split between 35 mm color slides and 35 mm black and white negatives, all taken by me. Often I have a black and white negative and a color slide of the same shot as I usually carried two cameras with me to take photographs in both formats.
Model railroading is a natural interest to the railfan and I am no exception. I have built a number of model railroads in the basement of my current house starting in 1991 and continuing to today.
I was even very fortunate to have had the opportunity to work on a railroad. Starting in 1999 I worked on the Old Road Dinner Train out of Blissfield, Michigan on weekends. This led to doing some part-time freight work for its owner, Adrian & Blissfield Rail Road on weekends. After I retired from Chrysler I worked full time for the railroad helping them start up a new freight line of theirs in 2010, the Jackson & Lansing Railroad.
And about those car books I have written: I have loved cars since an early age. Growing up in Detroit helped that interest. In September and October of each year I used to sit at the corner of our street and Lahser Road in Birmingham, Michigan in the 1960’s in the late afternoons after school and watch all the new cars the auto executives were driving home those evenings to see the new models. I bought a Checker Marathon in 1982, one of the last built before they ceased production that year. I worked as an attorney for Chrysler from 1982 to 2010, a dream job for a car guy.
Now in the digital age I am busy scanning all my black and white negatives and color slides and putting them into books that I self-publish. Self-publishing has given me a means of making my photographs available to everyone instead of them just sitting in the basement unseen and unused. I have been having a great time doing this, seeing all my photographs again and remembering the great times I had taking them, seeing them in print, most for the first time, and thinking about what the next book will be. I hope you enjoy my books as much as I have enjoyed writing them.