Customer Reviews: O. Winston Link: Life Along the Line: A Photographic Portrait of America's Last Great Steam Railroad
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on September 25, 2012
At last Abrams gives us a third helping of wonderful Link photos. The first book, 'Steam Steel & Stars' in 1987 introduced him to a wider audience and now he's firmly established as a great American photographer, something railroad fans have known for years. Of the three Abrams books I think this is the best because it is so comprehensive and also a first-class production.

Like Richard Steinheimer, another great railroad photographer, Link believed there was more to this kind of work than snapping a smoking wedge shaped consist powering along a track. Both of them creatively explored the engines in and out of use, employees who made it all happen and the places and towns along the track. Link took it further by creating remarkable night-time tableaus of steamers passing through towns and the countryside.

The book's 180 photos (twelve in color) are in five sections: 'Railroaders' looks at all sorts of Norfolk & Western employees; 'Iron Horses' covers the various units N&S used and Link chose this railroad because it was the last to use both steam and diesel; 'Side by Side' with trains on the mainline; 'In the Land of Plenty' has a lovely selection of photos of small towns, stations, passengers, stores and buildings in the N&S region. The last section: 'How it was done' is, I think, one of the strengths of the book. It's a detailed look at how Link worked, not just with cameras but how he took movies and did recordings.

The landscape book (just over 11.5 inches wide) is an excellent production. Printed with a 200 screen on a quality matt art paper. None of the photos bleed of the page edge and they all have extensive captions though I did find it slightly annoying that captions are only on every other spread even though nearly every page had space for them. The book has a fifty minute CD of Link's train recordings (and if you are buying a used copy of the book it's worth checking with the seller that the disc is included) which I thought was mildly interesting except for a quite stunning 2.14 minutes of a huge class Y pusher (N&S 2179) working a heavy goods train up a gradient in June 1958. To hear the pulsating roar of this unit straining away is incredible and there's a photo of the front of 2179 taken from the door of the caboose on the day of the recording.

Life along the line is a beautiful celebration of Winston Link's remarkable train photography.
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on November 27, 2012
I've just skimmed through "Life Along the Line" and find it to be a superb book in all respects. Added: I've spent more time with this book and have ordered another one for a family member as a Christmas present. My opinion of the book is even higher than when I first wrote this review.... It's a superb volume.

It's about railroading. Yet it's also an historical documentation of the passing of an era, the era of steam locomotion as it transitions quickly to diesel locomotion. It also documents the lives of many who worked for the railroad and who lived beside the railroad in small hamlets, isolated from much of the world at large.

I quickly noticed the high quality matte paper. It has very little reflection to direct glare into my aging eyes. Much appreciated in this day and age of glossy books and magazines.

As a photographer, I noted the incredible detail of the photos, the composition, the included backgrounds. the careful use of depth-of-field, the exquisite use of artificial lighting. This tome more than does justice to Link's skill and talent at taking photos. The reproduction is first rate. You'll find pleasure in viewing these photos more than once or twice.

Link did a marvelous job of taking portraits of the people he met during the course of his years-long project. These are more than 'studio' portraits. They are portraits of the men and women in their element. Again, the photos are nearly perfect in every respect. They are not nameless faces. In nearly all photos, he has also documented their names and their locations. He shows his respect and enjoyment of all of the people he met and worked with during this project.

The book includes a number of color photos taken by Link as well. Although color film was limited in many ways in those days, he again proves that he is the master of his medium.

The CD is a great bonus, especially so because it matched each track with one of the plates included in the book. If you seek it out, there is a track listing near the back of the book that describes what you're hearing, track by track, and references the plate number of the photo taken where the recording was made.

I was especially intrigued by the photos of Link and his equipment. He was able to use engineering training to an extreme extent in developing and customizing equipment needed for his project. I was glad that he and his assistants did indeed document themselves and their equipment.

If you've viewed any of Link's works, you know that he worked largely at night so he could light a scene as he desired. As you peruse this book, take special note of the marvelous results he was able to achieve with his lighting. He is the Master of Lighting. Because he knew what he wanted and because he worked hard to achieve what he could see in his mind's eye...

I urge you to look at this book, even if you're not a 'railfan' or a devotee of steam. The book is about an era that is now gone and can never be captured as it was by this genius. Just look at the book and savor the many elements that have been presented as a much greater whole. This book deserves a place in your library and deserves your time to read it again and again. I know I'll be back to read it many times.
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on October 14, 2012
For readers that are train buffs and fans of Winston Link's work, this is the best collection and narrative I have seen to date. Not only are there some new photos that have been unpublished before, but the narrative is very well researched and clearly written. The final chapter is written by Mr. Link's son, who gives us a vivid picture of the personal side of the photographer, including the story of how his ill-fated second marriage ended in the destruction of much of his work.

Do not miss this book. It will stay with you, both in heart and spirit.
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on October 10, 2012
I have the other two of Links pictorial histories of the N&W and this followup edition is fantastic reading as it explains more background on the picturoral history he made of this steam railroad which ran right behind my house. I would recommend this to anyone who likes railroad history. The book is divided into sections which makes it much easier to assimilate. I was so into this book I read it in two days!
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on November 9, 2012
Wonderful photos and written text about a long gone but much loved and remembered America. The Locomotives and people who lived and worked along the railroad made this country what it was and will never be again. A steam locomotive is a perfect metaphor for America strong,muscular all business capable of any task. Those who worked on them loved them and it shows. Every time I look at O. Winston Link's work I am in awe of his craftsmanship, and forever thankful of his love and dedication to the task which he undertook with love and perfection. To look at this work and not get a little choked up is impossible.
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on November 20, 2012
I admit to being a bit of a train buff. I was familiar with Winston Link's work and this book did not disappoint. His more famous photographs are included, but there are prints I had not previously seen as well. It is a very comprehensive collection. The reproductions are of superb quality and the paper is thick. Anybody who knows what Mr Link attempted to do understands that he captured the last moments of steam trains without benefit of digital technology. This book shows how he used lighting techniques to ensure he got it right. Thanks to him, we can reflect on something we have lost. Not only do we not have these incredible engines, but he also caught the small general stores prior to their demise. He lets us remember a time when kids could go, unwatched and unattended, to a swimming hole in the evening. This book appeals to a broader market than those who enjoy steam engines.
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on September 18, 2012
O. Winton Link was a master, and this book almost does him justice. But the topic is . . . either to one's taste . . . or not. If the former is true, than nothing should dissuade you from acquiring a copy, certainly not the reasonable price. It is about a moment in time in both technology and America that is at once near and far. The faces of the workers seem so very weathered to us -- no obesity here -- but with a a flinty obvious dedication to their craft and railroad that is almost quaint in post-financial crunch America, but not unrepresentative for the time. I am also struck how the railroad fostered a culture surrounding it that also seems so foreign: a steam locomotive out the living room window? Why not? And the mastery of the lighting, done with such a light touch that many times even a grizzled old photog like myself willingly suspends disbelief, is remarkable. Amazing. Get the book.
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on January 25, 2014
This weekend is the 10th anniversary of the OWL museum in Roanoke and I took this book back out to read again in honor of him.

For a fan on the Norfolk Western OWL captured the end of the steam era in a style all his own. He captured both the trains and the men and women who made them run.

He was also a professional commercial photographer and technically he is a master. What he went through to light up a night photo is mind boggling using 50's era electronics.

He also made recordings of many trains which were sold as vinyl albums. Included with a book is a CD with some examples of these recordings which really bring the steam engines back to life. It's also enjoyable to hear OWL as he talks to the crews and other NW employees.
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on March 9, 2013
As a railfan in the Eastern US, my friends and I have visited several of the locations in Virginia Winston Link made famous in his work on the Norfolk and Western RR. We have visited the Winston Link Museum in Roanoke. This work, along with "Steam, Steel and Stars," and "The last Steam Railroad ..." makes a rather complete collection of Link's work, and puts the railroad in its human context - the people who worked and took pride in the railroad, and the people who lived and worked in the communities along the line (some stil do!). The photographic craftsmanship is fantastic and stories it tells are priceless. Tony Reevy has continued a remarkable story.
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on December 31, 2013
Some overlap with earlier Link books, but still some otherwise unseen images. The most interesting are the behind the scenes pictures. The accompanying audio CD is a gem. Great hearing Link's on the spot narration of what you're hearing.
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