Jessie in a railroad photo car

What it is:

Cabinet card measuring 4.25 x 6.5 inches.

What I know about it:

Photographer is J. B. Shane, located on a railroad photo car.  Written on the back is From Jessie to Jessie with Love (actually it looks like it says Mrom, not From, but I assume it’s just bizarre handwriting).


This was a new on for me, the railroad photo car.  I kept seeing those words on this photo and assuming it must have meant something else.  Surely not an entire photo studio on a train?   But I started looking around the internet in preparation for this post, and indeed, that’s what it turns out to be.  Traveling photographers were nothing new, it just wasn’t economically feasible in so sparsely and distantly populated an area as the Frontier West.  So entire rail cars were converted to photo studios, complete with darkrooms and living quarters, so that photographers, by special arrangement with the various rail companies, could travel around and take photos all along the rail lines.  If it weren’t labeled as such, I would never have realized that the romantic setting in which Jessie poses here was in a rail car, though given the presumably cramped quarters, I wonder how many options for settings there were.  There are plenty of examples of photos from railroad photo cars online, including ones by J. B. Shane, but I was especially delighted when a search turned up an example from over at Who Were They?, another vintage photo blog I already happen to follow (but started following long after this photo was posted).  And here is a very interesting article, complete with wonderful old photos, about the history of a particular railroad photo car.   Also, learning that there were actually photo studios on trains gives me more confidence in believing that a previous post of mine was indeed a photo taken in a studio on a boat.

6 comments on “Jessie in a railroad photo car”

  1. Thank you for the fascinating backgrond information and links!

  2. What a romantic setting! I love the boulders strewn on the ground. Makes me wonder, too, how many props and backdrops the photographer had at his disposal. I suppose if the car were large enough…

    • Exactly, I was wondering the same thing. And given that these photo trains seemed to serve rather barren, remote parts of the country, this setting must have seemed extra dreamy.

  3. I love this one. The setting was certainly inspired by European Romanticism. It reminds me of the series of paintings titled “The Course of Empire” by Thomas Cole, painted in 1834-1836. Cole’s paintings were reproduced as engravings which were probably still circulating in the 1870s and 1880s.

    • I’ve heard of that series, but I don’t remember if I’ve seen them. I was at a rare book show a couple weeks ago and somebody was selling what they called a vintage theatrical backdrop. It was something equally romantic, and I wondered if it might have actually been from an old photo studio. I should have taken a closer look.

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