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Edition #220  April 15, 2014

Standing Tall

Photographer: David Kahler

                                                                                          Photo by David Kahler

Standing Tall

There they stand proudly with no apologies expected. Two iconic sentinels lording over the endlessly flat landscape of central Illinois in the face of a pending, heavy downpour last April. Sixty years earlier David Morgan and Phillip Hastings described and pictured these brutes in full operating attire in their 1975 classic book The Mohawk That Refused to Abdicate. Gone are David and Phillip. Gone are the steady parades of magnificent black 4-8-2 locomotives that thundered between the towers or stopped to replenish their insatiable appetites for coal. This was the fabled high speed double - tracked Illinois Central mainline between Chicago and New Orleans. Now most of the action in this area is relegated to switching grain cars with diesel locomotives carrying the Canadian National banner in and around the town of Gilman and accommodating through freights and a limited number of passenger trains.

Ironically, justice may have prevailed. In my mind these relics in many ways are more interesting today in their state of decomposition than when they were functioning elements for the railroad. Their brutal, angular features refer to the abstract forms found in modern art where it is up to the viewer to make his or her own interpretation of the message and let imagination run freely. Time has its way of enriching the material world.

Before the weather turned for the worst I had the good fortune of capturing on my camera a bright seam of light braking through the storm clouds behind the silhouettes of the two brooding towers. For a couple of seconds a rectangular patch of light radiated through one of the concrete walls of a coal bin. This juxtaposition lent itself to an evocative moment. It became the primary focal point for the entire composition. Shortly thereafter the clouds could wait no longer. Darkness and sheets of blowing rain chased my wife and me all the way back to Champaign where we eventually met out 8 year-old granddaughter after school. In spite of the challenging weather conditions the towers are still standing tall.

David Kahler

Vice President

Center for Railroad Photography and Art

Pittsboro, NC

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