Railroads & Locomotives History Beyond the byline with Kevin Gilliam

Beyond the byline with Kevin Gilliam

By Nastassia Putz | April 3, 2023

Railroads built America, figuratively and literally

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DVD cover with train in red numbers 611
The history of the Norfolk & Western famed Class J 4-8-4s are examined in this documentary, highlighting the 611’s return to steam in 2015.

What was your first byline in Trains?

Kevin Gilliam: My first byline was what became a Trains Trackside (previously Trains Presents) five-minute video that was concurrent with the Norfolk Southern 21st Century Steam Program visit to Asheville, N.C., in April 2013. More of those short videos followed, eventually culminating in the first feature-length 611 In Steam DVD in 2015.

What’s your favorite locomotive and why?

Kevin Gilliam: Texas & Pacific 2-10-4 No. 610.  It’s just a brute of a locomotive with that imposing front-mounted Elesco feedwater heater. It’s also the only surviving example of first-generation Lima Superpower with the high-speed characteristics of the later engines that just seems so at odds with the appearance of the engine. There’s also a wonderful story about its post-revenue service career, being quickly restored for the American Freedom Train, subsequent lease by the Southern Railway for their excursion program, and what was learned from that experience and the constraints that were both inherited and learned. It truly is a magnificent machine that never really received the rebuild needed for a fair shot, but it’s also totally understandable as to why history played out the way it did. That engine can teach us a lot of how and why technology changed as steam advancements were made and eventually understood.

black locomotive on track
A short-lived excursion star, Texas & Pacific 2-10-4 No. 610 now resides on static display at the Texas State Railroad in Palestine, Texas. Kevin Gilliam

Describe your love of railroading in 6 words or less?

Kevin Gilliam: Railroads built America, figuratively and literally.

What’s your fondest memory as a contributor?

Kevin Gilliam: I think, in the end, it’s the relationships that you form. As several of us have often said, you come for the trains, you stay for the people. In the end, it’s the people that matter.

What video received the biggest reaction?

DVD cover of red train on short line
The bread and butter of “first mile, last mile” service is examined in this video focusing on the wide diversity of America’s shortline railroads.

Kevin Gilliam: We did a video on short lines [Great American Short Lines and Regionals], and I heard back later that one of the railroad owners purchased a bunch of copies to give out to his employees and for public relations purposes. The American dream is coming from nothing, working hard, and making something of yourself where you can leave a positive mark on the world. There’s a million of ways to be successful and having someone recognize and understand how media and corporate can work together to build a better future together for both sides is very gratifying.

What advice would you give a new contributor?

Kevin Gilliam: First, adopt a piece of railroad as your own. Learn from it, understand it, and get to know the people behind the scenes. Anyone that can get the inside look automatically has an advantage over an outsider, and that can only come from being there many times, with the passage of time.

guy on train
Beyond the byline with Kevin Gilliam

At the same time, and this can be concurrent or separate, find something that grabs your interest. What is a story that means something to you? Channel that passion and try and express that in the written form. The best stories come from the heart, and there are many, many stories waiting to be told. Read a lot and write a lot. Learn from what others before you have done and incorporate it into your own work.

From a photographic perspective, constantly challenge yourself to make your photos better. Find photos that you like.  Find out why you like them and try and copy them. If you copy everyone, you’ll eventually find your own style that is uniquely you. Learn the rules, and then learn how and when you can break them. Be critical of yourself. What made this photo work and the other one didn’t? Does your framing of the shot make the photo? Does it hurt the photo?  What did you include or leave out that would have changed your perception of the photo. Photography is art, so go out and make it happen. If you’ve got your favorite piece of railroad, keep trying new angles as they present themselves.  Developing that eye and seeing a shot will help you go far regardless of what you are shooting — weather conditions, scenery, buildings, and people. Someone once told me that there is no such thing as bad weather — just photos that don’t take advantage of the weather conditions. Above all, never stop believing in yourself. Find something and make it happen!

After reading “Beyond the byline with Kevin Gilliam,” check out “Beyond the byline with Steve Glischinski.”

2 thoughts on “Beyond the byline with Kevin Gilliam

  1. Kevin, my wife and I just finished your East Broad Top video and then we immediately watched it all again!

    Excellent video work, stories, and of course, subject!

    Your videos are a joy, and I’ve enjoyed them all. Thanks for all the hard work you and your Kalmbach team put in to deliver such quality rail entertainment to us. Well Done!

    • Tom

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