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Exhibit shows rail workers supporting nation's WWII effort

Exhibit shows rail workers supporting nation's WWII effort

During World War II, railroads and rail workers were essential to our war effort and to our economy. From 1942 to 1943, Jack Delano of the Federal Office of War Information took thousands of photographs of railroad workers, mostly in the Chicago area.

Now, thanks to the Center for Railroad Photography & Art, more than 60 of Delano's photographs of the Chicago railroad community are on display in a new Chicago History Museum called “Railroaders: Jack Delano’s Homefront Photography.”

Photo of Frank WIlliams
Frank Williams: Photograph by Jack Delano, courtesy of the Library of Congress, LC-USW3-010515-D

On Saturday, I attended the exhibit’s opening along with hundreds of the rail workers’ family members who helped the Center for Railroad Photography & Art tell their stories.

As a fifth-generation railroader and native Illinoisan, this exhibit really hits close to home for me. Literally. In fact, the photo below of Daniel Sinise (grandfather of actor Gary Sinise) and his crew on the Indiana Harbor Belt in Riverdale, Illinois, is near where I went to school from grades 4 to 6, and it’s also very close to the Harbor Belt intersection with Illinois Central, where my dad was a 40-year switchman and my own railroading career began. I made many train deliveries from the Illinois Central Markham yard to the Indiana Harbor Belt yard.

Photo of Sinise crew
Sinise crew: Photograph by Jack Delano, courtesy of the Library of Congress, LC-USW3-016983-D

The kinds of stories Delano's photos tell are more than just nostalgia; they're the story of the people behind an industry that helped make this nation great. And I encourage you to visit the museum or look at Delano's work on the exhibit's Flickr site.

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