1944, Villamont, Virginia
I was five years old, dozing on the sleeping porch as steam locomotives pounded the Blue Ridge grade. I think I can, I think I can. As the engine struggled to ascend and then descend the steep grade that railroad men called The Hill, I drew reassurance from the children s story s line: I know I can, I know I can.
1955, Roanoke, Virginia
The year of my 16th birthday and the year I met Ogle Winston Link. Little did I know that this affable character from Brooklyn, New York, who drove his Buick convertible all the way to Roanoke, Virginia to photograph trains in the middle of the night, would weave his way into my life and my heart for the next 46 years. I would learn that Winston Link was about much more than pretty pictures of trains. He was engaged in what he later described as an impossibly beautiful love affair with the sights and sounds of Norfolk and Western steam locomotives and life along the line. He had come to us to document, both through his sound recordings and his photographs, what he proclaimed to be a beautiful, vanishing era in American history.
Winston was often welcomed into our home, as my stepfather, Ben Dulaney, was Director of Public Relations for the Norfolk and Western Railway. He was to write the liner notes for all but one of the Link LPs, Sounds of Steam Railroading. Ben died before the production of Volume 6. To Winston, Ben was GSF (Great Stone Face); Mother, whose initials were M.D., was Doc ; my sister was Squirt, and my grandmother was, respectfully, Mrs. Herbert . I was too busy being a tenth grader to appreciate the enormity of Winston s mission. What I did notice, even then, was how focused and passionate he was about everything in his life. That Winston was an unusual presence in our conservative community was confirmed, I thought, when he spent hours in the darkness of our backyard recording the song of a mockingbird. Today, when I listen to the 22 minute segment from Volume 4 2nd Pigeon and the Mockingbird I hear a symphony... and I remember. As Winston continued his recordings, photographs and 16 mm movies, he would occasionally appear, unannounced, at a classroom door during my college years in Harrisonburg, Virginia. Off we would go to Howard Johnson s Restaurant for a dish of peppermint stick ice cream. He would admonish the waitress not to scrape the crystals off the side of the carton, and then he would burst into the laugh that shook whole rooms. He always left a generous tip.
His work on the N&W complete, Winston returned to Roanoke to photograph my wedding. He was becoming known for his recordings of steam locomotives at work, but it would be years before his photographs were acclaimed and even longer before this body of work was understood as documentation of an era.
At my mother s funeral a lovely spray of flowers was accompanied by a card that said simply: I'll Always Love You, Doc.
Over the next thirty one years, our friendship continued with visits to my growing family in Virginia, periodic phone calls and letters from New York, and Christmas cards and letters, which usually arrived in January or February.
Our friendship, interrupted from time to time, was renewed as Winston groomed me to take over his sound recording business. He remained my kind and patient teacher until his death in January 2001. Winston Link entrusted to me the formidable task of bringing his extraordinary recordings to life once again. Because the master tapes used to produce the original LP records are missing, his rare original vinyl's and field tapes all 25 to 50 years old and clearly affected by the ravages of time have been painstakingly restored, re mastered and presented in a new format. (The liner notes are presented as originally written. The exception is that Side A and Side B have been replaced with track numbers.) And so, our dear Mr. Link artist and poet with a camera and a recorder it is with deep admiration and respect that we seek to honor you and to thank you for your gifts to us, so beautifully preserved through your photographs and recordings. This is your golden time. It is a privilege and a pleasure to deliver to the world the sounds you so lovingly collected all those decades ago. We hope you would be pleased.