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Harold A. Reid (1925–1992), also known by the pen name H. Reid, was an American writer, photographer, and historian. Reid is best known for his railroad-related photography and published works. An avid fan of steam locomotives, he helped capture the last days of steam motive power on America's Class I railroads, notably on the Virginian Railway, and ending with the Norfolk and Western in 1960, the last major U.S. railroad to convert from steam.
Reid helped establish rail photography as a hobby. In The Virginian Railway, published in 1961, he combined photography with a storytelling style and depth of facts which have helped the "Richest Little Railroad in the World" live on the hearts of its former employees, railfans, and new generations of children who had yet to be born when it became a fallen flag in a 1959 merger.
Childhood, education, marriage
Reid grew up with the railroad. His childhood home in Norfolk, Virginia was adjacent to the massive Lamberts Point facilities with general merchandise and coal piers of the Norfolk and Western Railway (N&W). Author Lloyd D. Lewis who himself was a child when he first met Reid, relates that "H" (as he preferred to be called) printed a small newspaper for his neighbors as child. He attended Elon College (now Elon University) in Elon, North Carolina and graduated from the College of William and Mary of Williamsburg, Virginia. He and his wife Virginia (née Ewell) Reid lived in Norfolk near the Virginian Railway (VGN) tracks leading to Sewell's Point.
Reid was a newspaperman by trade and worked a brief time in public relations for the local Norfolk County Public Schools in what is now the City of Chesapeake. He began honing his art with black and white photography with a Brownie box camera when he was a child in the 1930s. Black and white remained his favored medium even as color photography became popular in the 1950s. He contributed articles and photographs to Trains magazine, published by Kalbach, and his work was noted by its longtime editor David P. Morgan.
Following a long friendship with the Assistant to the general manager of the coal-hauling Virginian Railway, after that company's merger into the N&W in 1959, he wrote his epoch work, The Virginian Railway, which was published by Kalmbach in 1961. In that book, Reid combined his some of the best of his photography with a storytelling style and depth of facts which have helped the "Richest Little Railroad in the World" live on the hearts of its former employees, railfans, and new generations of children who had yet to be born when it became a fallen flag through merger in 1959. Reprinted three times, first and second editions of The Virginian Railway have become valued as collectible items.
Reid's other published work include many contributions to Trains Magazine, two other books, Extra South, (1964), published by Starucca Valley Publishing, and Rails Through Dixie written with Johnny Krause (1965), published by Golden West Books. His photography work has been featured in many other publications, notably several by Lloyd D. Lewis which include The Virginian Era (1992), Virginian Railway Locomotives (1993), and Norfolk and Western and Virginian Railways in Color by H. Reid (1994), all published by TLC Publishing of Lynchburg, Virginia. His photographs have been published in many other books.
Author Lewis describes Reid as a "consummate artist of the black & white image." At a time when many rail photographers concentrated on still photos taken from front and side profiles, Reid created unusual shots. Taken from above and below, Reid's photographs often included scenery or surrounding features in the genre described in depth in author Leo Marx's 1964 book The Machine in the Garden. Reid's photographs inspired such terms as "nostalgic" and "moody."
The travels of Reid and his friends in search of rail subjects took him to sites as far from Hampton Roads as Louisiana, New England, and the Hudson River Valley in New York. Reid was fortunate in many ways, among them, that steam railroading was still occurring in his lifetime, and that restrictions to photographic locations for safety and security reasons were more open than in later decades. The hobby of rail photography was still emerging, and railfans such as Reid occasionally slept in logging camps and rose with the sun to catch the work of steam locomotives on the short line railroads which were the last bastion of steam in the United States. Even in more populated areas, there are many tales told of Reid climbing embankments and standing precariously on signaling equipment to capture an unusual angle. To quote from a railway enthusiasts website, "Lest these tales of H. Reid be considered unbelievable, naysayers are directed to the photographic evidence."
Although O. Winston Link also captured sound recording and did black and white and exceptional night photography, Reid joins him in the ranks of rail photographers who captured and preserved photographic memories of America's age of steam railroading. Reid accomplished those goals and more as a writer and historian as well. As stated in the dedication of The Virginian Railway Handbook written by Aubrey Wiley and Conley Wallace and published in 1985, "Because of the interest and love of H. Reid for the Virginian Railway, the memory and lore of that railroad have continued to live, even though many years have passed since...the identity of that road was lost in a merger." Readers of The Virginian Railway and members of its active Internet enthusiasts group of over 625 members would surely agree in acknowledging the role of Reid, who helped define rail photography as a hobby.
After a period of declining health, Reid died at his home in Norfolk on October 19, 1992.
- Lewis, Lloyd D. (1992) The Virginian Era. Lynchburg, Virginia: TLC Publishing Inc.
- Lewis, Lloyd D. (1992) Virginian Railway Locomotives. Lynchburg, Virginia: TLC Publishing Inc.
- Lewis, Lloyd D. (1994) Norfolk & Western and Virginian Railways in Color by H. Reid. Lynchburg, Virginia: TLC Publishing Inc. ISBN 1-883089-09-3
- Reid, H. (1961). The Virginian Railway (1st ed.). Milwaukee, Wisconsin: Kalmbach Publishing Co.
- Wiley, Aubrey and Wallace, Conley (1985). The Virginian Railway Handbook. Lynchburg, Virginia: W-W Publications.
- Reid, H. (1953) "Trains & Travel Magazine" December 1953 "Some Fine Engines", Kalmbach Publishing Co.
- Norfolk & Western Historical Society covers Virginian history
- Virginia Museum of Transportation displays 2 of only 3 extant VGN steam and electric locomotives, located in Roanoke, VA
- Virginian Railway (VGN) Enthusiasts non-profit group of preservationists, authors, photographers, historians, modelers, and railfans
- listing of Virginian Railway authors and their works
- Mullens West Virginia Caboose Museum a community project in Mullens, West Virginia with photos
- Johnson City, Tennessee Railroad History Includes the Cy Crumley ET&WNC Photo Collection: a favorite railway of H. Reid
- Victoria Virginia's new home for Virginian railway Caboose 342 a community project with photos
- Lynchburg Virginia's project to save the oldest extant Virginian Railway Caboose # 64 a community project with photos
- preserving the Virginian Railway Passenger Station at Roanoke Virginia a community project with photos (requires a pdf file viewer)
- Norfolk Southern Corp website
- link to site of Railfan.net forum for Virginian Railway which has Roanoke Times story and photos