Return to George W. and Constance M. Hilton Book Awards

John Gruber, 2015 winner

John Gruber, 2015 winner

The George W. and Constance M. Hilton Book Award is given for an outstanding work of lasting value to the interpretation of North America’s railroading history. John Gruber, Madison, Wis., received the 2015 award for Railroaders: Jack Delano’s Homefront Photography. Gruber, a railroad historian and photographer, was a founder and the first president (1997 to 2013) of the Center for Railroad Photography & Art, Madison, Wis., publisher of Railroaders. The illustrated book has profiles of railroaders photographed by Jack Delano in 1942-43 in Chicago and is about an exhibition of the same name from April 4, 2014, to Jan. 3, 2016, at the Chicago History Museum.

It is the first significant biography of everyday railroaders. The biographies constitute a history of railroad work in the first half of the 20th century. Some lives and families were shattered by tragedies. But others have been enriched by ethnic tradition, educational opportunities, and persistence in demanding jobs that often paid relatively well but required great physical strength and sacrifices of family and marital life.

The in-depth biographical sketches about the 49 portrait subjects required extensive genealogical research by the Center staff. Daniel Sinise, a Blue Island, Illinois, family man was conductor for the Indiana Harbor Belt. A grandson, Gary Sinise, founded the famed Steppenwolf Theatre in Chicago, starred in the CSI: NY television series, and annually emcees programs honoring American veterans. Frank Williams, an African American who participayed in the Great Migration from the South to the North, worked 50 years for the Illinois Central as a track laborer, and Tomas Madrigal, a teenager from Mexico, settled in Blue Island where he worked in the Rock Island railroad shops.

Collaborators included Pablo Delano, who photographed some of the same families his father had photographed earlier. Contributors included Scott Lothes, president of the center, and Jack Holzhueter, consultant for the center and a retired researcher/editor for the Wisconsin Historical Society. Phil Hamilton was responsible for graphic design.

Authors are Gary T. Johnson, President, Chicago History Museum, “Introduction;” Jeremi Suri, Mack Brown Distinguished Chair for Global Leadership, Professor of History and Public Affairs, University of Texas at Austin, “The Railroad and the Making of Modern America;” Pablo Delano, Professor of Fine Arts, Trinity College, Hartford, Connecticut; “Reflections on My Father’s Railroad Photographs;” and Gruber, “Roy Stryker, Jack Delano, and the Chicago Story.”

In his introduction, Johnson writes, “There is much talk these days about the technique of ‘micro’ history–telling history from the ground up by examining what we can learn from individuals. This is a living example of that very approach, one whose inspiration has a collecion of photographs. Museums with photographic archives, take heed!”

The full citation appears in Railroad History, Spring-Summer 2016.