Salem residents help choose photos for new O. Winston Link book

ROANOKE – The last regular steam trains quit running in this area by the late 1950s, but now people can see – and hear – visions of them again. There’s a new coffee table book of famed O. Winston Link’s photographs. A Salem couple helped select almost 200 photos – many of them previously unpublished – in “Life Along the Line.”

It’s also probably the last book of Link’s photos that will be published – at least by publisher Abrams.

Bill and Ellen Arnold of Salem look over the newest O. Winston Link book, "Life Along the Line," for which they helped choose the photos. Link himself is in the photo behind them. Photo by Meg Hibbert

“Books are going to be published differently, not as something that you can hold in your hand and put on a desk,” said Ellen Arnold.

She and her husband, Bill Arnold, are dedicated volunteers with the O. Winston Link Museum. And they will be at this Friday night’s opening reception for the exhibit, Nov. 9, at the museum in downtown Roanoke. They’ll probably be looking like proud parents.

The Arnolds were on a small selection committee with Dave Foster of Salem and OWL museum director Kim Parker that went through 2,000 of Link’s negatives, and helped to choose the ones that made the book. They are also sponsoring a traveling exhibit of 16-by-20-inch photographs that will be available to other museums.

It took them almost three years to “birth” this latest baby.

Ellen took each of the 2,400 negatives out of the sleeves in which they had been stored and re-sleeved them in acid-free protection.

OWL Museum volunteer Ellen Arnold re-sleeved all of O. Winston Link's photos for the museum's collection. Photo by Meg Hibbert

“Each one had a number on it. She transferred each number and filed the negatives in an acid-free box,” her husband said.

Link was unbelievably detailed when he took photographs. “He recorded the names of all the people in the photos,” said Ellen, “and he would mail them an 8-by-10-inch glossy.”

Her husband added, “He had a photographic memory.”

As for all her work with the negatives, Ellen said, “It was a great fun thing to do, off and on for about six months.” The negatives were also scanned so they could be put online, and now all 2,200 of Link’s black-and-white train photos and 200 of his color ones are available.

Most of the images in “Life Along the Line” have not been seen before. Others show behind the scenes, giving glimpses of what Link had to do in order to “stop the trains” on film.

“They show the intricacies of how Link did it,” Bill Arnold explained.

There’s an entire chapter devoted to how Link accomplished his photos.

A particular favorite photo of Link’s is a couple parked at a drive-in theater with a view of a jet on the screen. The original didn’t have anything on the screen, the Arnolds said. The jet was added later.

One of Ellen’s favorite images, she said, is “a picture of a house in Max Meadows and of the equipment Mr. Link used to set up the photo.”

For instance, one picture shows Link’s assistant and nephew, Roy Zider, with recording equipment that captured the sounds of a train in Wytheville. Those were on 33-1/3 long-playing records, her husband explained, that have been reproduced for today’s listeners on a CD included with the book.

“The O. Winston Link Museum had the rights to all the photos and sounds,” Bill said. “A gentleman in Washington, D.C., matched up the sounds with the places. We sat and listened on the computer and ended up with 43 minutes of train sounds.”

Among the print is a self portrait of Link with the two cameras, one loaded with color and the other with black-and-white film.

Although Tony Reevy is the author of the new book, museum director Parker did most of the writing of the descriptions of individual photographs.

So why publish another Link book now? “Because we have people come into the O. Winston Link Museum and look at the first two books, and say they want another,” Bill said. “We’re getting to the point of almost the last days of doing a book.”

“Life Along the Line” exhibit runs from Nov. 9 through Feb. 11, 2013. The book is available at the museum’s shop at the opening, and is online at The cost in the store is $40, including the CD of train sounds.