CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- From the front porch of his boyhood home in Wheeling in the 1930s, John "J.J." Young could watch B&O passenger and freight trains emerge from a tunnel and make their way across a stone-arch viaduct over Wheeling Creek.
He would spend hours watching the daily flow of rail traffic, familiarizing himself with their schedules and their rolling stock, and imagining himself riding in the passing locomotives, destined for faraway ports and cities. By the time he was six, he was photographing the railroading scenes that intrigued him.
"I had the grandest show in the country," he said in a 2001 Goldenseal interview. "When you lived in such close proximity to railroads, you either loved them or hated them. I loved them."
A photographic record of Young's lifelong love affair with railroads is now on exhibit at the Culture Center, featuring 51 images of West Virginia railroad scenes captured from the 1940s through 2001. Thirty of the photographs are from the Wheeling area of Young's childhood, while the remaining photos are from the Charleston area, where the photographer spent the last ten years of his life.
The photos in the exhibit are culled from more than 6,300 images of railroad-related scenes bequeathed to the State Archives following Young's death in 2004.
Young's black and white images trace the evolution of the railroad from the last decades of steam power deep into the diesel era. Many of the photos in the exhibit feature everyday scenes of West Virginia life, with a train appearing in the background or foreground.
In one photo, a barber gives a patron a haircut in a St. Albans barber sop as a CSX freight train rolls through the background. In another, a Barnum & Bailey Circus train rolls past the State Capitol complex.
From a perch high in the B&O Station in Wheeling, Young captured an overhead view of former President Dwight D. Eisenhower greeting a mob of supporters in a 1952 campaign swing. In another photo, former president Harry S. Truman is shown preparing to give a stump speech for Eisenhower's Democratic rival, Adlai Stevenson, from the rear platform of a B&O train approaching a siding in Wheeling.