Wednesday, April 2, 2014

The Beauty of Rust

We continue our walk through the Galveston Railroad Museum.

Old trains have a strong appeal for me--much like old diners. I am drawn to the romantic notion of train travel in a deluxe Pullman coach, much like the idea of a meatloaf and mashed potato dinner in a restored 1950s Paramount diner with polished stainless steel backsplash panels facing a counter with polished stools and a floor with black and white tiles and all this under a curved roof line with neon lights on top and....

But back to trains.

Many of the cars in the Museum do not give rise to the romantic appeal of the comfort of coach travel. These are the work cars, the ones that show the wear of moving freight across the country, all the while battling the elements. And today the battle continues. The aged cars continue to endure the onslaught of salt air in their positions in the Museum's rail yard.

And rust shows the result of the "struggle."

And yet, I see beauty in rust. The colors and forms that rust adds to these cars transforms them into a multi-canvassed gallery.

But you have to look for this beauty.
Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Car, 1948; its primary use was to carry auto parts until it was downgraded to maintenance of way work.

When I found this essay by clinquist of the Scribol staff entitled "The Strangely Seductive Beauty of Rust" (, I knew another person had found that beauty.

"I have a penchant for rust. Living on the UK’s South Coast I see it everywhere. The damp salt air eats at things. Where metal features in Victorian sash windows russet tears appear. Most of the buildings here weep this form of auburn blood
"I love rust. It seems to make objects one might usually overlook infinitely fascinating. Even when there is no discernible form, just a wall for example, rust paints its own watercolour wash there. It slowly seeps a landscape onto blank canvass render.
"Rust is territorial, it makes its indelible mark like bitch burn on a green lawn – changing the colour and texture of things. A key is just a key, brash and functional, until rust embraces it and wraps it in the first flushes of unrelenting corrosion.
"Rust is a murderer of sorts, but he kills eloquently, elegantly. He is the arch seducer, the decay is long and leisurely, as if he enjoys the gradual decline of his victims. I am perhaps his accomplice – I observe the transformations his leeching poisons make – do nothing to stop him.
Arrow Refining Co., 1923. This car never belonged to the Arrow Petroleum Co., but it was painted this color (note the red arrow point in the photo below) when it was brought to the Museum.

"In fact I consider myself a partner in his erosion crimes. I photograph his hennaed chosen ones and feel nothing but a peculiar discomfiting satisfaction from doing so.
Kanotex Refining Company, oil tanker, exterior detail

Chicago, Rock Island and Pacific Steam Derrick Car (1904), Tender, and Boom Car (1904), used in repair work due to its lifting capacity of 60 tons. The Boom Car housed the derrick boom when it was not deployed.

"Rust adds a look of experience and provenance to things and yet is reviled or feared. Perhaps a nod in the direction of our innate and human abhorrence of ageing. Perhaps I’m being too ‘affected’ about it. In truth, I like the look of it. The way it forms images.
"...Rust tells stories. At least it tells me to tell them.
Rust isn’t always predictable nestled in the red zone of the spectrum. It dips in and out of the rainbow of decay like a choosy artist.

"For me, finding purpled rust is like hitting gold. A savage drip of black oxidation, always a surprise.
"I’m often asked, why do you photograph broken or damaged stuff. The answer is that in every form of dereliction there lies a hint of what was before and a possibility of restoration. Unless of course you, like me, prefer the elegantly slow deaths in umber."
Oh, how I wish that I had written those words.
Missouri Pacific Caboose, 1942, an example of an all-steel caboose with an end cupola.

Colorful metal grating on the steps and platform of the caboose.

Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Caboose, 1927, all-steel end cupola caboose.
"This caboose survived Hurricane Ike in 2008, but sustained damage. Th sea water that submerged it accelerated the rust on the caboose body. During the Summer of 2013, Eagle Scout Jordan Cartwright, a descendent of Santa Fe and Southern Pacific Railroad men, led Boy Scout Troop 123 of Galveston, Texas in the restoration of this caboose.

"For nine consecutive weekends the Scouts and other volunteers spent more than 500 hours removing the rust and stripping the caboose to bare metal, applying rust inhibitors, then repainting it to its original Santa Fe “Mineral Brown” color.
"The caboose carried a brakeman, a flagman, and a conductor. The engineer signaled the caboose with his whistle when he wanted to slow down or stop. The brakeman then would climb out and make his way forward, twisting the brake wheels atop the cars with a stout club.

"Once the train was stopped, the flagman would descend from the caboose and walk back to a safe distance with lanterns, flags and other warning devices to stop any approaching trains.

"The caboose also served as an office for the conductor. Here he kept records and handled business from a table or desk.
"The trainmen would sit up in the cupola and watch for smoke or other signs of trouble from overheated wheel journals (called hotboxes) and also shifting loads on cars" (
Information on the cars was contained in the Museum's brochure.

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