Aug. 28—A camera and an outpouring of passion for railroad photography has led a retired Yuba City elementary school teacher to travel throughout the western United States for over 55 years to photograph trains and railroads.
Regardless of winter storms, photographer Dick Dorn would stand amid large amounts of snow and wait for the exact moment he knew he wanted to photograph. Dorn's railroad photography is best known for his shots of snow removal on the Donner Pass in the northern Sierra Nevada in the 1970-90s.
"It's perseverance, standing in the middle of a winter storm," said Dorn. "I've had very good relationships with the railroad operators and knew when, how and what snow equipment they would be using. It was just a matter of waiting."
Based upon his lifetime of work as a railroad photographer, Dorn was awarded the Fred A. & Jane R. Stindt Photography Award from The National Railway and Historical Society recognizing his contribution to the photographic interpretation of North American railroading.
"As a railroad photographer, that's the ultimate recognition," said Dorn. "When you get this award it's kind of like the equivalent of being inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame except it is for railroad photography, that's a good analogy that tells you the significance of this award."
Dorn wrote over 30 articles for different magazines like the Pacific Rail News, Railfan & Railroad, Trains, Classic Trains, CTC Board and Passenger Train Journal.
He also co-authored two books. "Diesels over Donner: Mountain Soul of the Southern Pacific" was published in 1989, which includes photographs of the Southern Pacific Railroad between Sparks, Nevada, and Roseville. His other co-authored book, "72-82: Western Pacific's Final Decade" published in 2014, is a photographic account of the Western Pacific Railroad through the Feather River Canyon.
He was also inducted into the Winterail Hall of Fame in 2006, a photography railroad exposition held in Stockton, and received the Guy Dunscomb Award of Outstanding Achievement in 2020 for his work as an author, photographer and historian of the railroads.
"What I'm doing is recording history," said Dorn. "It's a photographic account of railroad history, trains and locomotives."
With the evolution of railroads, Dorn has also witnessed the advancement of cameras. In the 1970s, Dorn would photograph with film. As technology advanced, he has been able to use digital cameras and photograph at night. The development of digital cameras opened photographing opportunities, said Dorn.
His passion for railroads began at a very young age with model railroading, but he became more interested in railroad photography in high school when he received his driver's license and was able to drive himself around to take photographs, said Dorn.
Dorn was an elementary school teacher for Barry Elementary School in Yuba City Unified School District for 35 years and retired in 2005. In his free time, he would dedicate himself to his hobby as much as he could. Dorn still continues to photograph railroads at age 74, however he does not travel outside of California and Nevada to practice his hobby. Last year, he spent 25 days on Donner Pass photographing railroads until the forest fires began.
"It's like everything in life, things change, and I am recording the history of railroads," said Dorn. "I've been documenting what has been going on in the railroads all these years."