August 23rd, 1929, to May 4th, 2011, age 81.
Richard Virgil Dean Steinheimer, the absolute prototypical Dean Emeritus of railroad photographers, passed away two months ago, on May 4th.
I didn't learn of this until the current (July) issue of Trains magazine had reached my elevated Sierra Nevada mailbox.
He said hello to me and trekked down to the crossing for more close-ups. He was completely unassuming and courteous.
Later, I was a member of the Sacramento Railroad Museum. Stein told me of the stupid (and I agreed) railroad crossing at Dutch Flat. It was called "dumb-ass crossing." And I couldn't have agreed more.
He was thin and, in his prime, still literally towered over me.
He signed my book "Done Honest And True" in 1999. We spoke about the high granite.
My final encounter with Richard Steinheimer shamed me.
I waited in line like a good prole, but I knew what was coming. I could see it and hear it. It looked as though a younger female was prodding Stein to sign each book. Each time. She treated him like a child. And he responded as such. I shake my head. That I stood so long in that line only to realize that Richard Steinheimer was, in essence, no longer present.
This occurred at the Sacramento Railroad Museum when Stein was promoting the 2004 book "A Passion For Trains." He wrote his name. He was precisely prompted by a female that I suspected was a direct relative. I felt like an abject whore. It was clear that he had little awareness of his surroundings. And I felt horrible for him.
Mr Steinheimer was diagnosed with Alzheimer's in 2000.
He hadn't realized that he'd already signed my most important book, "Diesels Over Donner" in 1989 with Dick Dorn.
We passed by the RR Museum front doors, where Stein sat.
"Hey," he asked, "did you see Donner?"
"I live there," I said. "I hear them every night."
"Where?" he asked.
"Dutch Flat," I replied.
"I love it," he said.
Then he told me about Dumb-Ass Crossing.
He was tall and strong and in control.
And there was no Greater Dean of Railroad Photography.
God bless Richard Steinheimer. Fair skies, sir, high granite, and an unending supply of subject material.