Saturday, July 9, 2011

Richard Steinheimer:

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.

I felt, simultaneously, shocked and abandoned, just as I felt when one of my musical greats, Warren Zevon, passed away in 2003, along with Ronald Wilson Reagan the next year.

That said, I had come across the path of Richard Steinheimer four times in my sojourns and adventures in photography on the rails.

First, I purchased the wondrous book written by John Signor, entitled "Donner Pass, Southern Pacific's Sierra Crossing."

And I noticed that a number of the photographs were taken by Steve Bush, Dick Dorn and another man named Richard Steinheimer.

That led to an investigation of any number of books published by "Stein" as he was called.

My first encounter occurred when I appeared, in the late 90s, at the Soda Springs crossing along with any number of photo-majors in Winter. We had hiked atop a massive crest of snow and watched an oncoming rotary steam-driven snow plow. Photographs all around. Video too. Richard Steinheimer was there, everyone knew him; he was extremely difficult to miss at 6'6". I purposely didn't film Mr Steinheimer; I suppose I was afraid to be so obvious. In should, instead, have taken photographs like crazy. My audible scanner traffic was captured on at least two videos from this meet, later produced for railfans.

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.

And he had, obviously, forgotten that bright day in 1999, when I last took my father to the Sacramento Railroad Museum when we lightly conversed in the quad adjacent the SRRM; my Dad was nine years older than Mr Steinheimer, solidly built.

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.