While stationed on Long Island to conduct secret war research for the U.S. government during World War II, O. Winston Link started snapping photographs of the Long Island Railroad tracks behind his lab. Eager to capture large-scale railroad pictures at night, he built his own customized flash equipment. After the war, Link harnessed that creative curiosity by spending five years photographing the Norfolk and Western Railway, the last large steam-powered American railroad. From his 20 trips to the railway's tracks in four states, Link collected 2,400 pictures.
His work didn't garner attention until the 1980s, when he published his first collection of railroad photos in the lauded book Steam, Steel & Stars. The West Virginia Historical Society continues to preserve his legacy with the O. Winston Link Museum, which showcases Link's Norfolk and Western project while filling in its historical context. Throughout seven galleries, patrons hear the sounds of bustling locomotive engines, adjust the lighting of an interactive diorama's photograph, and ogle Link's original photographic equipment, including flashbulbs, power boxes, and super power boxes. The museum underscores its edifying galleries with a plentitude of tours, workshops, and ongoing photography programs.
In the 1850s, the Norfolk & Western Railway made its way to Big Lick, Virginia, transforming the sleepy town into a locomotive hub of the south. The Virginia Museum of Transportation walks visitors through this industrial change with its historic steam and diesel engines, cabooses, model trains, and rail collection, which features more than 50 pieces of rolling stock, including some of the most advanced Roanoke-made steam engines ever built in the Norfolk & Western Class J-611 and Class A-1218. Railway exhibits recount the exploits of the industry’s most renowned names and provide an opportunity for visitors to hop aboard an actual diesel locomotive and complain loudly about the lack of complimentary peanuts. Additional engine-powered attractions include a century’s worth of automobiles and the recently reopened Wings Over Virginia Aviation Gallery collection.