Sketching life along the rails, Part 2

As promised last week, here is another set of train-themed sketches. We’re again featuring more of the late 1940’s, early 1950’s New York Central sketches by artists Joseph Hirsch and Carol Johnson, as well as some current images by James Napoleon.

First are the older sketches. As we saw last week, the artists have captured a day in the life of a railroader. Although a few engineers and conductors can be seen, they mostly feature the hardest workers: those that lay the ties, that place the rails, and those that secure the two together. This is one of the most integral jobs with the railroad – for without tracks there would be no places for the trains to go.


Our more current sketches are by artist and Harlem Line rider James Napoleon. I first met James quite a few months ago, when I caught him sketching me on the train. He tries to do at least one sketch per day, and has several sketchbooks filled with various people seen on the train, at the park, or in other places. I find it amusing that a lot of the train people found in his sketchbook are sleeping, because it is an apt depiction of the people on his morning train (see the post: Those Wassaic People). For more of Mr. Napoleon’s work you can check out his website, which shows many of his lovely paintings.

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Sketching life along the rails, Part 1

As it is obvious to anyone that has been to this site, I love to capture the world around me in photographs. Throughout my time commuting, I have come in contact with a few people that capture the world in other ways, like drawing. I did go through art school, had to take quite a few drawing classes, and at some points in my life have carried around a sketchbook. But I’ve never thought I was really spectacular at drawing, and certainly not good enough to represent the world I see on a page. My bag does contain a small moleskin notebook, but more often than not I’m coming up with stories and writing thoughts, and not drawing.

Over the next two weeks, I thought it would be cool to highlight a few folks that spend the time on the train sketching, from the past and today. The sketches featured below were drawn by artists Joseph Hirsch and Carol Johnson, not long after World War Two. Both sketched during the war, and afterward went on to sketch along the rails.

Wartime drawing by Joseph Hirsch

Wartime drawing by Carol Johnson

Sketches by the two artists show the New York Central from the eyes of a railroader, and include train yards and track workers. They don’t have to be photographs to show a delightful “snapshot” of what it was like just after the war.


I also have some more current sketches, and from the point of view of the commuter. Harvey Weiss rides the Hudson Line, and captures other commuters in a bit of an amusing way – from behind seat backs. We see the backs and tops of his fellow riders’ heads. Interestingly, it looks like Weiss may have accidentally captured Metro-North’s president. Though it is hard to tell because the majority of his face is obscured, one of the sketches does bear a strong resemblance to Howard Permut.

Is that Howard Permut???

Weiss has compiled his sketches into a book titled Head Trip, which is available for purchase online and is worth checking out. Check back next week, as I’ll have more New York Central sketches by Hirsch and Johnson, along with some from Harlem Line rider James Napoleon. I first encountered James several months ago when I caught him sketching me on my morning train.

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