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Railfan Extra Board Special - February 2011

Jim Boyd (1941-2010)

Besides holding down the editor's chair of Railfan & Railroad from 1974 to 1998, Jim Boyd was also a prolific author, having more than 30 books and hundreds of articles to his name. Jim enjoyed getting together with his friends to talk trains, as he is seen here signing a copy of his "Baldwin Diesels In Color: 2" at a 2009 picnic at Railpace publisher Tom Nemeth's.
Photo by Otto M. Vondrak

So long, Jim Boyd (1941-2010)

By Mike Del Vecchio/photos as noted

Jim Boyd (1941-2010)

Jim Boyd helped popularize night photogrpahy, and his most ambitious set up was at the 1983 NRHS Convention in Richmond. Three railroads cooperated to make this unique photo possible. Photo by Roy Evans

It was a sad start to the new year in northern New Jersey when the news broke about the passing of Jim Boyd on December 31. He was 69.

It’s been a dozen years since he retired as the founding editor of Railfan & Railroad. In that post he was larger than life, perhaps the best-known railfan in the world. And I used the term "railfan" because at a time when railroad publishing was more business-like and issues of Trains magazine carried ads from the likes of EMD and Union Pacific while its masterful editor David P. Morgan wrote about gross-tons per train-mile, Jim was loudly "proud to be a RAILFAN!" He made everyone around him proud be be a railfan, too.

Jim was born in the railroad town of Dixon , Illinois on November 26, 1941. After high school he enrolled in the University of Illinois, later attending the Layton School of Art in Milwaukee where in 1962 he began contributing magazine articles to Railroad Model Craftsman. After graduating Layton he took a job as a floor assistant at a Rockford, Ill., television station, which gave him real-world experience in lighting that he learned in school.

He left the television station to become a field service technician for Electro-Motive Division of General Motors (EMD) delivering diesel locomotives, primarily in the South, heavily photographing these railroads along the way. In 1966 during an NMRA convention tour at the EMD plant at LaGrange, Ill., he met Tony Koester who had recently founded the NKP Historical Society. The two struck up a friendship. Koester became the editor of Railroad Model Crafstman. When the EMD job ended Jim hired out as a brakeman on the Illinois Central for more than a year when, in 1971, Koester convinced him to come to Carstens Publications in Ramsey, N.J., as associate editor of Flying Models. Jim liked to tell the story that in 1974 "Hal Carstens got deal on a load of paper, so he launched Railfan to use it." Jim was its editor.

The magazine was a success from the beginning. Jim’s intensity as a railfan, real world railroad experience and his ebullient personality made it work. He knew how to balance content and cultivate contributors. He was a meticulous researcher. A stickler for style, he understood graphics and layout enough to design everything in it but the first cover (that was Hal's work). Jim was a one-man show.

And what a show he put on in the magazine. He covered preserved steam and modern diesels while his "Camera Bag" column taught an entire generation of photographers how to record the railroad scene. Jim’s smooth and friendly writing style was able to draw readers into the action by putting them in the cab of main line steam, or trackside on a quaint short line or in towers at busy main line junctions. And who else could talk steam-lover O. Winston Link into dragging out his flash gear to record the last night before Conrail? Readers were brought into the entire process.

Jim Boyd (1941-2010)

A favorite tradition of Jim's was hitting Pete's Pizzeria in Morristown, N.J., after the Tri-State NRHS meeting. Photo by Preston Cook

Success bred more success, and in 1987 Hal Carstens wanted Railfan & Railroad to go monthly. Jim then hired me as his first associate editor. The work load became too heavy for two, and Bruce Kelly was added the following year. Jim loved the balance between the three of us, and for the following ten years Railfan & Railroad reached its peak of popularity. Fantrips and main line steam were increasing as a result, and the photo lines grew and spread like kudzu. Jim Boyd was a celebrity anywhere in the country.

Jim retired with the February 1998 issue, and by that time Bruce Kelly and I had moved on to other opportunities and our families. Jim became a prolific author, creating numerous books, more than 30 in all, scripting and narrating video programs, appearing in History Channel shows, contributing columns and features to Railfan & Railroad as its editor emeritus, and much more. Many of his books have become the ultimate work on the subject railroad due to his thorough research, but two stand out for their autobiographical nature: Illinois Central: Monday Morning Rails from Andover Junction, and Outbound Trains in the Era Before the Mergers from Boston Mill Press. Both are excellent.

So, "JB" is gone. As I write this immediately after the funeral and while helping his family with Jim’s affairs, all kinds of feelings are running through my head. It was difficult to watch him age and to watch his health decline. As much as he was suffering, he never complained and he cheerfully rolled with it all. Nothing slowed him down. He always greeted everyone with a smile and a joke and he could always hold the attention of complete strangers. I saw him at least monthly at NRHS chapter meetings, and we remained good friends and helped each other with publication projects. In my current role as a trainmaster, I enjoyed bringing him to work where we could let him enjoy our Alcos as only he could.

Railfan Extra Board

Jim leaves a body of work unequalled in the history of railroad writing and photography. If people live as long as they’re remembered, Jim Boyd could be to railfanning what Babe Ruth is to baseball. The personalities are similar. It’s a coincidence he would have appreciated, that his death occurred the day after the last rolls of Kodachrome were accepted for processing forever.

A classic Boyd ending: He was to be cremated Friday afternoon for the Saturday afternoon funeral. A coroner’s error stopped the process, so the urn was empty in a room packed with mourners responding to only one day’s notice. Jim would have been the first to bellow that "Boyd was late for his own funeral."


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