It was railroad artist Andy Fletcher who made an appeal to the Norfolk Southern board of directors that put the heritage program into motion. A life-long railroad fan, Andy explains in his own words the events leading up to this historic event. Photo by Steve Barry
NS Heritage in his own words: Andy Fletcher
By Andy Fletcher /Photos as noted
Editor's Note: You've probably seen Andy Fletcher's artwork if you've ever visited the gift shop of railroad museums across the country. Andy's style of hand-colored artwork is unmistakeable. If you've been following the story of Norfolk Southern's incredible Heritage Unit program, you've probably heard his name mentioned once or twice. We asked Andy to tell us a little about himself, and his involvement with this historic program. —O.M.V.
I have loved trains almost all my life and began drawing trains with Mr. Sketch pens given to me by my grandma for Christmas when I was 5. When I was 13 my grandma gave me a camera for Christmas and I started drawing trains that I photographed. That summer my dad and I made a trip to Essex, Montana, by Amtrak . I took hundreds of photos of Burlington Northern trains and grain hoppers and came back from the trip and started drawing my first 100 car grain train. I’ve heard the drawings still hang in the mezzanine at the Izaak Walton Inn.
Norfolk Southern CEO Wick Moorman looks on as Trains magazine editor Jim Wrinn (center) introduces artist Andy Fletcher (right). Photo by Otto Vondrak
The answer to the question, “Why trains?” is partially answered because I have recently diagnosed with Aspergers syndrome. I have had epilepsy since childhood, but a couple of years ago I was diagnosed with Aspergers, which is an autism spectrum disorder. Many with Aspergers focus on an intense interest in trains, planes and other forms of transportation. There has been no one in my family history that worked for a railroad or liked trains. My mom likes to joke that until a few years ago, when she decided to build a website to showcase my artwork, she called them "the red train," "the black train" and so on. I am pleased to say that my mom has now become a knowlegable railfan because of me!
I came to Virginia in February 2011 when the C&O Historical Society contacted me at the end of 2010 and said they were bringing the 614 to the Virginia Museum of Transportation for a joint event with the 611 and 1218. Since I had drawn all three engines, they ask if I could I make a special poster featuring them. They invited me to attend the event at the VMT which they called “Train Lover’s Day." My mom contacted the VMT and they liked the idea and said they were thinking of offering me an artist-in-resident position. So we packed our bags and made the trek from Davis, California.
Knowing I was going to Virginia I drew a N&W Y6B steam engine and when I held it up on my Facebook page, Norfolk Southern commented on my post, “Bring it to Virginia so we can see it up close!” So before beginning the artist-in-residency I traveled to Norfolk Southern's corporate headquarters and was taken to lunch where I met many different members of the NS team.
After beginning the “artist-in-residence” position last year, I realized I had to do my serious drawing at home because the space I was given had too many distractions for me to complete my work. I also needed a private place for working on a project like the Norfolk Southern heritage locomotives so I began drawing on a table in my bedroom. Most of my 2,000+ drawings have been done in my bedrooms over the years.
Even though the “artist-in-residence” didn’t work out, being on the East Coast allowed me to be inspired by more eastern railroads. Shortly after arriving, I met NS CEO Wick Moorman and Executive Vice President Mark Manion and was invited to attend a special employees-only day at the historic N&W East End shops when they were presented the prestigious Harriman Award for safety. I was also invited to National Train Day in Chattanooga and was a guest on the special run of the 630, I was also invited to attend several other Norfolk Southern events during 2011, and taken on tours of the vast Lambert’s Point coal docks and the OCS train when it visited Roanoke.
I have been sending drawings to railroad CEO’s and Presidents since I was a teenager. I have been fortunate to be invited to visit with many of them and in particular I met Philip Anschutz, (who was owner of the Southern Pacific and the Rio Grande) on several of his visits to San Fransicisco when I was only 16. On another occasion, I met Rob Krebs from the Santa Fe on a trip to Chicago in 1992. One thing in common, each executive expressed their enjoyment of my artwork and encouraged me to continue to create new drawings.
I had drawn the heritage locomotives Union Pacific had painted a few years before and even though they were popular, I felt it would have been better if their designs had stayed true to the original, as if they were still around today. I started drawing heritage locomotives for BNSF Railway and Norfolk Southern in the spring of 2010. I had drawn seven of each which covered BNSF’s heritage and sent the drawings with a letter to Warren Buffet. I heard back that he liked my drawings, but the railroad didn’t paint them.
Norfolk Southern's Family Portrait was hoted at the North Carolina Transportation Museum in Specner, NC. Photo by Steve Barry
With Norfolk Southern's 30 anniversary approaching in 2012, I decided to make a proposal to Wick Moorman. I had given him a matted print of my drawing of the Southern 4501 when I first met him in April 2011, and he later wrote me that he enjoyed my drawings. Seven wasn’t even close to the number of NS heritage units I would need to draw, so I put the project on hold as I took off to visit Rochelle, Illinois for their Railroad Days and other eastern rail events. By the time I first posted the NS Heritage poster on Facebook on Christmas Eve 2011 I had finished drawing about 30 different versions, which included several different schemes for many of the popular railroads. My mom helps by making the JPEG files and posters for my artwork, and she felt 18 would look best on an 11x17-inch poster, so that's how we initially came up with that number.
In January, knowing that everyone would be back to work after the holidays I sent a 24x36-inch poster for Wick Moorman and several 11x17-inch posters for the members of the board along with a letter addressing why I felt a heritage project would be beneficial to Norfolk Southern. I sent the posters and letter on January 4, and received a phone call on January 20 saying that they were moving forward with the project would like my individual drawings at 600dpi so they would be easier to work with. After getting the call I was excited and went out to celebrate by having a pizza and re-listening to that phone message! It was great news to hear that many of America’s fallen flags paint schemes would run the rails again. Also, it was rewarding that many of who had shared personal stories with me about their families who had worked with these railroads or had railfanned them as children would get to see these roads run through their towns once again.
I was already set on the paint schemes when I originally presented my ideas to Norfolk Southern. The ones that made significant changes, after sending them in, were the Monongahela, the original Norfolk Southern, and the Interstate (which I hadn’t submitted because I had not yet discovered that line). The first Monongahela ideas I sent in was based on their black scheme, but NS had me draw renderings in gray and Brunswick green, finally settling on the gray. The paint scheme for the "original" Norfolk Southern unit I sent in was in the gray scheme, but NS called and said they heard of a red scheme and asked if I had ever seen it. I had a book with the red version on the cover and we scanned it and emailed it back. They liked it, so I drew a new design for the red scheme and sent it back to them that day, and that was their immediate choice. With the Interstate design they sent me a couple of photos and I adapted the Interstate scheme to modern General Electric ES44AC and it was accepted.
When Norfolk Southern let me know they were planning a huge event for July 3 and 4 at the North Carolina Transportation Museum, I knew it would be a good location. After all, NCTM is home to Southern 6900, a beautiful E8 that once pulled the Southern Crescent, and was my inspiration for the Southern heritage unit. I meet about 3,500 plus people over the few days and it was great to see how many railroaders, railfans and families loved the heritage locomotives.
It was particularly rewarding to visit the Juniata Shops in Altoona, Pennsylvania, recently, and get to say thank you for the great job they had done on five of the heritage locomotives. It was great to take the time to sign posters and shake many of their hands and and say “thank you” in person! I had lived in Altoona from 1994-6 when Conrail was the Class 1 so it was like going home again.
You can see more of Andy Fletcher's original artwork on his web site, CustomTrains.com. You can purchase copies of the Heritage Power poster featuring his artwork directly from the North Carolina Transportation Museum. To learn more about Norfolk Southern's Heritage Locomotives, visit nscorp.com.