Artist’s Statement  -  “Extra 557 Returning”
18”x24” oil on canvas commissioned by Locomotive 557 Restoration Company
© 2014
J. Craig Thorpe

When I first heard that the 557 was headed back to Alaska, I had 2 initial thoughts.  First was, “How cool is that?”  The second was, “I’d really like to do a painting of that engine!”  Thanks to 20 years worth of art for the White Pass & Yukon Route and Alaska Marine Lines/Lynden Transport I developed a love for the Alaskan land.  When Scott Hicks of Alaska West Express/Lynden suggested my services to the 557 Restoration Company, I was thrilled.
Soon Patrick Durand (President of the organization) and I began to discuss options.  I then knew that I was dealing with folks who not only appreciated history but who could combine it with a vision for the future. More than have the 557 “tell” stories of the past, she would help spin new tales of today’s railroading in one of America’s greatest landscapes.  It is a theme that percolates through all my work.
The decision was made to showcase the 557 in typical 1950’s service.  We poured over countless photos of the engine, one of 2,120  S-160 class 2-8-0s built between 1942 and 1945 for the U. S. Army Transportation Corps. Retired in the early 1960s, saved from the torch by Monte Holm and displayed in the House of Poverty Museum at Moses Lake, Washington. 557 returned to Alaska in 2012 for restoration. The coaches of the period were former Army hospital cars rebuilt for passenger service and we wanted the art to reflect that detail as well.
But much of our discussion focused on the setting.  When I saw a contemporary photo of the line at MP 68 and was told that the restored 557 would operate regularly on that part of the railroad, I knew I had the answer.  The tumble of sunlit mountains – with just enough snow! – became the perfect background. Together with the waters of Turnagain Arm and the ubiquitous eagle, the spirit of Alaska’s natural glory and wildness was set. Further, it is essentially undisturbed by the railway whose footprint blends with the land.  The train runs through it, a rolling grandstand from which to see and appreciate this land in the company of others.
The title – “Extra 557 Returning” – has a double meaning.  In the pictured scene the locomotive and train are returning to Anchorage from a special (extra) run to Seward.  The title also anticipates the actual return of the 557 to these rails.
I am most appreciative of this opportunity to contribute to such a significant event in the history of railroading in the North.  It is my hope that “Extra 557 Returning” will not only stir great memories but will also help us ask, “Why not more of these grand conveyances in more of our national landscapes?”



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