Steam locomotive photo triggers a funny story from Post history
By Wayne Hinshaw
For the Salisbury Post
Seeing Jon C. Lakey’s extraordinary photo in Monday’s Post reminded me of a funny story from the newspaper’s past about steam locomotives.
Jon’s photo has to be the best among the hundreds of images of steam engines that Post photographers have snapped through the years.
The event that I will describe happened before I arrived to work at the Post in 1971. The story became a classic in the photo department that was retold every time we were assigned to take photos of steam locomotives.
The story was told by the late Raymond Austin Jr., who was known to all as simply Junior. Junior told the story over and over through the years. Salisbury Post “Hall of Famers” James Barringer and James Brawley were the star actors. They would be Hall of Famers it there was such a thing at the Post. For 44 years, Barringer was photographer supreme; Brawley was a part-time news editor who was more widely known as a Rowan County historical writer.
Junior reported on a day like many others at the Post, except that a steam locomotive was leaving the Salisbury Depot heading south toward Charlotte, just like the engine this past Sunday morning.
Barringer was assigned to photograph the giant engine huffing and puffing black smoke and soot down the track. Brawley went with Barringer to see the engine, since that was the most exciting thing going on in Salisbury that day.
Lakey’s photo captured the crime scene for Junior’s story.
Barringer and Brawley posted themselves directly over the railroad tracks on the East Innes Street bridge to get a photo of the train puffing under them. Not thinking through the fact that the engine would be passing underneath them as they stood over the puffing, sooty smokestacks, the two Post newsgatherers would soon confront the “decisive moment” of this story.
“Decisive moment” is a photo term for the perfect moment to get the greatest photo. It was the perfect moment for the photo just as it was for Lakey’s photo, but there were consequences to Barringer and Brawley’s position on the bridge.
Junior, always laughing as he told the story, said that Barringer and Brawley returned to the Post covered in black soot from the locomotive. Brawley’s solid white hair had turned to solid black. Barringer was solid black, head to toe.
But he did get a great photo.
Struggling to get his words out over his laughing, Junior said the pair were covered in soot except for the “whites of their eyes.”
Junior was not finished with the story. Barringer went into the Post restroom and reportedly took a bath in the sink. Seeing that his shirt was hopeless, he quickly ran to Zimmerman’s Department Store on North Main Street and bought a new shirt to wear the remainder of the day.
Barringer was the type of fellow who enjoyed a good laugh, but not always too much if the laugh was about himself.
For years after that, every time it was noted that a steam engine was coming through Salisbury, Junior would laugh heartily and retell his story. And ask Barringer if he was going to stand on the East Innes Street bridge for another photo.
After about a dozen or so steam locomotives leaving Salisbury, Barringer didn’t think the story was all that funny anymore.