Donald Sims, a prolific author and photographer whose work has often been featured in the pages of The trains Magazine, died Saturday of a brief illness. He was 93 years old.
Sims, who lived in Poulsbo, Wash., With Reva, his wife of nearly 70 years, died after being admitted to hospital earlier today, surrounded by his wife and three children.
A Renaissance man in the truest sense of the word, Sims taught economics in college and held various white-collar jobs in private industry, while spending time as a railroad worker. He laid off for the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy, was an employee of Santa Fe, and while attending UCLA was a carknocker for Southern Pacific. When he wasn’t repairing one of his cars or working in his garage darkroom, he was traveling the countryside photographing the railroad in all its forms. There was no train or railroad backdrop that was not captured by its cameras, in formats ranging from a 4 Ã 5 speed graphic to 120-35mm roll film.
He maintained his enthusiasm for the railroad even as it went through decades of dramatic change.
“If you think about it,” he said in a 2004 article in Classic trains, “The subject hasn’t really changed at all. I still love to photograph diesel, electric, transit lines, mountain railways, desert railways, and city railroads. I love the railroad and the people who do it.
Growing up in New Jersey before his family moved to the West Coast in 1943, and later alongside his longtime friend Dick Steinheimer, Sims always wanted to find what was on the other side of the next. hill. When a railroad parted from the freeway, Sims casually pulled an all-terrain motorcycle out of the back of his pickup truck and, camera in hand, hurtled down the right-of-way for the next photoshoot.
He has recounted his adventures – some with “Stein” and others with Reva – in numerous magazines. He particularly liked working with The trains editor David P. Morgan as well as the author of a number of hardcover books. A very man of his time, his writings clearly showed his love of the subject, as he wrote in-depth articles describing all facets of the railroad and railway workers. His signature covered the railroad in almost every state, and he had regular assignments from Southern Pacific, Alco, General Electric, and German hydraulic diesel maker Krauss-Maffei, among others.
The Sims have mastered the difficult art of night photography by using Heiland Speedlights and large # 2 flash bulbs (about the size of a 100-watt bulb) to paint with light. Always ready to share his knowledge, he carefully showed more than one neophyte the importance of not only lighting a locomotive from the angle of the camera, but also of blowing a bulb from behind it aimed at trucks and the vehicle. fuel tank to separate it from the background.
Sims hasn’t forgotten that he was a witness to history, and not just the transition from steam railways to diesel. He remembers, for example, seeing the German airship Hindenburg en route to Lakehurst, NJ, the day it exploded, and looking out the window of a Key System intercity car he was driving in Oakland and watching a PanAm Clipper take off for the Far East.
In his later years, his cameras were replaced by Bronicas, Nikons, and a pair of Pentax 6x7s, and his Chevy Greenbrier pickup truck – which he started years ago with a big screwdriver after losing the key to contact – has been replaced by a newer vehicle. Refinements aside, however, Sims never lost his desire to see what lay right over the next hill.
After retiring from Southern California, Don and Reva first moved to Montana before settling in Washington state.
Services are on hold.