Long time fans of the Northern Pacific will have little difficulty in identifying the name R.V. Nixon. As an operator and dispatcher for the NP, Ron Nixon seemed to go everywhere with a camera in hand, and more often than not wound up taking pictures of trains. After reading some of the opening lines of his brief biography, you won't be surprised as to why.
''Ron V. Nixon was born April 16th, 1911 in Gardiner, Montana to a family with Montana pioneer heritage. From his early childhood Ron was immersed in railroad life. His father, William Nixon, was a telegrapher for the Northern Pacific Railway, and Ron's family moved around Montana with each new railroad assignment. Ron V. Nixon's mother, Elizabeth, was also a telegraph operator and an avid amateur photographer. When Ron was only four years old his mother began to teach him Morse Code and in 1916 she handed her camera to her son and prompted him to take his first photograph: the crew of a circus train at Roberts, Montana.''
Locomotives, wreckers, depots, crews, officials all went through his lens, and more than a few of his pictures wound up in the hands of the NP's PR staff. Though he is best remembered as a photographer of things NP, his own carefully typed index shows that anything that had to do with steel wheels on steel rails warranted a picture.
After his death, his collection found its way to the Museum of the Rockies in Bozeman, Montana. There, Curator of Art and Photography Steven Jackson and staff have labored to make 16 selections from the Nixon Collection available on the World Wide Web. The shots include the Milwaukee at Missoula, the BN at Cyr, and one of my favorites, NP Extra 5000 East at Glendive in 1938.
I hope you'll stop by and take a look at railroading as it was on the Northern Tier and the Big Sky State.
Northern Pacific Motive Power--No. 1 of a Series
It is fitting that an American Standard 4-4-0 is used for the beginning of this series, as it was this type which played the most important part in the building of the Northern Pacific system. The NP at one time had more than 300 Standards, but not one remains in service.
The Standard, designed and first built by William Mason in the 1850s, outmoded practically all previous designs of motive power, and even to this day the Standard has fulfilled its name. Few basic changes have been made in Mason's original design, as may easily be seen by a comparison with the latest in steam power. Strangely, the 4-4-0 was a dual-service locomotive, as is the famous 4-8-4 of the A series.
One of 22 Class B Standards built by Baldwin in 1887, the 666 was numbered to 419 until all NP power was renumbered in about 1898. First service was on through passenger trains, chiefly in mountain territory, as the 666 was one of the heaviest Standards purchased by the NP. However, this service was short-lived, due to the coming of the ten-wheelers. The 666, along with other 4-4-0s, was relegated to smaller trains and branch lines. Old-timers in the Fargo-Dilworth vicinity are sure to remember this trim locomotive. Final service was seen on the Taylors Falls and Stillwater branches out of St. Paul, the engine being scrapped in Brainerd in 1941.
The photo was made in St. Paul in 1934.
-The Tell Tale, December 1949, p. 3
Author: Ronald V. Nixon. Title: By Ronald V. Nixon, Part I.