Stan Kistler – Photographer, Historian, Artist

By Steve Crise

Stan Kistler, one of the original West Coast railroad photographers passed away on September 29, 2022 at age 92. Stan’s work spanned more than seven decades and covered a wide variety of railroad related subjects. His first love in railroading was always the Santa Fe Railway. It just so happened that the Santa Fe’s Second District mainline ran by his boyhood home in the Chapman Park area of Pasadena, so it was only natural that the Santa Fe Railway became his primary subject for most of his life.

I first became acquainted with Stan’s photography in the early 1970’s through the classic Golden West Books’ publication that he co-authored with Donald Duke in 1963 titled “Santa Fe… Steel Rails Through California.” “Steel Rails” became one of the best-selling books of all time in the Golden West Books catalog with more than 14 re-printings from 1963 to 1987. It is still a sought after classic among railfans today. I’m sure that most of you visiting this page woke up one Christmas morning to find “Steel Rails” as a present under the Christmas tree from mom and dad.

Many of Stan’s classic photographs adorned “Steel Rails” such as this action shot of the now famous restored steam engine AT&SF 3751 operated by the San Bernardino Railroad Historical Society. Stan caught the 3751 crossing the Mojave Desert just a few short months before she was retired from service.

This scene of the Chief flying through East Pasadena near Craig & Walnut was typical of the action work Stan did in his early years. Many photographers laid down their cameras for good once the steam engines were gone, but not Stan; he was just getting started. This photograph was made just a short distance from Stan’s home on Craig Street, just south of Walnut Street in Pasadena.

Perhaps a less well known aspect of Stan’s photography was the work he shot after dark as witnessed by this image of Los Angeles Metropolitan Transit Lines interurban making a brief passenger stop in Compton on its journey northward to P.E.’s old 6th and Main Street station in downtown Los Angeles. Stan also experimented with night flash photography and 35mm Kodachrome color transparency films, but it was his black and white work for which he is best known.

While preparing material for this tribute to Stan’s work I remembered that we had some undated Kodachrome slides shot by Donald Duke of Stan with LAMTA car 1510. In this group of slides there were shots of Stan with what appeared to be a mobile reel to reel tape recorder. I knew Stan had done some audio recordings of locomotives but I was unaware of any he made of PE equipment. A further dive into the files turned up a 33-1/3 RPM seven-inch record from the tape recordings of the LAMTA 1510 in 1961! On the record sleeve there was the entire story of the audio recordings Stan had made on February 16, 1961, so it seemed appropriate that this interesting tale be told so we can at last bring the photos and the record discs together to illustrate a unique view into yet another talent Stan practiced.

Don captured Stan busy at work setting up his reel to reel tape recorder aboard LAMTA 1510. From what I can tell, the set up to make the recorded work was quite complicated since the only power onboard the 1510 was 600 volts of DC powered and the tape recorder most likely needed 110 volts of AC power. Almost hidden out of view is a cardboard box with a car battery inside with wires leading to what appears to be some sort of power converted that makes 12-volts DC into 110-volts AC. True to form, the equipment box for all of this gear was a repurposed darkroom chemical box of developer for film and paper!

Side One

  1. Pacing alongside car 1502 on Long Beach Blvd. in Long Beach
  2. Car 1510 inbound and car 1536 outbound at 15th Street in Los Angeles
  3. Riding the rear platform of car 1510 inbound nearing Compton
  4. Sounds of Conductor and Fare Register on car 1510
  5. Car 1510 outbound on the four-track right-of-way passing Amoco Junction crossing at 25th Street, Los Angeles

Side Two

  1. This recording was made from the motorman’s compartment of car 1510 on February 16, 1961, approaching Slauson Avenue and a speed run to Watts at about 50 miles per hour and then leaving Watts

The measure of any man can be made by the company he keeps and Stan surrounded himself with some really great people. Below are a few photos of Stan with just a small sampling of some of those really great people that he called friends. These photos were culled from Kodachrome slides that were shot by his good friend Chard Walker.

This is but a small sampling and a very incomplete story of a great man, a family man and a good friend and colleague to many of us. It would take many volumes in both words and pictures to tell his whole story. I will leave that effort to his closer friends and family as I can at best say we were good acquaintances. But all of us at Golden West Books are proud to say Stan was a part of our family of authors and contributors and he will be greatly missed.

Stan’s legacy of very important and historic images tells a unique story about America’s industrial heritage. Although we will miss his contribution to what has become its own art form, this thing called “railroad photography,” we should take comfort knowing future generations will find great fascination and excitement in his masterful portrayal of the railroads that he loved and admired so much. – Steve Crise 2022.

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Showing 5 comments
  • Martin Banks

    Stan was an amazing man to have known and been friends with. He will be missed.

    • Pacific Electric


  • Herb Iske

    I purchased my copy of SANTA FE…STEEL RAILS THROGH CALIFORNIA in the old bookstore in the Oakland Depot in 1983.

  • Charley Hepperle

    He was a great photographer, especially of the Santa Fe. He will be missed.

  • Charley Hepperle

    …and the Pacific Electric!

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