May ARRC Meeting Features Color Slides of Nickel Plate Road Operations Made by Willis McCaleb

Willis McCaleb had a dream job. His work as the company photographer for the Nickel Plate Road took him all over the system to make photographs.

As went about his duties, McCaleb carried two cameras. One he used to make the “official” black and white images published in company publications and used for other purposes. The other camera was loaded with color slide film.

During his career McCaleb made 2,300 color images of NKP operations. James Semon and Bruce Dicken acquired this collection and have published some of it in a series of books about the Nickel Plate.

Semon will show a portion of the McCaleb collection during the program at the May 22 meeting of the Akron Railroad Club. This will include steam and diesel locomotives as well as images made in places that only a railroad employee could reach.

A Westlake resident, Semon is an accomplished photographer himself, having made more than 5,000 slides since the 1960s of trucks, trains and trolleys.

Time permitting, Semon will show some of his images of Baltimore & Ohio, New York Central and other trains that he has photographed, particularly during the 1960s.

A native of Sandusky, Semon and his father often spent time at the NYC depot.

During a 2002 interview with Inside Business magazine, Semon said that he had always wanted to write a railroad history book.

Thus far he has co-authored three books for Morning Sun Press that contain the photographs of McCaleb.

These include Nickel Plate Color Photography of Willis A. McCaleb, Vol. 2: Bellevue-Chicago-Wheeling District; Nickel Plate Color Photography of Willis A. McCaleb, Vol. 1: Buffalo-Bellevue; and Baltimore & Ohio Trackside With Willis A. McCaleb.

Semon also is co-author with Tiffany Willey Middleton of The Clydesdale Motor Truck Company, a history of the manufacturer of the famed Liberty Truck used during World War I in Europe. The company was based in Clyde, Ohio.

The latter book enabled Semon to indulge another of his passions, classic trucks.

Although he probably won’t bring it to the ARRC meeting, Semon owns a 1946 Chevy truck with “Nickel Plate Road” emblazoned on the doors. All told, Semon owns 13 vehicles, three of them being 1946 Chevy trucks.

A 1958 graduate of Sandusky High School, Semon attended Kent State University before leaving after two years to sell motor vehicles. He later took a job at American Greetings as an assistant packing engineer.

He spent eight of his 32 years with American Greetings working and living in Toronto. During that time he got out with his camera to record Canadian railroad operations.

Semon’s photographs have been used on greeting cards, post cards and calendars.

Semon retired from American Greetings in 1995 as vice president of international operations after a 32-year career with the company. He came out of retirement in 1997 to help Manco develop new products.

His program at the May ARRC meeting will coincide with his 75th birthday.

The ARRC will meet this Friday at 8 p.m. with a half-hour business meeting followed by the program at approximately 8:45 p.m. The club meets at the New Horizons Christian Church, 290 Darrow Road, in Akron.

Following the meeting, some members gather at the Eat ‘n Park restaurant at Howe and Main streets in Cuyahoga Falls for a late dinner, dessert or an early breakfast.

Visitors are always welcome at Akron Railroad Club meetings.

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