One-shot #26: Kilburn’s Crazy Incline

Well before he photographed the Group of Mexican Wax Work, B. W. Kilburn extensively documented Mount Washington in his native New Hampshire. There are many excellent views floating around from his time there – and then there’s this oddball:

“No. 583.  Ascending Mt. Washington”

So if one were to not think terribly hard, and to just pop this into a scope and give it a look-see, one would probably be quite impressed. The stereography is excellent, which is par for the course with Kilburn’s work. The scene is dramatic – an early railroad image with a locomotive pushing a single car up an incredible incline. But this was around 1870 – a decade before the Shay locomotive was patented and produced – and it’s hard to imagine what kind of engine could deal with this sort of dramatic angle.

But wait… dramatic angle… there’s an even more dramatic angle that shows in several places upon closer inspection:

Yep. Either everybody on this train was standing at a very improbable angle – or the camera was tilted to create the drama, and the train was at a much less crazy incline. So let’s go back to geometry class – it’s time for good ‘ole taking the inverse SIN of the base over the hypotenuse – in this case, almost exactly 33º for the base of the train were it level:

At this rotation, we’ve gone a little far:

So the train was clearly on an incline, just not the incline portrayed. Using Photoshop, let’s try to get the guys straight, and see what the train is looking like:

Here – with the incline still at an impressive 17º – we have an honest image of the scene. It’s perhaps less impressive, but Kilburn was in the business of selling stereoviews – not in the business of documentary photography. So why not take the photo without the two guys in the corner? He did, in a sense – here are links to two similar trains… with the same number and caption: WikimediaMFA Boston

So it looks like not only was this goofball view printed, but it was replaced in whatever series it belonged to at least twice – with similarly dishonest images. But hey, take a look at the anaglyph (if you haven’t free-viewed it already) – dishonest or not, it’s a damn cool view:

5 Replies to “One-shot #26: Kilburn’s Crazy Incline”

    1. Thanks! There will be much more NYC-related content to come; keep checking in to see 1800s-1930s images of: the construction of the Brooklyn Bridge, the original NY Aquarium, NYC Chinatown, the 1939 World’s Fair, etc! 🙂

      I enjoyed looking through your blog as well – the Coney Island shots in particular. I’ve been going down to Coney for decades, although I live in Gowanus, and all the work they’ve been doing off the F train is downright aggravating.

      Happy Holidays to yourself as well!

      1. Sounds awesome – I look forward to seeing these fotos! Chinatown has some remarkable history – especially where organized crime is concerned.

        Thank you for the kind words regarding my blog and fotos of Coney Island. It is one of my most favorite places to visit in BK. Funny that you mention Gowanus for this will be the next blog foto series in the new year. I love exploring industrial areas and how much gentrification has changed it.

        I agree with your sentiments regarding the F train but it’s developed a new love of riding the bus…lol. Cheers to you, Sir!

      2. Heh – well, Chinatown is certainly fascinating, but the focus on this set isn’t on exploring the culture so much as gawping at it. I get the feeling that the fine people at Tru Vue were more than a little whitebread. The poem at the beginning of the roll is certainly… colorful…

        Well groovy! I look forward to seeing your Gowanus images – the #2 roll from Brooklyn 1933 has a shot of the canal on it – it’s too cool; it’s like two blocks from our apartment.

        The bus? Eegads. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve waited for over an hour for a Q35 from Flatbush out to the Gateway area (Rockaways, Dead Horse Bay, Floyd Bennett Field, etc)…

      3. There is something quite peaceful about riding the bus – people watching, passing through neighborhoods but really only works when you’re not in a hurry to get somewhere…lol. Have you tried the MTA app? It can be helpful and even accurate…shocker, MTA…lol.

        Cool beans – do you ever find yourself wandering in your neighborhood or elsewhere and wondering what life was like decades ago or even a century ago? I think to myself – who walked these streets – where they happy here? What was their lives like? It’s just all so fascinating!

        Happy New Year to you and yours 😀

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