Photographers from the border times traveled the rails in “photo cars”

JB Silvis’ photo car near Point of Rocks, east of Rock Springs, complete with its signature moose antlers on the roof. (Photo by Union Pacific)

FRESHWATER COUNTY – Frontier era cameramen once roamed the west in special railroad cars configured as traveling studios known as “photo cars”.

Photo cars were converted galleys, equipped with a small studio, a skylight for lighting, a darkroom and a living room for the photographer. Historians believe that the first JB was Silvis, who began touring the Union Pacific routes in his photo car in 1870. His photo car stopped frequently, and people down the line were eager to take photos.

Business was good and Silvis was making $ 100 a day. His success was not hidden from the criminal element either. In Evanston, Wyoming, he was awakened one night in his car in 1881 by a burglar armed with an iron bar. Silvis shot the intruder who fled.

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Two babies, photographed in his WA Bradley photo car, identified as twins, the “Cary Babies”. Bradley charged $ 3.00 per dozen for copies. – (Photo from Sweetwater County Historical Museum)

Silvis retired in 1882. In its collection, the Sweetwater County Historical Museum in Green River has portraits taken by another of these wandering photographers, WA Bradley, who operated the photo vehicle until at least 1889.

The Sweetwater County Historical Museum is located at 3 E. Flaming Gorge Way in Green River. Opening times are Tuesday to Saturday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., admission is free.

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