Chris Burger Remembers Gil Reid
As many of us already know, railroad
artist Gil Reid passed away on Jan 2, 2007 at age 89. He was a long time friend and admirer of the
Chicago & North Western and its employees.
Gil donated much of the artwork for our steam program, created paintings
for the corporate Christmas card as well as many C&NW related paintings
over the years. He was well known as Amtrak"s "calendar artist" for many
years. Chris Burger wrote this eulogy in
GIL REID (1918 –
catalyst for Gil Reid’s and my friendship was our shared love of railroading.
We were both “hooked” at an early age and were fortunate to be able – in
different ways, to make it our life’s work.
born in St. Louis, lived for a while in the New York City area – along the New Haven Railroad
and in Richmond, IN – along his beloved Pennsylvania railroad. He was a World War II
Purple Heart recipient, mentioned in Ernie Pyle’s book “Brave Men”; tried his
hand at a couple of other lines of work, but ultimately settled in to make a
living at what he loved best – railroad artwork. Freight Trains, Passenger
Trains, Steam locomotives, Diesels, Electrics, Interurbans,
Trolleys, Depots, Signals, Railroaders; you name it, he did it. I suppose he’s
best known for his water color work but he’s also worked with acrylics and has
a wonderful body of pen and ink work – much of it to accompany TRAINS and MODEL
for thirty or so years.
Gil knew how good he was but you’d never know it, being with him. He did enjoy
the reaction he got to his work and the knowledge that he was able to trigger
fond memories – and sometimes, tears; and educate folks with it. I was able to
share his artwork through our Christmas cards and my wife and I marveled at the
reaction. The best and most rewarding was from friends and relatives with no
railroad interest or background.
Gil had his
share of honors and awards over the years. Among them was the “Senior
Achievement” award from the Railway & Locomotive Historical Society, a “Lifetime
Achievement Award’ from The PRR Historical Society and the “Warren Mott Award”
from the National Railroad Museum, all for his work promoting the
interest in and appreciation of railroading.
piece of railroad artwork was Gil’s “Noonday Water Stop” print, a Christmas
present when I was fifteen or so years old. I didn’t know at the time it was
the picture that launched Gil’s career. It hangs today in our home. In 1967 my
wife and I moved to Madison, WI to work for the Chicago & North Western. In
1968, I met Gil for the first time at an art show there and purchased my first
piece of his original work – sort of an abstract piece, silhouetting a pair of
steam locomotives cresting a grade with intermixed smoke and clouds in wild
colors. It wasn’t until we moved to the Milwaukee area in 1977 however, that we met
again and began the friendship artist / patron relationship that lasted nearly
thirty years. Gil’s studio in Elm Grove wasn’t far from my office in Butler. I loved to wander over there at
lunch time and look over his shoulder as various pieces of artwork took
shape. Gil enjoyed cab rides, business
car and hi-rail trips, getting out with our cameras -- his seldom worked -- and
the relationships he developed with other folks on the railroad.
thought that Gil’s artwork reflects his personality, positive, generous,
outgoing and enthusiastic. No one loved railroading more than he did. Many of
us marveled at how positive he remained despite health problems in later years
and how he’d perk up at any mention of trains or railroading.
I feel like
there were distinct phases to Gil’s railroad art career. When he was overseas
in the Army, he created sketches of railroading there – which he hoped – in
vain as it turned out, would help him transfer to a Railway Operating Unit.
Then there was his work for Kalmbach. And the artwork
for his print business. And his Amtrak calendar artwork. And finally, all the
commission pieces he turned out for clients all over
the US and a few overseas. Quite a body of
Gil’s heroes was Grif Teller who became famous doing
calendar and other artwork for the Pennsylvania Railroad. I think Gil had
figured out that he did more Amtrak calendars than Grif
did Pennsy’s though and got a kick out of that. Gil
and Howard Fogg went to art school in Chicago together and were good friends and
correspondents for years until Fogg died. Gil loved
to tell of the trips the two of them took around Chicago in the 1940’s, chasing trains. Gil
and railroad artist, Russ Porter were good friends too, as were Gil and Ted
Rose. Ted considered Gil to be a mentor and an inspiration. Gil considered Ted
to be THE all time best.
hero was Pennsylvania Railroad locomotive engineer, Dick Karnes. Dick ran
between Richmond, IN and Indianapolis and took Gil along on a trip in the
cab of his engine – K-4 No. 5495. Gil’s friends know that for years and years,
his WI license plate no. was “K4 5495” and have heard Gil live and re-live that
trip. I had similar experiences as a young boy with New Haven engineer, Otis
Sweet and when I asked Gil to do a painting of that engine and train with Sweet
at the throttle, he knew exactly how I felt and created an inspired painting –
and name for the piece; “Sweet Memories”.
ranks among the all time great railroad artists. His many friends, patrons,
admirers and – I dare say, the railroad world, are all the better for his
example, talent, and the body of work he left us.
Jan 10, 2007
Copyright © –
Chris Burger; Used by Permission