Love for photography, trains leads to publication of book

Dave Sjostedt
Bob Morris signed his book, “Photobob Espee,” at Railroad Days in Dunsmuir on Saturday.

Dunsmuir’s Robert “Photobob Espee” Morris found his life’s calling early on. The San Francisco native combined a precocious skill as a photographer with a lifelong passion for trains. He began selling his railroad photos to Southern Pacific while in high school. Some were turned into posters and graced the walls at SP’s corporate headquarters.

He majored in photography at San Francisco City College and used his skills as a photographer in a U.S. Army Special Photographic Unit. Morris shot a documentary during his assignment in Panama.

His father, Bud Morris, had hitch-hiked up to Dunsmuir in the 1930s and introduced Bob to the railroad town on a vacation in 1959. Morris was hooked, coming up to Dunsmuir by himself where he stayed at the Riverside Motel for $2 a night and where he recalls having to bring a note from his mother supporting his excursion.

Finally succumbing to its allure, Morris moved to Dunsmuir in 1990 and became the pre-eminent photographer of the Southern Pacific Railroad in Northern California, working for them until Union Pacific took over in 1994.

He signed his book “Photobob’s Espee” for fans at the Dunsmuir Railroad depot during Saturday’s “Railroad Days” celebration.

The 224 page coffee-table style book contains 40 color photos and more than 170 black-and-white ones. Morris chose his best photos from the 1960s to the 1990s for the book published by the Southern Pacific Historical Technical Society. It’s available locally at the Dunsmuir Hardware store.

Watching several families excited by the arrival of SP engine 5309 in the Dunsmuir yards, Morris said “Railroads bring people together.”

The self-effacing Morris explained how he got his other nickname, “Front-page Bob”, while working as a photographer for a Bay Area newspaper.

Tasked with getting photos at a local fire station, he looked for a new way to photograph a fire engine. Bob figured that the view down from the top of the ladder would give him a unique look at a fire engine and got permission from the fire captain.

Bob said that after a few steps up the ladder he realized it was steeper than he was willing to handle. A fire-fighter volunteered to take the photo, and his picture of the engine below, which included the fireman’s feet, ran on the front page with the headline: “Photographer Chickens Out”, explained Bob with a laugh.

Amtrak used Bob’s photos in some of their travel guides and brochures. His “California Zephyr” photos are on permanent display at Disney’s California Adventures.