GALESBURG -- Artist Ron Hatch has been creating the annual Railroad Days poster for about three decades, and a look at his combined work of 29 posters since 1985, is an engaging view of locomotive history, railroad history and graphic arts evolution.
"He does amazing work. It is phenomenal. I think what's really fascinating is the type of themes he comes up with," said Railroad Days Council Co-Chairman Dennis Clark, "This year he took the Don Moffitt Bridge and he got a modern viewpoint. Some years he'll make a picture of the past. It's the gifted part of his artistry."
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Some posters carry a CB&Q theme. The 25th anniversary of the Burlington Northern poster in 1995, shows five engines with the progressive paint schemes the BN and the previous CB&Q designs. The 1990 poster is a view of the brass rail platform of an observation car popular in the 1920s.
"He's famous! Around the railroad everyone knows his name," retired railroader Mike Dagen said of Hatch, who lives in Knoxville.
While he may be famous for his railroad art, like most artists, it doesn't pay his bills. The former Maytag Illustrator earns a living as an over-the-road truck driver.
"In 1985, I worked in Maytag's Industrial Design Department. The council needed a picture of a train. I went to a Publicity Committee meeting and Dan Allert of Carl Sandburg College Graphic Arts Department showed me the poster they were working on. I was enthused and the next thing -- I'm part of the publicity committee," Hatch said. "Over the next three years Dan had less and less graphics and it became more illustration. Then people started collecting them because of the historical themes and different trains. The annual poster took on a life of its own.
"Asking which is my favorite is like asking, 'who is your favorite child,"' Hatch said. "In 1989 we moved from realistic to a more stylistic deco form. I try to be photorealistic in most of my designs. In 1997, we used the old Union 3006 locomotive, which is Galesburg's, and its sister the 3007, and put the Nebraska Zephyr between them. In about 1965 the CB&Q switched from black to red stripes on the Zephyr engines. The 3007 and the Nebraska Zephyr are both owned by the Illinois Railway Museum in Union. The actual engine had the red stripes but I used black in the poster. When the museum officials saw how it looked, they painted the engine's stripes black. So I guess that poster had some influence."
The 3006 shows up in many of Hatch's posters. For many years, it was the symbol for the Railroad Days festival.
Hatch went over the top in 2002, by working seven different locomotives into the art of the 25 anniversary of Railroad Days poster.
The top half has the 3006 and the old Denver Zephyr. The middle bar says "Silver Anniversary," and the bottom has five locomotives. The center engine has the Amtrak coloring and the others are freight engines, two with the BN and two with the Santa Fe paint schemes of the pre-merger days.
"In the early days, all the passenger cars were named with a silver prefix. In doing research I found they never had a car named, 'Silver Anniversary,"' Hatch said. "The cars had fluted sides in the middle that bore their name, so I had "Silver Anniversary" on the poster that year and made it look like an old passenger car's name. Each poster has a little bit of a history lesson if people are wanting to engage in it.
"One of the challenges every year is to design images that will fit in a vertical format. Trains are long and work best in a horizontal format," he said.
The entire series of Hatch's posters are available for view on his website: www.ronhatchart.com or all of his actual full-sized posters are displayed at the Galesburg Visitors Center, 2163 E. Main St., hours: 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday and 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. on weekends.