Otto M. Vondrak , Associate Editor
When I was five, my dad gave me a Lionel set, and things just kind of snowballed from there. I grew up in Katonah, New York, along the former New York Central operated as Metro-North’s Harlem Line. I didn’t see much freight when I was young, but I was treated to a constant parade of commuter trains through my town. Frequent visits to my dad’s furniture restoration shop in New York City meant I became a regular commuter before I entered kindergarden!
I also have to thank my father for sparking my interest in photography. At the tender age of 7, he placed his ancient Konica T SLR in my hands when I told him I wanted to take pictures of the trains we saw on our family trips throughout New England. After much trial and error (mostly error), I started to get the hang of taking pictures. I currently use a Canon EOS Elan 7 for most of my photography, and yes, I still shoot with slide film.
I attended the Rochester Institute of Technology for graphic design with a concentration in printing and minor in history. I was exposed to the freight operations of what would turn out to be the waning years of Conrail. I witnessed the transition to CSX and the growth of local shortlines (many featuring Alcos, much to my delight). What's more, Rochester has a rich railroading history that provides interesting background for today's operations.
While at school I helped start the RIT Model Railroad Club and met a great group of friends who were into trains as well. Just down the road from RIT are the New York Museum of Transportation and the Rochester & Genesee Valley Railroad Museum. Many of us from the model railroad club gravitated towards the museum, bringing us into the world of historic preservation. It was a great experience to work with full-size trains for the first time!
While I was living in Rochester, Railroad Model Craftsman editor Bill Schaumburg took a chance on me and published my ten-page (!) article on the Rochester Subway in the August 2000 issue, my first feature in a national magazine. Since then, I had a few more articles in RMC and did some occasional freelance illustration and model railroad design work as well.
I moved back to suburban New York in 2002 and worked a variety of jobs from consumer packaging to magazine production to advertising and marketing. A chance meeting with Steve Barry in 2008 resulted in an invitation to develop new logo concepts for Railfan & Railroad as well as a new project called Great Railroad Photography. That work led to a proposal for new web sites for Carstens and its family of publications. Steve then invited me to do the layouts for the premiere issue of Great Railroad Photography. When that special issue hit the stands in 2010, Jim Boyd cornered me at the annual Summerail photo exhibition to compliment me and offer his “gentle encouragement” that I should seek full-time employment at Carstens. After a year of managing Carstens’ online presence and continuing freelance work, I suddenly found an opportunity to join the staff of Railfan & Railroad full time starting in 2011.
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