An early Oklahoma trainspotter gets credit for his photography in a new book called ‘Smoke Over Oklahoma’

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OKLAHOMA CITY, OKLAHOMA -- Preston George was a young civil engineer with the Oklahoma Highway Department in the 1930's, but what he really liked, especially after picking up a railroad magazine, was trains.

"He was interested in steam and I was interested in steam," says railroad historian and author Augustus Veenendaal who met Preston George for the first time back in the '80's.

It wasn't until another visit with him a few years later that he was able to view George's full archive of more than 800 photos of a long gone era in Oklahoma history.

Veenendaal recalls, "I was amazed at the quality of the photographs. I had seen a lot of other American photographers published in books but I think Preston's are even better sometimes."

Beginning in the late 30's, Preston George started documenting the steam locomotives crisscrossing the state.

His camera wasn't the best and he was just a beginner so those early pictures showed the big engines standing still at stations like Oklahoma City and Shawnee.

But he bought new equipment and he studied railroad maps to find the best spots for seeing trains.

"Light, and wind, and setting, and he knew the exact schedule of the trains," says Veenendaal.

George used to take his family on excursions.

He caught this northbound train chugging up the grade on Curtis Hill near Waynoka in 1947.

Veenendaall says his photos take in the setting too.

He says, "What I like about Preston's work is that you see the landscape of Oklahoma. It's not just the train but the train in a landscape and that's something that's special."

Over the years, as trainspotters around the world traded their photographs, Preston George became a kind of cult hero, partly because of his skills as a cameraman, and partly because the world he captured disappeared so completely.

What's left is his impeccable archive and, now, a book of those memories for anyone who cares to look down those same tracks.

On April 10 the Oklahoma History Museum opened a new show on Preston's  photographs.

Augustus Veenendaal's book is titled "Smoke Over Oklahoma: The Railroad Photographs of Preston George"

Veenendaal and George's daughter were scheduled to give a presentation on the subject at the opening at 5:30pm and sign copies of the book afterward.

For more information about the book and exhibit go to www.okhistory.org

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