The Friends of the
National Railway Museum

South of England Group
Vice Presidents: Richard Hardy; Sir William McAlpine Bt, FRSE, FCIT, FRSA

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Talk Synopsis

3 January 2006

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An evening with Ron White of Colour-Rail
15 March 1999

Ron White gave a sample from his extensive slide stock. He showed over 150 colour slides, 25 each from the GWR, Southern and LMS, 50 from the LNER and a variety of miscellaneous shots. The earliest of these dated from the mid-1930's, all taken on very slow film by modern standards, typically 8 ASA, although he also had some 2 ASA. These needed long exposures, the typical camera of the day only managing 1/100 sec at f7.5. Even so, it had its advantages; as Ron said, it was the first colour medium which was faster than oil painting! Film was not cheap in those days, typically costing 2s 9d - a sixth of the typical weekly wage. They also needed careful exposure, usually requiring a coloured gelatin filter in front of the lens, and were large format, typically 3¼ inch square or larger. The processed film came back with tips on what was wrong - as inevitably it did! Overall, it was a very hit and miss affair.

He recounted some of the "finds" he has made. A set of 82 Dufay-Colour, including some rare shots of a Castle newly produced from Swindon, were found in a postcard shop in Devises. One roll of pre-war Agfa dating from 1937 came as a tightly wound cylinder held by a fossilized rubber band. After careful recovery it was found to have rare shot of the inside of Swindon Works. At another talk at ICI Wilton works, a man turned up with some photographs he had found. These had been stored in his roof for 60 years and included a shot of Silver Jubilee on its first run. However, his Dufay-Colour find of all time was made following a tip-off from George Barlow, who said he knew there was a colour shot of a Silver A4 because he was standing next to photographer when he took it. Ron went to Nottingham and found the widow of the photographer. She pointed him to the location of the June 1937 film with, sure enough, its single shot of the A4, taken with an exposure of 1 minute at f7.5. The photographer only took that one reel on Dufay-Colour and only managed this one shot successfully. According to his wife, he gave up colour photography as a result. This photographer was not alone in his abandonment of colour film; even the best photographers had disappointing results. Henry Casserly only managed one good shot of Chatham J Class 1597 after which he abandoned colour, and Cam Camwell only took 2 rolls of Dufay-Colour in 1937.

Ron showed some examples of the rare and news-worthy photographs in his collection. These include pre-war photographs of Duchesses in both red and blue livery, Coronation (a.k.a. Duchess of Hamilton) in the USA in 1940, and Mallard at Potters Bar passing the coal obelisk on the north bound run on its record breaking day . He also has photographs of great use to modellers including one which answers the question "what colour is LNER teak?" - a shot taken at Aylesbury of the Marylebone-Manchester service shows 4 different varieties!

He then showed some "before and after" shots showing the improvements possible using modern reprocessing techniques. Some early Kodachrome can be unduly dark but can be improved by copying with extra light. Kodachrome generally cannot cope well with green but reds come up extremely well. Dufay-Colour cannot handle red but covers green very well, however, when it begins to deteriorate, the red colour shows through, often producing a red-spot appearance. By refiltering even the very red photographs taken on Perutz can be handled. Some, however, are impossible to restore using optical techniques and then Ron turn to his brother-in-law to come to the rescue with computer enhancement.

Ron has sold 2 million transparencies since starting in his late 1940s. Currently, he has 170,000 originals in his collection with 40,000 copies of the best of these ready for sale. These are offered on a return of post service, although this can take a little longer when he is on holiday! Catalogues of his collection are available at £5 from 5 Treacher's Close, Chesham, Bucks, HP5 2HD.

He closed his talk by giving us some tips based on his long experience of treating old films. He strongly recommends Kodachrome 25 ASA due to its fine grain. He is not a believer in fast film as it does not last - his advice is if you can't take an exposure on decent film then go home! Agfa was originally pushed as a fast film in 1950s but its images have deteriorated in storage. Ectachrome home processed film also causes problems, mainly because of poor chemical treatment. Many of the other low-price films of the 1950s are now showing the effects of their poor quality. He started his own photography in 1948 with ex-RAF surplus film. The essence of good photography, he advises, is to keep it simple. He still uses a Pentex Spotmatic X, believing you should never have a camera that is more intelligent than you are - it can embarrassing!