Need to Stay on Track

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Pictured: Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii. On the Handcar Outside Petrozavodsk on the Murmansk Railway, 1915. Digital color rendering. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress, LC-DIG-ppmsc-03951 (15)

Photographer Prokudin-Gorskii and others ride in a handcar on the Murmansk Railroad. The Ministry of Transport facilitated Prokudin-Gorskii’s trips; Prokudin-Gorskii’s last trip with the ministry was to the Murmansk Railroad.
The Murmansk Railroad was built by the Russian government during World War I as a supply link between Russia and its French and British allies. It took three years to build from 1914, the beginning of World War I, to 1917. It connected Petrograd to the port of Murmansk. Because the railroad was completed toward the end of World War I, it did not make a major impact to aiding Russia for the war; however, the railroad proved to be extremely successful during the Lend-Lease shipments for World War II.
The photo depicts the rising importance of transportation that connects the large area of the Russia empire and also demonstrates the economic modernization of Russia. Railways were seen as important methods for transportation of people, goods, and other supplies. Not depicted in the photo is also the amount of labor put into making the railway. There was a labor shortage caused by the war, therefore, German and Austrian prisoners were recruited for this project. In addition to taking progress pictures of the railways, Prokudin-Gorskii captured pine log built barracks in which the prisoners lived. The photo also depicts Prokudin-Gorskii sitting in a stiff shoulders-back position while the others who are with him pull the crank to mobilize the handcar. The photograph is digital colored and demonstrates further Russian advancements in industrialization and technology. It is clear industrialization is key to Russian development and railways are the bloodline for revolutions to travel distances of the vast empire.
 Questions I have:
-Were there any Western influences involved?
-How hard is it to hand-crank a hand car for it to travel such great distances?
Additional Resources

5 Comments Add yours

  1. A. Nelson says:

    There’s so much here! What do you think about the scale of this undertaking? Petersburg to Murmansk is a long journey! 1,300 kilometers — and through a pretty formidable climate. I note that the photograph was taken in the summer, so while bugs were probably an issue, at least snow and wind were not. I’m going to say that it took “a lot” of effort to move the handcart, and that they mainly used it for short distances between stations.


  2. pgiovannini says:

    I find it fascinating that Prokudin-Gorskii took the time to have a photo taken of him on his journey. Some photographers get so caught up in their work that you never see a photo of them in action. This photo reminds me of a scene in the film, “O Brother, Where Art Thou?”, where the main characters hopped on a handcar and were able to enjoy ride and scenery. I can only assume that Prokudin-Gorskii took the time to do the same while on that handcar.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. A. Nelson says:

      Yes to the “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” reference!


  3. bmester says:

    I think another interesting aspect of the photograph is the differences in clothing or dress that each member of the cart don. There seems to be one dressed up in a white uniform, another in more formal wear, and the those in the back wearing more work time apparel. This interests me and posses more questions about the culture or even societal breakdown during the time.


  4. scmaclay says:

    I am surprised that you included not only the historical importance of the railroad, but the construction history involving prisoners of war. I had little knowledge of Russian use of foreign forced labor. Additionally, supply lines are one of the unsung heroes of war and its great that you mention Murmank’s role in receiving and shipping Lend-Lease aid. Good first post.


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