W.A. Bradley took the photo below, labeled “Union Pacific Photo Car.” The back of the photo (below, below) had a bit more information about the photo car and its route.
I found that the photographer who came up with the idea to build a rail car dedicated to photography was John B. Silvis, a miner who had given up that pursuit to try his luck at something that used the silver he hadn’t had much luck finding.
He had tried his hand at ranching but ended up as a partner in a Salt Lake City photo studio in 1867. The partnership was dissolving about the time they hammered home the golden spike at Promontory, Utah in 1869. Silvis missed taking that famous picture, but he did start taking photos up and down the railroad line as commerce caused a growth spurt.
The details of how he got hold of an old caboose and what his exact relationship with the railroad was are unclear. We know only that he turned the caboose into a photography studio, a darkroom, living quarters, and an office where he could conduct business. Then, he began to catch trains to various points around the West where he would park on a sidetrack and advertise his services to the local community.
I found several clips from the Ketchum Keystone in 1883 advertising Silvis’ services. “The U.P. car will remain there (Hailey) till after the Fourth. This affords all desiring pictures an opportunity to procure them.”
In 1885, the Wood River Times announced that the car was back and under new management. That may have been when Charles Tate took over the car from Silvis, who had retired.
In August of 1888, the Blackfoot News announced that the Union Pacific photograph car was in town and would remain as long as “work lasts.” By then, William A. Bradley was operating the rolling studio. That may have been when the photo of the unidentified toddler below was taken.
The photo car continued to operate for a year or two before disappearing. Others copied the idea, but the original caboose built by Silvis was said to be the best, and there still exist several photos of the photo car.