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FROGRAIL's Train Gifs

Train Gif History

C1999 - 2002

2002 - 2004

Before 1999, there was little public awareness of a body of work consisting of train gifs drawn and painted to represent prototype railroad rolling stock, structures, and related physical things.  There were certainly artists doing such artwork, such as Charles Wilber, who developed a broad collection of work -- consisting of gifs he made of Lionel model train rolling stock -- that was first published on the WWW in 1996.  However, there was no "community" of artists developing, publishing, and sharing the artwork.  

C1999 - 2002

[Webmaster's Note:  Things start from nothing, develop, and bloom into greatness virtually overnight on the World Wide Web -- or so it seems.  In reality, hard work and thought, thought and hard work, and then even more hard work make these things possible.  A case in point is the train gifs that railfan Webmasters and casual surfers seem to take for granted.  In the summer of 2002, Alex Stroshane, one of the ground-breaking train gifs artists, took time to generate this history of the train gif.]

Train Gifs as we know them were started by Dan Klitzing.  I discovered them around the spring of 1999 on my friend Matt Donnelly's page; they were used as decorations around links to prototype photos.  I immediately downloaded all the ones he had there and began to experiment with them.  First, I was just assembling them into consists, then I started to actually modify them.  It took me a little while to learn how to use the graphics program (Corel PhotoPaint, which I still use today) and to learn about the GIF format and transparency, but shortly thereafter (late summer 1999) I started my Web site.  Somewhere around that time, maybe a little earlier, David Epling also began drawing a few gifs, separately from me. 

In early 2000, after I'd been contacted by Bryn Zellner who requested some gifs of New England shortline locomotives, I received an email from Chris Denbow.  He'd found my site, Dan's, and Dave's, and wanted to try drawing gifs himself.  He had already repainted a couple of my Amtrak gifs to different paint schemes and was asking for pointers and permission to both use my existing gifs on his site and to modify them on his own.  I remember that at first, he didn't even have the correct software and that his 'gif' was all pixelly like a JPEG...how much things changed.

Not long after that, Chris got me, Dave, Matt Steinblock, and a few others together and formed the original TrainGifs list at eGroups.  Dan joined briefly to post a couple of his newest gifs, but never really said much.  And so began the Train Gif community.  Around that time, I believe it was Matt Steinblock who began to experiment with the <div> and <marquee> tags [Webmaster's Note:  David Epling was probably the one in the train gifs community who first employed these tags and the "moving" trains they produce, although Mr. Wilber had animated gifs on his site back in 1996.]  Chris picked it up quickly and then taught it to me.  Soon everyone was making scenes for their sites.  It wasn't until late December of 2000 that Brian Clough first e-mailed me about some ATSF Hi-Level gifs, then subsequently joined the list and began to develop his JavaScript.  As they say, the rest is history.

This has been a nice little trip down memory lane for me, and I hope it fills in all of you newer guys on exactly how this unique hobby started.  If you want to trace back even further, I believe Dan Klitzing has a description on his site of how he came to start drawing gifs on his own.  Much credit goes to him for starting it in the first place.  Some of my newest gifs still show a few signs of their ancestry as being repainted from his.  And of course, he set the standard for the scale (which Brian Clough later calculated at roughly 1px = 8.5").  That's about it...going by that chronology, I'm one of the first two or three guys who branched off and started repainting Dan's gifs.  Summer of 1999...3 years, and yet it feels like forever.  Kudos to everyone who's still around, and especially to the newer artists that help keep the hobby going. 

Alex Stroshane, 22 Aug 2002  http://www.trainweb.org/asamtrak911

2002 - 2004

In early 2002, a major event occurred that almost went unnoticed.  Chris Denbow, an early creator of train gifs -- and one of the best -- reached a point in his life that found him too busy to do everything at once.  He had young children, a busy work situation, and was increasingly spending time on Microsoft Train Simulator "skins".  Subsequently, he made the determination to take down TrainGifs Station, his popular Web site, but make the gifs available via a series of winZip files.  As Webmaster for Frograil, I knew that his body of work was far too important to be lost or, at best, available to relatively few people.

Chris gave me permission to host his gifs, and I created a simple table-based display series of pages for them.  There were quite a few hundred gifs, and visits to Frograil's gif pages grew rapidly.  However, an unexpected  effect of posting gifs was a series of queries from other artists who wanted their gifs displayed on Frograil.  Some of these were from young artists who (at that time) had no Web site of their own, while others were from experienced artists with their own pages, but who wanted wider dissemination of their gifs.  As a result, Chris's gifs now constitute less than one-third of the total train gifs presented on Frograil.

There were a couple of interesting trends taking place within this period.  Because most of the basic gifs had already been drawn (how many UP SD40-2 gifs are needed, anyway?), artists started to concentrate on specific subject matter that was different from the "routine".  Specific examples include Gregg Staley's vehicles, Dave Hersrud's Fallen Flags, and Dan MacKellars' steam engines, but there are others.  Recently, David Epling started doing military train-related gifs.  There has been a major expansion of the body of work during 2002-2003.  Also of note during the period has been the emergence of a few talented, energetic new artists, and some of these are high school students.

June 6, 2004

Tony Hill
Webmaster, Frograil