Drayton Blackgrove: A Modern Day Rail Historian

“This is my only chance to see some things, because in a few years it will change”

There’s no doubt that railroading in America has seen its fair share of changes over the past few years. As more railroads adopt systems of cutting operations to the bare bone, standardize their fleets, and do away with the more dated signal systems, lots of the glamour that came with railroading has begun to fade from existence. In these times of change, several people have taken it upon themselves to become documenters of current operations, to show what railroading was like in the early 21st century. One of the more profound of these modern historians is Drayton Blackgrove, founder of Delay In Block Productions. In addition to documenting the changes in our industry, Drayton has ventured across the country to film the rural short lines that keep our economy moving, and has also been a videographer for the steam legends that had the opportunity to take on the main lines in the modern age. Today on Behind the Throttle, we go behind the camera with Drayton Blackgrove.

A drone selfie Drayton took during a chase.

Drayton was born in 1996 in Jackson, Michigan. His earliest memory of loving trains comes from the night of July 3rd, 1999, where he and his father stopped at the Amtrak station to watch the fireworks as a train pulled in. This was Drayton’s moment that got him hooked on trains, a magical connection that would manifest into a passion over the next few years. Drayton even joked with me that his first outfit that his mom bought at the hospital shortly after his birth had trains on it, making it a matter of fate. In the coming years, Drayton’s interest in trains would become more prominent as he found more ways to see trains and share the pictures and videos he took with the rest of the world. Drayton started his first YouTube channel in 2010, which at the time was more of a way to meet people with a common interest. Thanks to the internet, Drayton was able to further explore the world of railroading, and through social media Drayton’s eyes were opened to the railfan community. 

Drayton filming one of the last rail mining operations in the United States. Photo by Gabe Passmore.

In 2011 Drayton founded Delay in Block Productions. His goal with this new channel was not to become famous, but rather have a more formal platform to share his videos on. His videos began as just a simple train moving past a camera, as the goal at the time was just to showcase what the typical trains of his hometown looked like around that time. However, as time went on, Drayton became more involved with the actual filmmaking and story-telling aspect of videography. In 2012, he met a film maker named Kelly Lynch, who at the time held the title of communications director for the Fort Wayne Railroad Historical Society. Lynch, seeing potential in Drayton’s work, took the young train lover under his wing. Drayton told me, “He taught me how to make films where it wasn’t just a train going past a camera”. Lynch taught Drayton about how to tell a story with his videos. He mentored him all the way through film school and helped him get opportunities to film the Nickel Plate Road 765. “I attribute lots of my skills to the lessons he taught me”, Drayton told me, expressing nothing but gratitude for Lynch’s coaching.

Drayton’s first experience working with a rail organization came about in 2014 with Operation North Pole, an organization that helps give kids battling illness a special Christmas experience onboard a magical train through the Chicago area. He got involved after the chairman reached out to him after hearing his name in a local newspaper article about railfans. The nonprofit asked Drayton to come out and produce a video about their operation to help spread the word, and this opportunity would open Drayton’s eyes to a whole new aspect of trains. Operation North Pole uses trains to give back and bring smiles to those in need. Seeing this first hand was a heartwarming and rewarding experience, as Drayton told me. He went on to say “It’s not about a special painted train, it’s about giving kids a christmas experience they never had before”. Drayton worked with ONP from 2014 to 2016, and even used his YouTube channel to raise money to bring his friend Gavin, who suffers from Cystic Fibrosis, onboard the train. Along with working with ONP, Drayton got a job working alongside the Fort Wayne Railroad Historical Society in 2015 to produce a documentary about the locomotive’s return to steam and modern day excursion career. Additionally, in 2016, Drayton was able to get a behind the scenes look at the Norfolk and Western 611 and her excursion career with the Norfolk Southern 21st Century Steam program and document the program in its entirety before NS cancelled the program. All the while, Drayton continued to document the realism that was the railroading industry, with both the ups and downs all in front of his camera, and published for the world to see on Delay In Block Productions.

Drayton filming shortline operations on the Lake State Railway. Photo by Tyler Pate.

Nowadays, Drayton holds a dayjob with a model train manufacturer, rightfully managing their social media presence. Additionally Drayton spends a large chunk of his time volunteering with the Kentucky Steam Heritage Corporation to help bring life back to rural Kentucky with this new and enthusiastic preservation organization. While holding an office job, he still makes time for his YouTube channel and makes time to railfan on what remains of the freight railroading industry. As Precision Scheduled Railroading claims more victims, with abolished trains, abandoned lines, scrapped locomotives, and furloughed employees, Drayton has faithfully stood trackside to be the voice of history for the future when the next generation of railfans wonders how the train industry got to its current position, whatever that may be. “It’s sad to see the direction lots of railroads are going”, Drayton remarked, “and this is my only chance to see some things, because in a few years it will change”. Change is truly the only constant in this world, and by documenting these changes, Drayton has made a name for himself in the railroad community. 

Drayton stands on the pilot of C&O 2716. Over the next few years this locomotive would become a large piece of Drayton’s life, in collaborating with the Kentucky Steam Heritage Corporation. Photo from Chris Campbell.

Thank you for reading this edition of Behind the Throttle. Thanks to Andrew Williams, Gabe Passmore, Tyler Pate, and Chris Campbell for contributing photos. Tune in next time for the story of Jean Speaker-Kloha, firewoman with the Steam Railroading Institute.

One comment

  1. Walter Harris · April 14, 2020

    Nice story.