This painting by Fred Schuster shows the Reading Railroad #602 steam engine travelling past the Hopewell train station.
It’s fascinating, because Schuster took some artistic license in rendering the scene, imagining the old steam locomotive in the c1970s scene, and because Schuster is something of a mystery, since we do not have much information about him. Thanks to Carol Kehoe for kindly sharing this painting, which is on display at Hopewell Antiques.
Clues from the Painting
So here’s some ways to think about this painting, and how the artist was inspired to create it.
– The locomotive pictured, Reading #602, operated from 1905 to 1948.
Bob Lawless reports that Reading Railroad No. 602 was built in August 1905 by the Baldwin Locomotive Works in Philadelphia. It was then rebuilt twice, in 1917-18 and 1920, and then scrapped during July of 1948.
– The railbed is shown with three tracks, after the fourth track was removed – and after #602 was scrapped.
Bob Lawless notes that the number of tracks was reduced from four to three in the early 1950s, when the signal controls for this portion of the line were centralized in a control tower located in Weston, N.J., as part of rationalizing the Reading’s New York Branch.
For example, the three tracks are clearly visible in the 1955 photo, along with the fence down the middle of the tracks (to encourage crossing only along the marked pathway) – which also does not appear in the painting.
– The painting canvas is mounted using materials from the 1970/1980s.
Jack Koeppel observed that the painting uses Fredrix stretcher bars with black plastic canvas wedges from the 1970/1980s, which replaced the earlier wooden wedges (see photo below).
– Other parts of the scene – including the bishop’s crook lights – could fit the 1950s through the 1970s.
The apparent luggage cart on the left is a nice colorful touch, and the green shades in the windows give the building a lived-in look. But the brick facade is only suggested, and the distinctive decorative features above the top center windows also have been greatly simplified, particularly the gingerbread woodwork with cut-out circles.
– The building in the background beyond the locomotive also does not exist in the pictured form.
The white building is in the approximate position of the current Auto Depot building, which could have been an inspiration for the general shape.
Clues from the Artist
The work is signed “F. Schuster” on the front right, and identified on the back as “RDG #602, Hopewell, N. J.,” with a business card for Fred Schuster Studios in Willow Grove, PA.
The address on the business card uses the two-letter state abbreviation and zip code format that started in the 1960s, and the phone number uses the letter prefix format that was in use from the 1930s into the 1960s.
But there is very little information available on Manfred (“Fred”) Hans Schuster (1944 – 2022), and less on him as an artist.
He is described in his brief obituary: “Fred was the only child of Anna and Hans Schuster, living his entire life in Willow Grove, Pa. He was a skilled machinist for over 25 years at Reimel Machine, Inc. He was a talented artist, both in oils and metal stamping – his passion was locomotives.”
So this painting clearly was done after time of the #602 engine, and we guess that this work was painted around the 1970s, based on how it is mounted and the business card.
It’s clear that Schuster knew his locomotives, and was quite able to retrofit the #602 steam engine into this striking image, with the clouds of steam billowing up and merging with the clouds in the sky.
We would love to know more about Fred Schuster and his work, especially railroad or other scenes in the Hopewell Valley.