Restoring David Othen’s Files

Introduction

My friend David Othen passed away in September 2016 after a short battle with lung cancer. He and his wife Pat were very kind to me when we were all volunteering at the Salem and Hillsborough Railroad, and David and I corresponded over the years with exchanges of information and photos.

CN 946 at the St. Johns, Newfoundland station, 1976. Photo by David Othen.

For your information, there was no obituary nor memorial service for David at his explicit request. This isn’t intended to be an obituary.

David’s Web Site Disappears

David maintained a web site for many years, “Canadian Train Photographs”, that featured photos and videos that he and Pat took on their travels across North America and in their many visits to the United Kingdom. Recently that web site disappeared from the Internet as internet provider Eastlink ceased hosting services in the fall of 2019. David’s was one of less than 50 remaining on their service.

I had always intended on moving the site over to my own site, as Pat had given her permission and it was always David’s wish that his photos and videos continue to be enjoyed by railfans and used for reference. More on that later.

I made a start of it, but as with many projects of this magnitude, I got distracted and never got back to it. When Taylor Main emailed me and another Maritime railfan to tell us that David’s site was down, it was time for action.

Fire Up the Wayback Machine

Fortunately, there is an invaluable resource at archive.org called the “Wayback Machine”. This is a service that takes snapshots of web sites and makes them available for review. This is done automatically and many, many web sites are archived there. You can see my site from April 2014, for example, or even my very first web site on GeoCities. It doesn’t claim to archive everything, and often the images are missing or the “deep” pages aren’t archived, but it’s better than nothing.

David’s site was fairly well archived. You can see a version from 2018 here, after his death. Some of the images are missing but the text is all there, which is what I really wanted to recover. His photos are available elsewhere but his words were invaluable.

Decisions

I had a few decisions to make. If you’d ever visited David’s site, you know it had a certain look and feel to it. The photos were fairly low resolution, no doubt because of the hosting space available and also the technology of the time.

The biggest “look and feel” about David’s site was the colours he used. He designed his site with a lot of bright coloured boxes and I thought about trying to reproduce that, but it was going to be a lot of work and I didn’t feel it was really necessary to exactly reproduce the look of his site. The content was the important part.

Progress

To date I have restored most of the content from archive.org onto my site. You can start here to view it.

I still have some work to do on the steam engine section and the video page. It’s time consuming to download the images from archive.org then reupload them to my site, plus I have to copy / paste each paragraph separately. I’m getting there.

A lot of images are missing. Fortunately, we have a database of David’s images available.

David’s Photos

David’s photos have been donated to the C. Robert Craig Memorial Library. They have about 4,000 slides of his; the remainder were transferred to the Middleton Railway Museum.

I have a copy of the database containing his scanned images and I will try to restore other images for his web site from that database. It will take some time.

David’s Videos

David and Pat had a railway video business, OBE Video (Othen Business Enterprises, I believe) and produced a number of VHS tapes and DVDs for sale. I purchased a few over the years, and I enjoyed the professional production quality.

Pat asked me to manage David’s YouTube channel after his death, and I continue to do that today. There isn’t a lot of work involved other than to answer comments if necessary – most I just leave unanswered.

I did do some work at the beginning by uploading his DVDs to YouTube, on Pat’s request. I believe a copy of his physical videos are with the Canadian Railroad Historical Association but I think Pat retains copyright. They are definitely not in the public domain.

David’s Books

David wrote several railway photo books and made them available through Blurb. These books are still online and available for purchase. Again, they are not in the public domain.

Wrapping It Up

Here’s my only photo of David. My son Nick and I were on the eastbound VIA Rail Ocean passing through Rogersville, NB and David happened to be there, recording the train on video as usual.

David Othen in Rogersville, NB, 2005

Just One More Thing

Please head on over to David’s restored site to see David’s photos, videos and books.

If you’d like to support the Internet Archive / Wayback Machine, you can donate here, as I did in gratitude for their work preserving David’s words.

10 thoughts on “Restoring David Othen’s Files”

  1. Great Steve – David and Pat were great volunteers at the S & H for many years, and an inspiration to many with his most interesting Photo’s and Videos. He enjoyed many hours aboard the “Sunset” Dinner Train as part of the crew and certainly loved to talk to many aboard both the Dinner Train or Excursion Trains. He is missed but warmly remembered.

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  2. I have enjoyed many of David’s videos on YouTube over the years. I am sad to hear he passed away but glad to hear that you are preserving some of his work as I’m sure he would be. Donating our archives to a museum or historical society is an excellent idea. I often wondered what would happen to the hundreds of pictures from all over Canada and the Eastern U.S that I have taken over the past 40 plus years. I now plan to contact local museums to see if there is any interest. Thank you, Steve. And RIP David.

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    • Hi Steve C, we should all be thinking about what happens to our “stuff” when we pass. I have a lot of photos and video and I have no idea who would want it. I should get on that soon!

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  3. People should know about the work you and Pat have done to move David’s videos to YouTube and I thank you for that.

    I did not know where to find his photography and I assumed he had a website at some time. Now that I know where that is (and I didn’t know how to access the web archive directly either), I’m going to hit those links right away, so again, thank you!

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  4. Wow that is a blast from the past! I remember going to his website quite often, if I recall correctly, it was in the 1990’s. I was of course saddened to learn of Mr. Othen’s passing in 2016.
    Thanks for keeping his website, books, video and photography alive. It certainly makes me think. I’ve got hundreds ( probably thousands) of digital train photos taken in Eastern Ontario and haven’t given much thought to what to do with them. I had a website way back when, but took it down when I had to change internet providers and never got around to creating it again.

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    • Hi Randy, thanks for your comment. If you’d like to share your photos, maybe consider uploading some to Flickr or somewhere like that? It’s easy and free (for 1000 photos) and will last a long time.

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