To Live 10,000 Years: Warren Speaks His Mind

Danny Goldfield is traveling the country, meeting and photographing centenarians for his project To Live 10,000 Years. His goal: Document one woman and one man age 100 years or older in each of the 50 United States.

When I drove into Montana I didn’t know anybody in the state. I randomly chose the town of Livingston as my destination, walked down Main Street until I found Chadz Cafe, and asked Chad if he knew anyone at least 100 years old. He pointed me toward a senior center two blocks away and sent me off with a mug of coffee.

At the center, I joined a table of older gentleman who served me breakfast and told me about Warren McGee, a Livingston centenarian. He had worked as a conductor for the railroad for decades. As a side hobby he photographed the trains and many of his photos were published and exhibited.  Now his wife and children were gone and Warren lived down the road at Highgate Senior Living in Bozeman.

I returned Chad’s mug and headed to Warren.

Two administrators at Highgate warned me that Warren lived in the memory unit, he was blind and didn’t talk much. I encouraged them to call Warren’s niece to approve my visit with him, and the next morning I was given the security code to the memory unit.

Warren | 100 years old | Montana
Warren | 100 years old | Montana

Over the three days I spent with Warren, he was increasingly talkative. Sure, his memory was a little shot, but we sat together on a bench and had long conversations.

As I photographed Warren and he shared what was on his mind, I kept thinking, “Who is this poet?!”

“It’s hard to be a human being. Did you know that?…” – Warren McGee

Warren is the kind of poet who liked to combine bluntness with profanity and laughter.

Warren might be blind, hard of hearing and have memory issues, but he has plenty to say — if you want to hear it, you just have to sit on a bench with him and take the time.

Warren | 100 years old | Montana
Warren | 100 years old | Montana
Warren | 100 years old | Montana
Warren | 100 years old | Montana
Warren | 100 years old | Montana
Warren | 100 years old | Montana


5 responses to “To Live 10,000 Years: Warren Speaks His Mind

  1. Warren is “The Man” when it comes to Northern Pacific Railroad veterans. His contributions to Northern Pacific Railroad Association and Montana history in general are extremely valuable and appreciated. He probably had now idea how legendary he would become.

    1. Warren McGee donated his collection of photographs to the Montana Historical Society (MHS), Helena, MT, in 1997. A description of his collection is below. Researchers interested in seeing Warren’s railroad photographs can visit the MHS Research Center’s Photograph Archives.

      Catalog # PAc 97-93
      17,164 black and white prints and/or negatives, 13,284 color slides, 550 rolls of color negative, and 2040 color prints. The majority of the images were taken by Warren McGee, but the collection also contains images by A. C. Noble and by Ronald V. Nixon. Most of the McGee Collection focuses on views of Northern Pacific Railroad locomotives. The collection also represents other rail lines, most particularly Great Northern, Milwaukee and Union Pacific.

  2. Warren and his pal, Ron Nixon, also a Northern Pacific employee for many years, were among the first to transform the hobby of railroad photography. Before Warren, most photographers were busy taking portraits of steam engines standing still with rods down and no steam or smoke apparent. Warren would be out on a hillside somewhere in Montana (usually) waiting to capture the engine in action. With a train in tow. Smoke. Steam. Even sand blowing on the rails for better traction. The entire photograph would be a work of art, with the curved track, a river or stream, a hillside, a huge bridge or a tunnel portal adding to the final effect.
    Today you can see the work of Warren’s hundreds of admirers and their imitators on a website called “RailPictures”. The young fellers are using digital cameras these days; Warren used roll-film cameras as big as Bibles. Only eight shots on a roll of film, and then you had to reload! Focus, lens aperture and shutter speed were by-guess-and-by-gosh. You can see the results in the spectacular “The Northern Pacific of McGee and Nixon”. –Probably out of print, but there are always a few copies floating around on the internet.

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