Donald Norman Duke
April 1, 1929 – September 27, 2010
Renowned railroad photographer and publisher Donald Norman Duke has died at 81 years of age.
He was born at Good Samaritan Hospital in Los Angeles on April 1, 1929. He first lived in Beverly Hills with his parents, Roger and Mabel Duke, until his father, Roger, decided he didn’t want to drive to work in downtown Los Angeles facing the sun every morning and then return home facing the sun in the west. Upon making that decision, the Dukes sought out a piece of land in San Marino, then a rural suburb east of downtown Los Angeles, where they would build a home in 1939. This is where Don remained all his life.
Don attended South Pasadena High School (Class of ’47), and, since the Pacific Electric Railway was just two blocks north of their home, both he and his father made use of the PE on a regular basis. It is here where father and son first shared their love of trains and train photography, and added a photographic darkroom to their home.
Duke went on to attend Colorado College where he was a member of the Kappa Sigma fraternity (and editor of their newsletter, the Caduceus, from 1968 to 1980) and graduated with a BA in Educational Psychology and a minor in business (Class of ’51). While he could have gone to Duke University at no cost due to his lineage (his great grandfather was the benefactor for Duke University) he chose Colorado College because of his grandparents living in the state, as well as the fact Colorado was known for their famed narrow gauge railroads.
Following college, Don worked for General Petroleum (Mobil Oil) in Los Angeles, served a brief stint in the Merchant Marine, worked as an agent for the General Steamship Corporation, and then came back to Mobil Oil as an assistant manager for retail advertising and sales promotion, which included the Mobil Economy Run; all the while taking amazing photos of trains, locomotives and trolleys. Not content with mere roster shots, Duke became admired for his well composed action shots which would tell a story.
Pacific Railroad Publications was formed in the 1950s out of Don’s love for trains, and later became what we all have grown to know as Golden West Books, incorporated in 1960. Since this time Don wrote and published numerous books on trains and railroads, wrote articles for and edited the Pacific Railway Journal (quarterly magazine for the Southern California Chapter of the R&LHS and the Pacific Railroad Society), the Branding Iron quarterly magazine for the Los Angeles Corral of Westerners (where he formerly was Sheriff  and editor), and even had a turn writing for Gunsmoke and The Ponderosa. Don was a member of the Lexington Group of railroad historians, founding member of Orange Empire Railway Museum, founding member of the Southern California Chapter of the Railway and Locomotive Historical Society, and numerous of other train, rail and locomotive historical societies including the California State Railroad Museum. Don also was a life-long reader at the Huntington Library, member of the Henry and Arabella Huntington Society, California Writer’s Guild, Book Publishers Association of Southern California, and numerous other literary organizations.
Donald Duke died at his home in San Marino on the evening of September 27, 2010, following a normal day at the office and chatting about current events with his friends.
True to form, Donald Duke wrote this obit back in 2006. His extensive railroad photography collection, book collection and ephemera have been donated to the Huntington Library in San Marino.
Golden West Books will stay in business.
Donations can be made to the City of Hope.