In a 2019 interview with Carol Dunitz, Dale Leslie explained why he named his series of Ann Arbor-area historical videos “Watchman of the Tracks.” He envisioned himself, he said, “riding on a train that’s speeding through life, people getting on, people getting off. I don’t know what’s going to happen when it reaches its final destination,” he chuckled. “I don’t want to think about that.” But now the series, at least, is nearing its last stop.
The project began in 1989, when Leslie invited a friend, Art Vuolo Jr., to record his historical tour of Dixboro. That video and the ones following it initially appeared on Ann Arbor Community Access TV. He told Dunitz that he wanted to record local history, events, and people that may otherwise have not received recognition.
The project grew with a serendipitous meeting with his neighbor, Jim Campbell, in July 2009. Campbell had worked as an Ann Arbor News account exec for more than twenty-five years, but with the paper cutting back, he was planning to open his own video company, Exciting Productions.
At first, Campbell says, Leslie gave him PDF files to edit, but in 2011, they began producing original video interviews, with Leslie asking questions while Campbell filmed and edited. Their first project, “Those Amazing Young Men & Their Flying Machines,” was about a group of stunt plane performers who called themselves the “Ann Arbor Air Force.” Campbell also set up a YouTube channel (youtube.com/watchmanofthetracks) and began uploading Leslie’s older videos.
The site currently holds more than 100 videos with playlists that include personality interviews, the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor sports, and Ann Arbor history, as well as old radio shows and memorials. Some topics especially near and dear to Leslie’s heart are Dixboro (where he was born and raised) and the Ann Arbor Kiwanis (he’s a forty-two-year member and former president). Under the heading “special programs,” visitors can find a thirty-six-year history of Leslie Office Supply, where he was president for seventeen years until the family business was sold in 1997.
Campbell says their YouTube channel has nearly 1,150 subscribers. The most popular video is “50 Years Past-The Serial Murderer Who Terrorized Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti,” a video of former Washtenaw County sheriff Doug Harvey speaking at a Kiwanis meeting about John Norman Collins’ murder of seven young women between 1967 and 1969.
Campbell recently retired to Florida with his wife to be closer to their grandchildren, putting an end to any further video shoots. “At present, we’re just concluding some of the projects and fine-tuning the site,” says Leslie. The latest addition is a look at four of my favorite profs at U-M.”
Asked how it feels to be coming to the end of line, Leslie recalls something a fellow Kiwanian, judge Loren Campbell, said to him when a forty-year exchange with an Ontario Kiwanis club was coming to an end: “Dale, very few aspects of life last forever. We had fun and enjoyed the fellowship, and vice versa. We have arrived at a memorable conclusion.”