Eastern Pennsylvania Trip, June 8-11, 2003

This is a report on a railfan trip I took to eastern Pennsylvania with the intention of chasing Alcos on the Delaware-Lackawanna out of Scranton and trains on the Reading & Northern Lehigh and Reading Divisions. Things didn't turn out quite as I had hoped, though, so read on.

Day 1, Sunday, June 8, 2003

I left home around 6:45, and made pretty good time across northern PA, arriving in downtown Scranton around 12:30 or so. I was planning to shoot the afternoon Steamtown trip to Moscow with the Canadian Pacific 2319. After checking out the downtown scene for a few minutes, I parked down behind the Jacobson Hat factory on Ridge Row and waited for the train to leave. I thought I had read on the web that the trains ran at 11:00 and 1:00, but I was wrong--it was 11:00 and 2:00. Therefore, I ended up killing an hour there before getting a shot of the train leaving from the hillside parking lot for Jacobson Hat at the far east end of Ridge Row. The light was half-baked, but it looked like it would clear up some more.

Fortunately, the Steamtown trains don't run as fast as the DL freights, and I easily beat it up the hill. I wanted to get a shot of the train passing the Elmhurst Reservoir, and I knew there was a shot around Edwards Concrete. Turns out the shot is actually just to the east of the concrete plant, where there's a dumping ground for all kinds of stuff. After bouncing across piles of sticks, rocks, leaves, and old concrete pieces, I managed to get a cloudy shot of the 2317 passing along the reservoir. The spot could definitely use some cleaning out with a chainsaw.

I drove down to Moscow to watch the steam engine run around the train for the return trip. While there, I ran into a Reading & Northern engineer who was there with his wife (in the car) and daughter (watching the train). He filled me in on some details with the new road train out of Penobscot Yard that replaced the LEPI/PILE trains on the Lehigh Line, including the fact that the motive power currently was a single SD50 pointed north. Yuck...not what I'd want to chase to Lehighton (and I'm sure the crew loves running all that way long-hood forward as well).

I drove back to Scranton and spent the next couple hours doing R&D on DL's Carbondale Line. I came to the conclusion that the line is devoid of scenery and inherently difficult to chase, so I decided I probably won't ever waste my time trying to photograph it.

While I was north of Scranton, I decided to drive over to Nicholson and check out the Tunkhannock Viaduct. It is a reinforced concrete arch viaduct which is 2,375 feet long, 34 feet wide, and 300 feet high. What is even more incredible is that it was built by the Lackawanna Railroad between 1912 and 1915 as part of a line relocation project.

After checking out the viaduct, I drove back to Scranton and checked into my motel. After running down to street to Friendly's for dinner, I called it a night.

Day 2, Monday, June 9, 2003

Today was the day I had planned to chase the DL's Portland Turn, which runs Mon-Wed-Fri. There was also a special detour move of NS train 41T over the Pocono Main, which I wanted to catch as well. The weather on Monday was cloudy, but there were enough breaks in the clouds to give me hope of getting some sunny pictures.

Since I wasn't quite sure where the NS train was, nor was I sure of what the DL was doing that day, I stopped past Bridge 60 tower and asked the DL dispatcher. Turns out that 41T train was supposed to be in town around 10:00 AM, and there was no Portland crew called. Shoot...no trip to the Water Gap today, or so I thought. There was a crew working at South Scranton, so I watched them work until around 9:30, when I figured I better go set up for the 41T shot.

Due to being a westbound train in the morning, there weren't too many places to shoot the 41T where I could get good light on it. I finally settled on the Myrtle Avenue crossing on the northeast side of Scranton, where the track bends around enough for the light to be acceptable. While I was waiting for the train, a DL signal maintainer arrived and checked the grade crossing flasher circuits. About a minute after he was done, a horn signaled the arrival of the 41T, and three Canadian National units and a lot of cars rolled by at 10:09 AM. The train was slowing down, and it took a while for it to clear the crossing, so I stood by the road with my camera over my shoulder, waiting for the end of the train to pass, as my car was parked on the other side of the track.

There was a blue car next to me, also waiting for the train to pass. After a minute or so, the driver called out the window today and told me the Portland Turn was running in the afternoon. I replied that the dispatcher didn't think they were running when I talked to her, as there hadn't been a crew called. So this fellow pulls out his cell phone, makes a quick phone call, and says that they were called for 1:00 PM.

About this point, the end of the train went by, so I thanked him, and he drove off. At first I thought he was a railfan, but then I started to wonder. The DL signal maintainer was still there, so I asked him if he knew who that was in the car. He replied, "That's David Monte Verde. He's one the railroad's owners."

Well, in that case I figured he must know what is going on with the railroad, so based on that tip, I reconfigured my plans to get ready to chase through the Poconos and hopefully to the Delaware Water Gap.

In the meantime, since I now had a few hours to kill until the Portland train went on duty, I figured I'd try to chase the 41T north out of Scranton. I headed north to Clarks Summit, and found a few bridges over the deep cut that was built as part of the line relocation project. The first bridge had tight ghetto wire the entire length of the bridge, so I relocated to the next bridge west, which had shorter fencing on either side of the bridge itself where you could shoot from. The light was starting to get backlit, but since I could get somewhat of a broadside shot, it was still doable. The train went by at 11:09 AM, and after buring a few frames on it, I got in the car and headed north again.

I arrived in the town of Nicholson, and realized that when I was here the day before, I only was on the west side of the bridge. Problem was, the train was on the east side, so I had to find an open area to shoot the train and the bridge. Fortunately, I found an open farmer's field where you could see the entire bridge. Unfortunately, the clouds mostly covered the sun as the train arrived, so it wasn't the best shot, but it was my first picture of a train on the historic viaduct, so I fired away anyway.

I drove back to Scranton, stopping to pick up lunch on the way. As I got into town, I heard a southbound Canadian Pacific train making its presence known near Clarks Summit. I found a location to get a shot off of the Lackawanna Avenue overpass, and waited for the train to arrive. It was CP train 412, but the power was all NS--and the lead unit was a new Dash 9-40CW still in primer paint. Yuck...

While sitting in my car in the Steamtown parking lot and listening to Rush Limbaugh, the Portland Turn (PT-98) crew came on duty, but their first work involved picking up some cars from Chamberlin, and 7-D Lumber on the Vine Street Branch. They pulled out the 1044, the ex-Knox & Kane S6 switcher, and ran down through Steamtown's yard to get cars out of Chamberlin. I got a couple shots of the switcher passing through Steamtown. Then, I went over to the Vine Street Branch and got a couple shots of the switcher working cars out of 7-D Lumber.

I was standing along Mifflin Avenue, getting a shot as the train was heading back to Bridge 60, when it pulled to a stop next to me. The engineer, whose name I found out was Mike, leaned out the window and explained to me what they were going to be doing once they got back to Bridge 60. They were going to park the switcher, then take the two six-axle units (3642 and 3643), put their train together, and head for the mountains. They would be working at Tobyhanna and Gravel Place on the way.

I shot the train leaving Scranton at Ridge Row at 4:43 PM. At this rate, I was having doubts that they would make the Water Gap before dark. I shot the train again along Route 435 in Elmhurst at 5:09. The two Alcos were sounding good and running well as they stormed past. I beat the train to Tobyhanna, and watched it pull to a stop in front of the station as the crew prepared to switch cars at Keystone Propane. The station is owned by the Pocono Mountains Chapter of the NRHS, and one of their members was there, eating his dinner. Shortly after the train arrived, a car pulled up and stopped. It was DL's "Alco Doctor," Don Colangelo, stopping past on his way home from work. The three of us chatted for a while while they switched, and I took a few pictures when the sun popped out.

As the train got ready to leave, I headed south to the station at Pocono Summit for my next shot. The train arrived shortly after, but the sun never did. I kept seeing blue skies to the south, so I kept my fingers crossed as I made my way down the mountains to Gravel Place. After about 15 minutes, the train arrived as well, in full sun. As the train pulled to a stop, engineer Mike leaned out the window and said that they "were going to be here for a while." So I hung out at the crossing and watched in the distance as they switched out Diversey Lever. About 20 minutes later, a dark cloud front rolled in and put out the sunlight for the rest of the day. While I wanted to watch them head to the Water Gap, I also realized that I was 40 minutes from Scranton, and I was going to be getting up early the next day, so I left the train there and drove back to Scranton and went to bed.

Day 3, Tuesday, June 10, 2003

The game plan for this day was to chase NS train 40T, which uses the Canadian Pacific main line to Dupont, and the Reading & Northern/NS Lehigh Line south of there to Allentown. The train was scheduled to get on the Lehigh Line at 6:45, so I figured being at CP's Taylor Yard at 6:00 AM would be a safe way to catch the train.

This day, I met up with fellow railfan Steve Barry for the day's activities. Steve picked up me up at the motel and we got to Taylor Yard a little after 6:00. The sky was clear and sunny. We heard train 41T, the westbound counterpart of 40T, on the scanner hitting a detector a couple miles to the south, so we drove over to the Davis Street overpass to get a shot, but we were about 30 seconds too late. After returning to Taylor Yard, we heard CP train 167 on the scanner, and this time we were successful, getting a shot off of the Davis Street bridge at 7:24. Up to this point, there was no mention of the 40T on the radio. We debated following 167 north to the Nicholson Viaduct, but we didn't want to risk passing the 40T on the way, so we stayed put.

About 40 minutes later, CP local train D-13 made its presence known to the south of us, and again we got to the Davis Street bridge for a shot at 8:13 AM. Still no mention of the 40T. Finally, over an hour later, we heard a R&N train getting a Form D to head west on the Lehigh Line from Techniglass to Pittston Yard. We decided that a moving train in sunlight is better than nothing, so we drove over to the cemetery in Duryea and barely made it in time to get a shot of R&N SD38 2004, in green and yellow paint, with a few cars. We then drove over to Pittston Yard and took a couple roster shots of R&N equipment, and watched Luzerne & Susquehanna switcher 50 making a pickup from the R&N.

About this point, it was around 10:30, and the R&N crew at Penobscot was due to be on duty in a half hour, so we decided to head up the mountain. As we went to get on I-81 south, we saw traffic was at a standstill. Being the navigator, I directed us onto parallel state route 315, only to find that road had construction as well! Who was the dimwit at PA DOT who authorized construction on two parallel roads at once?

We finally got up to Penobscot a little after 11:00. On the way there, we heard a track car get clearance to run east from Dupont to Penobscot. That was looking really bad for any chance of 40T being around. Worse yet, the motive power situation hadn't changed since Sunday, as a single SD50, facing north, was the lone power in the yard. Yuck!

Steve got on his cell phone and made a call to a friend, who said that he read on the Internet that 40T was at Laurel Run at 6:00 AM that morning. We missed the train at Taylor Yard by about an hour. Either the train was running early (not likely, knowing its track record) or was yesterday's train, 23 hours hours (probably the case). Either way, we missed the main event for the day.

At this point, we discussed our options. We could try to head back to Scranton and see what the DL is doing, or try to find the R&N Mountain Job out near Gilberton or Mt. Carmel. Another phone call told us that the DL had a PO-74 crew called at 1:00 PM to go to Tobyhanna and Mt. Pocono. That settled that problem, so we drove back to town, and hung out in the Steamtown parking lot to see what transpired.

A Carbondale crew was making a few moves using DL C425 2461, while the 3642 and 3643 were parked by Bridge 60 Tower. Soon, the PO-74 crew arrived, and after swapping cars with the Carbondale crew near the Strawberry Hill track, they headed east up to Ridge Row to make up their Pocono train. Engineer Mike was again on this train, and he told us they had to switch Keystone Propane at Tobyhanna and the flour mill at Mt. Pocono.

We shot the train leaving Scranton at Ridge Row in decent light, and headed up to Elmhurst to the signal bridge west of the Route 435 overpass. The signal bridge was well-lit, but the clouds rolled in just before the train arrived. We next tried to beat the train to Gouldsboro. Steve wasn't sure if we'd make it, but I was holding out some hope. Turns out we beat it by a minute or so, and set up for a shot. The clouds were in front of the sun as the train approached, but it looked like we might get a break and get some sunlight after all. Turns out we did, as the sun popped out seconds before the train passed the station. Sometimes you do get lucky in this hobby...

Next, we drove down to Tobyhanna, beating the train easily, and took some shots while they picked up and dropped off a number of propane tank cars at Keystone. I'm amazed at how many propane tank cars get switched in and out of that place. Keystone must be doing an amazing business.

As the train was getting ready to leave, we departed Tobyhanna. We were going to try a shot at the Route 611 overpass, but there was a pipe in front of the where you would shoot, so we skipped it and hustled down to the Pocono Summit station. Got a cloudy shot there and followed the train over to the Harvest States flour mill at Mt. Pocono.

At Mt. Pocono, the sun was coming in and out, but they made enough moves switching the plant that we were able to get a few sunny shots. They dropped off three loaded grain cars, and pulled out 63 empties, then started to head back to Scranton. On the way back, we looked at a shot at Route 611 looking the other way, but it was shadowed in, so we tried for the station at Tobyhanna. The light there was a little hazy, but otherwise OK, and we got a nice shot of the train smoking past the station.

For the final shot, we decided to try landing a big one--the west portal of Nay Aug tunnel in Scranton. Taking route 307 into town to avoid construction at the I-84/I-380 interchange, we arrived at Nay Aug park, and spent about ten minutes figuring out the way to the tunnel. Fortunately, we found it and made it with about 7-8 minutes to spare before the two big Alcos came pounding out of the tunnel. The light was a little weak at that point, but the tunnel portal did have some light on it.

At this point, we ended the day, so Steve dropped me back off at the motel and I went and found some dinner and went to bed.

Day 4, Wednesday, June 11, 2003

I knew this day was going to be rainy, but Thursday was supposed to be nice, so I figured I'd make this an R&D day and get ready to chase the Reading & Northern Mountain Job on Thursday. Turns out overnight that the forecast changed, and clouds and rain were predicted for the next five days. Seeing that I was wasting my time staying around, I decided to drive home.

I did make a stop in Wilkes-Barre, though, to try a before-and-after picture of the old CNJ station. I have a slide of a train passing that station in the 1960s, and I wanted to take a picture from the same place to compare the differences after 40 years. I found the station and took my camera and tripod to the old platform. Turns out that while the background buildings haven't really changed (indeed, they look better now than they did then), the CNJ main line is gone, having been replaced by a road. Using a print of the slide, I set up my camera and fired away several shots.

After that, I packed up, turned on Glenn Beck on the radio, and got on the road. I made a brief stop on the way home to check out some local action in the Sharon, PA, area. I finally got home around 4:30 PM, with 1001.1 miles on the trip odometer.

Pictures will follow when I get them back. Hope you enjoyed reading this.

Jerry W. Jordak -- jer@smellycat.com