PA/WV/MD Trip, September 10-17, 2006

This was a trip I did with my friend Gene Fusco from Colorado in September 2006. We railfanned our way to Timonium, MD, over the course of five days to attend the Penn Central Railroad Historical Society's annual convention.

Day 1: Sunday, September 10, 2006

Gene and I left my house and headed for western Pennsylvania. I was driving my Grand Am, and we had it packed with clothes, food, pop, three cameras, film, my laptop, my recently-printed Book of Knowledge for the area, and Gene's supply of model kits to sell at the convention. (Gene runs Rail Yard Models, a manufacturer of resin model railroad kits, so his "company store" was in my trunk.

We planned to shoot the area between New Castle and downtown Pittsburgh, and then stay the night at the Fallston Flagstop. First stop after we got off the PA Turnpike at the Route 18 exit was Koppel, PA, and the Koppel Steel mill. I had hoped one of their remote-control switchers was running, and it was. Ironically for Gene, it was a former BNSF unit! (Photo) Nothing like coming halfway across the country to see what one can see in his own backyard.

We next tried the highway bridge over the former P&LE and the Beaver River east of town, but after a few minutes we decided to move up to Wampum where we wouldn't have to wait for a train with cars flying past in front of our noses. At Wampum, we caught a westbound CSX train on the Pittsburgh Sub. (Photo) It was a junk freight so we both took lots of freight car pictures. (I'm finding sometimes that the freight cars can be more interesting than the trains themselves these days.)

We started heading south, and I stopped at College to show Gene the old P&LE station where the commuter trains used to run out of. (Photo) Gene jumped down into the basement and came out with handfuls of old waybills from the 1950s.

Next stop was the NS flyover at New Brighton, where the Fort Wayne and Youngstown Lines separate. One westbound went by on the Youngstown Line, followed by an eastbound Roadrailer that crept slowly by on the Fort Wayne Line. Afterwards we moved down to Rochester, and I showed Gene the junction where Rochester Tower used to be. Action was heavy here, with an eastbound and several westbounds coming out of Conway Yard.

We then started upriver past Conway Yard, and waited at Leetsdale for a while for a train. One eastbound went through, but no westbounds were forthcoming. Construction was underway to the west of the eastbound signal bridge for a new highway overpass.

The clouds that had been following us were starting to break, so I decided to head down to Sewickley and try some shots off the highway bridge by the former PRR station. This worked out well, as we shot a couple eastbounds and several westbounds running along the Ohio River. Finally we had get going, as we were supposed to check in at the Fallston Flagstop and then go visit Dennis Lippert's model railroad.

The Fallston Flagstop is quite a unique place. It's the home of Terry Stuart, a retired railfan currently working as a crew van driver out of Conway Yard. His house is located literally next to the CSX Pittsburgh Subdivision (former P&LE main line). And I mean next to! The main line probably isn't 40 feet away from the guest room. At night, trains sound like they're going through the bedroom. By comparison, my house is about 700 feet away from the tracks, so while I hear the trains, they don't wake me up at night. Still, if you're railfanning in the Pittsburgh area, it's worth a stop.

Gene and I grabbed dinner over in Rochester and then drove over to see Dennis Lippert and his model railroad. Dennis models Conrail, particularly the early half of Conrail, and does great work with his models. His layout has about a third of the scenery completed, but he's still working on it.

Day 2: Monday, September 11, 2006

Gene and I spent the fifth anniversary of 9/11 railfanning the former PRR main line between Greensburg and Cresson. Ironically, we were probably within an hour or so of Shanksville, where United flight 93 crashed on 9/11.

After shooting a couple trains passing Terry's house first thing in the morning, we headed east on the Turnpike and picked up the NS Pittsburgh Line at the Greensburg Amtrak station. After shooting a couple of westbound trains going through the depot, we continued on east, mysteriously bypassing Latrobe (Gene had the map book), and stopping in Derry. There were couple of restored cabooses, and Gene was climbing around under a Conrail N7D caboose, taking detail pictures. About this time, Rush Limbaugh came on the air, so we listened to the Maha Rushie as we drove.

We shot an eastbound at some crossing in the middle of nowhere east of Derry, and then eventually made our way to CP Conpit in New Florence, PA. This is where the NS Conemaugh Line breaks off from the Pittsburgh Line. Several eastbounds and one westbound went by while we were there. I also saw a first for me--pushers on a stack train! (Photo)

We made our way over to Johnstown, grabbed lunch to go at Wendy's, and stopped to eat at the memorial park where the two rivers meet (and the PRR crossed the Conemaugh River. Nothing went by while we were eating, so we drove over to East Conemaugh, parked under the highway bridge east of C Tower, and listened to Sean Hannity while waiting for trains. We caught two westbounds (photo), and then decided to keep heading towards Cresson.

The final stop of the day was at Summerhill, at the signal bridge located in the middle of town. A quick call to Amtrak Julie told us that the Pennsylvanian was running about 45 minutes late, so we waited for it to show up as the clouds got thicker and the light got worse. Little did we know that except for about 10 minutes of almost full sun on Wednesday morning, we would not see sunshine again until Sunday morning.

Gene and I were both commenting on how well-kept the right-of-way is near the signal bridge when a detector signaled the approach of a westbound, but it wasn't Amtrak--rather, it was an NS ethanol train. (Photo) However, Amtrak wasn't far behind, as it arrived four minutes later. (Photo)

From there, we drove up to Cresson and checked into The Station Inn. We had the Erie Room that night, which didn't face the tracks, but after the night before at Terry's place, I wasn't too upset. Per tradition, we walked down the street to Vito's and ordered a couple of meatball subs, and took them back and sat on the porch and ate them while reviewing our digital pictures of the day on my laptop. While we were watching pictures, another fellow on the porch asked us if we had been there a couple years ago, as remembered some other guys watching pictures on their laptop. Turns out it was Gene and I and Gene's friend Darwin who stayed a couple nights there in 2004 on our way to the Altoona PCRRHS convention!

Day 3: Tuesday, September 12, 2006

The original plan for Tuesday was to chase the Everett Railroad, which we had done on a rainy, cloudy day during our 2004 trip. Unfortunately, this day's weather was about the same as that previous trip, so instead of taking more lousy shots on the Everett, we decided to head towards Altoona to see what we could find.

Before leaving Cresson, we shot a couple of trains passing The Station Inn, and then stopped at Galltizin. While we were checking on a stopped stack train by AR Tower, we saw the eastbound Amtrak Pennsylvanian go by on the other main. Gene figured we could try to beat it to Horse Shoe Curve, so I gave it my best effort and successfully got down to the Curve before the passenger train. (Photo) After shooting the train from the parking lot (thanks to all the brush-clearing from last year), we beat it to downtown Altoona and shot it passing Alto Tower from the 17th Street bridge with seconds to spare. (Photo) Since we were there, we waited around for a while and shot an eastbound and a helper set moving through the interlocking. (Photo)

From there, we headed towards the shops. There was a lot of old stuff visible from the road to the west of the shops, so we stopped and walked around for a while, shooting old NS and Conrail locomotives, a group of former NJ Transit F40PHs, old 40-foot Conrail Trailvan trailers, and other assorted equipment. (Photo) We also made a stop at "the circle" at the east end of the diesel shop and photographed all of the locomotives there. (Photo) With the exception of a single gray NREX lease unit and the blue hood of a Conrail locomotive on a flatcar, everything was NS black.

The next stop was the highway bridge over the yards at Rose. We headed for the freight car deadlines on the south side of the yard. There were lots of treasures in there, including a Penn Central G38 ore car still with worms! (Photo) Lots of Conrail boxcars, gondolas, and an Erie Lackawanna hopper. A yard crew was moving around some cars in the yard, so we got to shoot some other cars that were hidden when we arrived. Lots of neat stuff! Freight cars are cool! There were also some trains on the main line we shot as well, including a ballast train of Herzog hoppers that were converted from old bathtub gondolas, with slope sheets and ballast hopper doors added. (Photo)

Earlier I saw what near the shops what looked like a yellow MOW boxcar, so we drove down to the end of 4th Street to look at it. Sure enough--it was an X29 boxcar in Penn Central lettering. (Photo) That was neat.

From here we decided to start making our way south to our destination that night, Cumberland, MD. We headed down towards Holidaysburg, making a brief stop at Gene's Hobby Shop. We also parked near the Holidaysburg Car Shop to eat lunch and saw an NS local moving some cars out of the former shop area. After dealing with some traffic tangles caused by school buses, we finally got onto Interstate 99 (or as I call it, the "Bud Schuster Pork Barrel Highway That Should Have Been Called I-580") and headed south. On the way we followed the old PRR Bedford Branch, which went all the way to Cumberland. Gene was put in charge of watching for old bridges and roadbed, as I kept driving towards the ditches when I would try to watch.

We stopped at Cooks Mills on the CSX line to Sand Patch and hung out for a while. The bugs were terrible and the light was bad, but we finally got a westbound train to pass. From there we headed down through the narrows into town.

Arriving in Cumberland, we managed to find a place to park near Virginia Avenue and watch the action in the yard for a while. Later we took a drive to the east end of the yard to find Mexico Tower before heading back up into town to the Amtrak station and await arrival of the westbound Capitol Limited. (Photo) My final shot of the day was a westbound freight parked across from the station at dusk. (Photo)

Day 4: Wednesday, September 13, 2006

The day started overcast (again) as we headed out to downtown Cumberland and the Amtrak station to shoot the eastbound Capitol Limited. We decided to take the old road from Lavale (where we stayed the night) via the Cumberland Narrows so we could stay along the main. In the middle of the narrows, we found a stopped eastbound intermodal train. We got some very dark pictures of it. As we were turning around, we saw a billboard for the Chessie Federal Credit Union, complete with a clock and the old Chessie System cat emblem. Chessie lives!

We then made our way into town for the arrival of the Capitol Limited. It arrived pretty close to on time, and we photographed it north of the Baltimore Street grade crossing. One of its ExpressTrak reefer cars on the rear end was putting out more exhaust smoke than the locomotives!

We decided to head down to Mexico Tower to shoot the train as it left town. As we were trying to negotiate our way out of Cumberland along the main line, Gene yells "STOP!" Since I wasn't in immenent danger of hitting anyone, I wasn't sure what was up, but he made me go back into a parking lot behind a business, and there was a green gondola with PC worms. We got a couple shots of the gon and got rolling again as the Capitol was pulling out of the station. Fortunately we made it down to Mexico Tower in time to catch the train again. It passed a parked westbound empty hopper train that was waiting to get into the yard. (Photo)

We stayed at Mexico Tower from 9:45 AM until noon, shooting trains from the Mexico Farms Road bridge. We probably shot about a half dozen trains, and the sun even peeked out for about 10 minutes. (Photo) Coal train U324 left the yard heading east, (photo) followed by local train D721 departed the yard with a roached out GP40-road slug set. (Photo) There were also a couple westbounds that came in, followed by the same intermodal train we shot in the Narrows a couple hours earlier. (Must not have been that hot of a train.) A pair of Maryland State Police stopped to ask us what we were doing there, but when they saw the trains and cameras they understood and took off.

As we were shooting Q261 roll into the yard (around that westbound hopper train that was still parked there), it started to rain again, so we headed up into town, stopped at a Sheetz and grabbed lunch, and parked down near the hump to watch freight cars and listen to Rush. (Being a freight car kit manufacturer, Gene has a real fetish for freight cars, especially H54 covered hoppers and G47 gondolas. You get used to it after a while.) After humping activities ceased, we went back up to Virginia Avenue and watched some more action. A hostler pulled out an A-B-A set of BNSF power, which was pretty cool. (Photo) Finally, around 2:00, I decided we probably should start moving east along the line.

Since we weren't going to do the Magnolia Cutoff like I planned (due to bad weather), we got on the Interstate and drove over to Hancock, WV, where HO Tower is located. (Photo) Here we found that D721 train again, working the yard across from the tower. That train finally took off west back to Cumberland, (photo) and then the U324 coal train arrived (photo) and after making a brief stop at the old station, (photo) it continued east. We followed it to Cherry Run, where it met a westbound merchandise freight, led by CSX AC6000CW 611. (Photo) (Unfortunately, it wasn't that 611.)

At this point, the light was starting to get bad, so we headed to Martinsburg, where I had a reservation made at a Quality Inn just off of I-81. I was a little perplexed when I arrived, though, as I thought I had the right address, but I was parked in front of a Rodeway Inn. Turns out they changed their name the week before. At least they still had my reservation.

We decided to wander into downtown Martinsburg and see if we could catch the westbound Capitol Limited arriving. The station area in Martinsburg is pretty neat--the old B&O shops and roundhouse still stand and are partially preserved. A new station has been built and the area seems pretty nice. An old freight house and one-story tower still stand to the east of the station. We shot Amtrak coming in (photo) , and then decided to hang around a while longer and wait for the first MARC commuter train of the night. (Photo) From there, I introduced Gene to Hoss' for dinner.

Day 5: Thursday, September 14, 2006

The day began with a stop at Sheetz to grab breakfast and pop for the cooler, and then we headed for Shenandoah Junction. This netted us one train, a CSX westbound. (Photo) After stopping to shoot a set of N&W-style signals on the NS line through town, we headed down to Harpers Ferry.

We managed to catch three eastbounds crossing the Potomac River from the adjacent Shenandoah Subdivision bridge, which also has a walkway for the Appalachian Trail. The last one had CSX engine 611 again. (Photo) Gene had previously hiked part of the Trail in New England earlier this year, so he was happy to get some extra "mileage" under his belt. Scanner chatter indicated that there was a local coming off the Shenandoah Subdivision, so we walked off the bridge and back to Harpers Ferry and caught the train passing some of the restored historic buildings in town. (Photo) There was a neat GE covered hopper in the consist as well. (Photo)

Next we headed east to Brunswick, MD. Brunswick has a manned tower and a small yard where the Shenandoah Sub locals are based. We shot a westbound passing the tower shortly after arriving. (Photo) I wandered to the west end of the commuter parking lot and shot a parked eastbound train, (photo) while Gene waited for a couple of ladies to finish their smoke break so he could get an uncluttered picture of the Brunswick station. By this time we were getting hungry, so we found a Sheetz and got some sandwiches, and then parked along the tracks across from the yard to eat lunch and listen to Rush. A westbound local left the yard and a westbound autorack train went by during this time, the latter with two leased units. (Photo)

Our last stop of the trip was at the Point of Rocks station, where the Old Main Line to Baltimore splits off from the CSX Metropolitan Subdivision to Washington, DC. I really wanted to shoot the first MARC train of the day passing this station, and after a half-hour wait, I got my wish. (Photo) Another westbound had a signal lineup, so we waited a few more minutes and a westbound CSX train went past.

This was the end of the railfanning, as we had to get over to Timonium for the PCRRHS convention that was starting that afternoon. You can read more about the convention here.

Jerry W. Jordak --