By Jerry Jordak
The following narrative covers my road trip from May 7-13, 1999, to Philadelphia and southern New Jersey to photograph railroad operations and play tourist when possible. This was for a vacation, strange as it may seem. Any opinions in this narrative are solely mine, and you can agree or disagree with them as you see fit. We begin with me leaving my office in Akron, Ohio, on Friday afternoon.
What a rough day....I had to put in a half-day at the office before I took off, and it wasn't easy. My body was in Akron, but my brain was about 500 miles to the east.... Anyway, I left Akron around 1:00 PM and headed across the PA Turnpike for the Harrisburg area. I made pretty good time, and got off the Turnpike onto I-81 near Carlisle. Even though the weather was terrible by this point, I checked out the Rockville Bridge area and drove into Enola Yard. What a depressing sight at Enola: lots of catenary towers with no catenary strung over empty or missing yard tracks. It wasn't the way the Pennsy envisioned it to be..... After that I crashed with Tom Bodett at a Motel 6 along the Turnpike and called it a night.
I began my day by driving into downtown Harrisburg to the Amtrak station to take some photos there. Thanks to Jerry Britton's excellent directions, I found it with no problem. A couple of trains were parked in the station, so I went down on the platforms and took some photos, even though it was overcast and raining on and off. I wanted to photograph the restored GG-1 parked on the north end of the train shed, but another train was obscuring the view, so I didn't get a chance to shoot it. I also took a couple photos of Harris Tower, and caught a westbound Conrail freight passing the station and the tower.
I decided to follow the Amtrak Harrisburg Line east towards Philly, even though it seems Amtrak hardly runs any trains on the line. I made a stop in Middletown and checked out the facilities of the Middletown and Hummelstown Railroad, also known as the "Milk and Honey" line. There, they had their Alco T-6 #1016 in a beautiful maroon and cream paint scheme. This locomotive originally worked the steel mills in Cleveland for the Newburgh & South Shore Railroad. They also had some other equipment around, such as SEPTA PCC cars and some other old freight cars, along with their excursion train passenger car fleet.
From there I drove through Steelton, past the steel mills there, and drove past the Three Mile Island nuclear plant, where at least one unit was in operation that day. I then got on PA Route 283 (not to be confused with Interstate 283) and headed towards Lancaster.
In Lancaster, I found a location along the north side of the tracks a little west of the Amtrak station and photographed a local switching around his train there. The weather still wasn't the best, but I've never shot Conrail under the catenary in Lancaster, so I figured it was worth wasting some Kodachrome on. From there I went to the Amtrak station and photographed the beautiful station building. I then went on the east side of town and set up for a shot of a westbound Amtrak train due to arrive. Good timing, as I was only waiting about two minutes when the train showed up. I guess it's hard to run trains late when Amtrak owns the railroad, has the tracks mostly to itself, and only runs a handful of trains to begin with....
I decided to head for the Strasburg Railroad and the Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania, so I took U.S. 30 out of town towards Strasburg. On the east side of Lancaster, I drove past this outlet mall with this "Amish farm" like setting. The stores were in buildings where some looked like barns, and they even had a set of silos next to one. Except that I've never seen barns and silos painted in pastel and florescent colors! It was disgusting! (As an aside: I grew up around the Amish, and I was used to them, so I'm not ga-ga over Amish food, Amish crafts, etc., like some city-slicker type people are. After all, the Amish put their pants on one leg at a time like everyone else. But I've never seen a barn painted pastel blue with pink trim before. Yuck!)
Upon arriving at Strasburg, the sun began to break through, so I managed to shoot the inbound Strasburg train passing the restored "J" Tower next to the highway (and fortunately without any daisy-pickers in the way). I then went across the street to the Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania and drooled over restored Pennsylvania Railroad equipment like the SPF that I am....
From there I headed to West Chester to check out the West Chester Railroad, which is a tourist line running excursions over the last few miles of the former PRR West Chester Branch from West Chester to Glen Mills. Unfortunately, their operating season didn't start until the following day. I planned to catch them on the way home, but my plans did not work out that way.
After a brief stop in Paoli to shoot a couple of SEPTA trains and the old Paoli Tower, I then drove up to Norristown to try to catch some SEPTA action on the Norristown High Speed Line (Route 100) and the R6 Norristown regional rail line. While I didn't catch any SEPTA trains on the R6 line, I did shoot a Conrail train coming off the connection from the Morristown Line at Ford and heading west towards the Norristown Transportation Center. I also shot a set of the Route 100 cars on the bridge coming out the station. Just out of the station, the Route 100 Line crosses the Schuylkill River on a beautiful bridge. I really wanted to get the shot of the train over the river, but when I walked down to the edge of the river and came across some homeless guy's tent, I decided I'd better not....
After this, the sky started to cloud up again and the light went away, so I decided to head over to New Jersey and set up camp for the next week. I took the Schuylkill Expressway through town (now I see why they call it the "Sure-Kill" Expressway) to I-676 and over the Ben Franklin Bridge. I set up shop at the Red Carpet Inn on Route 73 by the NJ Turnpike and walked next door to Bennigan's for dinner about 9:00 PM. Interestingly, that was the first meal I had all day.....I got by on three breadsticks and a few handfuls of Fritos. When I busy photographing trains, it's easy for me to forget about some important things, like eating and drinking.....
The primary focus of this day's activities was to be the Cape May Seashore Lines, which operates passenger service on 10 miles of former Pennsylvania-Reading Seashore Lines (originally Reading) trackage between Cold Spring and Cape May Court House, NJ. On the way I stopped at Winslow Junction in the township of Winslow, which is basically in the middle of nowhere north of the Atlantic City Expressway. Winslow is a fascinating place. It was where the Pennsy's line to Atlantic City and the Reading's line to Ocean City and Cape May came together (but did not cross). After the PRSL consolidation, connections were installed between the PRR and RDG lines so that trains could cross between the two lines, and in Pennsy fashion, flying junctions were used. (Think of flying junctions as the railroad equivalent of a freeway cloverleaf interchange.) The Southern Division of the Central Railroad of New Jersey also passed under both the PRR and RDG lines, and there was a connection there also to allow CNJ trains to head east on either line towards the Jersey Shore.
Today, the Pennsy line is NJ Transit's Atlantic City Line, the former Reading is Conrail's Beesley's Point Secondary Track, and the former CNJ south of the junction is operated by the Southern Railroad of New Jersey. SRNJ operates a pair of Geeps on this line, one chop-nosed Geep in the CNJ "red baron" scheme, and a high-hood Geep in Conrail blue with the ends painted white. There's also lots of other equipment around, including an Alco C420 in Lehigh Valley's gray paint scheme, an Alco FA cab unit partially repainted in New York Central colors, a CNJ F3B in their blue and orange paint scheme, a couple of cabooses, and a lot of junky passenger cars.
From Winslow, I followed the former Reading Line (CR's Beesley's Point Secondary) towards Tuckahoe. About 5 miles outside of Tuckahoe, traffic comes to a crawl. Realize that this is on a county road in South Jersey in the middle of nowhere at 8:30 in the morning on a Sunday! As we crawl along, it turns out there is some cross-country police bicycle ride going on. While I'm all for our law enforcement officials riding in unity with their fellow officers, how I got stuck behind it is beyond me. Eventually we reached U.S. Route 9 and I was able to get around them, but I lost a lot of time. I made a brief stop in Tuckahoe to photograph the tower and station standing there, and hightailed in down U.S. 9 to Cold Spring.
I arrived at the Cold Spring station, where CMSL's PRR GP9 7000 was parked next to a tower and their RDC (Rail Diesel Car, a self-propelled passenger car built by the Budd Company in the 1950's) M-407 was idling away next to the station. CMSL operates a fleet of eight of the nine remaining former PRSL RDC, so the RDC's are running on their original trackage. The PRR Geep is used occasionally.
The station agent, who is also the CMSL webmaster, recognized me from prior e-mails, and gave me a tour of the station, which originally was at Rio Grande, a couple miles north on the line. He also gave me a tour of the tower, which was built from a remaining middle section of the tower at Woodbine, with new upper and lower sections built. It was an excellent job on rebuilding the tower--the window sashes in the upper section even had cotton cords in them, like the original. Wow!
After my tour, I headed north to photograph the RDC on its return trip. CMSL operates four round trips a day between Cold Spring and the 4-H Fairgrounds north of Cape May Court House. Starting in June 1999 they will begin operating into Cape May itself. I shot the return trip at Wildwood Junction, from a semaphore mast (as the light as getting high by this point) and also at a grade crossing north of the station.
I rode the next trip. I had never been in an RDC before, and this one was in excellent condition--looked like it could have just rolled out the factory. I rode up to the fairgrounds, took a couple pictures of the RDC at the station, and rode back.
A humorous moment came while picking up lunch (20 ounce Coke, a bag of Combos, and a hot dog) at the local Wawa market in Cape May Court House. As the girl behind the counter is preparing my hot dog, she's partly singing, partly humming to the tune playing on the loudspeaker in the store, which was Bruce Springsteen's "Hungry Heart." I jokingly asked if knowing all of Springsteen's songs by heart is a requirement to live in New Jersey.... She replied that the music in the store is on a 12-hour loop, so she knows every song on the tape....
I then photographed the last two trips of the day. Shots were taken at Cape May Court House (twice), a farmer's field north of Rio Grande, at a couple of grade crossings, and the last shot of the day was at the station at Wildwood Junction.
I really enjoyed the time I spent on the CMSL. First off, I've never photographed or rode in an RDC, so that was unique. Their top speed is 25 MPH, so it was easy to chase the train to get multiple photos of each run. And most importantly, the CMSL is a real first-class operation. Their people are very friendly (even to nuts like me who drive 600 miles to photograph their trains!) and their railroad runs on-time. I definitely would like to get back there eventually and photograph the trains running across the canal and into Cape May someday, and I know it will be worth the trip.
With the show on the CMSL over, I decided to use the remaining light of the day to my advantage and try to shoot an outbound train on the Atlantic City Line coming out of Atlantic City with the skyline on the horizon. My inspiration for this came from two photos in Don Ball Jr.'s book The Pennsylvania Railroad 1940s-1950s, on pages 88 and 89. While my shot wasn't quite in the same location, it worked out well anyway. Northeast of Atlantic City, off of U.S. 30 is a road called Delilah Road, and the tracks out of town make a sweeping curve and go under the road with the city visible in the distance. I set up here and got the shot I wanted, although I missed one train, because I had parked my car a ways off and decided to move it nearer to me after I realized that parking on the shoulder was in fact legal on that road. So I drove into the city and drove around for a bit (mostly looking for a place to park by the station to see when the next train was because I neglected to print a weekend schedule before I left), then headed back out to the bridge and waited, and about 6:55 PM, the train arrived and I got my shot. Not bad for only the first day in Jersey....
I woke up and drove to the Woodcrest PATCO station, right off of I-295. (Exit ramps to a transit station parking lot....what a great idea that was!) From there, I rode the PATCO line into downtown Philadelphia. After being advised not to try to drive around Philly during a weekday, this day was to be a "walking-riding tour" around town. The PATCO ride was interesting, although depressing, as it was easy to tell when we crossed into Camden, as the neighborhood around the tracks went downhill in a hurry. After passing through Camden, our train crossed the Ben Franklin Bridge and into Philly.
I got off at the 8th Street station, walked over to SEPTA's Market East Station and bought a Day Pass, and rode the Market-Frankford Line ("the El") to 30th Street Station. The El cars I rode in were the older 1960s-built Budd cars used on the line, nicknamed "Almond Joy" cars for the roof humps that catch air for ventilation. While the cars are forced-air ventilated, they aren't air-conditioned, and even at 8:00 AM, the cars were getting noticeably warm.
After taking some photos of the beautiful 30th Street Station (Pennsy knew how to build stations, didn't they?), I went to the parking lot on the north side of the station to photograph the Amtrak engine facility, incoming trains, and hopefully, something on the Conrail High Line to the west. My friend Stan Feldman was supposed to meet me at this lot later in the morning, and told me it was a great place to shoot from, and nobody would bother me there.
I was there about 20 minutes, watching for any signs of life on the High Line, when I hear a female voice behind me call out "Hi!". Suddenly intrigued at the thought of a female talking to me, I turned around to see an Amtrak police officer get out of her car. "Can I help you?" she asked, to which I replied, "Yes, run more trains!" Unfortunately for me, she politely informed me that for security reasons, she could not allow me to take pictures from the parking deck and I had to leave. She didn't seem impressed that I drove 500 miles to take pictures from the parking deck, and since she had the badge, I wasn't about to argue, so I left. (And because I know someone will ask, yes, she was sort of cute, but I wasn't really in a mood to notice.....)
All was not lost, though, as I walked down to the bridge on Walnut Street and after a 30 minute wait, I managed to catch and shoot a northbound CSX train coming across the High Line past the University of Pennsylvania's Franklin Field. That was worth getting bounced out of the parking lot for.....
I met Stan Feldman back at the parking lot after shooting the CSX train and explained my previous run-in with the Amtrak policelady. "She must be new...." was his response. We first drove to Belmont, where the Conrail Harrisburg and Trenton Lines meet a little ways north of the Philadelphia Zoo (and Zoo Tower). After a five minute wait, we caught a CR southbound with a pair of Big MACs on the point. I'll take it!
After that, we went to Frankford Junction, where the NJ Transit and Conrail tracks over the Delair Bridge diverge from the Northeast Corridor. Conrail also has a small yard there too. I'm glad my mother couldn't see me there, because the neighborhood was not the greatest. Still, if you stay near the tracks, nobody will bother you, not even the Amtrak signal maintainers (so long as you don't do anything stupid). We shot numerous Amtrak and SEPTA trains, along with an inbound NJ Transit train off the Atlantic City Line. The Market-Frankford Elevated passes over the Corridor behind Shore Tower, so I was able to photograph both types of El cars too.
We also photographed Conrail freight ALCA coming into the yard. While the train made its setouts, we went to the west approach of the Delair Bridge and climbed a staircase to maintenance platform at the top of the embankment, and shot ALCA on the approach to the bridge on its way to Pavonia Yard in Camden.
A private car passenger special was scheduled to return to Philly around 3:00, so Stan and I went back to Belmont and waited for it. About ten minutes off the advertised, the train arrived, led by two Amtrak Genesis engines and about 18 private passenger cars. We shot the train at Belmont, then chased it downtown to Arsenal Tower and shot it again backing into 30th Street Station. The train looked great, and at Arsenal, I managed to photograph the train with part of the Center City (you don't say "downtown" in Philadelphia) skyline in the background. After that, Stan dropped me off at 30th Street and headed home. Many thanks to Stan for the "guided tour!"
Here's a photo of me watching a pair of SEPTA Silverliners pass at Arsenal Tower while waiting for the private car special. Photo by Stan Feldman.
I still had plenty of light left and I wanted to see some of the SEPTA traction equipment that still runs, so I rode the El out to the 69th Street Terminal. There I was able to photograph a few El trains, Route 100 (N-5 class) cars, and some of the trolleys. I then boarded a Route 102 (Sharon Hill) trolley and rode it as far as the Clifton-Aldan station, where I then boarded an R3 train back into town. Fortunately, I caught the R3 train with about three minutes to spare; otherwise I would have had an hour wait for the next one! I then got off the train at the University City station and tried for a skyline shot with a southbound Amtrak train off the bridge to the east of the station. Unfortunately, Amtrak decided to park some ballast cars on a siding next to the main which obscured my view of the main line, so I got some nice skyline pictures but without any trains in them.
At this point, I walked back to 30th Street, boarded the El and rode it back to 8th Street, where I got on the PATCO train and took it back to Jersey. On the way back to the motel, I stopped at Big John's Deli in Cherry Hill and ordered an 11-inch cheese steak sandwich. They were highly recommended, and it was very good! I didn't feel like moving much after I ate it, though, as it filled me up good....
I got up the next morning and went up to Trenton. My first stop was at the magnificent stone arch bridge on Amtrak's Northeast Corridor over the Delaware River. Fortunately on the Trenton side of the river is a small park and fishing area, so access to the bridge was easy. I shot about 8 trains in 30 minutes at the bridge, and from there headed to the Trenton passenger station.
At the station, I shot several Amtrak, NJ Transit, and SEPTA trains. Conrail even got into the act and sent a light B23-7 through the station. After that, I found my way to U.S. 1 and headed north out of town. And it wasn't too soon, especially after making a couple of wrong turns on my way to the station. I was not impressed with Trenton at all. How New Jersey managed to get not one, but three dumps (Newark, Trenton, and Camden) in the same state is beyond me....
I shot a couple of Amtrak and NJ Transit trains at Princeton Junction, including the "dinky", or the shuttle train that runs between the junction and the city of Princeton. While at the station I met a couple from the UK who were videotaping trains for their grandson back home, who is 5 years old and loves trains. From there I went north to Monmouth Junction and shot a northbound NJ Transit train north of Midway Tower. Monmouth Junction is where the Amboy Secondary Track joins to Corridor.
After that, I went over to West Trenton to photograph what I could on the SEPTA R3 West Trenton line. Fortunately, West Trenton is a much nicer area than downtown Trenton. The West Trenton line was the former Reading main line towards New York, and today it carries Conrail freights also. I shot a SEPTA train at the station, and I shot a CSX freight and a SEPTA train on the concrete arch bridge over the Delaware River. The freight was a going-away shot, so it wasn't as nice as I would have liked, but the shot of the SEPTA Silverliners was fine, since they look the same coming or going....
I made a stop in Morrisville, Pa (across the river from Trenton) and shot a Conrail local on the corridor passing Morris Tower. From there, I got on the PA Turnpike and headed for the Chestnut Hill area of Philly.
The Chestnut Hill area, on the northwest side of Philadelphia, is a very high-class area. Both the Reading and Pennsy had commuter branches to Chestnut Hill; indeed, the ends of both lines are a few blocks apart from each other. I shot the Chestnut Hill stations of both lines, along with Austin Tower located just south of the station on the ex-PRR line (now called the R8 Chestnut Hill West line by SEPTA; the ex-RDG line is the R7 Chestnut Hill East line). I photographed trains at the St. Martins station and on the 60-foot high Chreshem Creek trestle on the Chestnut Hill West line, along with an outbound train at Gravers and an inbound train at the Chestnut Hill East station on the R7 line. (The Chreshem Creek trestle shot was also inspired by a shot in Don Ball's book, on page 65, although the bridge has since been replaced after the shot in the book was taken.)
From Chestnut Hill, I stopped at the Glenside Station on the R5 line and shot two trains there. After that, I fought traffic and stoplights and hauled over to the Delair Bridge. It was nearing 5:00 PM, and while I wanted to get out of Philly before all hell broke loose for the rush hour, I wanted to photograph an NJ Transit train coming off the Delair Bridge from the platform where Stan and I had shot the day before. I got to the bridge, parked, and climbed the stairs. After about a 10-minute wait, an Atlantic City Line train came slowly rolling off the bridge. I got a great vertical telephoto shot of the train coming off the bridge with the lift span towers in the background. I hope it comes out....
Since I was done on the Philly side for the day, I figured I would use my remaining light to my advantage and head to Winslow Junction for a shot of an outbound passing the Winslow Junction Tower which still stands there. I figured it would take about 25 minutes to get there. Maybe on Sunday morning it would, but it actually took the better part of an hour to get there from the Betsy Ross Bridge. Fortunately, I still made it in time and photographed the outbound train. An NJT ballast train was tied up on the siding to the east, which didn't block my shot. After getting that train, I photographed my last train of the day passing the former PRSL station at Hammonton.
The main emphasis on this day was NJ Transit's Atlantic City Line. Most of the morning was spent looking for good photo locations for the afternoon, as NJ Transit runs their trains in push-pull fashion, so the train is always on the north (or west) end of the train. That means that in order to get good photos with the locomotive in the lead, the sun angle doesn't get good until about 3:00 PM, because of the orientation of the line (northwest to southeast). I did get a couple of shots in the morning at Magnolia and Mulica with the cab car leading. Fortunately, U.S. 30 parallels the line east of Winslow Junction, so following the tracks isn't that hard.
I found that the AC Line is difficult to photograph, though, because of trees and fences. Much of the trackage runs through or near woods, and there are large sections which have fences on one or both sides of the tracks, which distracts from your photos. (It's like the summit at Cajon Pass in a forest.) Still, there are places where the line is open enough to get some decent shots, I found.
After shooting an outbound train on the bridge east of the Absecon station, the light starting getting high and the sky was getting hazy, so I drove into Atlantic City and played tourist for a while. I walked the boardwalk for a mile or two (and it still kept going into the distance), walked around on the beach (surf was 63 degrees, too cold for a mid-day swim), photographed some of the buildings and piers, and checked out the shopping mall at Ocean One (the former Million Dollar Pier). By this time, it was getting around 2:00 PM, so after going through a dozen different gift shops to pick up a shirt for a friend at work, I got back on the road.
I liked the bridge at the Absecon station, so I went back to Absecon and found a place where I could stand alongside the river on the south side of the bridge, where the sun angle was just right. After a 15-minute wait, I shot an outbound train on the bridge. While there were a few poles and wires in the shot, I don't think they distracted that much from the photo, although I can always remove them in Paint Shop.
My next shot was near Cologne, off the Tilton Road overpass. It was a nice location, with a signal in the distance marking the spur that lead into the Atlantic City Racetrack. Plus, it was one of the few locations east of Winslow Junction where there is a bridge over the tracks. After that shot, I went up to Winslow Junction, where there was another ballast train in the siding, and shot an outbound train passing the tower and the ballast train just before the clouds moved in for the day.
After packing up the camera, I headed back to the motel and met my friend Al Buchan for dinner. Following dinner, we went to his club, the Porta-Rail group of Mt. Laurel, and I got to see their Delaware & Susquehanna Railroad. Even through the layout, which is modular, is being rebuilt into a more permanent layout, the layout looked great. Lots of fine detail was visible on the railroad--it was really well done. I would like to see it again when construction is completed.
By this point, the weather in Philly looked iffy for the rest of the week, so I decided to quit while I was ahead and come home. I took the PA Turnpike to Harrisburg, then followed U.S. 322 up to I-80 and came back that way. Despite my intent to avoid construction, I still saw many instances of symbols of Pennsylvania on my trip, including the state flower (the orange construction barrel), the state motto ("Road Construction Ahead"), and the state joke ("Men Working"). I'll leave out the tales of frustration while stuck in several mile-long backups...... One memorable moment came on U.S. 322 about two miles east of Lewistown, when my car's odometer reached 100,000 miles. My next trick will be to get another 100,000 miles out of my car....
All in all, it was a good trip. I was definitely blessed with excellent weather from Sunday through Wednesday, although I paid for it on Monday because I forgot my sunscreen and I got burned big time..... Eventually, I would like to go back and see some of the things I missed, such as the Winchester & Western and the Southern Railroad of New Jersey. But all that will come in due time.....
Special thanks to:
Feel free to e-mail me with any questions, comments, or clarifications you might have. Thanks!