It’s partly cloudy in Terra Alta

It’s partly cloudy in Terra Alta, WV. 

About a month ago, we saw Chessie System GP40-2 4162 in bright sunshine at Salt Lick Curve.

That was two miles west – and down the hill.  The weather can change dramatically between Rowlesburg and Terra Alta, let alone from any point in between.  It’s partly cloudy in Terra Alta, WV on February 21, 1988.

We’re at the Main Street crossing in Terra Alta looking west.  We’re on the north side of the tracks, which puts this side of the train in a bit of a shadow.  However, this view allows you to see where the world ends about 17 cars back.  Well, the world doesn’t really end there – it just looks like it does.  That the train disappears from view in such a short distance gives you an idea of what the grades are like on this line.

It's partly cloudy in Terra Alta as Chessie System GP40-2 4162 leads an eastbound coal drag on 2/21/1988.

It’s partly cloudy in Terra Alta as Chessie System GP40-2 4162 leads an eastbound coal drag on 2/21/1988.

Eastbound coal drags have a hellacious climb out of the Cheat River valley that ends here – the 4162 and sisters won’t notch back until the train has rejoined us at the top of the world.

I haven’t watched a train pop up and enter Terra Alta in about 20 years.  Time flies, but I digress.  Way back then, it was quite a spectacle as you heard the train long before you saw it.  The rumble of the prime movers and the whine of the turbochargers and fans (yes – a rumble and a whine at the same time) would get louder, and then you’d see the lead locomotive appear from top to bottom as it climbed over the edge.  Within a couple of hundred feet of appearing, the whistle would blow for the Main Street crossing – exactly where would depending on how fast the train was going when it crested the grade.

Fast is a misnomer, as that was typically somewhere around 13 mph.  Mountain railroading isn’t fast railroading…  If it gets to be fast railroading, then there’s probably going to be a problem…  And yes, that’s unfortunately happened on the West End, and it’s cost some lives over the years.

Things have changed on the West End.  Yes, coal still moves east, but not as much due to factors and reasons far beyond the hills of West Virginia.  Gone are the EMD GP40-2 and SD50 locomotives that dominated my time there.  Quieter, more powerful General Electric locomotives predominate.  I’ve heard that the informal road that used to be the third track that was a key element in making the images in the Chessie & CSX: The West End Gallery is now blocked by locked gates.

The spectacle of man and machine versus nature still happens a couple of times a day.  For how long remains to be seen.  It’s possible to bypass the West End by running northwest to the Monongahela River valley, then north to the Pittsburgh area, and then east – but it may not be practical.  Yet.

It’s hard to imagine the West End gone, but it’s not safe by any means.

I don’t know if or when I’ll get back there.  If nothing else, I’ve got the Kodachromes…

 

The Blizzard of 1996

The Blizzard of 1996 appears to have been surpassed in the record books by the Blizzard of 2016.

I have to admit that there’s a part of me wishing I was back east for this.  And there are many of you now thinking that I’ve totally lost any shred of sanity that I might have still had.

Rest assured that I haven’t.

For you see, the only way that you can photograph a train (or anything else for that matter) in the snow is to be out in the snow.

Makes sense.  At least to me anyway.

So, a long time ago (January of 1996 to be exact) in a galaxy far, far away (Hancock, WV and environs), there I was with a cohort driving down a road that I’d never been on before.  We had a four wheel drive Ford Explorer, so that was a good thing.

Did I mention that the roads weren’t plowed?  That I couldn’t tell just exactly where the road was?  That this was long before cell phones?

None of that mattered, because the Blizzard of 1996 had finally ended, and there were trains to be run.  Lots of them.

Trivial little things like unplowed roads and and not exactly knowing where the roads were in many cases weren’t going to get in the way of the images to be made.

We’re at HO Tower in Hancock, West Virginia to witness one of the first eastbound freights to move in a couple of days pass through the interlocking plant.  The snow isn’t as deep here, as CSX Maintenance of Way forces worked throughout the night to clean the snow from the switches so that trains could run through the plant.

HO Tower is on the CSX Cumberland, MD to Baltimore, MD former Baltimore and Ohio Railroad Main Line.  There were still a series of towers in use at this time – local switches and signals were controlled by the Operator (the person who worked in the tower).  Some of the Operators stayed in their towers for extended shifts during the storm, as there was no way out while everything on rails and wheels couldn’t move.  These days, there aren’t a lot of towers left – for the most part, train dispatching is now handled with the assistance of computers in a windowless room that may not even be on railroad property.  But that’s another story, and another post.

CSX SD50 #8598 kicks up a nice plume of snow as she leads an eastbound freight past HO Tower.

There isn’t a gallery up for the Blizzard of 1996 on Laughing Frog Images just yet.  There’s a lot to scan and process, but there will be a gallery.  Someday.

For now, we’ll all just have to enjoy this image.

An eastbound freight train kicks up the snow as it passes HO Tower in Hancock, WV after the Blizzard of 1996.

An eastbound CSX freight train kicks up the snow as it passes HO Tower in Hancock, WV after the Blizzard of 1996.

The B&A Turkey Train

 

Holiday traditions aren’t all what they used to be, especially in the corporate world.

Parties during the holidays are now all “Holiday Parties”, regardless of their timing and which holiday they’re really celebrating. That is, if your company still has a party.

Acknowledging the employees with “something” isn’t what it used to be.

Change is what this image speaks to.

It’s December 11, 1994. I’m at the north end of Brownville, Maine along the main line of the Bangor and Aroostook Railroad waiting for a train. My Canon T-70 and Sigma 28-70mm lens are around my neck. There’s K64 in the camera. And, it’s a tad cold… But I’m not waiting for just any train… I’m waiting for the Turkey Train!

It was kind of what it sounds like – a train carrying turkeys.  Not live ones mind you, but fresh turkeys.  For the employees.  As part of the railroad’s tradition that was as much a part of the holidays for B&A (that’s how the road was known to many – and not to be confused with the Boston and Albany Railroad either!) employees as was cutting down a Christmas tree.  A train.  Carrying turkeys.  The Turkey Train.

So, I’ve got a borrowed Digital 8 camcorder set up on a tripod.  My camera is around my neck.  I’m getting cold.  And, it seems like the only thing moving is the clouds.  They’re moving slowly – but they’re moving.  I really wanted to sit in the car and wait – but I had never shot a train here, so I didn’t know how far out I’d hear it – or if I’d even hear it, before it got to me.  So, I waited.  In the cold.  And got colder.  And waited (you get the point).

Finally… the blat of an air horn  punctures the silence as the train approaches the bridge.  The Turkey Train is here!  Press “start” on the camcorder, pop the lens cap off and shoot.

BAR Turkey Train, BV, 12-11-94 crop wm itdbd9_004 360w

A GP-38 passes by with a boxcar full of turkeys and the road’s business cars.  Wheels click on the rail joints, and get quieter as the train continues south.  It’s all over in a minute or so.  The quiet returns.  It’s broken again when at the train whistles for crossings south of Brownville.

The moment is over.

As far as I know, this was the last Turkey Train.  The decline of paper and allied industries had been affecting the B&A for years.  Potato traffic had almost entirely been taken over by trucks (some attribute this to the poor connecting service provided by the Penn Central Railroad in the late 1960s and early 1970s).  Maine’s economy was in transition – and it wasn’t kind to the railroads.  The B&A was purchased in early 1995 and became part of the Canadian American Railroad (CDAC).  The CDAC was not long lived – it later became the Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railroad under new ownership who tried to make a go of things as the traffic continued to wane.  The MMA had a tragic incident in Megantic, PQ in 2013, and it too is gone.

But I have this image. And the memories of that day.

I’ve got some video of the Turkey Train to post on the Frog’s YouTube channel of this train as soon as I master some degree of proficiency with video editing.  It’s not the greatest, but then again – what most people could afford in the way of video equipment in 1994 was vastly different from the quality that you can get these days in your smartphone.

There will be a B&A gallery up on Laughing Frog Images as scanning progresses.

Thanks for taking a trip back to 1994 and better days for the B&A and its’ employees.