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…


Sunshine and Snow at Salt Lick Curve

Just over 28 years ago – 2/21/1988 to be exact, there was sunshine and snow at Salt Lick Curve.  Oh yeah, there was a train there too!

Sunshine, snow, and Chessie 4162 at Salt Lick Curve west of Terra Alta, West Virginia.

Sunshine, snow, and Chessie 4162 at Salt Lick Curve west of Terra Alta, West Virginia.  Click on the image to be taken to the Trains Gallery.

Chessie System (B&O) GP40-2 4162 leads a train of coal cars east from the bituminous of West Virginia.  She’s been climbing Cranberry Grade out of the Cheat River Valley in Rowlesburg towards the summit at Terra Alta at speeds in the high teens. Cranberry Grade is part of the storied West End of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad (now part of CSX).

It’s a battle of machine versus nature on this beautiful February day.

Sunshine and snow at Salt Lick Curve happened more often than sunshine, snow and a train came together at Salt Lick Curve, so I’m glad I was able to capture this.

Even more amazing is that the 4162 is reasonably clean, allowing her dress of Enchantment Blue, Vermillion Red and Federal Yellow to pop out from the snow and bare trees (Mrs. Frog would call them “naked” trees, but I digress.)

There are three SD-50 locomotives with their collective 10,500 horsepower pushing on the rear of the train.  Hard to believe that the 13,500 horsepower on the front of the train needed assistance, but that’s the West End for you.

This area of West Virginia and neighboring western Maryland can have absolutely brutal weather in winter.  If you’ve ever heard Oakland, MD mentioned during a weather report, this train is on its’ way there.  It was gray and cloudy at the bottom of the hill in Rowlesburg.  The weather at Terra Alta was like it was at the bottom, just maybe a little brighter.  I don’t have any notes as to the temperature that day, but I do have pictures of the MK Helpers (the SD50s) east of Amblersburg and the train cresting the hill at Terra Alta that might make it here to complete the story.

I do seem to remember getting a flat tire on the wooded bridge over the yard as I was leaving Rowlesburg.  I think it was this day.  Whatever day it was, driving home with my summer spare on the right rear was no fun…

Fortunately, the trains don’t move all that fast uphill, and I didn’t miss the chase.

This image is not yet on Laughing Frog Images.  It will make it to what will probably be a gallery devoted to the West End.

It’s 80-something degrees as I write this, and when I came across the image and saw the date, well, it just called to me to be shared.

Scanned from a Kodachrome 64 slide using a HP S-20i scanner at 2400 dpi.


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.

C&O 614, Akron to Pittsburgh

On June 28, 1981, the Chessie Safety Express pulled by C&O 614 made a round trip from Akron, OH to Pittsburgh, PA via the Baltimore and Ohio main line.

I didn’t realize how harsh the lighting was for many of these images until I started to work on them. The gray sky for most of the day wasn’t helping things either.

I’m going to guess that when you’re fairly young, still learning photography by trial and error, and excited to be photographing a steam engine running at track speed, you tend to overlook things like sun angles and shadows.  Just a guess…

So, this became a black and white gallery for the most part. The black and whites mimic the profile for Kodak Panatomic X film.  And, there’s nothing wrong with images of a steam engine in black and white.  Some would argue that it’s only right and proper.

As I put the gallery together, it hit me that this isn’t just a train gallery, it’s also a history gallery, as much has changed and much is gone in 35 years.

JO Tower in Akron is gone. The tracks to the left of the train at JO are the former Erie / Erie Lackawanna mainline to Chicago. I believe they’re gone now.

At Edinburg, you can see the four-track signal bridge of the Pittsburgh and Lake Erie spanning the two remaining tracks. Centralized Traffic Control made the other two redundant. The downfall of the domestic steel industry later made the P&LE itself redundant.

At Eidenau, you’ll see that the block signal is sitting in the middle of the former eastbound mainline. CTC had just been installed on the Pittsburgh and Western Subdivision.

1981_06_28_0045 pf copy 320 wm

The station at Bakerstown wasn’t long for the world at that point in time. Bakerstown Hill was a pain to the B&O – heavy trains in either direction (particularly westbound freight trains out of Glenwood Yard) required helpers. The P&W is now split between the Allegheny Valley Railroad and the Buffalo and Pittsburgh Railroad.

C&O 614 hasn’t turned a wheel in a while.

A look back?  Memories?  Times past?  History…

You can visit the C&O 614 Akron to Pittsburgh gallery on Laughing Frog Images by clicking here.

There are a couple more C&O 614 galleries to come in time for you to order for the holidays, and they include perhaps my favorite images of her.

Getting any gift ideas yet?

C&O 614, Pittsburgh to Rockwood

On September 27, 1980 C&O 614 powered a public passenger excursion from B&O’s Grant Street Station in Pittsburgh, PA to Rockwood, PA and return via the mainline of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad.  As I recall, a seat in an open window coach car was about $36, cinders included!

It was steam!  I was able to borrow the car (a 1978 Volkswagen Dasher station wagon with a 4-speed manual that did a fantastic job in the hills along the B&O), and I was the chauffeur for friends from New York and Ohio.  This was a Saturday trip – Sunday would bring a trip over the Wheeling Pike to New Martinsville, WV.  Of course, there was a Vinnie Pie to be had in between (that’s another post in itself).   Quite the weekend indeed!

This excursion was part of the Chessie System’s Safety Express trips, and the cars were staffed by volunteers from the Pittsburgh Chapter of the National Railway Historical Society and the Pittsburgh Transportation Museum Society.  In a couple of years, I was no longer photographing many of these trips as I was working on the train as a volunteer.

The original images were made on Kodachrome 64 slide film. I was still in my formative days, and some have been rescued by virtue of modern technology and onOne Perfect Photo Suite.  As I’ve been scanning and processing, it has occurred to me that my exposures were either dead-on.  Or not.  Not much in between!  Overall, the Kodachromes have held up marvelously.  Many of the color news films you’ve seen from the 1940’s and 1950’s were shot on Kodachrome movie film.  They’re 35 years old, and still have that Kodachrome smell.  (Somewhere out there, some of you are smiling and nodding your head in agreement!)

Being a steam engine and all, I also created some black and white images in Perfect Photo Suite that emulate the profile of Kodak Panatomic X film.  Some folks prefer their steam in black and white, so I’m trying to accommodate those folks as well.  And, some images of steam are simply timeless in black and white.

That said, I couldn’t resist removing the Exxon sign from one of the images at CF Tower…  I’m not one to modify images beyond exposure and color corrections – but I simply couldn’t resist in this case.  The tower with its’ shingle siding spoke of an earlier time.  The steam engine spoke of an earlier time.  And that Exxon sign – yes, it gave a time perspective to the picture, but it also was just begging to be removed for a view of what things were once like in the Allegheny and Appalachian Mountains.

1980_09_27_0019_1 copy copy 1x1 320 wm

1980_09_27_0017 copy 1x1 320 wm

C&O 614 never operated here in regular service – she stayed on the Chesapeake and Ohio rails to the south – but it’s the scene that allows one to drift back in time.  For some it’s a memory, and for others it’s a state of imaging what it would have been like to grow up with steam engines.

If you look closely, you’ll see that the series at CF Tower almost weren’t – look at where the cloud shadow is!  We were sweating it out, and every possible finger and appendage was crossed as we heard the 614 whistling her way east through the Narrows.  As she got closer, we could hear her working against the grade.  And we looked at the cloud.  And the sun.  And the shadow.

And, it all worked out…

You may notice that I didn’t crop all of the images – I left them as scanned so that you can determine the most appropriate crop for what you’d like to do with the image.  I don’t want to be “the decider” of how you get to enjoy an image.  You can crop the image however you want to make it yours on the product you want – and through December 15, you can do that for 25% off!

On a somber note, CF Tower was destroyed in a derailment in 1987 that also killed the Operator.  I watched many a train from that tower…  RIP Mr. Leonberger.

If you’d like to learn more about C&O 614, click here  Yes, she has her own website.  Thank you Ross Rowland!

Thanks for looking!