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.