Monthly Archives: May 2013

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Mystery Bridge


Bill Caloroso- Cal’s Classics

Bill Caloroso - Cal's Classics

Bill Caloroso – Cal’s Classics

I am not sure of the exact location of this bridge along the SNY right-of-way. I have seen “High Bridge” mentioned in some sources, but I am not sure if this is the referenced bridge. I have traced the RoW with the aerial photos from the late 1930’s on the PSU Penn Pilot website, but the resolution is not adequate to resolve the details of any particular bridge.

Author's photos

Photo by Author


Photo by Author

In December of 2000, I shot these photos of abandoned bridge abutments along Pleasant Stream between Marsh Hill and Masten. This could be the location of the bridge; hard to tell since the surrounding vegetation has changed so much. Also, there is no higher vantage point on the west/north side of Pleasant Stream to duplicate the angle of view in the original photo, unless it was shot from the other side of the creek. There was major flooding along Pleasant Stream in the fall of 2011, washing out road bridges and greatly altering the landscape of the narrow valley. I attempted to repeat the trip in the fall of 2012, but the road was still in such bad shape (I was driving the family’s Honda Odyssey van, not my 4wd truck) I was forced to turn around and head back to Marsh Hill after covering only about 2 miles. Consequently, I have no idea if these crumbling abutments still exist.

Photo by Author

Photos by Author

Photo by Author

These photos illustrate my feeble attempt at representing this bridge on my model version of the SNY. It was kitbashed using an Atlas Warren truss deck bridge, Micro Engineering bridge bents, and a Micro Engineering deck girder bridge. The concrete abutments and pier are scratchbuilt from wood and styrene. Unfortunately, I realized too late the real bridge used a Pratt-type deck for the longest portion, not a Warren like the Atlas model, and the overall proportions of the model are pretty off, compared with the prototype. Nonetheless, my goal was a “good enough” representative structure, not an exact replica. The main goal is an operational (model) railroad, not a museum diorama, so the bridge was put in place, some scenery forms roughed-in so the fascia could be applied to the benchwork, and I moved on to the next project.

Crew Instructions 1937

Author's Collection

Author’s Collection

This is an extremely interesting, and rare, bit of railroad history. Typed on a piece of scrap paper by possibly the dispatcher, or Towanda station agent, the above document provides a window into the daily workings of the SNY crews. If we dissect this document we can glean a great deal of information regarding the operations of the railroad, by inference and linking with other bits of information from other sources.

First, the note is addressed to the (C)onductor and (E)ngineer of the train designated by the SNY as “the fast freight”. According to SNY  employee timetable No. 47, in effect 12:01 A.M. Sunday October 14, 1934; scheduled timetable freight train #20 is a Second Class train due to leave Towanda Washington St. station (telegraph call letters “WN”) at 8:00 A.M., arriving Marsh Hill, PA (“MH”) 11:16 AM. From other sources, it seems the SNY had arranged freight service between the Reading Railroad at Newberry, PA and the Lehigh Valley at Towanda, PA. Train #21 was #20’s counterpart in the opposite direction, leaving Marsh Hill at 12:30 PM arriving at Towanda at 3:50 PM. I am not sure why neither train connected through to Newberry, unless trains to Newberry, having to run via trackage rights over the PRR Elmira Branch, were all run as extras.

What follows are instructions on what cars at Towanda need to be switched to what customers. The “gas house” refers to a coal gas plant in Towanda. This appears on a Sanborn insurance map as late as 1927, I was not aware it might have been in operation at this late date. I have included the gas house spur on my model railroad and it is good to know I am still in the realm of possibility here. Also of note is that coal is being delivered in a Pennsylvania gondola, not a hopper car.

It seems that the local Sinclair oil franchise was doing quite a bit of business at this time. We can infer that Sinclair did not have their own spur, rather they used a track in the small SNY yard at Towanda to unload petroleum products, presumably into their own trucks for local delivery. Again, a useful tidbit for model railroad operations.

The railroad also has some “company” cars in service, in this instance a carload of ties for Mr. Landmesser to unload. I presume he is the track gang foreman in Towanda. Even though this is the Depression and the railroad is not in the best financial shape, routine track maintenance with tie replacement must continue.

The next line details handling of cars interchanged from the Lehigh Valley Railroad. I presume “DD’s” are loads, and “Mty’s” are of course empty cars. All 15 cars will go south/west to “JN” (Newberry/West Williamsport) on this trip.

There are 3 empty Reading (the Reading Railroad was known as the Philadelphia and Reading until the early 30’s, hence the reference to “P&R”) boxcars in the train, one of which will be dropped at Cold Spring  (a siding in the middle of nowhere up in the mountains) to be loaded.

Two loaded coal hoppers are at Marsh Hill for “North Penn” however I do not know anything at this point about that consignee.

Another car of ties is at MH, and will need to be moved to “switch 35” if the track foreman has unloaded what he needs. I am unsure of the location of “switch 35”.

No.’s 5 and 6 refer to the First Class passenger trains that ran each way between Marsh Hill and Towanda. By the late 1930’s these were run as mixed trains, with both freight and passenger cars.

There is also work at the coaling tower at Marsh Hill; an empty needs to be pulled off and a loaded hopper put up on the track to supply the tipple with coal for the locomotives. In this instance No. 5 refers to track 5 in the Marsh Hill yard.

Mr. Holt (the agent at West Williamsport?) says Southern Railway boxcar 119606 needs to be interchanged with the Reading Railroad. This would need to be done before midnight, to prevent the SNY from accruing per diem charges. These rules were to prevent railroads from hoarding or delaying other railroads cars, thus expediting service and car turn-around.

The last paragraph details work to be done up the branch to Ralston, PA. By the late 30’s there was a small coal mine up the branch which would supply a few cars of coal per week. I think most of it was used by the SNY for their locomotives. Some may have gone to local coal dealers as well. It also seems there is still wood being cut up in the mountains near Cold Spring. Not sure if this was hardwood or pulpwood, maybe for the Westvaco paper mill in Williamsport? By this late date most of the old-growth hemlock was long since cut.

So, from this humble document we can gain much information that is of extreme interest to a model railroader attempting to re-create “how things were done” some 80-odd years ago. How miraculous this piece of paper should survive all these years. Copies were probably typed up daily, and used the next day to help start a fire in the caboose stove. Maybe the next day, Wednesday, September 8, 1937 was a warm day, and the crew didn’t need a fire in the stove…

SNY #115 at Towanda

Photographer Unknown; Author's Collection

Photographer Unknown; Author’s Collection


S&NY Railroad #115 at Towanda

For the first “real” post on the site, I offer this shot of SNY # 115 at the Towanda engine service facilities. Photo probably circa 1940-42. Color film would have been expensive and rare during the Depression, and scarce during WWII. The railroad was torn up in mid-1942, so the picture has to be prior to that date. Perhaps when word got around about the pending abandonment, the photographer decided to expend a few precious color frames on the  S&NY?

Color photos from the steam era are precious to the railroad modeler, as we can get a better idea of the weathering patterns on steam locomotives and structures; the color of the ground, ties, and rails; and maybe get a better overall “feel” of the atmosphere of the time. We tend to subconsciously think of the past as black-and-white, since most of the old photos are such, but that is not true.

Note the locomotive is not “black”; but  infinite variations of gray and brown.