Category Archives: Bridges

Bridges along the S&NY

Talky Tuesday #82

Last week’s “WW #124” is a shot of bridge somewhere along the SNY right-of-way. No idea of the location, and the construction looks a little “sketchy” from this angle, to say the least. Timeframe appears to be high summer. Hopefully the photographer avoided any snakes lurking in those rocks…

Wordless Wednesday #124

Bill Caloroso – Cal’s Classics

Ralston, PA

Ralston, PA is a small town nestled in the mountains along the Lycoming Creek, some 30 miles north of Williamsport. Ralston was an important crew-change point  and helper station along the PRR’s Elmira Branch until the late 1920’s.  The town’s importance to the PRR declined after this time, as larger, more powerful locomotives were developed that could make a through run from Tyrone or Altoona to Southport yard in Elmira, NY in a 16 hour crew day, obviating the need to exchange crews that were about to “outlaw” on hours-of-service for rested crews that had been stationed in Ralston. For a more detailed look at PRR activities in Ralston, see the excellent book “Set Up Running – The Life of a Pennsylvania Railroad Engineman” by John W. Orr. The book also includes a map of Ralston and the PRR facilities there.

Ralston was relatively less important to the SNY, but was served by a short branch from Marsh Hill yard.  A large tannery, operated by the Elk Tanning Company, was located there. I have heard from other sources that there were several other smaller industries in Ralston in the early and mid-20th century, most notably a brick yard and a baseball bat factory, but I have no hard sources for that information.

Map Courtesy Roy Breon via the "Elmira Branch" Yahoo Group

Map Courtesy Roy Breon via the “Elmira Branch” Yahoo Group

Above is a scan from a valuation map of Ralston posted to the “Elmira Branch” group on Yahoo. This map dates from 1898 (with periodic revisions noted, the last dated 1924), prior to the existence of the SNY. The SNY did not come into being until 1902, and did not reach its western terminus at Ralston until September 1903. It can be assumed that the tannery was probably served by the Northern Central Railroad (precursor to the PRR in this area) prior to the arrival of the SNY in 1903. Indeed, part of the impetus for completion of the SNY was to service tanneries owned via various corporate entities by the United States Leather Company. Most of the timberland along the SNY route was owned by the Keystone Lumber Co., another subsidiary corporation of US Leather; and the SNY railroad itself was owned ultimately by the US Leather Company as well. This large conglomerate most likely did not want freight revenue to “leave the family”, so to speak; so why not build its own railroad to capture the revenue instead of paying the Northern Central.

Map_Merged_Small_2

Map Courtesy of Charlie Marvin

Above is a valuation map, circa 1918, provided by Charlie Marvin.  North is to the viewer’s left. We can now see by this time that the SNY enters the area from the south along Lycoming Creek. However, the western terminus of the SNY is no longer at Ralston, as the railroad decided to construct a new yard and engine service facilities further south at Marsh Hill as part of the railroad’s plans to expand south to connections at Newberry, PA. However, there were still a few customers to be served in Ralston, and the SNY ran local trains up the branch from Marsh Hill to service them. I believe I had read in one source that the tannery had burned down by the mid-1920’s and was not rebuilt, as the hemlock bark used in the process had been pretty much exhausted from the area forests, all the hemlock having been timbered. One of these industries was apparently a “wildcat” coal mine that produced a few cars a week. The struggle the SNY had to get cars upgrade to this mine is described vividly in “Set Up Running”. I believe most of this coal was probably used as locomotive fuel by the SNY itself, and not much was likely interchanged offline.

Ralston 1938 Aerial

Penn Pilot – Penn State

Above is a 1938 aerial view from Penn State’s Penn Pilot site. I have cropped and rotated the original to match the valuation maps above. We can see the SNY branch to Marsh Hill heading off to the viewer’s right, and the SNY wye, and remains of the tannery buildings in the center. At the lower center is the PRR Elmira Branch running right to left, with two bridges crossing Lycoming Creek at the middle and south end of town.

Ralston Station-1Above is a poor quality scan from the ‘net of the SNY station at Ralston. This is the only photo of SNY structures in Ralston I have come across. I believe it was probably located at the north end of the SNY wye trackage, near Lycoming Creek and the Northern Central (later PRR).

Photo by Author

Photo by Author

Above is a view looking northward, of the second of three PRR bridges in Ralston  (At the viewer’s left lower center in the 1938 aerial view above). This bridge survived the flooding during Hurricane Agnes in 1972, but was abandoned by Penn Central since the flooding wiped out many of the branch’s other Lycoming Creek bridges.  Later taken over by the town of Ralston and used as a road bridge after more floods in 1996 destroyed the nearby road bridge, it was finally removed in 2002 after a modern concrete road bridge was built by the county immediately adjacent.

Photo by Author

Photo by Author

Detail view of the bridge, built in 1901. Ironic to note that this bridge actually dated to the Northern Central Railroad era, and pre-dated the arrival in Ralston of both the PRR (the NC was not completely absorbed by the PRR until 1917), and the SNY (which did not arrive until 1903), yet outlived them both.

Ralston Postcard-1Above is a scan of a postcard view of the Lycoming Creek valley near Ralston from the early part of the 20th century. Aside from the size of the trees, Lycoming Creek in most spots does not look much different today.

Google Earth

Google Earth

Lastly, above is a modern satellite view of Ralston from Google Earth, again oriented with north to the viewer’s left . The modern bridge which replaced the hundred year-old Northern Central bridge can be seen in the lower left corner, and is just downstream from the site of the old bridge. A modern wood-products plant is sited on the footprint of the old tannery. Time, floods, trees, and newer construction have pretty much obliterated any trace of the SNY, though the old Elmira Branch roadbed can still be faintly seen curving just west of the new factory.

Update 11/29/13:

Reader George Lane provided a link (http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/2008677185/) to a stereoscopic view of the Northern Central station at Ralston ca. 1870 from the Library of Congress. I would guess the view is looking north with the northern-most of the three bridges over Lycoming Creek in the background. I am not sure of the identity or precise location of the colonnaded building in the background:

Library of Congress

Library of Congress

Marsh Hill Junction

Pursuant to a recent discussion on the PRR Elmira Branch Yahoo group regarding Bergan tower, and the junction of the S&NY with the Elmira Branch, I offer these scans:

Bill Caloroso - Cal's Classics

Bill Caloroso – Cal’s Classics

First is this northward winter view of the PRR operator at Bergan tower “hooping up” train orders to the rear brakeman or conductor of a southbound SNY freight. In the background we see the PRR bridge over Pleasant Stream, and the roof of the SNY depot at Marsh Hill junction. The SNY train would have come out from the SNY yard to the right, on “our” side of the depot, entering the Elmira Branch at the junction switch at the far end of the bridge.

Bill Caloroso - Cal's Classics

Bill Caloroso – Cal’s Classics

This view looks in the opposite direction southward, and of course was taken in a much warmer season. A northward bound SNY freight is leaving the Elmira branch onto home rails and will enter Marsh Hill yard in a moment. The SNY station is behind the viewer, and the PRR Bergan tower is on the south side of the bridge, hidden behind SNY #115.

Bill Caloroso - Cal's Classics

Bill Caloroso – Cal’s Classics

Next, we have a very nice view from the PRR Pleasant Stream bridge looking northward at the SNY Marsh Hill station. We can see the SNY track curving off to the right to the Marsh Hill yard. The low target lamps appear to be controlled remotely from Bergan tower via the wooden rail-side relay cases seen in the second photo above, and hidden by the left side of the bridge in this view. In the distance we can see the position-light signals controlling a passing siding on the south end of the bridge, which extends southward from Bergan tower.

Update 8/7/2014: Northward-looking view of Bergan tower, PRR Lycoming Creek bridge, Marsh Hill junction, and S&NY Marsh Hill station in the distance. Photo courtesy Mr. Jim Anderson.

Photo Courtesy Jim Anderson

Photo Courtesy Jim Anderson

PSU - Penn Pilot

PSU – Penn Pilot

Last is an aerial view of the Marsh Hill area circa 1938. The SNY Marsh Hill station is in the lower middle, above the Pleasant Stream bridge hidden by the nearby trees. A shadow cast by a structure in the lower center south of the bridge I believe is the location of Bergan tower. The SNY Marsh Hill yard curves off to the right, while the PRR Elmira Branch runs generally north-south along the meandering Lycoming Creek.

Today, this area is private ground and is fairly heavily wooded. One would be hard-pressed to find any traces of either railroad that once crossed this bridge, and even the bridge itself is long gone.

 

 

Masten Loop bridge

The last bridge project I have for now is the deck girder bridge at the apex of the “Masten Loop”. This was a long, looping curve on a grade east of the sawmill town of Masten, PA by which the S&NY crossed from one side of Pleasant Stream to another while gaining altitude out of the Pleasant Stream valley. From there, the route looped back toward Masten before turning northeast to reach the summit of the grade between Ellenton and Wheelerville, PA.

1944 USGS topo map, 1927 Survey, Canton quadrangle

1944 USGS topo map, 1927 Survey, Canton quadrangle

I do not know the actual degree of curvature of the loop, however according to 1925 S&NY employee timetable No. 43, Special Instruction 23c.,”speed of trains around Loop Curve north of Masten is restricted to 12 miles per hour.”

 

Below is a postcard view of the bridge over Pleasant Stream near the apex of the Loop, shortly after construction in 1906:

Postcard view of Loop Curve near Masten, PA ca. 1906

Postcard view of Loop Curve near Masten, PA ca. 1906

Compare the pristine abutments in the above view with the crumbling remains visible through the saplings in 2000:

Photo by author

Photo by author

The rebar “cage” is presumably to prevent chunks of disintegrating concrete from falling onto the dirt road below. Note someone has built a camp directly on the old roadbed. I wonder if they are ever awakened in the dead of night by phantom trains blasting from out of the past through the kitchen, ghostly whistles shrieking….

The Masten Loop Curve and bridge is a major scenic “Layout Design Element” (LDE) on my model version of the S&NY, and conveniently located at a turnback curve at the end of a benchwork peninsula. Model railroaders often bemoan the difficulty of disguising these peninsular turnbacks ( I believe Tony Koester tongue-in-cheek referred to a common solution  as “Mandatory Trestle over Cliché Creek), however in this case the real thing IS the solution.

 

Photo by author

Photo by author

Here is the site for the model bridge at the apex of Loop Curve.

Since the bridge is on a grade (never again!) I wanted to ensure good alignment between the roadbed ends and the bridge deck. I used a technique I found online where the bridge itself is built over an aluminum channel that is anchored, in this case by epoxy, to the roadbed at either end. As it turned out, I ended up with a small vertical curve at the right-hand side of the bridge. Hopefully this will not prove to be a major problem in operation, as redoing the bridge would involve major surgery.

Photo by author

Photo by author

Here the channel with the Micro Engineering deck girder bridge sides in place for a test fit.

Photo by author

Photo by author

The abutments were scratchbuilt from thin poplar and styrene. There is a niche for someone to produce a line of concrete abutments tailored for the various Micro Engineering bridges. Chooch Enterprises has a limited number, but they are mostly not suitable.

Photo by author

Photo by author

The abutments were sanded and primed, then coated in vinyl spackle and the impressions of the wood formers simulated by drawing a styrene “comb” across the spackle. The spackle was allowed to dry, then sanded enough to allow just a faint hint to remain. Following this, they were painted a concrete color and weathered.

Photo by author

Photo by author

Photo by author

Photo by author

The finished product.

Scenery has yet to be installed, but the fascia has been put in place. I tried to create a semi-“Bellina-drop”  with the fascia panels as view-blocks to limit viewers from getting a look at an entire train as it climbs around the Loop. Hopefully this will subconsciously add to the impression of the railroad struggling to work its way through the narrow mountain valleys, and make the run seem longer to operating crews.

 

Photo by author

Photo by author

 

Time will tell if this is a success.

 

Carbon Run Bridge

While we are on the subject of bridges, I’ll make a brief mention of another bridge project, this one the SNY bridge over Carbon Run just east of Laquin, PA. Below is a topographic map of the area from 1945. Note the S&NY railroad is not there, but the roadbed follows the course of the unimproved road ( and IS the road in places) seen on the map. When I visited this area in 2000, the State game lands and township roads were in many places on top of the old SNY roadbed. Since the recent flooding in this area, this may no longer hold true, and the old R-O-W may have been obliterated in places.

USGS Map 1945. Powell Quadrangle

USGS Map 1945. Powell Quadrangle

Below is a photo of the Carbon Run bridge from my field trip in 2000:

 

Photo by Author

I had room for a representative model of the bridge at the east end of the model version of Laquin:

 

Photo by Author

Photo by Author

 

The model version is a stock Walthers through-girder bridge on scratchbuilt abutments, and is quite a bit larger than the real bridge. However, the goal is an operational model railroad, and in this instance a reasonable stand-in was put in place, rather than take the time attempting to scratchbuild a more accurate model. I hope this will be a reasaonable compromise once scenery is in place.