Category Archives: Locomotives

Wordless Wednesday #9

Bill Caloroso - Cal's Classics

Bill Caloroso – Cal’s Classics

Wordless Wednesday #8

Bill Caloroso - Cal's Classics

Bill Caloroso – Cal’s Classics

Wordless Wednesday #7

Steve Van Gorder photo - Author's Collection

Steve Van Gorder photo – Author’s Collection

Wordless Wednesday #5

Herb Trice Photo - Author's Collection

Herb Trice Photo – Author’s Collection

Wordless Wednesday #4

S. Van Gorder photo, Author's Collection

S. Van Gorder photo, Author’s Collection

Wordless Wednesday #3

Bill Caloroso - Cal's Classics

Bill Caloroso – Cal’s Classics

Wordless Wednesday #1

Bill Caloroso - Cal's Classics

Bill Caloroso – Cal’s Classics

Christmas, 1941

Christmas Day, 1941. The War, until 3 weeks ago, was someplace else and happening to other people. Now, it is here; and scarcely any family, any person, will be unaffected. The nation’s railroads will bear an incredibly heavy burden transporting the men, machines, and materiel necessary to fight and win a global two-ocean war. The only tools available to manage this vast, complex enterprise are the telephone/telegraph, kerosene lanterns, the Rulebook, the Timetable, and the discipline and skill of experienced railroad men.

The PRR Williamsport Division dispatcher has probably had anything but a quiet Christmas. Burgeoning wartime traffic is indifferent to the holidays, and the mostly single-track Elmira Branch is “dark territory”, meaning trains are run under timetable and train-order authority, rather than centrally-controlled signals. Add in extra trackage-rights trains off the SNY, and the southern end of the Branch is quite busy on this Christmas afternoon:

Bill Caloroso - Cal's Classics

Bill Caloroso – Cal’s Classics

Trout Run, Pennsylvania is a small community tucked into the Lycoming Creek valley north of Williamsport. At Trout Run, the north central Pennsylvania mountains start to close in, glowering over the progressively narrowing Lycoming Creek valley. The valley walls are steep, and evening sets in quickly on  winter afternoons. According to weather records from the airport at Montoursville, PA., on December 25, 1941 the temperature was in the mid to low 30’s. The temp had been dropping over the previous days from a high of 55 on December 23.

We can imagine moving from the warmth of the Trout Run depot out onto the platform next to the tracks, cinders crunching softly underfoot. It would be very nearly dark, the deep twilight punctuated here and there by glimmers of oil lamps in the nearby homes and farmsteads, and the glow of the kerosene lights illuminating the railroad switchstands and the depot train-order board. No signs of people about in the darkening yards and fields, it is Christmas Day after all, and folks are snugly indoors enjoying their holiday meal while pushing thoughts of the War aside for a few hours. We might turn up our collar against the cold wind gusting down the narrow valley, and strain our ears for a distant whistle echoing off the high mountainsides…

Railroad men remain on duty, though, and 13 miles to the south, the Williamsport Division dispatcher dictates an order to the towerman at Newberry Junction:

Author's Collection

Author’s Collection

TRAIN ORDER 433

DEC 25 1941

TO: (C)onductor and (E)ngineer ENGINES PRR 4633 AND SNY 115 AT NEWBERRY

TRAIN NO. 852 SNY ENGINE 119 MEET EXTRAS 4633 AND SNY 115 WEST AT TROUT RUN

NO. 852 SNY ENGINE 119 TAKE SIDING

EXTRA 4623 EAST MEET EXTRAS 4633  AND SNY 115 WEST AT BERGAN

EXTRA 4623 EAST TAKE SIDING

MADE COMPLETE 429PM

From this faded piece of tissue paper, we can see that in the space of an hour or so just at dark, 4 trains will pass the Trout Run station. The first is probably the last one mentioned in the train order, PRR Extra 4623 East. PRR engine 4623 was an I1sa 2-10-0 locomotive, and likely leads a “diker” hauling a solid train of coal hoppers north to Elmira. Per J.W. Orr’s book “Set Up Running”, the PRR men on the division referred to these coal trains originating from the mines near Altoona and Tyrone as “dikers”, as they took the northbound(railroad timetable east) route up the Elmira Branch over the dike along Lycoming Creek at Newberry, rather than heading east and south to Harrisburg and Enola yard. Extra 4623 East will thunder by Trout Run without stopping, the locomotive digging in to the increasing grade; en route to a meet at Bergan tower near the SNY yard at Marsh Hill with PRR Extra 4633 West and Extra SNY 115 West. PRR Extra 4623 East will be followed shortly by SNY #119 running as scheduled PRR train No. 852, heading north (railroad timetable east) up the Branch to Marsh Hill.

Bill Caloroso - Cal's Classics

Bill Caloroso – Cal’s Classics

A few minutes later, train 852 will take the siding at Trout Run, and wait for two westbound trains coming down the Branch. The first, PRR Extra 4633 West, is lead by PRR engine #4633, an I1sa 2-10-0 locomotive, likely a train of empty hoppers headed back to the mines around Tyrone, PA. The second is an SNY extra train lead by #115, headed for the SNY yard at Newberry, probably mixed freight for interchange to the Reading and NYC. These westbound extras will first meet the aforementioned Extra 4623 East at Bergan, before heading in turn down the Branch for their subsequent meets with No. 852 at Trout Run.

Bill Caloroso - Cal's Classics

Bill Caloroso – Cal’s Classics

A lot of information from a scrap of paper, yet the railroads relied on these scraps to move trains efficiently and safely. Even more importantly, men’s lives depended on their accurate interpretation and timely obedience.

Bill Caloroso - Cal's Classics

Bill Caloroso – Cal’s Classics

How lucky such a small scrap would survive all these years, and allow us to open a small window into the past…

 

Fall

Haven’t been able to add much to the site for the past couple of months due to other commitments, but I’ve been waiting for the weather to change to something more appropriate before I added these two photos. That time is upon us, so here they are:

Author's Collection

Author’s Collection

The original photo is not the best quality, especially as regards to sharpness; but a little tweaking in Photoshop helps a little.

I believe rail historians tend to (unconsciously) think of the past as being in “black and white”, since nearly all of the images from the steam era especially, are in that format. For this reason, color images from that era are incredibly valuable, since they make the past seem more “real” and immediate somehow. Doubly so for an obscure railroad line like the SNY. Even though the image itself is technically limited, it is still quite evocative. We can imagine a crisp fall day, with the leaves near their peak, just enough of a dry chill in the atmosphere to allow the steam from the engines to condense around them to show how alive they are. The war in Europe still seems quite far away, and finishing up the fall harvest and hunting season are more immediate concerns in this rural corner of Pennsylvania. For now, we can sit in the warm sun and watch #114 work to put together a Newberry-bound freight. In a minute or so the engine and cars will back down on the helper engine and the rest of the train in the distance, lace up the air hoses, test the brakes, and storm past us downriver.

This photo is a goldmine for the modeler. First, we can see the variety of roof heights, weathering patterns, and overall coloration of the pre-war boxcars behind the engine. The first car is a truss-rod boxcar, perhaps Great Northern; the second is clearly a PRR X29. The others are too small in the image to identify. Second, we can note the coloration of the roadbed and ballast, and the surrounding vegetation. Last is the locomotive, where we can see in great detail the condition of the paint and the weathering patterns on the smoke box and pilot.

Author's Collection

Author’s Collection

This photo is really unsharp, but still has a lot of atmosphere, and useful information for the modeler. The train seems to be literally hanging over the edge of the hill behind the engine, and we can get a hint of the grades the SNY had to contend with. We can see the condition of the SNY roadbed, and see the variety of colors of the weathered ties. The telegraph poles are only “sort-of” straight, and are weathered to an interesting grey color. Golden-rod is in flower, but is kept away from the roadbed along with the other weeds by the acidity of the ash and cinders, and probably spraying by herbicides that are banned today.

In either event, the engine must really be pounding away trying to get this tonnage over the hill, so let’s stand back a bit and watch him go by…

 

 

Ditcher #6

Another piece of unusual equipment rostered by the SNY is maintenance-of-way ditcher #6. This steam-powered crane would have been used for any number of purposes on a pre-WWII railroad. The main purpose, of course, would be in keeping the drainage ditches along the track open and free of debris. The key to solid roadbed and track is drainage, drainage, and more drainage, and this would have been a never-ending unglamorous task for the section crews of the SNY. The narrow Pleasant Stream and Schrader Creek valleys would have been prone to flooding in the years after the mountainsides had been clearcut, and the mountains themselves are drained by innumerable “runs” and small streams, both named and unnamed.

In addition, a shovel-crane would have been used for a vast number of other tasks along the right-of-way in an era before the widespread use of tracked bulldozers and other heavy construction equipment, particularly given the absence of roads at that time. Even primitive roads were nearly non-existent into the region served by the SNY, at least until the Civilian Conservation Corps built them during the Depression, often using old pre-existing logging railroad rights-of-way.

Ditcher_Diagram-1

Above is a plan diagram of the American Rail Road ditcher, presumably purchased new by the SNY in 1910.

Bill Caloroso - Cal's Classics

Bill Caloroso – Cal’s Classics

Note the unusual flat car dedicated to transporting the ditcher, which moves back and forth on the car on rails mounted to the deck.

Bill Caloroso - Cal's Classics

Bill Caloroso – Cal’s Classics

Here we see ditcher #6 at work along the right-of-way, lifting and moving ties or cribbing. Hard to tell, but there may be a washed-out bridge or culvert in the background.

Author's Collection

Author’s Collection

Finally, a rare color shot, giving a good 3/4 end view of the ditcher and flatcar. Location is Towanda, with the highway bridge across the north branch of the Susquehanna River in the background. The flatcar seems to be painted a light greyish color, while the ditcher itself is a shade of boxcar or caboose red. This will make an interesting model-building project someday, perhaps by starting with the IHC Barnhart log-loader as a basis. The flatcar would probably have to be scratchbuilt. I have no information as to the disposition of #6 after the 1942 abandonment.