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 #2

Bill Caloroso - Cal's Classics

Bill Caloroso – Cal’s Classics

LDSIG 2014 Documents

Just wanted to make the handouts for the layout tour tomorrow available in digital PDF format, in case anyone is interested:

Welcome to the SNY

Also, here is a trackplan of the model S&NY:

TrackplanBackdrop andFascia

Wordless Wednesday #1

Bill Caloroso - Cal's Classics

Bill Caloroso – Cal’s Classics

Op Session #2

After 4 months, a job change, and college graduation for daughter #1, I was able to free up a Saturday  (31 May) to host Op Session #2 for the model S&NY.

I approached #2 with a great deal more trepidation than #1, paradoxically because #1 was deemed  a major success by the participants. So, the bar had been set, and standards must be now be upheld!


Adding to the mystery, only 4 of the original 6 crewmembers were going to be able to make it. This turned out to be a good thing, as I was curious how a smaller crew would work out. (Pretty well, in fact.)

Despite the intervening 4 months, I was only able to make a few changes/improvements to the railroad: I got about 20 more cars weathered and on the layout, and I replaced 10 of the original CV turnout frogs with metal frogs from Proto:87 Stores. I also developed a tentative timetable schedule of trains.

The extra cars made a big difference, as there were now sufficient through cars to allow the “Fast Freight” (as the real S&NY called it) to make a third trip if necessary. Also, there were now enough through PRR hoppers from Marsh Hill to Towanda to necessitate the coal extra to do more sorting of cars in Marsh Hill yard. In addition, I changed the train instructions so that all the local switching at Newberry is done by the Fast Freight crew, rather than the Mixed train crew. This balanced the workload a bit more, and I think made all three jobs a bit more interesting and time-consuming in a good way. My goal is to have the crews busy enough to keep interest and focus up, but not too much to feel harried. After all, the S&NY was a struggling Depression-era shortline, not the PRR mainline.

The timetable was developed with input from the crews during Op Session #1; I had the fellows try to keep note of the times when they arrived and departed each station and how long the work took. Here is the trial version for Op Session #2:

SNY Timetable001

The timetable worked well for the first third of the session, but after that departed from reality too far to be of much use. After the first trains got to their destinations, the station work took FAR longer than I had allowed in the timetable, and the schedule fell apart. Adjustments will be made for the next session.

Since we did now have a timetable of sorts, I was able to act as “roving dispatcher” for a while, and wrote the very first orders for the railroad:

Op Session 2-4I have been studying this book, which is essential for learning timetable and train order operations for a model railroad:

19 East, Copy 3

I still have a lot to learn, as the “form” on the model orders is not quite correct. When referring to trains by number, the order should read, “NO 4 ENG 113 MEET NO 21 ENG 2784 AT MASTEN” We didn’t write any clearances in the interest of time, but I think eventually we will include those to add authenticity. The model forms are available from Micro Mark, and are really a bit too small, but will work ok for now.

Here is a real order and clearance card from the S&NY from 72 years ago:

Op Session 2-6

Op Session 2-5


There were still a few electrical glitches – the Bachmann 2-8-0’s had intermittent pick-up troubles, hopefully a wheel cleaning will fix that. I had remotored and painted a PFM Ma&Pa engine, which shorted intermittently between the cab and tender deck in tight curves. I have a fix planned for that problem which should not be difficult. The original CV turnout frogs continue to short intermittently at the closure rails, and I now plan to replace ALL the frogs with metal frogs from Proto:87. This will take a bit of time, but will eliminate that problem all together.

Despite that, I think Session #2 was a success, and I think the crews will agree. Interestingly, some of the fellows prefer one-man crews, and a couple think 2-man crews is the way to go. I think though for the time-being anyway, I will not INCREASE the number of people invited to a session.

Lastly a couple of photos from the session:

Photo by John Webster

Photo by John Webster

Fred L. works the NYC/RDG interchange at Newberry with Train 21.


Photo by John Webster

Photo by John Webster

Eastbound Mixed Train 4 works upgrade around the Masten Loop, crossing over Pleasant Stream.

First Op Session 25 January 2014

This past fall, after around 11 years of construction, my model version of the Susquehanna & New York Railroad had nearly reached a stage of completion where a preliminary shake-down operating session was possible. Having some extra free time over the 2013 holidays due to an unexpected job change, I decided to shoot for late January 2014 for the first op session. After assessing what truly needed to be done, I embarked on a frenzy of last-minute car-building, waybill and car-card writing, and place-marker creation to culminat in the trial op session on the evening of Saturday, January 25th, 2014.

So, with much trepidation, I sent out an email invitation to 6 fellows who I consider to be “serious” model railroad operators who I am familiar with from previous op sessions over the years at other local railroads. I figured these guys could appreciate what I was trying to accomplish with the model S&NY, and at the same time bring in their collective experience for constructive criticism and suggestions for improvement.

Braving single-digit temps and blowing snow showers, all 6 gentlemen (including a trio driving from Cleveland) made it for the session. After a quick brief on the background of the real SNY and the construction of the model version, and a quick orientation to the railroad, we commenced. The model SNY had finally come to life after 11 years!

Brad W. looks over Newberry yard prior to departure of Train 6.    Photo by John Webster

Brad W. looks over Newberry yard prior to departure of  eastbound mixed Train #6.
Photo by John Webster

As expected, several issues immediately became apparent. Right out of the gate, I had failed to specify clearly that 1st class train #6 was a mixed train, and that instead of a caboose, the crew should build the train with a combination car on the rear. THAT caboose, in turn, was to go with a light engine to Marsh Hill yard. It only took a couple of minutes to sort out, but it sent my anxiety level through the suspended ceiling. Having “lived” with the railroad for so long, I just took it for granted that “everyone” would know that trains 5 and 6 were mixed. Hoo boy, what ELSE had I overlooked in my hasty preparations?

Westbound empty hopper extra returns to home rails after clattering across the junction of the PRR Elmira Branch and the PRR P&E line.  Photo by Don Murphy

Westbound empty hopper extra returns to home rails after clattering across the junction of the PRR Elmira Branch and the PRR P&E line. Photo by Don Murphy

A second issue related to location, location, location. The first thing crews want to know, if new to a particular railroad, is “Where am I?” The second thing is “Which direction is to my right and which to my left?” I had designed the SNY such that the viewer is always looking at the railroad from the south facing north, with east to the right and west to the left, so the second question was not a problem. However, despite trying to label everything prior to the session, I did not label each town adequately. I had put town name signs on the bill boxes in each town, but they were not conspicuous enough for unfamiliar operators juggling throttles, uncoupling picks, and train instructions.

A niggling but recurrent problem had to do with some of the turnouts, particularly in Marsh Hill yard. Some of the engines’ tender trucks caused shorts at the frogs. These were all Central Valley number 5 and 6 turnouts with a fabricated plastic frog. A design flaw apparently allows the backs of the tender wheels to short the two closure rails where they insert the plastic frog. I had run into this problem the day before the session, and painted the offending rails with clear nail polish as an expedient temporary fix, but I didn’t do it to all of them. A contributing factor may have been the extremely dry air from the cold weather allowing the wheels to arc at the frogs. I will probably replace these frogs with all metal frogs from Proto:87 as time allows. These metal frogs were not available when I built Newberry and Marsh Hill. The newer sections were built with Proto:87 turnout kits, and we had zero issues with these, aside from one frog I had inadvertently powered with reverse polarity.


Another issue cropped up later in the session, when the crew manning trains 21 and 22 tied up early. I literally had no more cars on the railroad to be moved, and I had over-estimated the time it would take for these to trains to complete their switching and make their runs. The fellows were good sports about it though, and were content to browse some of my collection of SNY ephemera and kibitz with the two crews still working. However, I will make a concerted attempt to get more cars on the railroad to allow for a third through-freight run and/or balance the station work with trains 5 & 6, the crew of which finished up nearly 40 minutes after everyone else.

Eastbound through freight train #22 and westbound empty coal extra meet at Masten, PA. Jerry J. checks his paperwork I the background.   Photo by John Webster

Eastbound through freight train #22 and westbound empty coal extra meet at Masten, PA. Jerry J. checks his paperwork in the background. Photo by John Webster

There were also occasional minor difficulties due to unfamiliarity with my control system. I use CVP EasyDCC, while all of my crewmembers use Digitrax. This diminished as the evening wore on, however.

On the plus side, being meticulous during construction, while slowing the overall progress, has paid dividends with the relatively small number of trackwork “gripes” to be fixed; mainly the frog-shorting issues detailed above. I believe the labeling of ALL industries and turnouts helped the majority of switching go smoothly. The EasyDCC system handled 4 radio throttles with ease, and there were no problems with the control system whatsoever. Having a finished and carpeted basement, with good lighting helped the guys enjoy the evening and the railroad more, I believe; and having the fascia complete over the entire railroad added to the appearance despite the complete lack of scenery. I was quite worried that the whole concept of modeling an obscure pre-war shortline railroad might not “work”  and the trackplan would be inadequate to the task, but the extremely favorable and positive comments from the fellows after the session has put those fears to rest.

On the whole then, I think the first session was a great success, despite the minor glitches. Everyone left with smiles on their faces, and I have already gotten inquiries regarding when I will run another session.


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


DEC 25 1941

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






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…



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…



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 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