Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Abingdon Branch Revisited


The Abingdon Branch of the Norfolk & Western wandered through the southwest corner of Virginia. It would likely have slipped completely into the dustbin of history if not for one thing, though -- a photographer named O. Winston Link discovered it and documented it on film. Link was more widely known for his night photography on the N&W, but his daytime Abingdon Branch material was just as magical.


The locomotive used on the Abingdon Branch during Link's visit was N&W 4-8-0 No. 382. Long-since scrapped, it has a sister locomotive still working on the Strasburg Rail Road in Pennsylvania, N&W 475. On November 6, 2017, Lerro Productions conducted a photography event at Strasburg that turned the clock back to Link's time, starting before sunrise (above). A Model A, owned by Nicholas Brightbill, was brought in to add to the ambiance of old-time railroading.


No. 475 was given the identity of the 382 for the day. In addition to changing the number, a sunflower spark arrestor was added to the smokestack, a solid pilot (cowcatcher) was fabricated, and the locomotive was given white trim on the running boards.


Eras collided at Leaman Place Junction, where the Strasburg Rail Road meets Amtrak's Philadelphia-to-Harrisburg passenger line. The 382 looked a bit out of place as Amtrak ACS-64 No. 625 pushed a train towards Harrisburg.


The lunch break featured some interesting photos from the past, but that's really another topic for another day (a lot of good imagery came out of the lunch break). After lunch, our N&W mixed freight-and-passenger train caught a bit of sun at the railroad's picnic area, Groff's Grove.


The rural nature of the Strasburg Rail Road was put to good use. The railroad is located in Amish country, and scenes included an Amish farmer working his team of horses (top of this post). Some pumpkins that escaped Halloween were still in the field at Esbenshade Road.


Sunset brought a warm blow to the engine and train as it worked its way into the setting sun at Ranck's Crossing.


Turning the other direction yielded some nice evening glint off the side of the train.


Even after the sun went down, the sky still had a tinge of color in it. No. 382 made one last pass before darkness moved in.






Once it was dark, No. 382 posed for a few photos in the Strasburg Rail Road yard (below). Then it was time for Cinderella to vanish back into history and No. 475 return back to its true identity. Alex Merrill of the Strasburg puts No. 382's number plate away as 475 reappears in the background (right).



All in all, it was a magical day of bringing back O. Winston Link's world. Thanks to Pete Lerro and the staff of Lerro Productions for another outstanding photo charter. As mentioned above, Lerro Productions provided some great photography during the lunch break during this day, and we'll visit that in our next post.


Wednesday, November 08, 2017

The Last Logger


On November 7, 2017, Western Forest Products made it official. The company's Englewood Railway -- the last true logging railroad in North America -- would remain closed for good. Located on Vancouver Island in British Columbia, the railroad has been shut down since April 21 following an accident that killed three employees.


The Englewood Railway was built in 1917 to serve the growing logging industry around Beaver Cove, British Columbia, operated Beaver Cove Lumber & Pulp, Ltd. The railroad was constructed by a new company to the region, Wood & English, which established its own logging community across the Nimpkish River from Beaver Cove. This new community was called Englewood (a combination of the words Wood and English).


Wood & English ran its timber operations until 1941, when the mill was closed. In 1944, Canadian Forest Products (Canfor) acquired the logging interests in the Nimpkish Valley and established a new headquarters near the town of Woss. By 1948, the railroad had been extended 24 miles from Beaver Cove to Woss.


Under Canfor, logs were brought out of the forest by truck and loaded onto railcars for the journey to Woss. At Woss, the logs were dumped into Woss Lake and floated on the next part of their journey. A small flotilla of boats were used to herd the logs on Woss Lake.


The rail line and logging operations were purchased by Western Forest Products in 2006. Following the purchase, many of the old timber trestles on the railroad were replaced by new steel structures.


On April 20, 2017, a train being loaded rolled away on its own and crashed into a railroad maintenance vehicle. Three employees were killed in the accident, and two others were injured. Rail operations were immediately suspended, with logs moving from the forest all the way to Woss via trucks.


The railroad used a small fleet of four EMD SW1200 switcher locomotives, three of which had been re-engined with Caterpillar power plants. The fourth retains its EMD prime mover. Like every logging railroad in history, nothing was thrown away -- every part that could be found was put into storage because "we might be able to use that someday." Over the years, the SW1200s were heavily modified.


The railroad was quite isolated, and you really had to want to go there to find it. But if you made the trek, you found the employees were quite friendly. Once you checked into the yard office at Woss, you were issued a hard hat. This was your pass to access all areas along the railroad, including the loadouts.


My visit was in June 2011, and all the images in this post are from that visit. Upon checking in, we were also loaned two large maps that showed all the logging roads in the area, making finding photo locations much easier.


A relic from the past, steam locomotive No. 12, was located near Woss. Reportedly, it has been cosmetically restored since my trip in 2011.


The last logging railroad lasted for almost exactly 100 years. With the closing of the line, the last true logging railroad in North America passes into the history books, ending another era of railroading.

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Thursday, December 29, 2016

Sometimes You're the Bug

Hartwell Railroad; Bowersville, Ga.; December 6, 2016
Shortline railroads come in all shapes and sizes. Some operate like clockwork, with the crew called at the same time every morning and serving the same customers every day. Others are not quite as organized. When you start to explore the hardscrabble shortlines of the South or of New England, you find some interesting, if not seemingly random, operating patterns. Such was the case when I (along with my brother Bruce) stopped in for a day on the Hartwell Railroad in Georgia.

The Hartwell at one time operated from its namesake town to a connection with the Southern at Bowersville, ten miles to the west. As time went on, NS shed its connecting line with the Hartwell, which the shortline picked up; it now runs north from Bowersville to Toccoa and south from Bowersville to Elberton. It's primary connection to the outside world is with NS at Taccoa, although a bit of traffic comes off CSX at Elberton.

Operations on the Hartwell are interesting. The crew comes on duty at about 8:00 a.m. and gets on the train wherever they left it the previous day. This is usually somewhere in the Bowersville area, and the feed mill south of town is a good place to look first. We had tied up in Lavonia, Ga., the previous night, and our motel was just across the street from the Hartwell's line to Toccoa. We set out looking for the train on a gloomy, rainy Tuesday, December 6, and found former Elgin, Joliet & Eastern SD38 No. 654 working a coil steel place just south of town. The unit wasn't accessible so, believing the Hartwell ran to Toccoa every day, we headed there where we planned to wait for the northbound train and chase it back south. In the meantime, the ex-Southern NS mainline could keep us occupied.

Once at Toccoa, though, something didn't seem quite right. We assumed what we saw was a local shifter, and there might be a road train coming north. But as we thought about it some more, we decided we better get back down to Lavonia and check things out. Once there we saw the 654 was gone, and there were coil cars parked on the mainline. We had followed the railroad down from Toccoa and didn't pass any trains that we knew of, so we continued on south and found 654 working the feed mill south of Bowersville.
Hartwell Railroad; Bowersville, Ga.; December 6, 2016
We caught up with the friendly crew during a pause while they were switching. Yes, this is the only train running today. No, we're not going to Toccoa, but we're heading there tomorrow. Now we had to make a decision...

Our initial plan called for doing the Hartwell on this day, and once they were finished driving south to the Heart of Georgia Railroad at Cordele for the next day. But we got nothing on the Hartwell on this day, the forecast was for sun tomorrow, and that neat ex-EJ&E engine would be leading the southbound train. We changed our plans and decided to do a second day on the Hartwell.

The Hartwell has an exotic roster, with power gathered up from a variety of other railroads. And all of those units still wear the last paint job they had before coming to the Hartwell. The crew let us know where the other locomotives were; but since roster shots under thick clouds weren't going to be very good, we decided to pick them off with night shots where we could control the light. First up was a pair of units tied up on the original Hartwell line east of town. We found Richmond, Fredericksburg & Potomac GP35 136 along with Chicago & North Western GP9R 4556 in the middle of a long string of stored container well cars (top photo of this post). The Hartwell generates a lot of money from stored cars, with long strings on the original Hartwell and south of Royston heading towards Elberton. The railroad still has freight customers on these lines, so the long strings occasionally have to be shuffled and jammed out of the way so the train can get through. Next up was CSX GP38 1973 in Conrail paint at the lumber yard north of Royston.
Hartwell Railroad; Royston, Ga.; December 6, 2016
 Next we stopped at the feed mill where the Hartwell crew had tied up EJ&E 654 for the night. We got a shot there with the mill as a backdrop.
Hartwell Railroad; Bowersville, Ga.; December 6, 2016
 Finally we headed to Airline on the original Hartwell where the railroad has a small shop. Here we found Bessemer & Lake Erie SD7 454 missing a few pieces. Two other locomotives that we could see were inaccessible -- Denver & Rio Grande Western GP35 3044 behind a chain link fence south of Lavonia and St. Lawrence & Atlantic GP40 3000, tucked away at the steel coil facility also south of Lavonia.
Hartwell Railroad; Airline, Ga.; December 6, 2016
The next morning we found the crew working the feed mill again with EJ&E 654. They had to spot a few cars, then they'd head south by pickup truck to Royston and grab CSX 1973 and head north with two empty centerbeam lumber cars. At Bowersville they'd add EJ&E 654 to the train, along with a bunch of covered hoppers. From there they'd continue north, picking up steel coil cars and maybe the StL&A 3000 at Lavonia, then head to Toccoa. We watched them finish their work at Bowersville, then headed to Royston. Sure enough, they arrived, put the train together, and headed north, stopping at the mill where they would theoretically put the rest of the train together.
Hartwell Railroad; Canon, Ga.; December 7, 2016
Well, once stopped at Bowersville the crew vanished and the train sat. And sat. It sat there with the locomotive running and the lights on, and we anticipated a move north at any time. But it sat. And sat some more. 

After we had stared at the train for almost three hours we were joined by two county police officers, each driving a police car. Apparently someone saw us sitting there all that time and phoned us in. The officers were friendly and sympathetic to our plight. One said he would drive down to the mill and see if he could find the crew. If he did, he'd report back to us.

About ten minutes later, the officer returned. He found the crew inside the mill, and the news wasn't good. The steel coil place hadn't finished unloading a car that needed to head out to Toccoa. If the train moved at all, it was only going to Lavonia and tying up for the night. Toccoa wasn't happening.
That made our next move easy. We thanked the officer, pointed the car south, and headed for Cordele and the Heart of Georgia Railroad.

Now don't get me wrong -- we have no ill will towards the Hartwell Railroad. The crew was very friendly and did its best to let us know what was happening. We knew that some of these shortline railroads were high risk/high reward attempts, and on this one the reward just didn't happen. As Mark Knopfler wrote (and Mary Chapin Carpenter sang), "Sometimes you're the windshield, sometimes you're the bug." We were definitely the bug for our two days on the Hartwell. All it means is we'll have to try again some other time.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Christmastime In South Jersey

Cape May Seashore Lines; Tuckahoe, N.J.; December 4, 2016
Christmastime brings festivities of all sorts, including some train-themed ones. In recent years there has been a huge growth in the number of trains run by tourist railroads around the holidays, much of it riding the coattails of the movie The Polar Express. There was a time when tourist railroads pretty much shut down after Labor Day in September. Some railroads were blessed to have colorful fall foliage along their lines, expanding the tourist season into October. But now many, many tourist railroads have expanded the season right up to Christmas Day (and sometimes even a few days beyond) to capitalize on Polar Expresses (both licensed from the movie and knockoffs), Santa Trains, and the like.
Cape May Seashore Lines; Dorothy, N.J.; December 4, 2016
Cape May Seashore Lines in southern New Jersey is one of the railroads that has joined the holiday train rush. Starting just after Thanksgiving, the railroad offered daytime trips with Santa on weekends, as well as night trains during many evenings. The railroad runs over former Pennsylvania-Reading Seashore Lines trackage between Tuckahoe and Richland; most of their holiday trains can be boarded at either location.
Cape May Seashore Lines; Richland, N.J.; December 4, 2016
The Richland end of the line has seen numerous improvements, including the addition of WI Tower. This tower, built in 1906, once protected a busy junction in Newfield, N.J. After it was decommissioned as a working tower, it was purchased by a private individual in Newfield and moved to his property for use as a storage shed (albeit a big one). Eventually, the tower was donated to Buena Vista Township and it was moved to Richland.
Cape May Seashore Lines; Richland, N.J.; December 4, 2016
The trackage used by Cape May Seashore Lines is former Pennsylvania-Reading Seashore Lines track owned by the state. Conrail Shared Assets runs freight over the line, although that has been much diminished in recent times. The largest customer on the line was the electric generating station at Beesley's Point, which brought in coal and oil. The plant has been converted to burn natural gas, which comes in via a pipeline. The PRSL line ran from Camden to Cape May, with branches extending to Atlantic City and Ocean City. Other branches served other Jersey shore towns in earlier times.
Cape May Seashore Lines; Milmay, N.J.; December 4, 2016
CMSL; Dorothy, N.J.; December 4, 2016






Just prior to this year's holiday season, Cape May Seashore Lines added two new locomotives from the leased locomotive market and used them on its Santa Trains. On the south end was GMTX No. 2015, built as a GP38 for Penn Central as its No. 7684 in 1969. It went to Conrail (along with the rest of Penn Central) in 1976. Eventually it found its way to a lessor and was rebuilt to GP38-2 standards. It sports an attractive red, white & blue scheme, and Cape May Seashore Lines added CMSL heralds to the nose and sides.







At Tuckahoe the tower still stands that controlled the junction between the mainline to Cape May and the Ocean City Branch. The freight trains heading to the Beesley's Point Generating Station diverged here onto the Ocean City Branch (they would diverge one more time outside Ocean City to reach the generating station). No freight customers are currently located south of Tuckahoe. CMSL has leased the line for passenger service all the way to Cape May; it has run an occasional train south as far as Woodbine Junction. From there the track is in place but not up to passenger train standards down to Cape May Court House. In the past, CMSL has run regular passenger trains between Cape May Court House and Cape May, but currently does not.
Cape May Seashore Lines; Tuckahoe, N.J.; December 4, 2016
The station still stands in Tuckahoe, located between the mainline and the Ocean City Branch. A local historical society now uses the station.
Cape May Seashore Lines; Tuckahoe, N.J.; December 4, 2016
The second locomotive recently acquired by CMSL has a much more interesting history. GMTX 2661 was built in 1970 as Pennsylvania-Reading Seashore Lines GP38 No. 2011. It came out of the Electro-Motive Division shop in PRSL paint, but before it could find its way to South Jersey it was diverted to Penn Central. Like GMTX 2015, it went to Conrail in 1976, where it was renumbered to 7671. After Conrail was split up by Norfolk Southern and CSX, No. 7671 went to CSX as No. 1945. It ultimately moved on to Marquette Rail in Michigan as No. 2676. Finally, it found its way into the lease fleet, was upgraded to GP38-2 standards, and renumbered 2661. It wasn't until it was leased to CMSL this year that it finally found its way to the service it was originally intended -- working the PRSL in South Jersey. CMSL has affixed PRSL heralds to the nose and sides of the unit.
Cape May Seashore Lines; Tuckahoe, N.J.; December 4, 2016
So it's Christmastime and we have a nice blue locomotive on one end of our train and a red, white & blue locomotive on the other, both sporting festive wreaths. In between are six passenger cars full of kids (and adults) all waiting to greet Santa Claus. We'll close our visit to South Jersey with a couple of night shots, starting first at Tuckahoe.
Cape May Seashore Lines; Tuckahoe, N.J.; December 20, 2016
And we'll finish our visit at WI Tower up in Richland. Here's hoping you Christmas was merry and bright!
Cape May Seashore Lines; Richland, N.J.; December 20, 2016

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Newton, New Jersey, United States

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