Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Chasing the Massachusetts Central

Massachusetts Central; Barre, Mass.; November 14, 2016
New England is dotted with small shortline railroads, and most have a certain charm about them. The Massachusetts Central is certainly one of those charming roads. The railroad operates over former Boston & Maine trackage from Palmer, Mass., north through Ware and on to Barre, Mass. The railroad's primary power, a pair of EMD GP38-2s, pays tribute to the line's heritage, as the paint scheme is inspired by the B&M's "bluebird" scheme.

On November 14 I chased the Massachusetts Central (along with Mike Burkhart) from Palmer. On this day the crew had work to do all the way to Barre (on some days the train only goes as far as Ware), so we got to cover the entire railroad. After a crew meeting at 7:30 the first order of business was to go to the CSX interchange in town and pick up the day's train. The Steaming Tender restaurant is located in the former Palmer Union Station and has a Porter-built 0-6-0 steam locomotive in the parking lot.
Massachusetts Central; Palmer, Mass.; November 14, 2016
After dropping tank car it had just picked up from CSX at an industry in Palmer, the train proceeded north. The line twists and turns on the outskirts of Palmer, crossing a marsh adjacent to Forest Lake.
Massachusetts Central; Palmer, Mass.; November 14, 2016
Next up on the switch list was a transload terminal on the Palmer-Ware border. The low winter sun put everything in shadow here, so we skipped it and headed into Ware, where there is an industry that gets plastic pellets in covered hoppers. The locomotive ran around two covered hoppers and pushed them into the industry.
Massachusetts Central; Ware, Mass.; November 14, 2016
Just north of here, another stop was made at a recycling center. At each stop the crew spotted cars that had just come in from CSX, but left all the outbound cars for the return trip. By the time the train was heading to Barre, there were only three cars left -- a boxcar and two flatcars loaded with pipe. Boxcars are spotted at the old mill in Barre, while a team track is located on the other side of the mill (but on the same track as the mill). Once in Barre, the crew had to head down to the mill with just the engine to pull the cars out of the mill and team track.
Massachusetts Central; Barre, Mass.; November 14, 2016
After grabbing the cars, the train headed back up the hill to the runaround track on the mainline (top photo of this post). Then the inbound cars were pushed down the hill and spotted. Once that was done, the locomotive returned light past the mill heading back to its train.
Massachusetts Central; Barre, Mass.; November 14, 2016
The short winter day was quickly bringing in long shadows as the train rounded the curve and headed up the hill to the mainline.
Massachusetts Central; Barre, Mass.; November 14, 2016
With the train back together, it was time to take the several cars that were lifted from Barre back to Palmer.
Massachusetts Central; Barre, Mass.; November 14, 2016
One of the few places where trees didn't block the low sun was the open crossing at Wheelwright.
Massachusetts Central; Wheelwright, Mass.; November 14, 2016
The crew paused to retrieve outbound scrap cars from the recycler north of Ware, then dropped down past the industry where they spotted plastics cars earlier in the day, heading into the very low sun.
Massachusetts Central; Ware, Mass.; November 14, 2016
The train did not stop at Ware to pick up covered hoppers, but continued on. With the sun just about gone, our last shot was of the train passing through Ware.
Massachusetts Central; Ware, Mass.; November 14, 2016
We headed back into Palmer to the railroad's shop. After thanking the folks in the office for their hospitality, we snapped a quick night shot of the railroad's other GP38-2, then headed for home. It was certainly an enjoyable day of New England shortline railroading.
Massachusetts Central; Palmer, Mass.; November 14, 2016

Friday, November 11, 2016

A Visit To Vermont

Amtrak; West Rutland, Vt.; September 9, 2016
Vermont is a really neat state for railroading. Amtrak serves both sides of the state with the Vermonter going up the west side and the Ethan Allen Express serving Rutland on the east side. There are a few shortlines, including Vermont Rail System (Vermont Railway and Green Mountain Railroad) and Genesee & Wyoming's New England Central. And each year railroading is celebrated in White River Junction at the Glory Days of the Railroad.

It was the Glory Days celebration that got me to Vermont (and some close-by neighboring areas) back in September. First, we paused in New York just west of the Vermont state line to see the Ethan Allen Express making its station stop at Saratoga Springs on a gloomy day. Storms would shortly move in. This train had left Rutland earlier in that morning.
Amtrak; Saratoga Springs, N.Y.; September 8, 2016
The train's counterpart, the northbound Ethan Allen Express, made its way into Vermont after dark. The train turns east off the former Delaware & Hudson (now Canadian Pacific) at Whitehall, N.Y. It passes through Fairview, Vt., which was at one time an Amtrak stop (below). The station structure there was never used by Amtrak; a plastic bubble served that purpose. All that's left of the Amtrak station in a green sign with Amtrak's "pointless arrow." The train would turn back the next morning, heading back to Whitehall and ultimately New York City (top photo in this post).
Amtrak; Fairview, Vt.; September 8, 2016
Once Amtrak is out of the way in Rutland, Vermont Rail System sends a freight out from Rutland to Whitehall. On this particular evening a leaser locomotive that obviously worked recently for the Natchez Railway led the way at the Green Mountain Baptist Church at Center Rutland.
Vermont Rail System; Center Rutland, Vt.; September 8, 2016
Vermont Rail System; Cuttingsville, Vt.

The next day Vermont Rail System sent two trains south from Rutland. The first was destined to cover the Green Mountain Railroad side of the system, heading to Bellows Falls. The second was destined for North Bennington, where it would interchange with Pan Am Railways. Our first catch was of the Bellows Falls-bound train crossing Cuttingsville Trestle.

The train to North Bennington was led by SD70M-2 No. 432, which had been purchased by VRS from Florida East Coast. The locomotive had been pressed into service still wearing its FEC blue and yellow paint. Alas, Pan Am Railways couldn't make the grade out of Hoosick Junction, N.Y., to get to North Bennington for the interchange, so the VRS train had to head south to Hoosick Junction to get its cars. The train crossed the Walloomsac River at North Hoosick on its way there.
Vermont Rail System; North Hoosick, N.Y.; September 9, 2016
With its interchange cars in tow, the train returned back to North Bennington and ultimately on to Rutland. Once again, it crossed the Walloomsac River, this time near the small village of Walloomsac.
Vermont Rail System; Walloomsac, N.Y.; September 9, 2016
At White River Junction, preparations were being made for the next day's event. That evening, a New England Central train headed south. Trains going south from White River Junction to Bellows Falls have to cross into New Hampshire for a short distance. The New England Central train met a Pan Am Railways train heading north at Charlestown, N.H., just north of Bellows Falls (and once again, just a short distance from the Vermont border).
Pan Am Railways; Charlestown, N.H.; September 9, 2016
As part of the Glory Days celebration, Vermont Rail System ran a murder-mystery train from White River Junction north to Fairlee, Vt. Just south of Fairlee is the former Boston & Maine station at Ely, restored and owned by Frank Barrett. He posed one of his antique automobiles at the grade crossing just north of his station as the murder-mystery train returned. Rumor has it the butler did it.
Vermont Rail System; Ely, Vt.; September 10, 2016
Finally, a night photo session wrapped up Glory Days of the Railroad. The session was coordinated by Kevin Burkholder. Two of the Pan Am locomotives that came up on the previous evening's train were on hand to pose by the Vermont Rail System yard office to cap off Glory Days and our visit to Vermont and the surrounding area.
Pan Am Railways; White River Junction, Vt.; September 10, 2016

Thursday, November 03, 2016

Remembering Tower 16, Sherman, Texas

Tower 16, Sherman, Texas; March 2001
The railroad interlocking tower (or signal tower) was ubiquitous at one time in the U.S. They could be found every few miles along major mainlines, and guarding even the most rural junction where two railroads met or crossed. They were a place where railfans could stop by to find out what trains were nearby, or simply spend time with the tower operator shooting the breeze. Today there are entire states without a single active tower located in them.

One of the last of the classic towers that I visited was in Sherman, Texas, in March 2001. Tower 16 was built in 1903 to protect crossings of the Texas & Pacific, the Houston & Central Texas, and the St. Louis-San Francisco (Frisco). By the time I got there, the Frisco and H&TC had become a part of Burlington Northern & Santa Fe, while the T&P was operated by shortline Texas Northeastern.

I had business in Grapevine, Texas, which is what brought me to the Lone Star State. With a free evening, I drove north from the Metroplex to Sherman, climbed the steps to the tower, and knocked on the door. The operator answered and I said, "I'm from New Jersey and I heard there's this really cool wooden tower that I just had to visit." He said, "You found the right place. Come on in." I spent the better part of the next two hours talking to the operator and exploring the tower. It was a mix of early 20th century railroad technology with modern computers and accessories scattered within.
Tower 16, Sherman, Texas; March 2001
The operator's desk was well-worn from decades of recording trains and writing orders for movements through Sherman.
Tower 16, Sherman, Texas; March 2001
The rudimentary model board above the desk showed Burlington Northern (by this time BNSF) in green, and the Texas Northeastern in red.
Tower 16, Sherman, Texas; March 2001
The operator was hanging out until the Texas Northeastern needed to cross BNSF on the diamond located in front of the tower; otherwise, everything was left aligned for BNSF movements. A couple of hours into my visit, he got word the Texas Northeastern train would not arrive until after his shift was over. With nothing more for him to do, he said, "I'm heading home." I got a portrait of my host, he locked the door, and we descended the stairs. The third trick operator would come in at 11:00 p.m. and line things up for the Texas Northeastern.
Tower 16, Sherman, Texas; March 2001
Tower 16 was locked for the last time just a few months after my visit, on October 23, 2001. The diamond was removed, eliminating the need for an operator to guide the movements where two railroads crossed.

As I said earlier, I had business in Grapevine, which is why I was in Texas. The business I had was a preview of Royal Caribbean's new passenger car for Alaska service, which was on display at the Grapevine Vintage Railroad. Ironically, after Tower 16 was closed, it was preserved -- it was cut in half (between the first and second story) and moved. And the place it was moved to? The Grapevine Vintage Railroad! The tower now resides just several feet from where I had toured the passenger car.
Tower 16, Grapevine, Texas; June 19, 2008

Monday, October 31, 2016

The Last Providence & Worcester Passenger Train?

Providence & Worcester; Webster, Mass.; October 30, 2016
The Providence & Worcester, a regional railroad based out of Worcester, Mass., has maintained a small passenger car fleet for occasional excursions. Many of those trips have been sponsored by the Massachusetts Bay Railroad Enthusiasts, a group based in the Boston area. The railroad and group announced the "Two Rivers Steam Special," scheduled for October 29. The trip would run from Worcester to Groton, Conn., on P&W rails, get onto Amtrak's Northeast Corridor from Groton for the trip across the Thames and Connecticut Rivers (the two rivers in the trip's name) to a connection with the Valley Railroad at Old Saybrook, Conn. From there the P&W diesels would be taken off and a Valley Railroad steam locomotive would take the train up the Valley to Haddam, Conn. Once there, the whole trip would be done in reverse to get back to Worcester.

The October 29 trip sold out rapidly, and a second trip was added for October 30. But after the trips were scheduled the news broke that the P&W had been sold to shortline conglomerate Genesee & Wyoming Industries. Judging by GWI's other railroads, passenger operations are frowned upon. With a transfer date of November 1, it was apparent the October 29 trip could very well be the last P&W long-distance passenger trip (GWI has committed to running previously announced short Santa trains out of Woosocket for the holiday season).

Since I was in Connecticut for another event on Saturday the 29th, I decided to stick around and chase that last train on the 30th (along with my brother Bruce). Our first stop was at a causeway just north of the village of Webster, Mass. (above and below).
Providence & Worcester; Webster, Mass.; October 30, 2016
The train made a stop at Putnam, Conn., to pick up additional passengers. This gave us enough time to get ahead of the train just south of the stop at Attawaugan. The telephoto view showed the train emerging from the woods.
Providence & Worcester; Attawaugan, Conn.; October 30, 2016
From the same spot, the wide angle view showed just a hint of color on this late autumn day. P&W B40-8W No. 4005 had the honor of leading this day's train.
Providence & Worcester; Attawaugan, Conn.; October 30, 2016
Getting ahead of the train again, our next shot was from what is left of the freight depot in Plainfield, Conn. The structure has been removed, leaving only the foundation and floor.
Providence & Worcester; Plainfield, Conn.; October 30, 2016
P&W; Plainfield, Conn.

We knew the train had to go slow for the next few miles due to track conditions, so we were able to get ahead of it again just below Plainfield (left).

From here the train rolled through Jewett City and Norwich. We were unable to find any decent photo angles on this stretch, so we went further south and checked out some of the coves off the Thames River that the railroad crosses on causeways. We settled on Mill Cove just north of the Naval Submarine Base at Groton (below).
Providence & Worcester; Mill Cove, Groton, Conn.; October 30, 2016
Just below the submarine base (the railroad passes right through it) the train needed permission to get onto Amtrak's Northeast Corridor. Once there it would cross the Thames, pass the New London station, and cross Colt's Cove. We set up on the west end of the movable bridge over Shaw's Cove. A telephoto lens let us shoot the train as it snaked along the Thames just west of the New London station.
Providence & Worcester; New London, Conn.; October 30, 2016
A wide-angle view shows the train coming off the swing bridge.
Providence & Worcester; New London, Conn.; October 30, 2016
From New London the train would go to Old Saybrook, where the diesels were taken off the train. Here the train would get onto the Valley Railroad and the motive power would be the Valley's 2-8-2 No. 3025, lettered for the New Haven Railroad. No. 3025 is actually a fairly new locomotive, built in China in 1989 and imported to the U.S. We headed north up the Valley and waited for the train at the depot at Deep River, along the Connecticut River.
Valley Railroad; Deep River, Conn.; October 30, 2016
The passengers had been on the train since its 8:30 a.m. departure from Worcester, and it was now after 2:00 p.m. Finally, the passengers got a break when they were let off for a photo runby at Chester.
Valley Railroad; Chester, Conn.; October 30, 2016
It was obvious the locomotive crew was enjoying the runbys -- they really made No. 3025 work as it stormed past the assembled photo line. A second runby was performed.
Valley Railroad; Chester, Conn.; October 30, 2016
The second runby was just as good as the first, so the railroad personnel asked the crowd if they wanted a third runby! The response was an enthusiastic "Yes!!!!"
Valley Railroad; Chester, Conn.; October 30, 2016
The observation car rolled past the Chester depot. Sadly, it might be the last time this car -- and the rest of the passenger consist -- would be visiting a foreign railroad. 
Valley Railroad; Chester, Conn.; October 30, 2016
After the passengers reboarded, the train continued another few miles up the Valley to the end of the line. Our final look would be at the first grade crossing north of the runby location, watching No. 3025 accelerate the consist northward. Encroaching clouds and approaching rain would end our day; for those on board, there was still half the trip to go to get back to Worcester.
Valley Railroad; Chester, Conn.; October 30, 2016
It won't be long before we know if Genesee & Wyoming will continue the tradition of passenger trips on the Providence & Worcester; as stated above, GWI will honor previously scheduled short holiday trips out of Woonsocket later this year. But beyond that? Who knows... This trip may have very well been the last long-distance passenger train on the Providence & Worcester.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Chasing Union Pacific 844

Union Pacific 844; Blackwater, Mo.; October 17, 2016
It's been an unusual year -- the mainline steam locomotive I've chased the most has been Union Pacific's recently restored 4-8-4 No. 844. The funny thing is, a month before chasing the locomotive each time, I had no idea I'd even be seeing it. The railroad announced plans to run it after I had made arrangements for trips, and it was just coincidence that my trip and the locomotive coincided. I saw it a few times in Colorado in July as it ran back and forth in conjunction with the annual trip for the Denver Post's run to Cheyenne Frontier Days (all of which was covered in this post on my big western trip).

I was just getting on the road back from Colorado when I found out I'd need to make a trip to Kansas City in October, needing to be there on the 15th. It was quite a bit later I found out 844 would be traveling from Cheyenne to Memphis, making an overnight stop in Kansas City after it arrived. On the 15th! I had planned on leaving KC on the 16th, but the locomotive was going to continue east on the 17th to Jefferson City, Mo., so I added a day to my trip to work in an extra day of chasing.

I arrived in Kansas City on October 14, spending the night there. On the morning of the 15th I headed west to intercept the big Northern along with Otto Vondrak. Kevin Gilliam, who was shooting video for Trains magazine, and Mike Noonkester followed behind us. It had a servicing stop in Marysville, Kan., so I arrived at the small town of Winifred and waited. An old grain elevator made a nice backdrop as the locomotive came through on the gray day.
Union Pacific 844; Winifred, Kan.; October 15, 2016
The short train had a servicing and display stop just ahead at Frankfort, Kan., so we buzzed just a mile or so ahead out of town and caught it crossing the Black Vermillion River.
Union Pacific 844; Frankfort, Kan.; October 15, 2016
With its next servicing/display stop well over an hour away at Topeka, we thought we might have a chance to get ahead of it before the stop. The roads are laid out in a grid pattern -- and unfortunately the railroad runs diagonally through it all, giving it a much shorter route. Still, we got ahead of it at Emmett, Kan., but not by much.
Union Pacific 844; Emmett, Kan.; October 15, 2016
The train beat us into Topeka, but we wheeled into town for a quick shot of it as it stopped among the crowd at the large Union Pacific depot.
Union Pacific 844; Topeka, Kan.; October 15, 2016
The next servicing/display stop would be at Lawrence, Kan. Lawrence was the home of a noted rail photographer (and one of my early photographic heroes), the late Don Ball, Jr. He shot a lot of photos on the big curve near the station, and that curve has been unofficially dubbed "Don Ball Curve." Wanting a shot there, we headed into Lawrence and once again got the large crowd greeting the train as it arrived.
Union Pacific 844; Lawrence, Kan.; October 15, 2016
After the servicing stop, the train accelerated away, passing the large grain elevator that borders Don Ball Curve. From here we gave up the chase and headed into Kansas City for our evening appointment.
Union Pacific 844; Lawrence, Kan.; October 15, 2016
After spending Sunday, October 16, in Kansas City (perhaps more on that in a future post), it was time to chase 844 again as it ran to Jefferson City. It's first stop would be at Buckner. I was driving solo this time, with Kevin and Mike still chasing in their car. Since they had a navigator, I opted to follow them. The first point we picked was just west of the town of Buckner.
Union Pacific 844; Buckner, Mo.; October 17, 2016
The weather was much better on this day, with mostly sunny skies. Grain elevators are a part of the U.S. Heartland, so the next stop would be at one. Our next shot was in the small community of Levasy, Mo.
Union Pacific 844; Levasy, Mo.; October 17, 2016
The train rolled along the Missouri River, stopping at Lexington. We used that stop to find a perch overlooking the railroad and river at Waverly, Mo.
Union Pacific 844; Waverly, Mo.; October 17, 2016
Union Pacific 844; Blackwater, Mo.

The train's next stop was in the historic community of Blackwater, Mo. We wandered the dirt roads east of town and set up on an overhead bridge for a telephoto view of the train swinging through a curve (top photo of this post). Then came the wide-angle view looking down at the train from the same location.

The end of the run at Jefferson City was now on the horizon. Our last shot of the locomotive on the road would be just west of Jeff City at Marion.
Union Pacific 844; Marion, Mo.; October 17, 2016
At Jefferson City the train had to be put on its display track near the UP yard. As the train moved back and forth, engineer Ed Dickens (who just happens to be UP's Senior Manager of Historic Operations) was joined by his wife Nancy in the cab.
Nancy and Ed Dickens; Jefferson City, Mo.; October 17, 2016
Speaking of the cab, I had a chance to take a quick look inside during the Jeff City stop. The 844 is one tall locomotive, and it's probably the highest gangway I've ever had to hoist myself up.
Union Pacific 844; Jefferson City, Mo.; October 17, 2016
After dinner, a small group gathered in Jefferson City for a night shot of the big 4-8-4. For many, the chase would continue -- for some, all the way to Memphis. But for me, it was farewell (for now) and I continued to head east that night, wondering if 844 and I would have another chance encounter at some point.
Union Pacific 844; Jefferson City, Mo.; October 17, 2016

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