Monday, July 10, 2006

Eastern Pennsylvania - Steam and Main Lines

All the images for this entry can be found in Photologues. Use the link at left.

With a few days to do some short trips from home, I headed into Pennsylvania to check out the action.

May 20, 2006 - Steamtown to East Stroudsburg
For Armed Forces Day, Steamtown National Historic Site operated an excursion beyond its usual route between Scranton and Moscow, traveling all the way to East Stroudsburg. Canadian National 2-8-2 No.3254 was scheduled to pull the trip, so I headed to Scranton in time to chase the departure.

The scanner came to life as I approached Scranton, but ominously I could hear the crew calling the train as "Nickel Plate 514." This would indicate a diesel was on the point. Sure enough, upon my arrival I discovered that Nickel Plate GP9 No.514 would be ahead of the steamer for the trip, the reason being that the 3254 had just come out of the shop after a lengthy repair and didn't have its road-worthiness tested. The diesel would be an insurance policy against a mechanical problem.

With the diesel on the point, I decided to let the excursion proceed without me in pursuit, and instead visited the Steamtown shop to check on the progress of Pennsylvania Railroad 4-6-2 No.1361, Boston & Maine 4-6-2 No.3713 and Baldwin Locomotive Works 0-6-0 No.26 (and to check out how my new Nikon D200 handled interior shop lighting). All were in various stages of disassembly, with two workers heating what appeared to be the tender frame of No.26 with acetylene torches. Work on all three locomotives has apparently progressed past the teardown point, and re-assembly (a time-consuming process) has begun. Nonetheless, I wouldn't anticipate seeing any of the three locomotives operating until sometime in 2007 at the absolute earliest.

After the shop visit I took off after the excursion, as the plan was to remove the diesel at Gravel Place (about three miles outside East Stroudsburg) and have steam make a grand entrance into town. As I passed Tobyhanna on I-380 I heard the excursion just leaving its servicing stop there, so I motored in to Devil's Hole to get a shot there. After Devil's Hole, I checked out the shot passing the concrete signal tower at Gravel Place (no shot there due to heavy brush) and headed into East Stroudsburg. Sure enough, the diesel had cut away and the large crowd in attendance got a good look at No.3254 as it pulled the train into town.

Since it was only around noon, I headed down to the New Hope & Ivyland to check out 2-8-0 No.40. The locomotive had been painted and lettered for the "Lancaster & Chester" (a South Carolina short line that owned No.40 at one time) for a set of winter photo charters, but was scheduled to be painted back into its New Hope & Ivyland scheme. While I had numerous shots of it lettered L&C on freight trains, I didn't have any of it lettered L&C on a passenger train. The New Hope shop forces had been busy, however, and upon my arrival I discovered that the L&C lettering was already a thing of the past. Nonetheless, I shot No.40 a few times before calling it a day.

May 27, 2006 - PicnicRail
Each year I'm asked to put on a slide show at PicnicRail on Memorial Day Saturday. PicnicRail is a joint picnic involving several Chapters of the National Railway Historical Society (Hawk Mountain Chapter's Phil Reppert is the organizer) and several other railroad historical societies. It's held in Blandon, Pennsylvania, just outside Reading, at a picnic grove directly adjacent to Norfolk Southern's former Reading Company main line.

Starting out from New Jersey, I spotted some Norfolk Southern power beneath the Delaware River bridge in Portland, Pennsylvania, so I made a brief detour to shoot it. Then it was off to Fleetwood on the NS main line, where the town's historical society has restored the "Fleetwood" lettering to the end of the old Cadillac Fleetwood body plant along the tracks. back-to-back westbound freights and an eastbound passed through town, then my brother (who had driven up from South Jersey) and I moved one town east to Lyons. On the way I heard a westbound train on the scanner and sped down to the tracks, only to discover it was a light engine move running in reverse -- not the most photogenic subject! The trailing unit was a BNSF Railway GE locomotive, but there was no good going-away angle available where we were.

Once in Lyons, we shot an eastbound train led by a Union Pacific locomotive, and a couple of NS westbounds appeared. Also the light engine move re-appeared, this time running east but still running backwards -- apparently the power had run from Allentown to Reading to be turned and was returning to Allentown. This time, however, we had a well-lit going-away angle to shoot the BNSF unit.

With traffic dying down and the sun setting, it was time to head to Blandon and the picnic. Great conversation and a barbeque chicken dinner were had by all, and after the slide show it was time to head home.

May 29, 2006
Let's get one thing straight right away -- Memorial Day 2006 was hot! Nonetheless, the forecast was for sun, so I decided that perhaps a visit to a tourist railroad might be in order. I hadn't checked out the Lehigh Gorge Scenic Railroad, the new (in 2005) operation of the Reading, Blue Mountain & Northern, so I headed for Jim Thorpe.

A quick stop at the station was made to photograph the LGSR train sitting in front of the former Central Railroad of New Jersey depot, and the F3 diesels owned by the Anthracite Railroads Historical Society and the Tri-State Chapter of the National Railway Historical Society (and used in tourist service in Jim Thorpe until 2004) were also committed to film. Then it was off to Glen Onoko, the southern gateway to the Lehigh Gorge. Two railroads shared the gorge at one time -- the Lehigh Valley, which is now used by the Reading & Northern/Lehigh Scenic as well as Norfolk Southern, and the now-abandoned Jersey Central. The CNJ roadbed is now a hiking/biking trail (and quite popular), and provides great access for photography along the former Lehigh Valley.

The first train departed Jim Thorpe at 11:00 a.m., and I shot it framed by some trees just north of Glen Onoko. The LGSR operates with two Reading & Northern SD50s, one on each end, so I tried to choose locations that provided a good going-away shot as well as a standard comin'-at-ya. The train headed into the gorge, and I continued walking north, stopping at a nice location where the tracks curve past a signal. I shot the returning 11:00 train there.

With over an hour to kill until the next train appeared, I stopped at a convenient picnic table and finished off the bottle of water I had brought with me (did I mention it was hot?). I then walked further north and found a nice retaining wall where I could shoot the 1:00 train coming and going, which I did. With about 30 minutes between the time the northbound 1:00 train passed and its southbound return, I continued walking north, but soon discovered that the tracks curved to the point where the sun was on the wrong side for photography, and the line continued to be elevated on a retaining wall, precluding crossing the tracks to the sunny side. I soon hit a point walking north where I calculated that I couldn't return south in time to get to a good photo location, so I was committed to walking north and hoping I could find a good photo spot before the train showed up.

I was walking at a fairly brisk pace (did I mention it was hot and I had finished all my water over an hour ago?), hoping to reach Oxbow Curve where the tracks would curve back to a more favorable sun angle. Alas, I was about five minutes too short, and had to settle for a not-too-bad shot of the train exiting Oxbow (although the going-away shot was lousy). I was now finished with the 1:00 train and just had too wait for the 3:00 train a little over an hour away.

Now it was reality time. I had walked in over two miles from Glen Onoko and had to work my way back. I trudged out of the gorge and back to my car, where I thirstily guzzled a very hot bottle of Diet Coke (at least it was wet) before walking into the large bridge over the Lehigh River at Nesquehoning Junction for the 3:00 train.

The tower guarding Nesquehoning Junction had been covered by heavy brush for years, but when the Reading & Northern re-opened the Lehigh River bridge to freight traffic a couple of years ago, they removed the brush from the abandoned tower. Alas, it didn't take the local urchins too long to discover the now-clear walls of the building and it is now covered in graffiti. I opted for a distant shot of the tower from the east side of the Lehigh River, where I captured the outbound 3:00 train. I then drove into downtown Jim Thorpe, bought a bottle of Gatorade and a bottle of water, chugged them both down, and shot the returning 3:00 train passing the F3s in the Jim Thorpe yard, wrapping up a great day of tourist line shooting.

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