For nine days the past returned to eastern Pennsylvania. During the week-plus-two-weekends you could find a Canadian National 0-6-0, 2-6-0 and 2-8-2 under steam, EMD E8s from the Pennsylvania and Erie running on the main line, and even passengers boarding a GG1-powered passenger train. Some of it really happened, some was done with smoke (literally!) and mirrors.
Day 1 - November 3, 2007
This was the first day of the Lackawanna Railfest at Steamtown National Historic Site in Scranton. The brainchild of Charlie Liberto, it was designed to be the biggest event at Steamtown since the grand opening in 1995. With lots of ambition (but a small budget) plans were made to bring in guest locomotives from all over the east. Some were just wishful thinking, some were actually committed then couldn't make it, and some actually arrived for the event!
Planning got started in early 2007, and I was asked to coordinate the night photo session, along with Pete Lerro of Lerro Productions and park ranger Kenny Ganz. By October 16 the plan was in place -- but soon became a moving target (I think Garth Brooks called it "roping the wind"). By the day of the event the night session was down to "let's see what's sitting where and we'll do something with it." (This is not intended to be a slam on Steamtown -- the Railfest introduced all kinds of challenges, but the park rose to the occasion every time).
The marquee event for Saturday was a trip from Scranton to the Delaware Water Gap, with diesels from the Delaware Lackawanna (a pair of RS3s scheduled) leading the train east and double-headed steam leading the train back. I got a late start, but soon made the 35-minute drive from home to East Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania, with my arrival occuring during the train's lunch stop. I discovered that a) the RS3s did not make the trip and b) there was only a single steam locomotive to pull the train back -- Canadian National 2-8-2 No.3254.
The train was west of town at Gravel Place shuffling the consist for the return trip, but when it arrived back in East Stroudsburg I was pleased to see that good friend Seth Corwin was engineer. Seth had some recent health issues that made his return to the cab questionable, but he was back! The crew was confident that the 3254 was capable of powering the long train up the tortuous grade through Devil's Hole by itself, so the diesel helpers were sent to the top of the grade at Pocono Summit (where they waited -- just in case).
Come departure time I set up at the concrete Lackawanna tower at Gravel Place and waited for the train. It wasn't a long wait, and 3254 came roaring past -- I had never seen a train move that fast through Gravel Place before. Into the car, and soon I was ahead of the train again at Cresco, where two carloads of passengers were unloaded. Knowing that there would be a photo runby about two miles west, I wasn't in any big hurry to leave Cresco to head for my next location beyond the runby at Mount Pocono, but most of the chasing vehicles had dispersed. Only a handful of us were left when the decision was made to hold the runby right there at the Cresco depot. Glad I didn't leave! Seth put on a great show during the runby, and while the train reloaded I headed for the overhead bridge near the grain mill at Mount Pocono.
A bunch of us were on the bridge waiting, while the solid cloud cover (wasn't the forecast for sun?) tried to break up. Small patches of sun on the surprisingly late autumn foliage teased us. We eventually saw smoke on the horizon and got set. And waited...
We saw more smoke on the horizon. Ready...set...wait.....
Finally, a chaser who had shot the train at Devil's Hole reported that it was barely crawling by. We pretty much figured out that the train had stalled on the grade. Unfortunately, the diesels that should have been sitting in the siding just west of us had run on to Tobyhanna -- the steam crew got such a good start out of Cresco that they thought they'd make the grade and told the diesels to go on ahead. When the diesels appeared to the west, we knew for sure the train had stalled. It wasn't long before the diesels came back west again, this time with the train behind them.
I thought about giving up the chase at this point -- I figured the diesels would stay on the head end all the way back to Scranton. But when the sun popped out -- it looked like for good -- I quickly went in to Tobyhanna, just in case. This turned out to be a good move, as the diesels were cut away to run light to Scranton. Alas, by the time 3254 headed west, the clouds had come back.
Meanwhile, I had a night photo session in Scranton I was supposed to be coordinating. The train was scheduled to arrive in Scranton at 4:30, and the 3254 was supposed to be ready at the roundhouse by 6:30. With a departure from Tobyhanna that was after 5:00 it would be difficult for the steam crew to make it over to the roundhouse on time, but I figured we'd improvise. I knew the planned set-ups for visiting diesels were not going to happen due to last-minute cancellations by a couple of operators, but I walked through the park's core complex and quickly identified about four scenes we could shoot. We'd make it work. Pete Lerro was going to provide fixed tungsten lighting of CN 3254 and Canadian Pacific 2317 at the roundhouse, and the Lumedyne lighting crew of myself, Frank Etzel, Jeff Smith, John Tully and Fred Jones would work the diesels.
While Pete and his roadies began running generators and wires, I got the 47 paying customers organized and as soon as darkness fell we began the night session, starting with a photo of Canadian Pacific GP38-2 No.7312, still in Delaware & Hudson paint and named for legendary engineer Bernie O'Brien. Word reached us, however, that there was a derailment out in the yard, and we wouldn't get any steam locomotives in the roundhouse area. Pete tore down his lighting set-up and headed out to the Union Pacific Big Boy to get set up there.
Our group broke into half, taking turns shooting two EMD E8s side-by-side. Pennsylvania 5809, owned by Bennett Levin's Juniata Terminal, had come to Scranton powering a private car train. Erie E8 833, owned by Jimmy Wilson's New York & Greenwood Lake, was in Scranton for a series of excursions the next weekend. They made quite a sight. Then the two halves went off separately with one half shooting Bennett's other PRR E8 (5711) next to Ken Briers's 1940 Pennsy pick-up while the other half shot Delaware Lackawanna's SC2 No.426. While the two groups were swapping, we were suddenly surprised by the appearance of Canadian Pacific 4-6-2 No.2317 on the turntable -- we thought the steam couldn't make it to the roundhouse! The tired crew graciously waited while we snapped off two quick photos, then they -- and the 2317 -- headed off to bed. We resumed our diesel trek, with each half-group getting the shot they hadn't gotten yet, then we all headed for the bright lights of Lerro Productions out by the Big Boy.
Pete had his lights ready to go, and as soon as the photo line was ready his pyrotechnic crew placed smoke bombs near the cylinders and down the stack of UP 4012. For about three minutes it looked like the Big Boy breathed again. After the bombs went out, another set was lit off, then a third set. It's a wrap!
As I passed under Bridge 60 leaving the park, I noticed 3254 up on the bridge -- and a very awkward-looking coach at a bad angle behind it. They had a long night ahead...
Day 2 -- November 4, 2007
This would largely be a day devoted to the Pennsylvania Railroad. I was to coordinate some side-by-side steam running at Steamtown for the Railfest in mid-morning, but there was time to chase Bennett Levin's PRR E8s as they took the private car train north out of Scranton up the former Lackawanna main line. The obvious shot would have been the massive concrete viaduct at Nicholson, but cloudy skies would make that a very contrasty shot. I opted instead to go to Factoryville Tunnel where I could minimize the cloudy-bright sky.
Finding the tunnel proved a bit tricky (thanks to Mike Burkhart who looked it up in an atlas and gave me directions over my cell phone), but once set up it didn't take long for the train to arrive. I opted to chase further north, just missing the train at Kingsley but getting it at Alsen. The dispatcher needed to send the train through the siding at New Milford because of a bad signal, so when I bagged the train at the south end of the siding I knew I could catch it at the north end (which I did).
Now it was time to head for Steamtown and the side-by-side steam running. I remembered that I had ranger Kenny Ganz's cell phone number, so I gave him a call to check on the status of the derailment. The news wasn't good -- the derailment was still there and it blocked the only way in and out of the park by rail. CN 3254 was trapped outside the park, CP 2317 was trapped inside the park and side-by-side steam wouldn't happen. Even worse, the scheduled trip to Moscow had been cancelled. When I got to Steamtown I could see the extent of the derailment -- not much damage, but the derailed coach had really dug into the ground. A temporary road was being built to the coach to expedite the moving of a crane. Meanwhile, the park service was doing a good job of making lemonade from a lot of lemons -- they were offering free (if not short) shuttle rides behind 2317 and allowing people up close to the derailment. When folks saw the derailment they thought, "that's different" and most were then quite understanding of why the Moscow trip didn't run.
Since my services weren't needed at Steamtown (and I had another commitment for that evening three hours away), I decided to make my exit. Before leaving, though, I stopped in to visit Mark Brennan (head of interpretation at Steamtown); park superintendent Kip Hagen happened by, and we discussed the current Railfest and Railfests of the future (including 2010 when the National Railway Historical Society holds its convention in Scranton). I opined that, despite all the turbulence below the surface as the plan changed by the minute, all the folks in attendance were having a good time and were being presented a well-run event. Kudos to Steamtown.
From Scranton I headed down the Pennsylvania Turnpike to King of Prussia, then headed down U.S. 202 and 30 into Lancaster County. Pete Lerro had a night photo session scheduled for the Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania where he hoped to recreate scenes of the PRR. With a late night planned and an early wake-up the next day, I stopped to check in at my motel first before heading to the museum. And being it was the biggest football day of the year so far (Super Bowl 41.5 -- Patriots vs. Colts, followed by Cowboys-Eagles) I bought a small radio so I could keep up with events on the ol' gridiron during the night session.
As darkness fell, the Lerro Productions team went into action. Pete has a roadie crew that consists of wire stringers, actors and pyromaniacs. Soon the lights were run, the actors were in place and the photographers gathered around PRR 4-8-2 6755 and 4-6-2 3750. To bring life to the locomotives, the pyros ignited chemicals inside and around the locomotives, and suddenly we were in Altoona in 1950.
After several shots of the M1 and K4, the photo line swung around to shoot 4-4-2 460 and 2-8-0 7688 in a bumping post scene that could have been from a big city terminal. Engineers, firemen and hostlers were all depicted by the acting crew.
To cap off the evening, we moved under the museum's trainshed for a unique indoors night photo session. Pete's tungsten lights were turned on and the museum lights were extinguished and scenes of a GG1 on a passenger train and a 4-4-2 being serviced were created. Ken Briers's 1940 PRR pickup truck that had been a part of the Steamtown session the previous night appeared and was used for an LCL boxcar scene. The E44 under the shed was used and we finished off with a Consolidation being serviced. Nice stuff. We actually finished a bit early, and I caught the final couple of minutes of the Cowboys beating the Eagles before hitting the sack.
Day 3 -- November 5, 2007
The fields of Lancaster County could pass for the fields of southern Ontario. Thus, when Canadian National 2-6-0 No.911 headed into the rising sun just after 6:00 a.m., the Mogul and its freight train looked right at home. This was going to be an all-CN day on the Strasburg, using two north-of-the-border veterans.
Canadian National 2-6-0 No.89 came to the Strasburg following the shake-up of the Steamtown U.S.A. collection after the death of Nelson Blount in the late 1970s. Since Pete Lerro wanted to use old automobiles for some scenes, the 89 number wouldn't be appropriate (CN gave it that number somewhat late in life) so through the magic of vinyl lettering and a newly cast number plate, No.89 became No.911, the number it had worn early in life.
The other CN locomotive at Strasburg is the 0-6-0 known as No.31. As the tourist railroad's first steam locomotive, 31 got its number by dropping the first and last digits of its CN number. Finally, in 2007, all four digits were back and Strasburg 31 was once again CN 7312. No.7312 powered a mixed train throughout the day, shuttling photographers from location to location.
After sunrise in a field just outside Strasburg, the photography moved to Biler's Crossing near paradise. Levi Fisher, his horses, and dogs Snowball and Frisky were part of many photos, and a vintage bicycle and truck were also utilized. Following the shots here, it was back to the East Strasburg yard (which had been cleared out just for this event) where 911 and 7312 shuffled back and forth in what could have been any small town in Canada. Special thanks to Steve Gilbert for the outstanding vinyl lettering job on Strasburg's caboose.
Following lunch, CN 911 had been mysteriously replaced by CN 89 and it was off to a farm just outside the East Strasburg yard for a few shots. From there it was off to Groff's Grove where 7312 was attached to the rear of the freight to simulate a yard switcher giving the road freight a boost out of the yard. Finally, a double-header was run (does anybody have a vintage photo of a CN 2-6-0 leading a CN 0-6-0 on a freight?). No.89 was then sent back to Strasburg to turn for sunset while 7312 entertained the photographers at Groff's.
It was back to a field near Strasburg where sunset shots were going to be attempted. What color there was in the sky (the sunny day was rapidly detreiorating) vanished just before the runbys, though, asa huge cloud bank swallowed the sun.
No sun, no fun? Hardly. It was night photo session time, with 89 and 7312 making timeless scenes around the water plug. From there it was off to the shop, where the two CN locomotives were joined by Great Western 2-10-0 No.90. Through the generosity of the Strasburg shop crew, we finished off with more timeless scenes inside the shop. A long day and rain conspired to bring the day to a close. All that was left was three hours on the road in the rain.
Day 4 -- November 11, 2007
With a week to rest up, I began eyeing the calendar as November 10-11 approached. The Erie Lackawanna Dining Car Preservation Society was sponsoring fund-raising trips featuring its newly-restored Nickel Plate sleeper City of Lima. Power for the trips would be Jimmy Wilson's Erie 833. Bad weather kept me home on Saturday as the E8 powered a morning Scranton-Moscow trip and an afternoon Scranton-Cresco trip. But Sunday's weather was looking real good.
The sun wasn't out when I got up early Sunday morning, but a look at the brightening sky told me the clouds overhead was actually fog -- and fog should burn off. Nonetheless, the fog stayed as I made the 90-minute drive into the Poconos, but as I arrived at my first photo location in Elmhurst the sun broke through for good. I walked along the Elmhurst Reservoir to one of my favorite shots from on top the reservoir wall, and just before the train's arrival I was joined by friends John Tully and Fred Jones. The E8 soon appeared with its train, and the chase was on.
Next stop was at Gouldsboro (named for railroad tycoon Jay Gould) where the ELDCPS had scheduled a photo stop. Somehow the managed to park the locomotive in the only spot for half mile in each direction where there was a shadow on the nose, cast by the crossbuck at the grade crossing. From there I went to Tonyhanna for a shot. Up next would be the overhead bridge at Mount Pocono, but that was completely shadowed in; a compromise location would be Devil's Hole grade crossing.
The next shot I wanted was at the cut at Henry Crossing near Paradise Valley, but it was also shadowed in. I settled for a shot near the grade crossing. Finally, the last eastbound shot was at the deck bridge near Analomink.
Since I was one of the last people to arrive at Analomink, I didn't have the best angle for the bridge shot. And with the train's turnaround point being only a mile or two down the road, I stayed in Analomink and secured a prime spot for the bridge shot while most of the rest of the motorcade went with the train. It didn't take long for the train to come back, and with that shot in the bag I went back to Henry Crossing for another shot. With the E8 trailing the entire train, the going-away shots were still quite nice.
Next up was the train's photo stop in Cresco, where once again the E8 was parked in the shadows. A little adjusting a few feet either way would have put the locomotive in sun, which would have been nice for the paying passengers. The chasers, meanwhile, set up a photo line just a few carlengths up the track, so when the train departed they got a nice shot of the E8 passing the Cresco depot.
Finally, it was off to Mount Pocono for a shot of the Delaware Lackawanna Alco on the west end of the train, and it was time to go home.