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Ohio in August is hot, sticky and downright unpleasant. That makes it the perfect month to hold a major slide show in a cool air conditioned auditorium. Summerail at CUT (Cincinnati Union Terminal, the grand former train station in the Queen City) provides a great opportunity to meet with friends from all over the midwest (and, indeed, all over the country).
August 11, 2006
On the Friday before Summerail, brother Bruce and I got a late start from New Jersey. We figured about the only interesting place we could get to in daylight on the way to Cincinnati was the tower across the Potomac River from Hancock, Maryland. Thus, we hammered out I-70 and crossed the Potomac into West Virginia.
The tower sits along the former Baltimore & Ohio, a final survivor of a string of towers between here and Martinsburg, West Virginia. Still an "armstrong" tower where the operator muscles levers attached to rods which are in turn attached to the signals and switches, it's an anachronism living on borrowed time.
We knew the westbound Capitiol Limited was due through Hancock about the time we would be there, and since it was only coming from Washington, D.C., it figured to be pretty close to on time. A call to Amtrak's Julie confirmed that the train was indeed on its schedule.
Just about the time Amtrak was due through, a westbound CSX train passed the tower in the late afternoon setting sun, making for a nice shot. An eastbound wasn't much later than that, coming out of the sun. Horns to the east indicated Amtrak might be imminent, but alas it was another westbound freight, this one led by Norfolk Southern power.
With a long drive still ahead of us, we were getting a bit antsy as Amtrak's estimated arrival time slipped by 30 minutes and kept slipping. We made due by photographing the classic B&O color position lights, which would also be doomed by the modernization project that would eventually end Hancock's status as an active tower. And we waited some more.
Finally, about an hour late, the Capitol Limited passed the tower. We dutifully photographed it, then packed up and pushed west. Arrival in Cincinnati would be well past midnight.
August 12, 2006
This would be Summerail day, but activities at CUT wouldn't begin for a few hours. We had previously arranged to meet with Frank Keller from Colorado Springs at a predetermined (and early) hour, so sleep was not in abundance. We drug ourselves out of bed, met Frank and crossed the Ohio (our motel was actually in Kentucky) seeking trains and a meeting with our tour guide, Willie Davis of the Cincinnati Railroad Club.
We got off to a pretty good start, catching a CSX train on the long approaches to the former Cheaspeake & Ohio bridge across the Ohio, capturing a train on the Cincinnati side. A ride along Queensgate Yard in Cincy produced a northbound train with Union Pacific power waiting to get out. A southbound Norfolk Southern train was spotted entering NS's facility aprallel to Queensgate. Then we went on to St. Bernard in northern Cincinnati where a large gathering of fans were clustered at one of the best train watching spots in the city. A southbound CSX train was followed by our UP power we had seen earlier. Behind the UP locomotives was a string of Tropicana orange juice refrigerator cars -- Tropicana gets a delivery of fresh Florida juice every morning. A southbound NS train was seen next.
The most interesting power of the morning came next, as a CSX GP30 painted in the new Royal Blue scheme came north through St. Bernard. This was worth a second look, so we chased it to the Proctor & Gamble plant where it would do more switching. Now our morning time was over (too short but quite productive) and it was time to head to CUT.
At CUT the first order of business was meeting up with event organizer Dave Oroszi for a photo of all the day's presenters in front of the magnificent art deco half-dome building. A railroadiana sale inside got us out of the heat, and finally it was show time.
The dinner break found over a dozen of us heading for dinner at the Skyline Chili parlor under the C&O bridge in Covongton. A southbound train was dutifully recorded by most of us from inside the parlor, but Steve Glischinski from Minnesota was quick on his feet and got outside for the shot (adding an element to our inside shot).
We then went to the Marriott Courtyard, where Mike Schafer and Joe Petric had a ninth-floor room overlooking the C&O bridge. After waiting for a train (and harrassing George Hamlin and Doug Koontz on the sidewalk a couple of blocks away) we were rewarded with a northbound train. We discovered that, with a little wedging, we could get 14 photographers out onto the balcony all at once (fortunately, the balcony is built into the hotel's frame and is not freestanding). A second northbound train came before it was time to head back to CUT.
Our return trip was interrupted, however, by a third northbound train -- and this one stopped on the bridge in perfect position with clean, good looking power on the point. Torn between getting back to CUT on time or shooting the train, Bruce, Frank and I opted to miss the first evening show and snapped away from the hotel's windows (once a southbound passed). Then, once back on the Cincinnati side we shot yet another southbound on the C&O bridge approaches and our northbound that we had just shot at the hotel. We then raced back to CUT where our timing was perfect -- we had only missed one show!
After the rest of the shows, we took some shots inside the rotunda of CUT, then headed for a post-show snackfest on a barge in Newport, Kentucky. Then it was off to bed.
August 13, 2006
Another early wake-up... This time Bruce, Frank and I met up with Willie Davis and the father-son team of John and Mike Biehn to tour the Rathole, Norfolk Southern's formerly tunnel-filled line (thus the name) in southern Kentucky. We headed south about three hours, getting below Somerset, then began our adventure in the mountains near Cumberland Lake.
Since this was Frank's first visit to the Rathole, a mandatory stop was made at the deep cuts outside Tateville. NS did not disappoint, and we soon had a southbound train. We then headed to Parkers Lake, one of John's favorite locations, where we caught numerous trains in the varied scenery that can be found within just a mile or so of the overpass here. Another requirement, lunch at the Goodie Shack in Burnside, was also met.
As the day wore on, we made our last stand overlooking the massive bridge across the Cumberland at Burnside. Here, though, our luck ran out. We waited and waited for a northbound, and all we got was a southbound. John had to get to work back in Cincinnati, so he left, but for those of us remaining, futility prevailed. We did get one last southbound as we left Burnside. A stop was made at Steak 'n Shake in Lexington before getting back to Cincinnati.
August 14, 2006
We had a heads-up that a special freight train would be operating on the Wheeling & Lake Erie out of Huron, Ohio, on Tuesday, so most of this Monday was spent meandering through the Buckeye State towards Lake Erie. Our first stop was at Leipsic, where an abandoned tower protects a crossing between CSX and NS. The good weather we had enjoyed for the trip hd vanished, and we got a CSX local shuffling back and forth past the tower before moving on.
Deshler was the next stop, a major junction on CSX where the ex-B&O main line crosses a line to Toledo on a diamond. A tower also stands here. A railroad park now occupies the southwest quadrant of the diamond, and we spent some time here. Our final gloomy stop was made at another busy Ohio junction town, Fostoria, where the ex-B&O main crosses ex-C&O and ex-Nickel Plate lines. A couple of trains here, and we were off to Huron for the night. On the way we passed our special train, tied up in the dark near Huron. Our plan was coming together.
August 15, 2006
The aforementioned plan had a train of brand new coal cars, just built by FreightCar America in Johnstown, Pennsylvania, running for FreightCar America's company photographer. The Wheeling & Lake Erie provided sparkling clean power for the train. The Wheeling's paint scheme is based on the old Denver & Rio Grande Western black and orange, and Frank Keller (remember, he's from Colorado) has adopted the Wheeling as his favorite eastern road; thus, he was anxiously awaiting this move as well. Our host on the Wheeling was Mark Demaline.
The move was perfect for our trip home. The train would load at Huron, then head to the steel mills at Mingo Junction, Ohio, right on our way home. A late afternoon arrival at Mingo would give us a long, but not unbearable, six hour ride home from there.
Arrival at the port in Huron found our train not there yet, so we busied ourselves shooting power from the adjacent and recently closed ConAgra elevator. Finally, our train showed up and rounded the balloon track, then sat for awhile before loading began. We noticed our morning was slipping away.
With the loading process taking a long time, we headed over to the former New York Central main line (now Norfolk Southern) where it crosses Sandusky Bay on a causeway. We got a two-car local at Gypsum on the west end of the causeway, then headed over to Bay View on the east side where a property owner let us wait along the shores shooting trains. Finally, we went back to Huron, where our train was finally loaded and ready to go. The afternoon was slipping away now.
Out of Huron, the train headed over W&LE track to Shinrock, where it would enter Norfolk Southern trackage to get into Bellevue. The power needed to change ends here, as well, since the switch off the Wheeling led east on NS and our train needed to head west. But first, NS had to send an eastbound train through, then a westbound, then another eastbound. Finally, a slot could be found for our train to get out onto NS for its move.
With the runaround complete, our train headed for Bellevue with us in hot pursuit. We got a nice shot at Kimball, and another nice shot at the big junction in Bellevue. From here our train headed dead east, not good for photography in late afternoon with the sun in the west, so we pressed east to Hartland where we found a nice high-nosed unit working the west end of the yard. Another westbound train, this one led by a blue leaser unit, graced our lenses right at sunset. Our ore train that we were supposed to chase all the way to Mingo Junction was still behind us, and still hours away from Mingo as the sun set.
We headed east across Ohio with a long trip still ahead of us. Fortunately, neither of us had to be back in New Jersey first thing Wednesday morning, so we tied up in Pennsylvania for the night. We finished the drive non-stop the next day, ending our Summerail '06 adventure.