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

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Newton, New Jersey, United States

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