Working on the Montour
Gene Schaeffer's 2007 Ghosts or Christmas Past
Christmas Past - 1
The Most Wonderful Time of the Year.
A few days ago, while out
enjoying southwestern Pennsylvania's first snowfall of the season, while
passing through McMurray then Thompsonville, there, across the valley was the
silent right of way of the Montour Railroad.
Snow covered, in full
wintry splendor. I could not help reflecting back to another time of Long Ago,
when consists of General Motors SW-9 locomotives hauled car load after car load
of Pittsburgh Seam Coal up and down these hills.
Remembering back to those
times now seems so long ago. A quarter of a Century of time has now passed since
sounds of throttling locomotives, rattling and creaking coal hoppers, loose rail
joints, could be heard far and near.
My purpose on that
December 5th, 2007 was not to be out photographing those remaining landmarks of
the Montour Railroad Company. However, the right of way in all of its snow
covered charm, becokend attention from Ghosts of Times Past.
Stubbornily, I proceeded
onward through Thompsonville, over snow covered roads, glancing steadily over at
the silent right of way, trying in vain to ignore that within my eyesight and
focus on the days plans. Past the West Switch Thompsonville I went, observing
the charm of this first wintry day. My focus this day was not on the Montour
Passing the Bridge at
Station 673, there between Thompsonville and the former location of Pittsburghs
Railways overhead bridge, right there along Route 19, I could no longer ignore
what was before me.
My plans for that first
snowy day, if need be, were now on hold. The car was pulled off the road there
at the West End of Montour #4. With camera in hand, a few exposures were made of
the the remaining bridge there at the West End of what once was know as; West
End Montour #4, Mine Hills...
trees...the road...everything was snow covered in wintry splendor as steady
snowfall continued throughout the day.
A black & white...then
a color exposure of this long forgotten Montour RR overpass, even in this
saddened state of neglect and abandon, there...there... is that magic
of the Montour Railroad Company that still draws me near.
And so my friends, during
the next 12 Days to Christmas, allow me to share with you, at this Most
Wonderful Time of the Year, reflections of Christmas's Past, stories and photos
of those magical times, along the Montour Railroad Company.
Christmas Time at Primrose Crossing
Standing here on Noblestown
Road, here at Primrose crossing, I am only feet from the famous PanHandle
Division of the Pennsylvania Railroad. Primrose Crossing was a small out of the
way location and near to the Montour Railroad. A great place where one could sit
in their car and observe some interesting action along the PanHandle. Long ago,
the PRR maintained 4 main tracks through Primrose. In later years, only 2 main
tracks remained, with a former westbound main converted to a active interchange
with the Montour Railroad. The PRR allowed the Montour RR permission to come out
onto this former main track where coal trains could be interchanged. In
addition, the GSCX unit trains that loaded at Champion were delivered to the
Montour RR here, above Primrose Crossing.
During the 1970's,
a significant amout of coal was routed PRR-McDonald. Montour crews, using the 1
mile McDonald Transfer passed over this road crossing nearly every day. On some
occasions, it was not un-common to see two seperate Montour crews interchanging
to the PRR here within a 24 hour period.
But the magic of
Primrose, there high above Fort Cherry's ambulance garage, was the right of way
of the Montour RR, lying silently still in todays first snowfall. How sweet it
would of been once upon a time to document on film, engines, cars or cabooses of
both the Montour RR and that of the mighty PRR, passing each other here in this
tiny Washington County Village.
I can remember,
watching PanHandle iron ore trains battling westbound through Primrose. With
helper engines attached to the trains rear, a exploding storm of energy occupied
this place for a few moments of time. Locomotives from both EMD and Alco
produced that energy that moved those tonnage trains upgrade to Burgettstown...
Then the time,
perhaps 3 EMD's lead a westbound truc-train through here, at a speed that would
impress Santa and his team of reindeer ...Then another time, while working
Section Gang #1 - Champion, I stopped in Vincenties Service Station, long before
it became Cherry Valley Ambulance Service, to obtain a few snacks before that
gruling day working on the track gang...and being startled out of Vincenties,
with my trusty 126 Instamatic, nabbing Amtrak Eastbound there at
Primrose...if you wanted to see speed, Primrose was a place to be.
And lastly, how
many times have I rode those multiple unit consists of SW-9s' across Primrose
Crossing. Many of those trips across Primrose, those SW-9's had every ounce of
tonnage those old machines could pull. Even one one frosty night early in 1980,
I was on that right hand seat box with 36 GSCX loaded 100 ton hoppers...and
those 3 ol'e railroading machines, sanders hissing away, wheel slip light on
more that it was off, struggling to drag those coal hoppers off the transfer to
make the train.
of Christmas Past -
2 Company Houses at Primrose Curve
Christmas 1974, in
the company of Mr. & Mrs. Santa Claus, we visit the local camera store at South
Hills Village. Looking
selection, the Mamiya/Sekor MSX 500 35mm camera
is selected. I'm sure Mr.
& Mrs Claus figure this gift selection
passing teenage fad, but as time progresses for the 18
year old, the journey
has just begun. Thankfully, if it was not for
inspiration of friend Dave D. 33 years ago, its anyone's guess
where life would
of taken me..
The first task for
the MSX 500, shortly after Christmas Day is
to the Westland Branch where errant coal hoppers are
and Montour's Brown Hoist is on scene. One car on its
others simply off rail. The railroad is not working today
scene is eerily silent...
forward as a teenager struggles to understand the
camera. Much like life itself, trial and error...success and
failure, and over
the next 33 years, the Mamiya/Sekor, 2 Canon's and 2 Nikons are put through the
task of recording thousands of
images here in southwestern Pennsylvania...
For many of those
first years, the basic concept was aiming the
some point along the right of way for a photo. In time,
changes and it becomes appearant standing trackside
capture the essence of the story. Slowly...very slowly the
adjusted. The scene...the enviroment...the characteristics
communities demand attention, but the maturity to recognize
all of this comes
a bit to late.
Here we stand on
this wintry December 5th, 2007 at Primrose.
There on the
hillside several remaining company houses
now carrying the selected
decor of their owners choice, no doubt
different than the original company concept, reflect difference
then and time now.
more specific and title this Primrose Curve.
curve, 'R.O.R' probably remembers the time when
track, there above that top row of homes was closed down
for 3 days
due to a derailment. I wasn't around then, but some of
the remnants from that
derailment remained long afterwards.
Its funny how
recollections are borne, often resulting from a incident that leave behind a
trace of information for later recall. But that one derailment wasn't the only
factor of recall.
derailments have occurred up there on the hillside behind
that top row of
homes, that brough focus to Primrose.
One of those
derailments brought about the need to borrow from
of their locomotives which were delivered at Hills Transfer.
'R.J.' that ran em from Hills to Primrose to pull back the
that one train, then another light engine move back to Hills
returning the borrowed EMD's to Conrail...
recollections...are inspiring, but I also like to look just a bit
those incidents. I have visualized a time, before the rails came
the SW-9's were released from the employ of the company,
hopper trains still rounded that long sweeping curve followed
once upon a time caboose, a image taken during the winter time,
right of way is in full view, and with temperatures well below
freezing, I often
imagined a portrait taken here at Primrose, smoke exhausting through the
residential chimneys, or kids playing or heading
school, occupying the narrow company town streets, while there on
hillside, the scene complete with the locomotives...cars and cabooses
Montour Railroad Company.
If I was only good
with canvas and oils, a recreation of those Ghosts of Times Past, here along the
of Christmas Past -
What a beautiful time here
at McDonald Viaduct. One of my many
is being out of doors during a snowstorm. This December 5th was one of those
It had snowed overnight
and has been snowing most of this day.
My first real adventure
with McDonald Viaduct was in 1974. A westbound coal train had derailed 10 loads
at the East End of the
viaduct. Five of those
loads were out on the viaduct with the remaining 5 loads on solid ground east of
I remember when I first
heard of the derailment. I was at home as Conductor Mike Desko, from inside the
Yard Office at Champion, was
talking over the airwaves
with Train Dispatcher Schofield about the location of the derailment and what
Usually, train crews would
use the Intercom that was built into the radio system as a means to talk off
'air' between the Yard Office and Train Dispatchers Office. And thanfully from
the spirits of above, that days events was put out over the air for my
It was at this moment I
had learned of the derailment. As I listened in to
Conductor Desko was asking for a train order from Champion to McDonald Viaduct
as his crew was elected to begin rerailing.
Immediately I was
on the telephone with friend Dave D. asking if he wanted to go along with me to
McDonald, hoping to be able to take some photos of the mishap.
Over the years I have
often referred to these derailments as points of interest.
I have also stated
derailments were ugly marks on a companys reputation, however during these
times, derailments were educational tools allowing me to understand the ugly
side of railroading and how these problems were corrected, but derailments
factored in a gathering of most of the crafts of the railroad.
From Management ... the
Superintendent ... to the Supervisor of Track...Then you had many of the
maintenance of way-track gangs...Section Gang #1 and #2...along with the extra
gangs who put the roadbed back together after rerailing.
Most often there was a
train crew on hand, the Montour Junction Car Shop Department, perhaps if the
locomotives were involved, employees from the EngineHouse, perhaps the General
Foreman. If the derailment required a crane, throw in employees from Penn
Erection and there in one centralized location, a vast representation of the
Montour Railroad work force...
After arriving McDonald,
Dave & I did a quick look around the derailed loads at the East End of the
Viaduct. The company was lucky in this derailment. All
of the derailed cars were upright and on the roadbed. The Viaduct was not
damaged during the derailment.
In short fashion,
Conductor Desko was now on the air waves repeating back the train order to - Run
Extra Champion to McDonald Viaduct...
While still at home
listening in to the conversation and the train order, and as luck had it, I had
the tape recorder recording both sides of that train order. That was my very
first and no doubt only Montour Railroad Train Order that used McDonald Viaduct
as a station and that unique train order is still preserved here at home.
After Dave & I examined
the derailed loads, we relocated to the top of the slate pile there next to the
Viaduct as 3 SW-9's and probably caboose 34 eased out onto the Viaduct. If my
memory is correct, Jim Lane was Engineman which I understood later on, had a
thing for heights. Jim didn't enjoy being off the ground and I'm sure that
evening out on the Viaduct was not one of his memorable recollections
of the Montour RR.
Being up on the slate pile
afforded a sparkling view of the East End of the structure. The SW-9's eased out
onto the Viaduct towards the derailed loads where Montours Car Shop Department
was waiting. Rerailing the first load required using a steel cable attached
between locomotive coupler knuckle and car coupler knuckle. Thankfully, the
so-so photos I made that day with the 126 instamatic camera were supplemented by
Dave's so-so images made on his Argus35mm camera which he added to my collection
in later years!
When I look at this recent
wintry scene, it is so difficult to believe what has happened here. That great 4
track main line of the Pennsylvania Railroad-PanHandle from where I stand has
been totally abandoned. So much PRR freight that moved over this line is no
longer. The Montour above, moving so much coal from mine to market also nothing
more than a fading memory. I often wonder, was the Montours' demise
a factor in the PanHandles
However, in this snowy
view of McDonald Viaduct in full winter splendor, it looks as if I was
the second person this day to be out in this new snow. The atmosphere here at
McDonald Viaduct was breathtaking. So quiet...so peaceful...so full of fond
memories of long ago.
I was the engineer that relieved uncle Jim on the viaduct that
day, yes he was afraid of being on the last step of a step ladder. I think
we re-railed 12 or 14 hours on the viaduct that day. Wreck train service
there was no hours of service. Also here is the story of the lights on the poles
in Kamps cut, many years ago we were doubling up our train at the west end of #4
and the engineer though we were headed for the main track to couple into the
[stink box] caboose and he did not pull over the switch far enough. He stopped
and started to shove forward right away, I was at the switch waiting to throw
the it and couldn't throw the air on in time. he shoved the train into the
loaded yard into a track of loads cars. Well after the dirt, dust and metal came
back to earth, a lot of re-railing took place, no one got hurt. as you can
figure out the engineer was an a.hole. by the way, he was the same engineer, if
you want to call him an engineer that took out all the windows in the
engines national tunnel. say no more. R.J. Lane
of Christmas Past -
Jolly ol'e Saint T.J.S.
Quite honestly folks,
Ghosts 4 was slated to reflect on times past at Southview, that was until a
short time ago, at a few minutes till Noon as the Postman, brought to me a
wonderful Christmas gift.
The title of today's
Ghosts belongs to one of us. A person who I've know for quite a long time and
who shares the same passion in this Montour RR as I do.
I hadn't originally
thought of dedicating a Ghosts to him...or for that matter, anyone in
particular, but today, it is only fitting.
Many years ago, while in
the employ of the Montour RR in their maintenance of way department, Section
Gang #1, Foreman R. Maga and company were instructed to surface and replace the
bad ties in Geary Curve.
Geary Curve, located just
East of the East End of Russell, between Mile Posts 15 and 16, and as it's name
implies is part of a 6 degree curve as well as being the place where the 1.31
gradient from Champion ends and the 1.30 percent ascent up through Shaw Mine and
#9 begins, was a place I spent many weeks of my first summer working on a
Montour RR track gang.
Being employed on a
section gang on the Montour RR was a tough task. There wasn't a thing you did
that was easy. Nearly every tool a laborer used in those days was
heavy. From claw bars to spike mauls...track jacks to lining bars, bolt wrenches
to spike kegs, they were all heavy.
Surfacing track in those
days was a art and a part of daily life with Section Gang #1.. It was my opinion
back then, our Foreman was a bit rusty in this art.
Being one of those
old heads as they are called, his skills at surfacing (raising) track
was not up to par as it should of. Needless to say, the responsibility in
raising track so not to have a uneven surface was left to another old head, and
prominent employee of the Montour RR, M. Sacco.
Marshall Sacco was not a
stocky section hand as one would imagine. He was average build and average
height, and for being a senior employee, not like many of us younger,
still wet behind the ears know it alls, he could outwork anyone who cared to
Most of the guys on
Section Gang #1 respected Marshall, and for the most part, no one wanted stuck
with working with Marshall on the surfacing projects.
During each raise
of the main track, it was typically common to raise roughly 2 rail lengths at a
time, thus allowing Marshall to sight the rail, keeping it as even as possible
with the last raise, but making sure the furthest raise point wasn't raised to
high so the next raise would have to be compensated that would
lead to unevenness.
Raising track in a curve,
where gradients change required attentiveness. During one particular week while
Marshall was on vacation, our Foreman did the sighting, which later lead to a
hump in the main track which required another raise in the effected raise, and
the ballast removed so the roadbed would settle into more of a even
surface...not a fun thing to redo.
As time progressed during
those summer months, Geary Curve was transformed into a nearly brand new road
bed that began about the WestBound Yard Board there at Russell, extending east
of the underpass up to a point where the 2 homes sit accross Route 980 from the
During those couple of
weeks Section Gang #1 spent at Geary Curve, hundreds of new ties were installed.
New ballast was brought out by rail and spread allowing gang #1 to do a
second-lighter tamp on the weak spots that had settled as work progressed. We
finalized our work at Geary Curve by edging the outside ballast on both sides of
the right of way trying to keep the defined area of ballast separate from that
of the dirt and cinders, before moving East to Shaw Mine where our next
surfacing project would commence.
But in 2 years time, I
found myself looking at Geary Curve from a different perspective.
No longer was I a
section hand with the Montour RR. Personality differences between the afternoon
Champion Yardmaster and Superintendent J.E.S. created a vacancy in that
afternoon slot. The job was available if I wanted it, but it was not a no
strings attached promotion as I had to fill in as Train Dispatcher when there
was the need.
With a new job came new
hours. More time was again available to rediscover photography and go back to
documenting the characteristics of the Montour RR instead of, after a long
tiring day on the track gang, heading home to take a nap.
Just across the highway
from the Montour RR main track was the Geary Farm and Barn. You couldn't miss
that gigantic white barn with its brillant red roof, and those gigantic
identifying letters on its front that added so much beauty to the land.
I had often wanted to hike
out into the opposite field wanting to record a passing coal train right there
at the Geary Farm. Or up there in the field behind the barn affording one a
panoramic view of the farm, the barn and just beyond...the Montour RR.
The beauty and splendor of
Geary Curve was there at hand. But time...could be
your worst enemy. The inexperience of a young cameraman had caught up to me.
The mines were in
trouble...and the Montour RR was in trouble.
The photographs I had
visioned were there, just waiting. There was so much there to record. The
angles...the landscape, I had much to do. The transition from wanting to be on
board with train crews had been redefined. I had ridden nearly
every mile of the Montour. But now, it was time to record the physical
characteristics of the Montour RR.
But one of the
characteristics of the Montour RR I hadn't taken into account, would be its
demise. There was no formal announcement...No television ads or radio spots. A
simple conversation announced the SW-9's were up for sale...#4 was flooded and
Champion and Westland were adjusting operations. Furlough notices went out and
life forever changed.
And thus this
past December 5th, the Geary Farm was re-visited by a cold cameraman, seeking to
record its silent beauty, and there in the distance, how inspiring the portrait
could of been...
Years later, at a
gathering in Cecil, anothers presentation of the Montour RR brought fond
memories of the Geary Farm. There rounding the lengthy curve, westbound, 3
SW-9's with Champion Coal and me requesting a copy
of that scenic splendor,
that arrived this Christmas Eve...
a Merry Christmas to You, and to all a Good Night.
Christmas Past -
S o u t h v i e w
I want to say the time was
around 6 AM, December 7, 1975.
The airwaves this early
Sunday morning beckon my attention as
R.J.K. converses with Superintendent J.E.S.
This is quite
unusual for a Sunday Morning, but something is
the Montour RR.
By this late date of 1975,
Radio Shack offered a 4 channel, VHF
scanner that with
the proper crystals, that could be ordered and
delivered to your
mailbox within 2 weeks, a dedicated means of
operations, more specifically, no longer did I
have to worry about
that Westinghouse AM/FM tunable radio that
came for a Birthday
years earlier, offering me that golden opportunity
to listen in to the
airwaves of the Montour RR. That tunable radio
frequency adjustment which could result in missing
out on important
radio transmissions if you didn't keep a close eye on what it was....or wasn't
So in those early waking
hours of December 7, which experience
from the past few
years had taught, if you want to be on top of
you had to be vigilant. After years of listening to Dad
pound on bedroom
walls, yelling turn that damn thing down...
and me not wanting
to miss one single event, I had to find a way to
during those dark nights long after bedtime.
A idea awhile back had
taught me, you can monitor the airwaves
while in bed at
night, by simply plugging in a earphone to the scanner,
keeping its volume
low, and attaching it to the head of the bed thus those nightly reminders from
dad could be avoided. I also avoided
all of those weekly
groundings Dad had imposed for not following
by staying away from that railroad, which found me
stuck inside my
room for sometimes 2 weeks at a time.
Dad...simply didn't care.
He wasn't involved with his son and he
just didn't care.
Mom, on the other hand, probably was glad I found
the railroad as now
I had someone to bond with as the guy she married
simply had no
interest in his kids. Mom often ran interference when
Dad was on the warpath
with me and the railroad. You wouldn't
believe some of the
comments a youngster had to endure from his own
But the railroad was there
and so was I. I tolerated the groundings and
moved forward in my
pursuits now ignoring dad and...his comments, Dads way of life became less of a
concern to his now teenage son. With or without the support of dad, a teenage
boy followed the direction of his heart.
And so on this Sunday
Morning, the airwaves contained some of the details of the unfolding
event...Only able to hear Train Dispatchers side of the radio conversation, the
details outlined yet another derailment...A car if off the bridge, the road is
blocked and Penn Erection is notified. R.J.K. then
advised J.E.S. the road exits over at Peacock - John,
so you still have a way in and out.
In short time the 1974
Nova is enroute to Southview. Not knowing exactly what to expect, I pull under
the N&W overpass after passing Gilmore Junction, I am in awe of the derailment
Its a eerie scene,
completely breathtaking in the near perfect early winters weather, P&LE 72392,
loaded at Westland, is derailed and lying on it side, its contents of coal
partially dumped on Galati Road and the embankment of the right of way, but the
hopper car itself is off the bridge, and partially down in the void of the
Yes Galati Road is
blocked. Superintendent J.E.S. is still on scene waiting for the arrival of Penn
Erection. I go about my business of photographing the scene as
Long after my arrival,
Montour Section Hands arrive along with Penn Erection. J.E.S. comments to
someone in his customary slang...Goddammit - I though we were out of
business... close inspection of Bridge (Station) 383-B reveals no
structural damage other than a broken off chunk of concrete from the top of the
East Wing Wall.
Penn Erection arrives with
customary bulldozer and highway crane. The dozer constructs a small access road
west of Bridge 383-B so the crane can back up against the west derailed loads
and rerail them first. After each car is rerailed, the dozer is attached by
winch hoist cable and pulls the car west of the derailment scene so the
remaining cars can be rerailed and moved so the section men can repair the
As the hoppers are being
rerailed, the customary sounds of the bulldozer and crane mixed with the sounds
of the section hands, the cling and clang of spike mauls and such, is
overwhelmed to the east as trumpets of railroad air horns echo up through
Millers Run Valley. Through the trees, a headlight is seen moving west at speed.
Nearly everyone's attention is focused on the N&W right of way on the hillside
not far from the derailment.
Indeed, moving at speed,
is a N&W westbound. I am dumbfounded by the surprise appearance of a N&W train.
If I would of been seasoned in photography, a quick sprint towards Peacock on
Galati Road would of afforded a splendid portrait of the N&W westbound with the
Montour derailment in the foreground, but youth and inexperience find me
standing next to Superintendent J.E.S.
This N&W movement turns
out to be a empty grain hopper train.
It seemed like forever,
listening to the cadence of those 100 or so empty grain hoppers, slapping rail
joints all seemingly in sync with each other, as truck bolsters act like sololist,
adding rythum to the movement. Wow, what a fitting finalle to this days event
along the rails of the Montour RR. Superintendent J.E.S. again remarks something
slang, Thank God that is over...
This event at Galati Road
slowly comes to a fitting end as the last hopper is rolled over, emptying it
contents on the embankment making it easier for the crane to rerail. The Section
hands are now repairing the rail on the bridge deck, and I begin to think about
heading home, ending another event here at Southview and along the Montour
In the course of one weeks
time, all during that first week of December 1975, two significant event have
unfolded in front of the camera here at Southview. The first event, much like
this event has been written about before, as Extra 80-78-77-75 with caboose 33
ease through Peacock and down to Southview in front of my camera and friend
Dave's camera, coming to a stop at the interchange switch.
The head brakeman will
line the switch so the SW-9's can head up the interchange where a waiting N&W
pilot crew will detour the SW-9s and crew over 23 miles of their railroad and
back to Montour rail at Salida. Another derailment between Muse Junction and
Mile Post 26 has the main track blocked. Montour Mine #4 is communicating it
needs service, and the decision is made to detour this crew around.
Not only do Dave & I
photograph the SW-9's arriving Southview, only a short distance from Galati
Road, but we also relocate in time to photograph the SW-9's crossing over top
the Montour as they begin their Eastward journey over N&W rails. The N&W
overpass is also a short distance from Galati as the SW-9's make a striking
appearance on the bridge crossing overtop the Montour.
During the upcoming year,
Southview will become a point of interest for 2 additional events in the ongoing
drama of the Montour RR. That first event will occur in April 1976 as the last
detour over N&W rails will occur. The train crew that day, Conductor Desko,
Engineman R.D. Lane, Flagman Leonard, is one of my all time favorite Montour
crews. Leonard and Desko repeatedly invite me to ride the detour while they line
themselves in on the interchange. The decision is a tough choice, but I firmly
state, I need photos. Yes, I could of exposed a tremendous amount of film riding
the detour, with those images being quite rare and unique, but the decision was
made, and as the SW-9's stop for their pilots, I begin my sttempts of driving
ahead of the SW-9's now out on N&W rail.
With the scanner inside
the Nova with me, Condcutor Desko is on his caboose radio, transmitting to
someone down there at the derailment site between Glasses and Venice
Bridge...now this is a real railroad. The SW-9's are running caboose
light leaving Southview, the sounds of throttling out SW-9's is blended into Desko's
radio communication, boy what a recording that would of made...
During June 1976, I am now
employed with Montour Section Gang #1. Finally I am part of the Montour RR, a
dream come true. In the months ahead, winter 1976 is upon us. As Christmas is
near, Section Gang #1 is advised to guage the curve west of the N&W overpass at
Southview...yes, back there at Galati Road we spend a snowy winters day,
sweeping the right of way so we can see. Its been snowing most of the day, and
by now just to be sure, the Instamatic 126 camera is carried in by coat
pocket...so if a event occurs, it can be recorded.
As guaging progresses
there on the curve at west of the N&W overpass, the Instamatic is used to record
a N&W westbound passing overtop the Montour main. Our work is again delayed at
Southview as a Westland crew approaches our work area with Champion coal.
As the SW-9's roar by,
dragging their train off the Westland Branch, I observed the drivers under the
SW-9's fighting for footing on snow covered rails, as no doubt Engineman J. Lane
tries to balance out brakes, throttle and reversing gradient coming out at
Section gang #1, standing
trackside there in the curve as 44 car loads of coal creek by, is startled by a
sudden run in of slack and the explosion of a emergency application of air
brakes. The slack run in is terrifying as all of that weight being bunched up
suddenly. Then silence. The westbound is stopped in the winters snowfall.
Comments echo from co-workers... when the external speaker on Hi-Rail Truck #1
reverberates a communication from the engineer to the conductor...were
on the ground up here at Southview...
I guess the engineman was
looking back over his train entering that long curve and seen the head cars
derail there on the station siding switch. The derailed cars are rerailed
through the evening hours and the next day Section Gang #1 is back at Southview
tamping low joints and guaging the right of way at Southview. The road bed there
was a mess, mud holes everywhere...No wonder.
30 Years later, as one
drives through that silent community located off the beaten path along Millers
Run, Southview holds so many fond remembrances from long ago. The evolution
of time has changed the personality of Southview forever. As the snow fell this
December 5th 2007, driving Galati Road in to Southview from Peacock, then
stopping the car short of that small through girder bridge over Millers
Run, standing there enjoying this first seasonal snowfall,
recollections of 30 years ago were reflected upon.
In this scene, Bridge
383-B is but a memory. Removed from its location many years ago to open up
overhead clearance, then having its wing walls removed and right of way
redeveloped for other uses, time once again here at Galati Road is eerie,
now from change...
The N&W rails up on the
far hill no longer host N&W traffic. The N&W like the Montour, is just a faded
memory preserved only in mind and upon film. Rails still exist up there, but now
belong to a regional carrier and those empty grain hopper trains that resounded
a finale to a historic event 32 years ago are also a faded part of my
past....here along the Montour Railroad at Southview...
Christmas Past -
December 5th, 2007.
Hidden in the weeds not
far from the main track of the Montour Railroad,
a grim reminder of
what the railroad was all about.
27 years after the mines
close, a sign remembers two reasons for the very existence of the Montour
Railroad...Once Upon a time...
Ghosts of Christmas Past -
Over the course of several
years, the fascination with the Montour RR
and the growing
fascination of railroad photography transformed two loves
into a means of
sharing the memories through images of time.
Those simple standing
trackside photographs still haunt me today. Yes, they are important. But the
overall perspective of the right of way...
characteristics of what brought our hearts in contact
with the railroad,
managed to escape the camera.
Along Montour's line of
road through Henderson, was a series of old
wood frames homes.
Each and every time I passed these old homes, a glance and a notation that
somehow I need to record on film the
very existence of
So simple they were. And
how neat several of them looked with the main line of the Montour RR so near. I
visualized...as I have
repeated many times here,
recording scene's not just with the
railroads locomotives, but
perhaps one view...of this lonely old house...
mailbox waiting for
delivery of Christmas cards from far and near...
and in the
background, some old rustic coal cars passing by...
Christmas Past -
#4 Mine, Hills
Summer 1980 is here.
Trouble is ahead for the Montour Railroad.Montour #4 Mine is flooding and in the
very near future, Superintendent
J.E.S. would be fighting a
flood of trouble of his own.
Montour #4 as some of us
remember, could produce 40+ car loads of
Champion Coal every
8 hours. I vividly recall a few times when #4 loaded
upwards of 50 railroad
cars in one eight hour shift which kept train dispatchers on their toes so as
not to delay the mine.
The years leading up to
that fateful summer, I remember sitting in the
Office at 6:00 AM as Superintendent J.E.S. talked by
certain Coal Company Officers who were calling in that days
needs for all 3
mines as well as Champion.
J.E.S. was adamant about
Montour #10, I'm no longer sending a crew
is too bad, derailments are too expensive and unless
the coal company wanted to
That being said, the
Montour RR ceased servicing #10. The next blunder
coming out of the
Superintendents Office was refusing to accept PRR/PC
and Conrail system hoppers
via Hills Transfer used in the movement of Champion Coal.
I was present when J.E.S.
notified a unhappy Conrail Manager that those
100 empty hoppers
out on Boyce Siding, the ones that had been there for
about a week, were not
going to be used on the Montour RR.
The reply was a stern, if
you don't use them, you'll never get another
empty hopper from
us at Hills...
Thus those summers of 1977
and 1978. Westland didn't have hardly any railroad service as any available
hopper went to Montour #4 due in fact,
#4 couldn't store
coal. Champion suffered car shortages of empty hoppers as well. All of those
P&LE hoppers that were promised to supplement those
Junction and Hills Transfer were only a myth while ore season
was at hand on the
By now, the P&LE influence
upon the Montour RR was noted by the coal
company. By years
end 1980 - Superintendent J.E.S. had troubles of his own.
Rumors ran rampant
down at the Shops and in the General Office...but whatever
it was that ended
J.E.S.'s career, the damage was done...it was too late.
As 1980 came to a close,
the last crew to service Montour #4 had come and gone.
The day after
Christmas 1980, the last crew to service Brookside Lumber had come
and gone. Muse and
the entire railroad east of Gilmore Junction was slated for
No longer did the airwaves
echo out those nostalgic trainorders once so common....
Engine 74...74, Run
Extra Champion...C H A M P I O N
to East End....E A S T E
N D ...#4...four... Mine Hills...H I L L S...
Run By and Back In...
And return to West End...W
E S T E N D...#4...four...Mine Hills...H I L L S...
Run By and Back In...
Ghosts of Christmas Past -
T h o m p s o n v i l l e
Standing near the East end
Thompsonville Siding, this westward scene
of the double track
through deck girder bridge allows a tranquil view of
one the few
remaining bridges once part of the Montour Railroad Company.
Located East of Montour
#4, during my early years of following the Montour,
this siding was
used more so as a storage track rather that it being used as a passing siding.
When Montour #4 was
loading one four unit train every eight hours, there was times
for various reasons
the Montour fell behind and not wanting to delay mine
crews would be instructed to pull one or sometimes two tracks
of coal out from
the four track #4 loaded yard, then shove those loads to
Siding for storage until railroad operations allowed a means for
Other times, westbound
crews returning from Montour #10 would be instructed to
either set their
train off at Thompsonville...or...stop back at Thompsonville, put empties in #4
off Hills Transfer, then either pull coal out of #4 then shove to
Thompsonville...or...with their coal from #10, fill out to tonnage at #4.
Then there were times that
are still recorded on cassette tape recordings, crews departing Mifflin Junction
with 30 or 40 or 50 empty hoppers, being instructed to
set off their
empties at Thompsonville, then run light out to Boyce Siding on the PRR,
and pull Boyce in
filling #4, so another 100 car order can be placed with the PRR.
Besides being built on a
gradient, the ugly side of Thompsonville Siding was it being
used to clean
hoppers coming in off Hills Transfer. Hopper car pockets occasionally had
remnants of its last car loads... of coke, iron ore, stone, limestone or metal
that the coal company wanted removed before reloading. From one end of
Thompsonville to its other, small piles of these raw materials were everywhere.
My first years associated
with the Montour RR, hardly a passing trip through
would not find the siding full of PRR...PC or Pennsylvania hoppers
waiting their turn
through #4's tipple for another load of Champion Coal....or simply
waiting for a extra
crew to haul these stored loads of Champion Coal, West.
Down at Thompsonville's
West End, was Easton Lumber with its spur built off the
West End of the
siding. Easton Lumber also had a garden hose tucked away so train
crews, when needed,
could add cooling water to the locomotives. During the summer of 1973 Engineer
D.J.L. and Brakeman Roy Parkinson were stopped at
afternoon as the SW-9's
needed watered. Roy instructed this 16 year old up on top of
the SW-9's, unscrew
the radiator cap so water could be added to the cooling system.
excitement...along with my first close up look at a SW-9 locomotive bell which
was inches away then a look down into the exhaust stacks of idling General
Motors 567 diesel engines. After watering the SW-9's, Roy proceeded to hose out
the interior of their gigantic green x: U.P. caboose...before putting a train
together and starting the trip west towards Champion...
This was Thompsonville -
During its Time...
Christmas Past -
McDonald Viaduct - 2
On that snowy
December 5th just 2 weeks ago, I spent over a hour at the Viaduct recording the
winter snow from many
The winter storm
had worked magic here at McDonald...
PanHandle...to the Transfer...from Noblestown to 980,
I recorded as best I and
The quaint farm
house that sits at the corner of 980 and Noblestown
intrigued me. At a guess, I have three seperate scenes of
this little spread
with the SW-9's doing their best....
But somewhere did
I once read, this once was a school house for
quite impressive to say...
Ghosts of Christmas Past -
Henderson Company Store
On this Christmas
Eve, what would it be, without a tribute
Christmas Past -
of Ghosts of Christmas Past, brings to a end the sharing of
some great memories
from a lost time along the Montour Railroad.
I hope all of you enjoyed
this trip down memory lane.
As originally stated,
Ghosts of Christmas Past was not planned.
A series of
un-planned event brought about this idea. From the snowy
December 5th vacation day,
to a drive along the railroad, then on
December 7th, the
idea to do this.
But there are so many
stories yet to tell...
Once upon a time, December
1973 as neighbor friend Dave L. and I begin the short walk to St. Germaines for
Saturday evening church.
A lone air horn announces
the approach of a Montour crew passing over
Horning Road, only
a mile from our Bethel Park homes.
I beckon Dave to Salida
with me...thats a MONTOUR Dave listening in to
cadence of EMD's...
Minutes later, the
SW-9's throttle to a stop behind the N&W dwarf signal
there at Salida.
Back on the third SW-9,
the cab door swings open and a stocky gentleman,
exits heading for
the N&W telephone at the connection switch. With the permission from the N&W
train dispatcher, Conductor Desko lines the switch,
and all three of us
climb back up on that 3rd SW-9 as Engineer H. Wirth restarts
those 45 car loads
of Mifflin Coal.
Arrival at Mifflin
Junction, the SW-9's are cut away from the train at the scale,
back through the
yard they go to run around the train. We walk the train with the
P&LE brakeman as
air is bled off. One by one each car is pushed over the scale.
As the 3rd car is
cut away, it stops on live rail. Desko comments about this 3rd car.
At #4 is was seen
sparking and the air was bled off. At Brookside the same thing,
sparks and the air
was bled off. Now out on Mifflin Scale, it won't roll on its own,
a inspection found
it is off center. Two deep groves are newly cut in its slope sheets.
Then another time riding
with Roy and D.J., it was winter 1976, to Westland we go
one cold winters
night. With four SW-9's we start back westbound, passing Westland Yard Board we
find were on the ground. Four cars near the caboose
under the power line, as Blumling radio's D.J. telling him the train is cut
don't dare stop as the
snow's too deep, we'll come over top...
And was it that first
night I Dispatched on my own...
Oh what a mess I had sewn.
Two crews called East...
Two crews coming West.
What a feat that night of
By 12 that Night, we had
penned, 30 orders or more.
Run by Back In....
Take Siding and Meet...
I could do no More...
Gene P. Schaeffer