Montour Railroad 

Montour Railroad








Working on the Montour

Schaeffer Stories

Sposato Stories


Railroading 101



Montour # 4

Read Bob Ciminels' report on Montour #4.

Located at Milepost 31.05, Hills consisted of Station 135, No. 4 Mine, and 136, the Montour - PRR Interchange.
There were very few restrictions regarding the mine in the 1940 employee timetable, other than that engines would not clear the tipple. The interchange consisted of two tracks, with the outside track for deliveries to the Montour and the inside track for deliveries to the PRR.  Both tracks held 55 cars and the lead between the Montour main track and the inside switch could hold 30 cars and could be used for either Montour or PRR deliveries.  There was a bill box at the PRR end of the interchange and conductors were required to include the car number, initials, contents, destination, date and hour of every car dropped at the interchange.
One interesting tidbit in the timetable was the restrictions on cutting engines into the middle of a train.  This was only allowed when moving PRR coal between Library Junction and Hills, and then the helper locomotive could be cut in behind the cars going to the PRR. The 1947 timetable restricted engines on the No. 3 track in the mine's loaded yard.
In the 1968 timetable, that restriction applied to track No. 2.

The Montour No. 4 mine sat on the McMurry Syncline, where the coal seam was at 700' to 740' MSL, dipping upward to the northeast.  The original mine was located along the creek below Lawrence and was about 100' deep.  The Hills shaft accessed the coal down dip toward the southwest and was about 140' deep.  The aerial photo shows the Hills Shaft before they began hauling waste out of it.  It was just a load out for the Montour, as there were no facilities for the miners there.

Montour #2 was opened around 1914 according to the 1913 Penna Bureau of Mines Annual Report. The report states 'Montour 1, 2 and 4, new shafts open just down to the coal.

Click on the images to get a high resolution view.

No. 4 as it appeared in 1956

One of the little treasures given to me yesterday, another angle from the Feb 1957 mishap in the loaded yard at Montour 4.  A Super photograph with a abundance of Montour hoppers loaded with gigantic chunks of  Champion Coal...  Even though this is a low res scan, look west and see if you can spot the water tank... Gene P. Schaeffer

This is a back lit view of the tipple at Montour 4 in February 1957, one of a few that excaped my preservation efforts from long ago, but came into my possession.

The 1 - 2 - 3 that you see indicates the loaded yard track numbers that we talked about sometime back...starting the numbering sequence from the track closest to the main,  and note loaded track 4 has yet to be constructed. The date of the photo is Feb 1957 which resulted from a  serious accident probably where the difficult to see circle is at the frog.
Can you image seeing a entire empty and loaded yard full of Montour hoppers ? Common practice during those years...
Gene P. Schaeffer

Loaded yard at Montour #4 looking west.

Found this photo of the loaded yard at Montour #4 looking west. I have others looking east but the locomotives are blocking the track layout. - Gene P. Schaeffer

Montour #4 Train Orders - Gene P. Schaeffer

When empty's were delivered - since most came from west of #4 - Champion - McDonald - even Hills Transfer - would that mean that train orders would state "run by back in" ?

Yes, most train orders stated, Run By and Back In. Which depending on the size of the train You could go 25 car lengths by or 125 car lengths with Run By and Back In.
When issuing the Run By and Back In, you had to keep in mind any crews coming west from Mifflin or Library as a Run By and back In could put you into a troublsome situation if you issued a order to a westbound to the West End of Thompsonville as the distance between the East End (empty yard) of Montour #4 and the West End of Thompsonville was less than a mile. Westbounds would usually recieve a meet order on the 77 East that read...


Train Order #22.
To: C&E Engine 83 at Library Junction...
Engine 83 Run Extra, Library Junction to West End
Champion...Run By and Back In.
Extra 77...77 East Run By and Back In and meet
Extra 83 ...83 West at East End... #4...(Four)
Mine Hills...
Extra 83...83 West...Do Not Pass Gilmore Junction.
Not Protecting East of Thompsonville.

A FRA Inspector I knew well from all of his visits to the property, scolded me in the use of Run By and Back In. I told him this wasn't my doing, but the doings of  Company as this is how I was taught. He informed me using run by and back train orders was a "no-no" and you could easily put yourself into a cornfield meet situationas your overlapping train orders.

Train Orders to the end of the main line at Salida could not contain Run By and Back In as the property ended at Salida. So train orders were issued Run Extra Champion to East End Salida.

Would a train of empty's be doubled to shove back into the yard or shove the whole string?

Most often empties were shoved into the yard in one bunch unless a single unit crew was pulling in Boyce and the typical 100 car orders that a single SW-9 would have trouble pulling. This may of been different prior to 1970 when VHF radios were in use on the Montour RR.

Did #4 receive many cars from east - Salida or Snowden?

When the Mifflin Extension was constructed, the Bessemer Agreement was created allowing empty hoppers coming from Mifflin, mostly B&LE cars in later years, a trip under the tipple at Montour 4 as well as down the Library Branch to #10 so stop off coal could be returned to Champion, unloaded then the B&LE cars reloaded East.

If the empty yard was full of empty's - were extras stored at Thompsonville?  Or was the amount of cars monitored closely so this did not happen?? 

When #4's empty yard was filled, extras were left on Hills Transfer. Thompsonville was used for crews coming out of Mifflin with empty's. Thompsonville was also used when problems occurred out on the main and #4 loaded yard need relieved, so loads from #4 were shoved up to Thompsonville until crews were available to move coal to Champion. You only had to be careful when sending empties to Westland or Montour #10 as there was no place to leave them if you sent too many.
Pulling loads out of Montour #4 loaded yard often required atleast one long double, by many times crews doubled over as many as 3 times to have enough tonnage for their westward train, or making the moves to keep MET and STEAM coal in blocks. When Montour 4 and Montour 10 were working steadily, with crews still going to Mifflin, Montour 4 could be a congested place with 2 or even 3 road crews trying to get through there at one time. Some of the train orders were written stating;


Following Extra's, Wait at Grers Tunnel Until...
2:40 AM


Extra 83...83 West...Protect against the Rear of
Extra 80...80 West between Pennsylvania Company...
Transfer Hills...and West End #4....(Four)...Mine Hills....

The voices of many Montour RR employees who are no longer with us are wonderful reflections about how this little railroad operated. Listening to Train Dispatcher Bill Gregory and his demanding voice left quite a impression to a young boy growing up with big eyes full of Montour RR anticipation...


This is a 1939 aerial view showing the relationship between Montour No. 4 and Thompsonville Siding. The Montour main track curves off to the left in the upper part of the photo and the Hills Interchange with the PRR's Chartiers Branch goes off to the right. At this time, the Lawrence shaft and production facilities for No. 4 mine were still active and the center of activity.

Flooding eventually terminated operations at No. 4 mine, the McMurray borehole is used to monitor the water level in the No. 10 workings, and  is approximately at the point where mine No. 4 abuts No. 10. By monitoring at McMurray, CONSOL can determine if they need to increase pumping at the Hahn AMD plant on Hahn Road to prevent overflow into Chartiers Creek. The Hahn AMD (Acid Mine Drainage) plant draws water from the lowest point in No. 4 mine. The lowest point in No. 10 mine was at the Murdock borehole, which I have not been able to locate. - Bob Ciminel

Topographic map of the Montour No. 4 area

#4 Mine Portal Found
Bryan Seip

Here is a scene that hasn't seen the light of day for almost 20 years.

I believe the ghosts of the Montour are looking over us. And, ironically, if it wasn't for the Trail - and the weather - which caused the postponement of the bridge beams being placed - I probably would not have even seen the portal to #4. I would have walked on by - and spent my time watching the activity at the bridge.

I went to #4 to check out the new bridge, but there was nobody there and no work being done. When I called Troy & he said he would still come over and we could check out a few things - I decided to kill some time by walking up the hillside to where the mine entrance was - and lo and behold, the concrete portal was what greeted me. When Carter, RJ & I were there in December, it was nowhere to be seen. Nothing but a shallow depression in the dirt hillside. From the stories about it being bulldozed and buried - I never expected anything like this would still be there. I figured the portal was in a land fill or dumped down the shaft when it was sealed. Yes - what a find!! If the Trail work would have been in action, I may not have bothered to climb up to see the portal site.  It is not visible from the road or the main line/trail.  It was only when I got up onto the hill that I could see it.
This black and white picture at the top of the page is dated 1956.  You can see the pipes/conduits above the conveyor on the left. If you look closely at the left side, the pipes curve down at an angle - starting to match the angle of the shaft entrance. The cement support under the conveyor just at the left end of the metal roofing is still in place on the hillside. The main tipple structure is where TAR's new brick building sits. The brick building on the right of the picture is the old power house and is still in place along the edge of Brush Run. This view is looking east - the loaded yard is to the left - the empty yard is on the far side of the tipple - and the Montour main line runs on the raised bank going under the conveyor.  Brush Run and Valleybrook Road are to the right, out of frame.
Oh my - do we need that "Way-Back Machine" now........
Christmas may have come and gone - but the ghosts of the Montour whisper on the hillside.
This is the portal for Montour #4  - dated 1953 - on the hillside behind the TAR Storage building where the #4 tipple previously stood. This is where the conveyor went into the hillside and down to the mine level where the rotary dumper was located. Tim has told a couple of stories about going down the conveyor portal when #4 was shut down.
Tom Robinson - the owner of TAR Storage - told Carter he was considering installing a wine cellar in the hillside.   When Carter told him that the portal & tunnel was there, he seemed interested about that. It looks like he was interested enough to do some digging and this is what was uncovered. We did not talk to Tom - so will try to get more info from him down the road.


Even a tunnel rat cannot get into the portal - but we don't know if TAR will clear out any more of it. The fill has settled about 6-8 inches, so there is a little space at the top - enough to see that the ceiling starts to slope down just a few feet into the portal.



The emergence of the portal opening is nothing short of a sign of better things to come for Montour followers.  Looks like a great start for this new year.  Thanks gentlemen for your Tuesday adventure in the snow & ice to bring us all in on the find.  Wonderful....
After seeing the first pictures a few days ago, I started to dig through my mis-filed system of photos, searching for that certain view captured prior to the power being turned off at #4 Mine in 1980.  Lo and behold I found it relatively quick, hope you enjoy this companion image,  28 years younger. Now I need to locate the picture of the cement truck pumping cement down the shaft during the sealing process.
The corrugated metal in the lower right was located above the walkway.  The five power cables are directly above the  conveyor belt.  You can see the peak of the metal roof that housed the walkway and belt over the MRR main.
Tim Sposato


Looking down inside the portal

This map shows the tipple and dump track at Montour No. 4.  When minin stopped in 1980, the mine extended southwest to the Hahn Portal on Hahn Road.  The Pittsburgh coal seam at that location is about 660 feet above sea level; the elevation of the seam at the conveyor belt is about 740'..  So the mine trains had an 80-foot climb from the working face to the dump track.

The low elevation of the coal seam is why the hoisting and supply shafts, as well as the air shafts, are all located in stream valleys - not as far to dig to reach the mine workings.  The surface elevation at Hahn Shaft is 918'.  That put the mine workings about 260' underground.
 Bob Ciminel

 Map of the tipple area of Montour 4

Here's a shot looking down the tipple portal. I used to recall how many steps to the bottom, just not sure the exact count now???? 324??? I shoulda' wrote it down.

The mine fans were still on, the cold air rushing past, picking up fragments of coal dust disturbed by my movements, the rattle of corrugated metal, squeaking and clanking of various components of the tipple created an eerie environment to being there alone that late evening. The humming of the power house heard through out the valley still filled the cool night air.

Just walking from the tipple to the portal was an event in daylight, the walkway had open grating, one could look past their feet and see the Montour main track far below. At night, shadow's from the tipple lights would distort this scene adding to the one's imagination's. I can recall looking back over my shoulder on many occasions, noises causing shivers to flash up and down my spine, as I explored the tipple for the final time. Tim Sposato


Step back to 12-19-80.
I was scheduled to work 2pm, 2nd trick YM at Champion. Woke up around 6am, well knowing what this day meant for the railroad and myself.    6:30am found me driving towards Champion, sipping on a cup of hot joe. Conductor G. Biearman was called for 6am on Extra 73 east. Out of MRR Jct at 6:30am, light for a turn at Brookside.

After arriving Champion at 7:45am, Ex.73 picked up 2 coal loads of commercial coal for delivery to CR at McDonald. Departure from Champion was at 8:10am. At McDonald, Ex.73 delivered the coal and picked up several  loads of lumber for Brookside.

Next stop was Southview for another load to Brookside and a boxcar to Muse. After departing Muse Jct, the train climbed toward National Tunnel, I drove on ahead to #4. Arriving at Hills  I watched  the activities of the cement and pumper trucks sealing the portal. The long pumper extension crossing over the track as it poured the cement through the piping. The pipe laid on the ground supported by brackets as it climbed the embankment and disappeared into the portal shaft.

After a brief chit chat with the foreman about the location of  Ex.73, they emptied the truck, disconnected the pipe and  raised the pumpers extension arm to await the trains arrival. It was late morning, the heavy overcast with drizzle was melting the thin layer of snow from previous days, I needed to watch the time to insure not being late reporting to Champion. Faintly the muffled sound of the #73 whistling for Greers Crossing echoed down the Chartiers Valley.

Engine 73 slowly passed by the once busy tipple, under the out stretched arm of the pumper, tooting a little on the tooter as crewmen and workers waved greetings.  Looking at my watch  there was plenty of  time to pace the last
eastbound loads for Brookside Lumber, knowing all to well never being able to see this again. I continued driving along Valleybrook Rd, following the eastbound and just taking it all in. Timing was good, I could see them switch B-side and still be at Champion by 2pm........until just west of MP34. 

The last boxcar and Caboose 36 dropped between the rails as  they encountered wide gauge.   Minor derailment..time consuming. By the time the crew got them rerailed I had to head for the YO. The track gang was called to repair the track while the train was working Brookside.
Departure from Brookside westbound was at 3:30pm and being delayed by the derailment and track repairs was enough for them to only return to Southview and tie up.Here the taxi picked the crew up for the trip to MRR Jct. It seemed fitting it all happened the same day, last loads east, cold and overcast, drizzle, sealing the portal, derailment, outlawed crew. 

As I sat in the creaking wooden chair gazing out the YO window at the Prep plant, listening to the train orders and instructions given over the airwaves, the vision of #73 shoving caboose first back to Library Jct to get around it.  I followed the move from memory, Brookside to Southview, sorry to have missed it, yet mentally was still a part of it.
I vowed to ride the last run to Brookside one week later, one last train ride over those rails that had become so endeared to me.  That final run for the mtys was made, no issues, no troubles, just a quiet event for the few of us that were there.- Tim Sposato

Hickman Fan & Substation


Around 11:30 a.m. on Friday, June 10, 1960, a fire of unknown origin started near an automatic car spotter at the discharge end of a conveyor belt.  The area was a neutral air zone, equipped with an airlock that allowed only enough air flow to prevent methane accumulation.  Consequently, there was insufficient air movement to remove the smoke from the fire, which prevented fire fighters from reaching the blaze.
There were nine men working on the section and the first concern was to safely evacuate them.  Although opening the airlock would have allowed fire fighting to begin immediately, it would have allowed combustion products (particularly carbon monoxide) to reach the miners on the section.

It took about an hour to get the men to safety, but by that time the only way to reach the airlock required responders to wear oxygen-breathing apparatus.  The airlock wasn't opened until 3 o'clock that afternoon, giving the fire three-and-half hours to burn out of control.
Firefighters used water to fight the fire until 9 p.m., at which time they switched to a high-expansion foam generator.  By that time, the fire had spread over a large area, causing massive roof cave-ins and generating high concentrations of combustible gases.  The area of the fire was eventually sealed, although the use of foam did protect the fire fighters and stopped the spread of the fire into the pillars supporting the mine roof.
Fire fighting equipment available in Montour No. 4 consisted of a wheel-mounted 150-pound dry chemical extinguisher and two 20-pound dry chemical extinguishers in each working section, along with 1.25-inch waterlines extending to the coal face.  The waterlines could deliver 35 gallons per minute at 450 psi.  Each mine locomotive was provided with a 20-pound extinguisher.
The mine had five portable fire cars located at strategic places in the mine.  Three fire cars were equipped with 2,100 gallon tanks and 600 feet of fire hose and the remaining two cars had 900-gallon tanks and 350 feet of hose.
Two high-pressure pumps supplied water from a dam to the area affected by the fire.  Water in the dam was supplied from a well with provisions to tap into a city water line if needed.  Both of these sources were used during the fire described above.
(Source: "Use of High Expansion Foam On a Pennsylvania Coal-Mine Fire," U.S. Bureau of Mines Report, T. J. McDonald, 1961)
Bob Ciminel

Sad Tale about Montour 4 from Long Ago
By Kevin Arceneaux
Choo choo - the only motorman to get lost in the mine.  He was not the sharpest tool in the shed, and everyone road him.  One time a choo choo was going on shift anther guy said he was goong to Chooc's house to visit his wife, chooc went home and sat outside waiting for him to show up.

Mearl was the midnight shift boss, a really great guy.  I was on steady midnight's and he was great to work for.  I was with him in his jeep one night and he looked at me and asked how old I was.  I told him 18 and he asked wtf was I doing working in a mine.  After I told him it was for college, he took care of me.  He paired me up with a motorman, cannot remember his name, and would give a list of things he wanted done that night.  If we finished out list early we would go hide somewhere ( a lot of places for that) until the end of shift, we just had to listen to the radio in case he needed us for something.

Lee - he was a miner operator.  He brought so much food that he had to use bungee cords to keep his lunch pail closed.

I forget which section, but on Fridays they would all bring a dish and had a good lunch.  That was a great crew, everyone worked together and we mined coal.  We would get on a run and the section boss would ask if we would eat lunch on the fly and get an extra half hour.  The biggest problem was getting empties to load.

There also was a crew of elderly black track workers.  I got to work with them a couple of times and it was a good time.  We were eating lunch and they started talking about baseball and they were remember the old teams from the 30's and 40's.  They started talking about a guy from Library who could pitch real good, how he had played some games against the Homestead Greys and would give then hell.  I asked who and the said a guy they called strings.  I started laughing and they looked at me like I was an idiot.  I told them that Strings real name was Frank Strimlan and he was my Grandfather.  I was in like flint after that with them.  Most of them had come from the Westland Mine.  They had started back in the 40's during the war and it was my Grandfather, who was the Super, that fought to get them hired, he needed workers.  When he did , the union started to push back, so he called John L., he knew him, and got that straightened out.  One of the guys said he had got hurt and had to go to the hospital and still remembered that my Grandfather was the only boss that came to see him.  I couldn't wait to get home and go see my Grandfather to tell him.  He was impressed that they remembered him.