Montour Railroad

Montour Railroad









Working on the Montour

Sposato Stories


Railroading 101



Sposato Stories
Montour #4 Car Cleaner -1981
The Montour had numerous job descriptions in its 100 + year history, we generally only recall the obvious jobs ie:  train crews, MofW, dispatching, ect.  Many jobs were obscure and some mainly forgotten, like the employee’s that used to maintain and light the switch lamps, another day for that one.  This time I would like to share a few stories about a job that was active up until # 4 mine shutdown, the #4 Mine, Car Cleaner.

This job was handled by employees in the MoW Dept., a bid job usually held by the senior man.  The 1970’s saw this as a two shift position, daylight and/or  2nd and midnight shift, depending on when empties were to be placed in the mine.  As a youngster riding my bicycle to Hills, I made friends Warren Aitken, senior trackman that held the daylight job. Warrens “office” was a prefab, corrugated steel shed with a small storage room on the tipple side that held the spare tools and supplies for Section Gang #2  when they were still headquartered at the tipple as well as one window in the back overlooking Valley Brook Rd.  This shed used to sit above and slightly east of the TAR gate next to the empty yard.

The attached photo of the shed was taken in 1981 when #4 Mine facilities were being dismantled. I was standing in the middle of the empty yard facing Valley Brook. The tipple was to my right. The empty yard tracks have already been removed.

The shed had a dirt floor, a large potbelly stove graced the center, stained with tobacco juice, fire pokers and hand fashioned clothes hangers for toasting sandwiches hanging on its rim. The battered coffee pot always sat on the top of the stove as well as the occasional pairs of gloves drying out.

Along the shed sides stood wooden benches,  derelict  chairs,  a few lockers, wooden shelving with some coffee and cooking supplies , old electric radio, girlie pictures torn from magazines adorned the walls as well as chalked  sarcastic remarks towards other RR employee’s,  and of course the thick musty mixtures of  smells; coal,  oil, cigarettes and dampness hanging in the air….year round….. I fondly recall spending many hours in this atmosphere while waiting for the next Coal Run to arrive.  This became a very common event for us during summer vacation, bike ride to Hills, clean cars, ride the Coal Run around Hills/Boyce, maybe a ride to Cowden or Peacock if there was another eastbound train to return us to Hills, then the bike trip home, sometimes long after dark.

The car cleaner’s job was to check every empty hopper placed in the MT yard for foreign material, this material varied greatly. One could find pig iron pellets, iron slugs, chunks of coking coke, scrap steel,  stone of many types, metal stamping slugs, glass pellets, the list goes on.  The cleaner, being a veteran would be able to mount the end car of a cut and walk from car to car along the top chord as well as being able to jump across to the next track.  We tried this ourselves from time to time, it was very precarious to say the least, Warren would let us do this on occasion but he was concerned.   He did enjoy when we would help clean the car by opening the pockets, climbing into it from the bottom.  He would supervise and encourage us as we sweated and choked on the dust we stirred up shoveling out debris.

Sometimes the cleaner would walk the empties in the Transfer towards Boyce or on the Hill or Creek Tracks and clean cars. This was done  when they knew the cars would be placed when no cleaner was working or if the cars were placed in the mine on weekends.  These Transfer Tracks still has a lot of the above mentioned debris along its grade. The cleaners would also venture up to Thompsonville Siding when empties were stored there for the mine.

Thompsonville Siding grade and the empty yard area today still show this debris as well the bank between Valley Brook Rd and the yard. The ‘M’ had a rubber tired front end type loader that was known as the “Pay Loader”.  This machine was used around the RR for many chores. It had a large bucket that was notched out to allow the bucket to scrape across the tie tops while straddling the rail.   About once a year, when the yard was free of hoppers the loader and a few men would clean the tracks.   The extra trackmen would assist with shovels to fill the bucket and the loader would then dump it over the bank along the road.   I recall twice, all of us in Section Gang #2,  spending all day Saturday cleaning and repairing some yard track issues.

Jump ahead several years, I am hired and assigned to Section Gang #2.  Prior to the gang relocating their headquarters to the #4 supply yard next to the PRR, we reported to the #4  tipple.  One winter Monday morning I arrived to work to find out that Warren marked of sick, the next senior man of the gang has priority.  Well it was very cold and windy that day, snow flurries abound, senior man declined as did the next & next until they all looked at me.  They preferred the warm truck, occasionally getting out to sweep a switch or clear ice from crossing flangeways.

I stepped forward, sure I knew how to do this, it would be a different pace from track work, but I didn’t think about the material frozen in the hopper pockets not to mention frozen doors and  latches, ice & snow clogged pathways between the tracks.  It  was also a day the Coal Run was placing 50 some cars fresh from Boyce into the MT yard, PRR cars and they were filthy.  I struggled for hours, the mine was loading fast that day, I was falling behind.  Knowing several of the miners, they had a little compassion and chipped in to help me keep up….Of course I had to square up with them at a later date at the Hills Station VFW, but it was worth it for me not to hold up car loading operations.  I didn’t need to hear that Consol called Montour Jct.  to report a delay for not having empties.

I was physically & mentally relieved when the veteran cleaner for 2nd shift arrived, I stayed a bit longer to help him get some of the doors closed.  The next Coal Run arrived and placed more PRR cars in from the Transfer, but I was marking off, cold stiff and tired.  The 2nd shift cleaner laughed, he wasn't worried, said he would get what he could done, thats all.

Warren marked off the rest of the week, I cleaned for him, but now we got mainly shuttle cars from Champion, nothing to clean since they were captive coal haulers.  Life is good.  Now  I had the opportunity to enjoy that corrugated shed with its  glowing red potbelly, simmering hot coffee, toasting my sandwiches and listening to the sounds of hoppers being loaded, dropping in and out of the tipple and of course those unique shed odors the rest of the of week.

Tim Sposato