Montour Railroad 

Montour Railroad









Working on the Montour

Schaeffer Stories

Sposato Stories


Railroading 101



Tim Sposato Stories
Libaray Junction Then and Now

Libary Junc Then Library Junc Now

January 1977, was one of the colder and snowy months of the time. Section Gang #2 was kept busy sweeping switches over twelve days that month, also had worked seven derailments, some fairly major in size, between January 1st and February 4th.

The National Weather Records states; 
”The day with the deepest snow depth was January 15, with an average snow depth of 11.8" over the course of the day. The longest stretch of time during which there was always snow on the ground was from January 1 to February 22 (53 consecutive days)”.

In other words, cold, snow and more snow, typical Montour Railroad working weather.

We finished re-railing several loaded hoppers on the New Siding at Library Junction on Jan. 31st, when the following day another derailment occurred on the South Wye Switch.  The Library Turn Coal Run was shoving its train from #10 mine, out the East Wye Leg when it encountered a broken rail near the South Wye Switch. The first P&LE hoppers’ rear truck derailed, damaging the switch and gapping the switch points. The second hopper picked the points open on the switch, diverting its rear set of trucks into the West Wye Leg. The third and following cars continued into the West Leg.  The second hopper being shoved down two tracks, twisted sideways, breaking its coupling, thus parting the train airbrake line causing an emergency brake application.  The train stopped abruptly in the darkness of night.  

Section Gang #2 was not notified until its normal starting time at 7:30 am. The Gang gathered some tooling, materials, coffee and donuts, and headed to the scene.  Prior to the Gangs arrival, the train crew pulled the rear portion of the train that had not derailed, back about a quarter mile and shoved them into the Junctions siding. The engines then returned to #10 mine, tied up on the main below the loaded yard and Wood St. crossing.  The crew was taxied back to Montour Jct.

Section Gang #2 placed its RH-2, Hi-rail truck on track at the crossing at #10 and hi-railed up the branch to Library Jct. Upon arrival, we had to shovel out the cross-over switches to get the RH-2 clear of the main.  Shortly thereafter a fresh train crew arrived and ran the locomotives light back to the derailment to re-rail the cars against the hopper that sat sideways. Once they cleared the damaged track of hoppers the crew returned to # 10 mine.  Again they tied up below the crossing.   This allowed a clear track for more hi-rail trucks and material to be moved into place.  All this sounded simple enough here, but in reality this was over a three day period, working dawn till dusk, before the main track was restored to service.  Though a lot of materials were hi-railed in, we also removed rail, tie plates and joint bars from a section of the New Siding to repair the Main track. 

The February 2nd, 1977 photo of the derailment scene shows the amount of snow we dealt with in those days. Notice the two figures on the right. One of them is Pete Williams standing next to a dug out area in the snow where we had built a warming fire to help with our constant frigid condition.  Hidden in the snow on the right, running parallel to the main track and train consist was the siding. The cross overs are behind me when I took this photo.  In the distance you can make out the rear of the train and caboose, short of fouling the main track at the East Leg of the Wye.

The photo shows the track repair tools sticking out of the shoveled snow piles, brooms, shovels, line bars, crow bar, ect, were standing upright to prevent them being covered up in the snow. I took this picture when we stopped for lunch on the second day of the derailment, behind me the RH-2 truck was on the main track.  This view shows the amount of shoveling we had to do prior to any track repair. The repairs was underway, but a lot more work was needed before we could relay rails and spike them down.

Notice the wooden power line pole behind the train as well as the tall, steel hi-tension poles following the East/West direction of the main line.  The trees were much smaller in 1977 and the terrain is easily seen. The small cut at the derailment was clear of all foliage and trees as well.

The modern view taken February 5th, 2017 shows how much growth has taken place.  If you look closely you can barely see the wooden power line pole and wires. The steel towers are there, one can be seen straight down the Trail on the right.  The hillside above the steel poles are now covered in homes and town houses. 

The Montour Trail is favoring more of the roadbed location of the siding. You can see how the Main Track would have past closer to the tree line, now covered in cut grass.  The Trail follows the West Leg almost exactly of where the tracks once laid. On a final note, the downed brush and tree branches on the extreme right of the picture is approximately where the warming fire was located on that freezing February day……40 years ago.

Tim Sposato

Gene P. Schaeffer:
As a FYI, according to the ledger I preserved on derailments, P&LE 62824 (seen here) along with 6 additional P&LE hoppers derailed here on Jan 31, 1977, Conductor C.D Jones, Montour 74-75-78. The derailment according to the notation was due to wide gauge. The notation indicates the 62824 is the 2nd derailed car, so I'm guessing the next 5 car loads of #10 coal are also derailed looking towards the caboose?

The stories about working on the right of way illustrate what hard work was involved in keeping the RR running. I must admit, the most difficult days for me at Mathies was laying rail. As I recall, the rails to the working face were usually 45 pound rail. That changed to 60 pound rail for the track leading away from the face with loaded cars. The heaviest I remember was 85 pound rail for hauling the long trips out to the portal. The 45 and 60 was not too hard to handle but the 85 was a different story.

What weight was the rail for the Montour? 100 plus I would expect.

There was no automation at all for laying the rail. A few flat cars or rail and ties would be brought up to the track end and manpower took over. For a tall lanky kid this was backbreaking work. The gauge was 44" I believe but we used preformed metal ties with cams to lock the rails in place. Gauging was only a concern when bending rails for turn outs etc. The experienced crew could pound the locking cams in place with one blow but It was a struggle for me. Everything was rusty and dirty so a solid hit was required with the hammer to set the rail in the tie. The hammer was like a long sledge but had a narrow head. To make holes for the tie (fish plates?) plates or bonding sometimes a torch was used to burn through the rail. Usually though, no torch was handy so we had large vise-like clamps with a chamber for a .45 caliber shell to blow a hole out. Really cool. What is the name for the type of hammer used and the hole shooting device? Did the MRR track crews use that method or a torch or drill?

All in all, the track gangs were THE tough guys with Popeye forearms.