Montour Railroad 

Tim Sposato Short Stories

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Sposato Stories


Railroading 101



Tool Shanty

The tool shanty's were removed in March of 1983 by several Museum volunteers and myself, some place I have some photos of the dismantling of both shanty's.  When I locate them you can have a start to finish story.    We did want to have both reconstructed at the Museum, but the MRR Jct. shed had more deterioration along the base than Cowden's,  we elected to make one shed  using the best pieces.   Naturally all remaining tools, track components and some switch lamp parts were loaded up also.   The coal stoves had been removed quite sometime prior, but a few odd pieces were still around, I know they made it to the Museum also.  We used a flatbed truck from a Washington Pa. area contractor that was donated on the days we needed to haul.
We did have a great time taking them down, especially the Cowden one.  It was a few car lengths off a private dirt crossing against the main track, but the main was full of P&LE stored boxcars at the time, so dismantling and loading was more of a challenge. Naturally the weather was typical;  rain, sleet, cold and disagreeable.
This photo was taken August 2004, when we  ran the passenger excursions on the P&OC to Arden.  I spoke with some board members then  and there were no plans to discontinue its use at that time. Also attached is the release I signed from the MRR and  witnessed by the  2nd  (P&LE) Superintent (RJCostello) of the MRR.

Montour #73
This winter (2014) has been similar to those winters of the 1970s that I recall. In going through a few boxes in search of a photo I need, I came across this picture from about 40 years back....40 years....geez.

As a teenager I can't help but to marvel at how Railroad Men of the Montour permitted us youngsters to enjoy what they considered a routine job....why did we prefer to spend time with them at work rather than being out sled riding, ice skating or chasing the girls. They didn't understand, but they tolerated us.

Looking back, little did I know riding those cold, drafty, SW9 cabs would shape my future. Those days of naive innocence can never be replicated in today's world of railroading. Even though looking at this grainy Instamatic photo has not the quality of today's digital views, the power is there, captured for eternity to be found by generations of rail enthusiast's not yet discovered nor born of this world. Close your eyes and ride along as the #73 gently sways back and forth on yet another eastbound Trip to Mifflin Jct. on this snowy February day…….and reminisce.
Caboose Coffee
When I poured myself a cup of “Joe” from the percolator coffee pot in the round house lunchroom recently, I had a memory flashback of the many cups of java I enjoyed while employed on the MRR.   I had been a coffee drinker since I was quite young; “weaned on coffee” is what I have told many people.  Those Montour days fine tuned my taste buds to many types and ways to drink this dark brew.

As a youngster getting rides on the eastbound coal runs to Mifflin, we felt pretty mature getting a steaming cup from the generous rear end crews that allowed us to ride along. Sometime a slice of pie was offered as well. Montour Junction had several locations to get a cup. The main office had their pot, shared by all on the second floor, including the dispatcher. Below them the store keeper had his pot nearby, again, shared by the engine house foreman and others  as well. The engine house had several pots scattered about, some percolators, some coal stove pots…next to the weld shop, break room or the airbrake shop. And don’t forget the car knockers, two pots there, one in the break room and the other in the foreman’s office. Regardless where one stopped by at the Junction and poured a cup, they could be assured of a good brew.

Working 2nd trick Yardmaster at Champion, I got used to stepping into the trainman’s room to the aroma of strong coffee.   As long as a crew or Yardmaster was on duty, so was the electric percolator coffee pot, note, not a drip or quick brewer, but a true device to make good java. When I walked down to the tipple and entered the shipper’s office overlooking the loaded yard, one could be assured to get some “Consol Coffee” as well; again a percolator pot was always on. Working the Champion desk, I recall rarely seeing the bottom of my thick porcelain mug. Seemed that when the coffee got low and cold in it, I would stroll to the trainman’s side and fill ‘er up again.  This procedure would happen countless times in my 8 hour shift.

The Coal Runs when arriving west bound at Champion Yard would cut the caboose off on the main track across from the Yard office. The Conductor would amble over to deliver the waybills so I could compare the bills to the loads as they were shoved up to the dumper.  Sometimes after this shove was completed I would walk back to the caboose with the Con and chat for a while.  Winter or summer, coffee could be found on the caboose stove, maybe warm or hot….strong or weak, it was there.  Each caboose was furnished with coffee fixings, or not.  Some had cream, some had sugar, some had both, and others had none.   No matter I learned to accept my “Joe” whatever way it was offered to me.

Caboose stove coffee was by far the best, one can’t beat the coal smoke, coffee and oil aroma of a caboose.  The heavy white mugs in the caboose were cleaned and stored with a wadded up paper towel stuffed into to it, keeping out the coal dust that surrounded its environment. I still store my mug the same way to this day at the roundhouse……old habit……

This memory might mean very little to those that don’t drink coffee or have never experienced how railroaders excelled in coffee preparation, but it is yet another small piece to the rich history that is overlooked as we tend to focus in more common areas of Montour RR’s colorful past.
Library Foot Bridge
The Library foot bridge was one of several MRR owned and maintained conveniences for the public and or landowners, when arrangements were made during  construction of  the railroad that interfered with their access to properties. Other bridges that come to mind would have been the overhead bridge west of Brookside, Broughton Rd, Brush Run Rd, swinging bridge over Kamp's Cut and another swinging bridge over Montour Run Creek around MP 3.5 to name a few.

All these bridges had the same thing in common, owned and maintained by the MRR. Section #2 trackmen would be responsible for repairs to the Library foot bridge bridge as needed. I remember replacing planking on several occasions, removing a fallen tree off its approach and shoveling snow off of it as well in winter months.

The general construction of these swing bridges were made up of two strands of rails stretching across the creek, supported by vertical rails or pipes on each side at the abutments. The strands of rails then had wooden planking like those used on trestle walkways fitted between the rails. The rails were “gauged” with threaded rods that maintained the width between them and to hold the planking in place with an occasional bolts into cross members. This assembly was then supported by cables stretching across that also served as handholds.
This foot bridge lasted into the nineties to serve the public to access the trolley stop, the Port Authority Transit did repair it up until the arrival of the Light Rail Vehicle fleet that prompted the retirement of the trolley stop under the Viaduct. I frequented this stop quite often when trying to get back home after riding the train  from Mifflin to #10 mine, that is if I had enough coins in my pocket, if not it was a good hike home or maybe a thumb ride most of the way. Not sure who dismantled the bridge , but I'm sure it was in a bad state of disrepair by then.

The local kids would hang out there drinking and partying based on the many bottles, cans and other unmentionable items that littered the area. The picture attached is looking towards the trolley tracks, the trestle work of the Viaduct is visible on the photo edges. Route 88 is behind me. The remnants of the steps up the hillside can still be see as well as what’s left of the trolley stop platform area today. Note the rail joint in the bridges center since the creek was rather wide here to require the extra rail length.
Several weeks ago, someone mentioned a train having an undesired uncoupling while on the road. The term, high-low, referred to the coupler height matchup between any of the cars/caboose/ engines in the consist. If one of the couplers was considerably lower than the other, a potential “hi-lo” existed. The causes for a low hanging coupler was generally  from  hard coupling impacts while being loaded at the mine. I recall hearing many hard impacts echoing in the valley at #4 mine , all hours of the day and night.  Single cars or cut of cars dropped by the car dropper might get away account of a bad order hand brake or an ill timed use of the hand brakes.  Sometimes it may have been several impacts or just a gradual debilitating  operating condition that would eventually result in the hi-lo condition.

The defect was different depending on the cars design.  The term ‘carrier iron” was from the earlier days of railroading. Majority of cars after the turn of the century were equipped with fabricated, riveted steel or cast steel carriers. These may have been a  solid casting that the coupler past through to mate up with the draft gear assembly, or it could be designed to have the coupler and draft assembled as one and lifted up into position. This technique  would require bolts to hold the  carrier in place to support the coupler and allow the shank to rest on. Once this hi-lo  was in place and no one on the train crew spotted it during the train build up, it would only take some rough track with low joints to cause the uncoupling.  The cars rocking  combined with a lower that desired rail joint would permit the low knuckle to slip out of the grip of its companion, causing separation  and then parting of air hoses thus bring the train to an emergency stop.

Henderson Hill was a common location for hi-lo’s prior to the newer rail being installed. Train crews would try to re-couple and go, hoping no more low joints were ahead or they  used the tie plate trick by sliding the plate between the carrier and coupler, holding it in place with the use of spikes dropped through the plates spike holes. If the carrier was too badly damaged, then the dispatcher was notified to change their train orders allowing them to move a front portion of the train to Cowden siding for set off near the road crossing for the car knockers to come repair later. The engines would then return light to retrieve the rear section and doubling the train together once they reached Cowden again. This only worked if the bad carrier was on the east end of the car, if on the west end a chain coupling would be used to move the car. Both of these  methods were time consuming and costlier in crew hours and delays.

Hi-lo’s could originate from any mine or location, but generally didn’t expose themselves until on a hard, uphill pull on rough rack. Trains from #10 mine  would be shoved out to the main and rolled downhill to #4 Mine Hills, so its hi-lo’s would appear on Henderson Hill thus making this Hill the most notorious for the higher percentage of these to occur. They did occasionally occur at other locations as well. Westland had its share with the cars being set out at the west end of Morris Mine spur track for repair.

Wet weather,  regardless of seasons, increased the low joint syndrome. Winter months ground was too frozen to effectively raise and tamp low joints. In this case the spikes would be removed in both directions of the joint, distance depended on situation at hand.  After the rail was leveled, predrilled plywood or oak blocks slightly larger than the plate would be placed on the ties and then the tie plate tapped back under the rail. Extra long spikes used in certain bridge decking would be spiked through the ‘shims’ and hopefully get a decent bite into the tie. On occasion if the shim stack was too thick, half the shims would be spiked to the tie then the other shims/plate  spiked to the lower shims using the longer spikes……not a good design, but enough to allow trains to pass until a more permanent repair could be done.

In summary, hi-lo’s were common of the Montour, but not near so on the majority of railroads. This is just  another uniqueness that we got to see on the Mighty “M”, adding to the legend of its rich history. The photos show a recreation of a hi-lo repair using the MRR #815 hopper with the cast steel striker.  This was a good carrier iron, so the coupler is higher than normal once I inserted the plate and spikes.  For authenticity, I used original MRR spikes and tie plate.
It was a warm summer day when we were riding  our bikes and stopped at Hillcrest Shopping center for a soda.  Naturally most of our bike rides involved some railroad in the neighborhood. I was armed with the infamous 110 camera. Easy to slip in a pocket, cheap to operate.
The shopping center is just to the left,below the grade, this view looking east crosses RT 88, just as the straight-a-waystarts.  The chain link fence on the left is what was known as Alleco, short for Allegheny County, which is the county owned facility. The "whistle post" is seen on the right, just a piece of rail stuck into the ground with a metal plate bent around the top of it.  Stenciled in yellow was the word "signal". This was the eastbound approach for the Horning Rd. crossing circuit.
The bridge over the MRR is Broughton Rd.   I recall watching for this bridge as I grew up in the sixties when we went to visit relations on Sunday's, always looking down, hoping to see a train. The track structure has been left to slowly run down from lack of maintenance since traffic had dropped off through the 50's & 60's.   The inside 90lb rails are "straight-lining" from  deteriorated ties, worn plates and bent spikes. The ties are bleached white as most of the creosote has long since vanished. Occasionally dates nails were found on this line to Salida, lots from the 30's.
The cinder roadbed was a common sight,  sometimes fragments of fire brick from the steam locomotives were mixed in with these cinders. Ballast usually marked derailment locations, one was just behind this photo around 10 car lengths or so, complete with remnants of the spilled coal today, or more recent other repairs. This view is hard to see today, the concrete arch underpass for RT 88 has been "daylighted" ,  the cut has been filled in were the bridge had crossed. Alleco still remains.
Weeds, brush and trash have replaced whats left of this little piece of right-a-way.

     Als' Cafe - Jewell
Jewell Siding and Al's Cafe , like bread & butter, they both fit well together. The nights of waiting for the eastbound in the old automobile behind Al's. Watching the patrons come out at closing time was always entertaining. This helped pass the time as we waited for our train to arrive. Al's was more of the local sports type lounge in the 1970's & 80's.  As I had mentioned in earlier posts, the MRR men made many stops here for the great fish sandwiches and beverages! The Al's new  image is geared  toward family entertainment today and  fish is still as good!!
Hearing the SW9's laboring upgrade from Thompsonville around 2:00am as we waited, guessing its location as the sounds changed when the drag passed through cuts or behind the rolling hills, we had it down to the mile posts. The thrill of seeing the headlight illuminate the light fog or the tree tops long before we saw the source. By this time we had made our way to the switch, our  lanterns lit. We had boarded here so often over the years that it didn't matter that there were no loads to be picked up at Jewell, the train slowed enough for us to swing aboard. It helped that we had also called the dispatcher earlier, asking if a Coal Run had been called for the Mifflin Turn.  If the  reply was "yes" we would inform him that we would check the switch to insure it was lined for its movement.
His response "you kids better be careful out there"......
To this day I believe that the DS would casually mention this to the crew, thus allowing the "flag stop" to occur.

This picture was taken in 1981, just a few years before the rails were removed. The local kids had made sure the catwalk and railing had been removed, sometimes dropped to road below. I stood on the siding girders to capture Al's Cafe as it looked at the time. The rails black with rust now. Also the old farm house is seen  where the parking lot is now. The old garage that housed the auto we hid in was to the right, out of the frame, against the tree line. This dreary, damp day has captured a foreboding look at the loss that is soon to take place here. Today a small portion of the top of westend abutment is visible, the road slices it way through the R of W east of the bridge location.  Its nice to stand on this abutment when I stop by and remember the view pictured here, remembering the happier times...........
Jewell Bridge vs Tractor Trailer

The Jewell bridge was dislodged from a high truck passing underneath. I remember a weekend morning  callout  around 1975. The story is about a trucker taking a short cut passed #4 Mine Hills, while moving items from one warehouse to another.  Well as you can see he must of missed the height signs or forgot to check his equipment dimensions. The driver is wearing the "in style, knitted cap".
I was facing west on the bridge near the loaded yard switch. (note the nice shine to the railhead!) Needless to say the bridge was the victor in this encounter, no damage. Oh yes, those boxes in the container  included TV's and an assortment of other household appliances.  We tryed, but didn't get any of the spoils.
Please forgive the quality of the photo, once again the trusty 110 camera I carried in my helmet liner was used.
Libarary Junction Snow 1977

This story recalls the problems associated with winter time railroading.  This particular event was after a fresh snow of several inches on a blustery, overcast and windy day for those that can remember how it would howl up the valley at Library Jct.  As you  may recall, loads would be shoved upgrade ahead of the SW9s on the Library Branch.  The branch was many a scene of derailments, large and small.  This particular day on Feb. 1, 1977 was one of the larger ones. 
As the train was nearing the inside Wye switch, a wheel set dropped between the rails on wide gauge, the following loads followed suit. The derailed wheels hit  the switch points at the switch causing the P&LE 62824 to "split" the switch, so now the loads started down the West Wye track, to the left in the picture. True, this was the shorter way westbound off the branch, but not the correct way.  The angle of the cars was to much for the air hoses which then parted, dumping the train into emergency.
The picture was taken after the rear cars were rerailed and the rear of the train and engines used the siding to get back to the main track. The siding had to be inspected first because of the infrequent use it had seen, and the movement was made at less than walking speed. This inspection was a ordeal in its self because the snow made visual inspection impossible. Wished there had been more shovels available that day as we had to clean off the entire siding, adding gauge rods and spikes as required.
As the picture shows we had started cleaning out the rail and ties in preparation to regauging as seen  by the spike mauls leaning against the rails.  The west leg rails have not been worked yet. Between the tracks just off the end of the ties is the scar in the cinders where a load had been pulled back  to the switch for rerailing. The branch to Library was reopened the following day, the West Wye remained out of service for a while longer.