Montour Railroad

Montour Railroad









Working on the Montour

Sposato Stories


Railroading 101



Tim Sposato Stories
Montour RR Silent Guard

Montour RR’s Silent Guardian

On a cold winters night, the North wind brought an onslaught of snow, covering the landscape in a white wonderland as well as the heads of the 90# RB, Carnegie rolled rail.  Extra #34 East struggled to keep the loaded hoppers destined for the Great Lakes moving. The friction bearing journals resisting rotation account of the cold lube oil as well the curving nature of the railroad right of way.  The Mikado was over tonnage again, as usual during World War II, but still willing to meet the demands of her country.

The long hours were wearing on the engineer as he fought the throttle to keep the footing under the America Locomotive Company built 2-8-2  since leaving the water plug at the West End of Hills.

For the hundredth time the old girl quarter slipped on the icy rail, engineer catching her quick with the throttle lever while gaving her a squirt of sand, but not  before tearing  a few holes in the fire bed again. The fireman gritted his teeth, muttering under his breath as he responded with the stoker motor operating valve, rolling more coal to cover the holes while glancing at the water glass.  Once again the 20 year old locomotive grabbed the rail, dug in  and continued to strain at the trailing tonnage. "Bet the captain back in the hack is enjoying the run-ins and outs of slack" the old hogger thought with a slight grin.

Now his tired eyes, straining on this snowy night to get the first glimpse of color as the engine 'rounds the left hand curve close to the top of the hill,  the stack exhaust booming it's echo off the rock cut wall, looking for that sentinel at the West End of Jewell Siding, its green eye glowing quietly, telling him the switch is aligned properly.

He breathes a little easier, shouldn’t worry about doubling the hill now, would have , if we had to stop…………….he keeps ‘em rolling………...

Montour Railroad has an endless supply of stories in its rich history, trains, coal mines, maintenance facilities, employee’s and so forth.  This little piece of the past is just as interesting as the rest, mostly ignored, taken for granted, the silent sentinel of the Mighty “M”.

The majority of track switches once held the mandatory switch lamp, their colored lenses carefully watching all movements, day and night.  There were several types and manufacturers of lamps used on the Montour. I have found different parts relating to these types, left behind in section shanties, near switches or left over in the storehouse during the 1970’s. The lamp of earlier years looked to have been the Lovell-Dressel Company based on a few parts found.

The Lovell Company was founded in the early 1860’s and manufactured marine lamps. The Dressel Company founded in the 1880’s specialized in railway lamps.  These two companies merged in the 1920’s and continued the use of the Dressel name.  The Adams & Westlake company acquired the Dressel Company in the 1960’s.    The Dressel lamp on the Montour appears to have been replaced by the Adams & Westlake Company (A&W) lamp on the Montour by the late 1920’s.

The A&W Non-Sweating Switch Lamp, No. 1112 ½ was the choice of management to be standard on the line.  This one being superior to others, in that the weather elements of  winter and summer effected  it’s operation very little as well as it rugged construction and ability to stand up to hard use. It was equipped with the patented “Balanced Draft Ventilation” system that proved to be the best over all other types of signal lamp ventilation.  This system allowed for a moisture free and wind proof body design, critical to outdoor operation.

This lamp was used continuously from the 1920’s on all main line switches and selected yard and mine track switches into the mid/late 1960’s. From that time on, the main line lamps slowly disappeared, the yard lamps  still being  used on a few switches at Champion and Montour Jct.  These switches tended to be closer to the engine, car shop and yard office area as well as Boggs Yard.  The more remote switches were susceptible to vandalism and now, railroadiana collectors.  These collectors saw that lamps were starting to be less used by RR’s in general and thought best to help themselves before they all were gone.

Lamp #1112 ½ stood about 17” tall and was equipped with enameled, 9” day targets……2 white, 2 red.   The 4 ½ “lenses were green and red, the green being used in the white target, red with red target.  These lenses were made by several makers including Corning, Kopper’s and A&W to name a few.   The lens exterior surface was smooth and the interior had a stepped surface similar to the Fresnel Lens, that also added material strength.  I have also found that some lamps had 10” targets and 5” lenses based on some parts left on the MRR.

The lamp body had a small peephole about 2/3 way up and was hinged at the top allowing access to the square vent cone, hoop and oil fount.  The fount was generally 31 ounce capacity, but I did find a few that were smaller 28 oz with an adapter to allow proper fitting in the lamp body.  The body was painted with an industrial gloss black, enamel paint. It was equipped with a large bail handle for carrying.

The RR was divided into numerous maintenance sections at one time, each section had the section shanty for track gangs to report to and in turn they were responsible for their section of track.  Duties also included maintaining switch lamp operation.  Each week, generally on Fridays, the lamps were cleaned of soot and founts replenished with specified lamp oil in early days and then kerosene in latter times. Burner wicks were replaced or trimmed and any other repairs from vandalism or wear were made.  When the  enameled targets rusted, paint was used to recover them, dulling the glossy smooth finish.

The section foreman would also find several times during the week to inspect his section and would check the lamps as part of the inspection.   As these sections gangs were eliminated the duties fell into the work schedule of the remaining gangs. Eventually the RR was down to two sections by the 1960’s and the lamps started to see neglect.

By the early 1970’s, when I was able to explore the Montour,  lamps were a rare treat.  Few remnants of them remained, Boggs Yard had some as well as the West End Champion and Montour Jct.  still displayed complete lamps on some switches. Most lamps were stolen or damaged; I had found damaged lamps at Brookside and Jewell switches that were ‘rescued’ on the Mifflin end of the railroad and a complete lamp at Hills Transfer early on.  Occasionally parts can be found in the area around switch locations even today.   Mostly shards of red and green lenses or rusted targets or bodies.

After my employment on the RR,  Imperial, B&T,Champion and other switch lamps, all heavily vandalized were rescued.  The four remaining section shanties, Montour Jct., Gilmore Jct., Cowden, McMurray and the tool shed at Champion yielded numerous lamp components that I was able to salvage. Using these parts found in shanties and the generous Storehouse keeper, allowed me to reassemble several of the lamps to operation again. The MRR Jct. storehouse still had a few new lamps in the 70’s that were hanging on the back wall.  It took a lot of begging to get one, fortunately I was lucky enough to rate one as they were handed out to several other employees.  

Here’s a quick story that allowed me to become a common name in the Superintendant Rauschart’s vocabulary.  As an early teenager, a couple of us using a “Loblaw’s Grocery"  shopping cart,  made a several mile journey to the Kiefer’s Sand Track in Bethel Park.  The switch had been removed and the switch machine was sinking into the mud of the drainage ditch for some years.  We dug it out, complete with high staff and targets attached, loaded it into the cart and pushed it to my house.  There we disassembled it, removing years of rust, mud and paint.  Total reconditioning followed including fresh oil and new paint. Black painted machine and staff, correct color of red and white paint, found in the McMurray shanty, a little old, but not too bad after much stirring.

Another trip with the grocery cart at night we brought back two RR ties.  These were mounted by our sidewalk to the driveway and the machine mounted to them, complete with spikes, plates and a short piece of 90# rail, all from the retired Kiefer spur.    Using a lamp body and parts found in the McMurray shanty we were able to install a complete operating switch lamp.  It looked splendid! The lenses glowing brightly at night.  Occasionally we’d throw the switch to change the color, just beautiful!

Did not last long though, not sure if someone reported it or by chance (I suspect the former) but some how the Montour management got wind of it.  I came home from school to find P&LE RR, Sgt. Joe Delia sitting with my mom on the front porch.  Well the questions started, you know the answers……the following day the Montour’s B&B Dept truck with Al Maga and a helper, accompanied by Superintendant F.C. Rauschart and Track Supervisor Joe Playchek,  arrived to remove our masterpiece.  It was returned to Montour duties again. They all had a good laugh and were very complementary on our rebuild. I was able to shake hands with everyone and no ill will was to be held.  This event opened a door for me later in life, unknown to me at the time, and made me well known with the P&LE Police Dept…..and their watch list, I suspect….

I did find out later that switch machine, being rebuild to almost new condition, found a home on the main line at the West End Hills until it was removed during the dismantling of the RR. The lamp, I figured, ended up in some employee’s collection as soon as it left my house.

Attached is an Adlake catalogue page found in the Montour Storehouse. I’d like to point out that this same Model 1112 ½ lamp is still offered by the Adlake Company of Elkhart Indiana.

Also a photo taken on July 8th 1974 at the West End of Boggs yard showing one of the last lamps still standing duty, un-lit when I opened it but re-lit when I left.

Sorry for the long wind here, but getting back to memories of Montour will always be of major interest to me.  Having a chance to see her lamps in service, red and green glowing eye's in the darkness, silently on guard, even on a small scale in the final days will have a special place in my heart.

Tim Sposato