Tim Sposato Stories
The Final Run
The year 1986 started out quietly on the Montour, not much was left of the track structure. Rails had been cut at the West End of Venice Bridge, the rails and ties East to Mifflin Jct and Library Branch had been removed in previous years. Westland Branch and the main line West to Montour Jct was still intact, rusty rails and weeds had taken control.
I was working for Norfolk Southern Corp. in Irondale, Alabama went I got a call early in May 1986. As you recall, I had recently mentioned my acquiring Fairmont Motor Car #1, Model A-3 Gang Car from my friend Bob Magdic. He had purchased the #1 from the MRR in 1983 and we removed it from Gilmore Jct tool house. After we loaded it on the trailer, it was taken to the B&O Grant Street Station in Pittsburgh for storage. We both belonged to the Pittsburgh Chapter National Railway Historical Society at the time and decided this was a secure location to get #1 running again. The car sat here until I got the phone call. Bob Magdic gave me the sad news that the Railroad Construction Company, Amtrac of Ohio, located in Orrville, Ohio had been given the contract to dismantle the reminder of the MRR. He also said they had started removing the yard at MRR Jct already.
Well this news was a great blow to my heart, well knowing there was nothing I could do, my response was subdued, I knew it was coming someday. Bob then suggested, “why not get the #1 out for a final run? I jumped at the suggestion. Bob said he would “tuner her up” if I wanted to join the fun. Of course I would! I immediately put in for time off over the Memorial Day weekend and arranged for an airline ticket. We decided to run the car on Memorial Day, figured there would not be any contractors around and most other folks would be off for the Holiday.
The U-Haul trailer was rented late Saturday evening and were loading MC#1 at the B&O station as the sun rose over Pittsburgh; traffic was light and we many a good time to Gilmore Jct. Using RT 50 road crossing we unloaded #1 onto Westland Branch. Bob, Steve Chirpac , myself and a friend of Bob’s would be making this historical run. I stated at the time that this would be the last piece of true Montour equipment to polish, sort of, the rails again……..…The Final Run…….
RT 50 Crossing near Gilmore Junction May 1986
The #1 had a full fuel tank plus we had 10 more gallons in a couple of jerry cans, we loaded drinks and snacks. All of us had hard hats and work clothes to blend in as contractors since the RT 50 crossing area had Amtrac of Ohio equipment located there. Our first move was to the West, past #1’s old home in the Gilmore tool house, we decided to make the big run to MRR Jct and then time permitting, Westland Branch on our return. The trip was fantastic, riding the MRR rails again for me was a great thrill, yet sad, knowing this was the last run. The Gilmore Switch was already lined off the branch for us as we gained speed.
Our first stop was a run by and back in at Southview Interchange with the Norfolk Southern
(ex Pittsburgh & West Virginia Rwy)
We took our time, stopping at numerous other locations as I narrated mile by mile of facts, figures and stories of the past. The rails sang an unusual sound account of the heavy rust as we pushed our way throughweeds that stood at times three feet high. Occasionally we had to stop to remove debris or tree branches from the track of which we had planned ahead for by bringing a chain saw and hand saws.
Also on board was some track tools and small torch in the event we encountered a rail out or switches that would not function, we used these only once on the trip for a rail installation at Gilmore Jct.
One of several run bys on the McDonald Viaduct May 1986
East End Russell, note the Champion Yard Board and the Telephone Shanty on the right.
Champion Yards, I wore my MRR helmet and worn out MRR bib overalls
for the occasion. The loaded yard is to the left, Disco Plant would be to the right.
The next stop was Champion Yard Office, the Yardmaster desk was under the left window. I spent many 1st and 2nd shifts here, a lot of time standing in the right window, watching the rotary dumper and Empty Hill as well as taking car numbers and seeing the crews work the yard.
Upon our arrival at North Star, we decided to try to use the Wye. The operation worked so well we turned twice for the fun of it Westbound and twice more on our Eastbound return. The boys enjoyed riding through the weeds, barely seeing the rails, besides it was a cool shaded location as the day was a warmer one. We were glad that the window glass has been gone since its days on the MRR, we had nice air circulation when moving.
North Switch of North Star Wye. This is where the East and West Legs connect forming the short tail track behind Tim Sposato and Steve Chirpak. Yes there are rails there !
The trip paused briefly for this scene at the West End of Jefferytown Tunnel. We did a couple passes through the tunnel, another chance to soak up some cooler air.
As we past MP 4 (on the left) Westbound, I started to open the throttle more, knowing just around the next two curves, we would hit the long tangent stretch that was the unofficial “race track” on the MRR for trains, hi-rail trucks and motor cars….seemed most if not all employee’s exceeded the speed limit here. Old #1 was really rolling on that stretch.
East End Montour Junction May 1986. Arrival at East End MRR JCT showed the scrapping underway.
East end Montour Jct, the track to the right headed to the P&LE RR at Groveton. The main line headed into the yard, the Amtrac of Ohio crane is on the main track. Note the purple painted “Extra Gang #3” on the #1, this was her last assignment on the MRR working out of Gilmore tool house. Faint remains of the purple paint can be seen today on the car.
The depressing view looking west into MRR Junction Yards May 1986.
After a walk around the dismantled yards of the Junction and Shops we headed back East. The run back was mostly nonstop now as we still wanted to see Westland Branch. As we clickety-clacked over the rail joints, slowly came the realization that this would be my last ride eastbound on the MRR…it didn’t seem real…not after spending all those years enjoying midnight train rides on those wonderful SW9’s, the gentle swaying of those steel cabooses, now a memory.
We soon arrived back at Gilmore and enjoyed a fast trip past Morris Mine, Cowden farm up over the hill through the cut, then a high speed roll down hill to the Westland Empty Yard Switch….we could go no farther, the rails now removed from the yards and main tracks. The trip back to Gilmore was made in short time, the run about over. I mentioned there was a short stretch of track still in from Gilmore Jct to Venice Bridge, any interest? Unanimously all agreed, we are here, let’s do it. Out at Gilmore switch, I used my switch key for the last time that day and lined our movement. Moments later we stopped short of Venice Bridge, the rails gone ahead, chain link fence protecting the West end of the bridge. I got out and took in the scene, one last picture of Montour Equipment on the main line. We may never know the first Montour employee to ride her rails, but I took great comfort in knowing that I was fortunate of being the last employee to do so, ending the wonderful story of the Montour RR.
Final stop East Bound, MP 24, Venice Bridge, May 1986
After our return to RT 50 crossing, we loaded the #1 on to the trailer and headed for her new storage location. The B&O Station was under the gun for a complete shutdown and the NRHS Chapter may be looking for a new home.The time has come to relocate MRR #1 to another secure location. Waynesburg seemed the best location account of my connections with the Greene County Historical Society Museum. Though we had ended operating their #4 locomotive, I would still check on it a few times a year to ensure her safe keeping.
#1 stored next to Waynesburg & Washington locomotive #4 in Waynesburg, Pa 1988.
The New Era arrives......2014
Good friend of mine, Scott Zemba, made the trip to Pennsylvania with me to retrieve the #1 on a rainy November day in 2014. Here he winches the #1 onto his tilt bed. #1 is looking a bit worse for wear after all these years of storage, but she rolled easily onto the truck to start a new chapter in her career.
By 1991, #1 was moved again to the property of Bob Magdic, were it resided until my purchase in 2014. MRR #1 never rode another rail after her final ride on the Montour, sitting stored and covered with a tarpaulin until the lean-to she was under collapsed with a snow fall several years ago.
Montour RR Motor Car #1 under repair at the Age of Steam Roundhouse, Feb.2015 Notice the rotted plywood roof has been removed already.
Currently #1 is stored inside having some light cosmetic repairs done as well as tuning up the Waukesha four cylinder engine. She now has a new plywood and canvas covered roof, new canvas curtains have been made. Very little will be done to change her MRR appearance. I trust 2015 will see her polishing rails again for the first time in 29 years. Thus motorcar #1's story continues..........
Motor Car #1 Trivia
Motor car #1 was built in Fairmont Minnesota, 1950-52, designated series A3-D, Gang Car. Seems that possibly six of this series were purchased, allowing the retirement of the small speeders of the M9 and MT19 types and even a Fairmont hand car or two.
MC#1 weights in it around 1500 pounds with a 41-5/8" wheelbase.
The original four cylinder gas Waukesha engine is still functional using the six volt electrical system.
We are doing minimal repairs to the car, trying to retain what she looked like the last days she worked on the MRR.
On snow Sunday afternoon, track men were called out to sweep switches for the Coal Runs going on duty after midnight. Not many men showed up that day. I was with Section Gang #2 and we started sweeping around Hills, #4 Mine before heading east to library Jct and #10 Mine. When Foreman Schmidt called in, he was told that only one member of Extra Gang #3 reported at Gilmore Jct. We were to take two of our gang to Gilmore to assist cleaning switches between Muse Jct and Peacock, including Westland mine. Being the youngsters on the crew, Bobby Dengler and I were taken to Gilmore and dropped off. Section #2 gang would then head for points east for sweeping to return later that day to pick us up.
Extra gang #3’s member had the motor car #1 running and sitting outside the tool house door awaiting the help to get her on the mainline. The three of us wrestled her to the rails and headed for Muse Jct. Going was slow; the rail wipers would not clean the rail heads to bare metal. MC #1 spun wheels constantly, but managed to make head way. After a great deal of time moving slowly we got the switches cleaned at Muse Jct,
Cowden and Peacock. Being that the #1 has no heater, we stopped for a spell at the Gilmore tool house to warm up at the potbelly stove.
The next attempt was Westland Branch. This proved to be the failure of the day. With great difficulty we made it about halfway to the top of the hill. This included Bobby and I walking ahead of #1 sweeping the rails of the snow, but the icy rail kept stalling the motor car. By then Section Gang #2 appeared on the road across the valley in the RH-2 Ford truck. Foreman Schmidt hollered for us to return to Gilmore and they would drive to Westland for the switches. He was not happy, twilight had arrived by then and we returned to the tool house.
The potbelly stove was rekindled and we huddled around to thaw out our frozen parts. It was quite dark when the RH-2 returned to pick up Bobby and myself.
Right after the formation of the Extra gang #3, assigned to Gilmore Jct, motor car #1 arrived after a tune up at the Montour Jct. It was but a few months later that #1 failed to stop in time to avoid hitting the rear bumper and hitch of RH-2 at East End of Cowden. RH-2 was sitting on the rail at a loaded train derailment that occurred. MC#1’s radiator was crushed. We pushed it back around the curve and parked it in the east End of Cowden siding.
Later that evening, we shoved it back to Gilmore tool house by rail with the RH-2 and parked her inside. Shop mechanic Jack Lazear came out a few days later and replaced the radiator, also installing a shop made steel bar grille to protect it. Within a year or two MC #1 once again failed to stop in time to avoid hitting a stopped caboose at another derailment site at Peacock. The coupler bending the grille inwards and buckling the plywood front, but saving the radiator. This same bent grille still graces the front of #1 today.
The Foreman’s Seat
On many occasions Section Gang #2 would work with Extra Gang #3. Motor car #1 would ride the rails to the worksite while we drove RH-2. The Gang #3 foreman had liberated a steam locomotive seat box from the MRR Jct shops. Several of these seat boxes were used around the shop, especially near the coal stoves. I would always try to get that seat box, but to no avail with the foreman. This was a nice one, older, most likely from one of the 2-8-0’s. Constructed of wood and painted “cab” green with the tradition flip up seat cushion covered with black leather. It also has a cushion backrest and inside the box was a metal holder for the daily engine work report pad. This was definitely the engineer’s side seat.
This seat box rode many miles on one of those steam locomotives and then even more on MC #1 up and down the MRR rails. One day the seat box disappeared from MC #1…..the foreman was out to get me since I had showed interest in it, many menacing threats were made. Mysteriously the seat box eventually showed up a bit later. I never found out how, but I think my good friend Foreman Schmidt had something to do with it. When we get MC #1 back into operating condition, I think the seat box should return to its corner on board.