Things are different in Altoony!
Empty grain-train west at Cassandra Railfan Overlook. (Photo by BobbaLew.)
(“kuh-SANN-druh;” as in “Anne”)
Another foray to Allegheny Crossing in the Altoona, PA, area, where the mighty Pennsylvania Railroad crossed Allegheny Mountain in the 1850s.
Pennsy, once the largest railroad in the world, no longer exists, although its railroad does, operated by Norfolk Southern Railroad, which purchased most of the ex-Pennsy lines from Conrail when it sold.
Norfolk Southern is a merger of Norfolk & Western and Southern Railway in 1982.
Pennsy had merged with arch-rival New York Central in 1968 to form Penn-Central, and that went bankrupt in 1970, the largest bankruptcy ever at that time.
Conrail, a government operation at first, was formed to keep northeast railroading going. Other northeast railroads beside Penn-Central were going bankrupt.
Conrail, which included both the NYC and Pennsy mains, succeeded and eventually went non-government. It was broken up and sold in 1999.
CSX purchased most of the ex New York Central lines; which is interesting because this is what was proposed in the 1950s: Pennsy was trying to merge with Norfolk & Western, and Chesapeake & Ohio (now CSX) was trying to get control of New York Central.
Quite a few Conrail branch lines (former Penn-Central, etc.) were turned over to shortlines or abandoned, and much of its commuter-service was turned over to government authorities.
The current arrangement of CSX operating NYC and Norfolk Southern operating Pennsy is what was at first not allowed.
I’m a Pennsy-fan, and always have been. I’m a railfan, and have been since age-2; I’m now 70.
I started with Pennsy, actually Pennsylvania-Reading Seashore Lines (“REDD-ing;” not “READ-ing”), which was still operating steam-locomotives in the late 1940s and early ‘50s, when I first visited.
I was scared to death of thunderstorms, but I could stand right next to a steam-engine!
Things are different in Altoony compared to the world I come from, which is western New York.
People talk with the Philadelphia-accent, which is where I come from originally, actually south Jersey.
But I’ve been in western New York so long, almost 50 years, only a smidge of my Philadelphia-accent is left.
I embarrassed the check-in lady at my motel. “I’ve lived here all my life,” she said, when I pointed out her accent.
Like what accent?
“Well of course your accent is not an accent to you, but people in western New York don’t talk like that,” I said.
Flashing signs are everywhere, and giant roadside billboards that flash or change every couple seconds.
You don’t see that sort of thing in western New York, just small roadside entreaties to repeal the S.A.F.E.-act: “Protect our 2nd-amendment rights.”
Years ago we passed a hospital in Altoona with a flashing sign out front.
My wife, now gone, picked up on it immediately.
“Today’s special,” she said. “Liver transplants, only $895.”
I got lost this visit driving back to my motel.
I turned around in a shopping-mall parking-lot. At the exit onto the highway I faced a funeral-home.
It had a mausoleum attached.
A flashing sign was out front: “Ask about our specials!”
You don’t see things like that in western New York.
“No fancy funeral for for me,” my mother-in-law bellows, still alive at age-98.
“Just stuff me in a Hefty-bag, and drag me out to the curb.”
“Arrangements by Pratt Disposal and Flint landfill,” I once wrote into a suggested obituary at my newspaper.
“I better delete that,” I said; “lest it get printed.”
“Pratt Disposal” is my trash pickup. Out where I live trash is disposed of privately, not a gumint function.
“Flint landfill” is a giant trash landfill in the nearby Town of Flint. My trash ends up in that landfill.
Previous train-chases at Allegheny Crossing were led by my friend Phil Faudi (“FOW-deee;” as in “wow”), a railfan extraordinaire from the Altoona area.
He was doing it as a business at first; he called ‘em “tours.”
My first tours were with him as a business. But then he gave up the business. Too many near-misses, and a newer car he didn’t wanna abuse. He had been driving me around in his car per his railroad-radio scanner.
But he continued leading me around in my car with me driving. He’d monitor his railroad-radio scanner and tell me where to go.
But his beloved wife has Multiple Sclerosis, and he was afraid of her falling while he and I were chasing trains.
So now he stays at home monitoring his railroad-radio scanner, and calls my cellphone while I chase trains myself.
This works pretty well, although not as good as he and I together, in which case we snag nearly everything.
Congratulations if you’ve read everything previous.
The art starts here.
Since I checked in my motel by 3 p.m., I figured I’d begin chasing trains Wednesday afternoon, unlike usual.
I figured I’d try to find the location in Altoona where my brother and I shot last January.
In Altoona the railroad splits into two groupings I call “the express-tracks” and “the drag-tracks.”
Fast trains take the express-tracks, and heavy coal-trains the drag-tracks.
But I was unable to find the location where I shot a coal-extra negotiating the drag-tracks last January.
So instead I shot an eastbound stacker on the express-tracks.
Eastbound stacker threads the express-tracks through Altoona. (Photo by BobbaLew.)
That was the only location I went to on Wednesday afternoon.
That stacker stopped to clear a westbound train of auto-racks, but that’s not a successful picture.
Day Two, the day of my full-on train-chase, Thursday (8/21):
I began at Cassandra Railroad Overlook (I call it “Cassandra Railfan Overlook”), an old overpass over the main.
The bridge is on the original highway alignment into Cassandra, and is supposedly the original highway-bridge.
The highway was rebuilt bypassing Cassandra, but that old overpass was a way for Cassandra residents to get to jobs across the tracks, without actually crossing the tracks at grade.
The bridge is iron and concrete, single-lane, wide enough to pass a Model-A.
From west the railroad threads a deep rock cut approaching the bridge.
Previously the railroad went right through Cassandra, but that was bypassed by a straighter route in 1898.
Cassandra Railfan Overlook is better than Horseshoe Curve, since it’s shady.
I set up on the park-benches, hoping to repeat a view I saw in a Norfolk Southern Employees’ Photography-Contest calendar.
I carry a railroad-radio scanner myself, and heard the grain unit-train being cleared at Cresson (“KRESS-in”).
Norfolk Southern delivers a unit-train of corn to a shortline in Cresson.
That shortline then takes the train up to an ethanol plant in Clearfield, PA.
What’s pictured (lede picture) are the empty covered-hoppers going back for another trainload of corn.
From there I began chasing trains with Faudi; he called about 9:45.
Unfortunately Faudi is on the east side of the mountain, and can only monitor that side. I was on the west side of the mountain.
All he could tell me about was westbound trains up the east slope. Eastbound up the west slope I was on-my-own.
I figured I’d go to the small town of Portage, Portage and Cassandra being the two locations I wanted most.
Portage is where the 1898 bypass starts. It’s a long straight to Cassandra Railfan Overlook.
Actually the original Pennsy went right through Portage, and that railroad still exists.
It passes a coal-tipple, so is used as a branch.
I had to wait a while, but Phil had told me a westbound was coming.
Westbound stacker at Portage. (Photo by BobbaLew.)
Then an eastbound string of coal-hoppers, with SD80-MACs at each end, passed.