Saturday, February 28, 2015

Monthly Calendar-Report for March 2015

Eastbound Y94 into Slope Interlocking. (Photo by BobbaLew.)

—The March 2015 entry of my own calendar is a potshot.
It’s eastbound Y94 entering Slope Interlocking under 24th St. overpass in Altoona (PA).
Slope Interlocking is where trains enter the vast Altoona yard complex. It’s also where the uphill grade over Allegheny Mountain begins. There used to be a tower.
This picture was taken January 12th, 2013, when my brother-from-northern-DE and his son were helping me chase trains.
My brother is not a railfan, but my nephew is.
Phil Faudi (“FOW-dee;” as in “wow”), the railfan extraordinaire from Altoona who has helped me chase trains in the area, was not with us. His wife has Multiple Sclerosis, and he’s afraid of her falling. So he stays at home. What he does is monitor his railroad-radio scanner, and call my cellphone.
We had gone to 24th St. overpass hoping to photograph train 04T, Amtrak’s eastbound Pennsylvanian. The Pennsylvanian is state-sponsored, and is the only passenger-train left on this storied line, which used to host many passenger-trains.
04T, the eastbound Pennsylvanian. (Photo by Tom Hughes.)
My nephew got the better picture of 04T. It had one of Amtrak’s rare 500-series engines. I ran it in last year’s calendar.
Other trains passed under us, climbing the mountain, or descending.
Y94 has a helper-set up front. If it’s 6300-series it’s an SD40-E helper locomotive.
A helper-set is two SD40-Es used only in helper-service over the mountain.
SD40-Es are SD-50s downrated by the railroad to 3,000 horsepower. SD-50s were 3,500 horsepower.
Helpers get added or detached in Altoona, and at locations west of The Hill. They help the train up The Hill, and also add braking to a train descending. A westbound helper-set may run all the way to Pittsburgh, and that’s helping hold back the train once over The Hill.
The train is following the old Pennsylvania Railroad, the same alignment laid out in 1854. It was, and still is, an engineering marvel, that an operable railroad could be built over Allegheny Mountain, once a barrier to commerce.
Helpers were needed, but the line is not insanely difficult.
The grade west is 1.75%; that’s 1.75 feet up for every 100 feet forward. Go above 2% and you’re asking for trouble. Above 4% is just about impossible. Any steeper and the locomotive driving-wheels, especially side-rod steam-locomotives, won’t hold the rail.
The hitch to Allegheny Mountain, and the railroad thereon, is how heavy a train can be operated. The grade drags a train climbing, and trains try to run away descending.
So here came Y94 down The Hill, eastbound on Track One. I shot some photos of the train up the track, but then at the last second I hung my camera over the bridge-rail and snagged this potshot.
Often my potshots are my best photographs.

The winner of the Battle of Britain, not the Spitfire. (Photo by Philip Makanna©.)

—The March 2015 entry of my Ghosts WWII warbirds calendar is a Hawker Hurricane, many of which defended Great Britain against Nazi air-raids.
The Hawker Hurricane is not the beautiful airplane a Supermarine Spitfire was.
Often the Spitfire is credited with turning back Hitler’s Luftwaffe.
But it was more the Hurricane.
Hitler would send his twin-engine dive-bombers, and Hurricanes would shoot them out of the air.
I’ll let my WWII warbirds site weigh in:
“In 1933, Hawker’s chief designer, Sydney Camm, decided to design an aircraft which would fulfill a British Air Ministry specification calling for a new monoplane fighter.
His prototype, powered by a 990 horsepower Rolls Royce Merlin ‘C’ engine, first flew on November 6th, 1935, and quickly surpassed expectations and performance estimates.
Official trials began three months later, and in June of 1936, Hawker received an initial order for 600 aircraft from the Royal Air Force.
The first aircraft had fabric wings. To power the new aircraft (now officially designated the ‘Hurricane,’) the RAF ordered the new 1,030 horsepower Merlin II engine.
The first production Hurricane flew on October 12th, 1937, and was delivered to the 111 Squadron at RAF Northolt two months later.
A year later, around 200 had been delivered, and demand for the airplane had increased enough that Hawker contracted with the Gloster Aircraft company to build them also.
During the production run, the fabric-covered wing was replaced by an all-metal one, a bullet-proof windscreen was added, and the engine was upgraded to the Merlin III.
August 1940 brought what has become the Hurricane’s shining moment in history: The Battle of Britain. RAF Hurricanes accounted for more enemy aircraft kills than all other defenses combined, including all aircraft and ground defenses.”
I’m told the Hurricane has a fabric-covered empennage; the rudder and horizontal stabilizer. Even part of the fuselage is fabric-covered, a very old way of doing things.
The fact it was fabric-covered meant it could be shot up and still be flyable. Bullets could pass right through.
The Hurricane has the water-cooled Rolls-Royce Merlin V12 engine, but not the same motor as the Spitfire. The Spitfire is 1,478 horsepower; a Hurricane is 1,280 horsepower.

In the heart of the system. (Photo by Mark Erickson.)

—The March 2015 entry of my Norfolk Southern Employees’ Photography-Contest calendar is the heart of the old Norfolk & Western railroad, Roanoke.
Norfolk Southern is the merger of Norfolk & Western and Southern Railway in 1982.
Norfolk & Western was mainly a coal-carrier; it carted coal from Pocahontas Coalfield in western Virginia and West Virginia.
Norfolk & Western carried so much coal it became immensely successful. The coal seams — Pocahontas No. 3, No. 4, No. 6, and No. 11 — are some of the best coal in the world, and are rated at 15,000 Btu/lb.
Norfolk & Western, a combination of various railroads in the area, ended up carrying coal for all over the world.
Years ago mighty Pennsylvania Railroad wanted to merge with Norfolk & Western since PRR was a PA coal-carrier.
That wasn’t allowed, but now Norfolk Southern owns and operates the original Pennsylvania Railroad across PA. It also owns what used to be Monongahela Railroad, which taps a huge coal-mine in southwestern PA.
Norfolk & Western transloaded coal to ocean-going ships at Lambert’s Point, VA. That’s now Norfolk Southern.
True to the cargo it carried, N&W became the last mainline user of steam-locomotion in America. (Pennsy tried to stay with coal-fired steam-locomotion too.)
Norfolk & Western designed and built its own steam-locomotives. Few railroads did, although Pennsy did also.
But I don’t think Pennsy was doing as good a job.
Norfolk & Western was building steam-locomotives good for its operating profile, which was hilly. Accessing the Pocahontas coalfield meant operating into the Appalachians.
N&W also had a long grade over Blue Ridge Mountain.
The center of Norfolk & Western locomotive design and construction was its locomotive shops in Roanoke.
Roanoke became a railroad-town. Even now the railroad passes right through it — which is what is depicted here.
The large tan building at left is Norfolk & Western’s headquarters. The white building behind was the Hotel Roanoke, still a very glitzy hotel. It was built by the railroad in 1882, donated to Virginia Tech in 1989, and reopened as a hotel in 1995.
A railroad webcam is in the Hotel Roanoke aimed at the route through town.
Or at least it was. I can’t get it to work (the colored text). Horseshoe Curve had one too, but I think it’s deactivated.
The first two locomotives are Norfolk Southern Heritage-Units. In 2012 Norfolk Southern had 20 of its new locomotives, in two orders, painted schemes of railroads that become part of Norfolk Southern.
The lead locomotive is painted in the colors of Southern Railway, the second in colors of Illinois Terminal. I’ve seen some of the Heritage-Units myself, like the Pennsy Heritage-Unit, and Nickel Plate Heritage-Unit, among others.
The Heritage-Units attract a lot of attention. My brother from northern DE works at an oil-refinery that receives crude-oil from Norfolk Southern.
He explains how he has to tell refinery security why so many are around to photograph a train. Like, it has a Heritage-Unit on the point.
Roanoke is no longer the glorious railroad town it was during Norfolk & Western. Even the Hotel Roanoke changed hands.
But it’s still a shop-town, maintaining locomotives for Norfolk Southern. It also celebrates its railroad heritage.
And the Pocahontas coalfields are still pumping out rivers of coal.
But I wonder looking at this picture. The train is westbound, and appears to be a loaded coal-train — although it may be empty.
Coal is not high-dollar traffic like stacked containers. But Norfolk & Western moved so much it became the most successful American railroad.

1970 W-30 4-4-2 Olds. (Photo by Peter Harholdt©.)

—The March 2015 entry in my Motorbooks Musclecar calendar is a 1970 W-30 4-4-2 Oldsmobile.
4-4-2 wasn’t enough, much as G-T-O became not enough.
The first 4-4-2s were the 1964 model, an option on the F-85 and Cutlass. 4-4-2 stood for four-barrel carburetor, four-speed floorshift, and dual exhausts.
But everyone was jumping in the musclecar market, including Ford and Chrysler. There had to be faster and more powerful versions of the 4-4-2 and G-T-O.
They were the W-30 and “Judge” versions.
Supposedly a 4-4-2 handled better than a G-T-O, which would slide you off the road if pressed. Supposedly a 4-4-2 wouldn’t. So said Car & Driver magazine, but one has to remember Car & Driver was mainly selling advertising-space.
A W-30 had a gigantic hot-rodded 455 cubic-inch engine, as did the Stage One GSX Buick. Chevy had a 454, and I think Pontiac was 455 in its Judge.
Such a motor is overkill, but fun in a straight line. That is, if you could get those rear tires to hook up.
Bend such a car into a corner, and it would plow with all that motor-weight on its front tires.
A humble two-liter BMW 2002 could beat it over a bumpy curvy rural road. 455 cubic-inches is almost 7.5 liters!
That 2002 would be sent packing on an expressway.
The W-30 4-4-2 generated gobs of torque. Only the Stage One GSX Buick generated more.
Both could smoke their drive-tires, but I think the 4-4-2 looks better. Just not as good as the first G-T-O, the ’64.
1964; the first G-T-O. (Photo by Peter Harholdt©.)
Musclecars are a cheap-shot. A massive hot-rodded motor from a full-sized car, in a smaller and lighter intermediate-size car.
The concept sold many cars; young macho dreamers hot to beat the other guy.
But a friend told me he had a G-T-O, and it was punishing. He poked through turns lest it hurl him into the trees.

U-boat. (Photo by Ray Mueller.)

—The March 2015 entry in my All-Pennsy color calendar is two Pennsy U-25s heading a freight toward Enola (“aye-NOLE-uh;” as in “hey”) yard near Harrisburg.
The U series, which stood for “utility,” was General-Electric’s first entry into the railroad road-power locomotive market. Railfans called ‘em “U-boats.”
As such they were serious competition to General-Motors’ EMD locomotives, especially its four-axle Geep series.
EMD locomotive design was not as advanced as the U-boats.
Until the U-boat, EMD pretty much dominated the railroad locomotive market.
There was Alco (American Locomotive Company) of Schenectady.
But Alco was using GE traction-motors, and pretty much failed after GE cut them off — which was when the U-boat was introduced.
General-Electric has gone on to pretty much dominate the locomotive market. The U-boats were replaced with Dash-8 and Dash-9 road power.
EMD is no longer part of General Motors; it was divested during the GM bankruptcy and bought by Caterpillar.
But EMD continues to build competitive road-power, and hasn’t been skonked by GE.
EMD engineered a four-cycle diesel prime-mover, but continues to build its two-cycle diesels; mainly because two-cycles can more easily comply with emission regulations.
The first EMD diesel-locomotives, long ago, were two-cycle, and have remained pretty much the same since then, although they were turbocharged.
My calendar says this train is from south Jersey, which means it probably started in Pavonia Yard (“puh-VONE-eee-uh;” as in “own”) outside Camden.
The train is in PA, probably coming off Delair Bridge (“duh-LARE”) over the Delaware River — in northern Philadelphia.
I could have run the next picture ahead of this one. I have steam-locomotion fans.
But I think the U-boat is important, plus it’s a better photograph.

Step aside. (Photo courtesy Joe Suo Collection©.)

—The March 2015 entry of my Audio-Visual Designs black-and-white All-Pennsy Calendar is a K4 Pacific (4-6-2) powered passenger-train passing a waiting westbound merchandise freight powered by an M-1a Mountain (4-8-2).
The crew of a freight-train awaits a passenger-train. (Photo courtesy Joe Suo Collection©.)
The freight-train was featured in last year’s Audio-Visual Designs black-and-white All-Pennsy Calendar as the June entry.
In that picture the crew is looking for the approaching passenger-train.
The K4 Pacific was Pennsy’s standard passenger locomotive for years. It’s beautiful, but it’s an old design, from the teens.
Pennsy never developed a more up-to-date steam passenger locomotive until after WWII.
They were pouring investment into electrification. Plus, if one K4 wasn’t enough, they would doublehead K4s. That’s two locomotive crews per passenger-train; you can’t multiple steam-locomotives like diesels.
And Pennsy could afford multiple crewing. Other railroads were more financially strapped than Pennsy.
Which is why other railroads developed multiple-drivered articulateds — one boiler pushing two driver-sets. Pennsy could afford doubleheading.
Pennsy’s Broadway Limited (left) and New York Central’s 20th Century Limited (right) race out of Chicago.
Both Pennsy’s and New York Central’s premier trains exited Chicago side-by-side about the same time. Often the two would race: Pennsy’s K4 versus a New York Central J Hudson (4-6-4).
If it was one K4, New York Central could win. Central’s Hudson was more advanced. But Pennsy would doublehead K4s to handle the train-weight. In which case Pennsy might win.
The steam-locomotive Pennsy developed to replace the K4 was the T1, a beautiful engine styled by Raymond Loewy.
Loewy’s T1.
But it wasn’t a smashing success, It was sort of a 4-8-4, but it was duplex, two driver-sets powered by four cylinders, 4-4-4-4.
It wasn’t articulated. Those driver-sets were on a common frame, which meant it had a long driver wheelbase, not good for negotiating curved track.
And the front driver-set was more lightly loaded than the rear driver-set, which gave it a tendency to break traction and slip.
Suppose a T1 with a passenger-train was cruising at 100 mph, and the front driver-set started wildly slipping.
The engineer had to back off the throttle, And that’s to both driver-sets.
T1s were also smoky.
K4s lasted until the end of steam on Pennsy, which was 1957, and what we have here.
Only two K4s were saved, #1361 and #3750. 3750 is on static display at Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania in Strasburg, PA. 1361 is disassembled in Altoona. It was on display for years at Horseshoe Curve, then operated, then was being repaired for continued operation. That failed. It’s now being only restored for display.
By the time this picture was taken, diesels had already made inroads, and were probably pulling premier passenger-trains.
My guess is this K4 passenger-train is an all-stops local. Stop at every podunk town along the railroad, whereas a premier train might make only 2-to-4 stops.
Pennsy developed a K5, a much bigger K4 with the boiler of an I1 Decapod (2-10-0). But only two were built.
That M1 at 4-8-2 could also be said to be a K4 successor, but it was more a dual-purpose engine. A K4 had 80-inch drivers; the M1 was 72. The M1 ended up mainly hauling freight.

Strange. (Photo by Scott Williamson.)

—Featured in my Oxman Hotrod Calendar is a very strange car, more an engineering triumph than a hotrod.
The car is a ’33 Ford roadster with a 354 cubic-inch Chrysler Hemi (“HEM-eee;” not “HE-mee”) engine.
But its radiator is in the rear, not encased in that grille.
Note see-through grille. (Photo by Scott Williamson.)
Much trial-and-error was required to get that rear-mounted radiator to adequately cool that motor.
At least the car looks like a hotrod.
I’m also a bit put off by that slanted two-piece windshield. It’s from a ’36 Auburn, not the Duvall two-piece.
I prefer the flat one-piece windshield, stock on a ’33 Ford.
I wonder if this car is drivable. It probably is, if its owner put all that effort into making that rear-mounted radiator work.
And if it’s drivable you hope it doesn’t rain. No top, and no windshield-wipers.
The carburetors also don’t have filtration. That motor will be ingesting pebbles and bugs.

1970 SS 396 Chevelle.

—The March entry of my Jim LePore Musclecar calendar is a 1970 396 SS Chevelle.
To me one of the best-looking musclecars ever built.
My brother-in-Boston has a 1971 454 SS Chevelle, and it has only two headlights.
Compared to 1970 with its four headlights he prefers the two-headlight 1971.
Not my brother’s car, but similar (same color). (Photo by BobbaLew.)
I drove it a while ago, and it was somewhat frightening — like you dare not goose it.
Everything was shaking: the hood, the fenders, the entire front-end. It was pounding the ground at idle.
It had no choke. You started it by goosing the accelerator-pumps.
Then you let it warm up.
It was automatic transmission, but you had to keep the revs up lest you soot the plugs.
I backed out a driveway, and almost killed it. Were it not for being able to rev between gears I would have.
My Ford Escape is nowhere near as fast, but much more pleasant to drive. I don’t have to pay heed to it; all I do is drive.
And of course my Escape gets much better mileage, about 22-24 instead of 5. And it uses 87 gas, not as high as I can get.
When my brother and I took out the Chevelle he was going to buy racing-gas. $100 just to fill his 20-gallon tank.
My brother’s car is only an LS-5, not Chevrolet’s LS-6 megamotor. But it’s hot-rodded. It probably generates more power than an LS-6. That choke-less carburetor is not a Chevrolet part.
An SS Chevelle is a collector-piece. My brother calls his 454 a museum-piece.
This car is only a 396. It’s a Big-Block, but I think 454 cubic-inch versions were available.
But it still looks pretty good. Especially the fact it’s red, but that makes it cop-bait.
One night about 3 a.m. when my wife and I lived in Rochester, it was summer, and we had our bedroom window open — since our house wasn’t air-conditioned.
Our house was on a busy city-street, and our bedroom faced the street.
All-of-a-sudden BAR-OOOM! Unmuffled musclecars roared by our house. WIDE-OPEN THROTTLE; WOUND TO THE MOON! Woke us right up!
Later I heard them up on the expressway, reaching for 140-150 mph.
Ya don’t find cars like that any more.


Sunday, February 22, 2015


The other day I received a new credit-card in the mail.
Not a trial card or some con-job.
But a new version of the one actual credit-card I have.
One a’ them new chip-jobbies with the embedded computer-chip. Supposedly more secure than the cards with the magnetic stripe; which this new card also has, for merchants without chip-readers.
I didn’t see it until yesterday, since I didn’t get to my mail until then. The envelope had a Westerville, Ohio return address, so I suspected it was a gift solicitation for American Motorcycle Association in Westerville. Of which I am a member.
There was a peel-off label on the card that said it needed to be activated, “a simple three-minute process of going to with your computer” — or text, or call.
So I set the card aside to activate later.
I tried last night. Chase wanted a log-in, or set up an account. I happen to already have an account, but what if I didn’t? If I needed to register, goodbye to the three minutes.
And every site on the Internet wants a log-in; some require it.
Okay, I logged in.
“We’re sorry. You’re logging in from a computer we don’t recognize. You’ll have to verify.”
WHAT?! This is the same rig I’ve logged in from before. So much for three minutes.
“Please indicate how you want to receive your verification-code; e-mail. text, phonecall-voice, or call us.”
I studied the options. The e-mail address they had was wrong, and I didn’t know if they had my cellphone number so they could text. The phone-number they had was my landline, so I clicked “voice.” I couldn’t call them because I had already shredded their letter indicating an 800-number to call.
So far, 10 minutes .
My landline rang. I accidentally dropped the handset back in its cradle, hanging up the call.
12 minutes.
I tried again, set up to answer my landline, which I never do.
A disembodied female voice spit out the verification-code, which I was unable to write down. Thankfully I could repeat the message by pressing “pound.”
15 minutes.
I entered the verification-code into my computer for their site. It allowed me to log-in.
18 minutes.
Security-questions: “maiden-name of your mother,” etc.
20 minutes.
“Congratulations, you have successfully activated your card.”
Oh no. I hope I don’t get one of their surveys to detail my “site-experience,” for which I qualify for a $500 prize-drawing.
Seems everyone is doing that. Can’t I just buy stamps at the post-office? Need I detail my post-office experience?
Amazingly, that didn’t happen.
22 minutes.
Now, sign my new credit-card.
Easier said than done.
Their silly signature-stripe wouldn’t take ink.
That’s all I need. “We can’t take your card. It isn’t signed.”
I called the Customer-Service 800-number on the back of the card.
“For Customer-Service please call the 800-number on the back of your card. We’re sorry for the inconvenience.”
I tried again.
Same message.
27 minutes.
Congratulations Chase. Activating my card took almost a half-hour, far more than the “easy three minutes” you predicted.
And I may get sent packing by the motel 300 miles from home because I can’t sign my card.
And I ain’t throwing out my old card until I see the new card works.

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Wednesday, February 18, 2015

“Sounds like you let that dog boss you around”

Scarlett. (Photo by Linda Hughes.)

So said my wife’s mother last Saturday, Valentine’s Day, when I called her to wish her a happy 99th birthday.
“Yes, I guess I do,” I thought later.
My dog Scarlett (two “Ts,” as in “Scarlett O’Hara”) is a rescue Irish-Setter.
I let her lick out my plates and pans (anything the dog licked goes in my dishwasher), I let her lick the aluminum-foil I baked fish on, I let her on my bed (which my wife wouldn’t allow), I dry her off if she got wet outside, I put meat in her dog-food, etc., etc.
That silly dog is all I have left after 44+ years married to a really good one.
We got Scarlett six years ago. Rescues are always a shot-in-the-dark. The dog may have been abused. Scarlett wasn’t. She’s from a failed backyard breeder. She’d already had two litters of puppies before we got her at age-three, and had been kept in a kennel.
Scarlett is our fourth rescue. We had one that had been passed around and abused.
He was so thankful to finally be in a good home, he’d lay it on us.
Scarlett wasn’t the dog we intended to meet. Scarlett was from Ohio Irish-Setter Rescue, and the dog we were to look at was one of Scarlett’s puppies.
Some other couple was gonna consider Scarlett as a possible therapy-dog.
Ahem; SURE! Scarlett was a very high-energy dog. She would have jumped on the client.
Ohio Rescue came with four dogs in crates in a minivan.
When the lady opened the side-door of her van I heard THUMP-THUMP-THUMP-THUMP!
“I hear a wagging tail,”
I shouted.
“Oh, that would be Scarlett,” the lady said.
Finally I met the dogs.
I led Scarlett and her puppy around on leashes.
Scarlett was a handful, jumping and lunging every-which-way.
Her puppy was laid back, much like his sire, who had also been brought along.
Scarlett was everything I ever wanted an Irish-Setter to be: a bouncing maniac.
She also was beautiful, the best-looking Irish-Setter I’d ever seen; she would be number-six for us.
I tilted toward Scarlett; the couple who had planned to meet Scarlett tilted toward the puppy.
But was it fair for me to take home such a high-energy dog? That is, fair to the dog?
By then I was 65, but I had just put down a very high-energy dog — he developed cancer.
I figured I could engage her, and promised I would do my best.
It’s this commitment to Scarlett no one understands.
“She’s just a dog,” they all say.
My beloved wife died almost three years ago leaving me alone with Scarlett.
I got so tired of explaining my commitment I left a grief-share that was beneficial.
A facilitator in that grief-share implied my caring so much about Scarlett was silly!
Right after my wife died I continued taking Scarlett to a park, which she loves, because she can lunge and jump and sniff everything. She has caught things and killed ‘em dead: shake-shake-shake-shake! She also digs things out.
We fenced our yard — cost us $16,000; about 3+ acres of 4.7, mostly wooded.
But now I can’t take Scarlett to the park, or even walk her out back, because of my knee, which has me hobbling in pain.
My knee has to be replaced.
So I feel bad about my dog; that I can’t give her the good life I promised.
So I let Scarlett “boss me around.”
And Scarlett has become extremely attached to me.
It’s a boring life I give her, but she whimpers when I leave her at the dog-boarder. They love getting Scarlett, but they’re not me.
She also follows me room-to-room.
I started crying the other morning — I cry often, missing my wife — and Scarlett started licking me.
As if to comfort me.
“They know,” my cleaning-lady said. “Anybody starts crying in my house, and my dogs appear.”
So yes, I let my dog “boss me around.”
I have a tragic situation on my hands, yet I have a dog who cares about me.
I can’t give her the good life I promised, so I let her rule the roost.

• “Linda Hughes” is my wife of 44+ years. She died of cancer in 2012.
• Scarlett is now 10 years old, and has gray on her muzzle.


Sunday, February 15, 2015

The big gigundo

Here’s another bus-story.
I drove the run with 1703 three years.
I inherited it from Eugene Muhammad, who also drove it three years.
Eugene gave it up, so I picked it.
It was a nice ride; a school-trip at first, and I killed about 45 minutes before making three trips to Pittsford, a ritzy suburb east of Rochester.
I’d nap over the motor during those 45 minutes, and used an alarm-watch.
The route was along East Ave. which traveled a long street out Rochester through a high-dollar neighborhood, then continued along East Ave. out to Pittsford.
Pittsford was definitely not the projects. In fact, my first trip was carrying domestic-help who had done cleaning out in Pittsford, but lived in the city.
Plus students at two colleges we served.
My second trip was rich commuters who worked in Rochester, and lived in Pittsford. This included Wendell and Ted. Wendell was a heavy-hitter at the local Gas & Electric, and Ted worked at a bank.
My last trip was late, starting about 6:15. It included a lady who sold mens ware at a local store who worked until 6. She lived in Pittsford.
I loaded behind Midtown Plaza; not Main & Clinton, the main bus-interchange in Rochester.
(Transit has since installed an airport-like “Transit-Center” to get buses off Main st.)
Returning I picked up Fred, who worked in the kitchen of one of the colleges. Fred was very talkative, and wanted to make friends.
I’m a poor talker; I keep to myself. Fred even sent me a Christmas-card.
Not an RTS 100-type bus, but similar.
One night I had 102-bus, a Flxible 870, by then part of Grumman.
102 was very angular, yet wide and fairly fast. Wendell was in back, holding court as usual, discussing politics with all-and-sundry, including Ted.
I drove out of Rochester on East Ave., taking Wendell and Ted home.
I crossed into Brighton, but got stopped by the traffic-light at Clover St. and Penfield Rd.
Finally the light changed, and I accelerated down East Ave. At this point East Ave. is four lanes, which it was all the way to my first college.
I was in the right lane, and a Dominé (“Dom-in-NAY”) Building Supply truck full of cinder-blocks passed me in the left lane.
All-of-a-sudden BAM; it sounded like I’d hit a barrel, but it was much louder. I was doing about 30-35 mph.
It was a Chevrolet Citation whose driver apparently hadn’t seen me behind the passing Dominé truck, and turned left right in front of me.
I totaled the Citation — bent it all-out-of-shape.
Its driver was belted in, but was knocked unconscious.
We rode up on the curb, and snapped a utility-pole like a matchstick. Wires fell on my bus.
The impact caved in the right front corner of my bus, making the front-door inoperable.
Wendell, etc. were worried sick about me. I was one of their favorites.
They were fine; they came up to ask if I was okay.
I called the radio and said I needed an ambulance, for the guy in the Citation.
Engage heavy Transit accident response; the C.E.O., my supervisor, and assorted other heavies.
They all came to my accident, and contrary to what I expected they tried to keep me calm.
Normally with an accident this severe, Transit fired you no matter whose fault it was, especially if you had poor attendance or some other no-no.
I didn’t complete the rest of my run that day, about three hours. An extra-bus came out to take home my passengers, including Wendell and Ted.
Wendell and Ted were concerned about my welfare. They knew how Transit was, that they might lose their favorite driver.
I was taken back to the Barns in a supervisor-car to fill out an accident report.
And they knew I’d do a gigantic accident report. I always did — my penchant for slinging words.
My report would then go to the Accident Review Board, perceived as a kangaroo-court. The reviewers were all management, and often fired anyone who hit anything, at fault or not.
You were supposed to be a professional driver, cognizant of all that was going on. That is, able to avoid Granny when she cut you off, or charged blindly in front of you.
I was, and they knew it.
Apparently the Dominé truck-driver called Transit, and told them there was nothing I could have done. That his truck blocked my view of the Citation, and also blocked the Citation-driver’s view of me.
So the Dominé-driver saved my job. When I reported for work the next morning, I wasn’t kicked out-of-service.
I also went to Dominé to thank the driver who saved my job.
The night of the accident I drove back to the scene. The utility-pole hadn’t been replaced yet; the wires were still down. They were only telephone wires.
I found the broken plastic grill-insert of the Citation under a spruce-tree. I still have it in my basement.

• For 16&1/2 years (1977-1993) I drove transit bus for Regional Transit Service (RTS) in Rochester, NY, a public employer, the transit-bus operator in Rochester and environs. My stroke October 26th, 1993 ended that. I retired on medical-disability. I recovered fairly well.
• “The Barns” are at 1372 East Main St. in Rochester, large sheds for storing buses inside. An operations administration building was attached. We bus-drivers always said we were working out of “the Barns.”
• RE: “Supervisor-car......” —A road-supervisor was an official of the company that rode around in a supervisor-car, supervised bus-drivers, and settled arguments with bus-passengers. They also attended bus accidents.


Thursday, February 12, 2015

Railfan overload in bitter cold

Snag of the century: 04T at left, Nittany & Bald Eagle local-freight in Tyrone yard, and Norfolk Southern 11A at right. (Photo by BobbaLew.)

—(”Tie-RONE;” as in “own.”)
I’ve been told what people enjoy most about these train-chase blogs is pictures.
So I’ll dispense with the preliminaries, and get right to it.
I’d like to think anyone reading these blogs knows by now -1) why I chase trains, and -2) why I like chasing trains at Allegheny Crossing, where the mighty Pennsylvania Railroad crossed Allegheny Mountain in 1854.
Mighty Pennsy is no more. Now it’s Norfolk Southern, a merger of Norfolk & Western and Southern Railway in 1982.
NS purchased the old Pennsy line across PA from Conrail in 1999. Conrail was a government response to the bankruptcy of Penn-Central and many other eastern railroads.
Penn-Central was the merger of Pennsy and New York Central in 1968.
Conrail became successful, and eventually privatized.
I drove to Altoona on Thursday, February 5th. My brother had driven there the previous day. It takes him nine hours coming all the way from his home near Boston, MA.
It takes me five hours.
My brother chased trains himself on Thursday while I drove down.
But the railroad was dead.
Usually Thursdays see the most traffic, but over five hours he only saw one train.
My new iPhone6 is not paired to my car yet, so I didn’t have Bluetooth.
But it wouldn’t have made any difference, because when I called from our motel I got his voicemail.
I decided to try texting, and that worked. He was at Cassandra Railfan Overlook, and light was getting difficult. It was already 3:30.
So I headed for Cassandra, but he said he’d meet me at 24th St. overpass over Slope Interlocking in Altoona.
We took some pictures there, but they’re not worth anything, The sun had dropped too low.
There are two pictures worth flying my brother got earlier that day.

Toward South Fork PA. (Photo by Jack Hughes.)

At Cassandra Railfan Overlook. (Photo by Jack Hughes.)

He shot from an overpass just north (railroad east) of South Fork. He also shot at Cassandra.
Friday, February 6th, would be a better day. My weather-app said “partly cloudy,” which to me means “partly sunny.”
Light would be difficult until after 10 a.m., so we went to a restaurant for breakfast.
After that Tyrone, where the Pennsy turned east through a notch toward Harrisburg.
Tyrone is always a challenge. It has a beautiful old station, but I never can get it successfully into a photograph. It’s off-to-the-side, and the train way over here, or the train blocks the station, or I can get both with mountain and sky in the background, which looks stupid.
When we got to the station a Nittany & Bald Eagle Railroad local-freight was idling in the tiny yard, waiting for Norfolk Southern 11A to clear.
Nittany & Bald Eagle is the old Pennsy Bald Eagle branch, and Norfolk Southern has trackage-rights.
NS runs heavy unit coal trains up NBER to a power-plant in north-central PA.

Westbound charges through Tyrone. (Photo by BobbaLew.)

The Nittany & Bald Eagle local. (Photo by Jack Hughes.)

11A enters Tyrone yard. (Photo by Jack Hughes.)

But 11A isn’t a unit coal train. It’s mixed freight, and starts in Northumberland, PA. It used to work out of Reading (“REDD-ing;” not “REED-ing”), in which case it could run all NS.
Northumberland puts it on NBER.
Meanwhile 04T, the eastbound Amtrak Pennsylvanian, was nearing Tyrone where it would make a station-stop.
So that’s my lede picture. 04T is braking for its station-stop, while the NBER local idles behind.
Meanwhile 11A appeared and trundled into my picture at right.
A snag of the century; three trains in one picture.
04T made its station-stop and left, 11A disappeared toward Altoona, and the NBER local started north.
We decided to hang around and wait for 10A: it was on its way. 10A is the northbound counterpart of 11A. It too would use NBER, and would follow the local until it got off the NBER main to switch various NBER branches, which was when 10A could pass.

NS 10A comes into Tyrone. (Photo by Jack Hughes.)

“I think we should chase 10A north on the Nittany & Bald Eagle,” my brother said.
“If we do, we get out of the range of my scanner,” I said. “I have NBER programmed in there somewhere, but I know not where.
I don’t know what frequency it is.
And even if I could get it, it’s not Allegheny Crossing with its 89-bazilyun radio transmissions. When Linda and I did that around-the-state rail excursion a few years ago, which included Nittany & Bald Eagle, all I heard was the train-engineer calling out signals.
NBER is only a shortline. 10A would have the railroad to itself. It ain’t Allegheny Crossing with its mind-bending train-frequency.”
We headed north out of Tyrone on Interstate-99, and got off at Route 350, the next exit.
It would bring us parallel to NBER next to the old 220 two-lane.
“Where’s the railroad?” my brother asked.
“We just crossed it,” I said.
We turned east onto a rural two-lane, and that too crossed NBER on an overpass.
At this point NBER is only single-track, but very well built, enough to support a heavy NS unit coal train with its 120-ton cars.
Headlights were visible in the distance, with locomotives assaulting the heavens.
It was a northbound train skedaddling out of Tyrone. Tyrone has many grade-crossings, and I think there is even street-running.
But north of Tyrone NBER is high-iron, good for 60 or more.
We stopped and waited, thinking it was 10A. But no, it was the NBER local. It was doing almost 50 as it passed underneath, and the engineer didn’t have to back off — he had his three units in Run-Eight.

Skedaddling out of Tyrone on the NBER main. (Photo by Jack Hughes.)

None of the units were turbocharged. You could hear, and see, every piston-pulse.
Back to Tyrone. My friend Phil Faudi (“FOW-dee;” as in “wow”) was monitoring his railroad-radio scanner at home and calling my cellphone. He said a slab-train was coming, but it was actually a gypsum-train. My brother got it, but I was too late.
Where to next?
My brother wanted lunch, so we went up into Tyrone to Mighty Sheetz, but it was closed under construction.
Phil called and said an eastbound had just left Altoona. We tried McFarlands Curve, a really wonderful location, but the farm-track to it wasn’t plowed.
So we headed south to the road into Tipton, and stopped at a small sandwich-shop Phil used to take me to during train-chases.
But the train from Altoona was rocketing toward us.
We drove up to the Tipton grade-crossing just in time to see it speed past. A second train passed in the other direction.
“Altoona,” my brother said. “Rose;” the crew-change point, visible from an overpass.
We drove down to Altoona on the east side of the tracks, ending up in downtown Altoona far from Rose.
So we drove to Brickyard Crossing in Altoona.

Eastbound on Track 2 at Brickyard. (Photo by BobbaLew.)

Two helper-sets (four units) push the heavy gypsum-train up The Hill. —RoadRailer is coming down. (Photo by BobbaLew.)

Conditions were awful. Crunchy snow; icy on top, so you’d fall through and end up unable to move your feet = maintain balance.
We’re both semi-crippled. Me hobbling with an extremely arthritic left knee to be replaced, and my brother recovering from a broken leg.
Last summer we were chasing trains with my brother on crutches.
I fell a few times, and it’s difficult for this old geezer to get up.
It was so bad at Brickyard I couldn’t get out to the edge of an overlook to shoot approaching westbounds.
But I could aim railroad-west at approaching eastbounds, and westbounds going away. Usually this overlook doesn’t work; too backlit in morning light.
But it was afternoon.
We then went to where PA state Route 53 crosses the old Pennsy main north (railroad east) of Cresson (“KRESS-in”) on a bridge — what Faudi calls “high-bridge.”
My brother wanted to get there around 2 p.m.
Five tracks go under the bridge: 4, 3, 2, 1, and Main-8. Main-8 is barely visible, and is used to store heavy coal-trains to eventually climb to the summit.

Eastbound on Two. (Photo by BobbaLew.)

130 coal-gondolas get taken down the mountain. (Photo by Jack Hughes.)

1 and 2 go higher than 3 and 4, because 1 and 2 go toward New Portage tunnel, which is higher than the original Pennsy tunnel, which 2 and 3 come out of — which become 3 and 4.
Pennsy got New Portage tunnel when the original state Public Works System failed. Pennsy had put it out of business.
Where to next? The trailer in Portage.
“The trailer” needs explaining. Pennsy built a bypass in 1898, which cut out difficult curves eastbound climbing Allegheny summit. It also bypassed Cassandra, and runs straight from Cassandra Railfan Overlook all the way to Portage.
Then it curves back into the original mainline.
Portage has a station, and right past it you can turn behind it. Behind the station is an old highway trailer parked next to the tracks.
Phil took me to it long ago, but I missed how good it was because I was looking the wrong way.
It only works for westbounds, which are perfectly lit as they curve off the bypass.

Off the bypass back to the old alignment. (Photo by BobbaLew.)

21E, the UPS train. (Photo by Jack Hughes.)

We could have continued railroad-west after a shot or two, but they kept coming. My brother parked so we could see a train far away coming onto the bypass. And I left my tripod set up outside — a trailer-shot is my big telephoto lens.
We saw nine trains at this location, and I shot 24 pictures.
It’s too bad we couldn’t try the overpass near South Fork, but trains just kept coming, and the sun came out toward the end.
But light was getting difficult — it was late afternoon. My shadow was getting long enough to be in my picture.
Well, not as bad as last year, when it was both windy and bitter-cold.
But it was bitter-cold; we could only be outside about 15-20 minutes.

• “Linda” is my beloved wife of 44+ years. She died April 17th, 2012. I miss her dearly.


Wednesday, February 04, 2015

A big hand

I’m told people enjoy my bus-stories, so here goes:
For 16&1/2 years (1977-1993) I drove transit bus for Regional Transit Service (RTS) in Rochester, NY, a public employer, the transit-bus operator in Rochester and environs. My stroke October 26th, 1993 ended that. I retired on medical-disability. I recovered fairly well.
I was driving bus #417 down Rochester’s Eastern Expressway. It was snowy, but I could do about 40.
I was driving toward East Rochester and Fairport. 417 was a Park-and-Ride bus. Our 400s looked like fishbowl city buses, but had a V8 motor and three-speed over-the-road transmission. They weren’t speed-governed. A good one could boom-and-zoom.
I was on my second of two trips; the one that took the expressway — the first didn’t.
In fact, I’m not sure the first trip was to Fairport. Quite often they weren’t.
Which was fine with me. Multiple trips to the same end-point could be boring, plus I had to get on the expressway at least once per day. Driving bus was no fun unless you could get a roll on — 60-65 in the passing-lane. —Plus I’m sure I was doing a school-trip too.
The first trip might have been to Suburban Plaza out in Henrietta south of the city. East Rochester and Fairport were east.
Driving was dicy, but not impossible. The buses were so heavy they were fairly sure-footed.
I negotiated the infamous Can-of-Worms, then continued out the Eastern Expressway. I would get off at the Fairport Road exit.
Bopping along, I signaled for the exit.
All-of-a-sudden all four corners of the bus were sliding.
I started sawing furiously at the wheel.
Oh my golly! We’re going straight into the boonies, a bouncing roller-coaster ride over open hill-and-dale. At least it wasn’t woods.
But then a big hand dropped from the sky and guided my bus around the curve.
Now I was on a straight part, but another curve was up ahead. I needed to slow down.
Uh-ohhh...... Not slow enough; all four corners were sliding again. It may look nice on a race-track, but not in a bus carrying 40 passengers.
Again the big hand dropped from the sky and guided my bus around the curve.
“WHEW!” I said to no one in particular once we merged onto Fairport Road.
A regular who always rode shotgun wondered why I said that.
“I didn’t know anything was wrong,” she said.

• The “Eastern Expressway” is Interstate-490; it goes all the way to the Thruway, which doesn’t access Rochester.
• East Rochester and Fairport are both suburbs east of Rochester, Fairport ritzier that East Rochester. East Rochester was once New York Central railroad’s car-shops, and a piano factory, so is lower class than Fairport. Fairport was on the Erie Canal.
• “Park-and-Rides” were trips from suburban or rural end-points, usually through Park-and-Ride parking-lots, where passengers would park their cars, for a bus-ride to work in Rochester.
• The Can-of-Worms (so-called) was an old expressway interchange southeast of Rochester, built in the ‘60s. It was difficult to get through. The “Can” was reconfigured a while ago (Old Can and New Can), taking out little-used railroad trackage, making it much easier to negotiate. There were various tricks to “shooting the Can” with a bus. Most difficult was a lane change smack in the middle of the Old Can.


Monday, February 02, 2015

Walt Stewart

Yesterday morning’s dream was about bus-driver Walter Stewart.
As one who drove transit bus 16&1/2 years, I find myself dreaming about bus-driving often.
Usually it involves driving into someplace I can’t get out of, in which case people tell me I’m stupid. Driving into someplace I couldn’t get out of was the thing I feared most.
Retired bus-drivers among my readers will know who Walter Stewart was.
The fact I became friends with him surprised me, since Walt and I were so different.
I’m a Democrat (Gasp!) and Walter was probably REPUBLICAN.
Our values reflected that. I’m pretty much a bleeding-heart liberal (double-gasp!), and Walt was CONSERVATIVE.
But Walt was a friend of Art Dana (“DAY-nuh”), and so was I.
Walt and I used to drag-race our buses. Walt relieved a bus at Main and St. Paul in Rochester (NY) the same time I began a trip south to MarketPlace Mall and Rochester Institute of Technology.
We’d leave Main and St. Paul together onto South Ave., and end up side-by-side.
Walt was in the left lane so he could turn toward S. Clinton, me in the right lane so I could turn on Mt. Hope.
We’d pass the Library flat-out, pedal-to-the-metal.
I’d have a Park-and-Ride bus, and they were usually faster. But Walt usually had a new city-bus, and they were fairly strong too.
We’d swoop through some expressway ramps, and come to the stoplight where Walter turned.
Who got there first was usually a function of traffic. But if we ended up side-by-side I’d open my left side-window, and Walter opened his door.
We’d exchange snide remarks.
This was much better than another driver who’d get angry if I beat him.
The dream was showing Walter the run I had, a package.
Packages were pieces of work arranged into a run — a package — usually hours apart. A package often covered both rush-hours. They usually payed better because you were working over a longer day. Anything beyond 10&1/2 hours was overtime, even if you were off-duty for hours between assignments.
A package totaled about about eight hours, but if you were on-duty 10&1/2 hours after you started, it was overtime.
Walter had picked my package; he was ahead of me in seniority.
My first assignment was school-work: pick up kids along a bus-route and take them out to a technical high-school on the city’s west side.
Our bus-company got the contract to cart these students. Yellow-bus operators tried to invade, but always failed. For whatever reason Transit always succeeded. It might have been they could easily couple a school-trip with a later rush-hour trip.
My students all loved me. It was always me, not some extra-driver who didn’t know his passengers.
And as a bleeding-heart liberal, if I saw a student running from the Projects, I’d stop and let him on. I wanted them to be able to go to school; I wasn’t being a jerk.
But I was a stickler about bus-passes. It was my old rule: “ass, gas, grass or pass; nobody rides free.”
I remember driving bus through the Projects to that high-school all year. I started with a full bus-load, maybe 45-50 students.
But come June I was down to about 20.
What happened? Drop-outs, prison, in the grave?
This wasn’t the package Walt had picked, but it was carrying students to that high-school.
And it was tricky. After picking up your students, you turned off the bus-route toward that high-school.
You had to go under a railroad overpass, and getting to it was right then immediate left.
Walt was driving, and I was riding shotgun. We missed the underpass.
But there was another farther along next to the bus-route, so we took it.
Then we negotiated a traffic-circle where we were supposed to turn left.
Walt was going straight. “Left, left!” I shouted. Walter heeled the bus way over as we suddenly turned left.
We made it to the high-school despite missing that railroad bridge.
At which point we were supposed to give a passenger-count to a Transit road-supervisor. “Just make it up,” I told Walt. “I always did.”
So now I wonder if Walt is still alive.
I’d heard he died of cancer, and he smoked.
But it wasn’t lung-cancer, in which case I’d say “another smoking victim.”
It was something else, in which case I’d say “cancer victim.”
Thankfully I don’t smoke, never have and never will. My father might have killed me if he caught me smoking.
Dana didn’t either, and he’s gone too.

• For 16&1/2 years (1977-1993) I drove transit bus for Regional Transit Service (“Transit”) in Rochester, NY, a public employer, the transit-bus operator in Rochester and environs. My stroke October 26th, 1993 ended that. I retired on medical-disability. I recovered fairly well.
• “Park-and-Rides” were trips from suburban or rural end-points, usually through Park-and-Ride parking-lots, where passengers would park their cars, for a bus-ride to work in Rochester.
• A “road-supervisor” was an official of the bus-company that rode around in a supervisor-car, supervised bus-drivers, and settled arguments with bus-passengers. They also attended bus accidents.