Y90, a unit coal-extra, returns to the original Pennsylvania Railroad alignment atop Allegheny Mountain after descending “The Slide,” PRR’s 2.28% ramp up to New Portage Tunnel. Two helper-sets (four units) help hold the heavy train back as it descends the mountain. The train is going away. Lots of fall-foliage. (Photo by Jack Hughes.)
“I’m retired, nyuk-nyuk-nyuk!” I said to my railfan brother-in-Boston. “I can do this.”
Much as I didn’t look forward to another jaunt to Altoona, PA, since I had just done it the previous weekend.......
I made a mistake of thinking our Altoona trip was a previous weekend, so when I called my brother he was at work.
Altoona is where the Pennsylvania Railroad took on Allegheny Mountain back in the 1800s.
Pennsy is no more. Now it’s Norfolk Southern Railway, but the same track.
Our intent was fall-foliage, which was thin that previous weekend.
My brother was also expecting the death of a friend, but “Let’s go!”
“Oh Jack,” I thought, but all I had to do was get my ducks in a row: arrange dog-boarding, reserve a motel in Altoony, try to not forget anything.......
And hope my camera didn’t lob some curve at me. My earlier Nikon D100 did sometimes, but my Nikon D7000 hasn’t yet.
Thursday is the day I drove. Anything we shot that day, me after I arrived, is all we got.
It poured rain all day Friday, so we left.
My brother drives there Wednesday, so he can photograph all day Thursday.
Sometimes the weather in Altoona is awful. It’s happened before.
My wife and I were planning to chase trains with Altoona railfan Phil Faudi (“FOW-dee;” as in “wow”), and it started snowing.
Another time my wife and I rode the funicular alone up to the Horseshoe Curve viewing-area, but it was pouring and the wind howling like a hurricane.
We turned around and rode back down right away.
My wife died over four years ago.
Most photographs are by my brother, since it was him alone while I was driving down.
Allegheny Crossing is five hours south of where I live.
The sun was out, but I arrived about 3 p.m., which gave me about two hours — 2&1/2 pushing it.
My brother began at Brickyard Crossing in Altoona. It’s actually Porta Road, but a brickyard was once nearby.
It’s the only mainline grade-crossing of the PRR in Altoona.
35A at Brickyard. (Photo by Jack Hughes.)
At that time of day, Brickyard only works east of the tracks. West is too backlit.
He also got Amtrak’s eastbound Pennsylvanian — the only passenger-train left on this storied line.
There also is westbound late afternoon, but Pennsy once flooded this line with passenger-trains.
Amtrak’s eastbound Pennsylvanian at Brickyard. (Photo by Jack Hughes.)
My brother then chased 35A up the mountain, beating it to Gallitzin, top of the mountain, where Pennsy dug its original tunnel. That tunnel has since been enlarged to clear doublestacks, and two tracks instead of one.
35A crests The Hill in Gallitzin. (Photo by Jack Hughes.)
From there he drove down to “The Slide,” 2.28%, the ramp Pennsy built to get up to New Portage Tunnel, part of a new portage railroad the state built to make its Public Works System more attractive.
Public Works was a combination canal and railroad installed by the state to compete with NY’s Erie Canal.
Since Allegheny Mountain couldn’t be canaled, a portage railroad was installed, and originally had inclined planes.
Canal boats got put on railroad flatcars, for winching up the planes.
That new portage railroad was devoid of planes.
Pennsy put it out-of-business, bought if for peanuts, and abandoned everything but the tunnel and New Portage right-of-way.
But New Portage Tunnel is slightly higher than Pennsy’s original tunnel.
That tunnel and right-of-way were reactivated to add to Pennsy’s capacity over the mountain.
The railroad was again abandoned, but the tunnel is still in use. It now contains Track One eastbound. Since that tunnel is higher, a ramp had to be built to get back to the original Pennsy alignment — that ramp is called “The Slide.” At 2.28% it’s steeper than Pennsy’s main up the east slope, which averages 1.75%.
My lede picture is Y90 coming off The Slide to the original Pennsy alignment.
My brother then drove north (railroad east) toward Tyrone to Gray Interlocking, hoping to beat Y90.
Y90 heads east through Gray, helper-set still upfront. (Photo by Jack Hughes.)
Gray Interlocking is where a controlled (signaled) siding merges back into Track One.
He got Y90, and also an empty coal-train off the Nittany & Bald Eagle.
537 comes off the Nittany & Bald Eagle. (Photo by Jack Hughes.)
NBER is the old Pennsy Bald Eagle branch, now a cast-off shortline, but Norfolk Southern has trackage-rights. A coal-fired electric plant is up that way, and NS also uses those trackage-rights to get mixed freight to and from Northumberland.
NBER is built like a mainline — to support those heavy NS coal-trains. 120-ton coal gondolas.
My brother then drove back toward Altoona for lunch, which was about when I arrived. He went to 24th Street overpass in Altoona, which is over Slope Interlocking.
67T (empty oil) moves through Slope Interlocking. (Photo by Jack Hughes.)
We met at Brickyard, and both shot 23Z, a westbound.
23Z approaches Brickyard Crossing. (Photo by Jack Hughes.)
My brother’s picture was better. I had forgotten to take a lens-filter off, and it seems to flatten color.
We then drove over to UN (telegraph address), just west of Gallitzin, where Pennsy had a loop back toward Altoona.
23M charges through UN. (Photo by BobbaLew.)
That loop was so helpers could loop back to Altoona.
Now helpers continue west, since as diesel-electrics they can provide dynamic-braking.
The traction-motors get turned into generators, and they provide braking to help slow a train downhill.
But the loop is still there, since the railroad can use it to turn trains.
For example, Norfolk Southern’s Executive Business-Train is parked in Altoona aimed west.
But it needs to go east.
Up The Hill it goes to that loop at UN, so it can come back aimed east.
It’s not like model-trains, where a big hand drops from the sky, flips the locomotives 180°, then reassembles the train.
We then headed toward Bennington Curve, just east of the top of the mountain, where Pennsy’s Red Arrow cracked up in 1947.
It came down The Slide too fast, and flipped into a ravine next to Bennington Curve. 24 died.
I wasn’t sure we could get to it. We have to use the abandoned New Portage right-of-way, which is now an access-road to the mainline, and is sometimes locked.
It wasn’t locked this time, but you have to use a long dirt-track not portrayed in Google satellite-views, nor marked.
So down the dirt-track we flew. My brother had never been to Bennington Curve.
We knew Amtrak’s westbound Pennsylvanian was coming, but about 5:30 = minimal light.
My brother turned off on a small access before Bennington Curve. We argued which was better, his location or Bennington Curve.
“You shoot there, and I’ll shoot Bennington,” I said.
Westbound Pennsylvanian just above Bennington. (Photo by Jack Hughes.)
His picture was better, since mine at Bennington blurred from slow shutter-speed due to low light.
We hung around for one more train, me now with my brother.
21M continues up The Hill above Benny. (Photo by BobbaLew.)
His point-and-shoot versus my fiddle-dee-dee. His camera is probably automatically upping the ISO to offset low light, whereas mine requires input.
What his point-and-shoot won’t do is set the shutter-speed fast enough to stop a train. I shoot shutter-priority, 1/400th or faster.
He might shoot the same view as me, but the fronts of locomotives are blurred.