Tuesday, August 25, 2015

100 years old

This is the 1915 installation, the main line from Philadelphia to Paoli; no towers. (An out-of-service signal gantry is in the picture.)


This catenary is not the original installation; it’s what came later, and is most of PRR’s electrification.
(“kat-in-AIR-eee;” not “cant-in-AIR-eee”)

The Pennsylvania Railroad’s first mainline electrification is 100 years old.
Pennsy did earlier electrifications: the tunnels into New York City from north Jersey, and there was an experimental installation in south Jersey that preceded the tunnels.
But they were third-rail direct-current.
The installation from Paoli east into Philadelphia was more serious, although the Manhattan tunnels could be considered serious.
It was 12,500 volt 25-cycle alternating current delivered by overhead wire, same as earlier installed on New York, New Haven & Hartford, the pioneer.
And it was on Pennsy’s mainline out of Philadelphia that was originally part of the state’s Public Works System, a response to the Erie Canal.
Public Works, a combination canal and railroad, eventually failed. Pennsy put it out of business.
Public Works was time-consuming and cumbersome, and its canals froze in Winter.
When Public Works failed, Pennsy took over the railroad out of Philadelphia.
Suburban development grew up out along the railroad, and the railroad encouraged it.
Residents used the railroad to commute into Philadelphia.
Electrification was an attempt to improve commuting into Philadelphia.
Pennsy’s original terminal in Philadelphia, Broad Street Station, not 30th-Street, was stub-end. Locomotives had to get turned around and recoupled to commuter-trains.
Electrification allowed self-powered coaches that didn’t have to be turned.
Self-powered electric coaches could also accelerate better than steam-locomotives.
But electrification was more than that. Electric traction delivered constant torque to the drive-wheels, as opposed to piston-thrusts of side-rod steam locomotives.
Electrification would ease the climb over Allegheny Mountain, and Pennsy long considered doing it.
Pennsy never electrified west of Harrisburg, but even now electrification is considered.
It’s just that dieselization is electrification, sort of. An on-board diesel-engine generates electricity for traction-motors.
Most railroad diesel-locomotives are diesel-electric, and deliver the same constant drive-torque electrification would produce.
Electrification without wires.
But Pennsy’s first electrification was with wires.
Pennsy went on to electrify many of its lines east of Harrisburg, clear through 1938.
Probably the prime example was New York City to Washington D.C., now Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor, our nation’s supposed high-speed railroad.
Segments are good for 150 mph, but some segments can’t exceed 40. It has tunnels in Baltimore that go back to the 1880s.
The Northeast Corridor’s equipment has to be sized to fit those tunnels, plus the tunnels into Manhattan.
Pennsy’s overhead-wire electrification was alternating-current, since AC transmitted better over distance.
Which meant the locomotives had to be alternating-current. The GG-1 is AC, as are the MP-54 commuter-coaches.

MP-54s line up in Paoli. (Photo by Frank Tatnall.)

The later E-44 freight-motors had to rectify the wire-current for their direct-current traction-motors.
So now Pennsy’s electrification is 100 years old. And it’s still up, although much of Pennsy’s later electrifications were taken down.
Maintaining catenary is time-consuming and expensive.
The old Pennsy mainline out of Philadelphia is now Amtrak, its “Keystone Corridor” to Harrisburg. It also carries commuters, although now it’s Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (Septa), not a railroad.
But it’s still electrified. Electrification of a commuter-district makes sense, as does the Northeast Corridor. Even when a line to Boston was made part of the Northeast Corridor, it was done with electrification by overhead wire.
It’s the same electrification Pennsy installed in 1915.

Guilty as charged! A Pennsy-man.


Saturday, August 22, 2015

Big doings

(Photo by BobbaLew.)

Just over three years ago, right after my wife died, I wrote up a list of things to do — I was told making lists was cathartic.
I don’t know as it was.
I lived with that lady 44 years, thereby surprising all the nattering nabobs of negativism that noisily declared we wouldn’t make a year.
Her mother growled when she first met me, as if to say “look what the cat dragged in.”
She actually growled; I’m not making this up.
One of the things I had on my list was removal of a giant poplar-tree, that had grown up as a weed over the 25 years I’ve been here.
There was a school up-the-street, converted to an American Legion.
They had a sodium-vapor light outside to light their parking-lot all night. It used to shine in our kitchen all the way into our bedroom.
But that poplar grew up to obscure that light.
I worried about that poplar. They have a reputation.
Supposedly they don’t last long.
I was afraid of it toppling over and messing up my fence.
Sometimes it would get whipped around during thunderstorms.
I have a gigantic five-foot chain-link fence surrounding about three acres of my property. It cost us $16,000 — best $16,000 we ever spent.
It allows my dog to run, without worrying about her getting into the highway.
Last Thursday (August 20th, 2015) would be the BIG DAY.
Despite my stroke-induced disinclination to make phonecalls, I had arranged for J.M. Tree-Service to remove the tree.
This was partly because their office-manager was eager to do e-mail, which I prefer.
Often businesses are still stuck in the 20th century, preferring phone business.
Since I feel unsure on the phone, I prefer e-mail.
I got up around 7:30, and could hear heavy trucks outside.
J.M. Tree-Service was already there, and a boom-truck with bucket set up on my lawn.
I stepped outside and met the foreman. “I’m waiting for my crane-man,” he said.
We then looked at two silver-maples right in front of the poplar. Silver-maples are a weed-tree.
Foreman suggested I take those out too, although they weren’t in the contract. $250 plus tax = take ‘em out.
They were actually a single tree with double trunks that split low to the ground. They were a threat to my fence too.
Crane-man appeared, a giant truck with crane attached. It’s in my lede picture.
He set up in my driveway, extending pads out to lift the truck and steady the crane.
The crane then extended high above the poplar.
Removal of the poplar began.
Foreman got in the boom-bucket with a chainsaw, and attacked the tree-trunk.
All-of-a-sudden the crane was lifting the top 30 feet or so of the tree.
It was slowly lowered to the waiting crew-guys, who took it apart so they could ram it through their chipper.
I was impressed.
Foreman made another cut, and suddenly the crane was lifting that part.
I went inside to eat breakfast, and when I came back out the poplar and silver-maples were gone.
Most of the crew had already left, including crane-man.
My driveway had been swept clean of chips.
All that was left were two giant logs, both of which may have been the trunk of the poplar — I know one was.
They could have removed them, except it poured rain later that afternoon.
When I mention this to my bereavement-group — a grief group — they’ll call it progress.
The fact I managed to arrange all this despite losing my wife.

• My wife died of cancer April 17th, 2012. I miss her dearly.
• I had a stroke October 26th, 1993, and it slightly compromised my speech. (Difficulty finding and putting words together.)

Thursday, August 20, 2015

“You have to play with it!”

Last night (August 19th, 2015), as I do every Wednesday night, I shared dinner at a restaurant with Jim LePore (“luh-POOR”).
Jim, like me, is a recent widower. He also is a car-guy.
At first I ate out with Jim because he was rather distraught after his wife died.
Plus eating out is a meal I don’t hafta cook.
But since then -a) he is no longer as distraught as he was, and -b) we share an interest in cars.
One of his daughters came along. Her name is Connie; she’s one of two.
Her coming was a pleasant surprise.
Talk turned to taste in music. She took her father to task for liking music of the ‘60s.
“‘60s?” I said. “That’s even after my time.”
I unholstered my iPhone, which has various pieces from the ‘50s I purchased.
I fired up my iTunes icon, intent on playing something by Jerry Lee Lewis.
NOW WHAT!” I yelled.
“Why is it every time I fire up anything on this here iPhone, it’s something completely different?
Can’t they ever leave well-enough alone?”
I guess it’s Apple’s new music-app.
Connie took over my iPhone, and I was happy to let her.
We poked around, and stumbled on my short “tunes” list.
“Wait a minute!” I screamed. “How did you get that?”
“You have to play with it,” Connie said. The old waazoo; try this and see what happens.
“What if I don’t have time nor inclination to ‘play with it’?”
Every time I try to fire up some iPhone example of some neato thing I did, I get a curveball.
I swear they change things every week or two.
Connie’s phone is Android, an LG, and has 89 bazilyun image-files. I have about 125 spread through five folders. I don’t know how they were created, or why pictures get assigned where they go.
This is why I get mad at Facebook; I never know what is happening. And obscure meanings for words get assigned I don’t know yet.
Question-after-question, and utter frustration.
And the fact I’m lost means I’m stupid and clueless.
“You have to play with it” — not the first time I’ve heard that.
Like I have time to dork around when I have lawn to mow, laundry to do, etc., etc., etc., etc.
And further more, what if I’d rather sling words instead?

• My wife died of cancer April 17th, 2012. I miss her dearly.


Wednesday, August 19, 2015


How do I go about this without seeming self-congratulatory?
Yrs Trly will have surgery next Wednesday (August 26th, 2015) to remove his prostate, which is somewhat cancerous.
We discussed various treatment options, and decided on removing the prostate if I guessed I might be around 20 or more years.
I was told radiation, and the radiation beads, was good for maybe 10 years.
I’m no longer a paragon of health, but in better shape than many at 71 years.
As a prelude to this operation I had to do a “pre-op.” That was yesterday (Tuesday, August 18th, 2015) at the same hospital in Rochester (NY) that will do the surgery.
“Take off all your clothes, and put on this flowery hospital-gown. Then sit quietly here, with your hands folded, to await our nurse-practitioner.
After perhaps five minutes, the nurse-practitioner came in.
We reviewed all the paperwork I had filled out in advance. I suppose this is for ne’er-do-wells who don’t fill out the many questionnaires.
Somehow we got off-topic, with me describing the history of some railfan site.
I’m a railfan, and have been since age-2.
“You’re very articulate,” the nurse-practitioner exclaimed.
“If you say so,” I said.
50 years ago her comment would have gone to my head.
I had a difficult childhood, and was continuously told I was stupid and of-the-Devil.
Also rebellious, because I couldn’t worship my father.
This albatross followed me to college, where I became friends with people eager to infer I was stupid.
But after 71 years I came to know who I am, and I ain’t stupid. I’m rebellious only to those who want me to kowtow; I don’t think I could lead a revolution.
“Well, I drove articulated buses while at the bus-company,” I said.

An “Artic” I had just driven. (Photo by BobbaLew.)

“See? There you are fooling around with words. ‘Articulate,’ I tell ya.”
“Well, I do write,” I said, as if writing makes you articulate. Usually it’s the other way around.
Conversation continued, I used the word “consternation,” a Philadelphia-lawyer word. I use words like that out of habit, but the average person doesn’t.
Which makes me “articulate,” I presume.
When I was in high-school my 12th-grade English-teacher told me I could write pretty good, but I thought he was joking.
After 71 years I realize it’s a talent I have; not Herman Melville or Dostoyevsky, but I can sling words together pretty good.
And having done it as long as I have, I feel sure of it. When I get criticism I yell “you do it!”

Sunday, August 16, 2015


A westbound charges through Tyrone. (Photo by BobbaLew.)

One more trip to Altoona (PA).
But this time I was alone, although I had Phil Faudi (“FOW-dee;” as in “wow”) calling me.
My brother-in-Boston, who is still working, was unable to get away.
Phil is the railfan extraordinaire from Altoona who used to lead me around chasing trains.
He called ‘em “tours.”
He used to be the one driving; he was doing it as a business.
Then he gave that up following near-accidents, but then led me around with me driving.
Then he gave that up, because his wife Rita has Multiple Sclerosis, and he was afraid of her falling with him not around.
So now he stays home, but still monitors his railroad-radio scanner, and calls my cellphone.
But this wouldn’t be a normal “tour.” That is, an attempt to photograph as many trains as I could.
I feel like I’ve maxxed out Allegheny Crossing. I’ve shot all the good locations.
But there were still a few spots left where I thought I might do better, plus a new spot.
Phil would call to report a train having just left Altoona, but I would stay put. I was more interested in the location.
I figured I’d try the new location first, since that was morning light.
What I needed was eastbound, and Phil can’t get that. He’s on the other side of the mountain.
Phil called to report a loaded westbound slab-train was coming, all gondola-cars with steel slabs for a rolling-mill.
I shot that, but what I needed was eastbound.
Finally one appeared, 534, a loaded coal-extra.
It was very heavy and slow. Two helper-sets, four additional locomotives; two helper-sets in the back pushing.

534 at milepost 250, north (railroad-east) of Cresson. (Photo by BobbaLew.)

I shot it, and then thought “can I get to Ledges before 534?”
The Ledges are the other side of the mountain, but very hard to climb up to — a difficult rocky uphill trail.
534 will be going slow. I guess I can drive to Ledges and get up there before 534 appears. My location near Cresson to Ledges is 40-45 minutes, but 534 is going slow over about 12 miles of railroad.
I’ve shot Ledges before, but always felt I could do better. Ledges was on my clean-up list.
I made it. 534 was calling the “MG” (mid-grade) signals as I was halfway up to Ledges — still about seven miles away.
I set up and waited. After 20-25 minutes 534 appeared, going slowly downhill toward Altoona.

534 approaches Ledges. (Photo by BobbaLew.)

It then stopped below me. It didn’t have clearance yet into Altoona.
A train came up, and I shot it. Then another came down, and I thought I might get a double, but 534 departed as the other train appeared. 534 had been cleared into Altoona.
Then another came up, and I noticed with the earlier westbound I had to be sitting to not have the signal-bridge obscure the locomotives.

Westbound double-stack up The Hill. (Photo by BobbaLew.)

I heard the following chatter on my railroad-radio scanner: “Hey Tommy, there’s a guy up on the rocks takin’ pictures. You’ll be an Internet sensation tonight!”
Next stop Tyrone (“tie-ROWN;” as in “own”), about 10-15 miles north of Altoona (railroad-east). Tyrone has always been difficult, but I knew angles that worked.
Another stop on my clean-up list.
534 was passing through as I appeared, switched to Nittany & Bald Eagle on which NS has trackage-rights.
Nittany & Bald Eagle is the shortline that operates Pennsy’s old Bald Eagle branch.
534 was coal going up to a Pennsylvania Power & Light generating-station.
A westbound appeared as soon as I pulled in. Scratch that one.
Phil called and told me eastbounds were coming, but the light was better for westbounds.
The sun had also come out. The day started cloudy, and would cloud up again.
My lede picture is a westbound at Tyrone. I was trying to repeat a shot I took last winter that seemed fuzzy.
The lead engine is displayed in side-elevation, so I was trying the repeat that.

Motor-drive. (Photo by BobbaLew.)

Eastbound = wrong light. (Photo by BobbaLew.)

I decided to try motor-drive, multiple shots about 1/10th of a second apart. One might look good.
But I’m not used to motor-drive. Plus my old camera, my D100, had it, and would puke out after about four shots.
So my first attempt at motor-drive was too early, and the locomotive only fills a small portion of the frame. (The picture is above = crop city.)
Phil called to report nothing coming, so where to next?
I decided to try Pinecroft, which was nearby.
I’ve avoided Pinecroft, because it seemed unphotogenic.
An overpass leaps over the railroad, but the railroad is arrow-straight on both sides.
But there’s also an access-road to the tracks.
I took it, and a long wait began.
Phil called to tell me Amtrak’s westbound Pennsylvanian was coming. But I had already shot it. It was the first train I saw after 45 minutes.

Amtrak’s westbound Pennsylvanian. (Photo by BobbaLew.)

It was starting to get cloudy again, but westbound still worked.
Phil, in Altoona, is somewhat outside scanner-range for where I was, but my scanner worked.
Finally I had a westbound. But it was C40, a short local-freight with a GP40-2 on the point.

Local-freight C40. (Photo by BobbaLew.)

I then tried motor-drive on another eastbound. A train passing at 60 mph might be slightly ahead of what looks good when the camera shutter trips.
Plus 1/400th was not fast enough. The engine blurs slightly. Who knows if 1/1000th would stop a train passing at 60 mph. Go that fast and you’re also limiting your light-input. I shot at 1/400th f11 because it was cloudy — although at the lowest ISO setting, which I don’t like to exceed.
Even then, a train blasting past looks dorky, although ya never know what might work.
I got another westbound, and it had a Union Pacific engine in the consist. And a third engine was ex-Union Pacific, still in UP colors, but now Norfolk Southern.

Westbound at Pinecroft. (Photo by BobbaLew.)

But pretty much nothing was coming, so I quit.
What I like most about this entire foray, is -1) I finally seem to have my scanner figured out, and it’s helping me chase trains.
And -2) I thought I had time to beat 534 to Ledges, and I did. This is what Phil used to do.
I still have one more shot I’d like to try, the MIGHTY CURVE (Horseshoe Curve), the BEST railfan spot I’ve ever been to.

Station-Inn’s Curve shot.

Horseshoe Curve is the centerpiece of Allegheny Crossing, still being used, and if it weren’t for Horseshoe Curve, the crossing of Allegheny Mountain might not have been possible, at least not in 1850.
But repeating the picture above would be near-impossible for an oldster. It would involve -a) jumping a fence from the viewing-area, or -b) climbing up a 250 foot debris-filled embankment, or -c) a long hike through forest and underbrush.
My brother and I checked it out, and it looks vaguely possible. But it would probably be the only location I shot.

I have one more picture — my brother likes it.

An eastbound stacker drifts away from its helper-units, now that The Hill is past. A westbound empty crude-oil train roars toward The Hill. (Photo by BobbaLew.)

I took it the previous day: Thursday, August 6th, the day I had driven to Altoona.
It has “Altoona Pipe & Steel” in it, which my brother tried to get, but failed.
But I’m not that happy with it — it’s not calendar-quality.
The stacker is too far away.

• “Station-Inn” is a bed-and-breakfast for railfans in Cresson. I’ve stayed there.
• “The Hill” is what the railroad calls the grade up, over and back down Allegheny Mountain. Helper-locomotives are often required.


Saturday, August 15, 2015

Burger Bar

Wanna feel very old and behind-the-times?
Patronize the Burger Bar at Mighty Weggers in Canandaigua.
Mighty Weggers is Wegmans supermarkets, the chain that dominates the Rochester grocery-market, and is now expanding all over the east coast.
Wegmans is based near Rochester.
Locals take tourists to Wegmans, they’re that attractive.
Wegmans is what a supermarket is wished to be. Glitzy and loaded with product. Plus you don’t have to wait at Wegmans. It’s staffed to avoid waiting at checkouts.
And now Wegmans has become a dispensary for prepared food.
Bakeries are usually installed, plus a delicatessen. There’s even a food-court. Customers can scoop prepared food from counter-dishes, then sit down and eat at a table.
This was despite complaints of earlier Wegmans head-honcho: Robert Wegman, now gone.
His son Danny wanted to install a food-court.
“We’re a grocery, not a restaurant,” Robert protested.
When Robert died, food-courts blossomed.
And it was probably a good move.
Recently the TV-news reported no one cooks any more. (I still cook.) They buy prepared meals instead.
So Danny drives a megabuck Ferrari. (He’s also a car-guy. He street-raced a 454 Chevelle when younger.)
And the Canandaigua store, although it isn’t the jewel-in-the-crown, is the store near where Danny lives.
He lives on Canandaigua Lake.
His Ferrari is often in the parking-lot.
Taking the food-court idea upmarket, the Canandaigua Weggers decided to install a Burger Bar.
Instead of a waitress (excuse me, “server”) giving you a menu, then taking your order......
It’s serve yourself.
A guy at an order-counter takes your order and hands you a radio-thingy.
“And what, pray tell, do I do with this thing?” I asked.
“When your food is ready,” he bubbled; “it will beep you, after which you go to the out-counter and pick up your food.”
I ordered a cheeseburger, seven smackaroos.
“I’d like something to drink too.”
“Here’s your cup; $1.79. Just fill it at the drink-machine across the way.”
So far, so good. I successfully ascertained the order-line. Madness was all around, and most of those present were younger than me.
Little kids rocketed about, bouncing off kiosks and patrons.
Next was the dreaded Coke machine. It’s like a gas-pump; one spigot dispenses all.
I watched the guy in front of me, trying to figger the thing out.
Now it was my turn.
A touch-menu displayed at least seven kinds of Coke: regular, no-caffeine, diet, Zero, cherry, etc.
I fingered “regular,” then pushed a button.
89 bazilyun ice-cubes disgorged all over the floor, but no Coke.
I tried again. More ice-cubes, but still no Coke.
“Obviously I’m doing something wrong,” I cried.
“Here, what kind do you want?” asked the young dude behind me.
Again, we pushed the “regular” button.
No ice-cubes, but Coke this time.
I don’t get it! We did the same things I did.
(Well actually, we didn’t. I hadn’t pushed the button, which noteless is apparently ice-cubes.)
I waited off to the side drinking my Coke, then decided I should go ask the out-counter if I was supposed to wait there.
But suddenly my radio-thingy was beeping.
I got in line at the out-counter, but then decided an old geezer in front of me in a wheelchair cart was waiting in line with a non-beeping thingy.
“Perhaps we should jump ahead,” I said to another.
“Yes, you should. Yours is beeping, but mine isn’t.”
I got my cheeseburger, but it looked awful.
Rather than set up counters for ketchup, mustard and relish the cooks just slather everything on in advance.
Great! It looks like garbage on my cheeseburger — mustard and ketchup stirred, with relish heaped on top.
It looked like the recently polluted Animas river in CO, mustard yellow but with blood mixed in and garbage heaped on top.
And never in a million years would I put mustard and relish on a cheeseburger.
I managed to find an empty table, so I quietly ate my cheeseburger alone.
“Is this what food-service is coming to?” I thought. The racket was deafening and madness reigned.
Finally I had to ditch my trash and plate and tray.
I asked some guy in a Wegmans tee-shirt “My guess is you don’t want me to trash this plate and tray.”
“Of course not! The bus-boy station is right over there, and your trash goes in the can underneath.”
I walked outside. Wegmans was holding a “Cruze-Night” car show, which is why I came.
That’s car-guy Danny.
My friend Jim LePore (“luh-POOR”) was showing his Camaro.
“So Bobby,” he asked; “howd-ja do?”
“Well, I dumped ice-cubes all over the floor. It sure ain’t the restaurant where we regularly eat.
And my cheeseburger looked like garbage. I suppose what joy there might be in patronizing ‘Burger Bar’ would be figuring it out.”
Food subservient to technology. Facebook food.

• Canandaigua Lake is one the Finger Lakes, a series of north-south lakes in Central New York that look like the imprint of a large hand. They were formed by the receding glacier. Canandaigua Lake is one of the smaller Finger Lakes.
• “Bobby” is me, Bob Hughes, BobbaLew.


Wednesday, August 12, 2015


“The Queen of the West End.” (Photo by BobbaLew.)

Nickel Plate 765 is by far the BEST restored steam-locomotive I’ve ever seen, and I’ve seen many.
It was restored by Fort Wayne Railroad Historical Society (FWRHS), a private organization — not a railroad.
And it was restored beyond mere operation. That is, it can run hard, just like it did in service.
765 was a particularly good locomotive. It was called “The Queen of the West End.” 765 is a SuperPower locomotive, built by Lima Locomotive Works in Lima, Ohio (“lye-muh,” not “lee-muh;” as in “lima-bean”).
In the ‘20s, Lima Locomotive fielded its SuperPower concepts in the Berkshire mountains of western MA; at first a Mikado (2-8-2) with a big boiler and a gigantic fire-grate: a hotrod Mikado.
The idea was to not run out of steam at speed. Regular locomotives at that time ran out of steam as speed increased.
Getting performance out of a steam-locomotive is a delicate balance, just enough steam to get good performance, but not too much. Steam-usage could be varied by the amount of open valve-travel. The engineer could vary that.
“SuperPower” had other tricks to enhance steam generation, like heat to the boiler feedwater so cold water wasn’t sapping steam generation. Some of these tricks were adapted from stationary steam-boilers in power-plants.
SuperPower also used other tricks to maximize operation at lower speeds, like powering the trailing-truck supporting the firebox. This was called “boosterization.”
Speedy operation didn’t mean much to many railroads, who might manage 20-30 mph at most. But there were railroads level and straight enough to get really rolling, particularly Nickel Plate.
Nickel Plate is actually New York, Chicago & St. Louis, founded in 1881 to counter the fact Lake Shore & Michigan Southern, affiliated with New York Central, had a monopoly from Buffalo west.
NY,C.&St.L. never made New York City. But there were plenty of other railroad connections in Buffalo beside NYC.
It was called “nickel-plated” by an editor of a Norwalk, OH newspaper engaged in newspaper wars to get New York, Chicago & St. Louis to locate through Norwalk, as many towns were doing back then. NY,C.&St.L. didn’t locate through Norwalk, and rumor had it “nickel-plated” was coined by a New York Central executive because NY,C.&St.L. was so competitive.
NYC executives probably referred to NY,C.&St.L. as “nickel-plated,” but it was a newspaper-editor that coined the term.
Nickel Plate to Buffalo parallels Lake Shore & Michigan Southern. Nickel Plate was often within striking distance of LS&MS, which later became New York Central and eventually CSX.
Nickel Plate no longer exists. It was merged into Norfolk & Western in 1964.
Norfolk Southern, a 1982 merger of Norfolk & Western and Southern Railway, now operates Nickel Plate.
NS also took over the old Erie line across southern and western New York, but not the complete Erie line.
Erie’s main from Hornell toward Chicago is now a shortline, and NS only operates the Buffalo extension. What NS is doing is Buffalo to the New York City area.
Since Nickel Plate was one of the few railroads still using steam-locomotives as dieselization began, quite a few Nickel Plate Berks were saved.
I can think of two others beside 765. 759 is at Steamtown in Scranton, PA. and operated in the ‘70s.
757 is another, stored unserviceable at Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania in Strasburg, PA. It’s outside, but still looks pretty good. Outside storage invites vandals and the rust-worm — it’s fenced.
765 was first on display in Fort Wayne (IN), renumbered to 767. 767 was the first Nickel Plate engine over an elevated bypass through Fort Wayne.
But the actual 767 was not in as good shape as 765, so renumbered 765 became its stand-in.
Rather than let 765 rot, the Fort Wayne Railroad Historical Society was founded in 1972 to get the engine running. The engine was renumbered back to its actual number, 765.
Restoring a steam-locomotive to “operable” condition is a monumental task.
Fort Wayne Railroad Historical Society did a bang-up job. They restored it well enough to run like it did for Nickel Plate: hard and fast.
Nickel Plate prided itself on redball service toward Buffalo. Faster than New York Central. And the Nickel Plate Berks were perfect for the job. They could run hard and fast.
765 has been around for a while in excursion service.
A couple years ago it had to be rebuilt, and I think it was rebuilt once earlier.
As soon as you start running it, it begins tearing itself apart. Vibration can start boiler-leaks, and the heavy running-gear is thrashing itself this way and that.
Nevertheless Fort Wayne Railroad Historical Society keeps 765 in excellent shape.
It’s in such good shape it’s a dependable excursion steamer. Even the railroads are impressed. Norfolk Southern allows 765 to operate excursions on its mainlines.
An el-cheapo restoration might cripple out on the railroad, but 765 won’t.
A cripple could block the railroad.
An excursion Buffalo-to-Corning and back isn’t over a busy railroad.
The only train I saw both days was this excursion.
Locals said NS only operates at night.
Down in Altoona (PA) I might see 20 or more trains over six hours on NS’s old Pennsy main. And that’s missing quite a few.
Long portions of the old Erie main would generate no traffic at all, like the Canisteo river-valley (“Can-iss-TEE-oh;” as in the verb “can”) between Canisteo and Addison.
Canisteo river-valley is so far out, there isn’t cellphone service.
I didn’t chase the entire trip. Just Letchworth Park to Corning via Hornell.
A giant old trestle leaps Letchworth Gorge, but it’s due to be replaced.
I didn’t photograph it, since the speed-limit on the old bridge is 10 mph; 765 merely drifting.
Saturday morning (August 1st, 2015) I went to Hornell to chase the train toward Corning.
I poked around some, deciding Hornell wasn’t as photogenic as the Canisteo river-valley.
I drove down into the valley, and picked my spot.
Finally 765 appeared with its long train, doing about 40-45 mph — which is about all the line is good for.

Finally...... (Photo by BobbaLew.)

NO DIESELS! Often diesel-locomotives are included in case the engine breaks down.
But 765 was on its own.
I then drove down to Addison, but the excursion was ahead of me.
A long line of chasers backed up at a stop-sign in Addison.
765 would make Corning before I did.
My smartphone has an app that displays 765’s location on a map. 765 has a GPS transponder on top.
Back-and-forth I drove all over Corning to find 765.
I must have crossed the Chemung River at least eight times.
Apparently the original Erie did street-running through Corning when built, and I was tricked by what remained.
Erie went to a bypass around Corning, and 765 was on that.
It displayed on my smartlphone app, but I don’t know Corning.
Finally I found it, after finding streets displayed on my smartphone app.
There it sat, its train unloading passengers, so it could chuff off to get serviced and turned.

Off to be turned. (Photo by BobbaLew.)

Often just the engine gets turned, then couples to the train’s rear. In this case the entire train got turned, there was room.
You don’t just turn the real thing like a model-train. A big hand doesn’t descend from the sky.
And 765’s crew had to get clearance from the railroad’s dispatcher. Getting that dispatcher was a struggle. He must have been on break or napping.

Back to load up again. (That tender has been built up to carry more coal.) (Photo by BobbaLew.)

Finally reloaded, 765 set back for Buffalo.
But I was already up in the Canisteo river-valley, set up at a long curve.
My lede picture is that long curve.
I then drove toward Letchworth Park.
I thereby joined the chasers, sometimes 80 mph over 55-mph two-lanes.
I got to drive right beside 765 toward Swain Ski Center.
This is the greatest thrill for an old steam-experienced railfan: that thing thrashing away right through my open driver’s window.
I’ve experienced this multiple times, and each time with 765.
Once was years ago in WV with my now-deceased wife, and it scared her to death. It was right beside her passenger-window, which I had rolled down electrically.
Another time was back in 1993 with my brother Jack from near Boston. I had rented a video-camera, and we were right beside it cruising about 40 mph.
My brother got really into it. He broke every traffic-law in the book, including running a stop-sign in front of a WV state-trooper. At one point he had his company-car doing 100 mph on the WV turnpike.
I hear Norfolk Southern limits limits 765 to 45 mph. But long ago, on-train, I clocked it at over 70!
I also got it as is returned back into Letchworth, drifting toward the bridge.

Back into Letchworth. (Why is it everyone prefers this picture? It’s only drifting.) (Photo by BobbaLew.)

I had taken the wrong road into Letchworth, and ended up at a somewhat unphotogenic spot.
The next day, Sunday August 2nd, I drove back to Letchworth to get it from the right road (other side of the tracks) as it accelerated off the bridge.

Bam-bam-bam-bam! (Photo by BobbaLew.)

I then drove down to Hornell, and found a location.

Into Hornell off the Buffalo extension. (Photo by BobbaLew.)

Hornell is where the old Erie split. To the left is toward Chicago, and right is the Buffalo extension.
I then drove toward Corning via the Canisteo river-valley.
I stopped once in the valley and got it approaching a grade-crossing.

Shreeek-shreeek-shreek-shreeeeeek! (Photo by BobbaLew.)

I found it in Corning right away, and shot before it chuffed off to be turned.

1/500th of a second. (Photo by BobbaLew.)

Getting this picture wasn’t easy. There were crowds all around.
But the crowds parted for 1/500th of a second; long enough to snag this picture.
I also got it returning.

Back to load up again. (Photo by BobbaLew.)

Now, back toward Letchworth.
I got ahead of the excursion, but people were all over where I wanted to take my picture.
But I did manage to get one with no one in it.

Now I can go home. (Photo by BobbaLew.)

I could finally return home.
What I regret most is no pictures off a highway overpass. I passed a place where I could have got one, but surmised I’d do better in the Canisteo river-valley.
But it just so happened my planned spot in the valley was the same as the day before. It was too late to go back.

• I’ve been a railfan since age-2, which is 1946, which means I witnessed steam-locomotives in regular service. Steam-engines are why I’m a railfan.
• My beloved wife of over 44 years died of cancer April 17th, 2012. I miss her dearly.