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Recon1342
Recon1342 Dork
7/17/21 11:15 a.m.

In reply to NickD :

So, how'd it go?

NickD
NickD MegaDork
7/19/21 11:44 a.m.

So, I woke up early Friday morning and from the hotel parking lot, I could see them getting #611 warmed up outside the shop. I hoped to catch it run by light, so I sat outside reading a book for about 45 minutes and there was no signs of activity. So I went into the restaurant at the hotel, which has outdoor seating, and asked if I could eat outdoors in case #611 went by. I was told that because they only had two waiters on shift, they weren't doing the outdoors seating because it was too much ground for two people to cover. So I begrudgingly accepted a seat indoors, and then not ten minutes after I sat down, #611 ran by light with just Strasburg's bobber caboose and #611's auxiliary canteen. Terrific. 

After breakfast, I did a little more reading and then headed down to Leaman Place in hopes of watching #611 operate. I got down there and there was a constable onsite. He asked if I was supposed to be down there, and when I said I was, he asked what time my ticket was for. When I said 12:40, I was told "Go away, come back later." So instead I went and caught #475 doing the "Ghost Whistle" act (Strasburg tells a story of an LO&S locomotive lost out in the wilderness after the tracks were torn up whose ghost still whistles in reply to their train, using the valley's echo for the ghost), as well as rolling past Paradise Lane.

I was glad to hear that #475 is back to using the N&W "hooter" whistle. The shop-built 3-chime wasn't bad, but it wasn't terribly distinctive.

Around 11:30, I went back to Leaman Place, wearing work pants, a long-sleeve work shirt, boots and gloves and sweating my ass off in the sunny, humid 93 degree weather, and this time was allowed to go in. I have to assume that the reason they were keeping such a tight leash on things was because of #611's celebrity status. Amtrak had a bunch of their employees down there on the clock watching as well. My guess: they were worried about a bunch of railfans mobbing the place and getting splattered by a Keystone Corridor train. Whatever the reason, definitely not as lax as last year's In-Cab Experience with #90.

Also, rather than being allowed to climb the engine ladder like last year, they had a large aluminum set of stairs with a drawbridge that could be dropped between the cab and tender and people could walk over. Safer, sure, but less of authentic than tossing your gloves aboard and then climbing up the ladder. There is a definitive difference between the cab of #611 and #90, befitting the 26 years between them and the fact that #90 was a workaday freight engine and #611 was a precision-built passenger engine. On #90, the firebox comes a good ways back into the cab, all the controls are painted basic black, there are less gauges and they are mounted on basic fixtures on the backhead. On #611, the backhead is pretty much the front of the cab, so there's more room. There are more gauges and they are all mounted in sheetmetal fairings. The throttle and reverser and injector handles are all chromed. While #90's throttle comes off the backhead at a 45 degree angle is a straight lever with a trigger on the back, #611's hangs straight down from the roof with a 90-degree handle at the base. #90 has better forward visible, due to it's smaller diameter boiler, while #611, you are pretty much required to hang out the cab window to see forward. #90's whistle is a Reading 6-chime, which is much more melodious, whereas #611 has a Hancock 3-chime that is a deep burbling roar. Up close, you feel it in your chest more than you hear it.

The program was basically the same as last year: depart Leaman Place, run up to a copse of trees shy of the Black Horse Road crossing, reverse down and then do it again. When I first got on, I had Kelly Anderson, Strasburg's chief mechanical officer, as my shadow. He had a bit more minimalist instructions for me: no bell when starting, reverser all the way in the corner and just adjust speed with the throttle. Ooooh, the throttle, I was not a fan of that thing. I recall #90's as being easy to operate, almost singlehanded to adjust. #611's was easy for the first notch or two but then seemed to actively fight you past that, wanting to swing closed. I was advised to grab the back of the throttle bar with my left hand to assist, but then your hand fouled the trigger linkage, so when you tried to let off the trigger, it stayed on. And when you let go with your left hand, then the throttle wanted to yank forward a notch or two before you could release the trigger. I was apparently not the only one with that, because the two guys after me said the same thing. I wonder if maybe it has to do with #611 running 300psi of boiler pressure, compared to #90's 190psi. Also, I forgot my sunglasses and almost immediately caught a huge coal cinder directly in my right eyeball, so that was watering and bugging me the whole time.

On my first run, the regular train behind #475 was coming in, so we had to shove back to the freight car interchange, toss the switch, then advance onto the runaround track at Leaman. At that time, they swapped out the crew and I had a new engineer, one of Strasburg's whose name was Russell, watching over my shoulder. Once #475 and her train cleared the main, we ran out and up the line, while #475 ran around to the front of her train. This new engineer was much more in-depth with his instructions, and had me open the throttle a notch, adjust the cutoff a notch or two, grab another notch of the throttle, ring the bell. He also had me making the brake applications to his instruction, which was a little surprising since last year they had had a Strasburg crew member handle the brakes. After he had me make a second brake application, the fireman came over, tapped him on the shoulder and said "Hey, we aren't having them do that. Last year, we ended up with flat spots on some wheels." That put an end to that. The engineer also was going to have me add boiler to the water with the injector and similarly he was told "No, you better do that, because the lever likes to snap over center and then it blows a hole clear to China." Sure enough, the engineer went to work the injector and he got so far and it wanted to kick the lever all the way open. It didn't go wide open, but the jet of steam still put a pretty good divot in the ballast.

On returning the second time, we had to line up with the stairs so that they could drop the drawbridge and we could disembark. Between the lag in opening and closing the throttle and applying the brakes, we overshot it twice before I finally said "Why don't you sit in the seat and do it yourself. It'll be a lot less headache." It still took us another two or three tries to get her lined up so they could drop the drawbridge between the cab and tender. I then got off and hung around and BS'ed with a few other folks for a couple hours before departing to go get showered and changed into cooler clothes and then went to find dinner.

NickD
NickD MegaDork
7/19/21 12:54 p.m.

Sorry for the janky process in which I have to do this, but my photos are on my phone and won't import to my PC correctly, but I don't want to type out all the text on my phone. So I'll be uploading the photos from my phone and then going back and editing in text. Bear with me.

NickD
NickD MegaDork
7/19/21 1:03 p.m.

After getting cleaned up and fishing that coal cinder out of the center of my eye (yes, I'm serious), I went to dinner at the Smokehouse BBQ & Brews had some amazing smoked chicken wings, an excellent pulled pork sandwhich and a couple Lancaster Brewing Company "Blue Trail" blueberry-lemon shandies. It was around 5:30 by this point and as I went by I still saw smoke over Leaman Place. I pulled off the road at Carpenter's Crossing, went up into the graveyard and found an excellent view overlooking the track. Sure enough, I heard two whistles from #611, then her blow again for the farm crossing and then the throttle close. They were still running the In-Cab sessions, so I hadn't missed her running back to Strasburg. I stood around BS-ing with a couple other photographers, watched the Amish (or perhaps Mennonite) farmers towing a New Holland round-baler behind a team of horses, and caught #475 headed down to Leaman Place with the dinner train

After a couple of false starts where we would hear #611 start approaching and then close the throttle, around 6:30 she left Leaman Place and came snorting up the grade with authority this time, and a much more experienced whistle signal for the farm crossing. And there she came, boiling some dark gray smoke that would have made an N&W man frown (written in large yellow letters on the tender bulkhead is "BLACK SMOKE IS WASTEFUL - BE CAREFUL" that is original to the engine, and O. Winston Link was not allowed to publish any photos that had black smoke coming from the stack)

I then headed back to the hotel, feeling like I needed another shower from standing out in the heat.

NickD
NickD MegaDork
7/19/21 3:05 p.m.

The next morning I caught #475 going by.

Also went for a ride behind #611. The train was absolutely packed, almost no seats left. Also chased #611 around and got a few other photos and videos.

RIP the microphone on my phone.

 

Also, really funny seeing #611 run tender-first. 

 

NickD
NickD MegaDork
7/19/21 3:45 p.m.

Paid a visit to the Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania.

M1b #6755, looking a bit forlorn. Supposedly considered by Conrail staff for their stillborn corporate steam program. Hopefully she gets indoors and stabilized soon.

K4s #3750 and the last surviving E60CH electric.

#6755 and #3750

A rare Alco C415

The former shop switcher at Baldwin

PRR E6s #460, the "Lindbergh Engine".

GP30s look good in any color. Conrail blue is no exception.

GG1 #4935

PRR "#7002"

One of three surviving G5 Ten-Wheelers, and the only one in PRR guise.

PRR #5901, the PRR's first diesel and the sole surviving EMD E7.

Reading #1251, which was their shop switcher as late as 1963

After that, I hit the road for Altoona, slogging my way through a nasty storm

914Driver
914Driver GRM+ Memberand MegaDork
7/20/21 5:50 a.m.
NickD
NickD MegaDork
7/20/21 7:03 a.m.

Then Sunday morning, it was on to world famous Horseshoe Curve. When I got there, the last parts of the storm from the night before were passing through, so it was gray and drizzly. The park does not open until 10am, I got there around 9:40, and at 9:50 an Amtrak train went around the curve. I could hear it and just barely see it, and I was pretty irked that I missed that.

Went inside, toured the little museum they had about it, which was nice. According to the museum, during the steam era, the rails on the Curve only lasted about 10 months, as the long rigid wheelbases of steam locomotives wore the flanges that badly.

Then it was up 140 stairs cut into the mountain side. Worth the view out over the valley and the Altoona Reservoir System.

PRR #7048 is a GP9 that was placed on display when #1361 was removed for her return to operation in the 1980s. The GP9 is looking rather scruffy these days though, sadly.

I waited around an hour, hoping I would get to see something traverse the curve before I had to leave. Then, my prayers were answered, as a Norfolk Southern coal train dropped down onto the curve, easing its way downgrade, with two engines on the front and a helper on the rear.

Easing past the watchman's shack that was built in 1892

Then, before the tail of the last train was even clear, a Norfolk Southern intermodal train with three engines on the head end entered the curve on the outer track.

The helper on the coal train passing #7048

You can see the faster intermodal train catching the coal train on the other track

The third engine on the intermodal train was sporting marks from a nice turbo fire at some point. It's a GE thing, you wouldn't understand.

And then from there it was off to Hollidaysburg

NickD
NickD MegaDork
7/20/21 12:08 p.m.

In Hollidaysburg, I hopped aboard the Everrett Railroad, which operates tiny little 55-ton Mogul #11 over ex-PRR/Conrail trackage. The Everrett is regularly a freight-hauling line using diesels, but operates steam excursions once a month with the #11. #11 is a 1920 Alco product that was intended for a Cuban sugar plantation but never delivered, and then ended up at the Narragansett Pier Terminal, then the Bath & Hammondsport, then was one of the first steam locomotives operated in an excursion capacity at the Rail City Museum in Sandy Pond, NY.

I admittedly knew very little about the Everrett. I've rarely heard it mentioned, and I imagine part of that is due to it being in a state that contains such luminaries as Strasburg, East Broad Top, Lehigh Gorge Scenic and Steamtown. Having now ridden the line, I can say that the Everrett is criminally overlooked. The one hour ride was run at a pretty good clip, and #11, with an ex-B&LE combine and three heavyweight passenger cars, makes all the right sounds as she climbs a couple grades, multiple grade crossings and several bridges. Upon arrival, the first thing I noticed was that they had the combine behind the locomotive, with the baggage doors open and railings across the doors. I quickly asked a conductor "Am I allowed to ride up there?" and got back a "Certainly" and so I took up post at what I knew was going to be the best location of the trip. While they were getting ready several people came up there to take a photo but then immediately left because "I don't want to stand the whole time." Your loss.

The trip was terrific, the staff was friendly, and #11 makes up for her size with a lot of charm. And a 1 hour trip for $12 is tough to beat. I did learn one lesson though: if it's been raining and you're riding in the open-air section, don't wear white. The cinders come up out of the stack, hit the wet leaves, and then shower back down on you in black/gray raindrops. This was especially true with #11, because of her small size, she was working fairly hard and so she was really chucking some cinders out of the stack. They were running a second trip to a different location with a layover for ice cream that I would have liked to have ridden as well, but unfortunately I had a 5 and a half hour drive back home, and so I had to leave, but not before catching some photos of it at the first crossing. 

NickD
NickD MegaDork
7/20/21 2:17 p.m.

My in-cab photos

NickD
NickD MegaDork
7/20/21 3:42 p.m.
NickD
NickD MegaDork
7/21/21 10:46 a.m.

I've lived in Rome for about 20 years, and yesterday was the first time I caught one of the Mohawk, Adirondack & Northern's big Alcos crossing the shared-use bridge.on Railroad Street

NickD
NickD MegaDork
7/21/21 2:02 p.m.

Canadian National #89 emerging from the floodwaters that completely submerged her at Wilkes-Barre during Hurricane Agnes. #89 was being run down from Steamtown USA at Bellows Falls to Strasburg for her change in ownership.

When I was at Strasburg this weekend, I mentioned that #89 was the only one of Strasburg's engines I had not seen operate. A fellow railfan said it is pretty rare to see #89 anymore, that with Strasburg's increasing train sizes, they prefer to use #475 or #90.

NickD
NickD MegaDork
7/22/21 10:18 a.m.

One of the few good things to come out of the Iowa Pacific Holdings meltdown is that there is a lot of neat equipment on the market. Reading & Northern just announced that they scooped up eleven passenger cars for their passenger operations. And there is some really cool stuff in the batch they picked up.

San Luis & Rio Grande 59: full dome built by Pullman-Standard in 1952 as Milwaukee Road #59, ex-Amtrak #9383. Iowa Pacific picked up full dome #59 in 2012. Car was used on Iowa Pacific's Santa Cruz & Monterey Bay operation in California.

SLRG 3305 is the ex-Illinois Central Mardi Gras round-end observation from the Roanoke Chapter NRHS, and famous from NS steam excursions.

SLRG #1056 is heavyweight open-window rebuild Lookout Mountain and famous from Southern steam excursions thru early NS years.

SLRG 448: An ex-NYC stainless lightweight 44-seat diner built by Budd in '47, recently briefly leased by BNSF.

SLRG #3378 Calumet Club is ex-Wisconsin & Calumet, exx-Illinois Central, rebuilt to parlor/obs/lounge in 1952 from a heavyweight coach.

There's also a couple ex-IC or ex-Southern heavyweight coaches and an ex-VIA/CN lightweight duplex sleeper. All pretty cool stuff that will look really nice behind either Reading T-1 #2102 or those former NS executive F-units they just bought.

NickD
NickD MegaDork
7/22/21 12:01 p.m.

Looking at the IPH cars for sale, there is a stainless steel round-end observation car from the Reading Crusader in Washington state (there's a second, the only other surviving Crusader car, at the Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania). Seems kind of odd that Reading & Northern went for the ex-IC car, instead of the Reading car. I have to assume that means that the Reading car is in poor shape.

NickD
NickD MegaDork
7/22/21 3:32 p.m.

The Crusader was Reading's entry into the luxury train market, running between Philly and Jersey City. It had a stainless steel-clad Pacific on the lead and used five stainless steel lightweight passenger cars. Its most unique feature was that it had a round-end observation car at both ends of the train, so that rather than having to wye the whole train, the locomotive could just be turned on a turntable and hooked to the other end. It was always a distant runner-up to competitors trains, and eventually the streamlined Pacific was replaced with black and green FP7s, then the lightweight passenger cars were sold off to CN and replaced with conventional heavyweight cars from their car pool, and then it spent its last days as an all-RDC consist.

NickD
NickD MegaDork
7/23/21 7:48 a.m.

The rumor is that Reading & Northern is buying this additional equipment because they are looking into running regular excursions between Reading, PA and Wilkes-Barre, PA and need the equipment for that. That's a good 80 mile trip, and I'd be down for that if they ran those behind #2102. Someone was semi-jokingly asking if they would consider extending past Wilkes-Barre to Scranton, because there is talk of the Amtrak service from Scranton to NYC. Then you could ride from Philly to Reading over Amtrak, ride the R&N from Reading to Scranton, and then get back on Amtrak from Scranton to NYC. Of course, the R&N running regular steam-powered trips out of Scranton would be a bit of a kick in the teeth to Steamtown, and I wouldn't count on that Scranton-NYC Amtrak service anytime soon either. This would be the proposed service over the DL&W Lackawanna cutoff that has been discussed for decades, pretty much since Conrail abandoned the cutoff, and has been studied to death and nothing has ever come of it.

NickD
NickD MegaDork
7/23/21 11:32 a.m.

One of DL&W's 4-8-4 "Poconos" crosses the Pequest Fill (and the Lehigh & Hudson River line) on the Lackawanna Cutoff. In 1911, Pequest Fill was considered the largest railroad fill in the world. Thirteen different routes skirting the Pequest Valley were proposed and all turned down by president William Truesdale. Too long, or too curvy, or too much grade. Truesdale proposed going straight through the valley and then making a huge fill to eliminate any grade. The foundation for the three-mile Pequest Fill was constructed of 6.625 million cubic yards of fill material, far more than could be provided by classic cut-and-fill techniques. So the railroad bought 760 acres of farmland and dug it out to a depth of about 20 feet 

914Driver
914Driver GRM+ Memberand MegaDork
7/26/21 6:19 a.m.

NickD
NickD MegaDork
7/27/21 8:33 a.m.

Here's some big news, literally and figuratively. Santa Fe #2926, one of their excellent 2900-series Northerns, has moved under her own power for the first time since 1953. I like that you can see them operating the Santa Fe trademark extendable smoke stack.

 

NickD
NickD MegaDork
7/27/21 9:37 a.m.

The #2926 has been a 20 year restoration and the project lead joked that “For one dollar, we ended up buying a $3.5 million problem." The rumor is that #2926 will run excursions over the New Mexico RailRunner between Albuquerque and Santa Fe, which will be home territory for the engine. Hopefully, she'll be allowed to operate at track speed, since RailRunner operates trains at 80mph on that track and #2926, after the installation of lightweight tandem rods and Timken roller bearings, was rated at 110mph (and did it regularly). Supposedly there is also a standing agreement with Grand Canyon Railway that they will gladly welcome AT&SF #3751 and #2926 for a visit similar to what N&W #611 is doing at Strasburg.

NickD
NickD MegaDork
7/27/21 11:24 a.m.

#2926m, stack extensions raised, drifts down Cajon Pass with the Grand Canyon. The 2900s, delivered in '44, were identical in dimensions to the 3700-series Northerns, but considerably heavier, thanks to the wartime restrictions on lightweight materials. They spent wartime hauling freight and then as soon as WWII was over, they were fitted with lightweight rods and roller bearings and set loose on passenger trains, making 1500 mile trips at over 100mph. As Trains Editor David P. Morgan once wrote, “Few steam locomotives were so justifiably acclaimed as Santa Fe’s . . . Northerns. Huge and tireless creatures, they could and did cover the 1,765 miles between Kansas City and L.A. without change, conquer Raton’s 3 percent, and exceed 100 miles per hour.”

NickD
NickD MegaDork
7/27/21 11:25 a.m.

The 2900s were the largest and heaviest Northerns in the US, and were the heaviest passenger locomotives in the US.  The engine along weighed a whopping 510,150 pounds. By comparison, Union Pacific’s 800-series engines, the 4-8-4s most often compared with the 2900s, weighed in at 483,000 pounds. And then backing up the 4-8-4 was a massive tender with a capacity of 7,000 gallons of fuel oil and 24,500 gallons of water, supported by a pair of eight-wheel trucks.

Pete Gossett (Forum Supporter)
Pete Gossett (Forum Supporter) GRM+ Memberand MegaDork
7/27/21 7:55 p.m.

In reply to NickD :

That's awesome! Hopefully I can book a ride when we're out in NM sometime. 

NickD
NickD MegaDork
7/27/21 8:41 p.m.

 

This video of sister engine #3751 loping along at 55-60mph alongside a freeway is a favorite of mine. Barely even looks like she is working, with those 80" drivers and a perfectly clear stack.

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