The view looking east from the Ohio Route 5 overpass of SN Tower in Leavittsburg in the middle 1970s. The Erie Lackawanna was two years from being folded into Conrail, a move that eventually led to nearly all of the tracks in this scene being abandoned and removed.
It was a beautiful sunny and mild (for February) Sunday in Northeast Ohio, but I didn’t shoot a moving train . . . or any train for that matter. Instead, I did something I’ve wanted to do for a while now.
Back in the early 1970s I was a young man who had always liked the railroad and had developed a particular liking for the Erie Lackawanna. All my forays to see EL trains had been in my home town of Akron and a couple of other close-by locations.
Youngstown and Marion were faraway places, or so they seemed at the time. One weekend day the girlfriend and I were looking for something to do besides go to the mall or go out to eat. I suggested a road trip to, of all places, Leavittsburg, a small town near Youngstown.
She knew all too well of my “interest” in the railroad and was always up for a little road trip. So off we went. I had done a little homework and knew this area was an important junction for the EL. Getting this information back then required more than the click of a mouse.
I don’t remember the details of that afternoon other than thinking I should take a few photos of the railroad scene. Little did I realize how that little brain storm would shape my future, but I digress.
After some ground level photos I went up on the Ohio Route 5 bridge and snapped the overall scene shown in the top photograph.
I was using an Instamatic camera, a cheap plastic machine, including the lens. The small prints that the local Fotomat booth gave you from these negatives hid the overall horrid quality of photos that these cameras produced.
I’m sure that at the time I wasn’t too worried about the historical nature of the railroad in front of me or that I would be digging these photos out of a shoebox nearly 40 years later.
In the topt photo, an EL freight is eastbound on the double track First Sub Division heading for Niles, Girard and Brier Hill Yard. The First Sub extended between Cleveland and Pymatuning (near Sharpsville, Pa.). Also visible to the far left is the Second Subdivision, which extended between Brady Lake and Pymatuning. Shown at the far left is a section of it that was known as the Youngstown bypass.
Hot 100 and 99 symbol trains and other through trains with no Youngstown work used the bypass through Warren. The tower is SN, a somewhat basic brick building that controlled this junction. Note the utility pole in the driveway just to the left of SN Tower.
Fast forward now to Feb. 5, 2012. I have wanted to revisit Leavittsburg for a long time and finally decided to just do it.
One of the first photos I wanted to get was, of course up, on the (rebuilt) Route 5 bridge. No plastic lens today, but no film either. And, of course no trains, let alone no EL.
Note that the utility pole is the only common thread between decades that seems to have stood its ground.
One track remains, now long unused, that was pieced together along a First to Second Sub alignment as you look east.
In the first ground level photo, we are looking west toward SN Tower and the Route 5 bridge. The view is from the main crossing in town (South Leavitt Road). From left to right are the Baltimore & Ohio line that ran between Newton Falls and DeForest Jct. via Warren. Also visible is the EL First Sub to Brier Hill. Behind the buildings and sand tower is the Second Sub.
The second ground level shot was taken from a vantage point just west of South Leavitt Road. The milepost in this photo – 50 miles from Cleveland – can barely be seen in the 1970s photograph next to a MOW building. The milepost is one of the few things left from the EL days in Leavittsburg that is still intact.
In the last photo, we are looking east down the Second Sub toward Warren from about the location of SN Tower. Note the local motive power that is tied up for the day.
So there you have it, a look at a crummy old photo that started a rail enthusiast down a path that hasn’t ended. The changes between 1974 and 2012 are more than any of us can list.
The Volkswagon 411 that got me there then, the Jeep Liberty that got me there last Sunday. The plastic lens camera and cheap color negative film developed by someone else has given way to a professional grade Canon digital camera that records images that I process on a computer.
That kid in college is now a railroader with Norfolk Southern, which operates portions of the former EL. I have no idea where the girl who was with me is these days. And I can share all of this instantly with thousands of like-minded people with a few clicks of a mouse instead of waiting months for a magazine to come out.
Life is good now, but I still miss the EL.
Article and Photographs by Roger Durfee
The utility pole in the center of the photo is the only thing left standing of SN tower. This view was recorded from the Ohio Route 5 bridge on Feb. 5, 2012.
A view looking west from South Leavitt Street. The former B&O train to the far left is still here, but the EL tracks crossing the street here are now gone.
A milpost is all that is left of the former EL First Subdivision in Leavittsburg.
The Youngstown bypass of the EL was part of the Second Sub Division that extended from Brady Lake (near Kent) to Pymatuning (near Sharpsville, Pa.). The view is looking eastward on the Youngstown bypass just east of SN Tower.