2010 Overnighter to Cumberland

Todd Vander Sluis has a train in the sights of his viewfinder as Mary Surdyk (left) looks on during the Akron Railroad Club overnighter outing to Sand Patch and Cumberland on August 28-29, 2010. (Photographs by Richard Thompson)

The Akron Railroad Club bunch looks for the next train. They are (from left) Marty Surdyk, Rick Houck, Todd Vander Sluis, Cody Zamostny and Tim Krogg.

The Akron Railroad Club bunch looks for the next train. They are (from left) Marty Surdyk, Rick Houck, Todd Vander Sluis, Cody Zamostny and Tim Krogg.

On Saturday, August 28, 2010, Marty Surdyk, Tim Krogg and Todd Vander Sluis were at my Akron home bright and early (8 a.m), to pick Cody Zamostny and I up to begin our two-day sojourn to Sand Patch grade in Pennsylvania and the Cumberland, Maryland, area for the Akron Railroad Club’s annual overnighter event.

After nearly four straight hours of driving, with a couple restroom and snack stops thrown in, we were finally at the overpass in Sand Patch, Pennsylvania, where we met up with fellow ARRC member Rick Houck, who would follow us throughout the rest of the trip. From here, you can shoot westbounds passing an MOW storage shed and the Sand Patch signals. You can shoot eastbounds coming around a curve and passing an MOW storage yard.

We didn’t have to wait long for the first movement. Train Q139 was first up, heading westbound (downgrade) for Meyersdale and beyond. After his passage and another 15 minutes of waiting, the Q299, which was running as light power today, passed by us. Because he was light power, we were able to grab a shot in both directions from the overpass.

After the passage of these two trains, we relocated to west of Meyersdale. We shot the Q299 light power again, this time sitting alongside the Casselman River. It was stopped behind the Q139. Both trains were waiting to crossover after the Q216’s passage. We ended up shooting Q216 from the same location, with his reflection cast into the water of the Casselman River. It had been under an hour, and had already gotten quite a few trains.

Next, we headed for downtown Meyersdale, where we’d grab a bite to eat at Subway. Before reaching our destination, we crossed paths with train Q359 in downtown Meyersdale at the former passenger depot, which we ended up using as our photo prop.

After filling our stomachs, we headed for Salisbury Viaduct. This 105-foot tall bridge used to serve the Western Maryland Railroad. Today, it only sees use from the National Park Service as a bike and hike trail. However, it provides an excellent vantage point for shooting CSX trains down below.

Our first train from atop the bridge was auto rack train Q297. Westbounds can be shot coming around a sharp turn, cutting through a cornfield. Hot on his tail was empty coal train E361. After another half hour of waiting (and watching the bungee-jumpers at the other end of the bridge), eastbound auto rack train Q226 passed by with helpers on the head end.

Our next stop would be Mance, Pennsylvania, where trains can be shot coming around a sharp curve and passing an old, restored post office building. This building provides an excellent photo prop. We already knew we had a train coming upon arrival too. The Q226 we had just shot at Salisbury Viaduct was hit by the defect detector at Sand Patch and would be on the way shortly.

However, prior to his arrival, westbound train Q389 showed up. I shot this train from ground level, winding around the post office. As soon as he cleared, the eastbound Q226 was on the approach. I walked up a hillside and shot down on the train passing the building. Running only a few minutes behind him was train Q368. Up front was a Union Pacific unit, which looked very much out of place in this mountainous setting.

We worked our way through Sand Patch grade, stopping at the small communities of Glencoe and Fairhope. With no activity on the scanner, we continued onward. We eventually made it to Cooks Mill, located on the Maryland/Pennsylvania border, where we began hearing Amtrak 29, the westbound Capitol Limited, talking on the scanner.

We set up shop at a rural crossing in the middle of a cornfield. The valley walls surround you, and make for a great echo from the horn. Train 29 screamed by at about 60 mph. Up front were three Amtrak locomotives. Usually there are only two, so I suppose that was an interesting find.

From here, we headed to Bob Evans for dinner, then headed for the hotel. Before calling it a night, Cody and I (as well as Tim Krogg) found some enjoyment out of the hot tub and pool. It definitely felt good after a long, hot day trackside!

The next morning began at about 7:30 a.m. After eating breakfast at the hotel, we headed for Cumberland, where we’d first check out the locomotive facility. We ended up shooting a couple of the stored, laid-up-good-order locomotives sitting around the shops. Most of the engines were of the GE AC6000CW, EMD SD80MAC and EMD GP/SD narrow cab variety. They made for some interesting shots.

After finishing up business there, we headed for the overpass in Mexico, Maryland, at the east end of Cumberland Yard. We would end catching four consecutive eastbound train movements there. All were shot passing Mexico Tower and the remaining B&O CPL signals.

The first train in line was a mixed freight whose symbol I cannot recall. Following behind was Q138, Amtrak No. 30 and Q130. Amtrak 30, the eastbound Capitol Limited, was running on time, which was surprising, and only had two units up front. However, all of the train looked pretty good heading into the early morning sunlight.

After wrapping up at Mexico, we headed east on the ex-Baltimore and Ohio for a little ways, field checking a couple spots just east of Cumberland. After not finding much of anything, we decided to head back to downtown, where we’d await the departure of the Western Maryland Scenic excursion, which, as always, would have 2-8-0, No. 734, on the head end.

When we arrived, he was already in the station, loading. His train was only six cars long this day. We grabbed a few shots of him, then headed for Helmstetter’s Curve, which is up the track a little ways. Westbound trains assault a pretty steep grade here. Eastbounds are heading downhill. At this location, the track goes around a very tight radius curve. We ended up catching him from an elevated perspective at a nearby cemetery. The steamer was really pluming out the smoke heading uphill. Plus, as a bonus, the engineer was really working the whistle for the grade crossing, which made for a nice video.

During the venture to Frostburg, which is the end of the line, Rick Houck decided to head for home. We continued onward and shot the train coming into the station. Just before entering Frostburg, the track takes on a near 4 percent grade. Again, the steamer was really making some noise and putting out some smoke as it headed into town. I shot the train passing a couple of onlooking families.

Marty, Todd and Tim went in search of lunch, as Cody and I stayed and watched the steamer pull onto the turntable, spin, and head back to the other end of the train for the return trip to Cumberland. After the threesome returned, we ate and finished up about the same time that the steamer was set for departure.

We raced back to Helmstetter’s Curve, where we would now set up at ground level and shoot the train from a lower perspective coming around the tight curve. The steamer wasn’t making as much noise or putting out as much smoke as when it came down the hill. However, the engineer was still having fun with the whistle. Can’t say I blame him.

We decided that this would be our final catch of the WMSR. We headed back for Sand Patch grade. From there, we’d start working our way back west. Our first stop would be Hyndman, Pennsylvania. We’d wait until we heard something on the scanner, then move from there.

Eventually, after nearly an hour of waiting, we heard train Q375 coming west. We rushed over to Fairhope, where we set up on a hillside to get an elevated view of the train snaking through the valley. Q375 ended up stalling on the hill. His third unit had died and the helper at the rear had overheated. Luckily, another train, S277, was following behind him. He’d cross over and continue west, running around the stopped Q375.

Before he reached us, eastbound helper set B246 passed by. He’d end up attaching to the rear of S277 for the shove up Sand Patch grade. We shot the two light units passing a retro, 1960s automobile heading into the tight valley walls.

About 20 minutes later, S277 began rumbling in the distance. Our shots of him came out much better, considering the fact that there was a full-length train behind the engines. The lighting was even better for this guy, too. After watching him go by and grabbing a quick shot of his helpers (B246) at the end, we decided to pack up and make the four-hour journey back home.

It had been a good weekend and I ended up getting quite a few great shots I had never gotten before. I’ll definitely have to visit Sand Patch grade again. This trip has inspired me to cover all of the locations on the CSX Keystone Subdivision. It is quite an interesting area. Anyways, it was a successful trip and a successful Akron Railroad Club overnighter. I look forward to next year’s outing.

Article by Richard Thompson

One Response to “2010 Overnighter to Cumberland”

  1. jake Says:

    Richard,

    Brings back fond memories. Barbara and I railfanned the CSX and then rode the WMSR two days, the second being a freight charter run for photos in October 2009.

    Nice article and photos,
    Jake

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