Archive for the ‘Railfanning News and Features’ Category

Quiet Please

October 19, 2018

There are a number of quiet zones in Northeast Ohio in which trains are prohibited from sounding locomotive horns except for safety or emergency reasons.

One of those spans straddles Hudson and Macedonia on the Cleveland Line of Norfolk Southern.

This sign in Maple Grove Park in Hudson reminds engineers that their train is entering the quiet zone.

It is not surprising that NS put up this sign, but I was a little surprised how far back from the tracks that it is.

I wonder if the maintenance of way crews periodically trim the vegetation threatening to block the view of the sign.

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Calm Water, Nice Reflection

October 18, 2018

The wind was calm and so was the water in the Attica reservoir during a visit there on the Memorial Day weekend.

That set up some nice conditions for a reflection image of an eastbound Norfolk Southern manifest freight on the Sandusky District.

This train would not go much farther. A malfunctioning switch at Colsan in Bucyrus had traffic stopped in both directions on the Sandusky District.

Exploring CVSR’s Silver Fleet: Part 3

October 17, 2018

A view from the dome section of Silver Solarium as the Fall Flyer of the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad cruises northward along Riverview Road south of Peninsula.

The Fall Flyer of the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad had many hallmarks of the late, great California Zephyr.

It carried three cars lettered “California Zephyr” along with a dome coach that once operated on the CZ. The latter, the Silver Bronco, today wears CVSR markings and colors.

Like the CZ, the Fall Flyer had sleeping car accommodations and a dining car serving breakfast.

But the similarities ended there. The three-course breakfast was prepared off the train by a caterer.

There was no overnight travel and no porters to make up the beds in the sleeping accommodations.

It was merely a two-hour trip from Rockside Road station to Howe Meadow and return.

Those not purchasing a meal car ticket could buy popcorn, candy bars, beverages and, what a CVSR crewman described as “the best hot dogs in the world” in the concession car.

Fellow Akron Railroad Club member Edward Ribinskas had purchased four tickets for the dome section of Silver Solarium and our travel party also included his brother Steven and Ed’s former J.C. Penney co-worker and railfan Shawn Novak.

The CVSR did its best Amtrak imitation by leaving Rockside Road station nearly 15 minutes late. We still got our two hours of travel time.

For the most part, the trip was like riding the CVSR’s National Park Scenic.

A CVSR trainman provided occasional commentary as the train rolled through the Cuyahoga Valley National Park.

He also made a pitch to join the CVSR as a volunteer, noting the railroad is currently short 22 trainmen.

It had rained earlier in the day and water droplets clung to the windows of the dome section for most of our trip thereby making photography a challenge.

Nickel Plate Road 2-8-4 No. 765 was sitting outside the shop at Fitzwater Yard along with two Charter Steel cars that it brought to Cleveland last month and will reportedly move when the Berkshire-type locomotive returns to Fort Wayne.

As I expected, there was scant fall foliage to view. The warm summer and relatively warm autumn have delayed the process of leaves transforming into their autumn colors.

The CVSR trainman said the Silver Lariat has a full kitchen and plans are in the works to hire some top chefs from Cleveland to prepare meals for a dinner train operation.

Those dinners will be pricey. The CVSR website indicates that an adult breakfast ticket is $37 per person whereas adult lunch tickets are $40 per person. A child breakfast or lunch ticket is less.

Tickets for the beer and wine trains range from $85 for a seat in the dome section to $65 for a table car.

This is not to be critical of the fares. It is to say the dinner trains won’t be like dining at Bob Evans or Eat ‘n Park.

The CVSR has always described its mission in part as preserving rolling stock from the streamliner era even if it doesn’t use that term very often.

It pays lip service to the heritage and history of this equipment, but most who ride the trains are not interested in railroad history in any depth.

They probably know little to nothing about the original California Zephyr and have no more than  a passing interest in it.

They see the CVSR as providing transportation within the CVNP or presenting a pleasant sightseeing experience.

I don’t know how much repeat business the CVSR gets from the sightseers, but it strikes me as the sort of thing you do once or, maybe, occasionally.

Hence the railroad must continually offer new programming and gimmicks to continue to draw passengers.

It remains to be seen how much longer the new silver cars will retain their current California Zephyr look.

Chances are the interiors will remain the same even if the exteriors might receive CVSR colors.

Then again when the Saint Lucie Sound was overhauled a couple years ago it was stripped of its CVSR colors and those have yet to be reinstated.

It also remains to be seen if the Silver Solarium will operate in the manner that it was designed to operate as the last car on the train and with an unobstructed view of the scenery as the train rolls down the rails.

CVSR operating practice is to have diesel locomotives at each end of a train. That is done for practical and safety reasons.

I can’t imagine the Silver Solarium operating routinely uncovered by a locomotive.

Perhaps it will operate in that manner on special occasions. CVSR was willing to detach the FPA-4 behind the Silver Solarium during the photo runbys of the last NKP 765 excursions on Sept. 30.

Perhaps that was a trial run to determine how easily and efficiently a locomotive can be detached and attached to a train on the road.

What I would not expect is for a train to back up from Akron to Rockside using only the tiny whistle on the rear of the Silver Solarium to warn vehicular traffic at grade crossings.

All of these are matters to play out in the future. For now the Silver Solarium, Silver Lariat and Silver Rapids have that new out of the box feel even if they have been around for several decades and are entering yet another phase of their service lives.

But at least they are still in revenue service rather than sitting static in a museum or, worse, being cut up in a scrap yard.

Looking toward the rest of the train from the dome section of the Silver Solarium. The dome car ahead is the Silver Lariat.

Edward Ribinskas (left) and his brother Steven repose in the lounge section of the Silver Solarium.

An overhead view of the dome section of Silver Solarium as seen from the East Pleasant Valley Road bridge.

For the time being the CVSR’s dome car trio have been operating in tandem.

Exploring CVSR’s Silver Fleet: Part 2

October 16, 2018

It wasn’t fall foliage that enticed me to ride the Fall Flyer of the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad.

It was an opportunity to get an inside look at a dome-observation-sleeper that until this year had operated as private varnish in charter service and at one time had been assigned to the fabled California Zephyr.

It can cost hundreds and even thousands of dollars to ride in a private rail car and I’ve heard stories of guys who saved money all year for a once-a-year trip.

I knew when I boarded the Fall Flyer that my $30 ticket would not include a bed in a sleeper compartment, an overnight trip or a freshly-prepared meal.

It didn’t even include a complimentary beverage. But that wasn’t the point.

The platform at the CVSR’s Rockside Road station is too short to accommodate all cars of the Fall Flyer so we boarded the train through the vestibule of dome coach Silver Lariat.

The first thing you see after entering the Silver Solarium is a long hallway with rooms on the left side.

The car, built by Budd in 1948 for the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy, has a drawing room and three bedrooms.

I glimpsed into those rooms as I made my way down the hall, but didn’t linger.

At the end of the row of bedrooms is an alcove containing a wet bar and serving area.

On one wall of the alcove is a set of five images, four of them photographs of the Silver Solarium on the back of Amtrak trains.

The fifth image is a painting of Silver Solarium on the rear of the California Zephyr on the Denver & Rio Grande Western.

That would have been the original CZ and not the Amtrak iteration.

The bar has images of white birds against a light blue background. Birds are also etched into the mirrors behind the bar.

It is touches such as these that have been lost in the Amtrak era. The national passenger carrier has economic reasons for offering a generic, although pleasing, look to its dining and lounge cars.

Beyond the bar is the lounge area of the observation end of the car. It includes chairs that follow the contours of the walls.

Silver Solarium has had a series of owners throughout its lifetime, including Amtrak, so it is difficult to tell at a glance how much of what you see today is original to the car versus having been added by one of its many owners.

The stairway to the dome section is typical of dome cars with lighted acrylic handrails accenting the stainless steel sides of the stairs.

The dome section features bench seating at tables. The benches are light blue and comfortable enough for a short journey, but I’m not sure I’d want to sit on them all day.

As best we could tell the white tablecloths adoring the table were original CZ issue. The Zephyr logo was faintly visible in the fabric.

Each table had a glass vase of fresh cut flowers and a white china vase with the Silver Solarium name printed on it in black.

That vase was purely decorative and empty. Each table also had an inexpensive battery-powered portable plastic lamp that only activates during the hours of darkness.

I would later explore the bedrooms of the Silver Solarium, which were a mixture of old and new.

The former included Pullman style seating that converted to a bed that folded down from the wall. The fabric of those seats had the look and feel of the streamliner era.

Yet the table that I found in one bedroom had the appearance of something more modern. It felt like a rolling conference room.

The flat screen television in the lounge area was undoubtedly not a product of the streamliner era.

We settled into our seats in rows 13 and 14 and awaited the highball to roll southward.

Next: Riding the Silver Solarium

The California Zephyr logo is faintly visible in the linen adorning out table in the dome section of the Silver Solarium.

Exploring CVSR’s Silver Fleet: Part 1

October 15, 2018

The Fall Flyer with the Silver Solarium on the north end arrives in the station at Rockside Road.

Three-fifths of the CVSR’s Silver fleet is visible in this image made at Jaite. Shown (right to left) are Silver Bronco, Silver Lariat and Silver Solarium.

Sleeper Silver Rapids made its CVSR debut this month on the Fall Flyer. Passengers could book rooms, but only traveled for two hours and not overnight.

An air of mystery surrounds the world of private railroad cars. The phrase “private varnish” conjures images of opulent surroundings; gourmet dining on fine china; and all of the trappings of wealth, power and authority.

Traveling in a private car is far from the experience of a journey in an Amtrak Amfleet coach.

I was expecting to get a glimpse into that world as I boarded dome-observation car Silver Solarium on Saturday at the Rockside Road station of the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad.

Fellow Akron Railroad Club member Edward Ribinskas had purchased four tickets for the dome section of the Silver Solarium, which this month is operating on CVSR Fall Flyer.

I wasn’t expecting so much to travel like a king as I was seeking to see how kings traveled at one time.

Of course Silver Solarium wasn’t built to transport royalty. It began life in 1948 on the assembly line at Budd, which built it as Chicago, Burlington & Quincy No. 377.

The Q assigned the car to the fabled California Zephyr, where it was one of six dome-observation-sleepers used on the CZ.

The three railroads that hosted the CZ, the CB&Q, Denver & Rio Grande Western, and Western Pacific, described it as “the most talked about train in America.”

It traversed the heart of the Colorado Rocky Mountains and California’s Sierra Nevada Mountains, offering some of the best scenery in the West.

In short, it personified the best that the streamliner era had to offer along with such other headliners as Santa Fe’s Super Chief, Union Pacific’s City of Los Angeles, Northern Pacific’s North Coast Limited, and Great Northern’s Empire Builder.

Today the mere mention of those trains prompts a longing for a paradise lost.

The CZ also was known for its Zephyrettes, the young women who provided a variety of tasks ranging from welcoming passengers to providing first aid to serving as a liaison between passengers and crew members.

The CZ began its final trips on March 20, 1970, but the story of the Silver Solarium didn’t end there.

Until the coming of Amtrak in 1971, the successor of the Q, the Burlington Northern, operated a tri-weekly “California Service” that involved making a transfer at Ogden, Utah, to the City of San Francisco, which Southern Pacific operated between Ogden and Oakland, California.

The Silver Solarium joined the Amtrak fleet as No. 9252 where it operated until April 1978. Amtrak retired the car in October 1981 and sold it more than four years later.

After its retirement by Amtrak, the Silver Solarium transitioned to the private varnish world, most recently in the fleet of Rail Journeys West where it joined fellow CZ alumni Silver Lariat (a dome coach) and sleeper Silver Rapids in charter service on the back of scheduled Amtrak trains.

That often found the trio on the Amtrak version of the California Zephyr, which uses the route of the original CZ between Chicago and Salt Lake City.

For four months in 2002 the Silver Solarium brought up the rear of an American Orient Express train.

Rail Journeys West decided recently to sell its CZ class and the CVSR was a willing buyer.

The three cars along with baggage car Silver Peak made their final trips on Amtrak to Chicago where Nickel Plate Road 2-8-4 No. 765 picked them up to transport them to Cleveland and the CVSR.

Silver Solarium and Silver Lariat debuted on the CVSR last month in the consist of excursion trains pulled by NKP 765.

Silver Rapids made its CVSR debut on Oct. 6 in the consist of the Fall Flyer. Silver Peak has yet to operate in CVSR revenue service.

There was a lot of history to ponder as I boarded the Fall Flyer at Rockside Road station for trip that would be part nostalgia, part exploration of another world, and part consideration of the state of contemporary train travel.

Next: Inside the Silver Solarium

I Know that Guy

October 12, 2018

If that guy standing on the Bort Road bridge in North East, Pennsylvania, looks familiar, it’s because you know him.

He is Edward Ribinskas, the retired treasurer of the Akron Railroad Club.

Ed and I were getting in some railfanning in North East in late May before heading for a baseball game in nearby Erie featuring the Class AA Erie Seawolves hosting the Binghamton Rumble Ponies.

I try to remember to get an occasional image of my railfanning friends to remember the good times that we had.

You Know You’d Like to Be Him For a Day

October 9, 2018

Who among us hasn’t thought about how he would like to wrap his hands around the throttle of a big steam locomotive?

Who hasn’t pictured himself sitting in the engineer’s seat and being in charge of a beat that weighs 404 tons, can generate 4,500 horsepower and demands, yes, demands, attention from all within earshot of the tracks?

Who hasn’t dreamed of pulling the whistle cord even if just once?

For a handful of people those thoughts and dreams have come true even if the opportunities to practice them are rather limited.

You don’t just climb into the cab of the Nickel Plate Road 2-8-4 No. 765 and sit down in the engineer’s seat.

There are tests to pass and dues to be paid in working for the locomotive’s owner.

None of these things are likely on the mind of this man who is sitting in the right seat in the cab of NKP 765 as it idles in Akron last month between excursions on the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad.

But he is living the dream.

Man Was it Cold That Day

October 8, 2018

It’s late afternoon in the middle of January. Snow covers the ground and temperatures are well below freezing.

Peter Bowler and myself had gone looking for winter photographs along the Lake Erie shore.

We were in Conneaut where we spotted a young railfan standing next to a crossing by the former New York Central depot, which is now a museum.

Maybe he knew about something was coming. He did. It was a westbound CSX manifest freight with a Union Pacific unit in the lead.

We parked and walked over to the crossing. A headlight was already visible in the distance.

In January the sun is pretty low in the sky, particularly late in the day. The nice thing about that is the warm light it provides. The problem, though, is that the low sun angle means that trees, buildings and other objects will cast shadows.

Not only that, but it will exaggerate the proportions of those shadows. Note how in the sequence above our shadows might us appear to be taller than retired NBA great Shaquille O’Neal.

In the heat of summer it can be easy to forget the cold of winter. But it won’t be too long before we’ll be reminded of that again.

Ahead of the Storm

October 5, 2018

An eastbound Norfolk Southern manifest freight train races through Berea in early June ahead of a thunderstorm.

The storm produced torrential rain for a short time, but then moved on and it remained dry, although cloudy, for the remainder of the day.

Another Sunday with NKP 765

October 4, 2018

The ferry move to Akron steams though Brecksville.

Steaming through Sand Run Metropark in Akron during the ferry move on Sunday morning.

The last excursion of NKP 765’s two-week stay on the CVSR blasts through Jaite en route to the photo runbys at Boston Mill.

Ursula and I arrived at Ohio 82 in Brecksville close to 8 a.m. to catch the ferry move of Nickel Plate 765 and its train to Akron.

We were able to set up first at the white chains since the rest of the crowd hadn’t shown up yet.

I decided photographing from the Station Road bridge with the reflection or what used to be a

reflection shot because of the tree growth and the Route 82 arches.

By the time the train showed up at about 8:55 a.m. the crowd of photographers next to us and behind us was substantial.

We made it to Big Bend with about three minutes to spare. The traffic light at Merriman and Portage Path was the big culprit.

After the train passed I hurried  to the car to get to mass at a church I found on Portage Path in Cuyahoga Falls.

The bottom photograph is the after trip from Akron coming south at Jaite. I was standing right along the chain.