Archive for the ‘Railfanning News and Features’ Category

Tooling With Thomas

May 25, 2017

Most railroad photographers give little thought to getting out to photograph Thomas the Tank Engine. I didn’t either until this year.

It is hard to take seriously a pint-sized steam locomotive that’s not really a locomotive but a “shoving platform” that is a cartoon character designed to appeal to children.

I’ve done my share of mocking Thomas by referring to him as “Thomas the tanked engine” and “man, is our Thomas tanked.” The word tanked in this context refers to being intoxicated.

The fictional steam locomotive first appeared in The Railway Series books by British authors Wilbert and Christopher Awdry and later became the star of a television series.

There is nothing small about Thomas, though, when it comes to money. For many tourist railroads, Thomas pulls in badly needed dollars to fund restoration and maintenance work. Trains magazine recently described him as “Thomas the bank engine.”

The Thomas franchise operates worldwide and is worth $1 billion annually in sales.

Since making his first appearance on the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad in May 1998, Thomas has become the second most popular special event behind the Polar Express – another children’s story – and draws 25,000 to 26,000 passengers a year.

That is far more than who ride behind a real steam locomotive, Nickel Plate Road No. 765.

There are multiple versions of Thomas that tour the United States, often appearing on tourist railroads. One Thomas was converted from a 1916 steam locomotive that served Brooklyn Dock & Terminal in New York City.

Google “Thomas the Tank Engine” and you’ll find that in some quarters there is an intense dislike of Thomas, with one commentator saying the TV program featuring Thomas is filled with messages of classism, sexism and anti-environmentalism bordering on racism.

Other parents have been critical of Thomas by saying he and his friends are nasty, negative and set a bad example for children, particularly in their shirking of their responsibilities, showing off and competing against each other.

Such thinking, though, hasn’t kept Thomas from becoming a superstar among children or kept many parents from taking their children to see and ride behind Thomas.

Earlier this year when I was working on my book about the CVSR, I decided I would get out to see Thomas this year. I wanted to document Thomas because, like him or not, he is a part of the story of the CVSR.

The half-hour Thomas excursions leave from Boston Mill station every hour at half past the hour.

As I approached Boston Mill while driving southbound on Riverview Road, there was a long line of people waiting to get into a large tent, presumably the passengers for the 9:30 a.m. trip.

I knew from reading the CVSR website that various ancillary activities surround the visit of Thomas – most of which are designed to appeal to children – but I was surprised at how much the area around the station resembled a carnival minus the Ferris wheel and tilt-a-wheel rides.

Much of the carnival was located on the west side of Riverview on the property of Boston Mill ski resort. You can’t gain access to the site without a ticket.

So much for my idea of walking around and getting a feel for the Thomas experience.

On every other excursion, Thomas would meet the CVSR National Park Scenic train in Peninsula.

So that was where I waited. At 10:44 a.m., Thomas came steaming into town and went into the siding.

Maybe “steaming” isn’t the right word to use since Thomas is not a live steam locomotive. But he does make smoke, although not consistently.

Thomas has a steam whistle, which isn’t that loud, but it’s a whistle. There is one light on his right side that at first glance resembles a ditch light.

His eyes go back and forth and his mouth moves, too. I didn’t know that Thomas could talk, but he does.

The Thomas specials on the CVSR were being pulled and propelled by CVSR FPA-4 No. 6777. A crew member in the cab of Thomas communicated with the 6777 by radio.

Shortly after the arrival of Thomas and his train, the southbound Scenic arrived. Thomas departed and the Scenic did its station work.

My plan to photograph Thomas next to CVSR 4241 was marred somewhat by people standing in front of Thomas when the Scenic arrived.

A small crowd of onlookers was drawn to Thomas with their smart phone cameras out.

I stayed in Peninsula until the next meet occurred between the Scenic and Thomas. This time the Scenic did its station work before Thomas got there and I was able to get a clearer view of No. 4241 and Thomas. The Scenic left and Thomas followed it out of town a few minutes later.

I had made enough photographs of Thomas, to satisfy my curiosity and to fill a void in my CVSR collection so I left, too.

Thomas takes the siding at Peninsula to allow the CVSR Scenic to pass on the mainline.

Thomas is modeled after a British steam locomotive design.

Here comes Thomas minus his friends.

CVSR crew members have their smart phones out as Thomas chugs into Peninsula for a meet with the CVSR Scenic.

Children aboard the CVSR Scenic get a glimpse of Thomas as the two trains pass in Peninsula.

Thomas steams out of Peninsula to return to Boston Mill.

Changes in Railfanning in Sterling

May 25, 2017

Many moons ago, I wrote a hot spot report for the Akron Railroad Club Bulletin on Sterling.  Much has changed since then and I thought an update was in order.

Sterling for the newcomers is a spot on the former Baltimore & Ohio, now the CSX New Castle Subdivision, where the CL&W Sub turns off and heads to Cleveland and Lorain via Lester.

CSX is trying to stop using the CL&W from Sterling to Lester, servicing Lorain and the yard at West Third Street in Cleveland via their ex-Conrail trackage in Cleveland.

Sterling has lost a couple of trains due to this change, but that is nothing new for fans of the New Castle Sub.

CSX has been adding and subtracting trains on this line for many years. It always seems to be in a state of flux. What has changed the most since I wrote the last article is where you hang out to watch trains at Sterling and what photo spots have come and gone.

Sterling is at MP 155.5 of the New Castle Sub. Besides the junction with the CL&W, the B&O used to cross the Erie at a sharp-angled diamond that was guarded by RU tower. The tower sat between the mains west of the diamonds.

Visiting railfans used to gather in the dirt/gravel area across the B&O from where the tower used to be. The driveway into the gravel area looped around and headed back out to the street.

This led the Sterling railfan group to call themselves the “Sterling Loop.”

Today, the visiting railfan will find a paved parking lot for the hiking and biking trail that is on the former right-of-way of the Erie on the southwest side of the Kauffman Avenue crossing with CSX.

This spot allows for good side views of passing CSX trains. No signals are visible at this spot, so to get advance warning of a train, you will have to monitor the scanner.

CSX still uses 160.230 (road channel) and 160.320 (dispatcher channel) for communications on the New Castle Sub.

The signals that are facing away from you at the parking lot can be shot with a westbound by walking a short ways west on the former Erie and looking for the clearing just after the bridge over Chippewa Creek.

I haven’t actually done a photo here yet, but a normal to wide-angle lens should work.

If you like to hike/bike, the trail continues west to Creston, where the tracks of the Wheeling & Lake Erie come up next to CSX.

To the east, the trail stays close to CSX as far as the outskirts of Rittman.

While Sterling is not as busy as Greenwich or other CSX hot spots, it can provide some quality time trackside. Plus you could use it as a starting point for a W&LE chase if you get wind of an imminent move on that railroad.

On weekends, for food it may be best to head for Creston, which is a short drive or bike ride from Sterling.

Creston has a Subway sandwich shop in the Circle K convenience store and gas station just south on Ohio Route 3 from the downtown area.

Article by Marty Surdyk

Getting Lucky on a W&LE Chase

May 24, 2017

On May 7, Rich Antibus and I heard on the scanner that the Wheeling & Lake Erie train 561 crew had engine No. 200, the Ohio Bicentennial unit.

The crew indicated to the dispatcher that they had seven loads and engine No. 101, the Pittsburgh & West Virginia tribute unit, on the other end of the train.

Both engines are GP35-3s. Armed with this new information, the dispatcher gave the 101 a track warrant on the Cleveland Subdivision from Mogadore to milepost 52 at Middlebranch.

The 561 was headed down to the Essroc Cement Facility in Middlebranch to switch them out.

Rich and I first caught up with the 561 at Skelton Road in Mogadore, which is a very tight shot.

The chase was easy from here as the train is limited to 10 mph on the Cleveland Sub.

We got it again at Waterloo Road., which is old U.S. Route 224, in Suffield. A large friendly yellow dog named Brutus always comes out to see us when we photograph here.

Our next spot was Wingfoot Lake with the Goodyear Blimp in the background. The blimp was unable to fly today due to the high winds.

Next we drove behind a storage facility north of Hartville, then it was on to the Hartville Fire Station, which is located south of town.

We did an across-the-field shot in Middlebranch before the 561 reached its destination.

This move of the 561 was a bit unusual in that the 261 road train from Brewster usually switches the plant on its way to Akron. The 561 crew only comes down here on days that the 261 doesn’t run.

While the 561 crew switched the plant, we contemplated our shots for the return trip. The 101 would lead going back to Akron.

Both of us agreed we were quite lucky to find the 561 going south this day. We’d never seen anything like this before.

Having swapped out the seven loads for seven empties, the 561 was now ready to head back to Akron.

We shot it on the siding into the plant, dodging clouds to do so. From here it was back to the Hartville Fire Station, then again to the storage units north of town.

We were going to go back to Waterloo Road but thought the light might be better at Mogadore Road, so we opted to downtown Mogadore.

We barely beat the train to our favorite spot at Die-Gem Way at the east end Brittain Yard.

By now both of us were low on film. Rich did expose a few pixels today, but he still shoots some film.

This would be the only train we would see on this day, but the effort was worth it. A move that was new to us and the chance to see the W&LE serving a customer was a good day. We hope for many more to come.

Article by Jim Mastromatteo

Not Uncommon But Still Pleasing to See

May 23, 2017

BNSF locomotives are not a rare sighting in Northeast Ohio, but not necessarily an everyday one, either. Like many people, I like their bright orange color.

So when this westbound CSX manifest freight came through Berea recently with a “pumpkin” on the nose, my camera was out.

As a bonus, the trailing unit was Union Pacific. I would have photographed it, too, had it been leading instead of the BNSF unit.

Note the passing Norfolk Southern intermodal train off to the left.

Chessie ‘Heritage’ Unit in Willard

May 22, 2017

Last week Chesapeake & Ohio 8272, which CSX has restored to its Chessie System paint scheme, started its journey to the Lake Shore Railway Museum at Northeast, Pennsylvania.
On Saturday morning it was parked at Willard, where I got these photos. It will arrive at Northeast sometime this week.

Photographs by Todd Dillon

N&W 611 Trip Changed for May 29

May 22, 2017

The Virginia Museum of Transportation has changed the operating schedule for excursions on May 29 behind Norfolk & Western J-Class No. 611.

The trip between Roanoke and Lynchburg, Virginia, has been canceled in favor of a trip between Roanoke and Walton, Virginia, via Radford.

The new trip will depart Roanoke at 7 a.m. and return at about 12:30 p.m. It will be the first time that a 611-pulled excursion has departed Roanoke westbound in the morning.

Other scheduled excursions will operate as announced.

This includes excursions between Roanoke and Radford on May 27, 28 and 29, all of which have 1 p.m. departure times.

There will be Roanoke-Lynchburg trips on May 27 and May 28, leaving at 7 a.m. and returning at 12:30 p.m.

All excursions will use Norfolk Southern routes that were originally owned by the N&W.

The Red Grain Elevator of Wellington

May 19, 2017

A certain member of the Akron Railroad Club is known for his passion for photographing trains and grain elevators.

I know that in particular he likes the red grain facility in Wellington alongside the Greenwich Subdivision of CSX.

It makes for a dramatic  image in late afternoon sunlight. From what I can see, the facility is no longer served by rail.

I didn’t go there on a recent outing just to capture the red grain elevator. As much as anything I went there because Wellington wasn’t being covered  by clouds.

CSX cooperated beautifully by sending a pair of westbounds through town, a stack train and an ethanol train.

The ethanol train shown at top was the second of the pair and I tend to like that image the best of the two.

NEORHS To Meet Saturday in Randolph

May 19, 2017

The May meeting of the Northeastern Ohio Railway Historical Society will held on Saturday at the Town Hall building in Randolph.

The meeting begins at 6:30 p.m. with food and videos. The business meeting will begin at 7 p.m. The meeting is expected to end by 10:30 p.m.

The Randolph Town Hall is located just north of the intersection of Ohio Route 44 and Waterloo Road.

NEORHS member David Mangold said that during business meeting there will be a discussion and planning conducted for future meetings.

Attendees are encouraged to bring digital images or slides to show. The program theme will be Amtrak because May 1 was the 46th anniversary of the national passenger carrier’s inauguration. Mangold said in an email message that images of pre-Amtrak passenger trains are welcome.

Pizza will be available with attendees asked to make a donation to defray its cost. They are also asked to bring snacks and beverages to share.

The June 17 NEORHS meeting will be a picnic held at the Hartville depot and feature an open projector.  There will be no meeting in July.

The picnic will begin at 6:30 p.m. at the Maple Street Gallery, the former Wheeling & Lake Erie depot in downtown Hartville.

Attendees are asked to come early to help prepare the food and set up the picnic, and to bring an extra lawn chair if you have one.

The depot is located at 120 E. Maple St., just east of the intersection of Ohio routes 619 and 43, also known as East Maple and Prospect streets. The entrance is via Howard Court with parking behind the railroad car.

Dave said he is still looking for another grill to be used to cook the hot dogs and hamburgers.

State Money Now Flowing to WMSR Project

May 19, 2017

State money is finally starting to flow into the coffers of the Western Maryland Scenic Railroad and its contractors who have been seeking to restore a former Chesapeake & Ohio steam locomotive to operating condition this year.

Trains magazine reported this week that the WMSR and its contractors have received payments totaling $128,772

A spokesman for the Maryland State Treasurer’s Office said checks for $30,000 and $24,396 are expected to be written by next week, bringing total payments to $183,168.

Restoration work of C&O No. 1309, a 2-6-6-2, is being done at the railroad’s shop in Ridgeley, West Virginia.

Earlier this year, the restoration work was halted due to the lack of funding from the state, which had agreed to give a $400,000 capital grant to help pay for the restoration of the locomotive to operating condition. The restoration is expected to cost $1 million.

The locomotive was originally scheduled to make its first revenue trip in early July, but that has been canceled.

Trains said that the WMSR doesn’t expect to announce a date for the first run for another two weeks. That is expected to be in the fall.

WMSR bought No. 1309 from the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad Museum in 2014. The ex-C&O Class H6 is one of the last locomotives built by Baldwin Locomotive Works for use in the United States.

The Things You Do to Get a Photograph

May 18, 2017

There are tales floating around railfan circles about guys who carry saws and other equipment that they use to remove unwanted vegetation from their photographs.

Guys I know have been known to cut down small trees that were in the way. Most of the time, though, it is weeds that are being whacked or at least bent to the ground.

Last summer Akron Railroad Club member Peter Bowler and I spent some time on the Chicago Line of Norfolk Southern west of Port Clinton.

We were awaiting an eastbound train at a crossing. Peter decided to wade into the weeds and clear them out.

He didn’t remove all of these plants, but got enough of them out of the way to give us a more open view.