Railroads: Wheeling & Lake Erie.
Traffic: The Brewster-Bellevue and the Akron-Carey routes cross here. Traffic is about 15-18 trains a day and features a mix of manifest freight trains and unit trains carrying coal, coke, grain, iron ore or stone. Traffic tends to be higher in the summer more stone trains operate.
Radio Frequencies: 161.025 (road and dispatcher)
Highlights: This is the only junction one where two W&LE mainlines cross at grade. Railfanning at Spencer requires patience. On a good day you might encounter three trains in less than an hour. But even on a good day you might sit for a few hours with nary a train in sight.
Some railfans hang out at Wellington where you can watch CSX action and scoot over to Spencer in 10-15 minutes if you hear something on the W&LE road channel.
One of the attractions of the W&LE is you never know what the next train will have for locomotive power. The Wheeling’s standard livery is black with large orange lettering on the sides and orange and black striping on the nose. This livery is a deliberate resemblance to the Denver & Rio Grande Western scheme, complete with Rio Grande-style speed lettering. This reflects the roots of W&LE CEO Larry Parsons, a former Rio Grande executive who hired other D&RGW alums after taking over the Wheeling in 1992. Indeed, some W&LE locomotives are ex-Rio Grande units still in their original dress.
The W&LE has brace of high-nose GP35s in active service. Beyond that you just never know what you’ll see because the roster often includes unrepainted units from previous owners and leased power.
Much of the traffic through Spencer operates southeast on the Brewster Subdivision and westward on the Carey Subdivision. There are connecting tracks between these two subs as well as a connecting track between the Hartland and Akron Subdivisions. Some trains operate straight through Spencer, but many stop to drop off and pick up cars at the small yard, located east of the diamond.
The W&LE is a dark railroad in every direction, which works to the railfan’s advantage. Usually, trains coming into Spencer must call the dispatcher on the radio to get authority to continue onward. In some instances, a train coming in on the Hartland or Carey subs must wait in Spencer for a meet with a Brewster train.
Having a scanner is essential to know what is going on. There is a detector on the Brewster Subdivision a few miles southeast of Spencer, but no detectors are located nearby on the other subdivisions. You will know when a train is calling the dispatcher because the crew will key in a tone to alert the dispatcher, located in Brewster, that the crew wants to talk with him.
As for parking, there is a public lot next to Spencer city hall about two blocks south of the crossing of Ohio Route 301. All of the parking by the diamond is on private property. The property owners seem tolerant of the railfans, but use common sense when parking here. Spencer tends not to be a place where railfans hang out for long periods of time. It is more of a boutique railfan location.
As for photography opportunities, the railroad infrastructure includes signals at the diamond, grain elevators and a small “station” west of the diamond. Crews sometimes go into the station, which bears the name “Spencer” on the side, to take care of paperwork. There are some good rural settings to photograph the Hartland Subdivision northwest of Spencer.
Food and Beverages: A local café and a grocery store are located near the intersection of Ohio Routes 301 and 162. There is a pizza parlor within sight of the W&LE diamond on Route 301 south of the crossing. Otherwise, the nearest restaurants are in Wellington.
Notable: The W&LE has remote control switches at Spencer. To line a switch, the engineer keys in a tone over the radio. Unlike some radio-controlled switches, the ones at Spencer do not talk back to the crew.