Trains Were Great, but the People of Lewistown were Greater

 
By Craig Sanders
Lewistown, Pennsylvania, will always be special for me because it was the first place I ever railfanned on a regular basis. Located on the Norfolk Southern mainline between Pittsburgh and Harrisburg, Lewistown has the oldest station still standing on the former Pennsylvania Railroad mainline. It was Conrail territory when I hung out there in 1992-1993. Traffic was plentiful, even predictable during the three or so hours when I was there on Saturdays.

But it wasn’t just trains that made Lewistown so memorable. There was a cast of characters who spent time at the station who made it what it was. Lewistown was typical of small town life. But for me there was more to it than that.

At the time I was teaching at Penn State University and living in State College. I had gone to PSU on a one-year contract in August 1991 with the “promise” that my position would work into a tenure track position the next school year and I would have the inside track on that job. It didn’t work out that way and I was quite angry about it for a long time. So the trips to Lewistown were a diversion from the frustrations of a job situation gone bad.

Eventually I found a job in Cleveland and left Pennsylvania in August 1993. There are plenty of places to railfan in Ohio including Berea in suburban Cleveland. But none of them are quite like Lewistown was in the early 1990s.

* * * * *

I first saw the Lewistown station in July 1991 when my wife, Mary Ann, and I drove out to State College to find a place to live. I planned to take Amtrak back to Indianapolis shortly after we moved to Pennsylvania. In Indy I would pick up Mary Ann’s car and drive it to Pennsylvania. She had not wanted to drive by herself during the move to Pennsylvania from Indiana.

One of the positives about moving to Pennsylvania was that it I wouldn’t have far to go to watch trains. I could choose from Lewistown, Tyrone or Huntingdon. It turned out that I never railfanned at Tyrone and went to Huntingdon just once. Lewistown seemed like a nice place and I got into the habit of going there.

Mary Ann and I drove to Lewistown on the night of August 16, 1991. I was surprised to see at least 30 people there. They sat in lawn chairs, in pickup truck cabs and on benches outside the station. Small children raced up and down the platform on tricycles.

When Amtrak’s Broadway Limited arrived, six people got off and I was the only passenger to get on. One person met three of the six arriving passengers, so few of those at the station were there to see anyone off or to meet someone arriving. I thought it strange that so many people had come out to watch Amtrak come in. I even felt like a mini celebrity because I was aware that most people were watching me get on board.

As Mary Ann and I sat on a bench waiting for the Amtrak to arrive, a man approached and began gossiping about some of the people there. He pointed to a middle-aged woman who was with an older man. He told us that she had a husband at home but hung around with the older fellow at the station. The older guy she was sitting with tonight had some money and our new “friend” hinted that the woman was hoping to get some of it. It was pure small town gossip that I found entertaining if not a little strange. The station seemed to be the center of community life and I was a bit surprised by that.

* * * * *

It was not until the following Spring that I made it back to Lewistown to watch trains. The first few times I went to Lewistown, I parked my car at the far end of the parking lot away from the station. I spent most of my time sitting in my car and listening to my radio scanner. There always seemed to be a crowd of people milling around next to the station, but I had little interest in meeting them.

Sometimes I’d walk down the platform past the crowd, some of whom were waiting for one of the three Amtrak trains scheduled to arrive in Lewistown between 11:30 a.m. and 2 p.m. But I never stopped to talk with anyone and no seemed to notice me, either.

These early trips established a pattern. I always went to Lewistown on Saturdays. Only twice did I venture down there on any other day. I would get up, eat breakfast and leave by 10 a.m. The Lewistown station was a 45-minute drive from our duplex. It was a scenic drive, particularly the pass through Seven Mountains.

I would watch trains for a while and then drive over to the Hardees to get lunch. I’d try to time my lunch break for a period when no trains were nearby. Sometimes I guessed right and sometimes I didn’t. I would usually stay in Lewistown until about 2 or 2:30 and then drive home.

By the summer of 1992 my trips to Lewistown had become more frequent and I had started meeting and talking with people. Among them was Todd Treaster, the owner of a Lewistown hobby shop. Todd was knowledgeable about Conrail operations and willing to answer my many questions about the railroad. I began to look for him when I went to Lewistown.

By Fall I was actively seeking out railfans to talk with. I particularly enjoyed meeting the out-of-towners who stopped by to watch and photograph trains. I looked forward to meeting them and talking with them because it had a positive effect on how I viewed my railroad hobby. For years I had avoided telling anyone that I enjoyed watching trains, I feared that people would consider it goofy or strange. Imagine that! Grown men standing around and watching trains go by. In part, this stemmed from disparaging comments that I had heard made about railfans. My sister also had made a derisive comment about my watching trains.

Going to Lewistown changed my thinking. I realized that not all of those who spent part of their weekends watching trains fit the stereotype of lonely and/or socially dysfunctional men. Sure, some did. There was a guy who came around every few months who lived north of Harrisburg. He was single and lived with his parents. There were other railfans who were nice, but didn’t strike me as particularly bright. But then there were the guys who showed up with their children or otherwise seemed normal. This included a college professor from Virginia who brought his teenage son, and an older guy who brought his wife.

Most of the railfans were friendly. A few kept to themselves much as I had during my early days of railfanning there. But most of them enjoyed talking about trains. Sometime during 1993 I realized that I looked forward to meeting and talking with other people as much as I did watching the trains.

* * * * *

The Lewistown station sat at the east end of a small yard. In the two years that I lived in Pennsylvania, I never saw a train work that yard. There was a local that did work the yard and even went up a branchline to Burnham, but I never saw it. I was told that it only worked on weekdays. On Saturdays the yard had a largely deserted look and feel to it.

The station also sat at the apex of a sweeping curve. The Pennsy had built the railroad in these parts along the banks of the Juniata River, which twisted and turned its way through the mountains. Trains didn’t come through Lewistown very fast. Many of them came through with flanges squealing, a sound I’ll ever forget.

Because there were no stretches of tangent tracks at Lewistown, you could not look down the tracks to see if a train was approaching. There was a grade crossing to the west that you might hear a train blowing for. But westbounds could suddenly appear around the curve with little warning.

That was why it helped to have a scanner. Lewistown station is located at MP 165.7. There was a “fast talking” detector to the west at Anderson (MP 172.3) and a “slow talking” detector to the east at Shawnee (MP 162.3). Usually you could pick up these detectors on a hand-held scanner and if you didn’t the crews would call the detector over the radio.

There was a set of scales at Denholm (MP 155.8). The dispatcher would often call trains that used the scales to tell them if they were or were not to go over the scales today. Thus with two detectors and quite a bit of radio traffic, it was not common for a train to sneak up on Lewistown without warning if you had a radio.

If you didn’t have a radio, then someone else usually had one. I never saw Todd at Lewistown without his scanner, which always seemed to pick up better than my Bearcat. He told story of how a guy showed up once with an antenna that he had salvaged from a CSX caboose. He set the antenna down on a bench and his scanner picked up detectors all the way to Harrisburg.

The train traffic through Lewistown seemed to have a rhythm to it with just enough unpredictability to make it interesting. I would arrive about 11 a.m. and the first trains usually were a pair of westbound intermodals, Mail 9 and Mail 9H, the latter having originated in Harrisburg.

Amtrak’s eastbound Broadway Limited arrived just before noon, depending on how late it was running. The westbound Pennsylvanian would arrive an hour later with the eastbound Pennsylvanian due in at 1:42 p.m.

Interspersed with the Amtrak trains was a fleet of manifest freights, most of which had PI in their symbols indicating that they originated or terminated at Conway Yard in Pittsburgh. You could count on five or six manifest freights passing through during the three hours or so that I was there. Sometimes, traffic would be heavier than that.

You lived for the moments when the Harrisburg Middle Dispatcher came on the radio and indicated that there were three or four trains about to converge on Lewistown. Often you heard this when an Amtrak train was one of them and the dispatcher was coordinating a meet or a pass by move.

After the passage of the eastbound Pennsylvanian, freight traffic tended to die except for the eastbound intermodal train TV 2. It came through between 2 and 2:30 p.m. and usually had the railroad to itself. By then I and another guy would the only railfans still left. I was told the crowd of people and trains picked up again in late afternoon. But I was never there to see it.

Nor did I see much in the way of “foreign power.” The guys would talk about seeing it, even being specific as to what they had seen. On occasion I might see a CSX or NS unit in a lash-up, always as a trailing unit. The Pittsburgh-Harrisburg mainline was cab signal territory and foreign units weren’t allowed to lead trains.

Another thing I never saw in Lewistown was auto racks and double stack container trains. At the time that was because of clearance restrictions. After I left Pennsylvania, the state gave Conrail some money to enlarge some tunnels to permit higher profile freight cars.

Probably the unusual train that I saw at Lewistown was the German-built Intercity Express (ICE) train that was touring America. I arrived in Lewistown one Saturday morning to find a buzz in the air. More people were there than usual. Todd came over and explained that the ICE train was on its way.

One of the guys in the crowd was a Conrail engineer who Todd knew well. He had a hand-held radio and called a nearby freight train to ask that they hold back until the Amtrak special passed so as to not block the view for the photographers. The freight train crew did just that.

I wasn’t much into photography then and had not brought my camera with me. In fact, I only once brought my camera with me during my sojourns to Lewistown. It was a nice place to photograph trains, but I merely watched. I wish now I had taken more photographs there.

* * * * *

Lewistown was cloistered in the central Pennsylvania mountains and was not an easy place to get in and out of. Therefore, people tended to stay there and that fostered a sense of camaraderie. There was that same sense of bonding at Penn State because it, too, is located in the middle of nowhere.

Lewistown reminded me a lot of my hometown of Mattoon, Illlinois. The two towns were the same size and were still economically viable, but stable communities. Neither was the kind of place likely to appeal to young professionals except as a stop on the road to something bigger and better.

The people who lived in the two towns also seemed strikingly similar. Generally, people in Lewistown were friendlier than those I met in State College. Yet Lewistown, like Mattoon, was somewhat of a closed society that it took an outsider a while to penetrate.

There were two groups of railfans at Lewistown: the out-of-towners and the locals. As I listened to the locals talk, I came to understand that the train station was a focal point of their lives. It struck me as odd that I had been coming to the station for over a year and none of the regulars had asked me my name. They seemed to recognize me and that was it. Gradually I began learning their names and a little about them.

Kenny Focht was the stationmaster. His job was to open the small waiting room that Amtrak leased from the Pennsylvania Railroad Technical and Historical Society, which owned the station. Kenny would arrive about 11 a.m. and leave after the last Amtrak train left, usually just after 2 p.m. He’d come back later that night for the last Amtrak train of the day. He did this seven days a week. Only once was Kenny not there. He took a week off to travel to Ohio to visit his daughter. In his absence, Todd opened and closed the station.

Kenny was retired as were most of the regulars. He was a nice man, but had little tolerance for some things. He didn’t like kids riding their bikes on station property. After the police told him that unless the property was posted “no bike riding” that there was little they could do, Kenny promptly had such a sign made and posted.

Kenny also liked to tease the railfans. He’d spot us standing together and say something about the “bullshitters convention” being in session. Although Kenny apparently liked trains, he didn’t seem to take a great interest in them. Unlike the other railfans, he didn’t talk much about trains.

Todd, in his early 30s, was the youngest of the regulars. He came to the station every day including holidays. On some bitterly cold days he would be the only person there. No one loved trains more than Todd.

Some of Todd’s customers at his hobby shop were Conrail employees. This had enabled him to gain an entree to Conrail that I envied. Todd had visited the Harrisbugh dispatching center and Enola Yard. He had ridden on the Conrail executive train and received cab rides on trains switching in the Lewistown yard.

The railroaders supplied Todd with an endless stream of information about Conrail operations, including a toll-free telephone number used by employees to check when they would work next. The telephone number enabled Todd to know which trains would run next and when. About the only thing Todd couldn’t work out was getting permission from Conrail management to ride in a locomotive cab for a trip on the mainline. At that they had drawn the line.

Todd had a wife and a small daughter, but he seldom talked about them. He had been born and raised in Lewistown and if he didn’t own the hobby shop I’m sure that he would have found another job somewhere in town.

As much as Todd liked watching trains, he seldom rode them. He held Amtrak in disdain and said he’d rather fly than take a train. Todd talked about his trips to other railfanning spots, most notably in New York State along two Conrail lines there or to Sandpatch, a remote and scenic mountain crossing in Pennsylvania south of Pittsburgh on the CSX mainline.

Todd was outgoing and quick to smile. Naturally friendly, he always was a fountain of information for anyone who asked about Conrail or the history of the railroads in Lewistown. I think he rather enjoyed it.

Peggy Ruble was the lone female among the regulars. She was married, but I never saw her husband at the station. Someone once said he wasn’t fond of trains. Peggy didn’t spend as much time at the station as the other regulars. Mostly, she came for an hour or two, often in the evening and always seemed to have a lawn chair and a scanner.

I never got the impression that Peggy loved trains all that much. She probably came to the station because of the social life and the attention that she received there. When she wasn’t around, the men would make occasional comments about her beauty, which I found mildly amusing. The guys crowded around her because she was a woman and fawned over her a bit. But mostly they enjoyed her company.

I never knew Bud’s last name. He was always griping about something, usually the railroad. If it wasn’t poorly managed or operated then it was nothing like it used to be in the good old days. Bud would come over just before noon and leave about an hour later. He’d usually say he had to go home to watch a baseball game on TV.

Bud also had a fascination with jet contrails. He is the only person I’ve ever met who counted the number of contrails he saw during the day. He would get up early, stand in his backyard and count the contrails high overhead. He sometimes claimed to have seen jets flying low enough to identify them by the company insignia on the aircraft’s tail. More than once he told of having seen an Air Canada jet, which he recognized by the maple leaf on the tail.

I thought it improbable that a jet would be flying that low over Lewistown. Maybe a pilot wanted to give the passengers a view of the scenery below, but that scenario seemed unlikely. It would cost too much time and money to take a jet from 35,000 feet to an altitude where an observer on the ground could see a tail marking with his naked eye.

I never argued with Bud about it, but I didn’t believe it either. Air Canada had a commuter operation route into Harrisburg, some 45 miles away. It was possible Bud had seen one of these commuter planes, which were not jets but small turboprops.

The regulars liked to tell the story about how one day a guy got off an Amtrak train and started acting aggressively. He claimed to be a Marine. The regulars, knowing Bud had served in the Marines, “volunteered” him to entertain the fellow until he could get on another train out of town. Bud took him down to a bar not far from the Lewistown station. For months afterward, the regulars teased Bud about it.

Ted McMillan was the oldest of the regulars and the only one I never talked with. He seemed to be a friend of Peggy. She would give Ted money to buy a soft drink from Kenny and they’d all sit together. Ted said little during the few times he was at the station when I was there.

There was another fellow who came around sporadically who was a masterful storyteller. He was a retired railroader and enjoyed bending our ears with his tales about the railroad. He told about the stationmaster who chased people away from Lewistown station if they weren’t there to board a train or pick up a passenger who had disembarked. He also told stories about wrecks and fatalities. I suspected some of the details had been embellished over the years, but it was fun to listen to his stories.

And then there was Bob Watts. He was usually at the station when I arrived. He always wore dark trousers, a sports shirt – usually light yellow – dark socks and dress shoes. I never saw him without his Pennsylvania Railroad Middle Division baseball cap. Occasionally he would take it off to wipe off sweat. It was then that I noticed that he was partially bald.

Bob sat passively and recorded the locomotive numbers of every train that passed through Lewistown. He had a small notebook that included the numbers of every Conrail locomotive. Sometimes after a train had passed, he’d say, “I didn’t have that one,” and mark off another locomotive number. Bob also recorded the number of cars on each train. He dutifully logged this information in a notebook after every train passed during his watch. He said he’d been doing this for years.

It took awhile to get to know Bob. He didn’t talk to me much until the final months of my time in Pennsylvania. Before then, we’d sometimes talk about train operations, but little else. Even if Bob and I were the only ones at the station, he’d sit quietly in his lawn chair. Sometimes he’d doze.

One afternoon early in the summer of 1993, Bob abruptly asked me my name. We shook hands and he introduced himself. Why he decided to ask my name that day I’ll never know. But from then on, Bob was friendlier and more open.

He was a retired postal employee who had spent much of his career working at the post office at Philadelphia’s 30th Street Station. He never worked aboard a railway post office car, although he had ridden aboard some here and there.

Bob didn’t go out of his way to tell stories of the past. When he did, I got the impression he was not embellishing. One day he started reciting train names and arrival times at Lewistown in the early 1960s. I had a 1963 Pennsylvania Railroad timetable at home and to my amazement Bob’s recollection was stunningly accurate.

Bob had been born and raised just west of Lewistown, where he still lived. He had a small cabin up in the woods that he occasionally used as a retreat. For a long time I thought Bob was single or a widower. He spent so much time at the station that I figured he couldn’t be married. I could not imagine any wife tolerating a husband spending so much time at the train station. But Bob was married, a fact I didn’t learn until late. They didn’t have any children. She was a retired teacher.

Although his wife liked to travel, Bob didn’t. She had a friend who had a trailer and the two of them would roam the country during the summer. Bob said he went with them once or twice. But mostly he stayed home or watched trains.

As much as he liked trains, Bob had not ridden trains much except during the days when he commuted to work by train from Lewistown. He would ride a train to Philadelphia, where he had a sleeping room, on Sunday night and return on Friday night. Occasionally Bob talked about the Philadelphia Phillies major league baseball team, but watching trains was his first love.

* * * * *

I waited until early August 1993 to tell Todd and Bob that I was moving to Cleveland. That I waited so long wasn’t because I expected them to be upset. I just couldn’t bring myself to break the news to them. There had been so many of these “final this” and “final that” events this summer.

I finally had become one of the Lewistown regulars. People greeted me by my first name when I arrived. I felt wanted. The Lewistown regulars were among the few people in Pennsylvania who had not disappointed me during my time in the state. They had accepted me for what I was. But now I had to leave that.

I had thought about telling Todd and Bob that I was moving, but I couldn’t bring myself to do it. Mary Ann urged me to tell them that I was leaving. I couldn’t just disappear, never to be seen again. Still I kept putting it off. I was running out of time to procrastinate. At best, there would be time for one final trip. And what if Bob and Todd weren’t there that day?

It was mid-afternoon on the day that I broke the news. Bob and Todd were standing next to each other, so I told them that I was moving to Cleveland. I did it in a matter of fact manner, explaining that I had taken a teaching job at John Carroll University.

Only once had I discussed my situation at Penn State with someone at Lewistown. That had been in late Spring 1992 when I met a guy who also taught at Penn State. I’ve long since forgotten what program he was with, but he was not a tenure-track or tenured professor. He seemed to understand my plight, expressed sympathy and wished me good luck. Although he said he hung around Lewistown, I don’t recall seeing him at the station again. I figured that only someone with experience in higher education would understand what had happened to me at Penn State. Besides, I went to Lewistown to forget about my job situation, not to talk about it.

Todd and Bob were surprised by my announcement. Todd glanced at his watch. A few weeks earlier, he had said that I ought to come over to his house and see his model railroad layout. But I had passed it off as just one more of those things that people say but don’t really mean or never follow through on. This time I was wrong. Todd had meant it.

We decided to see his model railroad layout now, even though Todd was pressed for time because he had to be somewhere at 4 p.m. I didn’t think about it at the time, but later I realized that of all of the people I had known in Pennsylvania, Todd was one of the few who had kept a promise that he had made to me.

I had never seen Todd’s hobby shop so we drove past it on the way to his home. Todd also showed me Burnham, the neighborhood just outside of Lewistown where he had grown up and still lived. I saw the steel mill and the railroad tracks leading into it. I was learning things about Todd that I did not know.

I had known Todd mostly for his interest in railroads. He once said that his dad had no interest in railroads. He hunted and fished. And Todd’s mother had had little tolerance of her son’s railroad hobby. Many times, Todd said he had been in the car with his parents and had seen a train that he wanted to get a closer look at or photograph. He would say to his parents, “stop the car.” But they always kept on driving.

That was during the 1970s when the railroad industry in the East was going through a major restructuring that resulted in the creation of Conrail. It had brought order to the railroad industry in the eastern United States, but also meant the end of several railroads. Todd sensed that he was seeing something that would not be around much longer. But his parents wouldn’t stop the car and several opportunities to photograph trains passed him by.

Perhaps that was why Todd spent so many hours at Lewistown station. No longer would anyone deny him an opportunity to see something out of the ordinary on the railroad. Todd didn’t seem angry with his parents for what they had done. He figured that they had thought, “it will always be there.” If Todd wanted to watch trains, he could do so when he became an adult. But the trains weren’t the same as they had been in Todd’s youth.

Todd’s model railroad layout was the most elaborate I had seen. My mouth must have dropped when I saw it. I kept saying how I was at a loss for words to describe it. I’m sure Todd’s being in the hobby business had a lot to do with his having such an extensive collection of N scale rolling stock.

As we watched the model trains thread through the layout, Todd explained that he had an elaborate layout because he was willing to spend the time it took to create one. He said he’d had other guys over and they, too, had marveled at his layout and wondered out loud why they couldn’t create such a layout. Todd said that when he got interested in something, he would sacrifice sleep and a lot else to do it. It was not unusual for him to stay up into the wee hours of the night working on his layout. Todd was as obsessive about his layout as he was watching trains at Lewistown station.

As we went upstairs to leave, I saw Todd’s wife and daughter arrive home. I wondered what they thought of his obsession with trains. But there was no time to ask them. For all of Todd’s knowledge about railroads and for all of the things that he’d been able to do on the railroad, there were many things I had seen that Todd had not. He had never been west of Steubenville, Ohio. He talked about taking a trip out west to watch trains. Maybe someday he will.

* * * * *

My final visit to Lewistown station was Sunday, August 15, 1993. I had planned to go there on Saturday, but we were busy cleaning the duplex. So I came on Sunday instead. All of the regulars except Todd were there. He and some friends were attending a Pittsburgh Steelers exhibition football game in Pittsburgh. Bob said Todd had told everyone about how I had been in awe of his model railroad layout. Bob seemed to enjoy that. By now word had spread that I was moving to Cleveland. Peggy wished me luck in my new job and new home. Bob did the same.

I had thought about taking a trip on Amtrak’s Pennsylvanian from Lewistown to Altoona and back. The schedules were such that it was only possible to make a same-day roundtrip on a Sunday. I had put off taking the trip due to lack of money. Our financial situation had improved this summer, but there were many expenses related to moving. I decided not to make the train trip to Altoona. Besides, I had ridden on this line before.

The westbound Pennsylvanian, the train I would have ridden to Altoona, was the last Amtrak train that I saw that day. It had been the first train that I had seen here on that July day in 1991 when Mary Ann and I had gone looking for Lewistown station. As I watched the train leave, I thought about how I had passed up my last chance to take a train trip from Lewistown. It was funny that I had spent so much time planning and thinking about taking a trip that I now I figured I could live without. There had been a time when taking that trip had meant a lot to me. Now it didn’t. I wasn’t sure why.

Throughout the day I thought about all of the memories that I had of this place. I thought about the various people I had met, the good times I’d had, and the thoughts that I had had while waiting for trains. I took one last look around. Then I got in my car and drove back to State College.

* * * * *

Shortly after moving to Cleveland in August 1993, I found a great railfanning spot in Berea in suburban Cleveland and got to know a group of regulars there. But it was not the same as Lewistown. The train watching is just as fun, but there is not the same sense of community that had existed in Lewistown. I used to miss that, but I’ve accepted that I no longer have it.
I’ve only made it back to Lewistown once. That was in July 1995 on my way home from the National Railway Historical Society convention in Lancaster, Pa. I left Lancaster early enough so that I’d have a few hours at Lewistown station. I arrived in time to catch the eastbound Broadway Limited.

Bob and Peggy were the only regulars at the station that day. Bob claimed to have recognized me immediately, although I introduced myself as the guy who used to live in State College. During my time in Pennsylvania, the regulars would sometime refer to me as “that guy who lives up in State College.” Peggy claimed not to have known that I had moved to Cleveland. That was odd because I remember her wishing me luck in my move there. We sat in lawn chairs and waited for the trains to come. It took awhile before traffic began moving.

According to Bob, Todd was in the process of selling his hobby shop and had been hired by Conrail as a locomotive engineer. Working for the railroad had always been Todd’s dream job and now he had it. At last Todd was getting his cab ride on the mainline – as a Conrail employee working between Harrisburg and Pittsburgh. Bob said he occasionally saw Todd come through at the controls of a Conrail locomotive.

For a few years after I moved to Ohio I thought about visiting Lewistown, but it is just far enough away from Cleveland to not seem feasible to do a one-day trip. I thought about riding Amtrak to Lewistown for the day. The schedule used to be such that I could have boarded the train at Akron, arrived in Lewistown around noon and have until 8 p.m. that night to watch trains before boarding the return train.

I envisioned myself stepping off the train in Lewistown, walking up to one of the regulars and saying something like, “excuse me, but can you tell me where there is a good place to watch trains around here?” I then imagined that the regulars and I would catch up on the local gossip and it would be like old times.

But I never made that trip. I’m not sure why because during my first couple of years in Cleveland I thought about Lewistown a lot. I really missed the place. I’d find myself looking at my watch and thinking that Mail 9 ought to be coming through about now. But after a while I stopped doing that.

Perhaps I didn’t miss Lewistown enough or it wasn’t as important as I imagined it to be. More likely it was because I recognized that it was time to move on. You can’t be constantly trying to live in the past. It was a wonderful experience that I wished had continued a while longer. But it didn’t. I’ll always have the memories and they will always make me feel good.

As I write this in late May 2009, it has been nearly 16 years since I left Pennsylvania. By now some of the regulars may be deceased or unable to hang around the station as they once did. Nearly two years ago I saw a photograph of Todd at the controls of the Norfolk Southern executive train, which he apparently operates when it goes out on the road.

Even if I were to move back to central Pennsylvania, something that seems highly unlikely, going to Lewistown wouldn’t be the same. I’ve since taken up railroad photography and developed the “roaming” mentality so common among railfan photographers. Occasionally, I am satisfied to stay in one place and merely watch the trains pass by as I did when I used to railfan at Lewistown.

But no longer am I content to go to one place every weekend as I did with Lewistown. I did that with Berea for many years and now wish that I had not spent quite so much time there. I wish I had gotten out and explored other locations to photograph and watch trains.

It may be that many railfans have a “Lewistown” somewhere in their past. It is a place they spent a lot of time at during a younger age and where they learned how to railfan. Eventually, they discovered other places and developed a love of the “hunt” for trains. In that sense, Lewistown served as a stepping stone in my development as a railroad enthusiast.

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2 Responses to “Trains Were Great, but the People of Lewistown were Greater”

  1. Todd Treaster Says:

    Craig, I read this and boy it broght back some good memories. I remember talking with you.. I now have been on the Railroad for 17 years.. It is Norfolk Southern now and they are not bad to work for.. I am there Office Car Engineer for the Presidents train.. What a dream job I have.. I miss the times at the Station don’t get there very often.. This was like reading a biography of myself.. Thank you for bringing me back.. You can Email me if you would like, I may not repley right away but I will.. I am working 6 days a week with not much time to myself.. If you get back here look me up.. We moved to a larger house and the layout is 3 times as big as the old one.. 1250+ sq ft. 16,000 cars and 1,300 locomotives.. Yes I am out of control.. I hope you are doing well and this was a pleasure to read.. I still smile alot it must be the job and running F Units.. I have run Amtrak, the Conrail business train and now the NS business train.. Man life has been good to me.. My wife of 26 years and my daughter is 23 and ingaged to be married.. He has apllied for the railroad and I am going to get him in.. Hope to here from you.. Thanks Todd Treaster, Locomotive Engineer , Altoona PA but I still live in Burnham!!

  2. Carrie A Kanagy Says:

    Craig, I enjoyed reading this. I take my three young children to the station several times a year and we enjoy hanging out with the “regulars.” Bob Watts still records each train. He was there Monday evening, August 13th, when the Nickel Plate Road steam engine passed through with Todd Treaster as the engineer. I could hardly find a place to park and I’ll bet there were around 200 people crowding the platform for that event. Come back and visit Lewistown sometime, you’ll be glad you did.

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