Coal Country and Coal Trains
(NRHS Lancaster, PA, and Glenwood Springs, CO)
June 23rd-July 9th, 1995

Don Winter


The proximate cause of this trip was the 1995 NRHS Convention in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. We decided to fill out the second week with three days in Glenwood Springs, Colorado. We traveled out and back on Amtrak, with our usual diverse routing to cover lines we’ve not been on before. In Pennsylvania, we spend a couple of days traveling on erstwhile anthracite coal lines, then travel across the former PRR coal main between Harrisburg and Pittsburgh. Further west, we travel on one of the BN coal routes from the Powder River field to the Midwest, then watch SP coal train operations in the Rockies.

The Journey East (6/23-6/27)

Friday, June 23rd, 1995

This year's NRHS National Convention is in Lancaster, PA. We've chosen to get to by taking the transcontinental Sunset Limited (train 2) from Los Angeles to Jacksonville, FL, and then the Silver Meteor north to Philadelphia, from whence we'll take the Keystone Service west to Lancaster. This evening, we started our journey by taking the shuttle van from home to Los Angeles Union Station.

As we're looking to see which platform the train will depart from in LAUS, we see Don Norville, who has been the Chief of Onboard Services on previous trips we've made (notably on the Coast Starlight) heading for a platform, and since there's only one more departure tonight, we follow him to the train. It does, indeed, turn out to be our train, and we're allowed on board. There's plenty of time to walk the train and note the consist, before departure so I do so. The train has two locomotives, a baggage car, transition dorm, two sleepers, diner, lounge, and two coaches headed for Orlando, FL, along with a coach and sleeper that will leave us at San Antonio to transfer to train 22 for Chicago. All except the baggage car are Superliners.  As always on Train 2's departure from LA, the beds are already made up in the rooms, so after setting up the scanner and other resources for the trip, we have our night time soft drinks and go to bed.

Sunset Limited Route Description

P32                  519 (to New Orleans)
F40                  361 (to New Orleans)
P42                  809 (from New Orleans)
F40                  321 (from New Orleans)
Transition Dorm
Coach (off at San Antonio for Chicago)
Sleeper (off at San Antonio for Chicago)
Private Car       Scottish Thistle 

Train 2, 6-23-1995



Los Angeles
























Benson PT



Lordsburg        MT






El Paso









Del Rio



San Antonio









Lake Charles






New Iberia






New Orleans





















Lake City






Saturday, June 24th, 1995

We eat breakfast east of Phoenix. The train makes an unscheduled stop at Mesa, from 8:43 to 8:53 am, to remove a passenger. Lunch is between Benson and Lordsburg, with dinner east of Sierra Blanca (but west of Alpine). Paisano Pass is traversed in darkness.

Sunday, June 25th, 1995

The air conditioning in our sleeper fails somewhere in Arizona, and the room gets progressively warmer as we cross New Mexico, and then the next day across Texas. Several attempts to restart the a/c fail. Before we get to New Orleans, Don Norville comes by and gives us a voucher refunding our entire accommodation charge for the Los Angeles-New Orleans segment of the trip.

As usual, when the train is reasonably on time, we wake for the second morning, in a completely different environment from the one we had last seen at dusk the night before. Arizona and New Mexico, and western Texas, are all arid desert, although full of desert wildlife and the interest of the mountains along much of the way. East of San Antonio, the landscape is quite different, as is the human impact on it. We've now crossed the invisible line between the arid areas further west and the non-irrigated (i.e. normal) farmland to the east. All the way from San Antonio to Houston, we're running through grass and cropland, a distinct difference from the open arid grassland west of San Antonio. The further east (and lower in altitude) we get, the lusher the crops and grassland. Use of this land for crops is, of course, quite recent -- in the nineteenth century this was all open range cattle country.

Nominally, there's time in the New Orleans stopover for an evening on the town, but we're several hours late arriving and are in New Orleans for only an hour or two.

Monday, June 26th, 1995

We awake as the train leaves Pensacola, FL, having passed through the Mississippi and Alabama gulf coast regions, including crossing Mobile Bay during the night. The only urban area along this portion of the route is Tallahassee, the state capital and site of a large university. When we reach Jacksonville, a much larger urban area, the train reverses on a wye in the vicinity of the former terminal station, before pulling in to the current Amtrak pre-fab station on the western edge of the city. The train never really enters Jacksonville proper.

We're still those several hours late on arrival at Jacksonville, but that still gives us an easy connection to the Silver Meteor. On that train, we discover that the Chief of OnBoard Services has already given out all of the dinner reservations for the evening; she tells us we'll have to wait for "last call", sometime after 10 pm. Our sleeping car attendant in the heritage sleeper overhears this, tells us he thinks that's ridiculous, and brings us dinner to the bedroom at the much more reasonable time of 8pm, before he starts making up the beds in the rooms.

Silver Meteor Route Description

We pass through the somewhat uninteresting countryside of southeast Georgia, make our stop in Savannah, and reach the station on the western edge of Charleston, SC, as darkness falls.

F40      365

F40      247






The coaches are long-distance Amfleet.
The sleepers, diner, lounge, and dorm are all Heritage Fleet.

Train 98, 6-25-1995







































Tuesday, June 27th, 1995

We cover the route north of Charleston in darkness, awakening during the Baltimore stop, and having breakfast along the NEC prior to our mid morning arrival in Philadelphia's 30th Street Station.

In Philadelphia, we cash in the refund voucher, discover our checked suitcase isn't here yet, leave our carry-on luggage in the Metropolitan Lounge (i.e., the lounge for passengers on first-class trains), and spend the day visiting Independence Hall and then riding on some of the SEPTA lines that will not be covered by the Sunday NRHS excursion, with lunch in Norristown between trains and routes. We start by taking the subway to the stop closest to the downtown AAA office, where we acquire maps of Philadelphia and the eastern Pennsylvania area. From there, we move on to the historic sites adjacent to the Delaware River, and around Independence Hall.

We start out at the National Park Service's Visitor Center, where we sign up for a tour of the interior of the historic building in the Independence hall area (including the hall itself). We go through the museum, and watch the introductory film, at the Visitor Center, before proceeding outside for the assembly of our assigned tour party.

Although Independence Hall was the site of the colonial government in Pennsylvania, it's biggest claim to fame is, of course, as the location where the Continental Congress declared Independence, in Thomas Jefferson's famous words from July 4th, 1776, and later where the Constitutional Convention was held in the summer of 1787. Inside the building, the main meeting rooms are set up as they looked at the times of those meetings, with wax figures of the participants set up as if those meetings were still going on. I hadn't expected to find these quite as affecting as I did when actually standing there.

Across a park in front of Independence Hall is a modern exhibition building housing the cracked Liberty Bell. This was interesting, but had nowhere near the impact of those meeting rooms where the supremely important historical events took place.

After our visit to the historical area, we return to the subway tracks beneath the street and take a tram west to the terminal at 65th street. There, we transfer to the Norristown High-Speed Line, where the erstwhile North Shore Electroliners had run for thirty years after the closure of their original home. The current cars are good, but not as atmospheric as the restored Electroliner at the Illinois Railroad Museum. The line, however, lives up to its name, and we are soon across the Schuylkill and into the transit complex in Norristown. We have about 45 minutes until the next SEPTA train leaves for Center City, so we grab lunch at the local McDonald's (ugh!) and then board the heavy electric multiple-unit train heading for Philadelphia along the former Reading line on the north bank of the Schuylkill.

Philadelphia Route Descriptions

As we approach Center City again, we pass a SEPTA rolling stock maintenance depot on the west side of the tracks, and join with other former Reading lines on the former approach to Reading Terminal. However, Reading Terminal itself is no longer in use, and after we leave the station for Temple University, we diverge from the original line and enter the new cross-city subway that now joins the Reading lines here at the entrance to the old terminal to the former Pennsylvania lines at Suburban Station, adjacent to the former Broad Street Station. This time, we don’t go through the subway (that will have to wait for Sunday), but leave this train, inspect the new subterranean station for a while, and then board a train for Chestnut Hill East.

The line out to Chestnut Hill East retraces the first portion of the line we came in on, then curves away east near to maintenance depot, before turning north again. At Chestnut Hill, we walk the half-mile from the former Reading station to the former PRR station, Chestnut Hill West, and board another SEPTA electric multiple-unit train. We take this back to 30th Street, joining the main line adjacent to North Philadelphia station, and passing through the complex at Zoo Interlocking, before entering the elevated suburban platforms at 30th Street, where we descend to the main station.

Then we collect our checked bag (which arrived about 4 pm on the Broadway Limited), and return to the Metropolitan Lounge. Some time later, a redcap comes for the luggage and us and takes us down to the main line platform, from which we go out to Lancaster on the Keystone Service train. Even though the line is electrified all the way to Harrisburg, since the train has to reverse in 30th Street station, Amtrak is using diesel power on the leg thence to Harrisburg. Our train arrives behind an AEM-7, and the F40 comes on the other end to depart for Harrisburg. The café, which had been open from New York to Philadelphia, is not staffed on leaving Philadelphia.

More than half the distance to Lancaster, this route passes through urban, then suburban (one of the earliest suburbs, the so-called “Main Line” that grew up along the railroad, including places like Paoli and Bryn Mawr), and then exurban, Philadelphia. Then, the countryside becomes ‘Pennsylvania-Dutch’ farming country, with its characteristic barns and other farm buildings, as well as prevalence of horse-drawn carts for transportation and old-style clothing for the people. When we get to Lancaster, we have to drag the luggage up the stairs to the footbridge, because there's no notice telling us to get an attendant to operate the (former) baggage elevator for us. We later learn that we can do this, and use the facility when we leave six days later.

Keystone Corridor Route Description

Amfleet Coaches

Train 145, 6-27-1995
























We take a taxi to the convention hotel (the Eden Resort) and check in. Then we visit the NRHS Registration room to collect our goodie bags, etc. Warren and Martha, whom we had met on the last excursion of the Atlanta Convention the year previously, were handling the registration room when we arrived.

Later that evening, during our dinner, we observe that the hotel has made no special arrangements to handle the dining requirements of several busloads of conventioneers returning from their trip on the Western Maryland Scenic Railroad at Cumberland, MD (which we didn't go on, as a result of having made our travel plans before we knew there would be a Tuesday excursion). In fact, the dining room had just reduced its staff for the evening when forty or so people showed up to eat, and was very hard pressed to handle them!

NRHS, Lancaster (6/28-7/2)

Wednesday, June 28th, 1995

Today's rail excursions are on two shortlines in Delaware, the Wilmington & Western, and Queen Anne, railroads. (The latter is named for the country it operates in.) These are both quite a bus ride away (although not as far as Cumberland, MD), so the ratio of rail activity to bus boredom is not very high today.

Our buses head southeastward from Lancaster, with much in-bus discussion of the projects and home locations of those Lancaster Chapter members on board the bus we’re on. We reach the Wilmington & Western, a former B&O branch in the western outskirts of Wilmington, DE, quite early for our excursion, and therefore have time to examine both (!) of the trains that will be used for our excursions today. Not only are we using the railroad’s old-style steam train (steam locomotive plus four wooden carriages—combine 497, coaches 571, 581, 603—and caboose C2313), hauled by ex-Mississippi Central 4-4-0 98, the last “American”-style locomotive built by Alco, with diesel switcher 8408 behind the caboose, but also their newly-restored operating doodlebug (a gasoline-engined self-powered single carriage), ex-PRR 4662. This is one of the few lines still running wooden passenger cars on standard-gauge track.

Wilmington & Western Route Description

This railroad has a single track that winds through wooded countryside, across streams and adjacent to farms. We have two photo runbys, on each of which the doodlebug comes up after the main train has gone by. The first is alongside a country road, next to a road crossing, and the second is alongside a farmyard on the other side of the track, allowing photos of both sides of the trains in action. At the end of the line, we reboard our buses, so there’s no opportunity to switch trains for a return journey.

By now it’s mid-morning, and we’ve got quite a distance to cover to the Queen Anne's Railroad location of our next train ride, which also will provide lunch. The countryside as we head south on the Delaware peninsula (it’s not “DelMarVa” this far north) is quite uninteresting, but eventually we reach our destination. Here, there are “first-class” cars and coach-class cars, serving different styles of lunch as well as different comfort levels. We have first-class tickets, and get a buffet lunch with china and silverware. The train travels west across the line while we’re eating, but provides photographic opportunities during the reversal procedures at the end of the line.

On the front of the train is an 0-6-0 tank engine (no. 3), and on the other end, a diesel switcher (former Santa Fe CF-7 2628 from the Maryland & Delaware—the railroad’s T-9 is nowhere to be seen). At the reversal point, these change ends. The steam locomotive looks familiar, and I remark to Gerry Williams, a member of the UK Chapter, that it resembles one of the “USA” tank engines that services Southampton Docks from 1946 to 1966. It transpires that the resemblance is exact, since this locomotive is not only to the same design as the “USA” tanks, but was also built by the Vulcan Locomotive Works, in this case in Wilkes-Barre, PA, and served out its working career at the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard. There are three first-class cars (Tidewater, Lewes, Melton) and four coaches (1501-4) on the train.

Queen Anne's Railroad Route Description

At the conclusion of this trip, we reboard our buses for the long, boring, ride back to Lancaster. The countryside doesn’t get interesting until after we’ve crossed the Northeast Corridor and Interstate Highway 95, and are back in Pennsylvania.

This year marks the 60th anniversary of the founding of NRHS; the convention is being held in Lancaster because the Lancaster Chapter was one of the parties to the original agreement marking the founding of the national society. An evening reception at the Lancaster Amtrak (former PRR) station, including unveiling of a plaque, commemorates the occasion. Outside the station, the Conrail "Operation LifeSaver" van is present and open for tours, and there are a number of vintage automobiles, from the era when NRHS was founded, on display in the driveway. The food at the reception serves as dinner, tonight.

Thursday, June 29th, 1995

Today’s excursion is over the Reading & Northern railroad through an old anthracite (hard coal) mining area between the Schuylkill and Susquehanna valleys. Reading & Northern runs a number of lines they have taken over from Conrail as it has consolidated its activities in northeast Pennsylvania. The particular lines we will be covering today were once part of the Reading railroad. Naturally, the start of the train ride is not in Lancaster, so we head by bus from the hotel northeast through Reading and out to West Leesport, the first station along the Reading & Northern line north of its junction with the Conrail Harrisburg line. On the way in to West Leesport, we pass the Reading Technical Society’s line-up of preserved locomotives and cars at Leesport.

Our train, today, will be powered by two restored Passenger F-units (FP7s), once owned by the Reading and now preserved, one by the Philadelphia Chapter (903) and one by the Lancaster Chapter of NRHS (902). Resplendent in their newly restored green, black and gold livery, the F-units are a beautiful sight. Since this is their first outing after restoration, both locomotives are dedicated in a ceremony before the train departs West Leesport. We’re riding first class, in a dome car in which those who ride in the dome one way must ride downstairs the other way. The trip uphill will be the most interesting, and Chris manages to get us the front left seats in the dome. The only vehicles in front of us are the F-units themselves.

West Leesport to Mount Carmel Route Description

As usual, I have the scanner on and the earphone in my ear, so I can follow along with the train and excursion crews. Soon after the train starts, Whayne McGinniss comes up from further back in the dome to ask what frequencies he should be listening on. This is the first time we’ve seen Whayne, this trip, so we shoot the breeze for a while and I supply the requested frequencies. I’m not entirely sure why I know them and he doesn’t, but it’s as easy to supply them as to tell him to look in his convention materials, so I do so!

Since we can see into the cab of the rear F-unit from here, Cindy Bowers, who is in charge of the restoration crew for the locomotive owned by the Lancaster Chapter keeps coming up to observe the performance of her charge. Soon, we’re at the R&N maintenance base at Port Clinton, where the first runby is to take place. In the adjacent siding, just before we get there, is a mixed freight headed by two of R&N’s locomotives. We disembark and walk back along the track to where we can see a road over-bridge.  One of the NRHS hosts edits the scene by cutting back some brush that threatens some people’s view of the trains. Our train backs down, exposing the freight, which then moves forward (a “runby” of its own) to be positioned in the center of the photo shots. Our train then comes past, and we capture it against the background of the freight and over-bridge. After we reboard the train, the two R&N freight locos, GEs 2398 and 3300, are added to our train between the FP7s and the train to help with the hills ahead. (Apparently, one of the F-units isn’t loading properly, which is why Cindy has been coming up to look at them. It later transpires that an oil filter was put in upside down, making a serious mess and reducing the engine’s ability to produce full power.)

As we pull slowly past the maintenance building, we see former reading 4-8-4 #2102 inside the building, and Reading & Blue Mountain 4-6-2 #425 outside. The latter is being readied for its visit to Steamtown for Saturday’s Grand Opening, but first it will be part of the night photo session to be held here, this evening (along with the restored F-units). At Port Clinton, we take the right fork, onto the branch heading for Tamaqua.

This is the area where the notorious Molly Maguires operated their pro-labor anti-mine-owner terrorist activities, over a century ago. Anthracite mining was a big industry in the nineteenth century, providing the most desirable fuel for domestic and industrial heating and power before the development of the oil industry and the widespread availability of electric power distribution grids. Anthracite was highly desirable for these uses, because it burns in a nearly smokeless manner. As a result, a number of railroads made a big business out of carrying this fuel from the mines in northeast Pennsylvania to the consumers in New York City, Philadelphia, and their suburbs. These mountains were once thick with the mine branches and main lines of the (Philadelphia &) Reading, Central RR of New Jersey, Lehigh Valley, and Delaware, Lackawanna & Western, with routes to those cities, as well as the Delaware & Hudson, which ran orthogonal to most of the other lines and didn’t reach either of the big east coast cities.

With the twentieth century developments in electric power and home-heating oil, the market for Anthracite diminished rapidly as the century progressed, and the mines and coal breakers in this are have long since closed, with most of them demolished. (As mined, Anthracite was in large, hard slabs, so coal breakers were developed to break up the slabs into more readily tractable chunks before hauling them to market.) Today, the residual activities in the mining area are cleaning up the piles of tailings, including coal that was once considered unmarketable, removing everything that has any current market value and taking some small steps to restore the derelict land. This includes removing many of the facilities that once formed major rail yards at the mines.

Our second photo runby is at one of these derelict rail yards (Mahanoy City Yard), where there is a large open area from which we can get wider angles of the train than would otherwise be possible. Further up the hill, we pass a location where an underground fire has been raging in an abandoned coal seam since the 1960s, requiring the progressive abandonment of the small town located above it as the land become prone to subsidence over the burned-out coal seams. Up here, the track runs between second growth stands of trees, thick against the right-of-way, in the northern part of the Appalachian Mountains.

We go as far as the last possible place on the R&N track at which locomotives can be run around the train (Mount Carmel Junction). Here is another reason we wanted to be in the dome on the way up—the seats in the dome car will be facing backwards on the way down, since there is nowhere to turn the train. While we move down to the lower level seating, conversation on the scanner makes it clear there is a problem with one of the F-units; apparently, something has not been properly restored (is this the same problem described above?) on what will now be the leading unit, so it cannot be used to control the train. After some deliberation, the R&N freight locomotives are placed on the front, and the brakes on the offending unit cut out of the operational circuit.

We return the way we came, leaving the F-units (instead of the expected freight locos) at the maintenance base for the night photo session (the F-units would have gone there later, after finishing the excursion), and returning to the buses at the place we boarded the train in the morning. The buses then return us to the Lancaster area hotels.

As we return to our room, we run into NRHS Media Director Mitch Dakelman, whom I had noticed taking pictures along the lineside during today’s excursion. Mitch says that he has chosen to chase, rather than ride, many of the excursions this year, because he lives so close (just across the Delaware River, in New Jersey) and can thus ride these excursions whenever he wants. We note that he seems unusually friendly, but it is only when we see a slide of Chris holding a puppy, taken during the Atlanta Convention, shown as one of Mitch’s 3-D slides during his presentation at the Friday Banquet that we think of a reason why. We eat dinner at the hotel, again.

Friday, June 30th, 1995

On Friday, there are no all day excursions (as usual, on the day with the Board Meeting, Annual Meeting, and Annual Banquet), but there are nonetheless some local activities. We opt for the visit to the RR Museum of Pennsylvania, and the Strasburg Railroad. These are located across the street from one another, in Strasburg, a few miles southeast of Lancaster. Buses have been provided to get us there and back,

The Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania (so named to make it clear that it isn’t a museum devoted solely to the Pennsylvania Railroad) has a large collection of rolling stock and artifacts, mainly but not solely from the PRR. The building has recently been extended (the extension was dedicated about a month previously), with an indoor area now twice the size of what it was previously. Although this allows much more of the collection to be stored under cover, there is still a large quantity of rolling stock stored outside, around the turntable (which is, itself, a museum artifact, having been brought here from elsewhere in Pennsylvania).

The inside of the museum is set up as if it were a station with an overall roof, comprising a number of platforms with various kinds of complete (if short) trains drawn up alongside. There are both freight and passenger trains dating from the turn of the century, the era between the world wars, and the fifties. Locomotives include a PRR 4-4-2, GG1 4955 and GP-9 7005. The impression on any of the platforms of being in a real station of the time period is very strong.

Outside in the yard are the electric and diesel locomotives (including the original GG-1 electric loco, 4800, “old rivets”.), a breakdown train, etc. We spend some time taking photographs of these.

Across the road is the Strasburg Railroad, now a tourist line operating steam locomotives and wooden carriages. Today, NRHS excursions are alternating with the regular passenger excursions on the Strasburg, resulting in a doubled frequency of trains on this day. We are to ride a specific excursion behind the recently restored ex-N&W 4-8-0, 475. Prior to that time, there’s plenty of time to take the workshop tour, so we do. Strasburg has a very complete steam locomotive workshop, including a wheel lathe and a wheel tire removal and replacement setup, both of them large enough for steam locomotive driving wheels. This is one of the most complete steam maintenance and restoration shops in the eastern part of the US. We also tour the carriage shop, with its comprehensive facilities for repair and restoration of wooden carriages. Also at Strasburg is the relocated “J Tower”, restored by Lancaster Chapter members.

Our excursion, a mixed train of restored freight cars as well as passenger cars, takes us through the fields and woods to Paradise and then to the junction with the Amtrak (former PRR) mainline. We hold a photo runby that requires the conventioneers to occupy a farmer’s field. We later learn that the NRHS folks had paid the framer to leave this particular field fallow, this year. Otherwise, it would have been waist deep in wheat by now!

Lunch, today, is a barbecue served in one end of the museum building. After lunch, we ride back from Strasburg to the hotel in Lancaster, on a bus with bus host Helen Stover, one of the original non-stop loudmouths. Helen is complaining that some of her “fans” that were handed out in the coach section of Thursday’s excursion train had made it up to the first class car, to which they were not supposed to go. I comment loudly on this, which has the effect not of making Helen mad at me, but causing her to make a point of saying hello every time I see her thereafter (and in subsequent years as well).

Unusually, the banquet is not at the convention hotel. So, we all load into buses for the short ride over to the banquet facility. Once the banquet is over, we bus back to the hotel and go right to bed, since the Saturday excursion has an early start.

Saturday, July 1st, 1995

It's opening day at the new Steamtown National Historical Site in Scranton, PA, and our excursion today will take us to the festivities. We start out with a cavalcade of buses heading east across the turnpike, then north on the turnpike extension up the Lehigh Valley, and across the top of the Pocono mountains to Cresco, on the former Delaware, Lackawanna and Western main line, now operated by shortline Delaware and Lackawanna. After about an hour waiting in the rain, our excursion train arrives, traveling backwards. It's mainly composed of former DL&W multiple-unit cars, no longer electrified, with a couple of air-conditioned coaches in the middle, and a private car on the rear. We all board and eat our box lunches (also loaded at Cresco) as the train heads for Steamtown. Our motive power is three Alco road diesels owned by Delaware & Lackawanna, 2462, 5019, and 2461. The train comprises 4 ex-Lackawanna coaches, four air-conditioned coaches, 2 more ex-Lackawanna coaches, and a “DL&W” Business Car.

Scranton to Cresco Route Description

We arrive just in time to scramble for positions where we can see and photograph the cavalcade of locomotives. This includes both three visiting locomotives as well as Steamtown’s own operable steamers. Reading, Blue Mountain, & Northern’s 4-6-2 #425 has made it here from where we saw her on Thursday’s excursion. Former Milwaukee Road 4-8-4 # 261 is also here as a visitor for several months, and Susquehanna 2-8-2 142 came-in on another excursion, earlier in the day.

In spite of the rain up in the Poconos, the weather is very hot, here, so Chris and I retreat to the adjacent mall where we drink several large lemonades apiece, eat lunch (at the place selling the lemonade), and replace Chris’ watch. We also walk around the museum, hear some of the opening day speeches, and patronize both the bookstore and the concession car for Milwaukee 261. While we are doing the latter, 261 herself passes by, goes out to the yard throat, and pulls forward past our train. She then backs down to the front of that train and couples on. Naturally, I’m up at the front of the train by the time the latter happens

As we get ready to leave Steamtown, Dick Davis who is leading the video crew, spends too long in the sun, and has to be iced down in one of the air-conditioned cars on the train back up the mountain. After we have passed the former Lackawanna station and headquarters building, now a hotel, Through Nay Aug tunnel, and a returning excursion headed by Steamtown’s 2317, with NYSW E-9 2400 on the rear, 261 opens up and storms away up the hill through Nay Aug tunnel. Further up the mountain, we have two photo runs. The first is at the Elmhurst reservoir and the second at a location that once had a number of sidings, perhaps Gouldsboro. After the passengers have disembarked at Pocono Summit, 261 performs another runby for the few diehards who have not already rushed for the buses.

Dinner is another “box lunch” eaten on the bus, which takes a different route back as far as Reading, then repeats this morning’s route back to Lancaster.

Sunday, July 2nd, 1995

On Sunday the excursion utilizes a SEPTA electric push-pull train headed by SEPTA AEM-7 2302 to traverse a number of SEPTA’s suburban lines out of Philadelphia. Our car host during the first part of the SEPTA excursion is again Helen, this time accompanied by her SO, "Smoke". The excursion route has been designed to pass through 30th Street Station several times, stopping each time so those who wish to catch onward trains can do so, and reaching the Airport on one leg, for those with departing flights to catch. Lunch is on our own during one of the stops in 30th Street.

We make a fast run into Philadelphia on the main line, once our SEPTA train has picked us up in Lancaster, then climb up on the suburban line for our first stop at 30th Street. We then head through the Center City subway tunnel, past Suburban Station and the new underground station next to the former Reading terminal, then out onto the Reading lines by Temple University. This time, we take the line out to Lansdale, where we stop to take pictures of the train standing in the station, then reboard for the return over the same route to 30th Street for our lunch stop. Chris and I eat Philly Cheese Steaks at one of the restaurants in the station, and have a good look around the various station facilities (especially those we hadn’t seen on Tuesday).

Philadelphia Route Descriptions

After lunch, we take the former Pennsylvania line south along the NEC, then onto the new SEPTA branch to the Philadelphia Airport, where more conventioneers depart, and some of us take more photos. We then retrace our steps to 30th Street, where those taking toady’s Broadway Limited depart, through the tunnel to the Reading lines, and on the long run out past the Budd factory at Red Lion and across the Delaware River to West Trenton, where the conventioneers get off to watch the train reverse and switch from one platform to the other, across the main line.

NRHS regional VP Larry Eastwood gets a train chaser out of the view of the photo line at the West Trenton station, by yelling at him through a bullhorn. This only seems to confirm the negative opinion some of the Lancaster NRHS folks have of Eastwood! The train then returns to Center City on the same line as before, through the tunnel for one last stop at 30th Street, and then makes another fast run along the Main Line out to Lancaster, reaching 91 mph at one point.

This concludes the convention program, once the bus has returned us to the hotel.

The Journey West (7/3-7/5)

Monday, July 3rd, 1995

On Monday, it’s time to leave Lancaster. We pack, checkout of the hotel, and call a cab. In the hotel parking lot, we say goodbye to Donald Bishop, who’s packing his own car for his trip back to upstate New York. Our cab arrives, and we go down to the Lancaster station. This time, we get an Amtrak employee to let us use the baggage elevator and subway to get to the westbound platform. Because there is no checked-baggage service at Lancaster, we have to take all of our luggage with us on the train, at least as far as Pittsburgh.

We take the Pennsylvanian west to Pittsburgh, so we can go around Horseshoe Curve, west of Altoona, in daylight. (The Broadway Limited passes after dark—we would have left on Sunday, if we had wanted to take the Broadway Limited across the mountains.) After the stop in Harrisburg, the train stops again at the on-line fueling rack adjacent to the Conrail yard to fuel the locomotives. The line crosses the famous stone bridge across the Susquehanna River, passes by the North End of the Enola freight yard, and follows the Juniata River through Mount Union, Huntington, and the other town along the line until it reaches Altoona. In Altoona, the line passes the former Pennsylvania Railroad's big Juniata shops, where almost all the PRR steam locomotives were made, and which subcontracts from the manufacturers for diesel locomotive construction (assembly) even in the 1990s and 2000. The line then climbs through Horseshoe Curve, crosses the crest of the Alleghenies, and descends the West Slope towards Pittsburgh. The line enters Pittsburgh on the uphill side of the Braddock steelworks.

Pennsylvanian Route Description

This is the main Conrail artery for coal trains from the mines of western Pennsylvania to both the East Coast and the Midwest. There are active mines on the West Slope of the Alleghenies, to the north of the line in the Cresson area, and to the south on the Southfork branch, as well as to the south of Pittsburgh on the Monongahela and its branches. There is also quite a bit of intermodal traffic (trailers and containers) on this route.

F40                  318
Amfleet Coaches
Amfleet Café

Train 43, 7-3-1995












Huntingdon       (pass)



Tyrone             (pass)





1:58/ 2:07













In Pittsburgh, we check the large suitcase to Glenwood Springs. We spend the afternoon at the top of the Monongahela incline on the south side of the Monongahela river, just upstream of the point where it joins the Allegheny to become the Ohio, and eat dinner in Station Square at the foot of the incline, before taking the light rail back to the Amtrak Station. We then board the Broadway Limited for our overnight trip to Chicago. The car attendant on the Broadway Limited wants to set up a wake up call to go for breakfast, but we tell her we want to sleep as late as possible.

F40      347 (added at Pittsburgh)
F40      401
F40      338 (failed at Johnstown)

Train 41, 7-3-1995



Pittsburgh         (ET)






Hammond-Whiting (CT)






Tuesday, July 4th, 1995

The Broadway Limited now takes the CSX (former B&O) route across Ohio and Indiana, all of it covered during the night with no observations from us.

Broadway Limited Route Description

As we leave the last stop before Chicago, at Hammond-Whiting, just east of the Indiana/Illinois state line, the sleeping car attendant brings coffee and rolls, saying that she wanted us to have something for breakfast. In Chicago, we have lunch at a downtown restaurant (not the Berghoff, it isn’t open on July 4th), spend some time at The Art Institute of Chicago, and take the California Zephyr westward to Glenwood Springs, CO.

California Zephyr Route Description

F40                  307
F40                  385
F40                  250
SP Business car California (dome)
SP Business car Kansas (observation)
(both in Rio Grande colors)

Train 5, 7-4-1995


















Mt. Pleasant















Fort Morgan






Winter Park






Glenwood Springs



Powder River coalfield to the Midwest. We travel most of this line, at least from somewhere west of Burlington, Iowa, in the dark so we don’t get any feel for the traffic level. From 6:10 to 6:24 pm, we wait for an eastbound coal train to pass, west of Galesburg. At 7:01 pm, we pass train 6, with P32 516 and a BN pilot locomotive, running 7 hours late. We restart at 7:07 pm, after a 24-minute stop waiting for train 6.

Wednesday, July 5th, 1995

We awake in northeastern Colorado, in the arid high-plains country. What a contrast from the lush agricultural countryside in western Illinois and eastern Iowa that we were passing through at nightfall, last night. While we are eating breakfast, the mountains of the Front Range appear on the horizon, although we’re still at least two hours away from Denver. (These mountains rise anywhere from 7,000 to 9,000 feet, directly from the high plains, which are themselves at an altitude between 5,000 and 6,000 feet above sea level, in this area.) Approaching Denver Union Station, the train turns on a wye between the BN yard and the former D&RGW (now SP) yard, then backs slowly into the station. During this process, there is a 20-minute stop to remove the business cars from the rear of the train.

The woman in the room across from us has been smoking (against the rules) all trip long. As we approach Denver, late, she bursts out of her room, frantic because the departure time of the Pioneer from Denver has passed, and she's sure she has missed her train. Since the cars for the Pioneer have come from Chicago as part of the same train we're on, and will be split off in Denver, we know that she will have plenty of time to walk down the platform to her new car, while the train is in Denver, but we can't convince her of this. Perhaps if she didn't smoke so much, she wouldn't get so hyper! L

The last time we passed through Glenwood Canyon, in 1985, earth moving for the construction of Interstate 70 had just started, and some slashes in the hillsides were visible from the train, but by and large the canyon still had only the railway on the south side and the two-lane US highway on the north side, both constructed without too much damage to the scenic beauty of the canyon. Now, however, the Interstate Highway is there in all its "glory", and the full extent of the scenic devastation is clearly visible from the train as it passes through the canyon. (Our room is fortuitously on the correct side of the train for viewing Glenwood Canyon.) We will see later the quite different impression one gets from the highway itself, and the usefulness of the roadside/riverside parks constructed along the bypassed stretches of the former highway, but our first impressions are decidedly negative in character.

In Glenwood Springs, we reclaim our checked bag and the agent phones the woman who handles the car rental services. (We’re renting a car from the Ford dealer, since no rental company operates in the area.) The agent brings the car to station for us; we fill out the paperwork, then cross the street to the Hotel Denver and check in (without moving the car). Later, we eat dinner at a local Chinese restaurant, around the corner and two blocks up the main street.

When the Southern Pacific merged with the Denver & Rio Grande Western, in the late 1980s, it used trackage rights on the UP's former Missouri Pacific line from Pueblo, CO to Herington, KS, to establish a "service lane" for carrying coal from the mines in Utah across Tennessee Pass and through the Royal Gorge, and then across the great plains to the Midwest. One of the innovative services in that lane carries Utah coal to electric power plants on the Wisconsin Central, and iron ore pellets from the Lake Superior area to the steel mills in Geneva, Utah, using the same cars for the two different loads rather than running empty cars in one direction or the other.

Coal trains running over Tennessee Pass in the eastward direction require two sets of helpers, one added at the usual helper station in Minturn, and the other added (first) in Glenwood Springs for the trip between Glenwood Springs and Minturn. The Glenwood Springs activity occurs at the small yard just west of the depot, but these coal trains are so long that the front of the train is in and beyond the depot during the operation, and is thus clearly visible from our hotel window, facing the tracks, across the street from the depot.

At first, we don't know what is going on as the front of the first loaded coal train to arrive train moves back and forth, but soon we correlate this with the words coming over the scanner, and determine that a helper set is being cut-in, about two-thirds of the way back in the train. We will see and hear this being repeated, several times a day, during our three-day stay here.

Thursday, July 6th, 1995

Glenwood Springs is at the same altitude as the cities along the Front Range, east of the Rockies. That is, by the time the train gets here it is effectively back down to the normal level of the underlying land, rather than up in the mountains. The mountains themselves, however, are still all around. There are three valleys at Glenwood Springs—the Colorado River east and west, and the Roaring Fork to the southeast. This morning, we leave Glenwood Springs by driving up the Roaring Fork valley towards Aspen.

I have in mind to drop by the Maroon Bells before proceeding over the mountains to Leadville, but road signs before we get to the turnoff make it clear that only vehicles with prepaid camping reservations may drive up that road, all other people having to take shuttle buses from Aspen. In Aspen, there’s nowhere to park the car, even if we wanted to take the time to use an hourly shuttle bus for this side trip. So, we continue over the high mountains to the Arkansas River valley. This mountain pass is very twisty, has no guardrails, still has ice in early July, and in general is not a good place for vehicles larger than standard size cars. (We crossed over here once before, on our honeymoon in 1969, at a time were evening twilight made driving a much more interesting exercise than it should have been. That isn’t an issue today.)

This mountain range has a large number of 14,000+ foot high peaks, and is well known for that fact. The pass itself is around 11,000 feet. In contrast to the Roaring Fork valley, the Arkansas River is at an altitude above 9,000 feet along here. Our purpose in coming over here is to ride the Leadville, Colorado and Southern tourist railroad. We find the station, buy our tickets for an excursion and hour or so later, then find a place to eat lunch.

Leadville, Colorado and Southern Route Description

The Leadville, Colorado and Southern runs along the only piece of the onetime Denver, South Park, and Pacific narrow gauge line still in existence (with track in place). Standard-gauged by the successor Colorado & Southern, this track was operated until very recently as an isolated part of the Burlington Northern, running between the Rio Grande (now SP) at Malta and the Molybdenum mine and refining facilities at Climax. Now, it has a steam locomotive and a number of wooden cars, both enclosed passenger cars and open gondolas with added seats. The route curves along the hillside from the center of Leadville to within sight of the Molybdenum mine, through wonderful mountain scenery. On the train, a woman from Pennsylvania notices the T-shirt I’m wearing (one of the ones we had bought during the convention), and asks about it. When we explain, she seems surprised that any such activities took place within her home state.

Following the train ride, we drive north along the road in the valley that follows the line on the hillside until we reach Interstate 70, then west through Vail and Glenwood Canyon back to our hotel. Somewhere between Vail and Dotsero, we manage to get some photos of a train that has come over Tennessee Pass. Back in Glenwood Springs, we have dinner at an Italian restaurant and watch the railroad activity outside our window again, until bedtime.

Friday, July 7th, 1995

All of the coal trains (eastbound loaded), ore trains (westbound loaded) and automobile carrier trains that pass through Glenwood Springs, along with some of the general merchandise trains, take the Tennessee Pass route to and from Pueblo and the east. Only one merchandise train each way, along with Amtrak trains 5 and 6, takes the Dotsero cutoff the way SP is operating through this area at present. Tennessee Pass provides the highest mainline summit in North America, and has a very extensive grade on the west (or north) side of the pass, with an altitude change of more than 6000 feet between Glenwood Springs and the summit (5000 feet from Minturn, where the last set of helpers is added). We will spend today driving across the pass, observing as many trains and interesting railroad operations spots as possible.

We drive east through Glenwood Canyon, noting along the way the places at which it would be possible to photograph trains. At the east end of the canyon, we get off the Interstate to drive along the two-lane highway that parallels the track into Minturn, passing the Eagle Gypsum facilities along the way. At Minturn, the operations and helper terminal for Tennessee Pass, we spend some time observing the yard and the helpers before heading up the pass itself. Not far out of Minturn, the highway diverges from the rail line, and climbs way up on the hillside, passing through old mining towns along the way. (The mines themselves are down by the railroad tracks, accessed by precarious cableways that traverse the hillside.) Above the town of Red Lodge, another location for mineworkers homes, the road crosses on a spectacular arch bridge, while the railroad continues to run alongside the Eagle River, far below. The road and rails do not come back together until we reach Pando, an area with large alpine meadows, where there was once a mountain-warfare training center during WWII. We stop and look at the memorials in this area, but have yet to see a train since leaving Minturn.

We continue up the pass, with the railroad visible up on the hillside to the right. As the road approaches the summit, it crosses the track, which almost immediately disappears into the tunnel at the railroad summit. On the other side of the summit, the road is now about 100 feet above the tracks (both in the vicinity of 11,000 feet above sea level), which have split into the summit sidings immediately to the east (south) of the tunnel. Here, eastbound trains remove at least one set of helpers, which will no longer be needed to help with climbing. Some trains retain a set of helpers to help with dynamic braking down the first part of the relatively gentle eastbound downgrade. Fewer westbound trains need helpers for climbing, but more westbound trains need dynamic braking help on the descent.

As it happens, there is an eastbound train at the summit, removing a helper set, when we arrive. There is a dirt road leading down to the sidings, so we drive down there to observe and photograph this interesting procedure. After the eastbound train departs, and the helpers have returned westbound through the tunnel, we also head on eastbound. Almost, immediately, we encounter a westbound train of coal cars, so we stop and photograph this train on its last few hundred yards to the summit. It’s not possible for either of us to tell whether this train is empty, or carrying iron ore pellets (which would not show above the tops of the hopper cars). We then continue on down the east slope to the highway junction just north of Leadville, without encountering any more trains. On the down-slope, the line veers way to the west, across the marshy meadows comprising the headwaters of the Arkansas River, but never actually goes out of sight of the road.

At the road junctions is a fast food restaurant, where we eat lunch. After lunch, we head back up the pass, still having seen no more trains. Halfway down the west slope, we catch sight of the westbound train we had photographed earlier, still descending the grade, but too far away from us for photographs. We continue on to Minturn, where we observe the south (east) end of the yard, at a place where there is a little park along the Eagle River. There is an eastbound train stopped here, servicing the head-end locomotives and adding helpers further back in the train. When these procedures are complete, the train still doesn’t leave, and it soon becomes clear that it is waiting for the westbound coal cars.

Soon, these appear, and we photograph the meet and the departure of the eastbound coal train. We then take another look at the other end of Minturn yard, where we see the westbound train change crews but not otherwise linger. Proceeding west, we set up at the same road crossing as the previous day, and get another set of photographs of that same train, this time from its other side. We then head back to the hotel in Glenwood Springs, passing the train as it traverses Glenwood Canyon, and are able to photograph the process of removing helpers from this train, in the center of Glenwood Springs.

This night, we eat at the hotel, then pack for the trip home, and are soon in bed.

Saturday, July 8th, 1995

This is departure day, but the train isn’t until mid-afternoon. We rise, pack, have breakfast, load the bags into the car, and check out of the hotel. We acquire some take-out coffee and inspect a number of the places we have been taking note of during the previous couple of days, that we can stop and watch trains off Interstate 70, in Glenwood Canyon. We find a number of such places, and photograph a number of freight trains, including a unit grain train heading west that we will see again before the day ends. When it’s time for a late lunch, we go to a Mexican restaurant at the west end of Glenwood Springs, then step to refuel the car. During this stop, we encounter the rental agent, and tell her we’ll be at the station in just a few minutes to turn the car in to her. We then drive back to the station, check our bags to Los Angeles, return the car to the agent, wait for the train to arrive, board it and settle into our room as the train departs Glenwood Springs. This train is headed directly and solely for Los Angeles, as a Desert Wind, with no cars on today’s train going to Oakland.

F40                  242
F40                  251

Train 35, 7-8-1995



Glenwood Springs



Grand Junction












Salt Lake City






Las Vegas









San Bernardino






Los Angeles



In prior years, the train would have been split here into sections for Oakland, via Reno and Donner Pass, and Los Angeles via Las Vegas. This train is not splitting, but manages to consume the same amount of time in Salt Lake City as if it had!

Sunday, July 9th, 1995

Desert Wind Route Description

I awake in the lower reaches of Meadow Valley Wash, and we’re up and eating breakfast by Las Vegas. Our train arrives in Los Angeles mid afternoon. We claim our checked bags, and ride the Metropolitan Shuttle home, arriving in plenty of time for a trip to the grocery store before dinner at home.