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Edition #99, April 1, 2009

A Near Miss On a Quest For Gold

Photographer: Kevin Scanlon

                                                                                   Photo by Kevin Scanlon

A Near Miss On a Quest For Gold

I was getting ready to head off to school when the phone rang.

“GM50 is on the Glenwood Helper! I just passed it on my way to work pushing a train up to Bakerstown.”

Keith was nearly breathless. He had just gotten into his office and knew I’d be gone soon. Decision time. I looked outside; blue sky with some thin clouds. Screw it. I grabbed the camera bag and jumped into my 1968 white VW Beetle with the hand painted red Santa Fe Warbonnet nose. I went to school every day but I’d only seen GM50 one other time and I blew that shot. Priorities.

As I approached Millvale where the B&O’s Pittsburgh & Western Sub crosses over the Penn Central Conemaugh Division I could see a headlight in the distance. It was the helper set returning. Where’s a good place to shoot? That golden nose would look great poking out of Schenley Tunnel in Panther Hollow. I spun around, drove the back streets up over Polish Hill to avoid the morning rush traffic and flew down Craig Street in Oakland driving as only a seventeen year-old can.

The light at North Craig and Fifth Ave. was turning yellow as I approached so I stomped down on the Bug’s gas pedal. It sputtered and took off. As I took the turn I spotted something in the corner of my vision and heard a THUMP. In the rearview mirror was a guy in a suit, mouth wide open and a hail of papers falling around him. I pulled to the curb and trotted back.

“Are you OK mister?” He had been crossing at the intersection as I went through. My front fender had knocked the briefcase out of his hand but I hadn’t touched him. All of his papers, his lunch and some clothing were strewn everywhere. And he was ANGRY. His face was beet red and the veins in his forehead were like cables.

“You almost hit me you asshole!”

I went to help him pick up his stuff when the guy reared back and took a swing at me. I avoided the fist but felt the breeze. It was then I realized that the man looked very familiar. Someone grabbed my arm and pulled me back, a Carnegie Mellon student. “You better get out of here kid, you almost killed Mister Rogers!”

Good advice. I was frazzled but my teenage reasoning led me away from the scene and back to my original pursuit, GM50. The helpers were through the tunnel by then so I checked the next spot, GN Tower at Laughlin Junction. There it was, finally. The engines had pulled through the junction and backed onto the double track lead to the B&O Grant Street passenger station. They had cleared for an eastbound to come down off the P&W as well as an RDC commuter train headed into Pittsburgh from McKeesport.

It was the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen, the GP40-2 shining in golden splendor next to the tower. In the background was the Jones & Laughlin Steel’s Eliza Furnace with five blast furnaces towering above the locomotives. I had been taught to kneel down to eliminate distracting elements from sticking out above the locomotives while taking roster photographs, but on this day I decided to include the furnaces. It seemed right. I cranked off a bunch of extras, traders, and I’m not sure why since I didn’t trade slides. But it also seemed right.

My friends Dave and Gene had often rode along with this helper crew. They said the crew was friendly and didn’t mind having a couple young railfans along. While I took my photos the engineer came out to the front walkway. I gathered the courage to approach and ask him if he’d mind if I took a look inside GM50 and see the rumored gold-plated throttle handle. Maybe he'd even invite me along for the next shove. As I took the last photo he bent down and picked up something. I started to walk toward the engine just as he wound up and threw a chunk of ballast at me. “Get the fuck out of here, kid. You’re trespassing!”

So much for friendly B&O crews. I made an about-face and headed back for the Bug. Only then did I notice it, wedged up underneath the right front turn signal housing was the torn sleeve of a bright red sweater.

Kevin Scanlon

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