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Edition #252  August 15, 2015

The Graduation Present

Photographer: Rich Jahn


                                                                                   Photo by  Rich Jahn


The Graduation Present

Four interesting years at college were coming to an end in May 1974. Not only did this include schooling and preparation for a new career, but also the many new friends and relationships. One non-personal relationship was the Penn Central Railroad and its former PRR mainline. The school – Juniata College was located in Huntingdon, Pa. about 30 miles east of Altoona, Pa... The former PRR Middle Division mainline was a five block walk from campus and the numerous trains were a frequent distraction for a young railfan away from home.

In an age before scanners and other modern electronic devices, not to mention limited funds I would walk the five blocks to the tracks on a nice day and pick one of a couple convenient sitting locations and just wait to see what would come along. After four years of observing the trains through town certain patterns were well known:

          - Although Penn Central had a diverse roster anything other than an ex PRR or PC purchased EMD was considered unusual

          - Almost everything would be black – the only foreign power was either SP or Cotton Belt and was very rare.

          - GE’s or Alco’s leading trains were a rare treat

          - EMD cab units in the form of E units were seen daily on Mail train #9 but any other cab units on freights were very unusual sights

Thus any spent trackside was graded by how many of these unusual sightings could be recorded. Being of limited funds and film, the majority of the ordinary trains with EMD’s were not photographed.

By late May 1974 senior year classes were done and there were a couple free days until graduation. One of these days promised to be sunny and a nice late spring day – a perfect day to go trackside with my girlfriend and see some final PC trains in Huntingdon. Westbounds had a gentle but continuous uphill grade thru town and the Juniata River valley could echo sounds for quite a distance depending on weather conditions. It was mid – afternoon when the sound of non turbo’d EMD’s was heard coming up the valley. This would usually mean GP38’s but not this day - when a cab unit came around the corner leading to the long straight by the fiberglass plant. Powering this freight was a pair of ex-PRR FP7’s and a GP40. What a graduation present from the PC – I hadn’t seen an FP7 leading a freight in more than a year. The train seemed underpowered as it was not making track speed so we got in the car in hopes of seeing it again further west. West of Huntingdon the railroad goes its own way thru Warrior Ridge and generally enters a narrower part of the river valley, the grade stiffens and there are more curves. The highway takes a shorter route over the ridge which I figured would be to my advantage. The railroad and highway come back near each other at a town called Union Furnace which also had a nice overhead view of one of the typical PRR stone arch bridges – this was the expected rendezvous location with the FP7’s. As luck would have it the photo at this location was spoiled by another freight on the middle track obstructing the FP7’s which were moving even slower and on the far track. A quick regroup up the valley landed us in the little village of Birmingham trying to find and open location. Eventually the train came around the curve very slowly and came to a stop right at our location. Turns out the train had been having engine trouble but not with the aging FP7’s, it was the third unit the GP40 that had died. After a period of time two SD45’s and an SD40 off an eastbound freight were “borrowed” to push the FP7 powered freight west of Tyrone where the grade eased off. The entire afternoon had been a great time with old F units in mainline service and a memorable “graduation present” from the railroad. Thanks Penn Central.

Rich Jahn

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