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Edition #181  September 1, 2012

Full Circle

Photographer: E.Clark

                                                                      Photo by E.Clark

Full Circle

Back in the 70s as a young railfan we had a couple of regular hang outs. One being the bigger Pit Yard in Hamilton, the other being Woods Yard near the junior high school. Woods Yard was at the northern end of the Belt line that served Champion Paper and a couple other customers. My father knew where we were spending our time and eventually told us he knew one of the crew on the Belt job. And we eventually figured out who to look for and they grew accustomed to us being around.

One day after stopping in the small gray Armco building where the crew assembled, we were given the okay to ride along as they switched the paper mill. We were told we could wait for them on the engine. I remember it as a battered Royal Blue 9500 series NW2. Pretty much standard for what they were using at the time, though later it varied between GP7s and 9s, 30s and 40s. It'd seen better days.

Something that stuck that day was how rough the track felt, particularly up on the hill where the pulp was unloaded. The engineer told us it was excess spilled on the track and was pretty typical. At times I wondered if we had derailed.

We rode along with them a few other times over the years before moving on to other area yards and other crews. Jump forward to 2007, I'd been employed as an engineer in a plant in Cincinnati for 7 years. I saw an ad for an opening at a job closer to home and decided to give it a shot. I got the job and was again riding the rough track I'd ridden on so many years ago. And, since 2009, doing it in a battered NW2.

But nothing lasts forever. In late 2011 we were informed that the mill, which had been in business since 1893, would be closing and service stopped. The job that had been worked by hundreds if not thousands of crews was ending and we'd be the last. Starting with the C.H.& D. to the B&O, then briefly CSX, service was sold to the Great Miami in 1988. Great Miami went to U.S. Rail in 2005. I signed on 2 years later. Along with my boss, pictured here, we stuck it out through good times and bad. The brick along the walls of part of the mill is dotted with dates and initials of some of the crews going back to the early 1920s. Admittedly, mine is now among them.

November 1898's first crew consisted of Billy Smith-conductor, Peter Brannon-engineer, C.W. (Dutch) Herman-fireman, and James (Dido) Smith-helper. February 28, 2012's last crew out consisted of E. Clark-engineer and J.L. Hubbard-conductor. It was an interesting ride. A job like no other and for me it had come full circle.


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