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Edition #22, January 15, 2006

World of Three Suns

Photographer: Rob Richardson

                                                                           Photo © 2005 by Rob Richardson

World of Three Suns

Bedford, Ohio, Thursday, December 13th, 2001.

A wet day, with temperatures in the 40s, but the rain had stopped. I took my son William to his Boy Scout meeting. I had an hour until I had to pick him up again, so I headed to Glendale Rd., my usual train watching spot, milepost 110 on the NS Cleveland Line. I arrived in time for a westbound train.  As I turned to watch it pass I saw the headlight and ditch lights of an approaching eastbound. As the westbound rolled on I realized that I could still see the lights of the eastbound. Itís not an NS train, itís a Wheeling!

Two railroads run through Bedford. The Norfolk Southern Railroadís busy two-track Cleveland Line makes Bedford a good town for train watching, but itís the other line that has my heart. The Wheeling & Lake Erieís Cleveland Subdivision is a run-down single-track line with mud between the ties, jointed rail wearing out at the joints, and a 12-mph speed. It sees four trains per day, with scrap metal making the bulk of the traffic, but just about anything else is possible. This little line seems to me to show the soul of railroading much more clearly than the big, busy NS line next to it.

Glendale is the best place to watch NS traffic in Bedford, but there are plenty of better spots to watch Wheeling trains, and the trains run slowly enough that if you see one, you can get ahead of it to wherever you want. One of my favorites is the Richmond Rd. crossing. The Wheeling line crosses Richmond Rd. near Tinkerís Creek in Solon. On its way to the Cuyahoga River, the creek runs under Richmond Rd. and turns right. Right away it meets the bank on which the track was built. It loops back and returns to its original course west to meet the Cuyahoga. Coming toward Richmond from the west the Wheeling track skirts the edge of Bedford Reservation, running through woods until a shallow left turn brings it alongside the creek and up to Richmond Rd.

That night I thought Iíd like to see the train and the creek up at Richmond. I hopped in the car and drove up Solon Rd. I know the train is limited to only 12 mph through Bedford and probably 25 mph once the track straightens out again, but I still touched 45 mph when I wasnít paying close enough attention. I turned right onto Richmond, crossed the tracks and the creek, turned onto the parkway and parked in a little lot thatís right there. I grabbed my scanner (for no particular reason, since Wheeling crews donít use the radio once the train is moving) and hurried back along the road to the tracks, afraid that the train would arrive before I could find the best place to watch it from.

I neednít have worried. There was no sign of the train when I arrived at the tracks. I walked a short way in between the tracks and the creek. The bank was wide enough that I could stay a safe distance back from the tracks, and it was good spot for seeing a little bit around the bend. The tracks were on my right, and the creek was below the bank on my left. Behind me were the lights of the Richmond Rd. crossing, and a few more lights marking the entrance to a landfill.

I stood drinking in the night, the cold breeze through the bare trees, the quiet rush of the creek falling over a tiny waterfall, the purr of cars on the road behind me, the tracks fading into darkness as they curve away to the right into the woods. But a little paranoia sets in: was that really a Wheeling train? Did it somehow get ahead of me? Why isnít it here yet? A distant whistle reassures me, and I return to my surroundings. The cycle repeats: calm enjoyment of my surroundings, nervousness, a whistle, a little closer this time.

After a while I noticed that the trees on the other side of the bend were just a bit brighter than the ones across the creek. Is it just wishful thinking, or is the train finally getting close? I stared hard at the glowing trees wondering if I was really seeing the trainís light on them and at the same time knowing that the act of wondering itself made the illusion more probable. But finally there was no doubt: the trainís headlights were shining on the trees. I could hear the locomotives around the bend. As the train entered the bend the lights started reflecting off the tracks, two silver streaks running away from me into the glowing trees ahead, with the dark creek on my left and the dark trees running up the bank across the tracks to my right.

The trainís lights emerged from around the bend. The locomotives were loud; it must be a long train tonight. I stand staring as the train comes closer. The lights spear me. I canít move, and I donít want to. Iím staring unblinking into over half a million candlepower of headlights and ditchlights. The world disappears. All thatís left is three suns, with millions of rays of light of every color radiating out from them; the roar of locomotives straining to keep the train moving; and two silver curves shining toward me and curving past to my right.

But the lights didnít care about me. They followed the silver curves past me, leaving me behind and bereft. The dazzle faded, the roar softened, and the world returned. The train became just a train again, like hundreds of others Iíve seen. It whistled for the crossing. I noticed what the locomotives were: an SD40 leased from EMD, and a GP35. I counted the cars: twenty, including a couple of UPFE boxcars, some covered coil cars, a few covered hoppers, and a string of scrap gondolas. Twenty cars is a lot for this train. They rumbled and rattled past me. I turned and watched the last gondola cross Richmond and roll away past the landfill, its end-of-train marker flashing into the night.

 

Rob Richardson

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