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Edition #2, March 15, 2005

Monessen Sunrise

Photographer:  Gene P. Schaeffer

                                                                                                             Photo © 2002 by Gene P. Schaeffer

Monessen Sunrise

The alarm clock woke me two hours earlier than usual on this Wednesday October 23, 2002. Usually each morning I crawl out of bed around 7 AM and take my faithful companion Shelby out for her morning walk. Today’s 5:00 A.M. wake up was prompted by the presence of a very unusual visitor to the Pittsburgh & West Virginia Railway.

The American Association of Private Railroad Car Owners was holding their Annual Convention in Baltimore, Maryland, and private cars from all over the country were making the trek to this eastern city for these festivities. One day earlier, 17 pristine private cars had departed Chicago for Baltimore with a very unusual routing. These 17 private cars were one of two sections heading for Baltimore, and were routed from Creston, Ohio to Connellsville, Pennsylvania over the Wheeling & Lake Erie.

As railroad historians know, 111 miles of the Wheeling's "east end" is actually Pittsburgh & West Virginia trackage. The Pittsburgh & West Virginia is a unique property. Tunnels, bridges, tangents, curves, hills, single track, jointed rail all go together to make one sensational piece of property to photograph. Today’s events add one more ingredient to an on-going personal documentation of the one-time title-holder, the "Middle Man of the Alphabet Route".

That Alphabet Route distinction meant high-speed freight service from the Midwest to the east coast. It meant run-through locomotives and cabooses. It meant 6 symbol freight trains operating on a time-sensitive schedule every 24 hours. During the last 20+ years, the Alphabet Route distinction has silently faded to memories shared by a few.  I am lucky I have experienced the final years of a unique operation in my early years of railroading.

During the course of these years, locomotives representing many companies from all over the United States and Canada have at one time or another ran over P&WV rails. Locomotives from the Western Maryland, N&W, P&LE, Conrail, Union Pacific, Southern Pacific, Rio Grande, Burlington Northern, Burlington Northern-Santa Fe, SOO, Guilford, Canadian Pacific, Union, Montour, Chessie, B&O, C&O, CSX, General Motors, Monessen-Southwestern, Southern, Illinois Terminal, Reading, Leigh Valley, Nickel Plate, Wabash and Santa Fe and no doubt many others. If you look into the heritage of some locomotives that have passed this way, you will find locomotives representing the Pennsylvania, Monongahela, Milwaukee, Erie Lackawanna and others. But up until this October 23, 2002, one representative of a distinct railroad operation has escaped its time on P&WV rails. This well known operation is AMTRAK!

For many years, I have prayed for a moment in time when passage of Amtrak locomotives would occur. During the past few years, with so much focus on the W&LE selling its Rook Yard and Greentree Tunnel, I often wondered if this event would ever happen. Then, during late summer, word out of Brewster, Ohio indicated Amtrak power was in order for the AAPRCO special operating over the P&WV. Word further indicated Genesis locomotives would power the Special! As much as I would have loved to see those splendid PRR E units that were called for use on the "other" section climb Longview hill or sail across Mingo Creek Bridge, E units have been on the P&WV, albeit not in PRR pinstripes, but nonetheless 4 of those magnificent machines ran the entire 111 miles of P&WV trackage several years back, although dead in tow, coming onto the property at Connellsville then being forwarded westward to Rook and finally their destination at Brewster.

Through a close friend in Brewster, I was kept abreast of the schedule well in advance of its arrival. As the first leg of the AAPRCO journey over Wheeling rails approached, operation of this special indicated arrival at Pittsburgh Junction would be sometime around 5:30 P.M. at the earliest...Any delay prior to that would set that arrival time back well into the evening darkness.

Although I wanted to take that day off from work, experience told me to not to. Operation over CSX and the W&LE will no doubt be off-schedule and darkness will fall on Pittsburgh Junction well in advance of its arrival. My prediction was correct. CSX stumbled in handing off the special to the W&LE at Creston by 30 minutes. Arrival at Pittsburgh Junction was somewhere close to 6:00 P.M. I was told. Although it was not completely dark at Pittsburgh Junction, my decision was good. Somewhere around 7:30 P.M. Tuesday evening, I made an inquisitive telephone call to another friend at Rook. I was shocked in learning another change had been made to the schedule of the AAPRCO Special out of Rook in the morning. The 6:45 A.M. departure has been pushed up to 5:30 A.M. This train had to be in Connellsville by 9:00 A.M.

Calculations were made.  I was almost sick that the movement of this special east of Rook would be made also in darkness. I had arranged to have this day off so I could enjoy myself. But now the best-laid plans weren't going to be in this photographer’s best interest. As if on cue, radio conversations on my home scanner at 5:15 A.M. indicated the Special was preparing to depart Rook. With any luck, as the special neared Connellsville, there might be enough light to squeeze off a few shots... Shelby and I pulled out of the driveway around 5:45 A.M. and pulled into the parking lot at the east end of Castle Shannon at 6:00 A.M. Five minutes later the scanner was alive with radio chatter as the special was radioing for more "paperwork". (I was also informed, W&LE VP of Operations had issued a notice to anyone associated with this movement, all operational conversations will be made using cell phones when possible, so as to secure its movement after the nations railroads were recently advised about  terrorists possibly targeting railroads...after the 9/11 attacks). This added piece of information just added more salt to the wound. I had requested from an on board crew member of the special to call out its engine number and train symbol at certain locations so as to add a bit a history to this unusual movement. I was a bit surprised of the radio communication at this point, but nonetheless, I had my tape recorder set up at home, which would record radio conversations involving the Rook and Maple radio bases and operation of this AAPRCO Special for historic purposes. The time was now 6:08 A.M., the sound of two General Electric locomotives working hard was echoing up the Route 88 valley in Castle Shannon. Suddenly, red flashing lights and a ringing warning bell indicated the special was on the crossing circuit at the east end of Castle Shannon. Seconds later, Amtrak 25 slammed through Castle Shannon with 17 pristine Private Coaches in tow. I was distraught. Amtrak engines 25 & 137 looked and sounded impressive hauling those 17 pristine private cars east making its way through Castle Shannon. I'd guess this special was moving at track speed, which is 25 MPH.

Seeing this special roll through Castle Shannon reminded me of the no-nonsense operation that I witnessed during the N&W era on this P&WV. Barely 35 minutes out of Rook, this AAPRCO had negotiated Greentree Tunnel and was climbing the hill to Longview...at speed, just as the N&W did 20 years ago... which was nothing short of impressive. At this rate I thought this special would be east of Monessen about sunrise.

I was worried. Amtrak locomotives finally on the P&WV and I'm not going to get any photographs. Well, luck finally started to work for the photographer. The hi-railer that left Rook one hour earlier of the special, was somewhere down in the hollows of Jacobs Creek and the Wheeling Train Dispatcher couldn't get him on the radio. Amtrak 25 east was nearing Mile Post 25 and was out of paperwork. A small, but needed delay finally arrived. As the Wheeling Train Dispatcher made repeated calls to the hi-railer, I was about to turn off Route 51 and head down into Smithton for a possible shot at Banning.

For some strange reason, at about 7:00A.M., I turned back around and headed back for Monessen to await the passage of Amtrak 25. At about 7: 20 A.M. with new paperwork, Amtrak 25 was now on the tangent at Monessen. Another friend who owns the small business near the overpass at Monessen had just walked down the driveway with his video camera thinking he was too early for the passage of Amtrak 25. Quickly he followed me back up to trackside where we waited maybe 5 minutes for the special. Slowly, sunrise was happening in the east. Exposure readings were being taken from a number of locations as Amtrak 25 approached. At 60th of a second at wide open, Amtrak 25 east was photographed during the Monessen Sunrise. The results of that morning shot at Monessen were perfect. Not too light, not to dark. Looking at the slide in the projector, a slight reddish/orangish tint reflecting off that slant nose of Amtrak 25 from the early sunrise further highlight Amtrak 25's appearance. After two more encounters on the P&WV, arrival at Connellsville had determined Amtrak P030, the Capitol Limited would run ahead of the AAPRCO up Sand Patch Mountain.

With the W&LE crew relieved by a Amtrak crew who was already aboard the special and ready to depart Connellsville, Amtrak PO30 was 10 minutes out of Connellsville according to the CSX operator at VI… Again I was in shock. Amtrak Engines 25 & 137 were now stopped on the Wheeling connection with 17 privates coaches and Amtrak P030 was 10 minutes away. I could not believe this, but seconds later, the eastbound signal at Sodum went to approach for #2 main, then clear. A once in a lifetime photograph at Connellsville was about to occur, as Amtrak P030 would pass the Amtrak AAPRCO special that was in the clear on the Wheeling connection. Radio communication between the two "Amtraks" ensued. One of the comments from the AAPRCO Amtrak crew to Amtrak P030 was watch for a group of picture takers down at Sodum...and there is a guy down here with a big white dog... Then, with a small group of camera toting fans in observance, that once in a lifetime photographic opportunity occurred as two eastbound Amtraks were side by side for just a second at Connellsville...

Gene P. Schaeffer

February 2005

 

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