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Edition #4, April 15, 2005

You Have To Be There

Photographer: Keith Clouse

                                                                                     Photo © by Keith Clouse

You Have To Be There

On January 13, 1975, the city of Pittsburgh was basking in the afterglow of the Steelers’ victory in Super Bowl IX. My employer decreed that the entire company would be allowed to leave work at noon to attend the celebration parade though downtown that day. Along with several of my coworkers, I decided to go home rather than stand around in 20-degree temps for a look at the conquering heroes riding by in convertibles.

I drove home on Route 28, along the Allegheny River watching the PC (PRR) tracks for any trains. As I sat at the red light near the 31st Street Bridge, a westbound freight rolled onto the B&O’s Allegheny River Bridge. A blue B&O F7 was in the lead, the sun was out—not a cloud in the sky—and I had my camera in the car. All the elements for a train chase were in place.

The train was the Empire State Special (ESS), B&O’s Cumberland MD to Buffalo NY maid-of-all-work freight. During the mid ‘70s, when the B&O was running out the last miles on their F unit fleet, we saw a lot of F7s on the old B&O mainline, the Pittsburgh and Western. I had a location in mind for a photo farther up the line; there would be plenty of time to get a coffee and set up for my shot. My favorite spot was a nameless curve on the P&W where the railroad crossed over Pine Creek on a double track plate girder bridge. The low angle of the sun at this time of year would provide my favorite form of lighting, the locomotives would be back-lit.

I reached my location; it was getting colder. I sat in my car at trackside sipping coffee, listening to the radio. The announcers were describing the festivities at the Steelers victory parade. I could hear the crowd cheering in the background as each player was announced and passed by. One of the announcers kept repeating, “You have to be here to appreciate this.”

I heard the low chant of F units in the distance and turned off the radio. I always liked the sound of covered wagons.  Something about the car body design made them sound different from the Geeps. The curve masked some of the sound, but it still reverberated off the walls of the narrow valley. This section of the P&W is a series of tight curves with a steadily ascending 1½ -2% grade for west bounds. Pulling a heavy train of finished steel products, the F-units were running flat out by this time. The air pulsated when the wagons thundered around the curve into view, sunlight flashing off their flanks. I took my photo, almost a reflex.  The drumming of the F-units was now overwhelming. As the lead unit passed, I received two blasts from the air horn and a wave from the fireman. The fading sound of hard-working power broke the spell as the ESS worked upgrade toward Wildwood.

I followed the ESS for a few more miles, traveling with the window down to soak in the sound of the F units. The sun was down; deep shadows made further photography difficult at best. I left the ESS at Bakerstown and headed home; glad I was there to appreciate this, the passing of the covered wagons.

Keith Clouse

January, 2005


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