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SO Tower, Warm Summer Evening

Photographer: Kevin Scanlon

SO Tower, Warm Summer Evening

Itís hard for me to believe that itís been nearly 12 years ago.

I took a look back in an old notebook to see what I could remember about July 13, 1993.

It was hot. HOT. And humid, of course. I had been heading to the west slope of the Alleghenies a lot that year, working on a project to document the Conrail mainline between Altoona and Johnstown. In addition, I had been doing a lot of reading about the great Johnstown flood of 1889 and the Allegheny Portage Railroad that preceded the PRR over the Alleghenies.  

I started the morning at Gallitzin, PA on a small hill overlooking AR Tower. Although I had climbed up there to catch a shot of an eastbound cresting the hill past the tower, my reward was actually a wonderful patch of wild huckleberries. In about a half hour I had a hatful. Trains were running but the heat was brutal. By late afternoon I needed a break so I found a shady patch next to the Little Conemaugh River in Summerhill.

Downstream about 100 yards was a Conrail stone arch viaduct with sun on my side, so I thought Iíd wait around a little to see what showed up. The late day trailer fleet was running so in no time I caught about four trains. As it got later I decided to start heading west toward home. It was after 7:00 pm when I got to South Fork, PA to take a quick look around. The only thing moving was a whitetail deer crossing the tracks at the signal bridge just west of town. The straight stretch of track past SO Tower runs pretty much east-west and I noticed that the sun was setting behind the ridge just above the structure.

The scanner crackled, an eastbound TV train was at Mineral Point a couple of miles away. The bugs were singing in the humid air. I could smell the river just behind me. The air wasnít getting any cooler yet but it would as soon as that sun disappeared. I noticed the operator up in SO. He had his windows closed and the AC cranking. Traffic was starting to get lighter so he could sit back and look out the window. I lined up my camera lens with the shadow of a telephone pole to prevent flare. The TV stormed past the tower, heading for the Allegheny summit with great purpose.

Railroad jobs can be tough and unrewarding with the hours, the dirt, the stress, the fatigue, the strain on the family, the uncertainty. But for that tower operator at that moment on that day, it had to be the best job in the world. 

Kevin Scanlon

Lightsource/Photography by Kevin Scanlon

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