Built by the Pennsylvania Railroad in 1915, ALTO (JK) tower, in Altoona, Pennsylvania, remained in service for the next ninety-seven years, closing in 2012. Over that time it worked under the auspices of four different railroads, the Pennsylvania Railroad (PRR), Penn Central, Conrail and Norfolk Southern and each railroad, in turn, brought something new to the table. It is easy to think of railroad history over the last century to be one of subtraction; infrastructure being removed as a transportation monopoly yielded to competition from air travel and highways. However, for at least its ninety-seven years in service, ALTO’s story was one of adaptation to the ever changing times.
I am with two of my best friends. We are riding through central Pennsylvania after a successful visit to the Alco haven of Scranton. Following the Norfolk-Southern, ex Pennsy main is always interesting and by the time we reach Mt. Union we are in good shape for images of big black horses pulling freight.
The object here is to peek into a lost world, frozen since 1956, caused by the shutdown of the East Broad Top Railroad. Mt. Union was the site of the EBT’s major yard and was their interchange point with the Pennsylvania Railroad. Most of the yard, a few structures, plus a load of old narrow-gauge hopper cars still exist here. They are intact (mostly), but the ravages of all these years are slowly dissolving them. Read more
Most of us remember graduating from a Train Watcher to a Railroad Enthusiast. Much like graduating from one school grade to the next, making that transition took education and a drive to learn. Sometimes, locations served as “schools,” helping us move forward. Frequently, those schools were filled with teachers in the form of friends or family who had an interest in railroads. However, there are times when railroad employees step into that teaching role. Such was the case with my “graduation” from Train Watcher to Railroad Enthusiast.
. . . But catch them while you can
Call it the impact of the homogenization of American railroading, but it’s been easy to get a little jaded or even bored standing at trackside lately. Another set of all-black & white NS “Thoroughbreds” or armour-yellow Union Pacific locomotives rolling by with a roar and maybe a friendly whistle blast from the engineer.
That describes a day last summer, when yet another otherwise nondescript freight train rolled by me at one of my favorite Columbus, Ohio viewing spots. And then, amid a string of grain hoppers with reporting marks I didn’t recognize, bland paint and no other markings, one car stood out and left me picking my jaw off the ground. Read more
We stand on the shoulders of the great men and women who have gone before. Their legacy is a gift that lights our way forward.
The first in our Legacies series of videos features the work of William Henry Jackson who lived from 1843 to 1942 and was one of the first photographers to extensively record the early days of railroading. For a little more background information, see here.
If you haven’t visited our YouTube channel, check it out. We are just getting started but plan to have more video content in the coming months. If you enjoy seeing this type of work, let us know by subscribing to our channel.
Last summer, during our Colorado summer vacation, we made a stop in Manitou Springs to ride the Pikes Peak Cog Railroad. This is an amazing trip to the top of Pikes Peak, at an elevation of 14,110 ft.
Along the way, the train passes through four different terrains ranging from high plains to alpine tundra. The route is 8.9 miles long, with very steep grades, and takes a little over three hours to reach the top. In addition to the usual two rails, the cog railroad has a rack mounted in the center of the rails. The locomotives use a cog, or gear to power the train along the track. This allows the cog train to traverse grades far steeper than traditional railroads. Read more