Twenty-Two Hundred Miles
  and Counting

Part Two
Union Switch & Signal searchlights are mounted on the Santa Fe era cantilever at Verona, Illinois.

Early on a cold February morning in 2016, I left Topeka, Kansas for Prairie Village; a suburb of Kansas City. I was picking up my Mom and brother to continue my effort to photograph as many of the “old signals” as could be found. On most Class 1 railroads in the country, PTC is quickly taking over and I made it a priority to head east and document a few of the remaining color position lights, cantilever searchlights, and tri-lights before they were gone forever. This would be a continuation of the trip I took in August to photograph the last semaphores in New Mexico, and, as with that trip, the evidence that the end is near for the “old signals” was a constant on most of the journey.

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Twenty-Two Hundred Miles
 and Counting

Part One
The namesake mound for the town of Wagon Mound, New Mexico. sits just south of the semaphores on the BNSF’s Raton Subdivision

In 2008, Congress passed legislation requiring Class 1 railroads to implement Positive Train Control (PTC) by December 31, 2015.  This was the nail in the coffin for the remaining “classic signals” left in the United States—the signals we grew up with. Semaphores, tri-lights, color position lights, and searchlights; all were slated to come down, replaced with the new “Darth Vader” signals that many despise. This new legislation’s deadline was extended, giving time to capture the last gasp of the “old signals” that are falling by the day on railroads all over the country.

Like many, I nearly waited too long to capture these unique structures before they were gone, so it was time to get moving. Last July it became apparent that if I was to see and capture any of these signals I would need to act quickly. A decision was made that, along with my dad, I would take off on a four day adventure through the Southwest to capture the last semaphores in mainline service in the United States. Little did I know, there were other gems to be found along the way. Read more

Robot Railfans

Canadian National 8894 passing hotbox detector outside Winnipeg

Railfans have been around for a long time—perhaps as long as there have been trains. Even before early railfan photographers like Lucius Beebe and Charles Clegg, no doubt there were people who observed train movements and took notes.

Today’s railfans are generally a sophisticated lot, tapping online forums and Facebook groups, listening to radio scanners and watching rail cams, exchanging emails and text messages and tracking every “special” locomotive and railcar.

However, they have nothing on the robot railfans, employed by the railways to keep a close eye on their trains. These tireless observers watch the trains, day and night, through sunshine and sleet, looking for trouble and reporting on it. With far fewer people trackside these days to give visual inspections, these devices are the last line of defence against defects and derailments. Read more

Finding the Lost in Johnstown

Conemaugh & Black Lick yard Cambria City (Johnstown) on a bright fall morning with churches in the background.  – October 12, 2016

When you start out watching trains as a kid, most of what occupies your attention is the locomotive—big and noisy and powerful. After that, the rest is just legions of freight cars and (when I was young) a caboose bringing up the rear end. I’ll admit that I gave little thought as to what the trains hauled or where they were from or where they were headed—all I wanted to see were locomotives, especially those of the minority builders. Time and age changed that; I began to step back away from the tracks and look at all that was happening around the railroad. Read more

Interlocking Towers
 A Lost World

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Pennsylvania RR – Bowie Maryland – Photo by Ed Lenio

The interlocking tower, while not totally gone, has virtually vanished from the railroad scene. Whether it was a humble one story shanty or a magnificent two, three or more stories tall building, they once served a vital function. Some controlled where double track went to single; others controlled where two or more railroads crossed; others controlled a vast and complex passenger station “throat”.

Towers could be built to a particular railroad’s standard blueprint, but they all had their own personality. It was easy to recognize a certain railroad’s tower. Pennsy had it own look, as did the New York Central, Erie and the rest, but no hard and fast rules applied, even within the same railroad.

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Baltimore & Ohio – JD – Maryland – Photo by Gordon Bjoraker – May 1985
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New Haven RR – Greenwich, Connecticut – Photo by Tom Donahue – 1973
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Michigan Central (NYC) – BO – Kalamazoo, Michigan – Photo by Trey Kunz
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New York Central – Alexis – Toledo, Ohio – Photo by Dan Maners – Feb 1989
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Pennsylvania RR – Clagg, Kentucky – Photo by Dan Maners – March 1988

The inside of an interlocking was a fascinating and magical place.

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Baltimore & Ohio – NA – Baltimore, Maryland – photo by Bob Uhland

Watching the operator going about his duties was a sight to behold. There was always something going on; the constant chatter on the dispatchers line, the “ding” of the bell notifying that a train was “on the circuit “, or the operator transcribing a train order. The special smell of the grease used to lubricate the throw rods added to the ambiance.

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Erie RR – AC – Marion Ohio inside – Photo by Dan Maners – Oct. 2002
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Baltimore & Ohio – CX – Maryland – Photo by Bob Uhland – November 1984

With the advent of CTC, radios, and more recently computers, it is now possible to control hundreds of miles with only one dispatcher. Downsizing the physical plant and outright abandoning of portions of the railroad helped hasten their demise.

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Big Four (NYC) – Cobb – Coal Buff Indiana – Photo by Bob McCord – 1965
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Chesapeake & Ohio – Carleton, Michigan – Photo by Trey Kunz – 23 May 2001
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Chicago & Eastern Illinois RR – Haley – Terre Haute, Indiana –  Photo by Rich Hafer – September 1999

Dan ManersText Copyright 2016
Photographs Copyright 2016 by the photographer credited in the photo captions.
See more of Dan’s work at his website: North American Interlockings.