Wednesday, May 31, 2023

Photos that Stir Memories

One of the fun things about viewing photos in an album is how they can trigger your memory.  Old prints in albums are always good for that, and so are images in a slideshow.  

Today, with digital photography being so common, it's even easier to see a group of photos from time past that take us for a moment to another place and time.  Especially with file sharing and 'the cloud' out there to store and backup files:  you can suddenly be submerged into a different mindset.

Here we have the daily southbound Bessemer & Lake Erie ore train enroute from Conneaut, OH to Pittsburgh where it will be unloaded at the massive J. Edgar Thompson works of US Steel.  This is spring of 2021, a few weeks before Easter and the mountains of western PA still look like winter.  CN by this date has absorbed not just B&LE but also Illinois Central, and some power desk manager decided to have a bunch of CN SD70's assigned to the former B&LE.  I miss the B&LE orange, but I have always enjoyed the look of the older EMD cab and nose design like we see here.  

This was a cold day, but one with little breeze so that the dark soil and roadbed warmed over the course of the day in the bright sun.  I love the old searchlights in this image, the train is imposing and in a hurry, and the big signal bridge and heavy roadbed belies the fact that this line sees just a few trains every 24 hours, almost entirely steel traffic.  The image is bright and dark, color yet black and white, new and old.  

This adventure was part of an 'Old Timers Weekend' trip to Cresson, PA, and it was cherished time with friends that I don't see often enough.  Life is full of opportunities and many conflict - there is rarely time to do everything we would like to do.  Balance is central in those situations, much like it is in the hobby.  

Balance - it determines how long we can stay centered.  

Tuesday, May 16, 2023

The Grab Shot

 Sometimes, there's just a shot that catches the eye, and it's one that can really draw a viewer in.  

One of the amazing strengths today of scenic materials and the availability of photo backdrops is the ability to create a scene that truly can 'take you there.'  Here we have a westbound manifest train climbing towards the summit of Clark Hill on the Onondaga Cutoff, in a scene about 12" deep.  

It's similar to thousands and thousands of railfan grab shots - shots of interesting cars or loads, one that the photographer didn't necessarily plan but are worthy in the photographer's collection for the content alone.  This car is indeed worthy of note for the cooperation involved in its creation ( ) and also as it was selected by Tony Koester for a recent 'Trains of Thought' column in Model Railroader magazine.

Each of those facts is itself a dream come true, and moments like these live on in memory.  The hobby these days is full of opportunity, perhaps more so than ever.  Just like a grab shot of a passing train, any moment can be worth remembering.

Sunday, April 30, 2023

Spring, and Action

 The month of April is always busy, and this year it has been that and more.  During April I have managed to visit and take photographs in 13 states on three separate trips.  Somehow since April 1 I have traveled from New Jersey and visited Pennsylvania, Maryland, West Virginia, Virginia, Tennessee, Kentucky, North Carolina, New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Kansas, and Missouri!  The New England states were pat of a trip including family to Massachusetts to visit a cousin and his family and watch my brother run the Boston Marathon.  It's been a month filled with wonder and with new experiences, as well as some grounding experiences with fear and with frustration - all in all, an intense and balanced experience.  

A trip with wonderful friend Jon Kayes to Kentucky, Tennessee and the Carolinas early in the month yielded some great photo opportunities.  One of them was the Canton, NC paper mill job on a picture-perfect morning.

The South is loaded with great railroad opportunities if you know where to look, and Jon does.  I am glad to travel and be part of the trip, and excited to be able to record images like this.   One of the really neat opportunities in the coal fields is that NS still uses cabooses in some operations, thanks to long shoving moves on many of the mine runs.  Here's one of the rebuilt NS cabooses with a heritage N&W decal at Frisco, VA.

At a glance both of these photos show that even in 2023 there is a lot of interesting railroading left out there - you just need to take the trip!

The month ended with lots of model railroad activity, where auxiliary light installations continued as well as operations on a variety of railroads.  Lighting installations are adding more than I expected to the atmosphere of the Onondaga Cutoff.

And thanks to good graces with my family I have also been able to attend a few operating sessions locally, including one at Tony Koester's home on his incredible Nickel Plate Road.  Jim Leighty offered to snap a photo, and got me and Tony together with Tom Schmieder and Ed Bush in the background.  Operating sessions are a time to come together and help make the owner's railroad come to life.

As time goes on, change rolls along, and it is important to document moments in photographs and in words to ensure the long journey of life is remembered and enjoyed.  We are fortunate to be able to live in a time when so much is possible.  As April comes to a close, I wish you health and the best fortunes for May and the warmer weather coming soon!

Saturday, April 29, 2023

An Opportunity to Improve

The model railroading hobby is full of twists and turns, and as the hobby improves so too do we have the opportunity to improve our modeling.  The recent push to get locomotives wired for auxiliary lighting allowed me time to consider a closer look at those that went out for upgrades, and I decided it was a good opportunity to improve the details where needed.  

A spotting feature of modern GE diesels is the handbrake chains, which are exposed and visible hanging from the frame down towards one of the trucks on the locomotive.  They are quite fragile in HO scale, and while nicely modeled by Atlas from the factory they are routinely broken - especially over decades of moves and operations.  I took the time as the paint cured on the step lights to reinstall the chains, thanks in part to chain from Tom Schmieder.  

Here's a pair of GE B40-8 locomotives that have operated for years (more than a decade!) on the Onondaga Cutoff.  Now they have proper lighting - and repaired details!

Now these locomotives will not only look sharper during the night with their step lights but also all the time, with the correct handbrake chains re-hung.  I used phosphor-brass wire eyelets to make hooks that will ensure this installation is more durable than the factory installation.  

Other details got a hard look, too, including the air horn o n C40-8W 6155.

The stock horns on these older Atlas models are sub-park, too small and poorly detailed.  Thankfully detail parts are available and Details West has a variety of cast-brass horns like this beautiful Leslie Inc. RS-3L - an exact scale replica of the horns favored by Conrail.  

Details matter in this hobby, and it's fun to have the ability to make improvements like this!

Thursday, April 27, 2023

Running with Teddy

 Teddy is beginning to stretch his legs with operating sessions!  In addition to running trains on the Onondaga Cutoff and also last year on Jerry Dziedzic's NYS&W, in early April we had an opportunity to run at Ted Pamprin's beautiful C&O Allegheny Division railroad in northern NJ.  Ted is always a gracious host and both Teddy and I appreciated the invitation to run trains together.

Teddy's first train on the C&O was appropriately train no. 1, running westbound across the railroad.  Teddy ran while I acted as a conductor, guiding him across the route.  He had a steady hand and a quick eye, learning the layout quickly.  We arrived at Hinton where the yard would add cars to our train, and since it's a division point we also got new orders and a new clearance card there.  

Teddy was all smiles, and eager to continue.  Rich Wisneski also helped Teddy as needed and at one point, their trains passed along the New River Gorge scene.

Sharing the hobby with Teddy, Pete and Susie is a pleasure.  Whether they enjoy trains or choose another hobby going forward, showing them that we can do these things in groups and at a high level I think will be a good memory for them - and maybe, just maybe, help bring the model railroading hobby a few new lifetime members!  

Friday, March 31, 2023

'Next Gen'

 In busy times, perspective is important.  It only takes a few seconds to step back, take a breath, and consider an idea that comes to mind.  

The Onondaga Cutoff is a dynamic and growing collection of people interested in the camaraderie of railroading, experienced by building and operating a scale model of how Conrail did things in 1994.  In that light, bringing new people in is a critical part of its long term mission, and young people add even more to the richness at hand.

From left to right, we have Pete, Christopher and Teddy, all of whom are regulars at our operations.  Each time they get better, and are more able to participate as a full member of the team.  It takes time to learn, but they're well on their way.  

The best is still yet to come!

Monday, March 20, 2023

Finding Wonder, Again

As days and years pass so does time, and our perspective on all these things changes too, as a matter of course.  We can see things differently, or sense that we are seeing things differently, and no matter what the days pass.  

This incredible hobby of ours pushes the envelope in whatever ways we allow, and one of those ways is the simple sense of wonder of it all.  A recent opportunity led me to a small company that installs custom ESU LokSound DCC decoders in locomotives, but also goes beyond that and offers all sorts of services for auxiliary lighting as well.  I took a chance and sent a few locomotives over to Garden State Modelworks LLC - and the results caught me by surprise.  I knew it would be cool, but didn't expect to be stunned!

The most recent operating session came and went, and after dark - always an enjoyable part of a session - there was a new level of magic, a new level of life to what we were seeing.  Before these new lights, there would be a lot of dark along the bottom of all these engines.   

Step lights now bring a whole new dimension not just to the locomotives so equipped but to the entire scene.  Extra marker lights, a Conrail staple through the 1990's, are now scattered through the roster instead of just on the Rapido or ScaleTrains units that came factory equipped.  Older Atlas and Athearn locomotives now jump out of the dusk or the darkness, looking the part of their prototype at night, all thanks to a beacon of attention in a tiny pair of step lights.  

March 20th would have been my dad's 84th birthday, and one of the treasures he gave freely to others was his lasting sense of wonder.  He loved a day at the beach, loved watching sports, loved a good upset, a quick basketball 'back door' play, a perfect football block or seamless pass, and above all, the integrity of the game.  I miss him, daily.  

For me, who remembers lonely nights trackside around Dewitt, NY in the 1990s, a few tiny light details have renewed a sense of wonder into the operations on the Onondaga Cutoff.  Much more to come on this!