With the world changing and reacting to so much these days - the COVID pandemic, racial justice, economic upheaval, and so on - it can feel like so much pressure to stay current, to stay relevant, that we can feel almost lost in the woods. As part of the book writing process, Jack recently brought over a few prints that made me smile, looking back more than 20 years.
Here's a fantastic shot of Jack's: Conrail train ALSE, exiting Pattenburg Tunnel on Conrail's former Lehigh Valley main line across western New Jersey in October 1998. This was a daily eastbound manifest freight from Allentown, PA to Selkirk, NY, via New Jersey. The neat GRS searchlight signals on the original LV signal bridge frames things up. The green signal on the left tells us that the Lehigh Line Dispatcher has pulled up a route for a westbound train at CP West Portal, some 2 miles west of us. 6497 is a classic Conrail SD40-2, in original factory paint, with new ditch lights. Jack and I in the later 1990's would call these engines in original Conrail paint 'oldschool' and we each knew exactly what that meant.
Change is afoot all the time, and it's evident here in the new switch being cut in: NS was about to purchase more than 60% of Conrail, and wanted to be able to run double-stack and autorack trains here, and will accomplish that by single-tracking the tunnel and centering that main track to use the full height at the crown. They would make up for the reduced siding length by adding another full siding to the west. Pattenburg was about to change, forever, despite the oldschool SD40-2 leading ALSE.
On a frosty morning in 1999, Jack was again trackside at first light, this time at one of his favorite locations in Neshanic, NJ. Another classic GRS searchlight was there next to the appropriately-named Lehigh Road grade crossing. Conrail ran MAIL-3, a daily high-priority piggyback train from South Kearny, NJ to St. Louis, MO, west, and after its passage the approach-lit automatic signal 451 shows its red aspect, protecting MAIL-3 from following moves until the train clears the next block. This signal is gone now, with NS having added another siding west of this location too, which required moving the signals to accommodate the new interlockings.
My memory of those days is warm and nostalgic. It brings to mind time past when things seemed more simple. Perspective is key, of course: they seemed more simple, but that doesn't mean they were. I was excited but pretty frustrated in 1999: my optimism was still naive and I had trouble reconciling it with the real world. Still, though, it's important to honor our memories as they are the foundation of who we are now, which is where we begin to be who we will be.
Now, we look at today. 20 years ago Jack and I were in our early 20's and in many ways had everything in front of us. Now, I am in my early 40's and have a wonderful wife and three beautiful happy kids. And those kids regularly join me on the same pieces of railroad I used to visit and that Jack photographed above.
Here's that siding I mentioned that spelled the end of the 451 signals. NS 7596, a big GE ES44AC, leads two other GE's on international stack train 22V at CP51, Flemington Jct, NJ, June 20th 2020. The kids are loving it. How could I have imagined this in 1999? It's a wonderful and bewildering reflection.
Here's a grab of the kids at their favorite spot, Stanton Station, NJ, on June 28th 2020. Susie is nearly 8, Teddy is 5 and Pete 3. Excited, optimistic kids that enjoy each other and time together...watching trains with me, learning from their world and each other. I have a great deal of respect for them and for my wife, who is an incredible mom. I also am fully engaged in my role as their father, for creating an environment of security and stability, and of accountability, surrounded by love. It's a ton of work and a heavy load - but a healthy one, and one I am thankful for.
For this hobby of railroading and model railroading to lead to such powerful and tangible memories is remarkable and more than I'd hoped for in life. Working for the railroad, writing articles and a book for the hobby press, owning and maintaining an operating layout while happily married and a dad of three is about the biggest blessing I could ask for. I am so grateful for all if it! I hope in some way that your hobbies can add to your experience in these ways as well.
So much to be glad for, and so much to look forward to. We have to see these negative things through, and find a way to stay centered - a spot that is always moving.
Best wishes for a happy & healthy independence day!