Miracle at Charlottesville - Chapter 8

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  • From: Columbus OH
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Miracle at Charlottesville - Chapter 8
Posted by dabug on Sunday, April 10, 2011 6:19 PM

                        MIRACLE AT CHARLOTTESVILLE

                                      CHAPTER 8

In April 1969, it was time to leave Adak.  I had only five months left on my hitch, and I would be spending them stateside, at a small base near Norfolk VA.  Hooray, access to trains!

While stationed in Adak, Reeve Aleutian had put a 4-engine turbo-prop in service, and it was on that plane I flew back to Anchorage.  Had flown in jets before, but never having flown in a turbo-prop, I was surprised (and maybe a bit alarmed) when we turned off the taxiway on Adak and immediately began our takeoff roll.  With piston-powered planes like the one I flew out there on, as you probably know, before starting his takeoff run, the pilot would stand on the brakes and rev his engines up to near maximum rpm to check pressures, temperatures, etc. to be sure everything was hucky-ducky.  But we just took off into the wild blue yonder, arriving in Anchorage in the evening.  From there, another evening flight to Sea-Tac, then a United redeye to Chicago.  I debated about journeying into downtown Chicago and taking the morning Penn Central train to Toledo that would have arrived there in the afternoon, but decided instead that I wanted to get back as soon as possible, so took another United flight to Toledo, arriving midmorning, to be met by my wife and parents.  More train chasing ensued while on leave in Ohio (yes, you’re correct, that’s another story.)

I purchased my first new car while on leave, and to get to Norfolk, we left from Toledo.  Now, to travel between those two cities directly is around 750 miles, an easy 2-day drive.  However, my wife and I contrived to consume 8 days in making that trip!  ‘Course, we didn’t exactly travel a direct route.  Our routing – largely for railfanning purposes (another story?  Yes, how’d you guess?!) – involved overnights at Niagara Falls; Amsterdam NY; Peekskill NY (nice setting alongside the Hudson River for train-watching and photography); a couple days in New Jersey (reasonably close to New Brunswick), where my wife’s brother had recently started a career as a research chemist at Colgate-Palmolive; Alexandria VA (a wonderful railroad town); Harpers Ferry WV (that hodgepodge of cars is the Capitol Limited?!); Radford VA; thence to Norfolk, nabbing five N&W passenger trains en route that last day.  Captured a total of 65 trains – 56 of which were passenger trains – on movie film on that trip alone.  (Those five months leading up to my discharge was probably my most productive train-chasing period.  Captured a total of 101 trains on movie film during that period – 16 freights, and 85 passenger trains – not to mention those captured on color slides.)

We rented a tiny apartment near the little town of Great Bridge, south of Norfolk proper, and about 20 miles from my assigned base further south, where I reported for duty in early May 1969.  The base name was Northwest VA, and it straddled the Virginia/North Carolina state line.  (Incidentally, the original Norfolk Southern RR served this area, running between Norfolk and Raleigh NC.)

While stationed in the Norfolk area I pursued all the train chasing I could cram in, deferring to the wife occasionally to play tourist, or both activities in one jaunt.  Our watch cycle consisted of two day-watches (0800-1600), two mid-watches (2400-0800), and two eve-watches (1600-2400) in succession.  The second day-watch ended on the same day as the night of the first mid-watch, and the second mid-watch ended on the same morning as the first eve-watch (so, 5 elapsed days on watch.)  At the end of the second eve watch, one was on “liberty” for 72 hours (3 days.)  You’re probably thinking that from the end of the last eve watch to the first day watch in the next cycle was actually 80 hours, not 72.  True, but it was assumed you’d spend the first 8 hours sleeping; hence 72 hours were available for liberty.

I was fortunate to see and capture a variety of foreign equipment on passenger trains during that summer.  For instance, a former SP Sunset Limited 10-6 sleeper covering the Pullman assignment on SCL’s secondary Gulf Coast Special; a green & orange GN express reefer showed up on a SOU mail train and the Birmingham Special; C&O and SOU sleepers were common on various SCL trains.  We even paced N&W’s eastbound Pocahontas from parallel US460 at 70 mph for several miles between Waverly and Wakefield VA one day, the wife manning the movie camera while I drove.  Thank goodness there were no “Smokies” around.

(To be concluded…)

Golly gee whiz, how did the railroads ever do it in the age before computers or government "help"?  (Then: they did it.  Today: forget it!)


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