Weatherbeaten Warrior

Posted by George Hamlin
on Thursday, October 6, 2022

As I mentioned in my previous TRAINS blog post (September 10), on March 21, 1976, I headed to West Trenton, New Jersey, to intercept and photograph the “Farewell to the Reading” excursion behind a pair of the railroad-made-famous-by-the-game-of-Monopoly’s remaining fleet of EMD FP7 diesel locomotives at West Trenton, New Jersey.

Prior to the visit to the Penn Central’s engine facility at Morrisville, Pennsylvania discussed in the previous post, I was at the Reading’s station facility at West Trenton for the excursion’s arrival. Considering that this was somewhat in the nature of a “funeral in advance”, the weather was suitably gloomy, although no precipitation fell, fortunately.

Shortly thereafter, the special arrived, behind EMD FP7s 903 and 902, and the passengers onboard detrained, with many taking advantage of the opportunity to take photos of their conveyance, including its motive power.  Although I, like many other rail photographers, ordinarily prefer well-lit/sunny lighting, in fact the conditions present provided “even lighting”, so that it was possible to take pictures from both sides of the consist.

Considering that we were photographing black locomotives (albeit with a green band and yellow stripes) and dark green passenger cars, “even” lighting probably was a blessing.  Strong sunlight would have brought shadows and high contrast to the relatively dark equipment, making photography of it more difficult.

Re the equipment, the 903 and 902 were relatively early arrivals of eight FP7s (900-907) delivered to the Reading between 1950 and 1952.  According to Volume III (1976) of the Railway Passenger Car Annual, the six modernized coaches behind the locomotives comprised the complete roster of locomotive-hauled coaches on the Reading’s roster then.  Built by Bethlehem Steel in the 1920s, they were true relics in 1976. 

Earlier in their careers, the Reading’s FP7s hauled both the Crusader and the Wall Street on the Philadelphia-Jersey City route in long-distance commuter train service, utilizing the Jersey Central’s trackage north of Bound Brook, New Jersey.  In its initial form, (and handled by streamlined steam locomotives), the Crusader featured a fixed consist of five Budd-built stainless steel cars, consisting of two coaches, a pair of observation coaches and a diner.  The observations were on each end of the train, removing the need to turn the consist as it went back and forth.

Subsequently, both the northern terminal and the equipment would change on these two runs.  Post-1967, via the implementation of the “Aldene Plan”, passenger trains on the former CNJ main line, including the Reading’s service from Philadelphia, terminated at Newark, New Jersey’s Penn Station, via a newly-built connection onto the Lehigh Valley.  In their last years what was left of the Crusader/Wall Street service (the original Budd streamliners had been sold to the Canadian National) was handled by Budd RDCs.

Subsequently, the FP7s and their consists were relegated to push-pull service between Philadelphia and Reading.  As the end approached for the Reading Railroad, it was quite evident, as seen in the photo above, that they’d been subject to a quarter-century’s worth of service, with little attention given to their appearance, and likely, without funding for same, in any case.

There is a happy ending to this story, however.  The 903 and 902 are still together; they were acquired by the Philadelphia (903) and Lancaster Chapters (902) of the NRHS.  Currently, they can both be seen on display at Steamtown National Historic Site, in Scranton, Pennsylvania; I’ve seen a 2021 photo that shows the 903n at Steamtown looking considerably better than it did on March 26, 1976.

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