Trains.com
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Motive Power Trends, and Oddities

Posted one month ago by George Hamlin
First, I’m glad that I was able to make the shot shown above, and that it now has been digitized and can be shared widely.  It’s clearly from a now-distant era, where operating practices were noticeably different; it also represents something unusual at the time, but more about that later.   Re operating practices, those who have read TRAINS magazine for some time, as well as others that have seen this material via perusing back issues of the magazine, may recall ...
4

Pre-Retirement Gig

Posted 2 months ago by George Hamlin
To begin with the obvious, this is Penn Central lightweight coach 2151 in the consist of PC train 1229, a commuter run into New York City’s Grand Central Terminal seen during its stop at Mamaroneck, New York on April 20, 1973.  By then, it was a veteran of more than thirty years of service, having been built as New York Central 2663 by American Car & Foundry as part of an order delivered between November 1941 and January 1942. This group was part of a larger overall order for...
5

Safety Devices

Posted 3 months ago by George Hamlin
Not surprisingly, since they are an endeavor conducted by human beings, railroads cannot yet be considered as “perfectly safe” operations.  An old industry saw is that a railroad’s book of rules is “written in blood”, and unfortunately, it continues to be a work in progress in many instances. Frustratingly, this isn’t for lack of trying, training, investing and disciplining.  A look at a place that has become familiar to me provides significant ev...
4

The Names They are a Changin'

Posted 3 months ago by George Hamlin
What we now know as “intermodal” was termed “piggyback”, or TOFC (Trailer on Flat Car) during the 1960s, since the vast majority of this type of service did consist of trailers on flat cars.  There was modest experimentation with containers, including New York Central’s “Flexi-Van” service, where containers were transferred off and on to over-the-road chassis for performing the non-rail portions of their journeys. The Southern Railway also exper...
2

The Shot that you Didn't Plan to Take

Posted 5 months ago by George Hamlin
When there’s even a modest amount of time to plan the shot you’re going to take of a train at a familiar location, it’s generally easy to narrow the possibilities down fairly quickly: where to stand; what focal length lens to use; what to include in the frame; and probably the most important, what the light will let you do. It probably won’t surprise most readers that I’ve taken a lot photos in, and nearby, Boyce, Virginia, in the northern portion of Virgin...
6

"No More Than Four"

Posted 6 months ago by George Hamlin
If you’re interested in railroad safety, or have looked at an employee timetable or two, you’re probably familiar with this phrase.  It refers to the speed, in miles per hour, that should not be exceeded when coupling equipment together.  I suspect that occupied passenger trains would benefit from something even lower, but as a general rule, if four miles per hour isn’t exceeded when coupling, the maneuver can be accomplished safely, without damage to the equipmen...
11

A Wide Variety of Equipment

Posted 7 months ago by George Hamlin
As of the Spring of 1966, the New York Central’s Twentieth Century Limited seemed to be in reasonable shape, often running with fourteen or more cars on its daily travels on the New York City-Chicago route in both directions.  This particular westbound trip, at Oscawana, New York, is down to eleven cars, however, likely due to its departure on May 30th, the Memorial Day holiday. By this time in the train’s storied existence, while the glamor days of all-Pullman/First Class ...
9

Rods and Rails

Posted 8 months ago by George Hamlin
Once, both were essentially ubiquitous in North American railroading.  More often than not, the rails were alone, but at virtually any point on multiple-track mainlines where there was a need for trains to change tracks, as well as entrances to yards, you’d find both together. When I was a young/budding railfan, and had begun to read TRAINS magazine on a monthly basis, there was a fairly steep learning curve vis-à-vis what all the lineside infrastructure both was and what ...
6

Implications of Destiny

Posted 9 months ago by George Hamlin
As of this writing, TRAINS, in its June 2023 issue, has appropriately re-published what many regard as one of the redoubtable David P. Morgan’s finest works, The Mohawk That Refused to Abdicate and Other Tales.  This originally appeared in the magazine’s September 1956 issue.  It was reprised in hardcover form In Kalmbach’s 1975 book of the same title.  Rather than summarizing and/or describing the article here, I urge you to peruse it for yourself, since it ...
4

Initially Unwanted Gift

Posted 10 months ago by George Hamlin
I’ve always liked the EMD SD45.  Considering that these locomotives entered service in the 1960s, in some ways they can be considered to be analogous to the “Muscle Cars” of that era.  Indeed, the first production model, delivered as Great Northern 400 in 1966 was nicknamed “Hustle Muscle”, and bore this nomenclature on the sides of its long hood.  Following the locomotive’s retirement, it has been restored to its original paint scheme, incl...
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Traditions on Display at BV

Posted 10 months ago by George Hamlin
At least from my perspective, there’s lots to like in the photo above, showing Norfolk & Western’s time freight Second 51 about to take orders at Buena Vista, Virginia on March 18, 1968.  Yes, that’s the train’s advertised designation, not a reference to a second/added section of a scheduled train.  It should also be clear that these are Form 19 orders, not form 31, which would require the train to stop. “BV”, as it was (and still is) referr...
5

Not Quite as Green

Posted 11 months ago by George Hamlin
During the 1970s one significant railfan photography draw in Chicagoland was the presence of the Burlington Northern’s fleet of green E units (8s and 9s) utilized for the railroad’s commuter service to the western suburbs between Chicago and Aurora, Illinois.  In a world where EMD cab units on passenger trains were becoming steadily less common, the fact that a fan could see, and photograph, multiple consists with this equipment was certainly welcome. In addition, following t...
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Less Than a Century in the Making

Posted 11 months ago by George Hamlin
Well, it did take almost 57 years, but I now have ridden on both of the 1948 Twentieth Century Limited’s  “Creek” observation sleeper/lounge cars, the signature equipment of the “Most Famous Train in the World’s” post-World War II equipment update. In August 1966, I’d been able to settle into a seat in the rear lounge on New York Central train 25, the westbound Century between New York and Chicago, and partake of some of the wonderful “Wa...
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Observations about Observation Cars

Posted one year ago by George Hamlin
It's about zero degrees F, and I want the shot, but don't have a tripod, or even a monopod. So, I hold my breath; take multiple shots in the half to full second range, and hope that at least one works. VIA's eastbound Canadian waits at Sioux Lookout, Ontario, while a CN snowplow sits in the background, on February 26, 2002. After retreating to the warmth of the Strathcona Park on the rear end of VIA train two, there was a nagging concern that I may, or may not have, succeeded.  This wa...
5

Gray and Gritty

Posted one year ago by George Hamlin
A half-century ago, this was a typical scene at what New York Central traditionalists still call “Harmon”, but by the afternoon of August 12, 1971, when the photo above was taken, it had been “Croton-Harmon” in the public timetable for the better part of a decade, and for that matter, served by the “Penn Central” for over three years. Located in Westchester County, New York, it was (and still is) a beehive of passenger train activity, punctuated occasional...
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Beat the Clouds at their own Game; Go where they're not Allowed

Posted one year ago by George Hamlin
0 Clouds can be the proverbial bane of the railfan photographer’s existence.  You pick a spot for a photo with great lighting, and wait (the almost inevitable consequence of taking train pictures).  Also waiting, of course, are the clouds.  While they might even be something that you want to include in your shot, as of their present position, in reality, they are simply lurking nearby to step in at the last second and ruin what would have been a great photo. Yes, we’...
16

Working Harder

Posted one year ago by George Hamlin
Back in the 1960s, rental car company Avis pitched itself using the tagline “We Try Harder”, directed at industry-leader Hertz.  Not only was it memorable then, but Avis continues to use the slogan today, over fifty years later; you can see for yourself on the web, at: https://www.avis.com/en/about-avis/we-try-harder In a number of respects, this description could have been applied in the railroad business to the Erie Lackawanna.  The 1960 combination of the Erie a...
11

Gotta Love the Rock

Posted one year ago by George Hamlin
The Rock Island, or, more formally, the Chicago, Rock Island and Pacific, certainly wasn’t among the largest U.S. railroads.  As a native of the Midwest, although it extended as far as New Mexico, the majority of people in the United States probably had no personal exposure to it, with the exception of freight cars passing through their home territories in interchange service. The one significant geographic distinction that this welterweight pugilist had was that it alone operated ...
6

Changes, Visible and Otherwise

Posted one year ago by George Hamlin
Since the late 1940s, the scene of EMD E units backing onto a westbound passenger train at Harmon, New York, as depicted here on July 13, 1974, was a familiar ritual.  Yes, this is now Penn Central, in terms of railroad ownership and operational responsibility, and the product on offer is that of Amtrak, but in practical terms, it still shows lots of its New York Central heritage. Beginning with the opening of the present Grand Central Terminal in 1913, NYC passenger trains that were n...
7

As Time Goes By, Again

Posted one year ago by George Hamlin
Helper locomotives, often used as pushers, have a long, and ongoing history on the former Pennsylvania Railroad main line west of Altoona, Pennsylvania.  In the early post-World War II era, there was a group of early EMD F3 units that were delivered as class EH-15 specifically for helper service in this territory.  Later, the Pennsy’s Baldwin “Centipede” diesels, which proved to be unsatisfactory in their original role as passenger train power, were operated as he...
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Blowing in the Wind

Posted one year ago by George Hamlin
Most people have a favorite season; mine is Autumn.  In the Shenandoah Valley, where I live now, this is often a beautiful time of year: pleasant temperatures, numerous sunny days, and, of course, fall foliage.  The colorful intensity of the latter can vary significantly from year to year, with some annual iterations achieving only a degree of blandness, but a) any fall foliage is worth considering, in my opinion, and b) it may be several years into the future before optimal condit...
11

This Can't Last Much Longer, Can It?

Posted one year ago by George Hamlin
As of June 13, 1970, this was now Penn Central territory, as can be seen from the black E8 with the PC logo on Empire Service train 75 heading west along the Hudson River (which is just out of the photo to the left) at Manitou, New York.  For many of us that experienced happier times prior to both the institution of Empire Service in December 1967, and the formation of the Penn Central in February 1968, this location will live on in our hearts and minds as New York Central territory; the ...
10

Weatherbeaten Warrior

Posted one year ago by George Hamlin
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&r...
11

Ten Days Before Conrail

Posted one year ago by George Hamlin
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. Conrail was on the way, of course, and would be arriving, appropriately, some wags contended, on April first.  Railfans in the Northeast were in high gear photographing the equipment and operations of the...
14

Learning Curve

Posted one year ago by George Hamlin
My first 35mm camera (as opposed to pure-plastic Brownie “Holiday” and “Starmite” Kodaks), an Argus C-3, arrived in 1964.  While it was a definite improvement over the Brownies, attempting to take multiple/sequence photos of moving trains could be maddening.  To set up the next frame after a shot required pushing a lever to one side, followed by rotation of the film advance wheel.  Nothing happened quickly using this process; if the train being photogra...
7

A Long Time Coming

Posted one year ago by George Hamlin
Some of you may have read my article “Commonwealth Commitment“, in the August issue of TRAINS, about Virginia’s increasing support for passenger rail services in recent times.  Due to space limitations, not all of the information that I obtained in the process of researching the background for this was able to be included in the final product.  Since the following puts this in its proper historical context, I’m sharing it here. On January 17, 1970, while I ...
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Coexistence Between Passenger Rail and Freight: Peaceful, or Otherwise

Posted one year ago by George Hamlin
Much of the recent news about transportation has focused on the negative side of the ledger, including service cancellations and disruptions; staffing difficulties; long wait times for travelers, etc.  To be sure, it is likely that at least some of this is due to ramifications of the Covid pandemic;  a “normal” economy, including its transportation component, seems to lie at a yet unknown point in the future. In the midst of this, we have also recently been exposed to th...
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How the Mighty Have Fallen

Posted one year ago by George Hamlin
I suspect that I’m hardly alone in the railfan community in terms of “coming of age” in the hobby during the 1960s, and liking Alco locomotives.  Although General Motors/EMD products were far more prolific on North American railroads (including Alco-licensed MLW (Montreal Locomotive Works)), the Alco/MLW products certainly had outsized personalities in the diesel locomotive world. After all, weren’t the elegant passenger-service PA models dubbed “honorary ...
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The Present Day "Gateway" to Railfanning?

Posted one year ago by George Hamlin
Years ago, railroads had a more universal ‘footprint’ in American life.  Large numbers of people rode them to get from one place to another, both near and far.  They participated in transporting a great deal of what the populace consumed, as well as being an integral part of the transportation used in the production of basic materials.  Central portions of urban areas, particularly in industrial/commercial sections, saw local freights working on a five-day basis, a...
9

Chlorophyll Rampant

Posted one year ago by George Hamlin
The greatest component of railroad photography, particularly of the action variety?  Without a doubt, waiting, which can induce anticipation; frustration; discomfort; boredom; enervation; etc.  I’m sure that most readers can name others. On the other hand, it also may offer the opportunity for reflection and camaraderie, since this is often a shared pursuit.  As we’ll see, that can include both those came with you and new acquaintances.  The latter run the ga...

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