One of my favorite rail lines to photograph is the local short line, the Winchester and Western. Since it’s birth, the line became known by locals as the “Ole Weak and Weary” in part due to the fact the original mainline between Gore, VA and Winchester, VA contains many steep grades and twists and turns in its very short 15 mile trek through the Northwestern Virginia rolling hills and valleys and rarely goes beyond ten miles per hour. Today, it is a regional shipper and gaining traction as new business’ come online.
The W&W was chartered in 1916 as a logging line and later used by retreat vacationers in the mountains of Virginia and West Virginia. The line stretched from Winchester to Wardensville, WV and originally was named the Winchester and
Wardensville Railroad. The majority of the steam power was bought second hand off the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad and was a thriving freight operation until the 1930’s when the Great Depression gripped the nation. The track was shortened in 1934 to Rock Enon Springs and passenger service to Capon Springs ended. In 1944 the line was cut
again, this time to Gore, VA and has been the western terminus since. The railroad scrapped it’s two steam locomotives and dieseled in 1952. Unimin purchased the railroad in the late 1970’s to ship the sand from it’s Gore mine and upgraded many bridges and rails along the mainline.
The W&W saw limited use in the 42 years shuffling sand to Winchester as it stayed tucked in the hills while railroading transformed as time progressed. The B&O turned into Chessie and then CSX. The Pennsylvania Railroad to Penn Central and then Conrail.
In 1986 the railroad grew exponentially. It purchased the Conrail line from Hagerstown, MD to Winchester bringing the length of the line through three States, approx fifty miles of rail and provided another avenue to ship via Norfolk Southern. The railroad also purchased a small segment of a Conrail line in New Jersey thus creating two divisions (the Virginia and New Jersey).
Business continues to grow along the W&W Virginia Division. A recent branch into the former Essroc quarry at the south end of Martinsburg entails daily switching. A Procter and Gamble plant is due to come online which could double the online freight with an estimated 3,000 carloads once the plant is in full operation. The “Ole Weak and Weary” is no more and has become a force to be reckoned with in the Mid-Atlantic.
EDIT NOVEMBER 2020—————————
In September of 2019 the railroad was purchased by Omnitrax, a transportation holding company based in Denver, Colorado. It primarily owns and operates railroads, with a network of 21 regional and shortline railroads in 12 U.S. states and three Canadian provinces. Since that time the parent company has made some changes to the operations in the VA Division. Most notably, the cessation of the older GP9 and GP10 models and shipping those units to other OMTX properties.
It’s not often you get to step through a door and find yourself in a place time has forgotten. That door you just passed through acts as a time machine from a place where smartphones, computers take center place in culture to a time before the “Space Race” with technology of the turn of the 20th Century.
Welcome to the shops and roundhouse of the East Broad Top Railroad. The last narrow gauge (3 foot) railroad to survive in the East. It’s located in the hills and valleys of South Central Pennsylvania in the dual towns of Orbisonia and Rockhill in Huntingdon County. The railroad’s charter dates back to before the Civil War but construction didn’t start until the 1870’s. In it’s heyday,
“Easty” as the railroad is known by to its employees and fans alike hauled some of the most expensive semi-bituminous coal from the east slope of Broad Top Mountain along it’s 33 mile long mainline through the towns of Robertsdale, Satillo, Three Springs, Shirleysburg and of course Rockhill to Mount Union, PA where it interchanged with the Pennsylvania Railroad. Timber and ore from the region also made up significant car loads. Finally, in 1956 after a decade of decline, the road ceased all operations and was purchased by a scrap dealer by the name of Nick Kovalchick.
Four years later in 1960 Orbisonia town leaders asked Mr. Kovalchick about setting up an engine for display along the parade route for the towns bicentennial. Instead, four miles of track from town north to Colgate Grove were cleared and excursions made available. Thus began a new chapter in the life of “Easty” and tourist operations ran until the end of the 2011 season.
Now, except for the prominent “Friends of the East Broad Top” (FEBT) volunteers who help keep up the complex with the restoring of cars and buildings and the occasional maintenance of the grounds by the Kovalchicks, the shops sit silent and still. Four of the Six 2-8-2 Baldwin Mikados sit in the roundhouse ready for their next call to fire up and spin on the turntable outside the roundhouse and lead a train of tourists north.
The shops and roundhouse are in fact a place where one can see firsthand how the railroad was self sustaining itself by evolving through time. Machine settings and hand tools lay as if an employee in 1956 last set it. Venture outside and you will find wheel sets sitting unused in the grass or a string of coal hoppers sitting in place as nature slowly reclaims its turf. It is truly an amazing sight to see 60 years after the railroad ceased to be a common carrier.
For more photos please see the East Broad Top Railroad Gallery
There is perhaps no boundary in the Continental United States that has been more influential in the history of the country than that of the West Line, otherwise known as the Mason – Dixon Line. It evolved around territory disputes between the Penn’s and Calvert’s in forming the colonies of Pennsylvania and Maryland. Blood had been shed before both colonies finally settled and allowed Jeremiah Dixon and Charles Mason to determine the actual boundary demarcation between 1763 to 1767.
Nearly a century later, the boundary became the dividing point between the Union and Confederacy during the Civil War. Although Maryland stayed within the Union, it was due to political wrangling and in many cases martial law.
Which brings us to Stone 108 between miles 104 and 105, it lies within the right of way of the former Cumberland Valley Railroad. The stone itself was not placed here by the original surveyors but is found to be an original stone, one of roughly 135 remaining along the roughly 230 mile boundary all quarried and shipped from England. The stone was perhaps moved from its original location some .33 miles away where sometime before 1902 the railroad found being used as a “horse block” by a local. The stone was set in a base of concrete as instructed by a surveyor working for the State of MD along the line. Sometime in the 1970’s a gravel truck was struck by an oncoming southbound train and damaged the stone.
Today, it remains as a visual reminder of this country’s history and serves as monument for generations to come. JW
This seems to be a common occurrence when I specifically go to document things along the railroad such as signals. I’ll come away with something totally different which adds to the excitement of night shooting. In a PREVIOUS POST I talked about documenting the Norfolk and Western Color Position Light signals at Shepherdstown on the Norfolk Southern H Line in January 2015. Well, in late 2014, I had gone to document the signals at Shenandoah Junction as their immediate retirement was near. Norfolk Southern had been extending the siding the signals here controlled to the north and their replacements were moved from staging at Charles Town to the Junction sometime in August.
After multiple trips over the course of the month, I set out for one final night along the rails. I arrived and decided to shoot the northbound signals that sit roughly 100 yards south of a road crossing. There are 3 tracks here, facing north left to right are the siding, the main, and the lead into the former N&W/B&O interchange yard.
Upon arrival I found NS had parked some ballast cars on the interchange track. 12R was in the area so I turned the camera around to face south and got set. The red hue on the rear of the hopper is the reflection from the light of the dual bracket mast signals immediately behind me and 12R’s headlights light up the main and siding tracks as a gentle fog rolls by.
As the night wore on and into the early morning hours as I focused my attention to the signals. The fog was heavy at times and non-existent at others. The traffic on the rails however was somewhat lacking which is unusual for this stretch at night, Finally, a southbound train could be heard rumbling far off in the distance through the very thick fog. It’s sounding horn, very faint until its arrival.
The dense fog let up quite a bit by the time southbound manifest train 15T arrived on the scene. The dispatcher previously notified the crew on board they were to wait for a northbound and take the siding. It was as 15T rolled past I had an idea but it hinged on where exactly the rear of the train would stop, how fast the approaching train would be going and of course the fog. Sure enough, the train stopped in an almost perfect location, With it being so dark, i could not gather any intel on the density of the fog other than my visibility with my headlamp ceasing at about 10 feet. So there I waited and took a few test shots to try and time the blinking end of train or EOT device as I know I did not want the light to blow out its exposure. “214 clear Daniels” was announced on the radio and i began my finishing touches, including focus. Soon the headlights of 214 announced it’s presence and I held my shutter trigger cable release in my hand. I quickly again checked the focus through the viewfinder and noticed to my surprise the fog was very light. I picked a spot to begin firing off the shutter in succession. The scene to the naked eye looked awesome! I began hitting the shutter in coordination with the EOT device.
214 passed by, giving a salute of the horn to myself and the grade crossing ahead, I looked at the cameras lcd display and was very pleased with the result. Soon after, 15T disappeared into the again heavy fog. I packed up my things and headed back to the car. I downloaded the SD card contents to my desktop and played with the photo on Lightroom. After only a few minor tweaks, the final version can be seen below.
FOCAL LENGTH: 123mm
Every once in a while an image is produced when right after you took it you say to yourself… “well, that was a nice effort but I guess I’ll try it again” as you look at the cameras LCD display in disgust… Well maybe in not so many words. That was exactly what I thought when I took this image back in late March of 2012.
Handling a DSLR camera was at the time new to me. Prior use of a DSLR included my mother’s Canon T2i a couple times and a Pentex K30 from a friend which I had nicknamed the “Stormtrooper” for its white and black appearance. Most of my previous night, low light photos had been done using a point and shoot camera. Mostly a 12.1 MP Panasonic Lumix DMC -ZS7. I had only picked up my Canon T3i earlier in the month.
Anyways, I had been out shooting on this evening after work along the Cumberland Sub near the house. The Sun hung low in the early Spring sky. An eastbound autorack train was going thru Martinsburg with an SD50-2 leader and I thought, that would be cool to catch at the summit of the grade between there and Harper’s Ferry. I got in the car and raced it the roughly 7 railroad miles to a overhead bridge that was built when the new WV Route 9 highway was built. It presently only leads to an orchard on the north side but its intentions was to serve as an access for a planned community which has yet to come to fruition. (no pun intended)
The location on the railroad is known as “Hobbs.” As stated previously, it is the top of a grade where up until the early 2000’s required helpers on heavy loads. This was the western terminus of stretch of three track mainline and also had an interlocking tower designated “RN.” Today, it’s just another spot on the railroad, like most other former locales like Engles Switch, Hansrote, Magnolia and Sir John’s Run. Locations that once were pivotal to the operation of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, the lines builder and original operator.
I parked the car and beat the train easily as it called out the Kearneysville signal some 3 1/2 miles away. Standing on the shoulder of the bridge looking around I looked for the right composition and began playing with the settings. It had been kind of a blah day weather wise as it had rained during the day and it had just began to clear up before the evening. The Sun began to set and after a minute illuminated the cloud banks in the sky as it did. “there goes my light.” I muttered with the train approaching the next signal away from me.
Now it came to crunch time as I began playing with different settings on the camera. I had not yet installed Magic Lantern on the device as I do now which gives me a little more flexibility with settings not normally available in manual on the T3i. Q216 rounded the curve about quarter mile ahead of me and the headlights illuminated the tracks. As it grew closer I kept taking tests shots. Not being satisfied, settings were changed. Finally, in the fading light, CSX engine 8575 drew near, a small toot of the horn as the crew acknowledged my presence and I fired away as the train crested the hill and rolled beneath the bridge splitting the signals.
Getting home, in disgust I loaded the photo on the desktop and began processing. Adobe Lightroom is the software I use to process and edit my photos. At the time I had only had the program for a month so my understanding of it as a tool was limited at best.As I worked with the photo though it began to come to life. Instead of disgust, the feeling of accomplishment overcame me. To this day, it is one of my favorites. It has again been re-processed using Lightroom 5 for upload to my site and this blog.
Exposure: 1/200 sec, ISO: 800, Aperture: f4.0, Focal Length: 18mm
In the latter months of 2013, word got out that the Genesse and Wyoming, Inc., a holding company of short lines was planning on repainting the classic blue and orange scheme the line had used since its founding in 1983 and also replacing the GP38 armada with rebuilt SD45 into SD40 car bodies. The MMID was purchased by the G&W in 2008 and had left it largely intact until now, except for some minor changes of operation and the painting into the G&W orange, black and yellow scheme and renumbering of MMID 301 to MMID 2601. Rail buffs from around the country, including myself flocked to the Maryland countryside to capture what turned into the last days of the blue and orange regime.
I made a total of three visits in January, 2014. I had grown up nearby but not knowing much myself about the line, I met up with a few friends who I had previously communicated with via Facebook. We chased the railroad together on several instances, and on different locations each time. The line is the former Western Maryland Railway Baltimore main line which being a history buff, really got me to delve further into study. What started as just a few trips to document change, ended up turning into a project, one that ended up on the pages of Railroads Illustrated March 2014 issue as my first published featured article.
Now, lets fast forward to January of 2015…
It’s a week shy of a year between this and the 2014 photo at the plant above and much has changed on the Maryland Midland. 5 of the 7 original GP38-3 engines have been painted into the G&W orange, yellow and black scheme and shipped to another line. 2 GP38-3’s remain… One given a fresh blue and orange coat, renumbered (300 sans 2060) and has become the lines own “heritage” unit in honor of the railroad’s prosperity and dedicated employees. The other (2061), was painted into the G&W colors a few years back. Enter 4 SD40-2’s to replace them, all in G&W colors. 2 of them leading this UBHF train out of the plant after performing switching duties before heading west to Highfield.
Delivered in the Fall of 2014, two of the four rebuilt SD45’s redesignated SD40-2’s lead both GP38-3’s on a UBHF train down the mountain from Highfield at Lantz, known as Deerfield Station in the Western Maryland Railway days on January 16, 2015.
A year may have past since my previous documentation of this line but the railroad seems stronger day by day. Minus the 2060, all the MMID engines sport G&W colors and provide a new face for the railroad. The super duty locomotives on site now since late 2014 have proven their worth and any doubt of them operating sufficiently on these rails has been diminished significantly.
J-Dub January, 2015
My 12 year old son and I ventured out on a recent Saturday night to catch Norfolk Southern’s Pennsylvania Railroad Heritage unit 8102 leading a manifest through the area at nearby Sharpsburg, Maryland. Photographing signals such as the former operations’s Norfolk & Western Color Position Light (CPL) signals in the area has become a hobby of mine. Their days are becoming numbered as NS has begun in recent years replacing them with newer standardized varieties, most recently just six miles to the south at Shenandoah Junction, WV in November of 2014.
I arrived in town from just across the Potomac River just before midnight and the southbound signal was lit up green which gives a “clear” indication for a passing train. After seeing the indication and the star field behind it, I began taking a series of long exposure or “open shutter” photos.
Finally coming across a composition that I was happy with, I began exploring the scene even further. I had visited Shepherdstown countless times and each time always seems to provide another angle I had not thought of previously. Soon after the southbound passed a “Diverging Approach” (red over diagonal yellow) signal lit, meaning another southbound was approaching, but instead of going straight, would go onto the passing siding on which the CPL’s here protect.
The train (213) arrived but I almost missed it. Being cold, I sat in the car to warm up after setting up and was having a conversation with my son. Soon there afterwards, Evan brought it to my attention that the trees were lighting up and asked if a car was coming. I immediately jumped out and turned on the camera just as 213 arrived, switched and waited in the siding as 12R approached from the south. I was happy with the composition I had found when 213 arrived but again, something was missing. I could hear 12R blow at the road crossing just a couple miles away. I managed a couple test shots before it turned the curve and finally it hit me. back in September, I photographed a scene at Shenandoah Junction of on oncoming train illuminating the right of way and tracks between it and I as well as silhouetting the train in the siding with it’s “end of train” device lit. I quickly adjusted my ISO to 640 (was previously set at 400) and aperture to an f-stop 6.3 for more detail. 12R lit of the foreground and behold the scene developed before my eyes. I took 3 shots at 10 seconds, 7 and finally 4. Of the three, the final shot proved to be the winner.
Pictured below is the final product. Standing in the 10 degree heat with the light snow on the ground I believe made the image pop. At another time, say in the Summer may have had a different effect. What you see is the rear of train 213 sitting on the siding adjacent to the northbound N&W Bracket CPL Mast signals as the the still air and tracks shine. the southbound displays a “restricted” or stop signal and fills in nicely in the foreground. This scene will undoubtedly change in the future. How soon, I do not know. I am just glad I was able to be there to capture it and share it with all of you.