We started our trip at 5:00 AM on Thursday, July 07, 2005, from the Vogt residence in the Town of Charlton, NY. On I-88 West, we encountered rain which persisted until we reached our first stop in Susquehanna, PA at the Starucca Viaduct. This beautiful stone structure was built in the mid 1800's to carry rail traffic over the valley. It is presently owned by the Norfolk Southern Corp. After stopping at Binghamís Restaurant in Lenox, PA for breakfast, we headed west and arrived in Altoona, PA at 2:30 PM. After checking into the Ramada Inn, we had dinner at the local Olive Garden. Then it was off to Horseshoe Curve, Gallitzan and Cresson, PA for some relaxing train watching.

Starucca Viaduct Old Rail Line

Starucca Viaduct

On the upper left we are approaching the Erie Railroad's Starrucca Viaduct in Pennsylvania, built in 1847. At right I am standing on the right-of-way of the D&H which passed under the viaduct. Note the rotting ties at my feet. At left is a period painting of Starrucca with an Erie camelback locomotive crossing the structure and a D&H train passing underneath. Note of interest: In the early 1960's Ron worked for the restoration firm Penetryn Systems. They repaired the viaduct, finding the stonework ruggedly built and ready for another century.

Friday AM was spent at the Railroad Museum in Altoona and some general sight seeing using shanks mare (walking, for those not familiar with the term). At 11:30 AM we headed toward Cumberland, MD via back roads. The intent of this route was to visit the small towns of Meyersdale and Hyndman, PA between which the famous Sandpatch Grade on the CSX Railroad runs. We had dinner in Meyersdale at The White House Restaurant after which we continued our trek arriving in Cumberland at 4:45 PM. After checking into the Holiday Inn and having dinner we took a stroll around town and immediately got caught in a heavy thunder storm which lasted about an hour. Luckily we found shelter in a covered building front. Cumberland was having its annual Canal and Rail Festival but it didnít seem that the rain had much effect on the festivities.

PA Railroad Museum

The Pennsylvania Railroad Museum in Altoona, PA. A fascinating journey into the past.

Model Trains

Viewing the model train exhibit depicting the railroad facilities at their peak in Altoona.

Bar Scene

An authentic period bar scene. In the background are two synchronized movie screens with actors enacting bar conversations in ethnic patter.

Saturday dawned bright, clear and hot. After breakfast we checked in at the old Western Maryland Railroad Station for our trip to Frostburg, MD in the cab of Consolidation #734, built by the Baldwin Locomotive Works in 1916. What a trip. The attached pictures are worth a thousand words.

Locomotive 734

Ready for action. 734 coupled to the passenger train with a GP38 diesel on the rear as support on the 16 mile trip from Cumberland to Frostburg. Although the steam locomotive was turned on the turntable at Frostburg, it did not go around the train to lead us back to the Cumberland station. On this occasion, it re-coupled to the train and returned going backward. #734 is a 2-8-0 (Consolidation type) 1916 Baldwin, a wheel arrangement that was the most popular steam type in the U.S..

Engineer Hoagy

Engineer Howard "Hoagy" at the throttle of 734. Presenting our "cab ride" tickets to him, he invited us up to the cab, admonishing us to try to keep away from the center of the cab to allow the firemen to work. He is an 80 year old who formerly worked for the Chesapeake & Ohio, working his way up to diesel engineer. The Western Maryland offered him the opportunity to run the 734, his first steam experience as an engineer.

In the engineer's seat.

Ron enjoying the engineer's seat in a quiet moment on the turntable in Frostburg. We both had to stand (hopefully out of the way) in the small cab. Ron held onto a railing behind Engineer Hoagy while I had a tight spot immediately behind fireman Kevin's seat. Our other fireman also stood all the way. On the return trip to Cumberland we were invited to join Engineer Paul Williams in the GP38 diesel, a great opportunity to experience two distinctly different modes of propulsion, historic steam and modern diesel.

Working the fire

Master fireman Kevin breaking up slag with a large poker because of the bad coal in use this day. The coal was of so poor quality that the steam pressure dropped below 150 lbs./sq.in. forcing us to stop half-way up the mountain to restore the steam to the normal 200 lbs./sq.in. The higher pressure was also needed to inject water into the boiler since the water level had dropped to "the first bolt" (on the sight glass) and had to be filled between the second and third bolt. Also a bolt broke in the automatic stoker universal joint from the dusty soft coal binding up the feed screw. So our two firemen had to manually fire the engine, shoveling coal for almost the entire trip.

Sunday turned out to be a decent day for traveling. We arrived at The Heritage Motel in Bartow, WV around 1:30 PM. After checking in we decided to go to Greenbank, WV and check out the largest steerable radio telescope in the world. A great tour of the facility is available at no charge and it has a nice museum which explains what radio telescopes are and what they do.

Greenbank Radio Telescope

Ron in front of the Green Bank Radio Telescope facility. We had a most informative lecture by one of the staff in which we learned that there is a 13,000 square mile zone of radio silence enforced by the FCC extending South to White Sulphur Springs with no cell phone coverage or fixed (radio) stations.

Radio Telescope

The 100 meter dish is composed of 2004 panels, each adjustable by actuators in each corner to focus the telescope. The world's largest fully steerable single aperture radio telescope has a 210 foot diameter track leveled to a few thousandths of an inch, carrying 16,000,000 pounds.

Monday we drove over 300 miles to check out the New River Gorge (the longest single span arch in the world) and the old railroad town of Thurmond, WV located on the east bank of the New River.

New River

The New River National River, administered by the National Park Service, West Virginia. The New River is one of the oldest rivers on the continent and flows from South to North. The New River Gorge National River was established in 1978, between Hinton and Fayetteville, to protect 53 miles of the New River.

New River

I am standing on an observation deck with the New River Gorge bridge, completed in June, 1974, in the background. At 876 feet high and 3,030 feet long it was the longest steel-arch bridge in the world. In 2003 a longer span was completed in Shanghai, China. Completion of the bridge reduced a 40 minute drive across the valley to less than one minute.

Tuesday was cloudy and damp as we headed for the Cass Scenic Railroad in Cass, WV. We started out with a tour of the railroads shop facilities. Then it was up to Bald Knob at the top of Cheat Mountain, being pushed and pulled by Shay #2 and Heisler #6 thru two switchbacks. A great experience that took 5 hours, covered about 20 miles, is loud and smoky but worth every penny of the admission price.

Cass Scenic Railroad.

A historic sign in Cass, WV explaining the origin of the busy railroad town.

Cass Scenic Railroad

Shay locomotive #2 - destined to head our expedition up to Bald Knob with Heisler #6 as a helper because of the number of cars. These are two varieties (the other is the Climax) of geared locomotives - all wheels are driven. Top speed of about 10 miles per hour, slow but able to climb steep grades and navigate sharp curves.

Cass Scenic Railroad

Naturally we moved to the first car in front of the locomotives. The sound was deafening, and the engineer blew the whistle for a lot of crossings! Sister Shirley told me there was a running commentary - I have to take her word for it, I really never heard it. A great experience, one of our group actually talked his way onto the Shay for the ride. It was a rainy day and we were glad to have roofs on the passenger cars.

Wednesday we traveled to Blacksburg, VA and spent most of the afternoon visiting with Janne and Stan Mathes at their new town house.

The Mathes

Looking into the kitchen from the dining room. From left to right are Ron, Stan and Janne Mathes of Blacksburg, VA.

Thursday we traveled to Roanoke, VA in the rain. We visited the O. W. Link Museum which is a great place to visit for any rail and/or photography fan. The final stop on this whirlwind tour was The Peaks of Otter Lodge which is located on the Blue Ridge Parkway 28 miles east of Roanoke.

Link Museum

In the O. Winston Link museum the general store is a new exhibit. Note Mr. Link's photograph of a general store on the wall.

Peaks of Otter, VA.

It was a rainy day at the Peaks of Otter, VA when I took this photo toward the Lodge restaurant. Lake Abbot is on the left.

Friday we visited a vineyard/winery located on the Blue Ridge Parkway at a place called The Meadows Of Dan approximately 60 miles west of Roanoke. We sampled wines, had a bread, wine and cheese lunch and relaxed in the beauty of the mountains.

New River

Lunch at the Villa Appalaccia on the Blue Ridge Parkway in Virginia. The owners are specializing in Italian style wines. It is a small winery that presently produces about 3000 cases a year. Our host for the wine tasting was a young, very knowledgeable Virginia Tech graduate who has decided to specialize in wine. She will shortly go to Australia for a graduate course. Our lunch consisted of fresh-baked crusty bread, our choice of Villa wine and a generous serving of locally made cheese.

NS train.

Frosting on the cake of our "trains" trip. Returning to the Peaks of Otter Lodge from the Villa Appalaccia, this Norfolk Southern freight was spotted from the N&W overlook on the Blue Ridge Parkway. You can see it in the middle center of the upper photo just topping the Blue Ridge grade. We "chased" the train, a Union Pacific run-through double-stack from the West Coast with two GM SD-70MAC's on the front, and caught up with it on Route 460 - 25 miles West of Bedford, VA. (lower photo)

NS train.

Saturday was reality day. We left The Peaks at 5:00 AM and arrived home at 4:30 PM having driven thru a cloud burst on I-88 in Cobleskill, NY. It was the end of a very successful expedition.

The commentary is by Ron Vogt while the photo captions were written by Henry Maltz.

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Original: July 25, 2005; modified August 6, 2005.