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Ahead of the Torch Vol 1, Issue 3

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Ahead of the Torch

This AOTT article is being archived here with the Author's Permission. It was written in 1995. so it may contain information that is out of date.

Vol. 1 Issue #3

E-mail goes to Inlinebob@trainorders.com


In This Issue

Coal Breakers to Fall

The Pennsylvania anthracite coal fields have long been a refuge for the kind of artifacts Ahead of the Torch is all about. Steam locomotives, hopper cars, boxcars, and giant industrial buildings dot the mined out landscape to this day. The better known of these items lurk in the culm banks of the southern, or lower, field in the Hazleton-Pottsville corridor. The northern, or upper, field from Nanticoke to Forest City holds it's share of treasures as well. Unfortunately, time is running out on the biggest and best of the collieries in the northern field.

Printed reports in the Wilkes-Barre area media have confirmed a rumor feared by preservationists for the last year: the breakers are coming down. Three excellent examples of coal breakers are threatened. They are the Huber Colliery of Glen Alden Coal in Ashley, the Harry E. in Swoyersville, and the Sullivan Trail breaker in West Pittston.

Breakers, or collieries, are the huge structures which separated and sized the coal pieces. The anthracite was taken to the top of the building via a conveyor, from whence it was dropped through a succession of separators and washers before landing in waiting hopper cars at the bottom.

The Huber complex in Ashley is almost intact. Served by the Jersey Central, the Huber was an ultra-modern affair in the late '30's. A "regional" breaker, coal mined at other Glen Alden shafts was taken to the breaker via the CNJ, and was then dumped (in a rotary car dumper) for processing. Hoppers were then loaded with processed coal for market. This breaker gained notoriety has the home of blue coal. As a gimmick, Glen Alden began painting the coal blue as it was put in the hoppers. Several blue chunks exist as a display in the coal museum at the Lansford #9 shaft in Lansford.

Although the breaker is devoid of machinery, the entire complex remains, including the dumpers, loaders, and all of the ancillary buildings. THIS SHOULD BE STATE FUNDED MUSEUM! The roof of the loading area still bears the blue paint once applied to the coal! An incredible stash of hoppers stored here from the LNE, CNJ, and D&H were recently scrapped (see AOTT Vol 1 issue 1), despite the fact that many still had their journal brasses. They could have been sent a museum, but were turned down by the biggest one contacted.

It may not be too late to save the colliery. Raise your voices to the PA state government in Harrisburg and the Luzerne County officials. As an aside, please note that the Geln Alden Coal Colmapny's headquarters in Scranton has been adaptively reused by the University of Scranton. It's a nice restoration by a pretty swell school. Of course, I am biased (Class of '90)!

For more information on Wilkes-Barre industries facing the wrecking ball, see AOTT Vol. 1 Issue 1's notes on the Stegmaier Brewery.

The Sullivan Trail breaker in West Pittston is a huge affair, with many support buildings intact. Much of the land is used to store construction equipment. One such piece is a trailer truck made from a Baldwin SHARK B-UNIT! It is the last Shark B left.

Nicholas Pitsch (pitschni@holmes.sgate.com) writes that "the unit still is in Pennsylvania colors, and the Pennsylvania lettering and keystone herald are intact but painted over (but the paint is fading off). The superintendant of the equipment yard where it was located said that at the time of the purchase from it was to be converted into a mobile power generator for coal shovels working in strip mines. The conversion was not completed and it has been stored in the equipment yard ever since. He mentioned it was for sale, and asked if I wanted to buy it (having no place to put it, I declined). The trucks and fuel tank were missing, and one end was modified. Internally, there was an engine block, but I could not identify the manufacture. It seemed that a lot of electrical rigging was missing as well.

"According to my sources, this unit would be a DR44-1500B (Diesel, Road, 4 axles total, 4 powered axles 1500 hp, B unit) built by Baldwin in May 1949 (the Sharks in Michigan are late '51-early '52 RF16's) The serial number for the B unit should be 74157, built as PRR 9583B, later renumbered (probably after being re-engined by ALCO in the mid '50's) PRR 9632B. It was sold to Sullivan Trail Coal after being retired in the mid 1960's and Jeddo Highland Coal, successor to Sullivan Trail Coal, ended up with it after that. A photo can be seen in _X2200S_ issue 40 May-June '73 page 14 or in _Locomotive Notes II_ issue 163 page 9."

Now that is something! Many more anthracite land artifacts remain exposed to the elements. One of the famous Wanamie steam lokies is buried in a pile of culm at Wanamie. A slew of wooden and mine cars reside in the scrap yard which occupies the old Ontario and Western railyard site in Childs (Mayfield). They are joined by steel O&W head-end cars, the remains of a wooden O&W coach (Harlan and Hollingsworth, I believe), steel refer cars, and a plethora of mining equipment.

With the northern breakers apparently coming down, now is the time to be heard. If we can't save them, do yourself a favor and go see them (don't trespass, please). We may never see monsters like these again. And, if they do come down, is this our call to arms to save one of the southern field collieries. Excellent examples with active rail connections remain at Hazleton, St. Nicholas, and Locust Summit. Something should be done.

The List of Surviving Engine Houses Grows

Several of you have written about roundhouses which stand unpreserved. Our budding list, so far, includes: Carbondale (D&H), Hellertown (Saucon) (Reading), Bethlehem (CNJ), Pen Argyl (LNE), Arlington (Tamaqua) (LNE), & Pottsville, Pennsylvania (PRR), Mechanicville (B&M, D&H) and Binghamton, NY (DL&W), and Toronto, Ontario (CP).

Here are some new entries from our readers:

Athol, Mass. - B&M -
Mike Clements (kooz@acs.bu.edu) writes "an old unremarked roundhouse stands here. I stumbled upon it while doing research for a layout. It is 2-3 stalls made of brick, but it has stone pillars between the doors - I've never seen this anywhere. I wouldn't be surprised if it dates back to the Vermont and Massachusetts (pre-Fitchburg). The pit is filled in, and the structure has been modified and suffered a small fire, but it is still there. It is opposite the Athol Table Co.

"Also in Athol is an abandoned yard, a vacant Fitchburg station, and a freight house used by Agway. Come to think of it this would be a great place for a B&M museum!"

I bet it would, Mike! Speaking of preserving the B&M, correct me if I am wrong, but not a single one of the B&M's passenger GP-7's has been saved or sold to shortline. Am I right? One of these would make a fine excursion engine. How about info on B&M units now serving other carriers? I'll start with the F-7's and 44 Tonner at North Conway.

Evan Werkema (elw4@po.CWRU.edu) sends us the rest of this months engine house notes. Thanks Evan!

Shopton (Ft. Madison), IA:
The Santa Fe Ry General Office and one of the big old shop buildings at Shopton, west of downtown Fort Madison, remain intact but unused. The shop building is lettered for a steelworking company, but doesn't look like it has been used lately. Santa Fe's old passenger depot in town has been preserved, but the BN depot just behind is falling into disrepair. I don't know if BN still uses it.

Las Vegas, NM:
Las Vegas is a real gem. It has one of the last, and certainly largest remaining Santa Fe roundhouse. The approximately 30-stall house no longer has tracks nor a turntable, but is otherwise intact down to the old oak stall-doors. It looks like it was used as a private warehouse for a time, which spared it from demolition, but it now appears to be unused. The old roundhouse office stands nearby, also unused. Both are potential arsonist fodder.

A little ways northward, the old Santa Fe freight house had been used by the signal department, but it now looks like only the materials yard is used and the building itself is boarded up. The Santa Fe passenger depot is an Amtrak station, but has fallen into disrepair in the last few years and is being attacked by graffitists. North of the depot is one of the few remaining Santa Fe/Fred Harvey Hotels and Restaurants, La Castaneda. Owned now by a Las Vegas man, the building is very slowly being renovated.

Albuquerque, NM:
The Albuquerque Shops once consisted of a 32-stall roundhouse and shops capable of reboilering Santa Fe's 4-8-4's. After the coming of diesels, the shops were reduced to the ignominious task of maintaining MofW equipment. The powerhouse was razed in 1984 and the roundhouse in 1987, but the shops, closed in 1991, and the turntable are still intact. The turntable is used occasionally.

North of the shops, the old depot burned in 1993, and the Amtrak station was moved into an old former warehouse nearby, the last surviving piece of the once grand Fred Harvey Hotel/Indian Museum/passenger depot complex. Next to the old depot site is the Western Union Telegraph office and the office portion of the Freight House, both out of use. Santa Fe obtained demolition permits for these buildings when they tore down the roundhouse in 1987, but have yet to use them.

The List of Surviving Depots and Ancillary Buildings Grows

Clovis, NM:
Clovis boasts a number of interesting old buildings as well. It lost its roundhouse and freight house in 1987 as well, but the depot, the Grand Quivera Fred Harvey Hotel, and the General Office building are still standing. I believe only the General Offices are still used by the railroad, though their function as division offices has been eliminated.

Gallup, NM:
The old Santa Fe depot and General Offices here were boarded up a few years ago when Amtrak moved into a trailer nearby. When I saw it in 1993, it looked like a fire waiting to happen.

Millbury, Mass. - B&A -
Mike Clements adds that "an abandoned station sits at what was the end of the Boston and Albany's Millbury Branch. It is for rent/sale/lease and has been for several years." Any NYC fans looking for a summer house?

The National Freight Car Report

As we continue to "out" our nation's rolling stock treasures, your input becomes more and more valuable. Thus, to exemplify this, I am only including tips from you, AOTT's readers, in this issue.

Again, Mike Clements comes through big for you:
Sutton, Mass. - P&W -
Former Norton Co. composite outside braced boxcars sit on a siding used by a plastics company.

Oxford, Mass. - P&W -
A pair of steel 40' box cars sit on a siding.

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