Welcome to Photo Line!—Photographer Chris Southwell brings us this month's feature. A transplanted railroader, he has been exploring the rural countryside of western Pennyslvania off and on for the last few years. Norfolk Southern is a prominent player in this area, as is the changing face of the former Bessemer & Lake Erie. In this essay, Chris takes us trackside for a full day of railfanning from dark to dark on October 18, 2009. Photos by Christopher Southwell
Streaking through Osgood, Pennsylvania, 5:36am
Nearby Greenville, Pennsylvania is dead on a Sunday morning. The bar crowds have long since left Paxtons restaurant. Sometime between last call and then a crew of Bessemer — excuse me — Canadian National railroaders were awakened from a good nights sleep. The call is for a turn to Conneaut Harbor at 5:00am. A town so quiet that an air horn seems to rattle windows. The 901 leaves town and leads it's train up the old main line through Osgood, the rear end passing underneath the camera at 5:36 am.
First light at Kidders Corner, Pennsylvania, 7:07am
The temperature creeps above freezing as the Bessemer and Lake Erie 901 North creeps up the mainline alongside the remains of the yard at Albion. Clearing the interlocking at "CE" the train is now in the company of CSX and NS, as well as Interstate 90. The other trains can be deceiving, the interstate can drown out the noise of a train getting back to track speed on the former Conneaut Branch. The frost begins to melt as the 901 rounds the bend at 7 minutes after 7.
Busy morning in Albion, Pennsylvania, 10:43am
The BLE 901 north turns into the 900 south. Leaving Conneaut harbor with a heavy loaded train at 9:35 the crew twists their way away from the lake and climbs out of the Lake Erie basin towards Albion. The towns are awake and bustling now as the 900 south enters CTC territory at "RX" interlocking on the south side of Albion. The train would travel south through Greenville on the K-O (Kremis-Osgood) Cutoff and tie down at Kremis without a recrew available until 4:00pm.
NS 3293 West at Pymatuning Junction, 3:46pm
My friend Jon had returned from Fort Sill a couple weeks before. October 18th was the date of a belated welcome home party in Hermitage. My friend Terry and I left the party behind around 2:40 and went east along the former Erie towards Greenville. With tremendous luck we found NS local C90-C7-18 preparing to leave the Bessemer Interchange at Shenango. Train C90 is a Sunday only local out of Ferrona yard near Sharon, Pennsylvania that makes a round trip to the Wester New York & Pennsylvania interchange at Meadville. The chase was on and we set up shop just west of Pymatuning Junction on the former Erie first sub for 3293 west at 3:46pm.
NS 3293 West at Sharpsville, Pennsylvania, 4:00pm
Parking in front lot of a car wash Terry and I jog onto the Walnut street bridge above Sharpsville interlocking. We arrive just in time for the C90 to whine around the curve just after 4pm. This would usually be the end of the excitement, but today we had an empty hopper train just clear of the WNY&P's yard at Meadville and a loaded coal train eastbound from Youngstown destined for a meet underneath us. It was time to reposition.
NS 9036 West pounds the diamond at XN interlocking, 4:46pm
The gang's all here. The wind picked up and the temperature took a dive as our entire running crew met at the site of the former "XN" tower in Shenango. Terry and I wheeled up to the interlocking in my truck, while Bob and Julia had extricated Jon from the Party and arrived on their own. We waited for the empty, and waited. After a little more waiting, complaining and waiting the NS 9036 west arrived. With a friendly toot and wave they clamored across the B&LE diamond at 4:46.
Dusk at Sharpsville Cut, 5:45pm
We all follow the empty towards the twilight to the Sharpsville cut. A massive divot in the landscape of western Pennsylvania, the cut was constructed after the original line through the area was relocated during the construction of the Shenango reservoir. The cut would usually serve as a great photo location for an afternoon westbound, an hour or more ago. Today we wait out the meet less than a mile from us for NS 9196 east to enter the cut. Victory is ours at qaurter to six.
"Hail Mary" at Shenango Interlocking, 6:27pm
With Jon now occupying the passenger seat we follow the 9196 east trough Transfer and Reynolds. I'm the only one left using a camera as we arrive back at "XN." A "Hail Mary" shot about 15 minutes after dark and the day comes to a close. A fantastic end to a fantastic day as the head end crosses over the B&LE old line at 6:27.