Archive for the ‘PRR’s Cumberland Valley Branch’ Category

Requiescat in Pace

April 13, 2011

I have just received an email reporting the death of P.E. Gamber, my Uncle Paul. Some of my memories of railroading with him appear earlier on this blog. Look here, here, here, here, and here. While his death was not unexpected, he was a nonagenarian, I find myself nearly wordless to explain his importance in my life. It’s all wrapped up with the powerful metaphor that the Pennsylvania Railroad was for me as I was growing up. To me, Uncle Paul’s profession was a high calling. He was “playing” with real trains, unlike me playing with the models in my basement. He gave me a way to absorb knowledge about the railroad and experience its operations.

Here’s a quick montage of memories. Seeing the teletype in the crew room reporting the track arrival number of approaching trains. Learning the purpose of the protection sleeper for westbound trains parked on a short siding at the east end of the station in Harrisburg. Standing in the the vestibule of a Norfolk and Western sleeper as he took train orders hooped up by the operator at Lemo tower (the former J tower). Riding in the cab of EP22 5707 in the early hours of a winter morning between Hagerstown and Chambersburg on Train 638. Pulling the cord in the vestibule of “The Juniata” at Harrisburg, eastbound to Philadelphia, to signal the motorman on the GG1 to start our train. Getting a tour of a Chesapeake and Ohio sleeper with it’s roomettes placed over the trucks and the bedrooms in the middle of the car. Riding in the tail of “Mountain View” on the eastbound Broadway Limited while it was still an all-Pullman train. The view of the PRR’s real estate, track structures, stations, electrical plants, flying junctions, towers and interlockings was truly breathtaking. So much of that world is gone. And now so is an uncle who wrote indelible experiences of that history into my life. Thank you dear Uncle.


Sleeping Car

March 8, 2009

When I rode Trains 645 and 638 with my Uncle he always found an empty roomette for me in the ten roomette six bedroom sleeping car out of New York and Roanoke respectively.  Unfortunately for the future of  travel on this route, the sleepers were seldom full.

In retrospect, I wish I had recorded names and car numbers on each trip.  But I do remember with vivid certainty that one of the sleepers I rode was named Randolph Macon College.  The post war sleeping cars built for the N & W by the Budd Company were named for colleges and universities in the railroad’s territory.  These cars didn’t feature the shot-welded louvers of the streamlined cars Budd built for many railroads in the post war period.  They were known as slab-sided cars, at least among rail fans if not the car builders.  They were quiet to ride and I loved that special aroma of clean upholstery and fresh air circulating through the ventilation system.  N & W also had some 10-6 Pullman-built sleeping cars that probably graced these trains and I assume many runs featured a 10-6 sleeper from the Pennsy.  This appears to be the builder’s photo of this car.  However, as I give this photo a closer look I see what looks like one of N & W’s Pullman-built coaches to the right and behind the sleeper.  Perhaps this photo was made at Roanoke given the curved track in the foreground that suggests the station’s track layout.  I welcome your opinion.


Shippensburg Street Running

March 7, 2009

Perhaps you have sharp eyes and when you read the post on Rules and Speeds saw that the limit in Shippensburg was 6 mph.  There was a good reason.  The single track skirted the campus of Shippensburg State Teachers College westbound and entered into the middle of Earl Street and through the town.  On one of my trips with my Uncle Paul during the summer I was amazed to look out of my darkened roomette to see a line of autos I could almost touch and, behind the parked cars, front porches filled with people talking, drinking, and watching us slowly roll by.  It was railroading surrealism.  A sleeping car that had travelled at 80 mph only two hours earlier was  here moving at parade speed.  We should have had a marching band leading our E8 down the street.

It was understandable that our westbound trip, carded through Shippensburg at 12:21 am, would find the local citizens in a festive mood on a summer night.  But, to my amazement, it seemed there was an almost equal number of revelers on our eastbound return through Shippensburg at 3:14 am.

I read somewhere that this part of the CVRR is no longer in service.  Perhaps someone knows when the rails were pulled up on Earl Street.  But, if you have a copy of Trains magazine for January, 2009, (page 81) ,you can see a photograph of a Penn Central train with auto racks on Earl Street as recently as August, 1973.

The original route of the CVRR ran on streets through other towns on the route.  When I find that elusive book in a carton in my basement or garage I’ll provide details from the historical record.  Ah, time for spring cleaning!

Why All the Documentation?

February 28, 2009

Here’s a scan of my Uncle’s examination card to certify his qualifications to work as a passenger conductor on the Cumberland Valley.  Note that this branch line is organized as a part of the Philadelphia Division.  Intimate knowledge of every detail of the right of way was required of passenger train crews.  The location of every switch, crossover, interlocking, signal, etc., was all part of a day’s work.  In the collection of his materials that my Uncle Paul gave to me, I have his mile-by-mile hand made drawings of the main line from Harrisburg through Philadelphia and on to New York.  I’ll scan and post these in the future.


Speaking of documentation, here’s some history of the line.  Unlike many diminished or forgotten branch lines, this branch of the PRR has a rich history and played an important role in Pennsylvania history.  It continues today as an important artery for Norfolk Southern.

Before merger with the Pennsy, the Cumberland Valley Railroad connected Chambersburg with Harrisburg.  The Franklin Railroad connected Chambersburg with Hagerstown.  Both were absorbed into the Pennsylvania Railroad.  According to an entry on Wikipedia, the CVRR was  officially purchased on June 2, 1919, but that the PRR had substantial control as early as 1859.

The CVRR connected with the Norfolk and Western at Hagerstown but also continued on a separate right-of-way to Martinsburg, West Virginia and Winchester, Virginia.  This line was freight-only, I believe, but may have hosted passenger traffic earlier in the twentieth century.  (If you know, let me know.)

The CVRR has a rich history.  The railroad and its Chambersburg facilities were attacked by Confederate cavalry in the days leading to the Battle of Gettysburg and another confederate raid occurred the next year in 1864.  Retired Defense Department intelligence operations specialist Paul J. Westhaeffer has written a history of the railroad.  His Web page summarizes his work and contains a map of the early configuration of railroads in the Cumberland Valley.  There’s a wealth of information at the links at the bottom of his page.

If your a model railroader and visit the area, there’s a club in Chambersburg you may want to see, the Cumberland Valley Model Railroad Club.

There’s a great summary of CVRR history at this link, including images of stock issues and the cover of a timetable courtesy of railroad author Dan Cupper.

Someone is intending to build a Web site about the Cumberland Valley Railroad.

Rules and Speeds

February 28, 2009

cumberland-valley-scanHere’s another document my Uncle used to study the rules and speed limits governing trains 645 and 638. This is equivalent to an employees timetable for this branch of the railroad. Note the speed limit through Shippensburg. The six miles per hour running was required because the railroad ran down through the middle of a street. Note the branch featured spring switches, something that would never be found on the main line. Today, one can drive on Interstate 81 between Harrisburg and Hagerstown in about fifty minutes. It’s interesting to think that passengers once settled for a slow speed ride through the night at an average speed about thirty miles per hour. I want to find out more about hand operated switches connected to block signals. Perhaps a knowledgeable operator can weigh in on that. Does it mean that a switch thrown by hand actually changes the aspect of the signal?

Public Timetable

February 21, 2009

I have to continue my search through many boxes to find my PRR timetables of Trains 645 and 638. In the meantime, here’s page 3 of the Norfolk and Western time table N0. 2 dated October 29, 1961. At this time, the Roanoke Sleeper  westbound to Harrisburg was on Train 3, the Penn Texas, New York to St. Louis.  Eastbound, the Roanoke to New York Sleeper connected to Train 30, the St. Louis  to New York The Spirit of St. Louis.


The Slow Crawl of the New York Trains

January 14, 2009


Here is P.E. Gamber’s typewritten timetable. Calculate the rate and distance and it  shows Harrisburg to Hagerstown at 30 miles per hour; the same blazing speed on to Roanoke.  Research indicates that the residents along the N & W in the Shenandoah Valley named Train 1, the continuation of PRR 645. and Train 2, the connection to PRR 638, the “New York trains” because of the glamourous destination that connected to these rural towns and hamlets.

The timetable on the left is older than the one on the right.  It shows that the westbound train hauling the Roanoke Sleeper was Train 39, The Clevelander.  In June, 1961, the Cleveland cars were combined with Train 49, The General, between New York and Pittsburgh.  I’m willing to guess that this is when the Roanoke Sleeper was shifted to Train 3, The Penn Texas, but I don’t have a source to substantiate this.  Note that my Uncle Paul crossed out the 9 and left the 3 to mark this change.

Modeling Memories

January 14, 2009

Train 645

This realm on the World Wide Web combines the realities of prototype railroading with the drama of trying to capture the prototype in miniature.  Just creating this blog with my colleague has forced me to think more deeply about what I’m doing as a model railroader and why I’m interested in railroads at all.  There will be much more about these thoughts in the days ahead.

Hardly ever addressed in the model railroad press is the personal profile that I think drives most of us into the hobby:  powerful memories.  We build, we model, we operate because of memories.

I spent my childhood in a railroad town, Enola, site of the then world’s largest classification yard on the Pennsylvania Railroad.  If an I1sa in shifter service in the westbound receiving yard blew a dirty stack it sent my mother and our neighbors fleeing into back yards to rescue the sheets drying on the clotheslines.  Wind speed and direction determined who would have to run cinder-covered sheets through the ringer washer a second time.

To this day I imagine a cut finger would bleed Pennsy Tuscan red.  At least, that’s my fantasy.  My grandfather, S. O. Rowe, an engineman, piloted freights across the Middle Division between Enola and Altoona.  He was retired already when I was a mere child but I imagine him to this day sitting proudly in his right hand seat on his L1 decapod.  For a time, one of his sons, my Uncle Ed, sat on the left seat box as his fireman.  But, as I was growing up, Uncle Ed was a remote figure in my life, lofty, somewhat gruff and intimidating, and supervising PRR motive power in the Northern Region.

My great, good fortune in the creation of memories was my Uncle Paul.  As a young man he married my father’s fourth sister, Mabel, and worked as a passenger conductor between Harrisburg and points east, Philadelphia and New York.  To me, he had the best job in the world.  He enjoyed the romance of conducting the Tuscan red fleets of the Pennsy blue ribbon trains from Harrisburg to places of real importance, the big cities of the East.

But the one job Uncle Paul seemed to like the most had little to do with the blue ribbon fleet moving at eighty miles per hour over the electrified territory of the PRR.  When he had enough seniority, he bid the conductor’s job on one of the lowliest and slowest trains on the Pennsy timetable.  Train 645, and its counterpart, train 638.

The station at Harrisburg was one of the most intricately choreographed places on the railroad.  While more trains served stations like Philadelphia, those trains either passed through or terminated there.  At Harrisburg, trains from the east, west, north and south had trades to make.  Pullman sleeping car routes converged and diverged there.  Many Chicago and St. Louis trains eastbound shed cars at Harrisburg into Baltimore-Washington trains while collecting cars from these cities  westbound.  Buffalo and Erie arrivals and departures, while fewer in number, added to the high iron dance.

In the early evening, a westbound train left Pennsylvania Station in New York City with a sleeping car in its consist bound for Roanoke, Virginia.  A shifter switched it out on arrival at Harrisburg and spotted it on track 1 in the station, the track with the easiest access to the sharp turn to the bridge across the Susquehanna River to the west shore.  There “J” Tower (now preserved at the Strasburg [PA] Railroad) stood sentinel at a crossover and a double “wye” that routed trains to the lines that once comprised the Northern Central Railroad and the line to Hagerstown, Maryland, and Winchester, Virginia, that once comprised the Cumberland Valley Railroad.

The sleeping car wasn’t isolated on track 1 for long.  East of the station, a single unit diesel locomotive, a railway post office car, and a coach waited to back down and couple to the sleeper.  Train 645 was now complete and ready to board the coach passengers who had to leave the train from New York and climb the steps to the station concourse and wait until 645 was ready to receive them.  The first class passengers in the sleeper were untroubled by the requirement to change trains.

Around 11 pm, (the exact departure time varied over the years), 645 began it’s leisurely journey over Pennsy rails to Hagerstown.  There, in the middle of the night, the engine would be cut off and a Norfolk and Western Railway engine would be added to continue the slow journey on N & W rails to Roanoke.  Meanwhile, the Pennsy engine turned on a wye at Hager Tower and waited a short time for the arrival of eastbound train 638 for the trip to Harrisburg and the connection to an eastbound train for New York.

My Uncle Paul was an avid, and successful, gardener.  I think he bid on this job because it gave him an overnight run that didn’t involve a lot of work and an early morning arrival home.  After a few hours of sleep he was out in the garden for the rest of the day.  I, of course, took no interest in his garden but the glamour of his railroad career thrilled me.