Winter at the Strasburg Railroad, Part 2

A few weeks ago I posted some photos of the Strasburg Railroad. While I was there, I also captured a little bit of video too. Since I’ve been fairly busy working on some other projects this week, I figured I’d just share this video in lieu of a proper post this week. Although the snow certainly looks nice on film, I’d much rather the weather quite a bit warmer.

For the folks subscribed to the site via email, you must visit the site to view video features.

One of the reasons I’m dying for warmer weather is because I happened to purchase a DJI Phantom. The first (admittedly horrible) clip above is from the Phantom… actually it is the very first time I ever flew it for capturing video. I’m sure future attempts will be a little bit smoother, after I’ve had some more practice.

Read More

Winter at the Strasburg Railroad

I swear to you all, I really hate winter. And the cold. Sure, we may have checked out the Harlem Line and the Hudson Line in the snow, but I’d so much rather be somewhere warm… Instead of being at some tropical location this past weekend, you would have found me at the Strasburg Railroad in Pennsylvania. Despite being assured that it “never snows” for these winter photo specials, Saturday’s weather brought more snow in addition to the already deep snow blanketing the ground. The majority of the day was grey, with the sun only appearing for approximately three seconds at the very end of the journey.

Although the day was very monochromatic, the black and white views of the railroad – with the occasional splash of color – turned out alright. Amtrak made a very quick appearance, as did a fluffy farm dog, quite puzzled by the crowd of photographers wading in knee-deep snow just outside her backyard. Anyway, here is what the Strasburg Railroad looks like in the snow…


Read More

Friday Fun: Video From the Lake Shore Railway Museum

For some quick Friday fun, I have a lovely video taken at the Lake Shore Railway Museum in North East, Pennsylvania from a few weekends ago. Cedar Point was not the only place where I got to mount a GoPro camera on a train… I’m like an addict that can’t stop. I love trains, I love every kind of train, but I can’t put my camera on every train. (Though I may certainly try)

In other news, if you’re on Instagram and you’re not following us, you totally should be. Besides interesting photos of Metro-North trains taken on my day to day commute (and beyond), there are plenty of other railroad-related locales that have shown up in our photo feed. Here are a few from the Lake Shore Railway Museum… besides having some historical locomotives and cars, the railroad line behind the museum is quite active, and you’ll see both CSX and Norfolk Southern passing by all day long.

Lake Shore Railway Museum Lake Shore Railway Museum
Lake Shore Railway Museum Lake Shore Railway Museum

Read More

Looking back at 2010… a countdown of the most popular

Ah, 2010. You were the first full year that I actually operated this blog. Lots of fun and shenanigans were to be had. I decided to take a look back at what was popular on the site this year, as a wrap-up for 2010…

1. BPGlobal Billboards

The first entry here is not train-related in any way… however it was such a major news story at the time I couldn’t not have some fun with it – though fun is actually a terrible way to describe it, as the Gulf Oil Spill was quite tragic. To me the two standouts in coverage on this was a fake twitter account, BPGlobalPR, and Boston Globe’s The Big Picture. I merged the two into fake billboards, which apparently caught on and made their rounds on the web – and brought around thirty thousand viewers to the site in a single day.

2. Harlem Line Timetables

It is true, I have turned into an eBay whore… collecting just about anything regarding the Harlem Line. Many of the timetables I have can be found on the second most popular part of the site, the Harlem Line Timetables archive. It is desperately needing updating, as I own or have scanned many more timetables than are currently pictured. My goal was always to have a timetable for every year, and for the most part I do have that, from 1930 on up. Look for a major overhaul of this section in 2011!

3. Stupid Warning Signs

Ah, stupid warning signs. One of the most amusing things I’ve made for the site. These popular signs round out the top three most popular things on the site this year. Folks have requested that I turn these into stickers, but if you people start sticking these on trains the MTA PD might actually have a real reason to arrest my ass.

4. The Cutest Train Car in the World

One of the posts I made after returning from Japan featured the Tama Densha railcar of the Wakayama Electric Railway. The railroad is known in offbeat circles around the world due to the fact that they employ a feline Stationmaster (I believe she’s actually been promoted to Vice-President now). Tama the cat was so popular, designer Eiji Mitooka created a train car in her honor. The front of the train has whiskers, the seats inside have cat print. My favorite part of the train? The library full of books for the kids.

5. Centalia, PA – Burning Ghost Town

I’ve always been fascinated with Centralia, ever since I first read about it on the internet many years ago. Since then I’ve visited several times. The story begins in the 1960’s, when a coal seam under the town caught fire. It continues to burn to this day. The land has fissures that belch smoke, and it permanently smells of sulfur. It is a tragic story, as the once bustling small town has been whittled down to less than ten citizens.

The coal under the town that is burning is anthracite – which was popularized in little rhymes about Phoebe Snow in advertisements for the Lackawanna Railroad.

6. The Loneliest Station on the Harlem Line

Although I hadn’t come up with the concept yet, the Harlem Line Panorama project began with Mount Pleasant – which I labeled as the loneliest station on the line. The tiny station in between Hawthorne and Valhalla services the cemeteries in the area, and has very limited service.

The first panorama posted on the site

7. The Harlem Line Panorama Project

If you’re interested in seeing all the panoramas to date, located on a map – this is the place to go. This Google map is the seventh most popular portion of the site, although technically it lies off site and on Google’s servers. However, each placemark contains my favorite panorama from that stop, and a link back to the post on this site.

8. Sadie the Subway Cat

The Transit Museum in Brooklyn has employed a cat or two, mostly in the hopes that they would chase away any subway rats. In this eighth most popular post I recollect my first visit to the Transit Museum and my encounter with Sadie… and my crazy idea to get her a miniature-sized train conductor’s hat. Of course none of that really panned out – and as far as I am aware, Sadie has been quietly retired from the public.

9. The #1 Reason to Ride Metro-North

Back in June I posted these spoof ads for Metro-North and beer. If you are a regular commuter you will notice that in the afternoon, and most especially on Fridays, there are quite a few people drinking beer. The exception to that if you are those people that work at Target in Mount Kisco, you’re drinking it in the morning. But since you can’t drink and drive, and you can certainly drink and ride, Metro-North could always have an amusing new ad campaign.

10. M8 Cars Will Not Debut on the New Haven Line

Ah, April Fools Day… I couldn’t resist making a fake post about the new M8’s. Shattering the dreams of many New Haven Line riders, I posted that the red trains would be repainted blue and running instead on the Harlem Line by the end of the year. I even made up some fake quotes and attributed them to Dan Brucker – which probably doesn’t place me very high on his list of awesome bloggers.

So that is it! The ten most popular things on the blog in 2010. Happy New Year everyone!

Read More

Tuesday Tour of the Harlem Line: Woodlawn

Although it is the Hudson Line more often cited for its scenery, you do pass by quite a few interesting locales taking a train down the Harlem Line. From the farmlands of Dutchess county, to the reservoirs that serve the city’s need for water, there is much to see on the Harlem Line – and I hope that I’ve been able to show some of this on my weekly tour of the various stations. Although it certainly isn’t the most noteworthy, the line does also pass by quite a few cemeteries. In the case of Kensico Cemetery, the railroad probably played a part in its growth. Kensico may no longer have a station dedicated to it, but at one time the cemetery even had its own rail car to serve the more affluent of folk heading to bury their loved ones.

Resting place of Gail Borden, at the Woodlawn Cemetery

Another cemetery I haven’t yet mentioned on here, however, is the Woodlawn Cemetery. Woodlawn station itself is located in the Bronx, a bit shy of 12 miles from Grand Central. It is just north of Woodlawn that the New Haven Line diverges from the Harlem. Although the station isn’t expressly for the cemetery, as Kensico was, it is very close to it. For those interested in seeing the final resting place of quite a few historical figures, Woodlawn would definitely be an interesting place to check out. Not to mention the wide array of different styles of memorial (someone please erect a statue of me riding a liger upon my death?). Some of the memorials were designed by renowned architects, such as Cass Gilbert (who designed New Haven’s Union Station), and McKim, Mead, and White (who designed the original Pennsylvania Station). Noteworthy musicians WC Handy, Miles Davis, and Duke Ellington are all buried at Woodlawn, as well as businessmen whose names most people recognize: RH Macy, JC Penney, and Frank Woolworth. And many of us would also recognize the names of Joseph Pulitzer, Fiorello LaGuardia, Simon Guggenheim, and Augustus Juilliard, also buried in the cemetery. Of course my favorite “resident” is Gail Borden, the eccentric inventor of condensed milk, who was also a Harlem Division rider (a post about him on here is quite overdue, but will be coming soon, I swear!)

Anyways, here are some shots of the Harlem Line station at Woodlawn:

Read More

An old adventure to Centralia, Pennsylvania – The Burning Ghost Town

Hopefully you guys aren’t missing me too much… I figured I would set up some posts in the queue to submit themselves while I am gone on vacation, that way you wouldn’t miss me at all. If you haven’t noticed by now, I enjoy going on adventures, and taking photos. On a cool morning last November I boarded an early train to White Plains to meet up with my friend, and partner in crime. From White Plains we drove to a small town in Pennsylvania named Centralia. I first learned about Centralia several years ago, and somehow I became obsessed with its history. Centralia today is nearly a ghost town, with a population of under ten people. In 1981, that population was over 1,000. It was a town full of life, a close-knit community with homes, churches, and shops. But today those homes, churches, and shops are gone… razed long ago. Thin wisps of steam rise from the ground in Centralia, especially so on cool mornings. The ground is warm to the touch, and the air smells of sulfur. Centralia is not like any town you’ve ever encountered, for it is burning, and has been since 1962.

If you’ve ever seen old advertising for the Lackawanna Railroad, you may already be familiar with anthracite. Anthracite is a particular type of coal, which in the United States is found in northwestern Pennsylvania. It burns hotter and cleaner, with less soot, than ordinary coal. In the early 20th century, anthracite was used for a variety of purposes, including home heating, but also to power trains. Although other railroads may have used anthracite, it was the Lackawanna Railroad that made it a part of their advertising. They called their line “The Road of Anthracite” because they chose the more expensive coal to power their locomotives. Anthracite, with its cleaner burn, prevented passengers from the possibility of getting dirty from the soot of a regular coal-burning locomotive. To further underscore this point, the character of Phoebe Snow was created for the advertising. Phoebe was a regular train rider who frequently wore white gowns. Various rhymes using Phoebe were created for advertising:

My gown stays white
From morn till night
Upon the road of Anthracite

Phoebe says
And Phoebe knows
That smoke and cinders
Spoil good clothes
‘Tis thus a pleasure
And Delight
To take the Road
Of Anthracite

The character, Phoebe Snow, used in Lackawanna Railroad’s advertisements.

During World War One, railroads were not permitted to use anthracite, as it was required for the war effort, so Phoebe’s career essentially ended there. However, in 1949 a passenger train named the Phoebe Snow was debuted on a route from Hoboken to Buffalo, and later from Hoboken to Chicago.

Anthracite figures significantly in the history of Centralia. Centralia was an old anthracite coal-mining town. It is somewhat ironic to note that it was the coal mines that led to the founding of the town, and also the anthracite coal that led to the town’s demise. In 1962 a landfill caught on fire, underneath of which was an old, open strip-mining pit. The fire above ignited a coal seam underground. The actual details of the start of the fire are hazy and frequently argued. One theory believes that the trash in the dump was burned every year, and that particular year the fire was improperly extinguished. Another theory states that a trash hauler threw hot coals from a stove into the dump, causing the fire. Whatever the cause, the coal underneath the town began to burn.

Side by side comparison of Centralia then and now (although this photo was taken from the wrong position, facing the wrong way. However it is my favorite from the adventure). Historical photo © David DeKok.

For the most part, how the fire began is unimportant. It was the hazardous conditions caused by the fire that led to Centralia becoming mostly unlivable. As the fire spread underground, burning along the seams of coal, carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide were released. Efforts to extinguish the fire failed, not because it was impossible, but because of money. It finally came down to the fact that it would be cheaper to relocate everyone in the town than it would be to put out the fire. Centralia was essentially not worth saving, at least in the government’s point of view. In 1984 the government began buying out homeowners in Centralia, allowing them to relocate, and their old houses were demolished. Everyone was told the move was voluntary, no one was going to be forcibly removed. Except of course, that was a lie. In 1992 Pennsylvania clamied eminent domain on all the properties, and condemned all the buildings. The people that refused to give up their town were then essentially squatters in their own homes. The state of Pennsylvania is currently pushing for everyone left in the town to move out. I’m sure they would love to forget the death of a town mostly due to bureaucrats and incompetence… to get everyone out and forget that Centralia ever existed. There are some, however, that will not forget.

The current mayor of Centralia posted the fire signs above. The We Love Centralia sign was an addition by me.

As it should be, the subject of Centralia is at times a touchy subject. There are a few folks that would deny that the town was ever “unlivable” and that there was ever any danger. I consider this the emotional response to people that didn’t want to see the place that they grew up in, that their families grew up in, destroyed. When Todd Domboski fell into a burning sinkhole, these same people denied that it was a result of the fire. Back then living in the town probably was dangerous. The plumes of steam coming from the hillsides was massive, to the point of dangerously obscuring the roads. However, if you visit Centralia now, the steam is barely there. There seems to be very little danger to the people that are currently living in the town.

Read More