|Mo grabbed a (Starbucks) latte before we headed out
on a short Amtrak trip from Pittsburgh to Altoona, via the famous
Horseshoe Curve. We took this picture to show how roomy day
coaches are - wouldn't it be nice to have that much room on a plane?
Our train trip through the Horseshoe Curve was a little different than
expected - more about that later. Nice, smooth rail on this
section of track - most of it triple-tracked.
|When we arrived at the Altoona station, our bus was
nowhere to be found. So here we are, looking distinctly like lost
tourists. A local "Altoonian" gave us walking directions to our
next stop (a museum), and we headed out on foot. The bus
eventually showed up.
|This is the Altoona Railroader's Museum. The
outdoor collection is a bit worse for wear, but the indoor exhibits (in
the large brick building behind the turntable) were
some of the best we've seen. The turntable is remarkably large.
The museum sits on an area previously occupied by the Pennsylvania
Railroad's extensive Altoona shops.
|I always enjoy bits of history that highlight changes
in the way the genders have been treated. Here's a great
description of one of the (rare) railroad roles filled by women.
|Flagging a train from the tower.
|The picture's a bit fuzzy (handheld natural light),
but a fun observation nevertheless.
|The Pennsylvania Railroad's overnight train from
Chicago to New York was known as the Broadway Limited. I had
assumed the name came from New York's Broadway. Most
rail historians say the name actually originates from the
quadruple-tracked mainline that were present on many sections of this heavily traveled
route. Today, it is mostly triple track - but still very
heavily used for freight traffic.
|The Railway Express Agency - how shippers got
packages across country before the days of FedEx and UPS. I
remember going with Dad down to the REA office in Seattle to pickup a
shipment from Allied Radio in Chicago (It was a shortwave radio kit I
was going to build). I had braces and (black
frame) glasses at the time. After looking me over, the "customer
service" person waiting on us said "My, you're defective aren't you?".
Funny I remember that very clearly after 40 some years.
|Just a few miles from Altoona is the famous Horseshoe
Curve, celebrated on this boxcar lettering.
|This picture is for Betsy, and she will know why.
|This is without a doubt the biggest "Low Boy" I've
seen. Sixteen axles....
|....and a capacity of half a million pounds (250
|After exploring the museum in Altoona, we took a
short ride to the Horseshoe Curve. The entire grade here was
constructed before power machinery was available. The manual labor
was done using hand tools and black powder, largely by Irish miners
brought over for the task.
|The fall colors are showing spectacularly.
|In our 45 minutes or so at the viewpoint, we saw four
|This is a terrific spot for train viewing, since you
can follow the train coming...
|Look carefully at this picture and you can see that
there are two trains coming through the curve. Bright blue
Conrail locomotives can be seen on the far track heading to the left.
I noted earlier that our Amtrak trip through the Curve was different
than expected. As our Amtrak train rolled through on the far rail,
a freight passed us on the near rail - more or less completely
obliterating our view of the curve from the train.
|Another train heading through the curve from the fine
|There's a funicular railroad that runs up to the
viewpoint. Unlike the inclines we saw yesterday which have two
tracks for the full length, this one uses a single track with a "passing
track" in the middle for the two cars to pass. Unfortunately, it
was out of service today so we hoofed it up the stairs.
|A few miles from the Horseshoe Curve, we enjoyed a
very pleasant walk through the Alleghany Portage Railroad historic site.
|For about twenty years before the Horseshoe Curve was
completed in 1851, cargo destined for Western Pennsylvania was carried
on barges to the Eastern slopes of the Alleghenies, where the entire
barge was loaded onto a railcar and hoisted up the mountains. This
is almost certainly the first example of containerized cargo!
|You can still see the clearly-defined grade where the
barges were lifted up the mountain on railcars.
|The original rails on timber.
|A stationary steam engine at the top of the grade
provided the lifting power.
|I was surprised to find that the lift pulleys were
essentially driven directly from the steam engine. I expected
there might be some gear reduction used to increase power and reduce
|The barges on railcars were initially hoisted by
conventional manila or hemp ropes....which sometimes broke with
disastrous results as the cars (which had no brakes) careened back down
the grade. This clever "brake car" was eventually added to the
mix. If the tow rope broke, the railcar would slide downhill back
onto the brake car, which had an ingenious design that pressed a wooden
wedge against the rails to slow the runaway car. Eventually, the
fiber ropes gave way to Roebling's wire rope, but time was running out
for the Portage Railroad - once the Horseshoe Curve was completed, the
all-rail route between Philadelphia and Pittsburgh made the Portage
|To haul the barge-on-railcar trains on level grades,
a very early steam engine (4-2-0) was used.
|It's always a challenge to capture photos of fall
color - especially out a bus window. This gives you an idea of the
colors that are developing as we head further East and up in elevation.
|We spent Monday night in Johnstown, where we found
this interesting church sign.
here to watch a short movie taken at the Horseshoe Curve
|Autumn displays are very common here. We also
saw these outdoor displays when we were in Kentucky several years ago.
In a downtown Johnstown park, local businesses competed on fall
displays. This one was a combined entry from the local tux shop
and bridal shop.
|Tomorrow, we will head up the Johnstown Inclined
Plane (shown here from the window of our Amtrak train as we headed to
Altoona this morning). The cars on this inclined railroad are big
enough to transport automobiles up the hill.
|(Video files are very large, and will take several
minutes to download even with a fast internet connection.)