BACK Summit of Alleghenies Page ONE of TWO
After rounding the curve and climbing out of the long, deep tunnel-cut, trains arrive at Sand Patch, PA; Summit of the Allegheny Mountains on the railroad. At an elevation of 2258 feet the trains have climbed about 1500 feet from the river valleys out of Cumberland, Maryland. At the summit there is a helper pocket, crossovers and there was an operating interlocking tower known as 'SA' Tower until October of 2001. All of the pictures on this and the following page are taken around the summit over the last decade.
Sometimes trains on Sand Patch grade come in bunches. When this happens, helper operations can get hectic. On the day these 3 pictures were taken, four westbounds in a row came out of Cumberland, and the only helper that could pull with the westbound mixed freight, at the right, was facing the wrong way. "No matter, send her up long hood forward." Number 8505, an ex-Seaboard System SD50 has arrived to the summit. The preceding train (above) had the other unit from this split-up helper set. SD50s have for many years been the staple of the grade's helper pool, although the Connellsville group often has geeps or whatever is on hand.
In this overview shot, taken from the popular summit road overpass, we can see the entire plant at Sand Patch. SA tower controlled it all from a nook in the hillside. 8505 has cut off and will join her mate in the helper pocket. After the westbounder departs the helpers will return to Hyndman together again as a single set. The helper pocket, like SA Tower, will be removed soon. Only the crossovers will be needed CSX says.
The classic stone summit marker still sits along the mainline, like its near twin at the summit of the CSX main to Grafton West Virginia. That line crosses the mountains an hour south of Sand Patch. Both of the scenic former B&O lines still have classic features like markers, towers and position light signals.
Eastbounds arrive at the summit as they pass under the summit road bridge from a mile wide horse shoe curve coming up from Keystone. The classic steel bridge seen in this picture was replaced (sadly) in the summer of 2000. It no longer serves as the classy photo prop. Here is eastbound Q296, a dedicated autoparts train, usually seen in the morning. It is generally short, so only a single unit may be seen.
On my visit to Sand Patch in July of 2000, I caught this westbound as it passed under the new bridge construction. The modern concrete bridge is complete now and has some advantages over the old steel span. Anyone who had ever tried to shoot video from the old bridge can tell you that as soon as the train came near, a car would drive over the bridge and it shook like a rollercoaster, thus ruining the shot. That is not be a problem anymore, and the new bridge has a better view of the big curve up from Keystone. Somebody send me a picture from the new bridge!!!

Sadly, the old bridge is gone, soon SA Tower will be demolished, the helper pocket removed and the old signals are being removed accross the entire line, replaced by modern "traffic lights".

Like the summit marker, the Grafton line to the south has a twin for this bridge too. At M&K Junction near Rowlesburg WV there has been a long steel bridge spanning the main for years.It too is near its demise.

On a sunny fall morning The Capitol roars towards SA Tower from the big curve, framed by the classic steel bridge.
Day in and day out, trains have rolled over the summit at Sand Patch since the 19th century. It was SA tower that has kept them on the move. SA Tower was closed in October of 2001, just days after my last visit there.fortunately I got pictures and video during my stay. SA tower will soon be history and a place of memories like most towers on the former B&O have become. Here we see eastbound R136 cruising to a stop near the summit marker. The Trailer "Jets" for many years would stop and do a brake test before heading down the east slope. It always made for a good show at the west portal as they fired up to pull the long trains over the summit. Today few trains do brake tests.
Veteran operator Pete Kelley, who has since retired, could be found on the "first trick" job during the week. He was senior man at SA Tower. Pete is seen here on a radio chat with an approaching train. Always friendly and helpful, he would talk history and get you a lineup of the coming trains with a smile. I miss ya Pete.
Ed Karfelt and I have shared more pizza, sandwiches and bull stories than I can remember. Ed worked the second trick and will hang on to a visit with a friendly demeanor rarely seen in today's cold, corporate railroading world.
Ed is seen here as he worked the tower interlocking machine and the trainsheet. Every move through the plant had to be carefully recorded. On an average day by midnight, the trainsheet usually had well over 30 logs between the trains and their helpers. I find that at night, the tower took on a special feel. A magic that can only be experienced in an active railroad interlocking tower. I have been privileged to be allowed access to such a fine place. Thank you. I will miss your magic SA Tower, and the good people who tended you. "Yeah its sappy, but that's how I feel."
SA Tower controlled signals and switches for miles of track near the summit, and it did this with a venerable General Railway Signal electromechanical lever machine. The "thunks" and "clicks" of this machine were magical when the smooth pistol grips are in your hand, and you knew that somewhere out there, switches lined for the coming train, and they would see high greens on the position lights you set.

DING DING "Q138 is on the bell.... Line up number two main through Manila. I'll fax his sheet down to Hyndman. " Ka-chunk,click,ka-chunk,click.....Ka-chunk,click. "138 how yer supplies and power?"........

"Supplies and power good Sand Patch. How's the weather up there tonight?"

"31 degrees at 23 hundred. Yuns stoppin' for an air test?"

"Yeah Sand Patch, 85 hundred feet and only 3 units...."


Signal maintainer Tony Gall lines crossovers while daylight trick operator Larry Gauntz talks to the Cumberland yardmasters.

With maintenance forces plus the daily trains, first trick was usually too busy to visit SA Tower and hope to have a chat. Railroaders have a job to do and visitors sometimes get in the way.

Go To Summit Page TWO
BACK Copyright 2001
Iron Horse America