Altoona Railfest 2001
Altoona, PA October 6, 2001
by Bob LeBras
It was a dreary, cold and drizzly day in Altoona
for early Fall. The rain had ended in Pittsburgh,
but, heading eastward, I drove right back
into the tail end of it. Fortunately, the
heaviest precipitation was felt on the road
with scattered light to moderate morning sprinkles
lingering as the Canadian cold front pushed
relentlessly through the Allegheny Mountains.
However, it takes more than a little rain
to dampen the spirits of a railfan.
Arriving in Altoona at around 10:30 a.m.,
I parked in the mall lot next door to the
museum versus the suggested parking area.
I'm not one to follow the rules and like
to have the UAV (Urban Assault Vehicle)
nearby. This is handy for dumping off any
acquired treasures and expedient getaways.
As I knew, at some point, I would be chasing
the featured excursion train to Horseshoe
Curve, my selected lot space was the perfect
First, I immediately went to the Railroaders
Memorial Museum to purchase my entry ticket
which was good for admission to the museum
and Horseshoe Curve. Although the museum
states that this is their biggest fundraiser
for the year, I was very surprised by the
lack of vendors in the large museum yard.
I had expected a turnout similar to the
many airshows I've attended with sellers
hawking everything from lemonade to lawnchairs.
In fact, there were only a couple of tents
set up on the grounds and only one food
vendor; no funnelcakes, corndogs, or shrimp
skewers this trip.
As I had visited the museum and its outside
rail equipment displays just a few months
prior, I declined to spend time in these
areas. I snapped a couple of photos of nicely
restored vintage vehicles parked in the
yard, went inside to the museum store, purchased
a very nice Railfest 2001 T-shirt, then
raced back outside to see the arrival of
the excursion train towed by a pair of restored
EMD E8 locomotives. Naturally, Norfolk Southern,
in the true spirit of its ill-advised corporate
moves and bad timing, provided railfans
with a long eastbound freight on Track 2
just as the excursion train arrived at the
platform on Track 1 blocking the best views
from the dozens of photographers lining
the south side of the tracks.
Once the freight had passed, I snapped
a few shots of the train with its beautifully
restored matching pair of E8s from various
vantage points, noting that, aside from
two vintage tuscan Pennsy marked cars on
either end, the passenger coaches were all
stainless MARC commuter cars from Maryland.
As a first generation diesel afficianado
and PRR fan, it was a spectacular sight
to see these historic leviathans resurrected
and operating in their original livery and
renumbered to their Pennsylvania Railroad
identifcations of Nos. 5809 and 5711. The
constant, yet courteous, juxtapositioning
of dozens of photographers (myself included),
on the ground and along both pedestrian
footbridges, seeking to capture this unique
train from every conceivable angle confirmed
that my enthusiasm was a widely shared experience.
Back at the museum, a gentleman told me
that I could purchase an excursion ticket
at the Amtrak station for the trip from
Altoona to Gallitzin Loop and back. I walked
across the footbridge spanning the NS mainline
and entered the station. Now, Altoona is
not New York City and its Amtrak station,
although relatively new, is not Grand Central
Terminal having been designed to handle
a few dozen train and bus passengers awaiting
departure. What confronted me as I entered
the station was, quite literally, a sea
of humanity filling virtually every horizontal
void in the facility. The waiting area was
jam-packed and the line extended, I assume,
to the outside. Quickly, I determined that
this was not the ideal moment to purchase
my ticket and decided to leave, planning
to return at a later, quieter time.
I decided to stop at the UAV, lose the
T-shirt, and proceed to the toy train meet
at the mall. I had never been inside Station
Mall before, and immediately liked the intimate
atmosphere of this small urban commercial
setting. Also, I have always enjoyed special
vendor events set up in mall public areas
because it enhances the shopping experience.
Certainly, it was fitting and appropriate
to have a train meet in this mall nextdoor
to a railroad museum, located at the center
of the Pennsylvania Railroad empire, and
along the most famous and busiest stretch
of track in the world.
I saw lots of nifty stuff, both old and
new, ranging from N scale to G, but mostly
O gauge. There was no pressure to buy and
it just seemed, overall, a more relaxed
and enjoyable form of "window shopping."
Also, there were several very nice modular
layouts by the Alto Model Train Museum Association,
Inc., one each in O, S and HO gauges, set
up in an alcove area. Some of the scenes
including a snow village, circus, and Halloween
haunted house were really neat and I hope
lots of kids got to see them.
As I was about to leave the mall, I heard
the distinctive sound of the E8s Model 567
prime movers throttle up as the first excursion
run departed Altoona. I walked out the back
door to see yet more dozens of photographers
clicking away. Instead of joining them,
I simply watched in awe and respect listening
to the wonderful throb of 48 cylinders reminiscing
of days long past; the gentle chime of the
bell and the melodic song of the air horn
combine with the intoxicating diesel exhaust
fumes spreading more than a few goosebumps
amongst the gathered throng.
Snapping myself out of The Zone, I realize
that the train has left Altoona for the
big climb and, yet another series of fantastic
shots awaits at historic Horseshoe Curve.
The Curve, combined with these vintage classics,
is a sure-bet recipe for unforgettable railfanning.
Although I have driven from Horseshoe Curve
to Altoona several times, I had never done
the reverse so I really didn't know where
I was going. I followed the mainline on
some back streets for awhile, took a wrong
turn, used my pretty good sense of direction,
got back on the right track, and found my
way to the big bend. I arrived knowing that
I had missed the outboud trip, but in plenty
of time for the eastbound return. In the
meantime, I took some shots of Amtrak trains
battling the grandest ascent/descent struggle
in mainline railroading.
Finally, we heard the unmistakable horn
of the E8 led train as it wound its way
down the mountain towards The Curve. Everyone
jumped to their feet and faced the tracks
preparing to shoot this one-of-a-kind train
from a hundred different angles with every
conceivable piece of photographic/video
equipment. On this day, I had my new digital
camera (a Sony Mavica FD73, for those interested)
affording me superb photographic flexibility.
I took full advantage of it and was ecstatic
to witness a scene right out of class 1950s
Zipping back to Altoona (knowing my way
this time) and parking in the Amtran lot
next to the Amtrak station, I arrived in
time to watch the switch back operations
in progress with the locomotive pair changing
positions from one end of the train to the
other in preparation for the next run. I
already knew this train was sold-out, so
I did not bother to go back to the station.
I decided to board the free shuttle to visit
the NS Juniata Locomotive Shop hoping for
an interesting tour.
The shop tour was abit disappointing because
of its limited scope. Only the first floor
of the Administration Building was accessible
with three locomotives parked on one side
and two cars on the other. However, it is
always fun to get to climb inside the cab
of a locomotive and that fun was tripled
in this instance. Inside the building was
an impressive HO scale model of the shops
constructed during the Conrail years and
quite detailed. On the opposite side of
the building was the NS Exhibit Car with
interactive displays and videos espousing
the greatness of the Norfolk Southern Railroad.
Included here was an interesting scaled-down
locomotive cab simulator, but the line was
too mean looking to tarry. I proceeded to
the next car which was a glorious NS executive
observation piece with a gorgeous wood interior
and immaculate guestroom facilities. Truly,
this was rail travel in the grand old tradition.
I left the Juniata Shops and boarded one
of Altoona's classic and well-maintained
GMC short fishbowl buses for the ride back
to town. This simple shuttle trip was very
nostalgic for me reminding of many similar
rides on Port Authority Transit full-size
fishbowls in the mid 1970s. We debarked
at the Amtrak station prior to the departure
of the scheduled 1:35 p.m. excursion train.
I, immediately, went inside the station
and purchased a ticket for the last trip
at 3:50 p.m. I was told to be back at the
station 1/2 hour prior to departure time.
So, I set about milling around the museum
yard looking at the few displays and purchasing
a very mediocre hotdog for lunch. I went
back inside the museum store and bought
some more stuff figuring it was a good way
to thank those who organized Railfest and
support a community facing a very troubled
financial future with the imminent closing
of both the Hollidaysburg Car Shop and the
Juniata Locomotive Shops. The days and years
ahead for Altoona are quite bleak thanks
to the Thoroughbred of Railroading. Any
remnants of respect I may have had for Norfolk
Southern went out the window during this
I shot some more photos of the return
of the Pennsy E8s. One can never have too
many photos. Fortunately, film is very cheap
for my camera in the form of 3 1/2 inch
floppy diskettes. I decided to mosey on
back to the Amtrak station about an hour
before the next scheduled departure, my
trip, and see what was going on at the station.
To my amazement, the station was already
half-filled and I promptly decided now was
the time to get in line to board. As I stood
their for the next hour, I watched this
mass of humanity grow. Not being the most
social person on the planet, I turned my
back on a chatty railfan who could not keep
his mouth shut consuming a disgusting sauer
kraut lathered hotdog right next to me;
I hate sauer kraut. I saw a man inject himself
in the stomach with Insulin right in the
waiting area thinking, "Did you know there
is a restroom here?"
Time dragged on and on, and I became intimately
familiar with all the non-descript details
of the station. Because I had been around
Horseshoe Curve four times previously on
the train, I did consider leaving. However,
I had never been on the trackage of the
Gallitzin Loop and, certainly, never ridden
in a train pulled by E8s. I refused to budge,
standing my ground.
Finally, after a time and procedure befitting
the worst any airline could offer, we were
allowed to board and given all the necessary
search warnings required after the World
Trade Center attack. It was Festival Seating
on the coaches and I had to settle for a
backwards facing arrangement on a MARC commuter
car. I carefully selected my trio of bench-type
seats on the left side of the train occupying
them in school bus fashion knowing this
would be the side with the best view of
The Curve on the ascent.
Prior to our departure, a man seated on
the opposite side of the coach tapped me
on the shoulder (I hate to be touched by
strangers) and asked if I was saving my
seats for anyone. I replied that I was not,
and he proceeded to ask if we could switch
seats because he wanted to sit with his
wife and children together. He and his wife
grinned at me like a pair of West Virginia
backwoodspeople. I simply said, "No."
We departed Altoona and I took some shots
as we rounded The Curve. A kindly and knowledgeable
gentleman offered, "You'll hear announcements
over the speakers, but whatever they don't
tell you, I will. Just ask."
He walked up and down the coach pointing
out places of interest enroute and I was
grateful to gain insight into the experience.
I noticed an Amtrak employee onboard that
I had seen from my last year's trip to Harrisburg.
In addition, a gentleman from MARC explained
to a complaining couple the reason that
half of the seats faced backwards was because
these coaches were not turned and commuters
did not care which way they faced. In fact,
in Europe, this is a very common seating
A very unique aspect of this trip was
the crossover at Gallitzin after passing
though Allegheny Tunnel. This looping track
was virgin territory for me as was the passage
through New Portage Tunnel on our way back
down the mountain towards The Curve and,
finally, Altoona. We were well-advised of
this sharp left turn and I took the opportunity
to try out my camera's Sepia feature getting
a most classic shot as we approached the,
now closed, AR Tower.
Once I detrained, I, along with dozens
of other photographers, booked east to the
locomotives desiring that up close and personal
experience only a true railfan can appreciate;
being one with the mothers. Again, I could
not get enough of the smell, sounds, and
sights unique to this E8 A unit duo. Like
many others, I shot them in detail knowing
that I was preserving them for posterity.
I even walked onto center track to get my
favorite head-on photo. I wondered how many
others had bothered to get truck, builder's
decal and porthole shots.
Thanks to the tireless efforts of the
dedicated volunteers and staff of the Railroaders
Memorial Museum in Altoona, Pennsylvania,
it is my sincerest wish that Railfest 2001
provides the financial support to complete
their restoration of the K4s steam locomotive
to operating status, and assists in their
ambitious project to construct a roundhouse
on the property. I've done my part this
year, and I encourage Pennsy fans everywhere
to assist, in anyway possible, in preserving
this greatest of fallen flags.
on any thumbnail image below to enlarge.
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a derelict structure, the Railroaders
Memorial Museum is a showcase of "The
Standard Railroad of the World."
Ford Ranger is the direct descendant
of this extremely clean PRR Ford pickup.
immaculate Mack Altoona Works fire truck
on display at the Railroaders Memorial
empty TTX flat provides a glimpse of
the just-arrived EMD E8.
eastbound NS freight comes to a much
anticipated end, helpers still in tow.
those on the south side of the mainline
get an unobscured view of the magnificent
E8s with a Pennsy Pullman bring classic
railroading to Altoona.
taken from the south end of the covered
walkway spanning the tracks.
shot. I discovered the need to keep
this new camera steady; a difficult
task while your hands are freezing.
Altoona Amtrak station waiting area
prior to the first excursion.
far less desirable angle from the north
end of the covered pedestrian footbridge.
this photo with the one below and you
can see the advantage of warming your
hands in your pockets for a few moments.
look back at the Railroaders Memorial
Museum and its outdoor collection.
steadi-cam version bringing the beautiful
PRR heavyweight observation into clear
non-functional, the restoration of these
units included the installation of simulated
simply could not take my eyes or lens
off of these wonderful EMD diesels.
FM pulls a freight on the O gauge modular
layout at Station Mall.
gotta work on that camera stability
issue, but this is a shot of the HO
detailed O gauge circus decked out in
haunted house scene on the S gauge layout.
K4s Torpedo plows through the snow village
on the S gauge layout.
on this grey day, the fall colors are
beginning to blossom at Horseshoe Curve.
Genesis tows the "Three Rivers" around
"Pennsylvanian" was a familiar sight
as it trudged up grade towards Gallitzin.
awaiting the E8 led train, there's nothing
wrong with snapping another test photo.
hear the unique song of the EMD horn
and rush to get our first glimpse of
the tuscan iron horse.
shot dozens of photos from this angle,
but none so rare.
excursion train glides by slowly giving
railfans ample opportunity for spectacular
of film of every variety was used all
along the route.
observation car was the icing on our
could imagine Harry Truman stepping
out to wave to the crowds from here.
series of photos depicts the switchback
operation prior to the second run.
readies No. 5711 for coupling with the
of positive coupling
5809 and its brother are now ready for
the second trip.
commuter car complete with horn array
and control cab.
Bulldog is ready to run.
black NS General Electric D9-40CW No.
9571 awaited visitors at the Norfolk
Southern Juniata Locomotive Shops.
9571's cab side.
rehabbed SD38 No. 5518.
to see NS' Conrail breakup partner,
CSX, represented by a clean GP40-2.
hangs out in primer grey.
9 control console looks challenging
sophisticated control stand on the SD38.
back at the GP40-2 from the deck of
NS Exhibit Car contained an interesting
variety of interactive displays.
interior of the executive sleeper car
included a kitchen, meeting/dining room
and office all covered in rich wood
No. 2 returns to Altoona.
can never have too many E8 photos in
2 glides to a smooth stop at Altoona.
is a welcome relief from all the black
we'll let them pass by. After all, this
is a working railroad.
sun breaks through for a nice shot of
timeless scene that brings back the
heyday of passenger rail travel.
slightly different view of The Curve
from inside the excursion train on trip
meets us at The Curve as we easily ascend
of curves on this section of the mainline
afford good shots.
view of MARC commuter car best described
as functionally stark; the ride was
with my camera's Sepia function, I wanted
to capture an image with that old-time
feel. I blew it here with the modern
vehicles on the left.
hard left turn represented our passage
onto the Gallitzin Loop and new territory
we got it this time passing by Tower
AR and with only Pennsy varnish in the
signal bridges and closed towers are
found in abundance throughout the area.
can only hope that NS will not destroy
these classic structures in the name
returned to Altoona, I walked quickly
to the locomotives for the close ups.
This is what I had really paid for with
my ticket price.
only saw a couple of people walk between
the rails to get this head-on shot.
it's hard to keep people out of one's
film is real cheap for the digital camera
and you can just retake the same shot
over and over til you get it right.
me, this angle has some sense of motion
5711 attracted railfans like moths to
sun sneaked out again and gave us some
great late day shadows.
restoration of these units was accomplished
in a relatively short period of time,
but did not sacrifice on the details.
three axle truck of the E model.
what I could see, the prime movers were
in prime physical condition.
included the rehabilitation of the signature
portholes that had been removed.
units are, indeed, twins and have a
rich career history beginning with the
PRR and coming full circle.
engineer awaits uncoupling. That wind-down
window looks like it came from a Chevy.
Pennsy Keystone returns to the heart
of the Keystone State.
release and hoses pop as the EMD pair
leaves the passenger coaches behind.
fallen flags, the former masters of
these hallowed grounds, pass in visible
tribute to the men and machines that
tamed the Alleghenies.
the sun we will follow sinks to the
west, a final shot from the Amtran station
as all four tracks through Altoona are
filled with trains.
ticket for admit.