ou’re sitting across from me in this diner in 1962, out in the middle of nowhere. This town, Tuscarora, isn’t central to anything. So we look outside into the snow-speckled gathering dusk and, in gratitude for what you are about to endure, I spot you another cup of coffee. You’ll need the warmth and it’s only a dime, right?
Then I check my pocket watch. It’s just going 7pm. “Let’s go.”
We step into the blowing cold of southwestern Pennsylvania in late November, leaving our comfortable diner to walk south down Railroad Avenue, past the fuel distributor, down to where two tracks cross the road. Across from us is the tower, the lights glowing but nobody moving – I figure the operator is sitting at his desk, or maybe stoking his stove. Who knows. Staying on this north side of the tracks, we step into the shelter afforded by the closed station, using the ramshackle structure as a windbreak.
Of course you ask when this is supposed to happen. “I can’t tell you,” I reply. “The TideWater is an extra, so it might be between 7pm and 10 pm. Depends on when they get this far up the branch.”
Meanwhile there is railroad activity to watch. An SW-7 pulls TW-1 (Tuscarora to Westly) from the LM&O branch. Uncoupled, the engine runs down around the corner to our east, then back past the cut on the main. Once it backs down, the tower gives them a nod and they rattle off into the night.
Finally, 8:30 or so, there is activity. Trying not to shiver, you notice the interlocking guy standing up at his lever, We both watch him move right to left along his bank of levers, throwing three. “That’s all three signals for a westbound main movement. This might be it.”
Then, a minute later, a headlight is sweeping through the curve from the east. Around the corner comes a very improbably sight – a Southern Pacific GP-9 at the head end of a long, long coal train. It sweeps around the bowstring curve before us, car after car, some loaded, some not. It’s a long, long train.
“The Tidewater is the evening respotting of cars forwarded from the eastern coal shippers. Also, to save on deadheading, some of the eastern Anthracite shippers will move coal to western power plants, enjoying a savings on transport.” I sound so clever as car after car rolls past, knocking the frost from the barren trees.
“The PeeDee will be by soon, working the east end of Tuscarora before proceeding to Martin Yard. And there are one or two more sections of the Tidewater.”
But you’ve already gone back to the coffee shop. Enough is enough.
Note: This was the first session I ran the Tidewater, to see what it’s like to combine all the loads and empties into one grande finale train. It was a lot of fun, and yes, one Geep could pull it, and it’s impressive. Actually, it’s long enough that while the PeeDee works, the coal train needs to shift back and forth to clear either end of Tuscarora as needed.
Okay, the next big effort will be to run ops with two other guys. I’ll be up in the tower directing. Let’s see how that goes!