Train Trip Along CSX, Part 1.

Many of us as kids had two things in common, we loved fire trucks and trains. As we grew into teenagers and adults many either let go of both or held onto our love of them in one way or another. For me, it was both. In January of 2018, I will have 28 years as a volunteer firefighter and still get some enjoyment out of trains. Some people ask, “What’s so great about trains?” For me, it’s the power and lets face it, trains and railroading are as American to me as Baseball,  apple pie, and Old Glory.

I was lucky enough to work on the railroad for a short period and sit behind the controls of the beast that keep America moving. As adults some people build and design model layouts in their homes. While others like myself would rather relax track side, listening and seeing these massive machines. Then there are those that deny any interest in trains but still put a train under the Christmas Tree. Many of us have the itch, some more than others.

Train photography is where I got my start. For many years I only focused on trains. Then I decided to use the camera for my love of history. The number of train photographs I have taken over the years could fill a blog site itself. So for this blog I will share with you some of my favorite photographs and their locations along CSX.

This trip will depart from the station at Point of Rocks, Maryland. The photo above was taken on October 23, 2016 and shows CSX Q416 passing the former station heading west from Washington D.C. This is the furthest east I have been for trains. The station was built by the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad in 1873. The station is situated at the junction of the B&O Old Main Line (running to Baltimore) and the Metropolitan Branch (running to Washington, D.C.).  The main station building is a ​2 12-story, triangular Gothic Revival with a four-story tower and a ​1 12-story wing at the base. The tower has a pyramidal roof containing a dormer on each side. On top is a square cupola supporting a pyramidal peaked roof.

This photograph was also taken at Point of Rocks, Maryland on the same date. Seen here is CSX N77 going east to Baltimore.  There is plenty of parking on the weekend. However, it is a very busy location during the week as this is a main transportation HUB for MARC passengers.

 

 

Continuing west. Our next stop brings us to the historic town of Harpers Ferry, WV. If you have never visited here, it’s a must! The only thing that upset me about this stop was not having the time to visit the historic locations. Needless to say, next trip there will be more time. This photograph shows the Capitol Limited stretched across the Potomac River. After stopping at Harpers Ferry it will continue east to Washington D.C.

Another photograph from Harpers Ferry below shows CSX Q130 passing through the station. Built by the B&O Railroad, the station is part of the Historical District. It’s a wooden frame Victorian style building, dating from 1889. It sits on buried foundations of the original Harpers Ferry armory buildings. If visiting here, paying attention is important. As you can see there is no protection from the trains.

Continuing the move west, but to a different day. We come to a location known as Foley’s Overlook. Located just outside of the small town of Fairhope, PA. With a scenic view this is not a real easy location to find or access. This photograph of CSX Q276 was taking on October 15, 2016. Q276 among the fall mountain colors glides down the mountain heading east towards Maryland.

 

From Fairhope continuing west and skipping a few locations. Our next stop is one of my all time favorites. Known as Mance, there is very little left of this village but the landscape is great. In this photograph taken on August 2, 2015 CSX K145 passes the former Mance Post Office heading west.

Just over a later we returned to Mance, just for the Fall colors. This photograph was taken on October 15, 2016. Here CSX Q135 is working west up the mountain. The difference was the color nature provided. Rolling mountains, Fall colors, and plenty of sun as it crawls through the trees.

Rolling in to our final destination for this blog, we arrive at Sand Patch, a little village outside of Meyersdale, PA. The village got its name due to its location on the rails. If coming west from Cumberland, MD or east from Connellsville, PA trains must climb the Allegheny Mountains. Sand Patch is the summit of the steepest railroad grade on the East Coast. In the days of steam, many times trains would need sand to get over the grade.

Pictured above is CSX K145 seen starting down the mountain at Sand Patch. The peak is just past the little shed along the rails.  We first caught this train at Mance climbing the grade on August 2, 2015. Thanks to steep grades and slow speeds up mountain it allowed us to catch it a  second time.

In March of 2015 while visiting Sand Patch, we caught a Canadian Pacific leading a CSX train into the summit. This view is looking west down the grade. With this view we are able to catch one of many windmill farms in the area. Plus the added bonus. Any railfan will notice boxcar with the fallen flag of Conrail on it. While Mance may be my favorite, Sand Patch is a close second.

 

I find it only appropriate to end this ride here, at a high point per-say. For part two of the CSX Trip we will continue working west.  Check out Neat Road Trips on Facebook. The photo’s seen here will be added shortly along with many more.

 

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Train Trip Along CSX, Part 1.

Bells Mill Covered Bridge

While Pennsylvania has plenty of covered bridges remaining, my home county of Westmoreland only has one. Bells Mill Covered Bridge is the only covered bridge in the county making it a true treasure. The photographs for this blog have been taken at different times of the year. This is not a good excuse since it is only located 10 minutes from me, but it will have to do.

The sides of the bridge are covered with barn red horizontal clapboard siding giving it your classic covered bridge appearance. The roof consists of cedar shakes and the deck has lengthwise planking in wide tire track areas that are laid over crosswise planking.  There are no side windows other than the rather wide, typical, lengthwise eave openings. The entire structure rests on stone and mortar abutments that are reinforced with concrete both at the ground and road level. The bridge also has stone and mortar wing walls that are protected with heavy wooden guardrails. To protect the bridge from over sized vehicles, there are steel beams located before the entrance ways showing the height as 6’6″.

Built in 1850, Bells Mill Bridge is a burr arch truss design, 13 feet wide and 104 feet long.  Even though the is located in a rural area connecting South Huntingdon and Sewickley Townships.  The bridge still sees a fair amount of traffic. If you visit please stay aware. Many people use it as a shortcut to Interstate 70. The bridge was designed by Daniel McCain who was also the contractor.  This bridge was placed on the National Register in 1979.

It’s fairly accessible all year long but parking in the winter may be difficult. During the summer when the trees are in full bloom they do provide plenty of shade, and in the fall additional color. The bridge itself is a rare gem and is very well taken care of. Being the only covered bridge in Westmoreland County makes it a must see if you enjoy covered bridges.

To view more photographs of Bells Mills Covered Bridge and other bridges in Westmoreland County, PA please visit the Westmoreland County Bridges folder of Neat Road Trips.

 

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Bells Mill Covered Bridge

Welcome to Neat Road Trips

As you may have already known I’m George Neat and on my free time I enjoy taking road trips and visiting many places. Some locations are very well known while others are unknown or found along the way. Here you will be able to go along for the ride and read about the adventures (good, bad, funny, and embarrassing) as well as learn about the places we go. Many of the trips will have multiple themes while others may just have one. I hope that each trip will be interesting for you and provide some sort of entertainment factor.

Due to the winter season and unpredictable weather here in Southwestern Pennsylvania, new trips may be slow to. Until then I will be sharing with you some previous locations I have been as well as creating a Gettysburg Series.

Your feedback is always welcome as well as tips and locations. While a majority of the road trips will focus on Pennsylvania, you never know where I may end up going.

For additional photos please feel free to visit my Facebook Page Neat Road Trips.

Thanks!

George

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Welcome to Neat Road Trips

Welcome to Westmoreland County


Bridges are always a good place to start a new journey. This one is in Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania, and is called the Loyalhanna Creek Bridge. Also known as Latrobe Viaduct, this stone arch bridge was built in the early 1900’s to service the Pennsylvania Railroad. Today the bridge is owned and operated by Norfolk Southern Railroad and is part of the NS Pittsburgh Line.


Hidden away in Sewickley Twp near South Huntingdon Twp is this old abandoned church.


A quick stop at Crab Apple Lake in Sewickley Twp to see the ducks.

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Welcome to Westmoreland County

Happy Trees with Deadpool?

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Fans of Deadpool have been waiting for teasers and trailers from the upcoming sequel, but they probably weren’t expecting this:

So, millions of people will never think of Bob Ross the same way again!

Does this mean that the sequel is going to be over-the-top? Maybe…

Of course, some people are interested in the words about the upcoming film. (Yes, some people actually are reading the plot synopsis!)

Then there are the rumors, because we must have those – especially about potential character introductions.

And then the talk about how some characters might be changing…

But, let’s be honest. While this teaser is great, it’s still just that – a tease! We want more, right?

Let’s just take a deep breath, commune with those happy trees, and whack off while we wait, shall we?

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Happy Trees with Deadpool?

Media and Participation Trophies

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Over the past few days, there has been a pile of righteously indignant (and ridiculing) posts on social media about the fact that GQ decided to make Colin Kaepernick their “Citizen of the Year.” While the general sentiments of people are probably understandable, one thing doesn’t seem to be coming up often:

What exactly is the GQ Citizen of the Year Award?

A quick search on Google for “GQ Citizen of the Year 2016” yields the following:

No, you’re not missing something, and no Google isn’t simply flooded with this year’s recipient. There wasn’t a “Citizen of the Year” named by GQ last year. It’s a new invention this year, and only time will tell whether or not it will be repeated.

So, for anyone who was thinking that this was some kind of important honor, it’s most likely that the editors of GQ were looking for a way to elevate Kaepernick in the eyes of the public by calling him “Citizen of the Year” – basically, a magazine version of a participation trophy. It’s possible that they will name someone next year, and the year after that, but no matter what it’s going to take years for this “honor” to hold any real value – if it ever does.

Frankly, these things are becoming a marketing tool for print magazines that are trying to occasionally boost their hard copy sales throughout the year. Time magazine has been devaluing the honor of being named “Person of the Year” by repeatedly choosing either groups of people or highly controversial individuals. It is becoming obvious that the only real reasons the magazine editors are giving out awards are about selling magazines. It’s certainly not about any real accomplishments of the winners. In the case of Kaepernick, it’s probably best to say that he’s becoming the political activism version of the Kardashians. If people are brutally honest with themselves, they can’t truthfully point out where the noble cause really is for him, since his activism is swimming neck deep in self-interest. Kaepernick would just be yet another pro-athlete who ceased to be valuable to pro-teams because of under-performing on the field. No one would be talking about him if he hadn’t turned what probably was a session of sulking on the sideline into a political statement. That’s even a stretch, since the “movement” he started still hasn’t clearly stated what it is protesting or more importantly, what concrete changes it wants to see in society. It is an amorphous feeling that attaches itself to various headlines along the way, pushing indignation and disrespect without a substantial purpose that could promote real change.

As for GQ, we have about a year to wait and see if this was just a one-off stunt for sales, or if they’re really going to try to offer a quasi-real award for citizenship each year. No matter what, don’t expect much. These awards still aren’t about anything except the bottom line for media companies that are desperately trying to sell more glossy print.

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Media and Participation Trophies

Trump, Clumsy Handshakes, and Media Illiteracy

Thanks to a less than graceful handshake during the Association Southeast Asian Nations summit in Manila, the media decided to lose their collective minds over Trump. Of course, this has played out predictably – ostensibly left-wing media calling the president an oaf, and right-wing social media getting upset – or something. First, let’s take a look at the video that started it all:

While it is true that Trump really did have trouble with the social situation, it could have been worse. He could have just stood there like Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev did, without even attempting to do the handshake properly. If nothing else, maybe Trump will have a chat with his tailors about making suits a bit more generous in the shoulders for any future contortionist-inspired diplomatic activities. (Yes, pulling his suit tight probably was the cause of the much-maligned grimace he made – undoubtedly hoping not to hear a ripping sound.)

All in all, this situation should have been barely a blip on the media radar, and thanks to the general rush of headlines on a typical Monday, that is mostly how this went. However, there are people out there with “hurt feelings” over the media poking fun at Trump. Perhaps they have a short memory, and don’t recall the eight years of ridiculing “mom jeans”, demanding birth certificates, and primate references about the First Lady.

Cries against the “mainstream media” aren’t as meaningful as they once were. While the “big three” networks still enjoy a fair amount of popularity, when it comes to news coverage there really is no effective way to determine how many viewers are really engaged in their news content. Remember, local news is delivered by their affiliates, and their national news shows are either right after them or actually mingled with local content. Also, the number of people who say that they get their news primarily from the major networks have been dwindling for years, so many of the programs are swaying into the realm of “infotainment” more than ever.

When it comes to political news, viewers are generally divided on political lines, just like in everything else. The whining about the mainstream media treatment of Trump follows that line, too. This all would theoretically settle itself in the political “wash”, with the public seeking out preferred content, but we have one little problem that is making the media wars a little more heated.

Trump has an exceedingly thin skin for a president.

The media knows this.

It has almost become a sport at this point. Trump loves to throw tantrums over the media – calling some outlets fake because they disagree with him, and threatening to shut down others for “reasons.”

And his base is just encouraging the battle.

So, every time Trump does something awkward or flat out stupid in front of a camera, they capitalize on it.

Wash, rinse, repeat…

The end result is that the president gets to use his own “outrage” to monopolize headlines, and keep the media from examining what he doesn’t want on the spotlight – because they are too busy poking fun at him.

If anyone should be upset with how this is going, Trump’s detractors should be furious that the media is focusing on the trivial minutiae of every social faux pas the president does, instead of staying focused on the business of state.

The bottom line is that the media is an active participant in lowering the bar for American leadership by engaging in this game. Once upon a time, we were worried about Americans suffering from media illiteracy because they are living on a steady diet of “news-light” via social media blurbs. Now, we need to start worrying about the media itself being illiterate.

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Trump, Clumsy Handshakes, and Media Illiteracy

How Much Do You Love iPhone?

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If you’re not measuring that in hundreds (if not thousands) of dollars, maybe you need to think twice about grabbing that iPhone X.

Several weeks ago when I forced myself to watch the product reveal from Apple, I was pretty impressed as I watched the facial recognition and other improvements – in the iPhone 8.

Then they brought out the iPhone X…

Sure, it was neat to think about such a sleek machine, but the two-sided glass design stopped me from thinking very seriously about ever acquiring this phone. The price tag made more than a few people cringe, but that didn’t bother me very much. Google’s latest Pixel is in the same range, and the financing options are far more limited for it than any iPhone.

No, the initial investment in an iPhone X isn’t a deal-breaker, but the $550 average cost for most repairs definitely is especially when anyone sees this:

While I haven’t personally broken an iPhone screen, I’ve paid for replacing them – I have kids. Now that there’s video evidence of just how fragile this phone actually is, I’m afraid to see what will happen to the device insurance rates. Just guessing, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they end up exceeding the 36-month finance payment rate offered on AT&T’s NEXT program for the phone itself.

Sure, I get it that Apple really needed to do something big, but maybe they went a little too far?

Let’s be brutally honest with ourselves here. That beautiful sleek design and all that glass is going to be a challenge for the design engineers at OtterBox, and the really rare thing will be to actually see that phone anywhere without a protective cocoon of plastic and rubber. I’ll wager that the end result may be people going around with phones that are thicker than an iPhone 4 housed in an OtterBox case, because it’s probably going to take much more than just a thin plastic housing to keep the iPhone X even relatively safe from harm.

Time will tell, of course. However, I suspect that we will see at least a little buyer’s remorse on iPhone X in the coming months. That will be coming from other people, of course. I’m taking a pass on this one. How about you?

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How Much Do You Love iPhone?

No, This Isn’t an ‘Off Year’ for Elections

It’s election day here in the US, and it’s likely that voter turnout will be very low. Odd numbered years are usually ignored by many voters for many reasons – all of which are generally misguided.

People tend to get excited about going to the polls in presidential election years, of course. Turnout numbers are highest then. Even numbered years in general enjoy higher turnout rates, because there are lawmakers on the ballot.

But, with the exception of some special elections, odd numbered years tend to only have municipal and judicial seats on the ballot. Also, lawmakers often schedule otherwise contentious referendums for these elections, counting on low turnout and voter laziness to keep the numbers where they would like to see them.

Here are a few of the misguided notions voters have about why this year’s election doesn’t really matter:

There are no “important” offices up for election – Just because winning today doesn’t earn a trip to Washington or a state capital for a candidate doesn’t make the office unimportant. Typical offices on the ballot today include local executive, legislative, and judicial seats – yes, that system is at work even in your home town. Local executives are mayors, managers, county executives, etc., and they do essentially the same job as the president for your local area. Council people, commissioners, board members, etc. are the equivalent of Congress in your town or school district. Magistrates and judges are your local judicial branch. The reason why these people are arguably even more important than the people who end up in Washington is because the decisions they make will have an immediate effect on your daily life. The taxes they levy will be felt by you first, and unlike taxes from the Federal government, there are very loopholes (if any) for you to avoid them. If you end up with a pushover for your local executive, that means your local legislators will have a much easier time passing higher taxes, or cutting services your community really needs. You can think that it doesn’t matter who your local magistrates and judges are, but you will care about that when you end up getting hit with an expensive traffic citation or fine for not cutting your grass.

My vote doesn’t count anyway – Ironically enough, that argument might be slightly more accurate in a presidential election than it ever will be in a local one. Many of the offices up for grabs today will be decided by margins of under 100 votes. Yes, it is quite possible that a single vote could trigger recounts in some races today. When races have such a small number of people eligible to vote for a given office, every vote counts. These are also the elections where a write-in candidate could very easily win the election.

I don’t even know what half the offices on the ballot do anyway – While some of the offices up for election today are obvious (like coroner or tax collector), there may be some that are utterly unfamiliar. Ones like prothonotary (chief court clerk) are a little nebulous for many voters. Before the age of Google, questions about those offices could be posed to poll or election bureau workers. You can still ask them, but let your fingers do the walking! Learn about the offices, and what those people do. In the case of the prothonotary, that person is in charge of overseeing court documents, and that person’s office is where you would go in a courthouse to see case files that haven’t been sealed from public view. Given all the trouble that we see daily about information being withheld by the government (or leaked by people who shouldn’t have that information), maybe the gatekeeper of your own local court files really is an important office after all?

What’s a referendum? Why should I care? – Referendums are usually issues that legislators put on the ballot so that they can get a popular vote on something that they don’t want to decide on their own, or that they must put on the ballot because of rules built into a state’s constitution. The former are usually hot button issues, and the latter are usually state constitutional amendments. Unfortunately, the rules usually don’t require that these issues be placed on the ballot during a particular year, so they end up on the odd numbered years – legislators are relying on you skipping the polls today. Another trick of their trade is to word these measures in a confusing way, even to the point where people will think that they are voting for one thing but in reality they are choosing the opposite. This is where the poll workers can help you out a little. While they can’t tell people what position to take, usually they can let you know which choice to make when you tell them where you actually stand on the issue. If they honestly can’t, you can still contact your county election bureau by phone or online, depending on how “plugged in” your county is. Otherwise, watch the “no’s and not’s” in the wording. One typical trick used in referendums is double and triple negatives. Remember, double negatives usually do add up to a positive. Also, check the status quo on the issue. Pennsylvania tried to pull a fast one on this with mandatory retirement ages for judges, by not mentioning in the referendum that the existing retirement age was actually lower than the one proposed. The way it was worded, it appeared that the people were voting on creating a mandatory retirement age for the first time, not extending an existing one. Why it mattered was that it would cost taxpayers more money when the judges finally would retire, because their pensions were based on their highest pay and they receive raises yearly. Also, increasing retirement ages could leave the people with judges who honestly shouldn’t have been on the bench due to mental deficits from old age – senile judges are cute on TV, but not in actual courtrooms. The bottom line is this: Do you really want to sit at home and let some politicians pull a fast one on you with a questionable referendum?

Today, you have the opportunity to elect the people who will have the most influence on your daily life when they take office. There is no “trickle down government” effect here, like we see with most changes in federal government. The decisions these people make in your home town will effect every person in your community immediately. Thankfully, these leaders are also going to have to deal with the voters directly on a daily basis. But, do you really want to skip deciding who collects your local taxes, determines the fines for your grass being too tall, sets the cost of parking in your business district, when and if your local roads get repaired, what your kids learn in the classroom, etc.? This is where the rubber hits the road in government. Are you in the driver’s seat, or just along for the ride?

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No, This Isn’t an ‘Off Year’ for Elections

Prude Patrol Hitting Libraries?

NEWSFLASH: Libraries across the country are suffering. People just don’t go to them very often anymore. Google and smartphones are crushing the desire for people to use library cards to take out actual paper books. Even libraries with computers aren’t faring much better, because computers are much more affordable today (if you are willing to put up with ones that can’t play the latest games.) So, to keep from becoming completely irrelevant and having to close their doors, many libraries are offering programming that may seem off the wall or over the top to some people. That means they’re going to offer programming that will make anyone with a Victorian attitude toward life faint – or want to scream.

Now that we understand this, it’s time to address a minor problem.

If you don’t like the programming that your local library is offering, the appropriate response does not include trying to disrupt it.

Some folks in Maryland didn’t like the fact that their library was offering sex-ed for kids – with parental permission. They made a website to complain about it. Good so far.

Unfortunately, on that website is information about how these people tried to stop the programming by breaking the rules set by the library for the safety of the kids who were enrolled in the program.

Not good.

Also, there doesn’t seem to be any mention of this group trying to offer “acceptable” programming choices to the library. Remember, the library is trying to get people into the building, so theoretically they would be open to hearing suggestions from everyone.

Another option would have been to look into elected positions that have to do with library management. Is there a community member board position? A political office that has a permanent seat on the board? Although a little extreme, at least pushing for a member of your group to be in a position of power in the library is far better than forcing the police to stand guard outside the library like this group did.

I get it. Really, I do. Conservatives don’t like people talking about sex, especially not to kids (even if the parents are fine with the idea.) Sure, there are people who think that parents should sit in on sex talks with kids, because they believe that kids really want to talk about that stuff in front of their parents. (Not sure where these kids are, but who am I to question someone else’s logic?)

But, conservatives are also supposed to be big on law and order. They’re supposed to be upset with people who break laws, right?

So, why were they breaking laws against trespassing at the library? Libraries are community property, but when they put up clear restrictions on use of their facilities, failing to abide by those restrictions is trespassing (or a similar offense, depending on the local laws.) The library clearly stated that adults were not welcome to attend this program. Only kids could be there, and the kids had to have written permission from their parents to attend.

The argument that the library was doing something objectionable and should be forced to stop because it is a public facility doesn’t work here. Go back to the beginning on this. Libraries are trying to stay alive, and that means programming. It also means that a sex-ed class is probably going to hit the events calendar before a quilting bee. Getting kids into the library is a hard task, and it’s fair to guess that this conservative group isn’t going to come up with a single thing that will help to do that.

But, don’t worry. When the library has to close because of lack of interest, these folks will probably blame anyone but themselves.

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Prude Patrol Hitting Libraries?