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

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

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

Disaster Relief – Do We Need Government?

In the wake of hurricanes and wildfires, many Americans are facing the fact that they either need to rebuild where they were, or move on. This is also causing a fair amount of debates in Washington, as politicians and the public alike are taking the Trump administration to task for not leaping quick enough to meet the needs of people and communities that have suffered the greatest losses.

As John Stossel explains, this is a relatively new mentality – assuming that the federal government should “fix” things.

The public generally believes that the government is inefficient, and in spite of this, still calls for the government to deal with rebuilding after a disaster. In spite of evidence on the ground, in the form of non-profits and businesses stepping up to help people in need, the people still call for the government to help?

This attitude that the federal government can cure all ills has been around for a very long time, but it became far more popular after 9/11. People quickly learned to expect the government to step in, and “fix” things. That also means that the people stopped thinking that they could do a great deal on their own, without governmental assistance. There was no material change in private assets, and there was actually a significant growth in number of private charities, particularly in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. But still, this attitude of “needing government” has prevailed, and is leaving us with debates in Congress over how much deeper in debt our country needs to go in order to have the federal government inefficiently rebuild wide swaths of our nation.

Have the American people really become that helpless?

Oddly enough, our culture has simultaneously been pushing various dystopian narratives in film and on television, all of which center on societies that have become utterly dependent on government. This attitude that we “need” the government to cure all ills is just a step toward a future like we’re seeing on the screens. Why are we catering to that path?

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Disaster Relief – Do We Need Government?

The Godfather of Fake News

Before there was the web as we know it, there was fake news – thanks to Stephen Glass. The New Republic was stung worst by Glass, the journalist who will go down in history as the craftiest pathological liar. If you’re unfamiliar with who this man is, you can look up the movie, Shattered Glass, which sprung from a Vanity Fair article of the same name.

Of course the film is a somewhat fictionalized version of the true story about the journalist who sold lies as factual articles to multiple national publications, including Rolling Stone. (Yes, that does mean there were fabrications in print from that magazine long before the University of Virginia gang rape debacle.)

As for Stephen Glass, he can be credited with creating the glass ceiling on lies in journalism. It would be nice to say that the journalistic world learned a long-standing and important lesson from this pathological liar, but any lessons learned didn’t necessarily lead to greater integrity in the vocation. Whether or not current editors are consciously aware of it, Glass set the limits for fabricating “facts” for print. That’s readily apparent from the apology interview Glass had with 60 Minutes.

The previous video is just under 13 minutes, but if you are really wanting to understand the motives behind creating fake news, it’s worth the time. Glass attempts to explain himself, and his habit of creating stories that were completely fabricated. Today’s “half-truths” and “exaggerations” have slightly more complex motives, but at their core, are the same. The bottom line is getting the “home run” as Glass put it. He destroyed his own career in journalism in the pursuit of constant attention, adulation, and a record of seemingly perfect stories.

He wanted fame.

Today’s fake news is driven by the desire for “hits” online, and unfortunately, the desire to manipulate the masses. Because neither Glass nor the purveyors of fake news today are concerned with presenting factual information, it is just an exercise in building egos. Glass got away with his lies because he gamed the system – he could get past the fact-checkers because he had done their jobs already. He knew what they would look for, and gave them it.

Sites and publications that offer fake news are no different. They just rely on the public being stupid.

They rely on the public not taking the time to check facts.

They just are very talented at manipulating readers by playing to the emotions of their intended audiences.

In military speak, they are propagandists who are well-versed on the tools of psychological warfare.

Glass was the same type, but instead of needing to manipulate large masses of people, he just had to keep offering “perfect stories” to his editors. The editors were duped because they wanted to believe that it was possible for a single journalist to consistently deliver exciting stories for their readers.

Today’s publishers of fake news have far more sinister desires, and all of them have to do with controlling their audiences as opposed to entertaining them.

Of course, this is all in reference to “fake news” that is really offering lies as truth – not news sources that are accused of being “fake” simply because someone disagrees with them.

Glass got away with his lies because people wanted his stories to be true.

Fake news flourishes today because the people have become too lazy to bother making sure that what they are reading is accurate.

Either way, it boils down to the public believing lies. What has changed is that believing the lies today involves falling prey to the agendas of others, instead of just feeding the ego of one pathological liar who managed to get a job as a journalist.

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The Godfather of Fake News

Do Trump Supporters Oppose the First Amendment?

Not very long ago, people on the right were upset about the fact that many (mostly left-wing) college students thought that the First Amendment doesn’t (shouldn’t?) protect hate speech. Now, thanks to Donald Trump, it looks like there’s some lack of understanding about our freedoms when it comes to speech and the press.

Yes, that was the president suggesting that our nation needs to take a step closer to state-run media. There is no way to call it anything but that, since the reason the president is giving for revoking broadcast licenses has everything to do with the fact that he didn’t like what the stations in question were broadcasting.

That’s like taking a page from the book of this guy:

Senator Ben Sasse called it right on his personal Twitter account:

And that brings us to the question at hand: Do Trump supporters oppose the First Amendment?

It’s likely that they will all say “no” to that, but if they are defending the president’s statements about revoking broadcast licenses of television networks that happen to “hurt his feelings” by reporting news in ways he doesn’t like? That is censorship.

Also, it is essentially a toddler-style temper tantrum.

Perhaps we have to agree with Trump supporters about one thing: Trump definitely is beating Obama on a couple metrics. He’s got a thinner skin, and he’s more a narcissist.

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Do Trump Supporters Oppose the First Amendment?

Birth Control, Conscience, and Choice

Several groups on the left have gotten upset over the fact that Donald Trump is rolling back the “free birth control” clause of the Affordable Care Act. Theoretically, that’s justified, since millions of women have been taking advantage of the program. How many of those millions honestly couldn’t afford birth control in the first place is probably up for debate.

Also, it’s debatable whether or not the new battle front for these groups should involve petitioning for the FDA to allow some more birth control options to end up available over the counter. (Don’t expect to see that, even though it theoretically would make the pill available to more women, because if it’s over the counter, there wouldn’t be any subsidies through any kind of prescription coverage.)

But, no matter what, it’s disingenuous to suggest that great numbers of women who want to use birth control will no longer be able to have it because their employers refuse to pay for it. Before the birth control mandate, birth control was generally treated like any other prescription, which meant that prescription drug coverage partially subsidized the cost of the pills. Without the mandate, it’s fairly safe to assume that it will go back to that standard. Also, insurance companies aren’t going to be forbidden from offering birth control coverage directly to women, even those who are employed by companies that do not want to pay for the drugs. Remember, the issue is about companies not wanting to pay for a particular type of coverage, not forbidding women from having that coverage on their own.

These organizations that are upset about this would be better served by starting to cut deals with the birth control manufacturers themselves, and make coupons or other discount programs available to women who can’t afford the full cost of birth control themselves. (Again, this number isn’t as high as they would have people believe, thanks to multiple generic options.)

If they were really serious about increasing access for women, they would be asking pharmacies with clinics to start offering birth control services.

The primary problem with this issue is that people are focusing on the emotions, as opposed to the money. The bottom line remains that insurance companies didn’t complain about this mandate in the first place because keeping women on birth control is cheaper for them than covering care for pregnant women or women who would have other health problems if they did not take birth control. Insurance companies will find a way to keep the status quo, because it has been helping their balance sheets at least a little. The same goes for the pharmaceutical companies manufacturing the drugs. If anyone believes that they will easily give up their sales over this, they need to rethink their position.

If we’re lucky, the solution to the issue will involve removing both government and employers as brokers between women and access to birth control. Maybe it’s time for women to stop demanding that employers and government hand them their pills, and start demanding better options directly from insurers and pharmaceutical companies?

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Birth Control, Conscience, and Choice