The 2015 N Scale Weekend Trip To Cumberland

The Bedford (now Altoona) N Scale Weekend is a great event. The show itself has always been interesting, but it also serves as a good excuse to get out to a fun part of the world and do some railfanning. I did that exact thing this with my friends Ben, Lee and Josh.

The first part of the plan was to meet up with my friend Ben in York, then head west to Huntingdon for some night photography, and eventually Lee’s friend’s cabin where we would stay for the weekend.

The railfanning gods smiled on us, when we spotted our first catch coming off of Rockville Bridge. We got out ahead of him and nabbed him at Cove.



As we headed west, we decided to take a quick detour through Mount Union, the town where the Pennsylvania used to interchange with the East Broad Top, a narrow gauge coal hauler that was full of more charm than commercial potential. I’m glad we did, because we were greeted with a strange site as we drove into town: Conrail coal hoppers filling the former interchange tracks.


It was quite the site, considering that, 60 years ago, this area would’ve been filled with PRR hopper cars. Even better was the fact that they were un-patched Conrail cars.


I can only imagine the crew’s reaction when they were told they were supposed to go spot a string of hoppers on the dual gauge interchange tracks…

2015-08-21-20.11.03 Mount Union Conrail Hoppers Dual Gauge

Ben was suitably perplexed himself, until we made a call and found out what was going on. An arrangement was made with the current owner of the tracks (the Mount Union Connecting Railroad) to store the cars.

2015-08-21-20.11 Mount Union Conrail Hoppers Ben Perplexed

Our next stop was Woody’s Bar-B-Q in Huntingdon, a MUCH better option than the Pizza Hut buffet we often end up somehow stopping at in town. Even though it was a chain, it was still delicious, and I highly recommend it to any fellow carnivores in the area.


After dinner, we adjusted the plan a bit, and met up with Lee and Josh in Huntingdon itself, where I started showing Ben the basics of night photography.







After a while at the station, we took off for a midnight Walmart run (the only time to visit a small town Walmart) to stock the cabin’s fridge for the weekend.

With suitable provisions acquired, we headed off to the cabin to rest up for the following day’s adventures.

The following day started with swinging by the Bedford N Scale Weekend show. The show itself was worth a walk through, but was rather hot and stuffy, and so we didn’t stick around long (this will change with their new location next year though).

We headed south, for Cumberland, just in time to catch the Western Maryland Scenic’s train arriving in town.



We also noticed their GP30, #501, sitting just east of the station with a few freight cars. A quick inquiry yielded some important information. They were planning a photo freight that was going to leave town around 5:30, giving us some time to explore the rest of town.



Before we headed out, though, we cruised past Ridgeley, where the WMRS operates out of. We got there in time to see them backing the 734 into their facility. I love photos like this, showing the human element of railroading.



After Ridgeley, we went off to Mexico at the east end of the Cumberland yard, since we had been given a heads up that the classic B&O CPL signals were going to be going away and wanted to see them before they went away. There was no action happening, but the signals were indeed there. Also there was the base for a new signal gantry,  visible right across the tracks.



We also decided to come back, at night, to catch these classics in the dark.

It was then off to the famous Helmstetters Curve to wait for the WMSR’s photo freight. We had no idea what their timetable was like, but assumed that they’d be trying to get there before they lost light for their embarked photographers.

We were, surprisingly, wrong. While the train showed up the first time, the process of letting everyone off, and backing down the hill, meant that the location where the photo line was organized was completely shaded in.



Being there by chance as we were, however, we were able to get a shot that the organized tour itself couldn’t on the way back to the car. The photo below was taken on the train’s last approach to the photo line, but further around the curve than any of the paying photographers had gone.



As usual, an ex-Conrail GP30 was bringing up the rear of the train, lending some added brawn toward getting the whole thing up the hill. One interesting thing to note about this is that it’s one of the few rare instances of rear end helpers still being used on a passenger train. I’m guessing this practice will end when they get their 2-6-6-2 rebuilt and in service.



Since it was soon going to be dark, we headed back to downtown Cumberland for food and to get ready for some night shots.

Our first stop was the Texas Grillhouse in Lavalle, where we had some decent BBQ, and I got to witness the passing of the seasons: the transition from Sam Adams Summer to Oktoberfest.

It was then time to head off to the Cumberland engine terminal to see what we could get. There’s a road that parallels the shops, which seems like a public road (there’s no signs indicating otherwise). Parking along this road allowed us to capture the scene.







A friendly CSX employee who was heading out informed us that the road itself wasn’t actually public (so I don’t recommend anyone else go there), so we had to head out.


That lead us to another location , where everything was backlit, but was worth stopping for a quick photo.

We finally made it out to Mexico though, and while the signals themselves weren’t brightly lit, there’s no mistaking that they’re CPLs.



It was then time for the drive back to the cabin and bed.


We had no real plan for Sunday, so we had another delicious home cooked breakfast (thanks again Chef Lee!), cleaned up and headed east.

I had been wanting Dairy Queen since we first passed one on Friday night so Ben and I pulled into the drive in as we passed through the one east of Huntingdon for a brunch Blizzard. Why does this matter? Because the time we spent there set us up to perfectly be driving along as this came alongside us.


We paced that train for a bit, and then put the hammer down to beat him to Mount Union.



Since we were in Mount Union, we decided to take a small tour of the remains of the EBT, where I got to see the line south of Rockhill Furnace, which I hadn’t seen before.

EBT hoppers in Orbisonia


The EBT Roundhouse


The EBT Robersdale Station – Now home of the Friends of the EBT Museum, which was open on pretty much every other Sunday except the one we visited on.
The Robertsdale Post Office – The repurposed EBT company offices. The tracks ran to the left, and the wye was behind the building.
Looking at the Robertsdale station from the Post Office.
Where the rails disappear into the woods. This is looking back to the north toward Saltillo, Orbisonia and Mount Union.
The remains of the wye behind the Robertsdale post office.
The wye on the bridge behind the post office. The wooden parts of the bridge have mostly rotted away, leaving the rails in mid air.



We decided it was time to start heading toward home. However, because we were tired of highways, we took US 30 east instead of the PA turnpike. This was going to bring us through Chambersburg, and we decided it was also worth a pass through Blue Ridge Summit, since we’d be able to get there before Mainline Hobby closed.

As we were driving down US 11 we were commenting about how it’d be a great place to pace a northbound train. Not 2 minutes later, we spotted an NS manifest coming at us. A quick u-turn later, and I was able to do exactly what we were talking about.


After we lost him in town, we resumed course toward Blue Ridge Summit. After our shopping was completed, we starting heading for home, figuring CSX wouldn’t be running anything at 4:30 on a Sunday. A horn informed us we were wrong!

CSX, apparently, had dispatched 4 units to do some late-weekend interchange with the Maryland Midland, and we got to watch them going about their business.







That was our last stop of the weekend, and what a weekend it was. In retrospect, we can’t believe how much luck we had stumbling on trains at the perfect times.

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