“Spring” 2018 Trip to Strasburg, The Lehigh Valley, and the Reading & Northern

This year’s big spring railfanning trip included a ride on the Lancaster Oxford & Southern motor car, a tour of the Lehigh Valley and some time at the heart of the R&N.

The trip started off with a visit to Strasburg. My friend Steve and I had been talking about wanting to ride the Lancaster Oxford & Southern motor car at the Strasburg Rail Road. We’ve been there many times but never during the season when the car was running.

The SRC runs the car on weekdays during what they call the “shoulder season” when lower ridership doesn’t warrant burning a service day on one of the steamers. This includes Fridays in March, so I stretched the planned weekend into a third day and bought us some tickets.

No trip to Strasburg would be complete without a stop at the Speckled Hen, one of my favorite coffee shops. My friend Cody and I got there in time for breakfast which opened the door for a delicious french toast sandwich along with the usual espresso. My high spirits were tempered only by my critical error of dropping my refill on the way out to the car.

East Strasburg is a different place on these quiet days when the crowds are not overwhelming and sometimes. It’s well worth a visit, but the only variable is the weather. We lucked out, it was clear and mild with remains of the earlier week snow blanketing the fields around the line.

Strasburg 8618 finishes putting the morning’s freight pickup away prior to our departure.

The motorman’s view from LO&S #10.
The control stand, such as it is, of the rear of the car.
We were glad they didn’t grab a coach in place of #10, given how full the car was on our trip.
The engine compartment and controls at the front of the car.

We only had 15 minutes from the return of our trip to the beginning of our shop tour, which gave us just enough time to catch 89 popping her safety valves. Even though they weren’t running her on that day, they would be the next, and decided it was worth using the service day to gently bring her up to temperature instead of rushing the following day.

We headed into the shop while the hostler ran her down to take some coal and water before putting her back into the engine house.

Our tour started with Strasburg’s awesome 90″ wheel lathe. We weren’t told what locomotive the wheel set chucked up in them right now is from, but they were big.

Some big wheels getting their centers turned.

The Strasburg shop has recently undergone an expansion, which gives the shop team much more room to work. It’s a good thing too, because the contract work keeps rolling in and has necessitated growing the staff.

The Henry K Long receives some maintenance inside the car shop.

The recently rebuilt truck for a Florida East Coast 4-6-2.
An overview of the shop. A new tube sheet is being fabricated in the foreground while the Francis L Sutter sits in the background.
How do you get large wheels on and off of axles? A large wheel press. This one can apply 60 tons of force.
The in-progress of Rio Grande Southern #20. It could not be in better hands.
More wheels awaiting their turn on the lathe.

After the car and backshop, the tour headed to the engine house, where we got to spend some time with Strasburg’s real stars. I was trying to convince them to bottle and sell the smell of this place.

The tour completed with a look at the log books the railroad keeps for their locomotives. It’s amazing how much mileage they end up wracking up by running nine at a time.

The tour was followed by a quick lunch and a trip across the street to the Railroad Museum of PA. I was on a mission to photograph brake rigging on some of their oldest cars, but grabbed a few other photos while I was there. One of them was of the inspiration for an entire potential future model railroad: PRR H3 1187.

We headed out a few minutes before closing time to meet up with our friend Ben and to head for Bethlehem. While we were hoping to make it to town in time to get some BBQ, we decided that a trip to Schell’s outside Reading was a better option.

Schells outside of Reading PA including glorious neon.

With full stomachs we resumed our voyage, checked into the hotel, and headed for the Wooden Match: a beer, meat and cigar bar inside the former CNJ Bethlehem station.

After partaking in the Wooden Match’s fine consumables we headed past the hump at Allentown Yard. The NS crew was just finishing humping a cut of cars, and we were treated to a fine desert of an SD40-2 and slug.

That wrapped up our late evening and we returned to the hotel to catch too little sleep ahead of the next morning’s adventures.

You would be a crazy person to be in Bethlehem in the morning and NOT stop at Vallo’s for some donuts. The only problem is their lack of coffee options. There is a Wawa up the street, however, which can provide the perfect accompaniment.

The cases inside Vallo’s. Get there early, this was all that was left at 8:30.

From there it was off to see trains instead of just stuffing our faces. We met up with our friend Ryan in downtown Bethlehem after catching an eastbound intermodal coming up the old Valley Side.

NS SD70ACE 2378 coming through the former CP-88 in Bethlehem.

From there it was off for a tour of the sights, including the insanity that was the L&NE curve in West Catasauqua and dropping in to a random hobby shop.

As we cruised through White Hall, I couldn’t help but notice the very questionable graphic design on the sign on the left.

The tour was topped off with a trip to My Place in Bath PA for some spinning pizza and cheesesteaks.

Full from lunch, it was back to downtown Bethlehem to resume the tour. We caught some more action at the former CP-88 (now just “Bethlehem”) with an SD40-2 powered local coming east across the river and waiting for an intermodal to clear up.

There’s an awesome road east of Bethlehem towards Easton that parallels the tracks closely. Of course, cruising along, we were all thinking “this would be a great spot for a westbound”.

Well, we were half obliged when the eastbound intermodal we had recently seen caught up with us.

We were able to pace it for a few minutes, which was definitely cool.

From there we proceeded through Easton and Phillipsburg where I saw a sign for “Train Parking, This Way” and a fairly full lot.

Thanks to Google, and some arguing with the crew in the car, we decided to try and catch what the “Delaware River Railroad Excursions” was running down the old PRR Bel-Del line. The Bel-Del is possibly one of the least accessible rail lines, but we eventually found a crossing, just in time too.

Black River and Western 1202 leads the Easter Bunny Express through the shadows cab first.

My friend Rudy had an interesting discovery about the caboose directly behind the engine. It was the former Maine Montreal and Atlantic radio control car that had been lashed up to the power at the Lac Megantic derailment and disaster. We’re surprised that the car is being used in tourist service, and I wonder what people would think if they realized they were riding such an infamous piece of rolling stock.

The infamous caboose, now Black River 596.

One of the great things about push-pull excursions is that it’s worth shooting both ends, which is always a good thing because the sun will always be against you. Here BR&W 1259 us the trailing unit.

While in the area, a stop at Trains and Lanes in Easton is a MUST. My friend Ben found a long out of production locomotive and I too found some stuff that’s been described as rarer than hens teeth.

With our wallets freshly emptied, we proceeded back to NS’s Allentown Hump yard to see what was going on. Ironically enough, they were in the middle of humping the train that my friend Ryan had brought into Reading the night before. This included a large block of Reading and Northern hoppers that were on their way to scrapping, making the lighting very fitting.

It was getting to be dinner time, and we headed off for Mama Nina’s which Rudy swore by. Someone heard horns we were parking causing the entire car to empty out. Our parking spot was on the bridge over the former L&NE mainline and current Cement Secondary (which we chased this time last year). Nobody expected anything to be moving, but our curiosity was piqued and we were happy to put dinner off for a few more minutes, just in case.

Well, I’d like to thank whoever heard them, because a few minutes later, a pair of light NS engines came into view heading back for Allentown Yard. Talk about luck.

With luck like that, it was time to call it a day and enjoy some pasta. Mama Nina’s was fantastic. I can understand how Rudy lived off of it while he was in college.

I love the decor. It’s like an Italian version of classic Mexican place.
My friend Ben contemplates how we’re going to eat all the fried mozzarella that’s under that sauce. Spoiler alert: we figured it out.

With our food comas rapidly setting in, we decided to call it a night and get a good night’s sleep in preparation for Sunday.

Sunday dawned snowy eliciting more than one “WTF?” comment. We were heading to a local train show in Packerton but our first stop was the Bowmanstown Diner conveniently located at MP 111 on the Lehigh Line.

Even though we had seen a signal lit up for a westbound, it never materialized during our meal (including homemade scrapple and breakfast sausage). From there it was off to the Packerton HS Gym (home of the Blue Bombers) to see what was going on.

Packerton HS, Home of the Blue Bombers

The show reminded me how much “model railroad junk” there is out there that should probably all just be shot into the sun. There were some diamonds in the rough though, and it’s tough to complain about scoring a bunch of decal sheets for $.50 a piece.

My friend Ryan works for the railroad and has gotten has permission for a brief tour of the Reading and Northern in Port Clinton, so we headed that way, stopping to see some stuff that “ain’t there no more” along the way.

Eventually we got to Port Clinton, and boy, was it a cornucopia of stuff.

Some of the R&N’s newest power: an ex-NS GP38-2.

The last Reading owned hopper on the R&N.

We got a heads up that there was a train coming back from North Reading so we went to get some shots before he headed north. Much to our delight, he had a pair of ex-Conrail pups.

He was setting off some cars before resuming his northward trek, and we decided to go setup and catch him at “River Road”, right around the corner from Port Clinton.

It’s amazing how much railroad was once in that area. Here the train’s seen cruising under the former PRR branch who’s southern end formed the original Blue Mountain and Reading, and who’s northern end still exists to let the R&N serve a customer. In-between is a rail trail.

That was our last photo stop for the weekend as it was getting time to head off to a late lunch and home. I grabbed one last photo of our well weathered ride for the weekend in the parking lot of the Arby’s where we stopped for lunch. She served us well.

I have never had a bad time railfanning Eastern Pennsylvania. It’s amazing how much railroad stuff there used to be in the area and it’s equally impressive how much is still around.

I’m not sure the best place to post this in the narrative above, so here it is. This is the video I shot from the weekend.


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