A Sidetrip through Pennsylvania on the Way Home

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Many of you know that our daughter is getting married in June of this year. One of the little tidbits that Janet & I wanted at the wedding are these absolutely delicious peanut butter & chocolate covered pretzels that are made by the Boyer Candy Company in Altoona, Pennsylvania. Altoona? Yes, that Altoona! And, according to Google Maps, we were only about four hours away when we were in Buffalo for the NKPHTS BOD meeting. One could only conclude that a sidetrip was indeed in order to get the pretzels. Train watching you ask? Why… the thought never crossed my mind. But while we were there………

Altoona and the surrounding area is indeed a Mecca for train watching buffs like me. Located at the foot of the Alleghenny Mountains, at one time, Altoona was just a small, sleepy little town of no real consequence. After all, there appeared to be no easy route over the mountains to the west so it became the end of the line. That all changed in the 1850s when Horseshoe Curve was built and trains could successfully attack the grades that led to all points west. The opening of Horseshoe Curve literally cut the trip from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh from weeks to hours! Seemingly overnight, Altoona became the major point on the Pennsylvania Railroad for the maintenance of and later the construction of locomotives for the entire system.

While other east-west lines have been opened since Horseshoe Curve initially opened the west, Altoona still sees 70-80 trains daily so it is indeed a railroad hotspot. And, those trains have to attack the 2% grade marking the climb to the top of the mountains so raw power is the order of the day. It is not at all uncommon to see 4 locos on the front of a train with two more on the rear pushing up the hill. And, those same extra locos provide additional braking power on the downhill side of the mountain.

Oil trains seem to be the king of the hill now. We probably saw more of them than any other type while we were there.

This photo was taken at Cassandra Crossing. It is one of my favorite places to watch trains in the Altoona area. The trees & shrubs at Horseshoe Curve have really grown a lot and it really doesn’t offer a great vantage point for train watching any more. At Cassandra, there is an old bridge that you can watch from… you are indeed real close to the action.


Just across the bridge is an open area where there are some tables & benches; the people of Cassandra have in their own little way, really taken advantage of the popularity of the railroad tracks that run through their little town.


The curve just east of the bridge at Cassandra is a very photogenic location for your train pictures while the view to the west offers a long straight track. You can see the trains coming for a very long distance.

While we were there, we had a bit of a “surprise visitor” on the tracks. The NS Executive Train made an appearance! It was first class all the way. Sharp paint, very clean consist and a top notch appearance. Even though it was moving uphill, the front end was way overpowered and it make short, quick work of the climb to the summit at Gallitzin.


Next up; a few more shots from our Altoona sidetrip.




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