Driving Trip - April 12, 2014
Note: click on the thumbnails for a larger image
This narrative is yet another in the series of driving trips
of myself and my former coworker John. If you are hoping for lots of trains
you'll want to look elsewhere as the train gods were not on our side. This is
more of a documentary mostly of trackage we've seen before. If this works for
you keep reading.
Sometimes John and I try to actually plan the details of our driving trips. This time we
planned both the time of year AND where to go well in advance. Our plan was to
take a look at some of the trackage in far eastern Ohio
affected by the Utica
shale fracking operations which have literally grown exponentially in just a few years. The railroads
are cashing in on this new source of revenue and in some cases, dormant
trackage is being revived or existing trackage is being rebuilt. In order to
see some of this the time of year is critical as it is a heavily wooded area
and it's hard enough to see things without the leaves on the vegetation. Had we
waited until the end of April most of what is buried in the trees would be
I picked up John and we headed east toward Granville, picking up the remnants
of the T&OC RofW just east of Sunbury. John proceeded to tell me the first
of many stories on this trip about how Hurricane Agnes washed out parts of many
rail lines (including this one) when it blew through the eastern part of the U.S. Given the
sorry state of the railroads at that time, the natural disaster made it easy to
justify ending service on a number of these lines.
We more or less followed the line to Heath where it used to cross the
PRR/B&O joint trackage, known as the Panhandle Line which is operated by
Columbus & Ohio River Railroad (CUOH), now a part of Genessee and Wyoming. Heath Tower
used to stand at the diamond but it and the diamonds are long gone. Transfer
tracks existed in the northwest and southeast quadrants of the diamond. The
T&OC line is in existence south of the B&O/PRR to serve several
customers in an industrial park. Several cars were parked in the small yard
leading up to the B&O/PRR. The Panhandle RofW is wide enough for three tracks but
only one exists here today.
Our goal was to now follow the Panhandle east to the Ohio
River, or until we decided to take a diverging route. We briefly
checked out the G&W (ex-CSX, B&O) yard in Newark and found several
units still in Ohio Central paint in the yard, including GP35 2175 and GP30M
4218. A pair of B39-8s also were idling. A fence surrounds the entire property
and it looks a little less railfan friendly than before.
To make up some time we hopped on Rt. 16 and headed toward Coshocton. The
Panhandle parallels the road (more or less) and just before we reach
Frazeysburg the line crosses under the road. John's eagle eyes spot a headlight
and we see someone at the Ohio Oil Gathering switch at Black Run. This small
complex has had a renaissance with the new fracking operations in the area. We
get off the road and watch the crew spot a few cars before leaving the property
lite. Little did we know that this would be the only moving train we see all
G&W switches Ohio Oil Gathering
G&W switches Ohio Oil Gathering
New pipe sits just off the main at MP 145. Note the cars in the siding in the distance.
We then moved a little further east to Trinway and make a brief run in town to
check out the remnants of a PRR north-south RofW and active G&W (Ohio
Central/ex-W&LE) line. A nice truss bridge sits on the south end of town on
line which would make for a nice photo prop. The PRR line is in place for about
five car lengths south of the Panhandle and has a few older looking cars
stuffed on the track.
PRR main in Trinway, OH
Again we hop back on Rt. 16, cross over the abandoned RofW of the PRR
line just seen in Trinway, and continue east. John comments that there
cars in storage anywhere on the Panhandle. In the past, cars have
perpetually been stored west of Frazeysburg and on the parallel
trackage from Trinway to Coshocton. Other than one or two short blocks
tank cars we do not see anything else in storage.
We get off of Rt. 16 in Coshocton and make a quick trip through town. While
it's business as usual on the Panhandle line, the former Wheeling trackage is now severed on the east
side of town at the Chestnut
Street crossing. I commented to John that I
thought I remembered reading about this but couldn't remember when it occurred.
The satellite maps show the line in place south of this location but the only
customer is on the far south end of town so more of the line might be gone.
We opted to not try and see the G&W engine house at Morgan Run though we
could see from a distance two Kiamachi locomotives on the property. We
continued east paralleling the Panhandle, commenting that the straight track
and gentle grades meant fast running at one time. Our next brief stop was at Newcomerstown
to see where a north-south PC (ex-PRR) line once crossed. A cantilever signal
bridge for the PC line still stands north of the Panhandle.
Advancing eastward we marvel at the substantial truss bridges which allow the
Panhandle to cross the Tuscarawas
River. We then stop in
Urichsville where the Panhandle is crossed by a RJ Corman (ex-B&O)
north-south line. A depot/tower-ish type structure still stands on the B&O
RofW south of the diamonds which are protected by smash boards. The purpose of
this trackage still being in place is somewhat of a mystery as there doesn't
appear to be any customers south of the diamonds and there is no connection
track in place between the lines.
Just east of here is Dennison which is well-known for its nicely restored PRR
train station and static displays of rolling stock. G&W still runs very
popular passenger trains for the Christmas season from the station.
Unfortunately the train board didn't show anything due in at the station
anytime soon so we moved on. Literally just around the corner from the station
was what looked to be a newer transload operation for the fracking business.
Several sand hoppers were spotted on a spur which had a truck scale next to it.
Across the street was a large compound for drilling equipment.
John points out that from this point eastward following the Panhandle is going
to be more difficult but we do our best to stay close. The terrain also becomes
more scenic as we continue eastward into the foothills of the Allegheny
Mountains. The next town of note is Bowerston where the Panhandle
and the Wheeling & Lake Erie route to Pittsburgh
join for about 10 miles of joint trackage using the Panhandle main. The Wheeling track is jointed
112 lb 1950 vintage rail while the Panhandle is welded 140 lb. 1976 vintage
rail. The old Wheeling RofW is now the Conotton Creek Trail and still has its
pole line up in several areas. John and I survey the land here and note that
the searchlight signals on the Wheeling
route are still standing a little north of this location. Several bicyclists pass
us while we take in the scene.
W&LE main at Bowerston looking northwest. Searchlight signals are just out of view in the distance.
W&LE main at Bowerston looking southeast to the connection with the Panhandle line on the right.
G&W main at Bowerston looking west. The W&LE main is on the right.
We follow the joint line eastward fairly close and arrive in Scio. The name of this town
always reminds me of my Latin classes at St.
Charles as "scio" in Latin is "know" or
"knowledge" (yes, Mr. O'Neil, I was paying attention though my grades didn't always reflect it). The town of Scio
was once known for the Scio Pottery factory which I'm sure at one time employed
most of the town and surrounding areas. Someone is still using the property but
we couldn't figure out who it was. Today Scio has a new industry to employ the
locals - petroleum. A large "fractionation plant" is being
constructed on the south side of town, served off of the Panhandle. John and I
drove as far into the complex as we could on what used to be a public road
before running into scads of workers and equipment. Several mobile homes have been put on
site for the workers which I'm sure number several hundred on the job. I didn't
want to risk being mistaken for a snooper so I didn't take any photos but http://www.marcellus-shale.us/Scio-Ohio.htm
has some nice overhead shots which show the complex. You probably can get a
decent view of the plant from the bike trail but we didn't try to do this.
A few miles east is Jewett where the joint trackage ends and the Panhandle and Wheeling routes go their
separate ways. The signal used at the switch looks like something you could put
in your garden railway. Here are a few photos of the area.
G&W main looking west at Jewett, OH
G&W main looking east at Jewett, OH. The W&LE line diverts to the left
At this point we diverted from the Panhandle and followed the W&LE to
Pittsburgh Junction. Here the line splits with the north leg basically paralleling
the Panhandle while the southern route heads toward Wheeling.
I had been here once before but
John had not so we ventured down the one lane public roads made mostly
thanks to the ample rains in our area and find the spot. The Honda was
definitely going to need a bath after this trip! Searchlight signals
still stand at the junction but are out of service. The route to the
shows active down to Nelms Mine but I'm not sure if this is still the
we did not investigate. The route beyond Nelms is listed as abandoned
railbanked is probably a better term as I think it is still intact.
Perhaps someday it
will be the beneficiary of the fracking industry as well.
W&LE main looking east at Pittsburgh Junction The route to the left is active route.
W&LE main looking west at Pittsburgh Junction
Closer look at the diverging routes at Pittsburgh Junction
After John and I take in the beautiful scenery and check out the steel ties for
the northern leg of the wye at the junction we attempt to take the road which
crosses the northern leg just east of the junction. However a sizable gap in
the bridge approach makes us think twice about going this route so we reverse
our route and eventually get on more solid roads. The road crosses over both
legs of the Wheeling
which are each routed through in tunnels. We briefly get on Rt. 22 and head
east. When we cross over the northern leg of the Wheeling route John tells me to slow down so
we can briefly see the tunnel that was bypassed just south of Rt. 22.
We get back on Rt. 151 and follow the Wheeling
as close as we can. Just south of Hopedale the Wheeling crosses over the north-south PC
Piney Fork Branch RofW on a fill. The line south of the Wheeling is long gone but is technically
"active" north of here. We will address this trackage a little later
in the trip. We continued east occasionally crossing the Wheeling. There are a few tunnels on this
line but we did not feel like hiking to check them out. This line also looks to
have been double track in many areas. Eventually the line falls into the valley
while Rt. 151 stays on the hills so we make a beeline to the Ohio River.
John cautions me that, while the trackage along the river looks impressive from
the satellite maps, a lot of it is hard to see up close. After arriving at the Ohio River and driving on Rt. 7 I have a better
understanding of his comments. We do, however, make a few brief stops and check
out the impressive truss bridges over the Ohio River for the Panhandle and Wheeling routes. The Wheeling heads straight
east across the river while the Panhandle makes a sharp curve north and
parallels the river. Signal bridges over the Panhandle still stand though
without the PRR position light signals. After literally driving in a couple
circles along the south side of Steubenville
we grab a bite to eat and regroup.
This part of the trip would involve us following the Panhandle back to
Piney Fork branch and then following it to Minerva. As we would find
easier said than done! Purely by accident we find the road which kind
parallels the Panhandle. It also passes by a very large junk yard. They
need a rail spur to take in gons for scrap steel! We stop at
the first road crossing which is just east of Gould Tunnel. The scenery
spectacular and coupled with an absolutely gorgeous day I could have
hours here relaxing.
PRR main looking east just east of Gould Tunnel at Mingo Junction.
PRR main looking west just east of Gould Tunnel at Mingo Junction.
One thing we notice is that the tracks are not very shiny here unlike back in
Jewett where they were very shiny. So it appears the aggregate traffic for the
fracking operations must come from Columbus
eastward rather than via Pittsburgh
The roads around here are quite treacherous so John and I study our maps carefully to
determine our next move. After a few minutes we think we have it figured out so we continue east on
CR 74 where we encounter the Wheeling
line again on the first of several large bridges spanning the valleys below. Each bridge is wide
enough for two tracks with some having the steel in place to support the second
track while others do not. We also pass by what appears to be an old aggregate
processing plant which sits between the Panhandle and the Wheeling
and was served by the Wheeling.
Though the plant itself seems to be abandoned, the property was not as
three separate gates block the entrance. On the property were several
Hmmm.... We opt to not investigate and continue west.
While our intent was to follow the Panhandle we end up criss-crossing the Wheeling several times
instead. Unfortunately both the DeLorme maps and the GPS fail us as we end up
on three dead end roads, not marked of course until you get to the end. ARGH!
One of them states that "this road is closed as of March 2013" so
we're a year late! The only compensation for these dead end routes was that we
were in some spectacular scenery.
After spending what seemed like hours in the valley trying to navigate the maze
of dead end roads, by accident we find the Wheeling
depot in Smithfield.
For such a remote area this is a large depot. Also note in the photos the
double track RofW.
Smithfield, OH depot adjacent to the W&LE main looking west.
W&LE main looking east at Smithfield, OH
To save time we get back on Rt. 151 and head back to Hopedale to pick up the
Piney Fork branch. This line has had several infusions of state funds to keep
it in service while Ohi-Rail has operated it. According to the satellite maps
the south end is in place up to the Wheeling
but is not connected. We head down Penn
Central Road to get a peek at the line. Along with
photos of the line, John takes a photo of the street sign.
OHIC (ex-PC, LEAW) line at Hopedale looking south. The Wheeling is about 1/4 mile south.
OHIC (ex-PC, LEAW) line at Hopedale looking north. Note the cement footer on the left.
Hopedale sign and call box.
Better check in with the Hopedale Dispatcher to see if our route is clear...
We then follow this route north. We cross it a few times and determine that
this line is still inactive though it shows as being active on the SPV map. It
is clear of vegetation so something could go over it but nothing appears to
have done so. Definitely looks like PC was the last one to do any maintenance on the line!
We then arrive at Pan where the Piney Fork line crosses over the Panhandle on a
deck bridge. A long connection, built 15-20 years ago, is in the
northeast quadrant to allow trash trains to go from the Panhandle to the dump
located on the Piney Fork branch. Again this spot is a very scenic area and we
take a few minutes to take in nature and the lay of the land.
Connection to the Panhandle is on the left, Piney Fork line looking south is on the right.
Continuing north we follow the Piney Fork branch and arrive at what we thought
was one of the dump locations, though no spur tracks or sidings were present.
All of the ties on the main are newer so it appears the whole line was rebuilt.
We continued north and noted that line still was in good shape so maybe we
hadn't found the dump. After going down our fourth dead end road (very
aggravating!), we loop around a couple roads not realizing that we had just
looped around the dump! The next time we cross the main the tracks are in
crappy shape and rusty.
We pick the line up in Amsterdam
and again note the lousy shape of the route, though it was clear of vegetation.
State route 164 parallels the line so we follow it and just before hitting
Bergholz I notice a switch in the woods. John says the SPV shows this as a
branch going to Wolf Run and as being active. So we turned off the state route
and followed the line. For a few hundred feet off the main it stays together
but then starts to look more and more overgrown. We cross it about half way
between the main and the end of the line and notice large trees growing in the
Wolf Run branch about 1/2 mile from the switch off the main.
Finally we reach the end at what looks to be an overgrown mine load out. The
track is in place up to the road accessing the mine. We walk around a little
and inspect the railroad relics still present at the site. The rail is 1920s
vintage rail but I couldn't see a weight. A nearby stream running from the mine
location looks polluted. This link has information about the branch (http://ohiorr.railfan.net/jensie.html).
Wolf Run Branch at the mine property looking back toward the main switch.
Wolf Run Branch RofW on the right leading into the property
Dirty stream leading out of the mine property.
Back on the main road we arrive in Bergholz. At one time the lumber company in
town was taking in boxcars of lumber but judging by the rusty rails this
doesn't appear to be taking place anymore. The flangeways in Bergholz were more
or less clear so something has been over it but for what is unknown.
OHIC main at Bergholz, OH looking north
followed the line up to Mechanicstown then took a left to head to Carrollton which is where
a Wheeling & Lake Erie line extending south from Minerva ends. There's
about 1/8 mile of more or less street running trackage in Carrollton which
makes for a nice photo prop, though it looks like the line, while intact to
about a 1/2 mile south of town, is not in use beyond the grain elevator in
town. However it's hard to say if the elevator itself is being rail served. A
nice depot, turned into a restaurant, also makes for a nice photo prop in town.
After inspecting the end of the track where the main basically becomes the spur
for the last customer, we head back through town and criss-cross the line a few
times, completely overlooking that we're passing two plastics customers which
are probably the real reason why this line is still in service. Further north
we pass through Oneida
which crept up on both of us. The Wheeling
line used to cross a PC (ex-PRR) line at this point. We follow the PRR line
which is nothing more than a mound until you get about a mile outside of
Minerva where the line used to serve a business. A neat lattice steel bridge
over a creek is about where the line ends.
Minerva probably at one time was a fairly busy place when all of the lines
which ran through it were connected. Today there's still a fair amount of
trackage but mostly to store cars. On the southwest side of town is where the
PRR line we followed into town and a Wheeling
line (which branched off the line we followed from Carrollton) parallel each other and cross the
Piney Fork line we followed from Hopedale.
W&LE line on the left looking northeast in Minerva, OH. Note the tilting target signal for the Piney Fork diamond.
(PRR) branch looking northeast in Minvera, OH. Note the tilting target
signal for the Piney Fork diamond. This line and the W&LE line on
the left join each other about 1/8 mile beyond the diamond
Just west of the diamonds on the
Piney Fork line are some wood chip hoppers which look like they haven't moved
in a decade. A few locomotives were tied up by the diamonds which is near the
Ohi-Rail yard office. A connection track sits in the southeast quadrant of the
diamond between the PRR and Piney Fork line. This looks to have been recently
rebuilt with heavy rail and we would find out why very shortly.
OHIC power tied up on the Piney Fork branch just east of the PRR diamond in Minerva, OH.
We then maneuvered our way to the Piney Fork yard on the southeast side of
town. For years Ohi-Rail seemingly used this yard primarily to get some revenue
from car storage. Also an eclectic collection of older motive power sat in
storage. The condition of the yard left much to be desired. Today the motive
power is still there but the yard, though somewhat leaner has that new car
smell. The yard has been rebuilt with 2012 or 2013 (can't remember) 115 lb.
welded rail on all tracks. The yard was also regraded and ballasted. I'm sure
the state of Ohio
paid for most of this in the form of a loan, but judging by the scads of sand hoppers
on site Ohi-Rail is making the revenue needed to repay it. A rail-truck
transload operation is on the east end of the yard. The Google satellite maps
show the yard before it was rebuilt but also show a long line of semi-trucks
waiting to get a load of fracking sand.
West end of OHIC yard in Minerva, OH
West end of OHIC yard in Minerva, OH
We also noticed that the main east of the yard had been rebuilt as well. We
followed it for and quickly discovered that the main had been rebuilt for only
a mile or so for switching moves. Beyond the rebuilt section the track looked
the same as it had further south.
main just southeast of the Minerva, OH yard looking northwest back
toward the yard. The main has not been rebuilt beyond this point!
After taking in the transformation of this once dilapidated yard we went a
little further north to Bayard. Along the way we noticed covered hoppers
sitting on the main. So it appears that Ohi-Rail is getting the sand hoppers
either via NS at Bayard or the W&LE via the connection just west of
Minerva. Also at Bayard is a RofW of another PC(ex-PRR) line. Amazing how much
PRR trackage there is in this part of the state! When we stopped here in 2000
(I can't believe it has been 14 years!) we got to see Ohi-Rail do their
interchange with NS. But luck hasn't been on our side all day so we once again
come away empty handed in terms of seeing a moving train.
OHIC main looking south toward Minerva at Bayard, OH
OHIC main looking north is on the left, NS line to Alliance is on the right.
After a final pass through Minerva we more or less follow the Wheeling
into Canton. My
hope was to see something on the NS (ex-PRR) Ft. Wayne Line through downtown so
that I could see the PRR position light signals active but we continued to get
shut out. We checked out the junction appropriately named Wandle which is still
governed by PRR signals on the Ft. Wayne Line and NKP signals on the W&LE
side, though these look to be about ready to be replaced with new signals.
NS Ft. Wayne Line at Wandle (Canton, OH) looking west
With light somewhat at a premium we started back home with brief stops in
Orville and Wooster.
One final crossing of the PRR just west of Mansfield revealed nothing doing, so we
called it a day. I dropped off John and declared our trip of 452 miles
complete. We then commented that we could have driven to Chicago and part way back, and probably seen
a few more trains.
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