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It's a hot, muggy, hazy June 1976 day in West Point, Mississippi. The air is thick, it's aroma and heat telling me I'm in the Deep South. I drove over this crossing and spotted a headlight about a mile away. After a long wait - long because I was use to fast trains in Ohio - this Columbus and Greenville freight rolled by. A rare Baldwin that had seen better days, a strange looking ICG caboose, and about 20 cars made up this dirt track railroad local. The conductor is leaning out of the window, probably to both catch a small breeze and escape the fumes. Check out the poling pockets, the solid handrail (no MU), and those stiff as a board trucks. I was only 21 years old and didn't really know I was experiencing a holdover from a different era even back then. In today's fast paced stack train world the memory of this operation, this true southern train, remains clear every time I feel the sticky humid summer air on my skin. This photo isn't just about a train; it represents a total southern experience that all my senses savored.
I headed out with a friend one cold November day in 2013 with a goal to fill in a few gaps in my quest to photograph the bones of the former Erie Lackawanna in Northeast Ohio. With several inches of the white stuff on the ground, recognizing old right of ways would be a bit easier. I had visited a few places a couple weeks ago but wanted to check out the line west of Braceville, Ohio. We started out in Ravenna where current operations by the Akron Barberton Cluster end and the unused line heads east for Windham and eventually Leavittsburg. I'll start off with a particularly poignant location that has an extra sad story to go with the photos. Craig had made the comment earlier in the day about "If these rails could talk". How true that would turn out to be.
It was 40 years ago on Thanksgiving Day 1973, that an eastbound EL UPS train running reverse entered an industrial siding in Windham, Ohio at track speed and derailed, killing one crew member and injuring two others (see report below courtesy of the ELHS). Attached are some views of the area where this happened. What appears to be just more photos of the abandoned Erie turned out to be a cold reminder of a grim night so long ago. This once busy mainline is stone cold quiet these days. No 2ndNY100, no locals, nothing. The brickyard is still there but doesn't use rail. The former EL main is intact from Leavittsburg to Ravenna, and even retains a section of both mains there in Windham, but that's about all you can say about it.
What keeps drawing me back to these silent rails?
3) Looking west towards the main from the siding, notice the drop off.
About 5:20 p.m., November 22, 1973, a detoured eastbound Erie Lackawanna freight train moving 50 m.p.h. on No. 1 track in Windham, Ohio, entered an open switch to an industrial track and derailed two locomotive units and the first 12 cars. The weather was clear.
The engineer was killed, the fireman seriously injured and the front brakeman sustained minor injuries.
The accident was caused by juvenile trespassers who opened the switch leading from the main track to the industrial track.
Three cars were destroyed, the two locomotive units and nine cars had substantial damage. The carrier estimated the cost of damage to track and equipment at $386,400.
Railroad Operation and Physical Characteristics
The accident occurred on that part of the railroad extending eastward from Brady Lake to SN Junction, Ohio, a distance of 23.5 miles. Windham is 15.2 miles East of Brady Lake. In the accident area there is a double track line over which trains run with the current of traffic by signal indications of an automatic block signal system. From the north the tracks are designated as No. 1 westward and No. 2 eastward. Trains moving against the current of traffic operate by train order authority or under flag protection. At Windham an industrial spur track connects to the main track on the north. This switch is facing point for eastward movements. The derailment occurred on the spur track about 110 feet east of the point of switch. From the west on track No. 1 there are, successively, a tangent 5,975 feet a 1 deg curve to the right 160 feet to the industrial track switch and 1,000 feet beyond. The average grade in the accident area is 0.66% descending eastward. The industrial track switch is a No. 10 left-hand turnout. From the point of switch the track curvature was 7 deg 28' to the left for about 94 feet followed by a 14 deg curve to the left 16 feet to the point of derailment and 174 feet beyond. The industrial track switch was equipped with a ground throw Bethlehem New Century Model 51-A stand with interlocked six-inch red and white targets. The targets are attached to the switch stand about six inches above the rails (see following photo). When the switch is in the normal position the white portion of the target is displayed toward a train approaching from either direction on track No. 1. When the switch is in the reverse position, lined for the industrial track, the red portion of the target is displayed toward a train approaching from either direction on track No. 1. A padlock was provided for securing the switch in normal position.
Maximum Authorized Speed
The maximum authorized speed for freight trains in the accident area is 50 M.P.H.
Extra 3657 East This train consisting of diesel-electric locomotive units 3657, 3667 (both EMD SD-45's) 26 cars and a caboose left Chicago, Illinois, at 4:45 a.m.the day of the accident, after receiving the prescribed brake test. Crews were changed at Marion, Ohio, 113.4 miles west at Kent, where the outbound crew went on duty at 11:50 a.m. after completing the required off duty period. The train arrived in Kent, on track No. 2, at 4:10 p.m. where arrangements were made to detour against the current of traffic on track No. 1. About 5:00 p.m. Extra 3657 East crossed over from track No. 2 to track No. 1 and shortly thereafter accelerated to the maximum authorized speed. The fireman, a promoted engineer, was operating the locomotive units from the control compartment of the leading locomotive. The engineer was in the control compartment of the leading locomotive, with the fireman, and the front brakeman was riding the second locomotive. The conductor and flagman were in the caboose. About 5:20 p.m. Extra 3657 was moving eastward on track No. 1 at 50 M.P.H., as indicated by the speed recorder, when the front end was diverted onto the industrial track at Windham. Immediately thereafter the locomotive units and first 12 cars became derailed. The locomotives came to rest on their right sides between the industrial and main tracks. The 12 cars stopped in various positions behind the locomotives. The fireman stated he was unaware of the open switch until the locomotives entered the industrial track. He immediately applied the train brakes in emergency but did not reduce the train's speed prior to the derailment.
Post Accident Examination
The switch of the industrial track was found lined from the main track to the industrial track. The operating lever was in reverse position secured by the foot latch and switch padlock. The red switch target was displayed for a movement on track No. 1. Trespassers Investigation by the carrier's protective department resulted in apprehension of two juveniles, age 7 and 8, who admitted placing the switch in reverse position and locking the operating lever with the switch padlock. The boys stated they found the padlock open and did not have a switch padlock key.
Previous Train Movements
The industrial track switch was last operated by a road switch crew about 7:15 a.m. the day before the accident. The conductor of this crew stated he lined the switch to the normal position and locked the latch with the switch padlock. A westbound freight train passed the industrial track switch, on track No. 1, about 4:00 p.m. the day of the accident. From all indications the switch was lined for the main track at this time.
* 1. At the time of the accident Extra 3657 East was being operated in accordance with applicable rules and regulations of the carrier.
* 2. The industrial track switch was lined for movement from track No. 1 to the industrial siding and the operating lever was locked in reverse position.
* 3. Crew members on the first locomotive of Extra 3657 East were unaware of the open switch until the locomotive entered the industrial track.
* 4. The industrial track switch was operated to the reverse position by juvenile trespassers a short time prior to the approach of Extra 36S7 East.
* 5. It could not be determined how the switch padlock was opened prior to the accident.
* 6. The signal system served no useful purpose in the detour operation of Extra 3657 East.
Dated at Washington, D. C., this 28th day of October, 1975
By the Federal Railroad Administration
Donald W. Bennett
Railroad Safety Board
1) Looking east towards Windham, extra 3657 was running against the current of traffic on the left rail.
2) The facing point switch that leads to the spur off to the left. The train entered that siding at speed.
The Erie Lackawanna Railroad was (and remains) very instrumental in how I got into this hobby back in the early 70's. Friendly crews and an attractive company image drew me to that railroad right from the first time I started hanging out where the railroads passed through my home town of Akron, Ohio. Sure, there were other railroads in town, several of which passed right next to the EL lines. Yes, they were trains and were interesting in their own right, it was the EL that grabbed my attention the most. With fast mainline trains, frequent cab rides in the yard, and railroaders that took the time to explain the workings of their job to a young fan it's no wonder I got hooked on the EL.I would also come to learn that the EL was struggling just to continue operating. A smaller underdog surrounded by larger carriers, the EL kept rolling mostly through the sheer will of it's people. The beginning of the end came in 1976 when the EL was merged into Conrail and ceased to exist as an operating carrier, it's power and people scattered to the four winds. In a few short years the tracks through town that once held my undivided attention fell quiet, the sound of steel wheels replaced by the sound of growing weeds. The railroad was gone.
While the EL may be long gone it's presence- it's spirit if you will- is often in my thoughts to this day. It was something that was in my life but then gone all too quick, new found friends and pretty locomotives all disappearing in the blink of times eye. Hard lessons learned at an early age.
Yes, seasons change, and as Fall approaches I like to remember how the colors of the EL seemed to fit the fall season just perfectly. It's the time of year I miss the EL the most.
The seasons change
and age our temporary souls
I was chasing fate
along it's winding road
Your flame burned bright but passed into smoke
And those trains
that passed through my life
now roll down rails of gold
I close my eyes
and drift into a shining memory
but I can't see your trains
as those rails fade into dreams
Yes, the seasons change.....and age our temporary souls
And I'm still chasing fate
along it's winding road
If These Rails Could Talk