Friday, September 30, 2016

West Virginia, Weird and Wonderful

I spent this week in lovely South Charleston, WV.  West Virginia has traditionally been pretty good for seeing weird things.  Previously I recall a goat wearing a sweater in someones back yard, various modes of transportation that might have been legal and several creative housing options.

There were two interesting incidents this half that made me give this post the title "West Virginia,
Waiting on trains so we can get to work
Weird and Wonderful.

We have been testing new equipment all half and occasionally that requires cracking open a track circuit or two.  If that track circuit happens to be in the approach of a crossing, bells will go off and gates will come down.

At one particular location we happened to crack open the track circuit just as a shirtless man rode his bicycle through the crossing.  I suppose he thought his alien implant set off the crossing because he immediately dismounted his bike and began directing traffic.  He waved one side of traffic through with one hand, while holding his other hand up in the classic stop gesture. He looked like any good law enforcement officer, well except for the shirtless part.

After about 10 minutes there was a lull in the traffic and he looked up and noticed our shiny florescent yellow vests and CSX hard hats.  A light bulb went off (perhaps next to his alien implant) and he realized he was not the cause of the gates going down, so he hoped on his bike and rode off into the sunset.

That was the second day of the half, and by the last day of the half nothing else really interesting had happened.  I was starting to get worried I would have nothing else of note to write about, but God provides all things.

We were working right outside of South Charleston yard in a rather industrial section of town.  So you can imagine my surprise when I glanced at the road that goes through the industrial complex and noticed a well fed elderly gentleman riding his bike down the street.  Now the fact he was a little round and a little elderly wasn't particularly shocking, but the lime green speedos  here was wearing did make him stand out.  Judging by his excellent tan, I would say this isn't the first time he thought riding his bike through town wearing nothing but a glorified pair of underwear was a good idea.  So sorry I didn't get a picture.

WAS Signals South Charleston

Next half I will actually be working in the same town I live in, go figure.  This means I get to sleep in my own bed for a few extra nights.  It also means my husband and I have to get ready together in the morning, something we haven't had to do, well, I can't really remember the last time we had to do that at home.  Hopefully we won't kill each other by the end of the half.

For this half's Amazon discount, I decided to go with cameras.  Mostly because Amazon was running a 20% discount and they didn't have a whole lot of other deals this week.  So if you need a camera click the pretty camera picture and get 20% off your purchase.  For the legal eagles, I will get a small commission on anything you purchase at no cost to you.

Hope you had a great two weeks, I will let you know if I am still married at the end of next half.


Wednesday, September 14, 2016

I'm BACK!!

Well after 92 days and 14 hours off I went back to work.  My shoulder is healed and doing good and I survived my first half back at work.

I can't say I was miserable all summer.  Honestly, I had a lot of fun.  The week after my surgery was fairly painful, but after that it was all good.  I spent the summer reading, writing, camping and fishing.  My legs are tanner than they have been since I was 12.  I didn't put on jeans, I didn't put on boots. It was all shorts, flip flops and water shoes.

Basically, I got spoiled for about 85 of those 92 days.

Blonde girl holding a catfish
Fishing is strength training for my shoulder!

I also started a new blog  (nothing to do with railroading) and learned a whole lot about the blogging and freelance writing side of the world.  You will notice I have taken off the Google ads and have added a few Amazon ads.  That's because I can not control what Google shows you, it all goes by your browsing history. (You should see what comes up on mine!)

Amazon on the other hand, lets me show you what I want, and lets me give my readers discounts Since I know a lot of my readers are train buffs and love to take pictures, I added a 30% discount on camera bags and equipment. Just click on the banner below and you will get your discount.  And yes, I will get a small kickback on any of your purchases.

While I was off I got bumped off my job on the crossing team, so I ended up on the PTC test team. This is cool, all new to me but cool.  I like learning the technology and how this stuff really works.

On a construction team, you learn a little bit of the technology but not a lot.  You build it from scratch, then after working on the build for a few months you cut it in.  Cut in day is when you learn the most.

This team did 4 cut-ins this half alone.  So I am pretty happy with where I landed.

Currently we are working in Charleston, WV which is an interesting mix of redneck and politics. The Kanawha (KA - naw) river runs through Charleston and as we drive along it I have noticed an interesting mix of boats.  I have seen giant $200k boats, a lot of pontoon boats and one very sad bass boat.  Judging by the angle of the boat, I would say they need to move one of those boys up front.

I will be back to posting much more regularly now.  It is a little hard to post about railroading when you aren't doing it.  I hope everyone had a great summer!

CSX train going through Montgomery, WV
The local going through Montgomery, WV.  Once he goes by, it's back to work. 

Friday, June 17, 2016

Percival Island and Mini Foamers

Percival Island 

While I was in Lynchburg, I got a chance to check out the Percival Island nature trail.  I knew the bridge that crossed onto the island in the middle of the James river was an old railroad bridge but I did not know why you would need a railroad bridge to an island.

The first thing I noticed crossing the bridge was that it was double track, and the actual bridge structure itself didn't look that old.  As a matter of fact, it looked like it was in better shape than a few of the bridges I have crossed on a train. I stopped at the viewing area over the bridge to check out the scenery and look a little closer at the bridge before I headed over to the island.

Railroad bridge going to Percival Island

As soon as I stepped off of the bridge I saw signal foundations, again old, but not that old. These foundations looked like the same ones we are pulling out now as we refresh the signal system.  As I wandered around the island I found a lot of things, old pole line, old ties and old rail.  I checked the tie plates for dates but couldn't find any.  Again, none of this stuff seemed that particularly old so that got me thinking, what was this place and what was it used for?

Signal foundations along the jogging trail

Now, if I had read the historical sign on the way over, I would have known that Percival Island was a rail yard and was operated by Norfolk and Western until 1964.  1964 does not seem that old to me, I know people that can remember 1964.  So either I am getting old (nahhh) or this place operated well into the modern age.

An old tie laying next to a trail

I wanted to check out the Holcomb Rock Dam that someone posted in the comments but it seemed like it rained everyday I was coming to or from work.  It is on my list of things to check out.

Mini Foamers

In the past few weeks I have learned an interesting thing about human nature, obsessions are born, not made.  One day while working at the Concord Rd crossing we noticed a car sitting in the parking lot, it sat there for an hour and left only to return and park on the opposite side of the road.  There was an elderly lady driving and a boy of 7 or 8 in the back seat.  A train came by and the boy held up his camera and started taking pictures. Ahh a mini foamer. I like most kids so I grabbed an extra vest and took it over to him and he showed me all of the pictures on his camera.  He had Amtrak, NS and CSX pictures and I have to say, some of them were pretty good.  

I also spent a little time with a friend of mine in Richmond and her 4 year old son.  That boy knows more about trains than half the railroaders I know.  As we were riding around running errands it was my job to hang out with the little man and keep him occupied while his mom ran into the stores.    

No problem, I have train pictures on my phone.  I showed him a yard engine, "Oh that one doesn't have a lot of horsepower", I showed him a big road engine "A diesel engine", I showed him a picture of the Greenbrier Express "wow a big steam engine"  He could also tell me the difference between gondolas, box cars and coal cars.  Keep in mind, he is Four!  After I ran out of pictures, I grabbed a video off of the Old Dominion Railfan page and he was mesmerized.  Dennis Shafer made this video of a NS train coming out of a tunnel and he loved it! He watched it  over and over until we got back home.  

I thought of myself as a horse obsessed little girl, no one knows where I got that particular fascination from, but I have had it as long as I can remember.  I guess these kids are no different, they love trains and all of the things that go with it.  I am sure in the future you will be seeing pictures and videos from both of these boys and they might even be better than yours.  

Injury Time Out

I had surgery on my shoulder last week and will be out for the next 8 weeks so I have been doing a little extra writing for my friends over at Workhands.  Workhands is like LinkedIn for the skilled trades so I wrote a post for them about the signal trade.  Just click here to read it. 

Since I will be laid up, if anyone has any suggestions, questions or places I should check out let me know.  I should be able to drive in the next week or two and I will have a little bit of time on my hands.  

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

The Lynchburg Crossings

The past few weeks have been a bit boring, we have been doing little tasks getting ready to cut in our two crossings and retrieving our finally fixed truck.  This week we finally got everything lined up and got both crossings cut in, but of course there has to be a little bit of drama.

7th St. Crossing

The first thing you have to do when cutting in a new crossing, is disable the old crossing.  While we get all of the new things in place all trains that come to the crossing must stop and flag the crossing.  This makes everything safe for the public and the trains.  Lynchburg is double track, but we rarely see two trains at the same time at the same crossing.  That is of course, unless I am cutting in a crossing.

trains meeting at a crossing, engines, CSX
Engineer Allen Dial on engine 603 and Engineer Mark Bishop on engine 5304 meet at 7th St. in Lynchburg.  Conductor Jeremy Mooney flags the north side of the crossing.

These two trains met at our crossing just as we were getting started, and there were a few more in line behind them.  The train behind engine 5304 was around 12 thousand feet long (that's over 2 miles long!) so he took a few minutes to get out of the way.  We had trucks backed up for a half a mile trying to get into and out of the steel plant.

It is very hard to work on the tracks with engines in the way, but we successfully got this one done by about 1500.  Of course after we get it turned on, we need to see trains go across it, but as luck would have it, all the trains were in the way when we didn't need them, and none when we needed them. We had to send another crew down to the crossing the next day to watch trains.

Concord Turnpike

Concord turnpike bears no resemblance to an actual turnpike, it is just a little two lane road, right in front of the yard office in Lynchburg.  This little crossing has some traffic, but it wasn't the traffic that made this crossing exciting  In addition to cutting in the crossing and all of the hoopla that goes with that, the power company also decided that they would be turning the power off and replacing the lines that run across the track.  So it was my job to protect train crews, signalmen, the power company and the public.  Honestly I love to be busy, but things like this make me feel like I am running in 4 different directions.  

power line worker

Appalachian power workers move power lines from the old pole to the new pole

When the power company cut the power off, it also disrupted the dispatchers radio, so we could hear him calling us, but he couldn't hear us answering.  That means phone only communication, which takes much longer than the radio.  Just another little detail to be managed.  So now we have the Q303 and the Q302 trying to switch at the same time, power outages causing problems for the dispatcher's radio and the printers inside the building, everyone has to stop and flag the crossing, we are trying to cut in the crossing and the power company is begging for time to get the new lines up across the tracks.  It was a bit of a crazy day.  

Just to add to the chaos, the city decided it was an excellent day to practice water rescues in the James River, so there was a low flying helicopter dropping and picking things up in the river. It was truly a day of planes, trains and automobiles.  

I am happy to report that all the work was completed correctly and safely, and we all went home with all of our fingers and toes.  Next half we have a few odds and ends to finish up, and then we will be heading to Newport News for our next job.  I wonder what interesting things will happen down there.

For those of you that were interested in the history post, I am working on another history post and hope to have it up next week.  

helicopter, power truck, crossing gates

A helicopter hovers over the river as the power company works on the new lines and we work on the new crossing

Sunday, May 1, 2016

For the History Buffs

Like many things in Virginia, the railroad is steeped in history and on a recent hi rail trip I got to see some of those things first hand.  I have been over this territory hundreds of times but usually I don't get to stop, take pictures and really take a good look at what is still left from times past.  This time we were doing a signal survey and we had to stop at each signal location. While the big dogs were doing their part in figuring out how we will bring positive train control to the Rivanna subdivision, I was looking around and taking pictures.

The James River Canal

The James River Canal was an effort by George Washington to better connect the mountains of Virginia to Richmond.  In 1765 George Washington surveyed the area along the James to plan the route the canal would take.  In 1785 the James River Canal company was founded and good old George was named honorary president.  The building of the canal was plagued by tough terrain and even once it was built, flooding was an ongoing problem.  By 1880 railroads were proving themselves as a more reliable form of moving freight and the canal was sold to the Richmond and Alleghany Railroad company.

Today the canal is still there along much of the James and Rivanna subdivisions most of the walls have fallen in but I did find a few spots where the old blocks still stood.  Here are a few pictures from my trip.  

Rock wall along what is left of the canal
You can see that nature has overtaken much of the wall


When we pulled up to this location we were all in awe of the giant 3 story barn and the old railroad stop that was still standing.  It still had much of the Vermont slate on its roof and there was still the remnants of a fireplace inside.  We had so much fun checking out the history we almost forgot to look at the signal we were supposed to be looking at.  

This one took a little bit more research, as I searched around to get some more history on the place I found a real estate ad from 1914.  It claimed the property had 3, three story barns, room for 50 hands and its own private rail station with 4 trains a day.  This really made me wonder, who in the world was special enough to have their own private rail station?  

After reading through someones typed (like on a typewriter!) dissertation on the history of dairy farming in Virginia I finally found a name.  Joseph Reid Anderson. Mr. Anderson joined the Tredegar Iron works company in 1841 and owned the place by 1848.  He served as Brigadier General in the civil war,  and after he suffered an injury in 1862 he resigned his commission and returned to Tredegar.  He was also very involved in local politics until his death in 1892.  

Okay, so he was a big industrialist and he held minor political positions and served on the losing side of a war as a Brigadier General, how does that qualify him to get his own private rail station?  Easy, Tredegar was the biggest producer of rail and steam locomotives in the south, making Mr. Anderson a pretty popular guy with the railroads. One of the biggest reasons Mr. Anderson was able to produce steel at a lower cost than many others at the time was he was the first person to use slave labor in skilled positions. He did not believe slaves were not smart enough or could not be trusted enough to work in a skilled position.  Below are some of the pictures that I took, if you are interested in seeing a picture of what the Thorncliff rail station looked like in 1900 click here.  
Thorncliff rail station, Goochland, VA
Thorncliff rail station

Thorncliff rail station, Goochland, VA
Fireplace inside the rail station

Thorncliff three story barn Goochland, Virginia
Three story bank barn Thorncliff Farm

Monday, April 11, 2016

My Kingdom For a Truck

A truck, a truck my kingdom for a truck! Okay maybe I am being a little bit dramatic but really a working crane truck would be really helpful around these parts.


This is Peggy, she is our hi rail crane truck.  As you can see by the picture, she comes in handy when we need to move platforms, cable, gate mechs so on and so forth.  The problem is that Peggy has hydraulic pump issues.  At the end of the last half we took her in because she was making awful grinding noises when you move the out riggers or crane, and you had to really rev up the rpm's to even get anything to move.  So she went in to the mechanic while we were off.

Sadly, we picked her up and tried to use her with zero success. I couldn't even winch down, literally nothing moved.  So back she went, first to one shop, and then another.  If we don't have her back at the beginning of this half we are going to be up the proverbial creek.


One of the crossings we are working on is right in front of the yard office, so I see the (world famous) Y120 switching and I have noticed that there is a lot of graffiti on the cars that looks pretty new.  So I think we have a graffiti artist in our midst. When I see all of this painting on the sides of cars I always have two thoughts.

First, I always think about how much talent the people that do some of this artwork have.  Most of my artwork consists of stick figure drawings, so anyone that can do any kind of art amazes me, but the intricacies in some of the artwork is really awesome.   The second thing I think is, how long do these cars sit here?  I know there are metrics on car dwell but how long does it take someone to do one of these paintings?  My stick figures don't take me to long, but I can only imagine how long it must take some of these

Off Time

While I was off we headed down to Smith Mountain Lake for a little camping and some fishing, fishing not catching.  The weather was slightly better than forecast but it was still pretty windy and not exactly toasty.  This was my first trip to this lake and we should have probably hired a local guide to steer us to the fish, because we came home empty handed. Still nice to get away for a few days and spend time with hubby.  

When we got back I did manage to get a little bit more work on my table done.  I finished rough sanding all the boards and got the edges ripped so they would sit together.  My 1960's radial arm saw does not have any type of vacuum system so it basically showers you with shavings as you run the boards through.  

My saw, my helmet and the mess it makes

Tonight I will head back to work for another fun filled week on the railroad.  Hopefully we will have a truck and be ready to cut in both of our crossings in Lynchburg by the end of the half.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

My Barn Wood Table: Step 1

When we moved into our house 3 years ago, I really wanted to get a big dining room table made from recycled barn wood.  So I started shopping and quickly found a problem, I couldn't afford the table that I wanted.  Think upwards of 2 grand.  Maybe I am cheap but I couldn't see spending that kind of cash for a dining room table.  So when a friend of mine asked me if I knew anyone interested in some old barn wood I was really excited.  "Yea ME!" I told him.

This half off I finally got down there and start tearing some wood down.  My Dad came down to join in the fun so my friend, my Dad and I started to take apart some of the barn.  It is a big barn (see picture below), so I was trying to be picky when we were taking it apart.  I took a small roof section that had fallen in, and the front pieces off of one side. I also grabbed some awesome 2 x 6 support pieces for the legs of my table.

As with everything that I jump into head first, there is a learning curve. One day I might learn to do some research before I go tearing things down, but today was not that day, tomorrow probably won't be either.  So below is a list of things that I learned in my first week of working with old barn wood.

Wear a Hard Hat

You would think this one might be obvious, but those guys on TV never do it, so why should I?  Well I have a lovely knot on my forehead to prove that you should.  I was cutting some rotted wood out from around the big 2 x 6 supports and even though it was rotted, it still left a dent when it fell and smacked me in the head.  

Wear a Hat While Sanding and Ripping

My dad got me a new orbital sander and a biscuit joiner for my new project (Yea, he is a pretty fantastic Dad) and I had to play with them as soon as we got home.  So I put some safety glasses on and proceeded to sand away.  After I was done with that, my Dad suggested we use the radial arm saw to rip the uneven sides down so we could play with the biscuit joiner.  Well YEA!  I love new toys, so I grabbed a piece that I had sanded and went to work.  That saw flings little chunks of wood everywhere and by the end of the night I was covered in sawdust and wood shavings.

My Outdoor Work Shop

Don't Wet Your Hair if it is Covered in Wood Shavings

If you decide not to wear a hat while sanding and ripping and you have long hair like I do, don't wet your hair and think it will shampoo out.  Nope, the stuff just sticks to your hair and gets nice and clean.  I probably got some sawdust out, but there were still plenty of shavings left in my hair after I got out of the shower.  My husband wouldn't let me come to bed until my hair dried and I brushed most of the shavings out.  

Take More Than You Think You Need

Poplar Boards
After rough sanding all of the boards that I pulled down I found I had an issue, they are not all made of the same wood.  I decided my table would be made out of the long front boards, I had 7 good ones and 1 that was split. From them, I figured I would need 5, and if I needed to I could use the split board for the trim.  After I rough sanded the boards I discovered that I had 4 poplar boards and 3 oak boards, plus the split poplar.  Not quite enough. So on my way home this half I will be back at the barn tearing down some more boards.  

Oak Boards

All in all I am really excited about this project, I finally get my table and I get to make it.  Stay tuned for the next episode of "As the Table Turns"