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Altoona Railfest '95

A weekend of fun for thousands!

By Paul R. Tupaczewski

Article and photos are copyright 1995 by the Author. Reproduction, redistribution or reuse without permission of the Author is prohibited.

The morning of October 14, 1995, dawned damp and dreary. Not a day to be hanging around outside watching trains, so it seemed. But that morning, hundreds of people arrived at the Altoona Railroaders' Memorial Museum (Photo) in downtown Altoona, Pennsylvania, to help celebrate their first ever Altoona Railfest. Though the early turnout was a bit lighter than expected due to the inclement weather, it was obvious that many people were going to show up during the course of the weekend. Most hotels in the Altoona area were sold out for the weekend, and people came in from as far away California for the event.

The damp weather certainly did not dampen the spirits of the visitors. The Railroaders' Memorial Museum had an ambitious line-up of railroad events for the fans, and certainly delivered their promise to have a world-class event. With cooperation from Conrail and Amtrak, the Museum was able to offer tours of parts of CR's Altoona (Juniata) Shops, as well as run six excursions around Horseshoe Curve, in addition to special displays at the Museum site itself.

Most people arriving early on Saturday chose to go on the CR shop tour, since the Museum opened a little later than the shops did. People waiting to go on the tour were held for a few minutes at the gate, as we waited for a contingent of Brazilian investors to finish their own personal tour. CR is attempting to get a proposed $37.5 million contract to provide 20 remanufactured locomotives, as well as service and technical assitance, to the state-owned Brazilian railway system. Spirits were high, despite the minor delay, and when released from our bus, the fans got quite a surprise. Immediately visible in front of the large coal-fired powerplant (which still received cars of coal each day!) was a string of some rather unique passenger equipment. Leading the string was Conrail E8 4022 (ex-EL, nee-Erie 833), followed by ex-NYC heavyweight business car No. 10 (Photo), ex-ATSF dome car No. 55 (Photo), a brand-new Amtrak Viewliner sleeper (Photo), and a pair of new Superliner II cars. After filling out the requisite Amtrak win-a-trip sweepstakes forms, we were allowed to tour the inside of these cars. We entered through the last car, a Superliner II coach numbered 34105. This particular car was constructed by Bombardier of Vermont, and was outshopped on August 15, 1995. After entering the car, we climbed to the upper level, and then moved into the adjoining Superliner II transition sleeper. Another Bombardier-built car, it was released on September 21, 1995. The new Superliner II cars are spacious and bright, and certainly worth an Amtrak trip. This being a transition car, we walked down the stairs at the end of the car to reach "standard" passenger car level to enter the new Viewliner sleeper. This car was released only a few weeks earlier by the Morrison-Knudson Rail Corp's Hornell (NY) shops. This car has large, spacious bedrooms, and though lacking the character of the older "Heritage" equipment, should prove to be popular nevertheless. The next car proved to be popular for all - Conrail's recently-refurbished full-length dome car No. 55. Built by Budd in 1954 for the Santa Fe, it regularly plied the rails in the consist of the San Francisco Chief as ATSF 552. It was later sold to AutoTrain as their 514, and then for a short period of time was owned by the Chicago South Shore and South Bend as their 552. It was purchased by CR in 1988, and was overhauled a few years ago. The upper level is magnificent (Photo), with newly-upholstered seats. Equally impressive is its lower level, featuring a "CR Quality"-motif bar. (Photo) Almost as an anti-climax, we finally entered CR No. 10, a business car originally built by Pullman in 1925 as an observation car assigned to the NYC's Empire State Express. The car's lineage is long and impressive: Formerly Pullman Hudson River, Pullman Queen Elizabeth, NYC Victoria Park, NYC Kalamazoo River, NYC 30, PC 30, PC 76, and CR 76!

Outside the passenger display, Conrail also had a diesel fan's paradise. A huge collection of diesel parts was on display to acquaint the non-railfans with the various parts of a locomotive, from something as small as a reverser handle to complete EMD and GE prime movers. The displays were interesting for fans and non-fans alike, and also helped to illustrate what the hard-working CR employees do within the walls of the shops. Tables were lined up with every conceivable diesel part known to man! (Photo)

And then, a colorful gaggle of diesels caught everyone's eye. Conrail has lined up a selection of their new and newly-overhauled diesels for the guests to see, and what variety! Leading the pack was San Diego & Imperial Valley GP38 no. 5537 (Photo). The unit was built for Penn Central by EMD in 1969, and was passed on to CR in 1976. The unit went on to gain fame as one of only three Bicentennial-painted CR units when it received roadnumber 7776, and a brilliant red, white and blue paint scheme. Later, the unit was considered surplus and was sold to the Pittsburgh and Lake Erie to become their 2037. After the P&LE was purchased by CSX, the unit was sold back to CR, who overhauled and repainted the unit for SDIV. Next in line was newly-overhauled Conrail SD50 6813. (Photo) Built for CR by EMD in 1986, the unit represents one of 135 such units that CR owns. The unit was also displaying its new "Conrail Quality" paint, something that is being slowly applied to all units. Next came Conrail SD60I 5654 (Photo), notable for several reasons. This unit is one of 45 such units that were constructed by CR shop forces at Altoona using parts supplied by EMD, continuing a tradition of locomotive construction begun by the Pennsylvania Railroad over a hundred years ago. This agreement was reached when EMD, already backlogged with orders, could not supply the units to CR in a timely fashion, so CR decided to speed up the process by assembling the units themselves, and this can even be seen by the builder's plate on the unit. (Photo) The project worked out very well for both EMD and CR. Unit 5654 is also notable because it is the final unit in this order to be constructed at the Juniata Shops. The last unit in the lineup was freshly overhauled Providence & Worcester U23B no. 2211. (Photo) This unit was originally built by GE for the Louisville & Nashville Railroad in 1974 as their 2772. After retirement by L&N-successor CSX, CR obtained the unit and overhauled it for P&W. They obviously like these GE's, as this unit is the 11th purchsed by P&W. It looked splendid in its brown and orange paint, even in the driving rain!

After looking at the units' exteriors, we were led into the CR employee's building, where we watched a short and entertaining promotional film in the cafeteria. After this, we were led into the "model room," where CR shop forces have constructed an HO scele model of the Altoona shop complex - impressive indeed! (Photo) After the model room, we were led back outside to the other side of the diesel lineup, where we were given the opportunity to enter the cabs of the Conrail SD50 and SD60I. The new SD60I was particularly impressive, with its big "captain's chairs" and its computer screen-covered desktop control stand. (Photo)

After exiting the locomotives, one final unit caught our eye - a spectacularly-painted GP8 for the Nittany & Bald Eagle, a shortline that runs former PRR trackage just north of Altoona. Originally built for the Reading Railroad in 1953 as GP7 no, 634, it went on to Conrail and was rebuilt in 1976 by the Illinois Central Gulf's Paducah (KY) Shops, complete with chop-nose and "ox yoke" air filters. The unit, in its striking blue and white paint, is the third such unit that the N&BE has purchased this year from Conrail, to replace some aged CF7 diesels. (Photo) (Photo)

The Altoona shops proved to have interesting sights at night, too! A recent addition is a track running alongside the main road, which is now lit with floodlights. CR displays their newest rebuilt power here as a "public relations" effort. The night before, CR's other two E8 diesels, a pair of ex-PRR units, were on display for all to see. Nos. 4020 and 4021 made a nice sight that evening. (Photo)

After the shop tour, our bus dropped us off at the Altoona Transportation Center to board the first of six excursions that weekend (three each day). Unfortunately, this proved to be a disaster for the Museum. The crowds streamed into the station, and there was a sense of chaos as to where people were supposed to go to board. After a wait of about a half-hour, people were finally allowed to board the train. Fortunately for all later riders, all the problems were ironed out for the other five trips. The excursion train itself was a bit of a surprise - six newly-rebuilt Heritage "Clocker" cars, very nice on the inside, bracketed by Amtrak F40PH no. 317 and Conrail SD45-2 no. 6659 (ex-EL 3674). The CR unit was notable for only having the word "Quality" on the end of the long hood. Many people wondered why the Conrail E-units were unavailable to pull the excursion, and the answer was quite simple - they were being readied for a business train trip on Monday morning, and thus were unavailable to pull these trips. The excursion left Altoona under rain and clouds, and it got no better as it ventured up the Alleghenies. Fog was in full effect as we rounded Horseshoe Curve, and further on at Sugar Run and Bennington Curve, the magnificent view was partially obscured by more thick fog. We entered the newly-rebuilt Allegheny Tunnel at Tunnel Hill, and soon after exiting the opposite end, we were lined up for the "turnaround track," a large loop that allows pushers to turn around quickly and return to Altoona. Not often used, it was particularly rare to see a passenger train on this piece of track. The curve was tight enough to see the head end of our train from the cars! (Photo) After passing AR Tower, we entered the New Portage Tunnel, and started our downhill slide, arriving back in Altoona around 12:30 PM. The rain was coming down in dramatic torrents at times at this point.

Over at the Museum, there were many displays that normally aren't seen at the Museum site. Another "Display Train" was there, this one led by Everett Railroad SW-9 number 8933. (Photo) The Everett Railroad is a shortline based in Hollidaysburg, PA, just south of Altoona. This particular unit was built in 1951 for the Lehigh Valley as their 282, and became Conrail 8933 in 1976. It was overhauled in 1980, and then repainted into an NJDOT-inspired scheme and sold to the Everett Railroad in March of 1985. Next in the line-up was a freshly-repainted Conrail maintenance of way gondola, numbered 56245. (Photo) This car was built for the Penn Central in May 1968 as their 598223, and is now used by CR to haul ties, rails, tie plates, and the like. Next was a rebuilt 8-door high cube boxcar, Conrail 239762. (Photo) This car started life as Grand Trunk Western 378093 in December 1965, and was overhauled by CR's Hollidaysburg Car Shops for auto parts service on the Conrail system. Following the boxcar was Conrail H2-class hopper 498255. (Photo) This open-top car represents a return to four-bay cars after an absence of many years. The car was built a month earlier by the Hollidaysburg Car Shops, using parts supplied by Johnstown America Corporation, a well-known builder of rail cars. The next car is an "exclusive to Conrail." CoilShield car number 631474 (Photo) represents a new way of thinking in coil steel cars. Both the troughs and hood are insulated, which helps to reduce temperature fluctuations during transport. The car was built by the Hollidaysburg Car Shops in July of 1995. Last, but not least, completing the display train was Conrail N-21 class caboose number 21295. (Photo) Repainted into the "Quality" scheme, this car was built in October of 1978 by Fruit Growers Express, and was the last new class of cabooses purchased by Conrail. The caboose was open for walkthroughs, and this modern caboose was quite spartan inside. No "nostalgia" here!

In addition to the "Display Train," the Museum also had their other historic pieces of equipment on display, including a Pennsylvania Railraod GG1 in the classic Tuscan Red passenger scheme. (Photo) A weatherproof-stage (whew!) allowed several musicians to perform for the crowds. Several food vendors and railroadiana vendors were also at the Museum site, as well as a man from Baltimore who brought a truck loaded up with live steam whistles, which proved to be popular with the kids! Inside the Museum, visitors could look at the many historic exhibits and their operating HO scale layout. (Photo) Outside, visitors also saw the final stages of construction on the Museum's new (old?) structure, the former Pennsylvania Railroad engineering department building, directly adjacent to the current site. (Photo) The structure is very impressive, and should make a fitting home for the Museum.

After exploring the Museum, many people ventured around the Horseshoe Curve area to try and see the other excursion trains. We were lucky enough to catch the excursion storming upgrade past a piggyback train at the "Brickyard Crossing" in Coburn, just west of Altoona. (Photo) The train also made a grand sight descending the hill around Horseshoe Curve in the fog later that day. (Photo) Even the driving rain didn't ruin the excitement of the parade of Conrail trains, including the first time many people have seen stack trains around Horseshoe Curve!

The following day proved to be much better - sunny, patchy clouds, and COLD! The nice weather brought out more people, and all had a good time. It was nice to be able to photograph the excursion under sunny skies, for once! (Photo) On this day, we also did some probing, and have found out that the famous PRR K4 steam locomotive, 1361, which now resides within the Altoona Shops, will be reassembled and sent to Steamtown next year, for restoration and operation. This is tentative, said Museum people, but all seemed very optimistic. Rejoice, PRR fans!

Overall, the event turned out extremely well. The weather did have an impact on attendance, but nevertheless, thousands still managed to attend the well-publicized event. The next Altoona Railfest is scheduled for 1997 (it seems that the event is simply too big to run on a yearly basis), and it is hoped that the CR E-units will be available to pull excursion trains. Who knows, maybe even PRR K4 no. 1361 will be able to pull some trains, too! Kudos to the Altoona Railroaders' Memorial Museum, Conrail and Amtrak for a top-notch event. Plan on making the journey to Altoona soon to see the Museum's new building!
Soon to follow... a look at Altoona railroading and history.

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Photo List

AMTKVIEW.JPG - Portrait of the first production Amtrak Viewliner sleeper, contructed by Morrison-Knudsen Rail at their Hornell, NY facility. The car is sitting in front of the powerhouse at Conrail's Juniata Shops.

ARMMODEL.JPG - Modern Conrail power pulls a coal train on the Railroader's Memorial Museum HO scale layout.

CR_DOME1.JPG - A view of the beautiful upper level interior of Conrail's full-length ex-ATSF dome car number 55.

CR_DOME2.JPG - The bar in the lower level of Conrail's ex-ATSF dome. Where can I get a CR Quality rug like that?

CR_E8S.JPG - Conrail E8's nos. 4020 and 4021 pose outside the Juniata shops in this night time-exposure.

CR_MODEL.JPG - A sight rarely seen by non-employees, a model of the CR Altoona Shops found within one of the shop buildings.

CR_TABLE.JPG - Conrail's table of parts! Conrail set up several tables to show people the various parts of a diesel locomotive. Note the EMD prime mover in the background.

CR10.JPG - Conrail heavyweight open-end business car no. 10 on display at the Altoona Shops.

CR55.JPG - Conrail full-length dome car no. 55 at the Altoona Shops. Note the towering powerhouse in the background.

CR5654.JPG - The final locomotive of the SD60I order to be constructed at Altoona, CR 5654 sits in the rain at Altoona Railfest '95.

CR5654I.JPG - Another seldom seen sight, the interior of the last Altoona-built SD60I. Note the computer screens and desktop controls.

CR6813.JPG - A freshly overhauled CR SD50, number 6813, was also on display at the CR Altoona Shops.

CRBPLATE.JPG - The proof is in the puddin', and here it is - the builder's plate from Altoona-built CR SD60I no. 5654.

CRCABOSE.JPG - CR bay-window caboose number 21295 tails the display train at the Railroaders' Memorial Museum in Altoona.

CRCOIL.JPG - Newly-built Conrail CoilShield car number 631474 on display at Altoona Railfest '95.

CRGON.JPG - A former Penn Central gondola has a new lease on life as rebuilt CR 56245, now in dedicated MOW service, on display at Altoona Railfest '95.

CRHICUBE.JPG - A rebuilt GTW high cube, now CR 239762, is proudly displayed at the Altoona Railroaders' Memorial Museum.

CRHOPPER.JPG - The first new four-bay hoppers in quite a number of years, CR's new H2 class carries on the coal tradition of the old PRR. On display at Altoona Railfest '95 is CR 498255.

CRLINEUP.JPG - The line-up of locomotives on display at CR's Altoona Shops for Altoona Railfest '95.

ERR8933.JPG - Everett Railroad SW-9 number 8933 is on display at the Altoona Railroaders' Memorial Museum.

EXCUR1.JPG - An Altoona Railfest '95 excursion, with CR SD45-2 6659 trailing, storms upgrade at the Brickyard Crossing in Coburn, passing an eastbound piggyback train.

EXCUR2.JPG - An Altoona Railfest '95 excursion train heads back down the mountain to Altoona, seen here on the north side of Horseshoe Curve.

EXCUR3.JPG - The excursion train rests at the Altoona Transportation Center in downtown Altoona.

LOOPTRAK.JPG - For the ultra-rare-mileage nuts amongst us, here's a shot of the Railfest excursion train on the turnaround loop track at AR Tower, Gallitzin.

NBE1603A.JPG - Front end of Nittany and Bald Eagle no. 1603, with the CR shop powerhouse at the right.

NBE1603B.JPG - A three-quarter view of N&BE GP8 no. 1603, on display at CR's Altoona Shops.

NEWBLDG.JPG - The new Railroaders' Memorial Museum building (the former PRR engineering dept. building), almost completely restored.

POSLIGHT.JPG - A PRR position light signal greets visitors to the Railroaders' Memorial Museum.

PRRGG1.JPG - A tuscan red PRR GG1 provides a contrast to the modern CR freight equipment at Altoona Railfest '95.

PRRLOGO.JPG - The PRR Keystone logo, weathering away on the side of a car at the Railroaders' Memorial Museum.

PW2211.JPG - Providence and Worcester U23B 2211, freshly overhauled and on display at CR's Altoona Shops.

SCALETST.JPG - An ancient PRR scale test car sits in front of the entrance to the Railroaders' Memorial Museum.

SDIV5537.JPG - A colorful unit on a dreary day, San Diego and Imperial Valley GP38 no. 5537 sits in front of the main office building at CR's Altoona Shops.