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A couple of years ago I reluctantly joined a family trip to the Steamtown National Historic Site and ended up having a great time. I have always loved trains and steamtown has plenty to not only see and learn about but also to ride on! Move the clock ahead 2 years which brings us to early summer. I had my friend and fellow abandonment photographer Walter Arnold visiting and I promised him some cool locations to shoot. During the initial arranging of several shoots planned I made contact with the National Park asking for permission to shoot and offering to donate our time and photos back to the park service for use. After many weeks of waiting I finally got an answer back that was less than pleasing. A non-refundable permit fee was required and several application forms had to be filled out along with both of us needing to carry 1 million dollar liability insurance. This all sounded like way too much just to go take photos at a rail yard. Even still, this was no typical rail yard and looking back on the situation it all seemed like quite a misunderstanding. We just wanted to a take some cool photos and help the park if possible. To make a long story short we decided against the “exclusive” shoot and to just go as the public would and take whatever shots we could. Even though we could not get down on the repair shop floor or up close to some of the trains being worked on, it turns out for us, this way was the best to go.

Upon arrival we headed to the admission booth and I purchased my Interagency National Park pass. The passes are about $80 but gains you free access to all National parks in the United States for the year. Well worth it for as much as I travel and visit the parks for shoots. You can find out more about the pass at this link: http://store.usgs.gov/pass/index.html

After taking Walter on a quick tour through the museum and the repair shop we decide to head out to the yard and find our first victim. The first steam engine we come across is Canadian National Railways #47. Coming at you this train clear means serious business.


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As soon as the fear of this now dormant 4-6-4 tank locomotive subsides the reality of patina and texture takes over.


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The #47 was built by the Montreal Locomotive Works in September 1914 for the Grand Trunk Railway as its number 1542, class K2, but became a CN locomotive after the creation of the Canadian National Railway in 1923. Its CN classification was X-10-a. Along with its sister locomotives, #47 was based in Montreal and was used exclusively in commuter service. Following retirement in 1959, #47 was sold to F. Nelson Blount, and it became a part of his Steamtown, USA collection. #47 was the first locomotive to run as a Steamtown excursion locomotive, and was intended to become the primary excursion power. It had been given a fresh overhaul in 1958 and was in top mechanical condition when acquired. However, it steamed for only 5 weeks in 1961 as the ICC denied its boiler certification. The maintenance records had been lost in a roundhouse fire in Canada, and it was not possible to verify her boiler condition to Government inspectors without an expensive overhaul so here she rests today. Somehow, I think it would be much less beautiful without the rust and decay.


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Well it doesn’t take but one rusting hulk to get our juices flowing and isn’t long until we find ourselves on the “wrong side” of the tracks. We see some interesting cars further up the yard and decide to investigate.


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These cars are all dormant and the tracks are as well so we feel safe doing a little exploring between the cars. Right away we find an old steam engine compartment. All I can think of when I look at this photo is a girl with stringy hair singing at the top of her lungs.


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While Walt climbs aboard to take his shot I find the “forest floor” between the cars to be quite interesting. It wasn’t until I got home that I saw the bird in flight in the middle of my shot. Hence the name, “Opportunity” is given.


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We continue to meander among the giants. Along with the steam engines there are many old electric passenger trailers here as well.


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Most of these trailers are locked up tight, but we found one that was open so we could peek inside. So amazing!


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Everywhere you look at Steamtown there is something interesting, and every time I have been there I have seen something different. Since most of these old trains have part that you just can’t go down to your local trainzone train parts store and purchase, nothing is thrown away. You never know when you will need that part!


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Almost all of the cars are off limits, but there were a couple that had no signs on them so we carefully took a few photos. Remember, these trains are extremely decayed, some more than others so it is not recommended that you try this at home.


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You have been looking at the dashboard of the 1913 Maine Central #519. A 2-8-0 weighing in at 171,600 pounds. Here is a look at the outside of this beauty. I called her “Smiley”.


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If ever there was a train that inspired “Thomas” that would be the one. I half expected it to say, “hello” at any moment.

We make our way to the end of the yard and snap a few more shots.


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We are both getting pretty hungry at this point and I suggest to Walter that we head back to the other end of the yard and take the overhead walkway to the Steamtown mall for some fine cuisine. This of course serves two purposes, a nice way to walk off lunch and get an aerial perspective to complete our exploration. On the way we take care to watch for traffic as this is an active yard and the short excursion rides are running today. I was nice to see the 1958 New York, Chicago & St. Louis Railroad (the Nickel Plate Road) #514 in service as it was in repairs and pieces last time I visited. It is definitely a thrill seeing one of these in action up close. I mean, check out the stare on that guy to the right!


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There is a nice train station here that seemed very surreal being completely empty on such a gorgeous day.


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On the way back from lunch we stop on the overpass to scope out the yard and get a nice opportunity to film the #514 taking another group out for a short excursion run.


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Plans made, we head over to what looks to be a storage or old section of the yard. One of the things I like to do at all of my shoots is carry my 15mm or 50mm lens on a separate body and take some detail shots. This trek across the yard provides the perfect opportunity for just that.


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We finally make our way to the other part of the yard. This area seriously looks like a train graveyard. There definitely is a lot more decay on these than any others on the lot. Here is an old wooden snow plow car that looks like a skateboarders dream come true.


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To me, this next car is the most awesome in the yard. The first thing I notice about it is the small tree trying to grow off the deck of this car. The shot is called “Doomed”.


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One of the large concrete hoppers here has what looks to be a greenhouse attached to it?


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Around the bend we find another beauty. This looks to be an extremely patriotic car. From what I can tell on the Steamtown webpage, this car is undocumented. I would love to know the history.


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We end our self-guided tour with this shot of the neglected Sewell Valley Railroad # 1, Sewell Valley became Meadow River Lumber Company of East Rainelle, WV. Used as a switcher in Meadow River’s mill yard. Shay patent geared locomotive typical of engines used on industrial railroads and a few common carriers. Huge Radley and Hunter balloon smokestack fitted with screen to curb hot cinders. Acquired by Nelson Blount in 1959. Only geared locomotive in collection.


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Well I hope that you enjoyed this non-conventional tour of Steamtown. It is not suggested or recommended that you attempt to view the trains as we did. We have a lot of experience and expertise in this field so for us it was safe. This is an active train yard and you must be highly aware at all times of large, silent, objects that can kill you. If you want to see a more general look at the site then please check out my other visit at: Steamtown ~ Land of American Iron or even better yet, visit the site yourself.

~A.D.

Weather forecast for Steamtown:
[simple-weather location="Steamtown" days="4"]

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Comments (2)

  1. What a terrific post, A.D.! You’ve done it again, my friend, taking this one right out of the proverbial park! I love the textures and details you captured in the rust and patina here, you just cannot beat the terrific character you find at old rail yards like this. One of my favorite posts from you yet, my friend, although admittedly that’s a near impossible thing to pick as I love all your work. Keep it up, my friend, we’re on the edge of our seats waiting for your next installment!

    1. Thank ya Boss!

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