Thursday, 12 March 2015

Throwback Thursday #8 - Amtrak E8A #284 at St. Thomas, ON in August 1975

Amtrak E8A #284 pauses at St. Thomas, Ontario with eastbound train #64, the Empire State Express. Three locomotives for five cars seems a bit excessive! Date is approximately August 20, 1975. Uncredited Ektachrome, author's collection. 

Our Throwback Thursday today takes us back to August 1975 on a sunny morning at St. Thomas, Ontario. Amtrak E8A #284 is piloting train #64, the eastbound Empire State Express, and has stopped in front of the massive Michigan Central (or CASO to die-hard fans) station to entrain passengers heading to the Big Apple. Today’s train is unusual for a couple of reasons: first, the second E8A (the train typically ran with only one locomotive), but far more interestingly, the Delaware & Hudson PA1 sandwiched between the two Amtrak engines. What was the classy ALCo doing in southern Ontario? Delaware & Hudson, long a proponent of Schenectady-built locomotives, had contracted with Boise, Idaho-located Morrison-Knudsen to rebuild a number of 244-powered locomotives with 251 engines. Included in the program were the four ex-Santa Fe “blue-bonnet” painted PA1’s. Somehow, after their overhaul, the PA1’s took the scenic route back to home rails, part of which included a stretch across southern Ontario by way of the CASO. As the PA1's were completed one at a time, the locomotives were sent back east in the consist of various Amtrak trains, though I believe one PA actually lead #64 from Detroit to Buffalo. Naturally, it was in the dead of winter, in a snow storm, though there are a few shots of the train out there. Suspiciously, a number of railfans were purported to call in "sick" to work that day, or perhaps blamed the snowstorm instead...

Running from Detroit, Michigan, to New York City, the Empire State Express was initiated in 1974 (renamed the Niagara Rainbow in 1976) and provided a connection between two major business centers in the American northeast, via a shortcut through the southern Ontario countryside. Prior to Amtrak’s formation in 1971, the route had previously been served by New York Central/Penn Central trains The Wolverine and the Motor City Special; under Amtrak operations, the former train had been truncated to Detroit and the latter abolished altogether. The train ran seven days a week and featured a snack car as well as baggage car. Despite the name, until 1978, the train did not actually go through Niagara Falls but instead crossed the border at Fort Erie/Buffalo. In 1979, however, both Michigan and New York states withdrew their funding contribution to the operation of the train and the route was truncated from New York City to Niagara Falls, New York.

What about the lead unit, Amtrak 284? It began life as Pennsylvania #4276 in September 1952. No doubt enjoying its’ share of time in the lead of the railroad’s premier passenger trains, the engine eventually became the property of Amtrak upon formation of the American national passenger carrier in 1971. After surviving the early Amtrak years as engine #284, it was renumbered to Amtrak #495 and subsequently rebuilt with an HEP system, a move that likely extended its’ life considerably. Following its’ stint on Amtrak – apparently, primarily in the US northeast – the engine began a new life as BMRG (Blue Mountain & Reading)/“PRR” 5706 – no, not the original Pennsy 5706, but a reasonably-convincing throwback to its’ former appearance. Not only in its’ former colors, the engine continued to operate in and around Pennsylvania, hauling excursions under ownership by Andy Muller. The details of the engine’s next few years are a little fuzzy, but somehow the engine came to live in Sumiton, Alabama, functioning – of all things – as a wedding chapel! Current photos show the locomotive (with most mechanical components removed) on a small piece of track in front of a shopping complex in Irondale, Alabama, wearing a shiny new coat of Southern green and white paint. Like a cat with nine lives, it’s incredible that the unit somehow managed to dodge the scrapper’s torch! A long, long way from the southern Ontario rails it once frequented, hopefully the engine will enjoy its’ retirement in the Alabama sunshine for many years to come!

Incredibly, the trailing unit D&H #18 is also still around and in fact is probably much more famous than poor old 284 ever was; the engine survives today as “NKP” 190, the PA-1 that Doyle McCormack is lovingly restoring back to operating condition. Acquired from Santa Fe in 1967, the engine served D&H’s passenger needs until it was sold in 1979 to a broker; a resale to Mexican interests took the engine south of the border where it evidently ran for a number of years before being parted out. One of only two semi-complete (cosmetically, anyhow) PA-1’s in existence, the locomotive is indeed a rare bird. In the summer of 2014, the engine moved for the first time in 14 years (not yet under its’ own power) to the large gathering of carbody units at the North Carolina Transportation Museum, in Spencer, NC. It’s original 244 engine and the 251 that was used to repower it are long gone, and instead a 12-251 salvaged from a BC Rail M420B has been installed. Though the engine has been started, much of the electrical gear to power the traction motors still needs to be repaired or replaced. Though neither unit is likely to ever visit Canada again, we can look at the above photo and think of what it must have sounded and felt like to stand next to this rather unusual train…

‘Til next time,


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