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August 2004


Gary Snoots Dies

Gary Lee Snoots, retired B&O/CSXT interlocking tower operator, died at his home in Brunswick, Maryland, on July 3. He was 68.

Gary, who went by the nickname of Boogie, retired from CSXT in June 1994 as the relief-shift operator at WB Tower in Brunswick. It was there that he had spent most of his railroading career. At the time of his death he worked for the Stauffer Funeral Home in Brunswick.

In an interview with me just prior to his retirement from the railroad, Gary said that he would miss mostly the many wonderful people with whom he had worked. He recalled those he worked with back when WB was still staffed by two operators at the same time: Doug Morseberger, Charlie Selby, Bob Tuck, Bob Fellows (just to name a few). "All great guys to work with."

Also the then-incumbents at WB with whom he changed shifts - John Goff, Bill Utterback, Frankie Williams - and the legion of others who worked there as extras and those working at neighboring towers. The fondest advantage of the relief job - which included one day of daylight and two days each of second and third shifts in a five-day work week - was in serving with so many different people, he said.

Belinda Wenner, an operator who came on the railroad in 1975, recalled Gary as a good teacher. "He was always patient with people first learning a job," she said, adding that he was a "good story teller."

Jim Vargo, then the daylight operator at Miller Tower and now retired, had trained with Gary in the early 1980s at Harpers Ferry, West Virginia. "He had a great sense of humor and a sharp wit," said Jim.

Gary began his railroading career out of high school in 1954 as an electrician's helper at Brunswick. His grandfather had been a B&O railroader in the signal department, retiring in the late 1930s, and an uncle was a B&O clerk. But neither influenced Gary's decision to join the railroad; it was "just a job that was available at the time." It was short-lived, however, as Gary got furloughed just a year later.

He then became a yard clerk at the eastbound hump in Brunswick, a job he held until being drafted into the Army in 1958. He served in the Army for 38 months working as a radio operator both in Germany and at Fort Meade, Maryland. His first son was born in Germany.

Upon conclusion of his Army service he was offered back his job as clerk, but he was immediately furloughed.

He then left the railroad and went with the M.J. Grove Lime Company in Frederick, Maryland, where he became an order traffic supervisor. One of his duties there was to order railroad cars from the B&O for stone shipments. His company was taken over in 1967, and he got laid off.

Gary returned to the B&O in January 1968 as an operator at WB Tower. It was a wonderful job with wonderful people, he recalls, and the location was very convenient to his home.

But just one month into his new tenure there was an incident that might have charted yet another course for Gary. He was working at WB with an eastbound coal train approaching the signal at Weverton - a remotely controlled point at the west end of Brunswick yard - with the train properly routed into the yard onto number 4 track. But the trainmaster changed his mind and called Gary asking him not to let the train into the yard. Instead of explaining to the trainmaster that it was too late to stop the train (there were no radios), Gary cancelled the signal. The train stopped in emergency causing it to derail. This might have been it for Gary - then in his probationary period - but Division Superintendent Jack Minser was very sympathetic and told Gary not to worry about it. "Nothing more was said, but it taught me a lesson about being an operator," said Gary.

The balance of his career was spent at WB, Harpers Ferry, and QN Tower in Washington, D.C.

Gary is survived by his wife Patricia, three sons, two daughters, and three grandchildren.


Handing Up Train Orders Again!

It had been more than a decade since I had the occasion to hand up train orders. I did have the opportunity to hand up work orders as late as 2000, just before I retired from the railroad, but train orders had been discontinued on our part of the railroad in the early 1990's. But now, in 2004, a golden opportunity came my way to once again thrill in the experience.

The occasion was Rail Days, a two-day event held at the Martinsburg Roundhouse in West Virginia, when I make an appearance each year in July to staff the table next to Miller Tower (which is still in pieces).

I had brought along some pads of old "flimsies," a pair of train order sticks and a supply of string, and it was my intention to explain to those interested how communication was made available to moving trains in the days of old. But just as I was getting set up, along came a train!

OK, it was just a miniature train - locomotive #40 pulling two cars, including a caboose - equipped with seats for folks to take a joy ride around the facility. But why not!

It was only as an afterthought that I had the inspiration to issue orders to the Rail Days train. I quickly explained the purpose of train orders and the methodology to the receptive ears of the engineer (who took turns as conductor on some of the runs), and he happily agreed to be a part of the demonstration and even to alter the train's route to be on the receiving end of my offering each time the train passed the tower.

Hurriedly, I wrote up a supply of orders. They read, with some variation at times: "ENG 40 RUN PSGR EXTRA MARTINSBURG ROUNDHOUSE TO MARTINSBURG STATION AND RETURN TO MARTINSBURG ROUNDHOUSE NOT PROTECTING AGAINST OTHER TRAINS." The order duly included my own initials as dispatcher and my name as operator, with the station (of course) reading "MILLER TOWER." It was addressed to C&E PSGR EXTRA 40 EAST & WEST. Neat, eh!

The project kept me busy, at least in the beginning, writing the orders and cutting string, as the train came by about once every seven or eight minutes. The order was delivered to the engineer, and a copy to the conductor (if aboard), and sometimes to passengers if they chose to reach out and grab it. Wow, what fun!

The engineer who coordinated the moves passing the tower was Chris Whitman of Martinsburg, a member of the Bunker Hill Train Club and the Shenandoah & Potomac Valley Garden Railway Club, both of which were participants in Rail Days festivities. He did a fine job. Indeed, he even saved his orders and string and returned them to me so I could use them over again. (That was cheating, I know, but it served the purpose nonetheless.)

I was assisted at the Miller Tower table by Darren Reynolds of Reisterstown, Maryland, and Mark Ryman of Toms Brook, Virginia. Darren also brought an antique train order hoop (which was not used in the demonstration but kept on display), some mounted photos of real trains receiving their orders, and his collection of train orders from railroads from all over North America. We gave visitors a writeup about Miller Tower with a brief history and plans that it be reassembled as an interpretive display.

In due time I opted to climb aboard the train myself, and Darren handed an order up to me. Golly, so far as I can remember, this was the very first time I had ever been on the receiving end of a train order that was handed up to a train. But the fun wasn't over just yet, read on...

The following day began as a rain event, so instead of setting up next to the tower, the table got relocated into the roundhouse itself. The little train made its way past the entrance to the roundhouse, and it was there that engine 40 got its orders. Chris, now knowledgeable of the whistle call for receiving orders, sounded a short and two longs each time he approached.

But then came the BEST part: That afternoon Chris suggested that we ought to switch roles, at least for one occasion. He would deliver the order to me, and I could run the engine. WOW, WOW, WOW! He quickly taught me the fundamentals of running his locomotive, and I made a short loop (without passengers) and he delivered the order to me.

Now I've done it all! The fun just doesn't stop. Next year's Rail Days will be July 16 and 17. That will be fun, too. But it will be mighty hard to beat the excitement we all had this year.


CSX Offers Track Segments for Sale or Lease

CSX has offered its "B&O Cluster" between Cumberland, Maryland, and Cowen and Brooklyn Junction, West Virginia, for sale or lease. Bids are due August 12. Other line segments being offered include the Fort Wayne Corridor from Crestline, Ohio, to Chicago; the Central Ohio from Oakley to Cambridge; and, as previously reported, the Piedmont and North Mountain subdivisions from Richmond to Clifton Forge, Virginia. These segments represent approximately 1,200 miles of track "with limited traffic growth, redundant or parallel routes, or those that require large sums of capital with little or no return." It has also been reported that CSX has been in discussion with prospective operators to purchase or lease CSX's line between Orlando and Miami, Florida. The U.S. Surface Transportation Board must approve any operating control changes.


CSX Reports Second-Quarter Earnings

CSX Corporation has reported second-quarter net earnings of $119-million or 55 cents per share, including a $9-million after-tax charge relating to the company's management restructuring. Net earnings in the corresponding quarter of 2003 were $127-million or 59 cents per share. On a consolidated basis, operating revenue was $2.03-billion versus $1.94-billion a year ago. Michael Ward, CSX chairman and CEO, said: "We are taking actions to improve our service and deliver more to the bottom line. Our management restructuring and organizational streamlining is now complete. We're adding operating resources to meet continued, expected demand. Our network redesign is underway to improve efficiency and reduce car miles and terminal handling. Together, these efforts will improve the productivity of our operations, while generating the service our customers deserve and the financial results each of us expect."


Amtrak Over-the-Road Train Performance

How the host carriers compare - July 2004

[By Allen Brougham] . . .

The survey was conducted using randomly selected examples from each of the host carriers between July 1 and July 28. It is offered as a guide to how the host carriers compare with the others.

The figures (minutes of delay per 1,000 train miles) for the seven major host carriers in July were as follows:


"A Quarter and a Piece of Cake"

[By Tom Greco] . . .

Reprinted with permission from 'News and Notes,' publication of the Retired Administrators of the B&O Railroad...

September 7, 1967, found me in Cumberland, Maryland, on the return portion of my vacation to "B&O-land." I had a ticket as far as St. Louis, but was unable to ascertain what the fare would be from there to my home in Omaha. So, I guessed an amount that would almost certainly be too high and set it aside. Thus I was left with two dollars to cover food and lodging for the next three days!

Not wanting to spoil my fun just because I had no money, I decided to stick with my plan to spend one night each in Cumberland, Cincinnati and St. Louis, covering each intervening segment of the B&O during daylight hours.

Already hungry, and still three days from home, I went exploring the beautiful old Queen City Station. In a musty hotel room on an upper floor, I looked down. A quarter! That was breakfast and lunch from a snack machine in 1967! The coin was covered with dust and left a clean circle on the floor when I picked it up. How long had it lain there just waiting for me?

No mattresses remained in any of the deserted hotel rooms, so I searched elsewhere for suitable lodging. Checking out the abandoned depot lunchroom, I tested the sleep worthiness of an ancient wicker wheelchair. Just great until I reclined; then the chair swiveled on its wheels, pitching me out backward and head first onto the floor! I wouldn't recommend trying to sleep on a lunch counter, either. That was my next attempt, and it was even less comfortable than the wheelchair!

I could foresee starvation, complemented by a sleepless night in the depot waiting room, when an idea germinated. Hadn't Train 12, The Metropolitan Special, set out a couple of coaches here a week ago on my eastbound trip? Perhaps that was a daily occurrence. Walking several hundred feet east of the station proved my hope to be fact; two heavyweight coaches stood in the yard, and the first door I tried was open, although I had to climb up over the coupler and through the diaphragm to get into the vestibule. That night, car 3669 became my hotel room. A class A-19c car built in 1927 by Pullman. It was the most welcome "bed" I'd ever slept in, and I numbered an HO scale coach "3669" in fond memory of that car! Glad as I was to find "lodging," I did "program" myself to awaken if that car moved. I had visions of waking back up in Washington!

The morning of September 8th, then, I left Cumberland for Cincinnati aboard Train 11, The Metropolitan Special. I decided to forego breakfast, and subsist on whatever my quarter-from-heaven would provide later in the day. Two candy bars from a machine in Parkersburg, W.Va., made a lunch/dinner meal as No. 11 swept into the evening toward Cincinnati. My stomach was growling louder than the E-units on the head end of the train!

West of Parkersburg, the conductor noticed my notebook and old employees' timetables spread out on the seat and he sat down to chat. I told him where all I'd been during the past three weeks, and the two of us had a big laugh about my having railfanned my money away to the point of living on candy bars. Duty called just then and the conductor headed forward to the coach ahead of mine. A few minutes later, I saw him again, only this time he wore a broad smile and carried the biggest, most beautiful piece of angel-food cake I'd ever seen. It was for me! "Where did this come from?" I asked, knowing that there was no dining car on the train. The friendly B&O'er told me that a fellow passenger was the wife of a B&O section foreman on this division. She often rode the trains on her pass, always bringing homemade goodies to share with her "railroad family." I was adopted into the family for dinner that night!

But my troubles weren't over yet. I was still nearly broke when No. 11 arrived in Cincinnati later that evening. So, once again, I prowled the depot, looking for a locker or bunk room in which to "crash" for the night. I gave up the search when I opened a door and found myself on the roof of the beautiful Cincinnati Union Station!

Perhaps my idea of the night before would work again. I found a darkened C&O coach in an obscure comer of the station, and threw my luggage into an overhead rack. Then I went exploring. At the far reaches of the station yard were two tracks lined with sleeping cars from a variety of railroads. What an idea! There were about twenty cars there, and the very last door of the very last car opened! It was a B&O car, the East Sparta, a 12-section, 1-drawing room sleeper built in 1923 for the first Capitol Limited. I "occupied" the drawing room that night, after rescuing my luggage from the C&O coach, which was, by that time, a part of B&O Train 58 that night making its final trip to Detroit!

September 9th saw me starving my way toward St. Louis on Train 1, The National Limited. Arriving in St. Louis, I ran straight to the Missouri Pacific ticket counter and asked for a ticket to Omaha via the "Mop" to Kansas City and then the CB&Q. My overestimation had paid off. The ticket cost eight dollars less than I'd planned. I was rich again! I got a five dollar room with bath-down-the-hall at the old Terminal Hotel right in Union Station. It felt like a suite at the Waldorf. And at last, a hot meal; thank God for hot dogs!

On the evening of September 10th, I arrived home in Omaha, where my Dad met me at the Burlington Station. "Well, how much money do you have left?" he asked. He was hardly prepared for my triumphant reply. "Fifty cents!" I beamed!