Miller Tower Moved to New Home
[By Allen Brougham] . . .
CSXT's former Miller Tower at Cherry Run, West Virginia, was moved in sections to its new home in nearby Martinsburg in a police-escorted military convoy on Sunday, February 4. The two-story x-B&O tower, which had closed in September 2000, was dismantled over a two-week period beginning in late January. With equipment and personnel from the U.S. Army Reserve and Air National Guard, it was transported 14 miles to the Martinsburg Roundhouse complex, across from the Amtrak station, where it will be reassembled for historical display. The move, which took place during mid-day, took about three hours to complete due to the need to stop traffic and raise overhead lines to accommodate the oversized sections.. Included in the move were the tower's 20-lever mechanical machine, each of its two floors, its roof, and a tool shed. Miller was one of only six electro-mechanical (armstrong) interlockings remaining in the country prior to its closing (now there are five). Moreover, Miller is said to be the first electro-mechanical interlocking office in the country to be preserved, as such, for historical display. Plans are to eventually re-link a portion of its pipeline to operating integrity, complete with switches that can be thrown...
It was the answer to my fondest dream. Miller Tower, my home on the railroad for eight years, and the tower I had closed on its final day, was being saved. This piece of history, which for 90 years had proudly served as a sentinel to the glory of railroading, was neatly taken apart and fastened onto trailers, and carefully moved 14 miles to a place where it will once again shine in tribute to the legacy it had established. I was there to see it happen.
The new owner of Miller Tower is the Berkeley County Roundhouse Authority. It is to its sprawling complex, across from the Martinsburg train station, on the site of the Civil War-era shops and the country's sole surviving 19th century covered engine roundhouse (all of which are planned to be restored) that the tower will be displayed as a lasting tribute to railroading in West Virginia's Eastern Panhandle.
In my 30-plus years of railroading, I had seen duty in ten different interlocking towers. Of these, nine have been closed, most being demolished. Each of my duty stations held a sentiment that I can relate in its own particular way - for the memories it evoked, for the fellowship it inspired, and for the history it made. I always knew that their legacy was worth preserving; now I can rejoice in knowing that others in a position to make it happen (for Miller) agree.
The decision to save Miller Tower can be credited to a number of visionary individuals, but probably the one most responsible for spearheading the idea is John Hankey, a consultant to the architect of the Roundhouse Authority, a noted rail historian, who saw the tower as an ideal addition to the complex. He became a volunteer to the cause, and using his knowledge of history and his virtuous ability to express an idea, he persuaded the authority's board of directors to undertake the acquisition, relocation and (eventual) restoration of the tower.
CSX Transportation donated the building, plus its pipeline and some of its switches, to the Roundhouse Authority, and even provided (free of charge) safety training to the contractors and volunteers who performed the work, and (again, free of charge) the required flagging and safety supervision while the tower was disassembled and moved from the property.
The manner in which everything came together so seemlessly was awesome. John Hankey, knowing my particular interest in the project, continually kept me abreast of developments. And what a thrill it was to learn that the powers that be had arranged for the 351st Ordnance Company of the U.S. Army Reserve and the 167th West Virginia Air National Guard to provide manpower and equipment to move the tower to its new home as a training exercise.
The two weeks leading up to the move were very exciting ones for me. If being retired meant not having to drive to work, this convenience was suspended for the time being as I first attended the CSXT safety meeting (Martinsburg) and then drove four other times (early in the morning) to my old worksite to watch the happenings first hand. Oh, yes, they even put me to work on several occasions running errands, etc. It was pure fun! (And then there was the time my car got stuck in the mud - but more on this later.)
My first visit to the site (and my first visit to it since the tower closed) was Monday, January 29. The lower part of the back portion of the building (not part of the original structure) had already been removed. I was there in time to witness the hallmark removal of the east side upper window panel with the letter 'R,' the office's telegraphic code. That historic effort was performed by Stan Boynervitch, an employee of (get this!) the Dilapidated Demolition Company, a subcontractor to the project. All windows and doors were duly numbered for proper reinstallation when the time comes to put everything back together again.
My next visit was Friday, February 2. By then, the top part of the back portion of the building (which had been added to the structure in 1936) had been removed. The tower now had roughly the structural appearance it originally had when constructed circa-1912. I parked in the one-time (now rather mucky) Miller picnic grove across the driveway from the tower, using this as my ringside-seat observation post to keep watch of the action. The big event that day (Friday) was the removal of the roof, a very laborious task owing to the admirable initial construction of the building, and required several hours of wedging and pounding upon the various members in order to work the roof loose enough for the crane to lift it off. This finally happened at 3:46 p.m., more than an hour after everyone had been due to leave for the day, and just seconds afterwards, as if to herald the occasion, a sudden and heavy snow squall enveloped the area for several minutes (and then when I tried to leave afterward, my car got stuck!).
Bright and early Saturday, February 3, I was back. Forewarned is forearmed; I drove my 4-wheel drive Tracker instead of my Plymouth, and I parked in the same place as I had the day before, just a little more confident that I would not get stuck again (which I didn't). On this day (Saturday), the interlocking lever assembly got hoisted from the tower (it weighed two tons), and then the second floor got cut away from the first floor. A number of friends who had at one time or other been visitors to the tower when it was open stopped by to watch the proceedings. These included Doug Koontz, Tom Rogers, Elmer Sichert, Brian Paulus, Vic Stone, and (maybe) a few others.
Sunday, February 4, was moving day, and I arrived at the site quite a bit earlier than I had on any of the previous days, as the convoy was scheduled to leave the site promptly at 7 o'clock (but things were not ready just yet). I was joined by Matt Adams (the webmaster for bullsheet.com), having stopped for him en route at his home in Frederick, as he was in need of a ride. Shortly after our arrival, we were pressed into service by transporting (in my Tracker) the owner of the rigging company to his office in Martinsburg in order for him to get his truck and a supply of cable and wide-load signs for use in the convoy. (This, on the railroad, would have been called "missionary work.") Golly, it sure was great to be useful toward the cause.
Back at the site, the first floor of the tower was still upon its foundation, and this had to be lifted off before the convoy could proceed. Meanwhile, I collected the names of participants and visitors, which I entered into a notebook I provided for the purpose, but likely a few names got omitted due to the excitement of the moment. Anyway, we had to move from the immediate area in order not to get blocked in by the assembling convoy, and we drove up the lane several hundred yards in order to establish our line position for the initial move from the site. It was there that we found Allen Kreinik and Bobby Miller, and the two of them subsequently followed us as a group of four for the balance of the day's activity.
Here now gets introduced the term "Roadfanning." Matt Adams gets credit for coining the term. Indeed, not many railfans would ever think of "chasing trucks" on a public highway to get their photos, much as they would chase a train, but (what the heck!) the fundamentals are the same, and this particular convoy would certainly qualify as a chase worthy of anything that runs on rails. This, too, meant seeking out photo locations and a means to leapfrog the convoy in order not get stuck behind it.
About 11:30, over four hours after it was originally scheduled to leave, the convoy began inching its way up the lane toward Cherry Run. The four of us quickly made our way up to the crossing at Cherry Run to stake out our first photo location. Pat Meriwether, CSXT's superintendent of operations improvement for the Northeast Region, held the convoy at the crossing for several minutes in order for an eastbound coal train (U878) to pass. Then, after a couple of minutes while making contact with Jacksonville to assure that the railroad was clear, he signaled the convoy to proceed.
In the lead were three state police cars and one state DOT car. These were followed by a support truck (for lifting overhead wires, etc.), and rigs conveying respectively the tool shed, the second floor, the roof, the first floor, and trucks with the interlocking machine and other goodies. Spaced out, the convoy stretched about a quarter of a mile. And it moved very, very slowly.
Once across the crossing at Cherry Run, the convoy turned left onto Cherry Run Road. We followed behind the convoy at this point, having waited at the crossing for everything to pass (that being photo location #1). Then the convoy headed onto what locals refer to as "lower" Cherry Run Road, we then heading onto "upper" Cherry Run Road, stopping for shots across the field (photo location #2).
Being tenured at Miller Tower for eight years had given me the opportunity to know a few of the back roads of the area, something that came in very, very handy for the next three or so hours. Herewith we scooted over Upper Cherry Run Road to State Route 9, making a left, thereby successfully leapfrogging the convoy past the point where Lower Cherry Run Road intersects with Route 9 at Johnsontown, stopping next at the Hedgesville Post Office at a site earlier selected by Matt as a good place for photo location #3.
It was rather cool and blustery as we awaited the convoy, the excitement of the moment not being unlike awaiting the passage of a train with E-units - or perhaps (since this was a road) the appearance of a presidential motorcade (but maybe more thrilling). After waiting about 20 minutes, all of a sudden, southbound traffic on Route 9 diminished to the point of being almost nonexistent, this being our sign that the traffic-clogging convoy was getting close. Then we heard the sirens...
Because the loads were of such excessive width, the police were directing opposing (northbound) traffic over to the side of the road with instructions to remain there until the convoy had passed. One driver, evidently not very satisfied with this procedure, tried turning around in somebody's upper-slopped driveway (unsuccessfully), and he managed to spin his tires with liberal profusion, the wrenching sound of which caused the homeowners to appear on the porch of their house loudly expressing their ire at the motorist's thoughtlessness at assaulting their driveway in this manner. Several hundred yards later, the police were actually directing northbound traffic off to the side of the southbound lane in order for the convoy to enjoy the better clearance of the northbound lane. Northbound traffic effectively got trapped on the wrong side of the road once the convoy passed - but (ha!) that was THEIR problem!
We got our shots of the convoy passing the Post Office, and then we quickly got back into our cars and weaseled our way into the slow-moving line of southbound cars that had queued up behind the convoy. Several blocks later, we ducked into an alley, allowing us an escape route, and off we went over some more back roads to once again get ahead of the convoy.
I have long said that some of the back roads in that part of West Virginia were originally designed by a cow, a thought that is probably not as stupid as it sounds, and we meandered, as fast as safety allowed, until we found ourselves back on Route 9 near the Martinsburg city limits, just south of the interchange with Interstate 81, well ahead of the convoy, for photo location #4. (Golly, Roadfanning can be fun!)
In the due course of time the convoy appeared, and we got our shots. We then tried to leapfrog once again, knowing that we had perhaps one remaining opportunity to get photos of the convoy before its arrival at the roundhouse, hoping to do so as it crossed the ex-Cumberland Valley (now Winchester & Western) bridge at the edge of downtown.
"Uh, Matt, does that look like an interlocking tower going across that bridge?" said I when we came to an intersection several blocks from our intended spot. Well, we had missed it! So we made a left turn - from the right-turn lane (I guess I won't get my Driver of the Year Award this year) and we snaked our way to the hillside across the tracks from the roundhouse, just in time to watch them break the lock to the gate (having forgotten to bring the key), and then everything entered the compound.
Miller Tower had found its new home.
Restaurant Opens at Charlottesville Station
[By Allen Brougham] . . .
When Amtrak moved into its modernized former Railway Express Agency building in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 1999, following a $700,000 renovation effort to better serve train customers, plans for the adjacent facility it left behind were uncertain. That has now all changed, and what had served as the city's union station since before the turn of the last century is now a trendy restaurant. The Wild Wing Cafe opened for business on February 1.
I had wanted to attend its opening day. But the matter at hand (the pending move of Miller Tower) took precedence. Anyway, it was probably best to sample the place when things were a little quieter, so it was on February 23 that I joined Vic Stone for lunch to check things out.
The Wild Wing Cafe (I would call it a "sports bar") is one of a chain of eateries - now six in all - which includes establishments in Georgia and South Carolina. "Hot Wings, Cold Beer, Great Food" sets the menu's description for what the place is all about. Vic, who had dined here before, raved about their numerous chicken platters. He added, too, that the place had become quite popular, and the middle of the afternoon was the best time to enjoy the place.
The restaurant makes use of both floors of the old station. In the later years of Amtrak use, its waiting room formed a U-shape with partitions keeping its classic mid-room wooden staircase out of sight. The partitions have now been removed, and patrons may once again use the staircase to reach the second floor - optionally, as meals are served on both levels. There is a bar on each level, too.
We chose to eat on the second floor, both as an excuse to climb the classic staircase, and to get a better view of passing trains. In fact, we opted for a corner table - on the raised stage used at night by the band - overlooking the CSXT line. Indeed, a train of westbound coal hoppers did come through shortly after we started eating. The westbound Cardinal (late) came into the station just after we had finished.
For our selections, Vic chose the Tomato Basil Soup ("Really good; very creamy," he said) and the Chicken Buffet; I chose "Herb's Buffalo Breath Chili" and "Bubba's Big BBQ Sandwich."
The chili, garnished with parsley (but no chopped onions or croutons) was "very zesty." The barbecue was - well, OK - but, then, I was not really expecting it to be what might be served in a Five-Star restaurant.
Prices are reasonable. Their Chargrilled Chicken Platters are priced at less than $8.00, including two veggies; and their "Wild Wing Sampler," 25 wings in all, comes to $10.99.
If the fare at the Wild Wing Cafe is not what could be truly called "gourmet," it more than makes up for it in "atmosphere and location." As for atmosphere, the place has been appointed with a motif appropriate to its heritage; the walls, for example, expose their original brickwork. But the harbinger of things to come - once the weather warms up, that is - will be its outside "roof garden" (or will it be a dance floor?) on the second level overlooking both the CSXT and Norfolk Southern mainlines that cross at the diamond just south of the station.
As mentioned earlier, the month-old restaurant has become quite popular. By 8 o'clock that evening (it was a Friday), the spacious parking lot, shared by both the restaurant and by Amtrak, was nearly full.
It was a very memorable meal, owing to its location. But I'm reminded that this was not my very first meal here. That one, even more memorable, was in February 1999 - it being served aboard the dining car of a parked Amtrak train, there for the occasion of the building's dedication ceremony. Now THAT was a great meal!
Amtrak to Add Two Acela Express Runs
Amtrak will add two additional weekday Acela Express roundtrips on March 5. This brings to three the number of Acela Express trains Amtrak will be running. The trains being added include a non-stop run between Washington and New York, and a run between New York and Boston. Amtrak introduced its first Acela Express on December 11, between Washington and Boston, and this will continue to operate on its current schedule except for the elimination of a northbound stop at BWI Airport. Eventually, Acela Express service will provide 19 roundtrips between Washington and New York, and 10 roundtrips between New York and Boston once its entire order of 20 trainsets are delivered.
Amtrak Introduces "Quiet Cars" to Northeast Corridor Trains
In response to requests from customers, Amtrak has begun adding "quiet cars" to selected Northeast Corridor trains. A quiet car prohibits the use of cell phones, beepers, noisy laptops, and loud conversation. The feature began February 1 on the 9 a.m. Metroliners from New York and Washington respectively; more trains have since been added.
Pete Carpenter Retires
Alvin R. "Pete" Carpenter, vice chairman of CSX Corporation and formerly president of CSXT, has announced his retirement after a 38-year career. He will continue as a consultant to CSX.
CSXT Reports Three Key Measurement Records
CSXT reported that during the week ending February 16, three of its six key service measurements -- cars on line, on-time originations, and train velocity -- registered their best results since the Conrail split date, June 1, 1999.