of the Chartiers Branch around Canonsburg
by Joseph Andrews
|As promised, here are my somewhat random
memories of the Chartiers Branch of the PRR in the late forties and
fifties. Sorry it took a while. As I was a kid living in Canonsburg and my
family had no auto, I had practically no knowledge of what went on up or
down the line, so this all has to do with Canonsburg.
Pennsylvania Transformer (which later became part of McGraw-Edison), Continental Can, RCA, LB Smith and some other unknown industries were clustered in the 40s version of an industrial park on the East side of town. There was a very high trolley bridge with a walkway that spanned the edge of the area. This was a favorite train watching spot, but dangerous because no one wanted to be caught on that bridge by a gang of kids from another part of town.
PA Transformer shipped out all types & sizes of transformers on flat cars. The largest went out on depressed center flats. Continental Can made only the tops and bottoms of tin cans, so the waste that I mentioned earlier were the rectangular sheets with a lot of circles punched out. It reminded me of a sheet of cookie dough after the cookies had been punched out. It was a yellowish color on one side probably because it had been coated with lacquer and tin can color on the other side. The special gons were 40 footers with 4 or 5 foot wooden extensions. The whole car, trucks, couplers, extensions, everything was painted Tuscan. There was a gap between the boards, so you could see the cargo thru the slats and there were often spilled pieces along the roadbed. The cars were spotted under an outside platform and we often watched as a worker would come out of the factory and dump a load of waste into the gons below. I think RCA had boxcars spotted inside the building, but I'm not sure of that, it might have been a spur out of sight on the other side of the building.
Fort Pitt Bridge Works had a large mill on the south side of town. Most of the structural shapes they shipped out were huge. They were often loaded on 65' mill gons with the ends down and idler flats on each side. The structural shapes were almost always painted a bright orange.
There were 3 lumber yards in town. Donaldson Supply, Hardy and Rankin and Cianelli's. They all got lumber and other building materials in boxcars and occasionally on flat cars, Donaldson and H&R were also concrete suppliers so they occasionally got gons full of building sand. The gons were spotted next to a bucket hoist which unloaded them. I don't recall seeing bulk cement delivered in covered hoppers, but that's a possibility. Donaldson's cement trucks were red and H&R's had yellow cabs with silver colored mixers. Home heating by oil was unheard of in that place at that time, so there were no oil dealers. I can't remember specifically who or where they were, but there must have been some small coal dealers who received one or two hoppers.
There were numerous other warehouses and wholesalers who had rail spurs and occasionally got boxcars. The town team track was also a busy place, mostly box cars but an occasional flat with some big shipment. I remember the passenger station which was near the team track, had a bright orange colored Mediterranean tile roof.
In the middle and late forties there was a lot of coal train activity with loaded trains moving northward toward Pittsburgh. That seemed to die off in the fifties. They were mostly PRR H21s and GLas pulled by decapods or N2s. There must have been a hopper shortage in the war years because sometimes we saw coal in gondolas or foreign road hoppers. Local freights and industrial switching was handled by consolidations. Locals used a wooden N6b cabin while thru trains had N5bs, N5cs and N8s. Work trains were consol powered with gray wooden work cars and we saw the big hook in action a few times.
The once a day each way commuter run was handled by ten wheelers. At the time, I thought they were K4s. I was impressed by how clean and shiny they were compared to the freight locos and also by how much faster they moved. The passenger engines had a low throaty whistle while the freight locos had a high shrill sound. Commuter coaches were 4 or 5 P70s and I'm not positive, but I think there might have been a combine included. I don't know where the passenger engines laid over overnight. Probably in Washington PA.
The first diesel I ever saw was a Baldwin switcher probably a VO. No one was very impressed by it and we thought it was a passing fad. This was probably about 1948. After steam was gone about 1953, most local freight work was handled by Baldwin or EMD switchers. I only saw cab units once, a back-to-back pair of Fairbanks Morse C Liners. I never saw another cab or a hood unit of any kind. The local switcher would place cars it had collected during the day in a small yard not far from the Bridge Works. One day's highlight in the yard was a yellow wooden Muncie & Western Ball Line boxcar lettered like the one Train Miniature put out some years ago except it was outside braced, not smooth sided like the TM model. At that time, a good percentage of the box cars were still wooden. Tank cars were rare and I never saw a refrigerator car or a stock car. About 2 AM, a southbound train pulled by two back-to-back FM switchers would stop and work the yard for about an hour. I was probably the only one living nearby who didn't mind being awakened by the clanging and banging. A couple of hours later, he would return from the other direction and make a short stop. The train was usually pretty long, I can't really estimate how many cars, but there were so many that sometimes I couldn't imagine where they all came from.