Meet The Owners
I still remember the distinctive sound of the brake retarders on the hump at Pitcairn Yard as the rail cars were slowed before being routed to the appropriate tracks. My earliest memories of railroads were Sunday mornings spent with my father and brother watching action at Pitcairn, a significant classification yard east of Pittsburgh on the Pennsy main line.
My love of trains was further cemented in 1966 when I was ten. My father, seeing an end to the glory days of passenger rail travel, took our family on a rail vacation from Pittsburgh to San Francisco, then back from Los Angeles via Flagstaff, Arizona. Taking in the western vistas and the Colorado River from the sleek streamlined dome car, I was hooked. We rode the great California Zephyr heading west and the famous Santa Fe Super Chief back to Chicago. As a child, what could be better than sleeping in a roomette and eating in a dining car? It was truly a memorable experience.
I don’t have much recollection of Pennsy’s locomotives or rolling stock, and from what I now know, it must have been pretty run down in the waning years of the PRR. Penn Central’s locomotives, in their drab black paint scheme, also did not leave much of an impression on me. In addition, by the late 1960s and early 1970s, trains had taken a back seat as my attention was then focused on the great muscle cars of the era!
A few years later when I could drive a car, my travels often took me through the Turtle Creek valley, once a booming center of railroads and associated industries. I was fascinated by the large industrial buildings of Westinghouse East Pittsburgh works, Westinghouse Air Brake (WABCO) and most of all, US Steel’s Edgar Thomson Works. When the sky was clear, we could sometimes see the sky glowing orange at night from the blast furnaces at “E-T Works”, as it was known in the valley. I often wondered what work took place inside those vast buildings, although I never got a chance to go inside.
The impressive 4-track ex-PRR main line connecting Pittsburgh to Altoona threaded its way through the valley on the south side of Turtle Creek like a ribbon of steel. On the opposite hillside, the Union Railroad traversed the valley on an elevated viaduct and trestle on its way to its interconnection with the Bessemer and Lake Erie Railroad at North Bessemer. Towering above all the activity was the massive George Westinghouse Bridge, one of the most graceful and beautiful reinforced concrete highway bridges ever built.
A few years later while I was away at college, the Consolidated Rail Corporation (Conrail) was formed on April 1, 1976. My studies left little time for train watching, but upon returning to Pittsburgh after graduation, I could not help but notice Conrail’s freshly painted bright blue locomotives. The menagerie of locomotives that Conrail inherited from its predecessor railroads, as well as newly acquired engines, was beginning to wear coats of gleaming blue paint in stark contrast to the black freight diesels of PRR and Penn Central.
I settled near the Turtle Creek valley and I often enjoyed the panoramic view of the valley, with the frequent passing of coal drags, mixed freights and trailer trains pulled by teams of GP-38s and 40s, sometimes with a pair of helper engines on the back. My interest in railroads was reborn, with Conrail on center stage!
Although I did not appreciate this until years later, Conrail also earned my respect as a railroad that started from six bankrupt lines (Penn Central, Lehigh Valley, Central of New Jersey, Reading, Lehigh and Hudson River, and Erie Lackawanna) and became a very profitable, solid Class 1 railroad. So profitable, in fact, that it became a takeover target that was eventually divided up and sold to CSX Transportation and Norfolk Southern Corporation 22 years later in 1998.
I would never have dreamed that one day I would be modeling my favorite railroad (Conrail) in my favorite location (the Turtle Creek Valley) right in my basement, or better yet that I would share this interest with my son who completely shares my passion. I am truly blessed.
Andy and Charlie at Ken McCorry's layout during the CRHS 2007 convention.
When people see me writing down locomotive numbers, sprinting to see a passing train or listening to a scanner they usually think I'm crazy. However it's all just an instinct to me. I'm Charlie Blenko and I have been interested in trains ever since I was little and my grandparents got me a Thomas set. I was born only a little over a year too late to see Conrail, but I'd take a blue SD40-2 over a modern GE any day! I started to help with the layout around 2008 and have since started my own bedroom layout depicting the Conrail Allegheny Industrial Track. I'm now in high school and more active than ever in railroad activities. In addition to working on the PML and my own layout, I enjoy railroad photography, and recording trains on video. My YouTube channel is https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC4b28NS8Ynf2nwEyySyFqUw?view_as=subscriber although I frequently post videos right here on the PML's website. I look forward to enjoying the railroading hobby throughout my life.
Andy and Charlie are getting in position for an Eastbound to pass Cresson PA during the CRHS 2008 convention.