Conrail Towers

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SO Tower in South Fork PA fell victim to arson on the morning of November 8th, 2008. These photos are from after the fire was extinguished and before it was torn down, later the same day, by NS.

In its final years, the tower had been an empty shell with the CTC board being preserved at the Altoona Railroaders Memorial Museum.

The Article from the Johnstown Tribune-Democrat:

BY KATHY MELLOTT
The Tribune-Democrat

SOUTH FORK  A building small in size but large in historic significance has been lost to a fire that local officials say may be arson.

The SO Tower, one of seven communications towers lining the track side of the Mainline of the Pennsylvania Railroad between Johnstown and Altoona, was destroyed early Saturday.

It was the property of Norfolk Southern Railroad, spokesman Rudy Husband said Sunday.

The fire was reported shortly after 4:30 a.m. and was burning out of control by the time firefighters from South Fork, Summerhill, Wilmore and Richland arrived on the scene, South Fork Deputy Chief Matte Wadsworth said.

"There was heavy fire at the top of the tower. There was no way we could have made entry into it," Wadsworth said. "The top was (engulfed) and the roof was just about burned off."

 A state police fire marshal investigated the blaze during the weekend. No cause was available late Sunday.

Wadsworth said the structure had no electrical service or other utilities.

"More than likely it was arson," Wadsworth said of the tower located three-quarters of a mile west of South Fork in East Taylor Township.

South Fork locals say the tower was built in the late 1800s, around the same time as the Cresson MO Tower.

The towers were manned 24 hours a day, seven days a week, with dispatchers moving train traffic through the mountainous area.

(Dispatchers) made sure everything was on its proper track, South Fork resident John Fabo said.

A retired railroader estimated it has not been used for a decade or longer.

Fabo, who said the tower was about the second one built along the Pennsylvania Railroad, was saddened by the loss.

I can remember going up there as a kid. The operator used to let me go up there to watch steam engines go by, Fabo said of his childhood in the mid-1950s.

He remembers watching as the operator would hang a leather pouch containing mail out the window of the tower and a passing train equipped with a hook would pick it up.

Michael Sandor, a rail enthusiast from suburban Pittsburgh, said the region has lost a significant piece of history.

It's a real loss. (The tower) was a welcome beacon of light, Sandor said

The tower had a brick base, Sandor said, and was described by Wadsworth as a wooden structure of about 20 square feet and reaching 30 feet high.

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Former New York Central JN Tower(now abandoned) at 71st Street, in August 1991. This tower controlled the leads to the east end of the Englewood Yard and the connection to the Nickel Plate at Grand Crossing. This shot was taken from the dome car on Amtrak 30. Doug Davidson photo with permission
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In this rather sad April 1988 view looking east on the all but abandoned former PRR main, the semaphore signals are forever set to stop on the Panhandle at 75th Street Tower. Amazingly those signals stayed silent sentinels until the early 90's. The tower is behind the trees in the background. Doug Davidson photo with permission
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Conrail's Marion Tower, aka AC Tower, guarded the crossings of the combined Erie Lackawanna / Big Four with the C&O and the N&W (former PRR). This tower now sits across the tracks fully restored next to the depot. Doug Davidson photo with permission
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The ex PRR tower at Adams, a location on the ex PRR mainline thru Ft. Wayne, IN where a branch line diverted off toward Decatur, IN and on down to Richmond, IN. This tower was demolished sometime in the mid eighties, but it has an interesting story about how that happened. A gentleman who worked for CR out of Ft. Wayne at the time told me that when they went to demolish the tower, they discovered a giant wasps nest that went up and down the entire side of the tower, so they let the Adams township(the place the tower was named after) fire dept. do a controlled burn and they burned it to the ground. Date unknown, Chris Howe collection, photographer Dan Maners.
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A view of the west face of Antis Tower in Altoona, PA in 1986.
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Eastward view of Antis Tower in Altoona, PA in 1986.
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A view of Antis tower, looking north (railroad east) in 1986.
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A 1986 view of Antis Tower, showing the east and south walls.
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Conrail 'AO' Tower as viewed from a passing train on March 11, 1995. Terry Nardella photo, collection of Steve Ondik
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Conrail's AR Tower on March 11, 1995 as viewed from a passing train. Terry Nardella photo, collection of Steve Ondik.
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Five months after Amtrak President Paul Reistrup gave his approval, ex-PRR GG-1 4935 was restored to it's original Brunswick green and pinstripes. Amtrak's Wilmington shops completed the restoration as planned and sponsored by the "Friends of the GG-1," with GG-1 designer Raymond Loewy serving as Honorary Chairman.

On Sunday, May 15, 1977, following a dedication ceremony at Union Station, Altoona-built PRR 4935 made it's inaugural run to New York. Here, PRR 4935's gleaming Brunswick green paint gives the scene a model-like appearance as she blasts by Arsenal Tower in Philadelphia.

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An eastbound Conrail freight(most likely SFEL, which came off the Santa Fe at Streator, IL) with Santa Fe 5402 and a pair of GE's, including one in the rare Kodachrome scheme, passes Bend Tower in June 1993. Doug Davidson photo with permission
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The operators desk inside of BD Tower in Binghamton.
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The operator at BD Tower ties train orders to the arms on the train order pole.
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A June 1993 view of Conrail's Bend Tower in South Bend, IN. Bend Tower controlled the junction of Conrail's Chicago Line (ex NYC, LS&MS) and the GTW at South Bend and remains a busy spot today. Doug Davidson photo with permission
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A little more Conrail is due to disappear soon, the ex NYC/PC/CR signals at Berea tower in Berea, Ohio. Shot last week on my way to the monthly safety meeting at Rockport, you can see the new signals are up but not yet facing the tracks. In all 3 sets of former Conrail signals will fall in this project- the e/b home signal bridge (out of the frame to the left), the cantilever seen to the left of the tower, and the w/b home signal mast (behind the tower). That's a newer signal up front in this view that guards the entrance from the NS main to the CSX ex Big 4, the "Toledo Connecting track" IIRC, and as a general rule used for little other than detour moves between the 2 railroads. Piece by piece the railroad morphs into sameness.... the Durf
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Conrail BO Tower at Kalamazoo, MI in August 1997. Doug Davidson photo with permission
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View looking west at BO Tower, double track Amtrak Line crosses two Conrail Lines -- former NYC (LS&MS) and former PRR (GR&I) at Kalamazoo, MI in June 1993. Doug Davidson photo with permission
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Old NYC BS tower at Bellefountaine, OH, now simply marked as Conrail CP141 back in February 1996. There were three branchlines that diverted off here, two of them abandoned by the time of this photo, one going to St. Mary's, OH and the other to Belle Center, OH. A third branchline went south all the way to Springfield, OH and is still in service today as a shortline railroad. The tiny lettering on the side of the building said 140.900, which is its actual milepost location.
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The ex NYC Burt tower at Galion, OH which guarded the diamond with the EL main. Towers built up in the air like this one were a trademark spotting feature of the Big Four line(Cleveland, Columbus, Cincinnati, and St. Louis - an old NYC predecessor). This picture was taken sometime in 1976 or 1977. Photographer unknown, Chris Howe collection
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Conrail's 'C' Tower as photographed from a passing train on March 11th, 1995. Terry Nardella photo, collection of Steve Ondik
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Conrail's C Tower at Johnstown, PA, in August 1995. Doug Davidson photo with permission
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In this eastward view at Clarke Jct. Tower in June 1980, Conrail's Fort Wayne Line (former PRR) crosses the B&OCT's Barr Subdivision. The bridge in the distance carrys the EJ&E Gary -Griffith mains over the Fort Wayne Line. Doug Davidson photo with permission
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Conrail's Clarke Jct. Tower on the far west side of Gary in June 1980, protects the at-grade crossing of the former PRR Ft. Wayne line with the B&O's Barr Subdivision. Doug Davidson photo with permission
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Overall view of CLY Interlocking Tower and adjacent Station. CLY controlled the junction of the PRR's Northern Central Branch to Baltimore along with the PRR's Atglen & Susquehanna line to Columbia. The 2 tracks closest to the tower are the Northern Central Branch. This tower used an Armstrong Lever Machine. It was taken out of service sometime in 1985 or 1986 and demolished in the late 1980's.
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Overall view of CLY Interlocking Tower and adjacent Station. CLY controlled the junction of the PRR's Northern Central Branch to Baltimore along with the PRR's Atglen & Susquehanna line to Columbia. The 2 tracks closest to the tower are the Northern Central Branch. This tower used an Armstrong Lever Machine. It was taken out of service sometime in 1985 or 1986 and demolished in the late 1980's.
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COLA Tower, in service for Conrail in 1979. Once the Port Road got CTC, the windows were bricked over and the tower was turned into essentially a large relay case. This tower is still currently standing.
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A rare shot of the inside of a yard tower in Conway, circa 1983.
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Conrail GP15-1 1688 is seen trailing on a train at Morrisville, PA back in 1981. Just ahead behind her is CR 878027, a class 843H covered hopper of NYC heritage, built by the Despatch Shops in the early 1950s. The train is approaching MORRIS tower, where the former PRR Trenton Cutoff re-joined the NYC-Philadelphia Main Line.
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An abbreviated track geometry train, led by the usual 1933, passes Capitol tower in Harrisburg, PA. on Aug. 22, 1985.
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Conrail B23-7 1936 is in charge of a westbound empty coal train as it passes MO tower in 1991.
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The extra 1963 east passing Mifflin tower on Aug. 18, 1985.
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A class N7B bay window Conrail caboose 21099 brings up the rear of an eastbound freight passing Hohman Avenue Tower on the IHB, in May 1982. Doug Davidson photo with permission
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Conrail class N7E caboose 21150 is seen at Morrisville, PA in 1981. CR 21150 ex EL C351.
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Conrail class N7A caboose 21624 is seen passing GRAY tower in Grazierville, PA in 1983.
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Conrail GP30 2179 (ex-RDG 3611) is seen on WPCA-51 as it reverses past Winslow tower to get its train on 9/13/1979
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Conrail GP30 2230 (ex-PC 2230) is seen rounding the curve in front of Amtrak's ZOO tower in Philadelphia, PA circa 1983.
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Conrail GP30 2245 (ex-PC 2245) is seen passing DAY tower at the east end of Enola Yard in West Fairview, PA in 1983.
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An Eastbound CR freight stops at SR Tower to add the Gulf Summit helper to its consist. U36-C #6590 will be added behind the 2276 for the trip to Deposit.
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Conrail class N5C caboose 23023 is passing MG tower in 1981.
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Conrail class N5C cabin car 23064 is seen passing MO tower in Cresson, PA in 1982.
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Ex RDG C-424 2495 working on a Westbound by Alto Tower.
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CR U23B-2789 & GP38-2-8120 are leading a W/B freight as they pass MG Tower at Mid-Grade on the east slope. 1:29PM on 4/24/82 west of Altoona, PA.
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Westbound Conrail freight passes the tower at Porter, IN in September 1981, behind GP40 No. 3068. The tower was closed in 1985 and torn down shortly thereafter. Doug Davidson photo with permission
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Former PC and Reading power pass a former CNJ tower. That's my guide for the trip trying out a low angle for his shot.
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Conrail GP40 3171 is seen hauling an eastbound TV train past abandoned Antis Tower in Altoona, PA in 1986.
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Conrail SD40-2 6397 is leading CR GP40 3220 (ex-PC 3220) and CR SD40-2 6388 on an eastbound mixed freight at Cresson, PA in 1981. MO tower is at the left edge of the picture, with MOW equipment in the yard in the background.
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Conrail train TV-22 passes RAVE tower in Ravenna, Ohio in March of 1983. GP-40 3232, the "Con ail" unit, is leading. The tower and PRR style signals are gone now, but this is still a busy crossover location on the Cleveland Line, and it is as far east as the Dearborn Div goes- it's the Pittsburgh Div from here east.

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