SO Tower and its demise South Fork, PA 11-8-2008

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.

SO Tower South Fork, PA 10-18-2008

October 18, 2008 just weeks before this amazing tower is set ablaze and quickly torn down, Robert Puchan was hiking the mountainside when he took this shot.

SO Tower's Fire Damage

The remains of SO Tower at South Fork, PA. The tower burned on Nov8, 2008. Photo by Tony Kimmel

SO Tower's Fire Damage

The remains of SO Tower at South Fork, PA. The tower burned on Nov8, 2008. Photo by Tony Kimmel

SO Tower's Fire Damage

The remains of SO Tower at South Fork, PA. The tower burned on Nov8, 2008. Photo by Tony Kimmel

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