Editor Pete Stabovitz
1996 Tioga Train Trip
Our 1996 trip involving railroading was a little different this year. We visited our friends near Washington, DC and took a trip into the Pennsylvania Grand Canyon, near Wellsboro, PA and then an excursion ride on the Tioga Central Railroad in October. At the canyon, we took a gorse drawn “covered wagon” ride on the road bed of the former double tracked NYC/Conrail system. The rails have only been up about 8 years. it would have been a beautiful run on a steam excursion train in the canyon. the roadbed became a part of the “Rails to Trails” program, hence the horse drawn wagon. I later asked why they didn’t try for an excursion train in the canyon. They said that the notice that the tracks were going to come out came out in the paper one day and the very next day the equipment was moving in to take up the tracks. there was no time to partition.
The canyon is approximately 10 miles from Wellsboro, and the track was taken up from before the canyon to Wellsboro Jct. about 3 miles north of Wellsboro. The track is still in and operating between Wellsboro and Corning RR for freight purposes. The Tioga Central operates passenger excursion service on the W&C track from Wellsboro Jct to Hammond Lake (approx 12 miles). Since there is no run around at Hammond Lake, and they are not allowed to back a passenger train any distance, they had a diesel locomotive on each end, one for each direction operation.
When we got to Hammond Lake and the engineer was shutting down that diesel, I was in the last car and he heard me say that I was a member of NRHS and a railfan. He told me to come with him and I could ride back in the cab of the lead engine! As he was going through the train, he explained that all of the people operating the TC were volunteers, and the money they took in was for operating and maintenance expenses, there were no salaries!
The TC has 5 engines, 3 currently operable. They said it would take them quite a while and some money to get the other two running, but they were trying. The other man in the cab was a retired electrician, and he was doing most of their electrical work. They had about 8 cars on the train and one passenger car stationary at Wellsboro Jct (where Conrail use to tie in) as their ticket office and headquarters. It was an interesting trip in the cab, especially watching how he manipulated both dynamic braking and throttle to give good speed control and smooth slow down in the required areas. He brought the train into the junction and came to almost a stop on the dynamic brakes, and he used the air only for the final few feet of stop. This was interesting.
The station was built in 1937, and it has now been placed on the National Register of Historic Places. It has been beautifully restored, but there are no chairs or benches in the waiting room area. The Grand Strand Western “N” gauge model railroad was set up in the freight area. The brick walkway had “named” bricks which people could purchase. Mr. Jack Thompson was the head of the “All Aboard” Committee. One interesting note was the uncovering of the station sign. The sign had been removed and Mr. Thompson found it in some store and had it reinstalled. It was covered with a black cloth with two blue ribbons to pull. Well, when they went to uncover it, two men pulled the ribbons. The ribbons came down but the cloth did not. One of the dignitaries put his little girl on his shoulders and she reached for a corner of the cloth and pulled it down, uncovering the sign. Great! Has this ever been done before?
Congratulations to Mr. Thompson, who pulled this off and got Myrtle Beach “back on track.” He said that Myrtle Beach is one of few resort cities without scheduled rail passenger service. He mentioned AmTrak. According to my 1996 rail map, the nearest AmTrak connection would be Dillon, SC. It would be quite an accomplishment to get AmTrak into Myrtle Beach.