A REPORT TO THE CHARLESTON CHAPTER – NRHS
By Ben Baldwin
The first thing I want to say is “thank you” to the Charleston, SC, Chapter for your encouraging letter and the B&O belt donated by Captain Le Cato. Without the sponsorship of our Washington, DC Chapter, I would have never been part of the success and fun of this year’s Rail Camp experience. I urge all of you to support Rail Camp and to send young people like myself to what is going to be one of the greatest experiences in their lifetimes. Rail Camp is a great program and I hope my description will urge you to support it into the future.
RailCamp began Sunday, July 12, with my arrival at Gavigan Hall on the University of Scranton campus. After a quick check in with the counselors my parents and I headed up to my dorm to get settled in. With hugs and kisses my parents headed off and I was left to settle in with the other campers. The first thing that struck me meeting the campers was the vast amount of knowledge before me. I was dumbstruck at the details of engines and rail operations people were giving out. After some minor discussions and a few hands of cards we had become somewhat familiar with each others names. We noticed some of us had gone downstairs for the evening announcements. After listening to the counselors, all of us went to dinner, and then we went down to one of the empty classrooms on campus to view a slideshow on the history of Steamtown put on by the facility’s park rangers. Upon returning to the dorms we got to bed around the curfew of 11:00 PM.
A cold shower, good breakfast, and long walk later, we arrived at Steamtown for our first day of RailCamp. For our first few minutes Monday morning, we listened to our counselors’ give what would become our daily safety lecture before embarking on an interpretive tour of the facility. After the tour’s end and a brief discussion of Steamtown’s preservation theory, we headed into the lunch room. Once finished, we all piled on to a waiting bus to go to the anthracite coal mine and museum. After the interesting tours of both mine and museum we got back on the bus and rode back to the dorms where we headed down to dinner. When we arrived back at the dorms we located the pool cues and balls. Playing long into the night, we all made it into our rooms right before curfew.
After breakfast Tuesday morning, we all headed down to Steamtown. With our usual safety lecture over we broke into groups and headed into the round house. We met a Steamtown worker inside and began the daily inspection process for a steam locomotive. After a trip into the inspection pit underneath the locomotive, we climbed into the cab to check steam pressure and coal levels in the fire box. Once out we examined the nearby diesel for cracks in its frame. After climbing into the cab and checking the filters on top we walked to the lunch room for a well earned meal. As soon as everybody was finished we walked out into the yard. Once out we removed and replaced brake shoes and knuckles. With our activities done and time to spare, we moved around on the handcar a bit before the walk back to Gavigan Hall. That night with dinner, and a pool tournament over, we all got to bed in anticipation of our trip to the Canadian Pacific.
Before our Wednesday field trip, the Canadian Pacific rail police present showed is a copy of the film, Operation Lifesaver. Then we piled on a waiting bus that took us to the CP rail facility near northeast Binghamton, NY. CP and Federal Railroad Administration personnel gave us a tour of their yard, career speeches, a safety lecture and a pizza lunch. After lunch they brought us on a tour of their offices. When the tour ended we piled into the bus and started back to the dorms. On the way back, we stopped at both the Starrucca and Nicholson viaducts, both National Engineering Landmarks.
At Steamtown the next day, we found we were going to make steam engine silhouettes. This was a complicated procedure designed to teach us what was needed to preserve antique rail equipment and steam locomotives. To make the silhouette our first step was to plasma cut the shape of the engine. Next we got sheet steel for the base and punched two large holes in it, and then smoothed the base and engine with hand and table grinders. Once done we went to the riveting station and pounded rivets on L-joints over the wielding station and attached the engine to the L-joints using a mig wielder. We then had lunch in the staffroom. The next step when we returned was to paint it. The paint of course was black. We ended the day with a short tour of the Electric Trolley Museum.
When we got back to Steamtown in the morning we were given yet another safety lecture and an overview of the day. We then split into two groups and were given seminars on rules and careers. After lunch, we walked back to the Trolley Museum for a 45-minute excursion. Upon our return we were taught how to signal with a radio and our hands. We then moved on to switching operations in the yard where we coupled and uncoupled cars, and took turns signaling to, and driving a diesel. After everyone had had a turn we walked over to the big boy locomotive and took a tour of its cab and drive system. A few minutes later we met at the turntable and took a group photo. After the photo was taken our graduation ceremony began. Our certificates were presented by Ms. Fran Mainells, Director of the National Park Service, who was enjoying her first visit to Steamtown. Just as the ceremony ended, a thunderstorm began, and we walked through the rain to the maintenance of way building for a cookout. Steamtown also welcomed our parents, many of whom had come for the closing ceremonies and Saturday morning tour. Then all of us slowly made our way back to the dorm for our final night. With both celebration and sadness we made our way to bed and ended the last full day of RailCamp.
Saturday we were joined by our parents for a tour, in which we presented the highlights of each day at camp. After a great tour we met with our counselors to discuss the pros and cons of the RailCamp experience. After some hurried goodbyes we began the ride home.