Musings of Navigating The Finite remainder of life from Porchville, with the hope of a glimpse of The Infinite

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Does The Roundhouse Have Engines?

VW Busman gave me my first mission in weird things that retired guys do.  Find out if the Union Railroad Roundhouse at Hall Station in Monroeville, Pennsylvania has any engines in it. Well the place used to be 24 / 7 when I was kid.  Now it is  8 / 5, so I had to go during the week when the doors are open.

View Of The Round House Location  N40º 26.068’ W79º 48.127’

Note! Click on photos to view full size. 

So I stopped by today.  Cool open doors!

So here is what I am faced with.

Yeah!  I should be able to get pictures of what is in those doors.  Did I mention that the trees on top of this cliff are hawthorns?  There seems to be four things that grow up here besides hawthorns, multiflora rose, black berries, poison ivy and some kind of viney thing that wraps around your feet and wants to pitch you over the cliff, which is about 100 feet down right on to the tracks.  I need not worry though, if I did fall, the railroad bulls would never be able to identify me, all my skin would flayed off on the 17 bazillion thorns on the way down.

Yeah, piece of cake.

I don't see any engines in this one.

Cool, I think I see one!  Oh its a Ford truck.

And what is in this door?  Wow, a cooler sitting on a box and a guy pushing a hand truck!

Oh oh!  What is this in door # 7?

Oh oh indeed, here come the bulls!  He drives by, takes a gander at me, slows down and gets the license number off my car, and then drives on.  Hmmmm. Oh, wait he is turning around and coming back this way.  May as well take another picture.  So I assume the pose with the camera and pretend that he isn't there.  "Good morning sir.  Are you OK?"  Well other than being afflicted with a weird retirement disease that makes you stand in a thicket of thorns trying to get pictures of  a roundhouse, yes I am fine.  So we chat a bit.  Yes they still use the roundhouse.  "You are fine up here, just be careful," he says as one of the viney things pulls me tighter into a hawthorn branch--which then takes up the fine art of stabbing me in the ass while the officer chats on.  "Oh and by the way, stay out of the property and tracks below.  Good day sir!"   Good day indeed as rivulets of blood dribble down my ass cheek.

Let's try this from another vantage point.

Sure enough good old Engine #13.

According to Wikipedia Engine 13 is a EMD MP15DC which is a 1500 horsepower switcher made by General Motors Electro-Motive Division.   That is not a lot of horsepower for the tonnage that the Union pulls.  So they gang 4 or 5 of them together and run them full throttle apparently at some reduced gearing. I am not sure how diesel electrics work, but the Union's engines when loaded sound like they are running full tilt and the train creeps along at maybe 15 MPH.  Mental note, the bull just passed by again.

This guy looks like it is being extensively overhauled or cannibalized for parts.  Good God, look at the size of that flange.  I believe that is a small step ladder in the front.  I wonder with the round hole in the front housing, do they have a huge fan blade behind the radiator like a car does?

OK the bull just rode by again, it is time to leave. I hope nobody shoots the place up with pellet guns tonight, he has my license number.

Oh the roof ventilators that are on the square boxy building on the south end of the facility.

Maybe they don't look so Victorian after all.

They look like they may be flues for something hot like a furnace or oven.  There are a number of them.

It is time to get going.  One last parting shot of the elevated tank.

For some really great shots of the Union Railroad in action and the repair facility check out this site: Locomotive Shops

I really love these two photos: photo 182463 photo 183688

But I am absolutely insane about this one: photo 181867

What a totally cool photo. This guy has to be an insider.  I did not know that the Bessemer & Lake Erie were maintaining their engines at Monroeville.  They have a big roundhouse in Greenville, PA.  At one time B&LE and the Union were sisters under the ownership of United States Steel, but in 2004 B&LE was sold to the Canadian National Railroad.  So I don't know if the B&LE is still using the Union's shops or not.  The Union is still owned by US Steel, it said so on the side of the bull's patrol SUV.

Well I succeeded in my mission and I didn't get arrested, although they got my license number.  I'll have to let this cool off for a bit and try again in the fall.

Related Links:

Union Railroad Company

Wikipedia, Union Railroad

Carsten Lundsten, Union Railroad

Wikipedia, Bessemer & Lake Erie Railroad

Carsten Lundsten, B&LE Railroad   This site is phenomenal.  A guy from Denmark has the one of the best sites. A true RR nut, my kind of guy.

CN News, CN to Acquire Great Lakes Transportation LLC

This is one is for VW Busman's personal edification:

CN Police Mark Rail Safety Week 2011


  1. Excellent work Sextant....excellent indeed.
    For your first assignment, I'm going to grade you..9/10....2 gold stars. lol

    But in all seriousness....yes...very good article. So the roundtable does still work and is indeed used, for moving the locomotives in and out of various stalls for reno and repair work.
    Now we couldn't see behind all the closed doors, so in theory there could have been more engines in there....yes ???

    Great pics. I knew it could be done.
    Now...does this little exercise not embody retirement to the nth degree ?? I'm pretty sure you had a good time doing it,,,no??

    As for the bulls.....things went're in like flint.
    Yes they have your plate #,, what !! And yes they know who you are, name address etc....all the better for you actually. Why you say??

    Remember what I did for 27 yrs.....same job..different uniform..yada yada.....Better to be known as the railroad photographer guy, than some unknown lurking in the bushes, with a me.

    I would actually have to disagree with your last sentence of your post.
    " I'll have to let this cool off for a bit and try again in the fall "...
    if anything I would make myself more 'known'... become a 'regular' if you will.
    Check this out...........

    I'm not sure if I got that copied right...let me know if you can open that link...basically it was an interview with Don Phillips about just what you were doing. If I were you I would carry on with your probing and photographing....get to know the bulls, maybe on a first name basis, once their on your side, or in your pocket if you will....your gold.. and if you are around enough and spot some other suspicious or unusual stuff and inform them about it.....well....then you are the "man" can do no see where I am coming from here......

    I don't think I can emphasize that point there,,,be me on this one...
    now if it's a time or personal thing that you don't or can't be there ( around URR property )..then fine...but I may have more assignments for you....
    Let me know your thoughts.about the above....

    Once again..excellent piece.
    Don't stop now............

  2. BTW..I like your links about the other pics...engines etc at URR.....good stuff.

    With regard to the photos of the roundhouse etc....can you get to ground level thru the bushes, and how about around the whole periphery of the building, from other vantage points ??

    Just curious.

  3. This is still a work in progress. I can't simply write a post, I have to keep messing with it. Go up and read the link at the bottom of the post, placed there in your honor!

    Interesting theory though. I actually thought about hanging around the gate then paying the guy off to take me for ride and clicking photos all the while. Would a box of donuts work? But who in the hell in their right mind is going to do that? The boss Googles Union RR and there is Navigating The Finite, loaded with great inside photos. That is a trip to unemployment land. That's the trouble with younger folks, they think jobs are important. I don't know why.

    Did you check the Railpictures site? Extremely cool. The photos are all copywrited so I only include links, rather than lifting the photos.

    I am still adding links so it will continue to grow. I have to get Carston Lundsten's B&LE and Union RR sites in their as well.

  4. Simultaneous comments! Must be some of that synchronicity we spoke of. On the side I have been taking photos, the cliff comes right down to the tracks. No bushes at track level. On the other side is Thompson Run (creek) and a hillside made of slag going up to the track level. The whole damn place is sitting on a mountain of slag. No bushes there either. The hillside across the creek is wooded and damn near a cliff. Hung out there quite a bit as a kid, but the old man knees and back are not going to tolerate any cliff work, already had the experience of falling off that cliff once below Mount Olympus which would be on the north end of the repair shops across the creek. God does hang out at Mount Olympus, falling 20 feet and missing the rocks all about, I should have been died. You know, the more I think about it, every time I turn around God is saving my ass, and I don't know why.

    To get a flavor for the place, copy and paste my GPS coordinates into Google maps satellite view. The green arrow and A bubble mark where I take the photos from. There is another vantage point I am hoping to be able access. The last time I was there I was in my early 30s and it was treacherous but that was going from our woods. I may be able to access it through the parking lots on the west side of the Hall Station Bridge.

  5. I checked out the GPS coordinates ..and I can see where you are at....that's cool being able to place GPS in there and it takes you right there..neat.
    Yes..I can see the logistical nightmare of trying to capture any decent photos of the roundhouse....considering the obstacles, you did very well indeed....hats off to you. See this retirement thing is going to work out well for you ...and we both get history and geography lessons to boot...

  6. I don't know if you saw the mess I had this morning. On my Google Catches a Train post, I hit the Publish button when I wanted preview. I don't know what happened to the formating on that post but it went nuts. I finally deleted the damn post. Wrote it completely in Word and then copied and pasted it into Blogger and then added the photos. I have never had so much trouble with a post.

  7. I was just at this location on Saturday (2/4/12)to get a couple near-by geocaches. I was researching the Hall Roundhouse for a write up of the day on my blog and came across this posting. Nice write up!
    My buddy and I were on a "photo expedition" in 1988 and were taking shots of the roundhouse, from up above by the watertank and later down at the gate. While we were at the gate, a man came out of the building and told us we could get arrested for taking picture. We ended up BS'ing with him and before long, he invited us in and took us on a tour of the facility! He even put a locamotive on the turntable and rotated it for us. It turned into a great day! From threat of arrest to a personal tour. Not bad if I say so myself!
    I'll be updating my blog in a day or two, if your interested, here is a link to a post about following an Allegheny Valley RR train up towards Mars.

    Once again, cool site, I enjoyed reading your posts!
    Happy Caching!
    Phil B (Bookman56)

  8. Wow! What a treat, your own tour. Don't let my buddy Busman know, see comments above. He is not going to be happy until I end up in a Federal Prison for terroristic photography of American transportation facilities. Here is an absolutely fabulous picture taken from the end of the repair shop.

    I am bonkers about that photo.

    A cacher! So are my wife and I but we have sort got away from it, bodies falling apart and she doesn't have the time. One of the first caches we did was at the old bridge on Thompson Run on the other side of the round house down in the woods. The cache was plundered and No Trespassing signs were posted (which is BS and can easily be bypassed) It was for the old original Northern Pike. When the railroad was built Northern Pike was severed. There is a photo of the bridge at my blog post here, last photo:

    My guess is that the bridge was probably built some time around the end of the Civil War.

    Here is the cache. We are Red Shoe & The Navigator and there are better photos of the bridge in our writeup. I launched our travel bug Blue Duster from this cache (right before it was plundered). Our bug went all the way to George Air Force Base near Victorville California and back following my trip out in 1971 and back in 1974. We got the bug back in 2008. The trip took 5 years.

    I snooped a bit over at your blog, great write up on chasing the train. You might like my buddy from Manitoba, V W Busman's blog:

    If he can get the hell out of his greenhouse, and his home for wayward vehicles, he takes some lovely pictures of railroad tracks up in the flattest place on Earth. Some of his photos have spoke to my Soul.

    Last photo in this group, just rips my heart out. I can feel the sun on my back and hear the bees buzzing in the rushes on the side of the tracks.

    Well i have to quit writing and check out your blog. I think you may be just one of those weirdos that I admire.