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Railroaders' Nostalgia > The Blizzard


Date: 08/30/22 06:17
The Blizzard
Author: train1275

A look back at the big December 2020 storm in Upstate New York

We had been getting storm warnings during the morning of December 16, 2020 in Upstate New York, but the weather didn't look bad and it didn't even have a winter feel to it.
At the time I was VP-Mechanical for the NYS&W Railway and based in Binghamton, NY. We had serviced the plow and made sure it had propane (for heat) several days before and in that regard were as ready as mechanical could be in response to MOW's needs. About 6 weeks before my job had been split as I was both VP of Engineering and VP of Mechanical and also defacto Shop Manager. We had tried to hire a mechanical guy so I could devote my time to engineering, but several attempts failed and finally we got an engineering guy which gave me mechanical full time. That was more fortunate than I could have imagined in the next 48 hours.

Binghamton and Upstate New York including Syracuse and Utica are notorious for huge dumps of snow and lake effect snow. The NYS&W covers all that territory. So with the weather service issuing storm warnings calling for heavy snow in the 36" range and transportation issuing bulletins and prepping to get ready all we could do is sit back and wait.
When I left the shop late that afternoon it had just started to snow and blow. By the time I got to Belden Hill on the NS / D&H line on the way home it was really beginning the full force of wind and snow. I noticed a northbound train, 16R led by NS 8164 and 4330 tackling the hill and pulled off the main road to take some cell phone pics and watch.

1. The 16R at Port Crane
2. Dyes heading towards the tunnel
3. Approaching the crossing just before the tunnel. As we gain altitude and time the storm is rapidly intensifying,



Edited 2 time(s). Last edit at 08/30/22 09:38 by train1275.








Date: 08/30/22 06:41
Re: The Blizzard
Author: train1275

4. The wind is just screaming, the snow is falling fast and hard and the locomotives are just roaring as they pass me and head for the tunnel bore north of Binghamton.

That night we stayed close to home and just watched out our front window as the snow piled up and the highway plows ran back and forth on Route 7 outside our home at Otego, NY south of Oneonta. The D&H was in our back yard here. Yes, it was snowing, but this is Upstate New York and I was born and raised here. Sort of no big deal, you just deal with it and life goes on. I got up at 0-dark-30 to get ready for work and didn't really get a good look out the window due to the darkness. After showering I sat down to eat breakfast and the wife was up and went out and I heard her shovelling the steps. About a minute later she comes in covered with snow up to her waist and with fallen snow all over her head and shoulders and says to me, "I don't think you are going to work this morning". It is not even 6AM yet and I've already taken a few calls and begun to deal with the "situation" and I retort rather strongly to her comment, "Like HELL, I work for the RAILROAD, and I am going in". "Ok, she says ... and sits down at the table. Fifteen minutes later I grab my lunch and head out the door, TO GO TO WORK. I immediately am confronted with 44" to 48" of snow, rather heavy and drifted in some places as high as the car. Both of our cars are buried up to the windows and deeper. It is over my waist to even get to the car. I start to shovel because, I AM GOING TO WORK BECAUSE I WORK FOR THE RAILROAD. Two or three shovels and I have to concede defeat. The wind is blowing the snow in swirling masses and this stuff has some weight and resistance to it. I walk back in, she stares at me. I hang my head humbly and in a low tone exclaim that, maybe I am not going to work today.

Numerous phone calls confirm neither can my employees, excepting one who lives close and can walk. I tell him to go in and do what he can to start shovelling out and digging out. MOW wants to run a plow but no one can get into work or into the yard. What a mess.

I start shovelling the driveway. It is only about 25 feet, BUT ...... three and a half hours later I am almost clear and exhuasted. I come in to warm up and get some coffee. About 20 minutes later I'm ready to go back out and burst through onto the highway, which is remarkably clear due to the plows, salt, sand.  WHAM !  A plow comes past and he is plowing the shoulder and it all lands in my driveway. Now I have abut 15 feet plowed back in that is a good 3 feet deep to dig out. It will be 11:30 before I burst out of the driveway and onto the highway. Part of the problem was there was so much snow, there was no place to put it. Since the Binghamton Yard roadways are inaccessible there is no point going in until the contractor gets it plowed out. Which in so doing he plows our shop access and parking lot back in that my guy had spent the entire day trying to dig out so that when we got to work we had a place to park and had our walkways and pathways clear.

5. - 6. Since the roads are generally not bad at all and the D&H needs to address the snow, and I am not able to go to work, we decide to watch the D&H clear out the main. They do so by running light power in the form of NS 3652 and 1060 and the wife and I go down the road to Afton to catch them "plowing" snow with a vengeance. What a sight !!

 



Edited 2 time(s). Last edit at 08/30/22 07:14 by train1275.








Date: 08/30/22 06:48
Re: The Blizzard
Author: train1275

7. Blasting through the crossing at Wells Bridge, NY, the NS K78 is just a blurred mass, a rolling snowball going up the Susquehanna Valley.

8. Close to our home at Otego rolling north making a snow cloud.

Finally at 0-Dark-30 on the morning of December 18th I get to Binghamton and with some effort in my Subaru get to the shop where my guys in one way or other have gained access and we start digging out so we can begin to function. The plow was ready to go but it had to be pulled out from behind some power and also shovelled out. Everything was totally covered and Binghamton reported 48 inches had dropped.

9. Trying to dig out power to service and shop, I am on SD45-2 3618, a former BN unit, looking at the freshly shovelled short hood and into the snow covered yard.


 








Date: 08/30/22 06:56
Re: The Blizzard
Author: train1275

10. Yeah we got clobbered, and once again, there was so much snow it was hard to plow and lots of it had to be moved as there was no place to plow or easily put it.

11. Clearing the snow off the plow to make it useable. The propane heat is already on and it is stocked and ready to go as soon as the MOW and train crews can get it out.

12. In order to get out of the NYS&W Binghamton yard we had to go through NS controlled track. They too of course were under seige and clean up efforts so after picking up the plow there were some delays getting it up the road for the run to Syracuse. MOW was in full battle with plowing, digging out switches and dealing with grade crossings. I was really glad to be just mechanical as I had my hands more than full. But I did take the time to hop in the Hi-Rail truck with the System and Division Roadmasters and go out to Old State Road north of town to watch our plow go by. Finally we were getting the upper hand. It would be a few more days before we could say we were back to normal though. 








Date: 08/30/22 06:59
Re: The Blizzard
Author: train1275

And finally there they go north !

NYSW Plow #92 pushed by NS 3046 (one of the leased Conrail Shared Assets Geeps) does the honors.

It was an intense and exciting 3 days of railroading in Upstate New York.

More fun now to look back on. 




Date: 08/30/22 08:27
Re: The Blizzard
Author: trainjunkie

Oh c'mon. Surely your time in Alaska prepared you for a little Upstate NY storm. ;-)



Date: 08/30/22 08:41
Re: The Blizzard
Author: train1275

The reality is related to Anchorage, Alaska vs. Upstate New York in winter is that Upstate we got snow and lots of it. Knew how to deal with it and life went on.
Anchorage really does not get the heavy snow falls, and it was a bit amusing watching them deal with 3 - 6 inches. Now down below in Whittier, the Loop District and Seward, south of Anchorage was another story. Lots of snow and more like home.

Anchorage got really cold for extended periods, 30 - 40 below, and as you went north, colder yet so that by Fairbanks you had ridiculous cold like 40 - 50 below. It was hard to keep power running in those temps, especially the switchers in Anchorage yard. We tried to cycle them in for eight hours in the warm shop when possible. 

One drawback of Alaska deep cold was wheel tread shelling. I was just installed as Anchorage Shop General Foreman when I was told I had to call wheel true overtime. I then noted that some of these stacked up waiting for wheel true locos where back in que several days later. I thought I was being "had" and got digging into it. Well come to find out when it gets cold, like really, really cold 40 - 50 below cold and the steel wheels are going over the cold rails, then stop, there there is a process called martinization where the frozen water particles seep into micro cracks in the tread (trying to make this simple) and then propagate in and splinter the metal. That tends to drive wheel true crazy as there were times we only got one round trip on SD70Macs between Anchorage and Fairbanks. I always wanted to ask counterparts in other cold parts such as Russia, Finland, Norway, Sweden what they saw and how they dealt with it, but never did.



Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 08/30/22 08:44 by train1275.



Date: 08/30/22 09:40
Re: The Blizzard
Author: trainjunkie

I agree, Anchorage is pretty mild, although my first year working there was nicknamed "Snowmageddon" as it was unusually cold and snowfall was extra heavy. There was still snow on the ground in July that year.

Moose Pass, Whittier, and Fairbanks on the other hand? Crazy cold and deep snow. 

Every season when I marked up I usually bid to one of the yard jobs that moved equipment on and off the wheel lathe. There was always a lot of stuff waiting to be trued at the end of winter. Even more so when they started testing PTC in the winter. 



Date: 08/30/22 09:54
Re: The Blizzard
Author: train1275

Not sure when you were there, but in my day it was not PTC, we called it CAS (Collision Avoidance System) the Alaskan home brew version through US&S that turned into somewhat of a debacle. I am actually not sure if they ever made that work, or just went with PTC.

trainjunkie Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> I agree, Anchorage is pretty mild, although my
> first year working there was nicknamed
> "Snowmageddon" as it was unusually cold and
> snowfall was extra heavy. There was still snow on
> the ground in July that year.
>
> Moose Pass, Whittier, and Fairbanks on the other
> hand? Crazy cold and deep snow. 
>
> Every season when I marked up I usually bid to one
> of the yard jobs that moved equipment on and off
> the wheel lathe. There was always a lot of stuff
> waiting to be trued at the end of winter. Even
> more so when they started testing PTC in the
> winter. 



Date: 08/30/22 10:29
Re: The Blizzard
Author: trainjunkie

train1275 Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> Not sure when you were there, but in my day it was
> not PTC, we called it CAS (Collision Avoidance
> System) the Alaskan home brew version through US&S
> that turned into somewhat of a debacle. I am
> actually not sure if they ever made that work, or
> just went with PTC.

When I hired out the CAS hardware was still in place in some of the locomotives, but it was long shuttered and inoperative. It was replaced with PTC.



Date: 08/30/22 12:59
Re: The Blizzard
Author: santafe199

I once heard an engineer state: "Tain't fit fer man nor beast out there. But just look at those goofy FRNs!!!"

;^)

PS: If you have to ask what "FRN" stands for, you're in the wrong pew...



Date: 08/30/22 18:10
Re: The Blizzard
Author: Notch7

Thanks for the great set of pics and story.  Long ago we had a 16-17 inch drifting snow fall on the ex-SAL line north of Columbia SC.  That was challenging enough for us plowing through with E-units.



Date: 08/31/22 15:30
Re: The Blizzard
Author: sf1010

For us non-rails, please elaborate on the distinction between "engineering" and "mechanical" in railroad context.



Date: 08/31/22 16:43
Re: The Blizzard
Author: train1275

Basically:

Mechanical fixes and deals with equipment, such as locomotives and rolling stock. This for me also included PTC in coordination with Operations.
Engineering deals with the physical plant; track, bridges, signals, buildings.



Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 08/31/22 16:44 by train1275.



Date: 09/01/22 15:17
Re: The Blizzard
Author: sf1010

Sounds like in SP parlance, "Engineering" would be "Maintenance of Way."  True?  A family friend was Chief Engineer of Maintenance of Way for SP.  He described his responsibility as "everything that is not supposed to move."



Date: 09/01/22 19:10
Re: The Blizzard
Author: train1275

Yes true, Engineering like stuff that does not move, or at least is not supposed to ! Maintenance of Way.

Mechanical = Stuff with wheels.

Posted from Android



Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 09/01/22 19:11 by train1275.



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