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out past an old plank bridge, complete with its own bank of traditional sema- phore signals, west of the original SA tower. Today, a small yard west of the new overhead bridge is there, but as far as the town goes, one house remains. The Connellsville & State Line Rail- road had only a track connection here with the Western Maryland (they inter- changed at Keystone) and the facilities at this high profile location included a wye, turntable and numerous sidings to keep traffic and helpers on duty pointed in the right direction. The new SA Tower was completed in

1914 and placed into a cut in the hillside was the high-tech marvel of its time. Housing a General Railway & Signal electrical installation, it was built at a cost of over $63,000; some 40 years later, it went to full CTC installation after the demise of GR Tower in Manila. As men- tioned earlier, it was reduced to rubble almost 90 years after it was built.

Diverse History and Operations Of course, this is only part of the story

ABOVE: All trains mounting the east slope of the Keystone Subdivision start their assault at the main yard in Cumberland, Md. Here a merchandise train waits for clearance to enter as a coal train moves east. Mexico Tower stands as a silent sentinel over the junction. The old B&O-era color position light signals have since been replaced with new hardware. Time marches on. STAN TRZONIEC

mer days. Depending upon the train, crew, and makeup, helpers could be re- leased at the entrance to the bore, but it’s more likely they will cut off at the Manila crossovers and return to Cum- berland. On the west side of Sand Patch Tun-

nel, freight trains stop almost dead at the sign marking the summit and pa- tiently wait for the helpers to secure three-step safety procedures, uncouple, leave the train, and check the air. This is afternoon viewing and the action here can be intense, since the front-end power has to give its all to overcome the drag

of a train still hanging down slope on the other end of this tunnel. Eastbound freights will drop their helpers at the same location, and then pull ahead for the trip down to Cumberland while the pushers will move forward, back through the crossovers and head downgrade to Connellsville. Lighting at the west por- tal is best in the afternoon. Looking at the landscape at Sand

Patch shows that it’s a mere shadow of what it was in its heyday. In the 1920s and according to Baltimore & Ohio road maps, the town boasted a station and not less than three water towers spread

of CSX’s struggle to battle the Alleghe- ny Mountains. From Sand Patch west, the line goes in the opposite direction, downhill all the way and through the likes of small towns like Meyersdale, Yoder, Salisbury, Garrett, Rockwood, and Casselman, ending up in the well- known railroad town of Connellsville. Sand Patch grade has found its place in the chronicle of American railroads; to the casual observer or photographer, this area offers much in the way of his- tory, varied consists, and photogenic ge- ography from one end to the other. To be there is good for the senses, since to miss the Keystone Subdivision would be a mistake. Seize the moment, enjoy the surround-

ings, and take it from me... If you listen close, you may even hear one of those re- markable “Big Sixes” charging upgrade. And that is what it’s all about. Sand Patch is an incredible piece of railroad steeped in times past, yet full of today’s modern action and drama.

Stan Trzoniec is a full-time outdoor writ- er, photographer, publisher and frequent contributor to outdoor, photographic and railroad magazines. This is his second byline for RAILFAN & RAILROAD magazine.


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