Written by: Gary Dolzall
Train Sim World’s Sand Patch Grade captures the unforgettable experience of autumn in the Alleghenies
Autumn in the Alleghenies. It is a memorable, indeed unforgettable experience. Brilliant fall foliage under serene blue skies, stunning dawns and dusks, and, yes, sometime the first biting hints of a winter soon to come. And for train-watchers, there are few if any experiences grander than that of railroading on Sand Patch Grade in autumn.
Sand Patch and autumn have drawn railroad photographers to Maryland and Pennsylvania ever since there have been rails and cameras. Previous generations of photographers trained their lenses on the likes of Baltimore & Ohio’s massive S-class 2-10-2s steam locomotives or elegant blue, gray, and black Electro-Motive F7s climbing along Willis Creek, just as today’s enthusiasts create contemporary images of CSX AC4400CWs and SD70MACs.
I’ve had the pleasure of visiting Sand Patch Grade in October on several occasions through the years, to witness B&O, Chessie System, and CSX diesels do battle with the mountain in one of nature’s most stunning amphitheaters. To stand on the fall color-dressed hillside above Mance and listen to a brace of EMD GP40-2s grinding ever-closer up Sand Patch’s rugged east slope, or to see an eastbound freight emerge from Falls Creek Tunnel amid a bone-chilling autumn rain, are differing and unique experiences, and each is one never to be forgotten.
Now, with Train Sim World and CSX Heavy Haul, the experience of autumn in the Allegheny Mountains can be experienced with remarkable realism and fidelity, right from one’s own easy chair! And accordingly, with “virtual camera” in hand and through the magic of Train Sim World and CSX Heavy Haul, I’ve again returned to Sand Patch to witness the special measure and compelling experience of an Allegheny autumn! – Gary Dolzall ■
Twenty-four hours a day, Cumberland Terminal is alive with railroading. Under an autumn sky just coming to life at dawn, CSX GP38-2 2756 and a sister EMD SD40-2 are shoe-horned onto the Cumberland turntable in anticipation of a workday ahead. Screenshots by Gary Dolzall. CSX SD40-2 2442 is on the point as a duo of Electro-Motive diesels drag a string of coal gondolas past the hump at Cumberland on an October day (above), while at the other end of Cumberland Terminal, CSX AC4400CW 298 leads a westbound train of single-level stacks through Viaduct Junction amid the golden light of an autumn afternoon (below). With a train of double stacks that originated at CSX’s intermodal terminal at Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, CSX GE AC4400CW 145 is on the move just west of Cumberland (above), then hustles below the autumn-dressed cliffs of the scenic Cumberland Narrows (below). Coming soon to Train Sim World, a CSX GP40-2 in “Bright Future” (“YN2”) livery is on the point of an eastbound auto rack train approaching the summit of the Alleghenies near Sand Patch, Pennsylvania (above), then later, on the autumn-dressed east slope of the Keystone Subdivision, descends along Willis Creek (below). Autumn in the Alleghenies is not all sunshine and often a chilling fall rain reminds one that winter is not far in the future. Amid just such a blustery autumn rain, CSX SD40-2 8472 and a sister are working the bucolic Salisbury branch (above and below), pulling toward Shaw for another load of Pennsylvania bituminous coal. The autumn weather is far more favorable as CSX GP38-2 2791 works another Sand Patch source of coal tonnage at Wilson Creek on the S&C Subdivision near Rockwood, Pennsylvania. An autumn dusk has fallen at Hyndman, Pennsylvania as a lineside Chessie System caboose serves as a ghostly reminder of Sand Patch’s rich and historic past (above), while on the nearby east slope a CSX manifest drops down Sand Patch amid the last rays of an October eve, demonstrating yet again the siren song of railroading and the Alleghenies in autumn (below).