An Evening and a Morning at the Iron Triangle
Fostoria, Ohio, April 2016
Elsewhere on this Web site, on the page Crossroads of the B. & O., I tell the story of the evening and morning that my friend George Hiotis and I spent in Deshler, Ohio, in April of 2016, on our way back from Chicago and the annual conference of the Center for Railroad Photography & Art. We had gone there, as we had gone to a number of locations on our odyssey, to photograph the town's diamond crossings. Deshler has two diamonds, where a now-single-track former Baltimore & Ohio line crosses the still-double-track ex-B. & O. main line. Fostoria, where the ex-B. & O. main crosses the two-track former Nickel Plate Road main (now Norfolk Southern) and also an ex-Chesapeake & Ohio two-track main, and both of these latter also cross each other, has 13 diamonds -- an embarrassment of riches.
Of course, in the old days, when two additional steam railroads came through town, Fostoria had somewhere around 32 diamonds, so perhaps we had arrived a little late. This map shows the town and its five railroads in 1909.
This modern map, from RailfanGuides.us, shows what remains and what we have lost.
We arrived in Fostoria in mid-morning, having left Deshler, only 25 miles away, to the west, during a lull in traffic. On our way into town, we got sidetracked at a unique stone tower, part of the municipal water supply, and after some reconnoitering at trackside we checked into the local public library, an extraordinary stone structure whose 1968 addition has Travertine marble walls thin enough that they let light into the stacks. We admired this feature of the building, found some railroad books on the shelves (I chose one about the C. & O.), sat down to read them, and promptly fell asleep; I guess all of the early mornings and late nights we had put in on this trip finally caught up with us.
By mid afternoon, we had revived, and we made our first photographs at the west end of the Triangle, where the former B. & O. and Nickel Plate mains crossed a couple of hundred feet west of the B. & O. depot, now in use as a base by CSX maintenance crews.
We found the geometry of the diamonds quite engrossing.
Fairly well kept, the depot deserved our attention too. I made this photo of it facing away from the diamonds in the photos above; in the distance, one can make out the "Christmas tree" array of signals, as George called them, controlling the crossing of the former C. & O. at the far end of the Triangle.
We would come back to the depot and these diamonds later in the day; in the middle of the afternoon we decamped to the east end of the Triangle -- actually, to the north of its east end, where a former C. & O. signal gantry still protects the CSX-NS crossing, just south of North Street and the abandoned New York Central station. Back at the peak of rail traffic nationally, circa 2006, something like 160 trains a day passed through Fostoria; even a decade later, as the economy crawled out of the Great Recession, we did not lack for trains.
In the going-away photo, made from the edge of North Street, the former C. & O. station appears just ahead of the lead diesel unit, up past the Sandusky Street crossing; it now serves for CSX maintenance-of-way storage.
With the light improving throughout the early evening, we bounced back and forth between the B. & O. depot at Main Street and the New York Central depot at North Street; we saw this CSX trailer train speed westbound at a few minutes past 7 p.m., banging the NS diamonds and heading for the sunset in a cloud of incomplete combustion.
As the sun dropped towards the horizon, the NS-CSX diamonds lit up like their eponymous jewels.
We went back yet again to North Street, stopping on the way to photograph the former Fostoria Incandescent Lamp Company building on South Poplar Street, hard by the B. & O. tracks and now the headquarters for the Sandy Creek Mining Company, purveyors of "wholesale mining equipment and products used in gemstone panning to tourist attractions around the world. . . . Your bottom line after the recovery of equipment costs in the first year will be approximately 1/3 for product cost, and 2/3 for gross profit. School teachers will love you and your operation. Our mining equipment provides both education and a great hands-on participatory activity for kids." Did the Delaware River Railroad Excursions buy their mine from this outfit?
Even in its desuetude, the N.Y.C. station glowed in the sunset. NS sent a train of hoppers eastbound, and the moon rose above the remains of the C. & O. code line.
By a little after 8 o'clock, we had gone back to the B. & O. depot and the diamonds at the west end of the Triangle, where the cloudless sky glowed like molten iron.
Just after 8:30, a CSX automobile train came east.
A few minutes before 9:00, while George photographed the diamonds in the last lightof day, I photographed him from railhead height, making him the Colossus of Fostoria. Almost alone among the images from the day, I edited this one late that night in our motel room, two miles from the diamonds and just barely within sound of them.
Just after 9:00, an NS train came east, also automobile carriers; the headlights of a vehicle waiting at the Main Street crossing, and the crossing signals themselves, lit up the freight cars as they slid past just after pounding the diamonds.
Less than twenty minutes later, yet another NS train sped by eastbound; after this train we tore ourselves away and repaired to the Best Western; our alarm would go off only seven hours later.
Somewhere around 4:40 a.m., George and I dragged ourselves out of bed and headed back to the B. & O. depot, arriving in the blue predawn -- the "other blue hour" (the one that we'd bet most railfan photographers never see). I made the photo of the station and the crossing signal at 5:20, and the first train we saw on the day went by only seven minutes later. The next one, an eastbound NS automobile train, did not show up until a few minutes after 6:00, and I photographed it passing the unique crossing signal within the Triangle.
Only a few minutes later, a CSX stack train headed east into the sunrise and the Christmas tree signals. If you look carefully in the photos, you can see my breakfast cereal bowl sitting on the pavement next to the base of the crossing signal; in two weeks on the road, we rarely ate sitting in a restaurant, and probably half of the time not even sitting down.
Back at the northeastern corner of the Triangle, the rising sun illuminated some discarded trackwork, including some pieces of the diamonds themselves. Evidently replaced at a time of low scrap prices, these tons of high-performance steel lay in the weeds, slowing getting absorbed into the earth. As with so many of the diamonds we ran across, these parts had all gotten custom-made for the location, since the tracks do not cross at a 90-degree angle.
I made these next two photos just before 7 a.m. from almost right on the edge of Columbus Avenue, which crosses both the former C. & O. and former Nickel Plate within a few feet of the two lines' diamonds. Both views look east on the Nickel Plate; Bellevue lies just over thirty miles in that direction.
Unique to Fostoria, the thirteenth diamond in town lies where two interchange tracks cross immediately outside of the Triangle itself; in this view looking south, the NS-to-CSX track comes in from the lower left, and the CSX track connecting the former C. & O. to the former B. & O. comes in from the lower right. In the middle distance, a stack train goes west on the former B. & O., making a racket across the diamonds, while beyond it a CSX Geep sits in the small former C. & O. yard. At the left, the now-closed F Tower still guards the area. Because of our reluctance to get arrested while taking pictures, we never got any closer than this to the tower and those diamonds.
A few minutes after 7:30, CSX sent a train of fracking sand south under some migrating geese, the covered hoppers making the best of all dins on the diamonds: Because of their short wheelbases and the pair of diamonds, the noise happens pretty much continuously -- not like with a train of 89-foot auto carriers, say. This train did not pass especially fast, though, so perhaps I would not call it the merriest possible din here, but I still wish I had recorded it.
As the sand train passed through the Triangle, another CSX train approached from the south.
At a few minutes past 8 o'clock, NS sent an automobile train east; I photographed it from just above the surface of Columbus Avenue, where an earlier CSX train had left behind corn from a leaking covered hopper. The still-standing C. & O. code line made an interesting shadow on the side of the train, the tail end of which had a number of flatcars loaded with stacks of truck frames.
George and I had more than 200 miles to cover by the end of the day, aiming for Pittsburgh by way of the Age of Steam Roundhouse in Sugar Creek, Ohio, so we packed up and headed east.
We'll see you somewhere else on the road.