Riding the D&H Sharks: By Jay Winn

It all started one day in late 1974,when I was approached by a friend with a proposal for me to paint up some sharknose models in D&H colors for the D&H to review. At the time I had only heard rumors to the effect that the D&H had indeed purchased or more accurately swapped scrap value for, a couple of old NYC sharknoses (RF16’s) which had been working out their second reincarnation on the Monongahela Ry. The deal was that I would paint a couple of models with proposed D&H paint schemes for review, utilizing standard D&H colors, lettering and logos (I owned and operated a custom model train shop at the time). There were ultimately 3 models/schemes produced, each in a different proposed D&H scheme and at this point, the story gets long and complicated.

Since this tale is not the real subject of this essay, suffice it to say I painted the models for the D&H and my personal connection with the D&H sharks was firmly established. As a direct result I made a few acquaintances (that is I was able to meet them) on the D&H; notably Marv Davis, Chief Road Foreman of Engines and Bruce Sterzing, President and CEO, and I developed a passion for the D&H sharks, (ultimately painted in a scheme I had helped to create).

One day a few months later, in the summer of 1975, I was chasing the sharks and found that they were working the “Sayre Job”, a local freight from Binghamton, NY to Sayre, PA and return. Two of my friends and I went to Sayre and waited for them to arrive there. They finally showed up and with a fairly substantial train. Then the locomotives were cut off to prepare for the run back to Binghamton. As I followed them to a point near the south end of the station, who to my surprise, popped out of the engineer’s cab window but Marv Davis. After a short conversation he invited me up into the cab for a look around. Once inside,I took pictures of everything; the interior details of 1205’s cab, the front view out the windshield, Marv and anything else that looked interesting as I was indeed quite excited and I wanted to be sure to memorialize this event on film.

Then as they were preparing to head back to Binghamton and I was about to get off, Marv mentioned that when they got back to Binghamton, he and the sharks were tentatively scheduled for pusher duty up Belden Hill, and that I was welcome to ride along with him. Without hesitation I assured him that I would surely like that. As I drove back to Binghamton I could think of nothing else. A ride on the Sharks!!!. I considered how I could make a record this experience and was real glad that I had decided to take along my tape recorder (audio, not many could afford video those days, especially me) in addition to my constant companion, a 35 mm Honeywell SP500, on this trip.

We then went to D&H’s Bevier Street yard and waited for the return of the sharks from their trip to Sayre. After what seemed to us to be at least 3 forevers, they came trundling up the runner and stopped in front of the yard office, and can you believe it, in bright afternoon sunlight (as rare for Binghamton, NY then as it still is today). After we took pictures I set up the tape recording equipment to capture the Baldwins’ slow RPM idle, that along with the chirps, burbles, wheezes and thumps, unmistakably identified the two silver and blue warbonnet diesels as progeny of Eddystone. Once you have experienced the beat of the Baldwin 608A prime mover, especially up this close, you will never forget it. After we took all the pictures we could afford we prepared to board the lead unit, 1205. The “we” are: myself and another rail fan “Dave”. The other third of our party, “Doug”, elected to chase the train by auto and pick us up after we cut off the train at or near the tunnel at the top of the grade.

We then boarded the lead unit # 1205 and looked around the cab. As I studied the inside of the spartan cab, I thought about the history and heritage of this well worn and much traveled unit. This unit started out life as New York Central 3805 in1951, worked the New York Central System out of Dewitt, NY for a number of years and then was transferred to Beech Grove, Indiana for the remainder of her service on the NYC. She was renumbered to NYC 1205 prior to the PC merger and then dead lined, I believe, in 1966, around and slightly before the actual merger. Then in late 1967 she got reincarnated along with a number of other sister units (eleven of them) when they were sold, to the power starved Monongahela Railway as operating units, (nine for operations, and two for parts) where they retained their 1200 numbers. Now who but a Baldwin Diesel loving coal hauler who knew all there was to know about the rugged and heavy haul units, would have done such a thing? And the Monongahela used them; as the NYC before it, on slow speed heavy haul drag freights and coal trains. Predictably over the next few years, one by one they succumbed to ailments from which there is no economical return. Typically crankcase and crankshaft problems led the assault. This situation was further aggravated by the exit of both Baldwin and Westinghouse from the locomotive business. By late 1972 only 1205 and 1216 remained serviceable, but remained largely unused until they went to a scrapper in early 1974. Then in mid 1974 the D&H made a deal for these last two operable ones; the 1216 (former NYC 3816) and the 1205 (NYC 3805), the one we were standing in. Neither was perfect, and they both were well past their prime; actually 1205 had a cracked crankcase, a condition that proved to be a continuous nagging problem. But all that aside here we were inside a living dinosaur, literally the last of her kind, save her sister (1216) coupled on behind. The cab was dark, somewhat gloomy and very noisy. A mere few feet behind where we were standing the 1205’s 608A heart was beating away, just like the day she was born over 24 years previously, and she was making quite a racket. It seemed decibels louder now that we were actually inside the beast and were also experiencing the accompanying vibrations. The crew, which consisted of Marv and at least two others were carrying on a conversation at “shout” volume, but otherwise seemed quite nonplussed by the din. The radio chatter and discussions about signals, train orders, form D’s and such, just added to what already seemed like controlled chaos; and it was all picked up by my trusty recorder sitting on the cab floor. The recorder caught up in the chaos was also vibrating in tune with the rumbling prime mover in the back. I became concerned that the vibrations and high noise level were going to have a negative effect on the quality of my audio recordings. (An accurate and well founded fear as it turned out). So my solution to this problem was to cut out the condenser mikes and plug in a wind mike I had brought along for just such an eventuality. As for just how the recording was doing, I had no way to tell. I was in effect flying blind here as since I had finite battery life (no spares) and didn’t want to waste any power trying to rewind and then listen to what I was taping. I also didn’t think to bring a headset with me for monitoring as I taped so I just crossed my fingers and taped away. As we sat there waiting for clearance to move to the train we were assigned to shove up Belden Hill, I did experiment a bit and discovered that if I leaned out the fireman’s door I could hand hold the mike right next to the main engine exhaust on the roof. This I reasoned would result in great sound, especially while shoving up the grade. After some discussion I was allowed to stand in the door opening as long as the safety chain was in place and I agreed to keep my right shoulder inside and wedged in the doorway. The doorway is a real headbanger (short) so this was easy to do. Then we just sat and waited (I shut off the recorder from time to time to conserve battery life). As we sat and chatted, (shouted) Marv explained the workings of the controls. To say that the control panel was “Spartan” would be a massive understatement. Actually it looked like a piece of sheet steel that had holes cut in it for gauges and that was it. Suddenly without warning, the din of the engine idling dramatically increased in volume, in what seemed to be at least five fold, and then as quickly as it had come it decreased again to the former, just plain loud, level. Someone had just entered the cab from 1205’s engine compartment and then slammed the door behind him. It was George Hockaday, and he was shouting (we all were shouting) something to the effect that 1205 had “Used a whole glass of oil going to Sayre and back”. It reminded us of the fact that 1205 had a cracked crankcase that was welded numerous times in an attempt to keep it oil tight. It was made of cast steel and welding was not a perfect solution, but apparently the only one available at the time. I only assume that he had refilled it or whatever was required as no one made any effort to take the engine out of service. I was relieved, as I had initially feared that my, once in a lifetime, trip was in danger of being derailed by a cranky shark, with a leaky crankcase, or more appropriately a dinosaur with heart trouble. As quickly as he had appeared George whirled and dove back into the 1205’s innards, in a cacophony of extra sound that quickly diminished when the engine room door slammed shut once again. Only then did I realize how noisy Baldwin’s standard prime mover, the 608A, really was, and this at mere idle. The 608A was Baldwin’s last iteration of their much-used 8 cylinder, 1600 rated hp prime mover. It was a behemoth; the eight, inline cylinders were each over 12 inches in diameter and at top speed they rumbled along at 625 RPM. Although it was a much-modified 1930’s design it was respected by many as; tough, reliable and underrated. (It was said to have actually produced 1750 hp).

After what seemed like about 3 more forevers we watched as the power of the northbound grain train pulled slowly alongside us with his long string of look alike 100 ton covered hoppers. The power consisted of 4 big U-Boats, 2 U33Cs and 2 U30C’s. Soon we were given permission to pull ahead, clear the switch then, back down the lead so that we could cut in behind the now waiting grain train. I took my post in the doorway with the mike near the stack as we drifted back down the runner at just slightly above idle. Marv struggled to see the dwarf signal and mentioned that “These were the worst damn engines to make a backup move that I have ever been on” Eventually we tucked in behind our train (We now learned that this unit grain train weighed in at well over 8000 tons). After tying on to the caboose (an International car company full bay) and cutting in the air we were ready to go.

I then repositioned myself in the doorway with mike next to the stack in anticipation of the start. When it came I was not disappointed, and the low speed idle rolled right up to a steady thruup, thruup thruup. It was much slower than a 2 cycle EMD and even slower than an ALCO 244 but for a Baldwin 608A with top RPM of about 625, it was run 8. I stayed in position in the fireman’s doorway, all the way to and past Nolan Road. I am sure much to the chagrin of the rail fans who must have been dismayed to find their pictures contaminated by a guy hanging out the door of the lead helper unit with his arm in the air. Well it couldn’t be helped as I was bent getting the tape recording of a lifetime. After a while, and a few hard miles, my arm got tired and I did want to save some battery for the cut off at Tunnel so I moved inside shut off the recorder and listened to Marv discuss the virtues and drawbacks of these Baldwin locomotives. Part way through a dissertation on their low speed lugging power he said…. Watch this!! Then, with a twinkle in his eye, he gently, almost imperceptively, eased the throttle forward until the ammeter was well into the red.. and then said, “ now listen for the radio”. Sure enough in a very short time the radio crackled … with a call.. “Head end of ???? (our train) to Marv.” Marv said “go ahead” “hey Marv what is going on back there? We have slack at the engines!” Marv said “ok” and eased the throttle back. We had actually been pushing the entire 8000 plus ton train with the two old Baldwin sharks up a major grade and they didn’t seem to even be breathing hard. It was quite a demonstration and as Marv said later, there was no further illustration of the legendary Baldwin “lugging power” required. I spent the rest of the trip up the hill alternating between taking pictures from every angle imaginable and taping the sound. I think at one point we were close to or at the advertised 625 RPM, as the old Baldwins soldiered on up the hill with nary a complaint.

As we neared the top we were told that the plan was to cut off on the fly, so I fired up the tape recorder again for the last couple of miles. As we neared the highway crossing at the south portal I watched as the rear end brakeman appeared on the rear deck of the caboose and soon was cutting the air to the pushers and pulling the pin on the rear coupler of the caboose. At the same time Marv eased back on the throttle and the train parted and pulled away from the now slowing sharks. We drifted to a stop just south of the highway grade crossing, with the 1216 and 1205 burbling away contentedly as if they hadn’t a care in the world. The incredible and unlikely combination of sharks and sunshine had conspired to bring out the railfans in droves. I continued to tape the engine idle as the head end brakeman went to the lineside phone to find out from the dispatcher if we were going to go through the tunnel and wait for a southbound to push up from Nineveh or just return back to Binghamton. The verdict was “back to Binghamton” so with a couple of quick toots on the old time “blaat” air horn we rapidly accelerated a few hundred feet north towards the tunnel. There we would cross over so that we could proceed southbound, back to Binghamton. I taped our crossover move from inside the cab and then got off the units to take pictures and sound recordings from the ground. We thanked Marv for the opportunity to ride the sharks and then watched as the rare pair drifted downgrade towards Binghamton with just a hint of exhaust and no sound. We then elected to ride back to Binghamton with my friend in the car. I had actually had quite enough of the constant din that had been our accompanist for the last hour or so. My head was literally ringing for an hour. It was a great adventure for me but clearly it was just the everyday grind for Marv and the D&H crew. I think I would be much less enthused if I had to do this on a daily basis.

I saw the sharks on a few more occasions after that but never had the opportunity to see Marv again before he retired. He was certainly Mr. D&H., the consummate gentleman. I of course have my memories of that day some 26 years ago. Oh yes lest we forget.… The tapes… As it happened the tape recorder batteries only lasted about 10 minutes more after I got off the locos at Tunnel. It was just enough to tape them returning down the hill. Talk about timing!!! The recordings that we made that day were of mixed quality… outside idle in Binghamton was real good, the on the cab floor stuff was noisy but still reasonably discernible, including the voices of Marv and George H. The hand held stuff taken in the cab was better and the out the door stuff was quite good. I listen to them often and relive the adventure again and again. I have edited the approximately 1 ½ hour of raw tape down into a concentrated (30 minute) tape that is now part of the RR audio collection I market. I also took dozens of slides from and in the cab and all are quite presentable. So, not only did I have the ride of a lifetime, I managed to preserve much of it on film and audio tape, all through the good graces of Marv Davis and the D&H sharks. It was indeed my lucky day.
Jay Winn

Postscript. In 1977 a government sponsored shakeup in the management of the D&H resulted in the termination of all programs with outdated or “orphan” power and the sharks were sold to the Castolite Corp in Michigan. From there they went to the Escabana and lake Superior Ry, and once again entered revenue service sometime in late 1977 or 1978. Soon after the 1205 suffered a potentially catastrophic crankshaft failure and was sidelined. 1216 soldiered on for a number of years making her last run in Feb 1982, when she was stored serviceable along with the 1205, which was still waiting for the engine overhaul that never came. Both remain in storage at some location in Michigan to this day, as far as anyone knows.


* Sharks… For those of you unfamiliar with the term “Sharknose” as it applies to railway locomotives a brief explanation is in order. Sharknose was the term applied to certain specific Baldwin Locomotive Works diesel locomotives due to their rakish streamlining that included a very striking nose profile. I don’t think it was official, but it stuck. The BP20, 6 axle passenger unit and the RF16, and DR-4-4-15, 4 axle freight units were known as “sharknoses” or sometimes shortened to just plain “sharks”.

     

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Last updated: 29 January, 2011


Information supplied by Jay Winn , John A. Shaw, Neil C. Hunter and the Bridge Line Historical Society
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