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NRHS RailCamp East 2015 from a Camper's Perspective

NRHS RailCamp East
July 5 – 11, 2015
Story and photos by Cody McElroy - reprinted from The Timetable - September 2015.
[Editor’s Note: Each year, DCNRHS is pleased to sponsor a high school student to attend the NRHS RailCamp East with the G. Lawson Clark Memorial Scholarship. The following report was provided by this year’s RailCamper, Cody McElroy. (The July issue of The Timetable contains a profile of Cody.) Thanks to board member and NRHS National Representative Jon Baake for coordinating this year’s scholarship award.]

Sunday, “check in day”, I was so excited RailCamp had finally arrived. We met the five great counselors, the other 23 RailCamp campers, and then checked into our dormitory rooms at the University of Delaware. After dinner we went down the street a few blocks to the CSX line through Newark, DE, and attempted to see a few trains, but unfortunately nothing came by during our visit.

On Monday we went to the Amtrak Operations Center in Wilmington, DE, to learn more about railroad safety. We also got to use the Amtrak locomotive simulators. They were so much fun to operate. They had the P42-DC, ACS-64, and the Acela. We later went through the Amtrak exhibit train. After dinner back at the University of Delaware we went to the high-speed Northeast Corridor to rail fan for an hour or so.NRHS RailCamp East.

RailCampers photograph an Amtrak Acela at the Wilmington, DE, station.

On Tuesday we went back to the Amtrak Operations Center. We had lunch in the Amtrak exhibit café car. After lunch we went to the Wilmington, DE, Amtrak station. We got a tour of the dispatching room, with lots of computer monitors, and talked to an Amtrak police district captain. We waited at the station to catch our train to Union Station in Washington, D.C. Our train was powered by an ACS-64 and we rode in two Amtrak geometry cars. There were sensors, lasers, and other expensive equipment on the roof of one of them; the other had two large windows facing the rear at the end of the train. It was really cool because you could watch the tracks looking backwards.

We arrived at Union Station and got a tour of the station and the yard. We got to go into some of the employee-only areas like the control tower out in the yard. Trains were moving all around and you could see movement everywhere you looked out the windows. We got a tour of the president’s car also. We had dinner at Union Station and then we rode the Acela back to Wilmington. Our awesome top speed was a reported 129.5 MPH, almost 130!

On Wednesday we went to Strasburg, PA, and got a tour of the Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania. We spent the whole day at the museum learning about the different pieces the museum has in its extensive collection and we even got to go inside some of the cabs. We also went into their locomotive restoration shop and were given the opportunity to assist in a restoration as the group performed tasks such as sanding on a project. I love the older trains and their history, so this was a fun day for me as well. The HO model display was awesome and I was given the opportunity to drive a model locomotive train on the layout.

Pennsylvania Railroad 4-8-2 M1 Mountain #6755 at the Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania in Strasburg, PA.

HO model display at the Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania in Strasburg, PA.

On Thursday we went to Strasburg again and visited the Strasburg Railroad. They had a steam locomotive running that day, a former Canadian National 2-6-0 #89. We were able to give signals to the engineer of a switcher unit that was coupling and uncoupling the freight car to the locomotive. We also did some hands-on track maintenance such as replacing three ties, six plates, and eight spikes. I got to pound a spike into the plate and pull one out which I got to keep as a souvenir. We also got to drive the mini one-foot-gauge railroad steam engine. It looks like a large model train, but even a locomotive that small was still coal burning. They had coal buckets under the seat on the tender. We had a nice dinner at a local sandwich shop before heading back to Newark.

On Friday we went back to the Strasburg PRR museum for our assigned presentations on the snowplow, the GG1, and two other museum pieces. Later, we went over to the Strasburg Railroad again where they had two steam engines operating: locomotives #89 and #475. One was for the regular visitors and one was in service just for us! We got a ride in a private coach car pulled by #475 to go down their short line to pick up some revenue freight cars that Norfolk Southern dropped off for the Strasburg Railroad to pick up. They use steam to haul freight, which I found fascinating to witness in this current century. We picked up the freight next to the Keystone Corridor. The coach car was used as a caboose. I heard they were thinking about putting us on a caboose but there were 24 of us so they had to get a coach car instead.

After that we got to enjoy one thing that not many people get to do. We each got a cab ride in steam locomotive #475! That was a very exciting experience. Later, we had dinner at the Red Caboose restaurant down the street. It also is a motel with a gift shop. Each motel room is a real caboose and the restaurant is a coach car. We got to see steam locomotive #89 go by while we were there. We then traveled back in the vans to Newark. They rented three vans for the week for our use. The van trips were great – swapping stories and telling railroad jokes. Later, the campers and counselors all enjoyed a movie on our final evening. On Saturday, “pick up day”, we all said goodbye and received a great book on railroads.

RailCampers with Strasburg Railroad #475. RailCampers were given a cab ride in this locomotive.

For any teen that likes or has an interest in railroading, I would recommend going to RailCamp to experience exciting railroad-related activities that not many people get to do. My special thanks go to the DCNRHS and to the RailCamp 2015 counselors.

About Cody

Our camper, Cody McElroy, was selected competitively  from a pool of applicants that exceeded the available spaces. Cody noted in his application that he has been  fascinated by trains as long as he can remember. He is a member of a local model railroad club and has both HO and N scale home layouts. He is a Star rank Boy Scout and his very first merit badge was railroading. He has taken hundreds of train pictures and videos rail side while watching Norfolk Southern and CSX action near home, and during visits to Horseshoe Curve in Altoona, PA, the Rochelle Railroad Park diamonds and Blue Island in Illinois, and the Iron Triangle RailPark in Fostoria, OH. He has photographed all 7 class I railroads, 1 class II, and 6 short line railroads, always conducting himself in a safe manner and observing property lines.

Cody has ridden Amtrak coast to coast as well as the Amtrak California route from San Francisco to Los  Angeles. With the help of his supportive parents, he has also ridden the Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad, the Grand Canyon Railway, and many local tourist railroads. In addition, he has visited and attended events at most all railroad museums ranging from the B&O Railroad Museum in Baltimore, MD, to the Brunswick Heritage Museum in Brunswick, MD, and to the North Carolina Transportation Museum in Spencer, NC. Cody is a dedicated train enthusiast and states that, after college, he will be seeking employment in the railroad industry as a top career choice.

reprinted from The Timetable - July 2015 profile by Jon Baake