The Panhandle Volume One : C&N Division- Penn Central- Conrail- B&O


Producer: Clear Block

Locations: Columbus, Newark, Ohio

Timeframe: 1970’s- 1991

Length: 60 Minutes

Sources: Paul Geiger, Bob Sherwood

Penn Central and Conrail, are the main railroads featured here. Baltimore and Ohio is also a joint trackage railroad operator, for 35 miles.


The Panhandle, was an old nickname for what much later, was to become Penn Central territory. Between Pittsburgh, Columbus, St. Louis and Chicago.

This show covers the portion from Columbus to Newark. In depth historical information, is given via the narrative. Later series, Panhandle Volumes cover additional portions, of the involved routes.


An older show in the Clear Block catalog. Dates back to the VHS tape era of commercial release. Unrestored and definitely showing it’s age.


Film quality is fair overall. Plenty of scenes need color correction. Here again, a distortion bar!! This show has it at the bottom of the screen. Some Clear Block shows include these distortions.


Although Penn Central paint dominates the program. Early Conrail patch jobs appear. As do, these former Erie Lackawanna SD45 units.


Viewers are watching silent films, with narration and musical background. Only a 1991 update offers any live train sound. Not a badly put together show. It does have it’s share of serious flaws.


Primitive maps, by more modern standards. Better to have, these simple maps versus nothing. They do the job.


Bob Sherwood does the busy narration. Descriptive of nearly every scene. That encompasses a very large quantity of rather brief scenes!


Amtrak takes a significant chunk of time. Centered around the Columbus Union Terminal. The old one is closed. This runs past it’s welcome. Feels like filler. Watching Amtrak trains back into and around the station area. Yawn…


At this time, demolition is near or in progress, for many structures. This would be the rarity of the program.


Some limited cab ride sequences appear. They are quick glimpses.


Paul Geiger was a Towerman on the Penn Central. Some of those unique viewpoints are seen in this show. Tower views, yard access and wreck scene. Likely, including the locomotive cabs for those views.


The Mail Train. In various incarnations. America’s mail once moved mostly by rail. Remember Air Mail?


Majority of the program is trackside filmed action. ATVR tidbit… Southern Pacific units were run through power.


B&O, C&O diesels provide additional variety. Trackage rights territory.


Sharp eyes will observe the obvious Baltimore and Ohio architecture.

Interesting to note. Baltimore and Ohio lineside structures. Pennsylvania signals. A unique combination reflecting the dual operation of The Panhandle. See the narrative.


A 1991 update brings the program to a close. Further demolition of the once dominant rail system is shown. Downsized to single track and double track operation. Removed yard. An interesting, if unwanted conclusion.


This early works from Clear Block is very outdated now. It is badly in need of a remaster. As the featured railroads are available in much better quality elsewhere. It would really only be for hardcore railfans or completists.

Rating: 2 1/2 Stars


The Hard Coal Roads: what went wrong

The Hard Coal Roads: what went wrongD143

Charles Smiley Presents

Format: Factory Pressed DVD

Length: 1 hour 40 minutes + 20 minutes previews

Time Period: 1970- 1976

Sources: Joseph Zook, Jack Kuiphoff, Will Whittaker.

MSRP: 28.50

Charles has the Eastern hard coal roads featured in the pre-Conrail era. This new program, contains a cornucopia of rare, and unreleased film. Featured railroads: Lehigh Valley, Reading, Jersey Central, Erie Lackawanna, Delaware and Hudson, plus Penn Central. There are also some connecting lines. Railfans will see an action packed show!

rs3Central Railroad of New Jersey. Red Baron paint scheme on an Alco RS3.

Much of the film has hard to find footage, in high quality. This collection surpasses anything that I have seen for the first three railroads. Face the facts, LV, RDG and CNJ are usually available in grainy, unrestored issues. They didn’t capture the attention of railfan cinematographers very much.

1919Riding a hard coal train in the year………….. 1919.

Hard coal… anyone?.. The answer is Anthracite coal… What went wrong?…Why are there nearly zero coal trains in this program?…. How does this lead into Conrail?….. Watch this show.

rdg5209Reading Lines had a unique, cab roof rain gutter over the cab windows. Number 5209 is a Century 424. It leans into a superelevated curve.

dh610Alco Centuries were part of the D&H Alco heavy roster. The lightning stripe livery, is a true classic. Number 610 is a C628. At 2750 horsepower, it was a powerful locomotive. One of three that still exist. This one survives at a museum in Mexico.

lv635Lehigh Valley C-628 in the stunning Snowbird scheme.

Alcophiles will love all of that builders diesels in use by these railroads. Plenty of Electromotive too.

pc tansboroCharles is also a talented model railroader. He has an eye for including scenes that are conducive to the hobby. Note all of the details in this scene. Structure, signals, rural crossing etc..


All six railroads benefit from Mr. Smiley’s extensive digital restoration. The colors are accurate. Images and the trains seem to jump off the screen.

cnjrsd5Jersey Central with a pair of Alco RSD-5 locomotives. Passenger trains are sometimes operating with leased power. Some unrepainted, second hand cars are surprising.

The audio levels are well balanced. The narrative and train sounds have even levels. There are various musical pieces interpolated throughout the show.

dh trackageAlways improving his products, check the updated maps. D&H with trackage rights.

bmAll CSP shows have nice surprises. A railroad that is hard to find, Boston & Maine.

elErie Lackawanna receives extensive coverage. All have their historical background described. Viewers will have an understanding of the regional big picture.

rdg map


A meticulous producer. Location awareness is always a priority. Using: narration, text graphics and a fabulous array of maps to enhance the story.

pc4603 e33Penn Central electric operations are one facet of the vast railroad.

el tuxedo

A 20 minute preview section is included. Total time is 2 hours. Man, I like the looks of Northeast Rails. Conrail fans will find plenty in these previews.

lv neThe USRA Northeast caboose is all over the show! Visible on different roads, in assorted liveries. Watch for these gems.

The Hard Coal Roads: what went wrong. I have watched the program and heard the history. Any railfan or model railroader should find this an enjoyable sojourn on these fallen flags. Extremely interesting and has the rarity factor. In short, this exemplary show is a must have!

Rating: 5 Stars

#Railroad#Train#LehighValley#Reading#JerseyCentral#ErieLackawanna#DelawareAnd Hudson#AmericanTrainVideoReviews

Blue Twilight

Blue Twilightblue_twilight

Revelation Video

Length: 63 minutes

Time Period: 1976- 1999

Locations: Horseshoe Curve, Conway Yard, Berea, and more

Sources: Ronald McElrath,  Rick Varga, Vaughn Neel

Conrail is covered from inception to past it’s conclusion. Assorted old film and videotape are assembled into a hodgepodge mixture; of locations and operations. Mainly, the action is in Ohio and Pennsylvania. Horseshoe Curve is a regular hotspot, with visits which begin in 1976 on this release.

1Similar to previous Revelation Video shows, they bounce around numerous snippets. Quality can range from murky to clear. Composition also differs. Often, there are shots that are just too close of a passing train. Others are too distant. Yet, some are fine. Viewers will be on a detailed yard visit, and instantly transported aboard a passenger train. Bright summer turns to winter, and back again. Old newspaper clippings and nearly unreadable maps appear at times. You never know what is next. Most of it is interesting, if not pretty.

crA visit to Conway Yard is one of the first orders of business. Tower, hump and action.

cw                                      Black and Blue enter Conway Yard.

Random elements are part of the experience of this show.  Ron McElrath narrates his own shows. The man is knowledgeable about railroads. Overall, the presentation wanders around Ohio and returns to Horseshoe area. He does convey good background and steadies the boat with specifics.

rs3mAlco RS3m in the early 1980’s. This video period doesn’t look good on this show.

Quantity rules over quality, as far as source footage. Viewers will see a plethora of scenes. The sheer volume of scenes will include some rarities. Locations and years are always noted by narration. Audio tends to be live sound on video. Old 8mm film will have vinyl sourced musical background.

rdggp35Reading GP35 pair with 2 Conrail GE units in 1976. Location is Horseshoe Curve, PA. Dismal quality film collection from 1976. Penn Central, Erie Lackawanna, Lehigh Valley locomotives are all found here. There isn’t a big supply of ’76 or early ’80’s included.

berea1Berea, Ohio is a prominent hotspot in this show. There is a wide variety of run through power. Most of the larger railroads can be found. Union Pacific, BNSF, CNW and Illinois Central are some. Amtrak also appears. The later footage is the best of this program.hudsonoh.lastone                                 Hudson, Ohio. The last train there, on the final day of Conrail.

nssThe show generally follows the timeline. Norfolk Southern becoming ever more predominant.

conwayBlue Twilight is an interesting, if somewhat rough around the edges show. This is in the realm of amateur train videos. Appears to be a direct VHS tape transfer. There are Conrail shows with much higher quality out there. Experienced railfans who seek additional Conrail in their collections should find this an adequate, though not essential program.

Rating: 2 1/2 Stars

Chicago Odyssey Volume 2

Chicago Odyssey Volume 2

Green Frog Productions

Format: 2 DVD set

Length: 2 1/2 hours

Time period: 1962- 1973

Locations: Chicago area

Source: Emery Gulash (16mm)

This program picks up where Volume One left off. Emery Gulash and his cameras are at Chicago. The later time period offers up a timeframe that many will remember. If the 1950’s is before your time, by a decade or so, this will be the one for you.

Emery Gulash is an original master of train videos. He was out doing these splendid films at just the right time. Who knew that so much of all this, would pass into history? Maybe Emery knew, having witnessed the disappearance of steam. An extremely well-traveled man. Here we visit Chicago in multiple trips. Various years have us see some of the changes in the ten years of railfanning at this mega hub of United States railroading.

These are top shelf films from this master cinematographer. As usual, Green Frog has excellent production values. A fine script, good edits, and lovely film.

By the way, there are quite a few Odyssey titles that are reviewed on ATVR. Fine series!

Bob Carrera’s narration is informative and interesting. Natural sounds are included at the right moments. A few missed identifications on locomotives. Only noticeable to those that are aware.

A chapter menu divides by years and locations.

Film quality is superb. Besides the clarity of the 16mm film, it is all color. The colors are well balanced. The images are very clean. Excellent audio compliments the film.

Many of the classic roads that served Chicago are presented in this volume. ATSF, BN, CB&Q, CNW, GM&O, IC, Rock, Milw, GTW, C&O, B&O, EJ&E, PC, ICG, Soo, IHB, South Shore, and Amtrak. Others get cameos like Southern Pacific and Union Pacific.

Let’s begin with the first disc highlights of this 2 DVD set.

April ’62 begins with Milwaukee Road and Chicago and Nortwestern action at Noble Street Tower. Some old ‘400’ CNW equipment is seen. The CNW commuters looked about  the same, up until the early 1980’s. At Deerfield, Milwaukee Road freight with orange/maroon F-units and an RS-3. Rondout Jct., with Milwaukee Road and EJ&E centercabs.

January of 1963 and zero degrees show why Chicago is too cold in the winter.

March of ’67 at Joliet. GM&O Abraham Lincoln and a Santa Fe freight on a cold, March day. GM&O, The Limited climbs a grade.

May ’70 at Morton Grove. Milwaukee passenger trains. This part drags the show. CNW at Wilmette. More passengers and double deckers. Repetitive.

Milwaukee Road F7’s in orange/ black lead a thru freight. A local with an SW7 moves next.

Burlington Route passengers are now BN, but you can’t tell. A BN painted E8 leads a mixed consist, at Hinckley. More BN freight trains, in various paint are viewed.

At Lemont, the GM&O with the Abraham Lincoln rolls thru town. The stone station dates from 1853.

Grand Trunk Western puts on a parade at Oak Glen. Old green/ gold runs with newer black/ orange. Both resemble owner Canadian National paint schemes.

Blue Island is a very busy crossing. Much action is seen here. Indiana Harbor Belt, Grand Trunk, and B&O. Rock Island shows up too. A Milwaukee Road freight, a Penn Central train and a couple of B&O switcher transfers. Lots of first generation power. Classic freight cars complete the satisfying chapter.

Back to Gulf, Mobile & Ohio in Lemont.

Burlington Northern is still a new entity. The renumbered units are still in original owner paint.

Emery frequented Lemont. Santa Fe was another railroad that ran through Lemont. Emery picks up some warbonnet F’s on a passenger train. Joliet was further out on that line. Emery shoots plenty of action at Joliet. He gets the El Capitain behind some FP45 units. The San Francisco Chief arrives behind F7’s. A trio GP20’s were on point of a freight. A classic Santa Fe caboose brings up the markers. There is more at Lemont. Check the ATSF train sattion there.

Willow Springs is a short sequence. This was the next town up the line from Lemont. Five GP20’s on a manifest freight train. Super Chief behind FP 45’s. Yes, they are warbonnets.

Illinois Central green electric cars look like antiques! Illinois Central provides a surprise, with a freight. A South Shore electric crosses this Kensington Junction. Another surprise is an IC E8A, lettered for Central of Georgia, with a passenger train.

Griffith Jct. has some more action. Grand Trunk trains and C&O GP9’s on a freight.

Amtrak in Transition shows the ragtag collection off cast off equipment in early times. Back to ICRR in Chicago. New and old electrics. Passenger cars, and freight. Good chapter.

That concludes this great first disc. This is the best one in the set, by a longshot!

Here is most of disc 2…… Passenger trains.

A long segment of the old CTA on the Dan Ryan….yawn.                                                  Soo Line has a single freight train, with a single locomotive.                                             Soo Line has one more freight, much later.

Illinois Central Gulf in ’73, provides some badly needed balance here. Even the vintage TOFC train looks great. SW’s pull a transfer, with a red ICRR side door caboose.

Burlington Northern at busy Clyde Yard, not Cicero yard with a single freight.

Back to the passenger trains around the city. Some fine shots, Rock Island, Penn Central E8’s with refurbished Amtrak cars. A few impressive bridges add interest on this otherwise, excessive passenger segment. Light engine moves are sweet!

While the first disc is well balanced with some passenger emphasis. The second disc almost lacks freight entirely! Too bad. The freights in those years are real classics.

The breakdown on this set. Great first disc. The second disc is much too heavy on the Amtrak transition. A rather repetitious second disc. Still, it is all Emery Gulash.

Rating: 4 Stars

Conrail Hall of Fame

Conrail Hall of Fame                                

Charles Smiley Presents

Format: DVD (Factory Pressed Disc)

Length: 2 hours 20 minutes

Time Period: 1976- 1997

Locations: Selkirk, Altoona, Cresson, MG Tower, Horseshoe Curve, Hudson River, Gallitzin, Lewistown, Reading, Secaucus, Ridgeway Jct., Cleveland, Buffalo, and more..

Sources: Tim Hosey (96-97), Jack Kuiphoff (76-78), Tom Luckey (88-92).

MSRP: 29.50

Newest, 2011 Release

Charles Smiley Presents programs are modern classics.

Most important are the high quality films. Digital processing assures us of the best possible image from the source tape. Synchronized sound, and a natural sounding environment, bring the trains to life. Attention is brought, to a wealth of historical information. Often, he has intriguing information of a railroads inner workings.

Judicious use of his custom-made maps, keep viewer awareness of: location, elevation, routes and direction. Smart and effective narration holds the many elements together. On-screen graphics offer even more information. Extended program lengths . More costly to produce, the glass mastered DVD’s are of highest quality.

The many bonus extras add additional value to the shows.

Conrail 2973 is a General Electric U36B. This is a former Auto Train locomotive.

A scenic area is at MG Tower, as depicted on the map, a highlight segment of the program. Maps are plentiful and frequently referenced, to keep viewers well informed.

Focusing on a much-needed Conrail history, this one fills a considerable gap in American train videos. There are many Conrail videos available. This one has the major advantage of including a complete look at this huge railroad. The time span alone, makes the price of admission a bargain.The value of having it on a Charles Smiley Presents is… priceless!

At nearly 2 1/2 hours, there is way too much material to cover in detail, within this review.

This is an extremely comprehensive show. The three sources cover the showcased years with excellent cinematography. There is so much to see in this show. Example: Only CSP would take the time to include a segment of Delaware & Hudson on a Conrail show!

Mainly filmed in Pennsylvania. We also have plenty of scenes in New York, and New Jersey. Even  more, Indiana and Ohio.  There is a chapter menu and a few nice previews.

As we progress through the Conrail story, Charles reviews the history of the four CEO’s. Each one, had to deal with an always evolving railroad climate. His winning formula is much like a PBS broadcast program. As a recent railroad overall, the historical aspects begin in the 1960’s. Additional historical material is included of course!

Charles has a fantastic viewing and an intelligent discussion on early Conrail. All of the merger roads have some locomotives to witness. Many, with hastily applied CR renumber, painted over original logos, the 1976 era version is patchwork city! Wild combinations of any road, any builder, make it impossible to guess what will be next.

This Erie Lackawanna power is from 1976! The early Conrail years have extensive coverage. It is engaging to watch the cornucopia of merger partners locomotive lash-ups.

Alco still had a presence at that time. Big engines like the C630 pulling upgrade on Horseshoe Curve in 1978 are legendary to railfans. The screenshots speak here.

Conrail had some major rebuilding programs, of it’s inherited power. Viewed in active service, former New York Central GP9, is now a GP10. This was one of those rebuilds, seen here. The camera follows this engine, with a local freight in Pennsylvania.

Plenty of General Electric built diesels, in original owner, and repainted Conrail schemes.

Conrail continues to modernize and proceeds to be a success. The 1980’s show how the road has made progress. The 1988-1992 footage documents the improved railroad.

The 1990’s see the release of third generation power. Foreign locomotives are not uncommon. Run through engines in Conrail territory. will sometimes appear. BNSF, CNW, CN and GT are some of what goes blasting by the camera. Lots of live audio and just plain fun trainwatching! Even in this late era, there is enough variety to keep us guessing.

The years of 1996- 1997 show the final years.This was the ultimate, modern Conrail, before its subsequent break-up. A fine look at a great railroad.

Once again, Charles Smiley has outdone his biggest competitor… himself!

An instant classic, Conrail Hall of Fame is the definitive work on the railroad. Action packed film, with the best coverage of: start-up to conclusion, in a single program. Everyone will enjoy this show. Even the kids will find the multitude of live action sequences a ton of fun!

If you have never viewed a Charles Smiley Presents, this is a great one, to get onboard.

If you have viewed a Charles Smiley Presents, this one is just as outstanding, as the rest.

Conrail Hall of Fame is a comprehensive release. Railfans and model railroaders will find this show to be informative and enjoyable. This is a must have for Eastern railroaders.

Rating: 5 Stars