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


Vignettes of the Jersey Central Volume 3

Vignettes of the Jersey Central Volume 3cvr

Clear Block Productions

Length: 53 minutes

Time Period: early 1960’s- 1970’s

Locations: Jersey City to Scranton (many places)

Sources: A. Angstadt, K. Bealer, W. McClennan, J. Reck, R. Wilt

MSRP: 30.00

Third volume begins at Communipaw, NJ in the early 1960’s. Freight and commuter service are covered. Nearly the entire length of Jersey Central is within this show. Five film sources were used for this program. All color presentation of 8mm sources. Todd Miller has good, but too minimal narration.

Baltimore and Ohio owned the cash strapped CNJ at this time. Plenty of hastily relettered B&O power is seen serving CNJ. Of course, regular B&O locomotives are present. Other railroad diesels are: Reading, Lehigh Valley and a little cameo of Delaware & Hudson. Also. Norfolk and Western leased F units, in assorted assignments. A few RDC scenes too.

comm                    Striking, 1st generation lashups are on the early 1960’s footage.

Clear Block has plenty of authentic train sounds to augment the old films. By builder, they sound different. Pretty good overall effect.

There are zero maps or on screen graphics. The way we travel around, increased location awareness is badly needed. A viewer can end up feeling lost.

rs                      Alco RS-3 engines operate at what looks like Allentown Yard.

Film quality is unrestored. Imagery ranges from fair to good. Sometimes, the color balance is off. Keep in mind, any vintage CNJ is hard to find.

cnj9701Vintage diesels from the various builders appear in 1st and 2nd generation models. Fairbanks Morse switchers in yard service.

bald                                   Baldwin switchers and old road units are still operating.

crane2Poor condition track is evident. Some trains rock violently and you will see a number of derailment sites. A pair of steam cranes are rerailing piggyback cars.

pushers Red Baron scheme is barely evident in this volume. This pair of Geeps are pushing this passenger move at an unknown location.

cabride The final section is a lengthy cabride on a freight from Allentown to Scranton, Pennsylvania.

hoop                Time honored practice of hooping up the orders to a passing train.

This third volume has a wide variety of CNJ film . Viewers will have to consider the unrestored nature of the show. A solid narrative would have achieved a higher score.Seems best geared for the hardcore fan. It has plenty of rare, and hard to find material. More casual fans may be disappointed. Overall, it feels like an old, early train video.

In any case, if you seek vintage Jersey Central, this is an action packed release.

Rating: 2 1/2 Stars

Steam Returns to Horseshoe Curve

Steam Returns to Horseshoe CurveSteam Returns To Horseshoe Curve

Diverging Clear

Length: 55 minutes, with bonus and previews.

Time Period: May, 2013

Locations: Lewiston, Altoona, Gallitizin and more

Sources: Mary R. McPherson, Kurt Jensen,with Tom Dunn, George Redmond

MSRP: 20.00

Memorial Day weekend, 2013. Nickel Plate Road 765 ran 3 excursion trains on former Pennsylvania Railroad tracks. Here is a chance to see this 2-8-4 steam locomotive operate over mountainous terrain. DCP utilized four video cameras to capture the action. The 3 days have been edited into a single trip over the line from Lewiston to Gallitizin Tunnels. Historical footage has been included and has film from as early as 1900.

This was the first steam power allowed to run here since 1977. The special is followed in a roundtrip. Three days of filming gave the producer plenty of shots to edit the best footage.

4If you are new to DCP, this 2013 release has much going for it. This show represents continuing improvements in their expanding catalog. Excellent balance and a pro vibe, make this a great entry point into their line.

5Kurt Jensen narrates this well written program. Live sound and music, accompany the show.

low                                            Low angle shots are a DCP hallmark.

mifflin                                             Classic Pennsy station at Mifflin, PA.

1                                                         Horseshoe Curve

juanitaPennsylvania’s T-1 Duplex is discussed during a historical interlude. Intriguing scenes at the Juanita Shops. A nice touch, this breaks the monotony of same train repetition. Interesting background and film dating back to 1900 are elements of the introductory chapter.

8102                     Commemorative paint recalls – The Standard Railroad of the World.

7Additional scenes of The Horseshoe Curve Steam Special follow until the somewhat odd conclusion. The 765 gets upstaged by a double stack!

gt2Gallizitin Tunnels has been condensed to it’s present day configuration.

uf                                     Union Furnace is yet another classic location.

A bonus section has 20 minutes of footage that wasn’t included in the final cut. At about an hour, the main program is a manageable run time. The extra is comparable quality. DCP preview section as well. A detailed chapter menu also. Would have liked a map with more detail then the rear cover squiggle. Balanced package overall.

tail                    A long consist, that was being expanded almost to the last minute.

This is a solid show for fans of present day steam train excursions. Consistent, with a steady hand on all 4 cameras. Smooth editing and minimal extraneous sound that results in pleasurable viewing. The inclusion of some historical aspects put the presentation in context and adds interest. Younger viewers will benefit from the history.

Producer Mary McPherson has released her best steam train show to date!

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

Vignettes of the Reading Volume 2

Vignettes of the Reading Company Volume 2cvr

Clear Block Productions

Length: One hour 32 minutes

Time Period: 1960- 1975

Locations: Reading, Philadelphia, Hershey, Allentown

Sources: Claude Goebel, Dennis Hake, Harrison Garforth, Dr. Michael Johnson

MSRP: 30.00

Reading Lines in the 1960’s to 1975. System wide coverage of the railroad. Here is a hard to find railroad during the sixties. The show does have about everything in the power and paint department. A plethora of Electromotive and Alco locomotives. The T-1 steam engine has numerous scenes on Ramble excursions. Original 8mm color films. A lively soundtrack that contains many loud trains. This was originally produced in 1995.

The narration has good detail with locations and trackage. Some historical background. Locomotive info is in a limited supply. Environmental train sounds  major plus. At times, the levels can get on the high side. EMD’s have that familiar chant, and grind it out in Run 8 on the grades. Alco’s burble away. The audio can exceed the picture at times.

reading_gp30trioThe GP30 class were an excellent turbocharged locomotive in their day. Introduced about 1963. Reading had ordered GP20’s, but EMD built the upgraded and then delivered the current GP30 model. In the early 1960’s, the diesels were generally run in matched sets. Notice the frequency of solid lash-ups of EMD and Alco models. Compare with later years.


Sourced from 8mm color films. Different cameramen with varied results. The quality ranges from fair to good overall. Sometimes slightly better or worse. This is unrestored footage. Color balance issues, some flaws and occasional rough spots. A small squiggle that looks like slippage appears at the top sometimes. There are some transitions and scenes where the show just looks messy. Those sections are not smooth flowing views. The realities  of rarity. You just don’t see much of this era Reading available. Get it anyway.


Clear Block does have the tour as a well-organized one. They move to certain cities and routes to present the multitude of trains. Maps are referenced and there is informative discussion. For an older program, they get the job done and communicate effectively.

T1_2100erutherfordReading T-1 at East Rutherford. Assorted Reading Ramble steam excursions.

F7The F7 locomotives look good in the Reading livery.

903Seen back in the day, Reading FP7 903 and 902 have been restored. A segment covers it.

atAllentown. This classic scene displays a Northeastern Reading caboose.

demosElectromotive of LaGrange had demoed the current GP20 locomotives on Reading. By the time the railroad was to get delivery, EMD was introducing the newer GP30 model.

gp302The GP30 units are in abundance. At Hershey, Pennsylvania. Alco C424 trails. A highlight sequence with various trains here. Yes, the Hershey factory is in the background.

atwnA variety of power and consists on Reading passenger service can be witnessed. Budd RDC cars and electric interurbans, are seen in service. Viewers will also ride some trackage on passenger moves. A branchline is filmed from the rear of a caboose.

c636                                                          Alco C636 leads a GP30.

gp7Allentown, PA. The well worn GP7 engines and a weathered, repainted caboose. As the years march on, the appearance of the railroad changes.

Reading GP35 3644Vignettes of the Reading Volume Two is an enjoyable program. It is an action packed visit to a classic line. While the show isn’t modern viewing standards, the films are rare. Train sounds are great. The extended length of the show is another positive. .

Reading Railroad is popular. A fine 1960-1975 collection, for railfans and model railroaders.

Rating: 4 Stars