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Photo of the Month - February 2007


Photo taken from the Front Street bridge just west of Columbus Union Station, looking west.   (Photo by DAK, early 1950s)

       This is one of my favorite photos.  It shows the track work on the west side of Union Station, including a hand throw double slip switch in the foreground.  On the right side is the shanty where the switchman could get out of the weather between trains.  Union Station tower, located under High Street, controlled trains into and out of Union Station.  However, not all switches under its authority could be thrown from the tower.  For that there was a switchman on the ground who actually had to work the switch levers.  The speaker cone on the pole over the shanty was how the switchman got his instructions.


        A double slip switch allowed  a train on either of two tracks to cross over to the other track no matter which direction it was coming.  In this case the switch is aligned to allow a train coming on the  track in the lower left to exit the switch on the upper left.  The hand throws, there are two of them, are located in the middle of the switch where the signal light is located.  It would have taken a good arm to work this switch especially if it was cold.  Ice and snow would only add to the job.  During snow storms the switchman would have a broom handy to keep snow out of the switch points.

        Going back to the main picture, from left to right, in the upper part of the photo you will see the Hocking Valley (C&O RR) freight house where freight was transferred between trucks and box cars.  To the right of that is a PRR Baldwin shark nose diesel pulling an eastbound freight.  The two tracks on the extreme left belong to the PRR.  These two tracks are routed around the south side of Union Station to keep freight trains off the station tracks.  The next two tracks are for PRR passenger trains.  The next five tracks lead to the Spruce Street coach yard, off in the haze, and also provide a path for light engines movement from Spruce Street to the Depot.  The far ladder track provides a path for PRR passenger trains to reach various Depot platform tracks. 

        To the right of the freight train in the haze you can see a coal dock, that is located in the PRR's Spruce Street servicing  yard and shops.  In the heyday of steam this is the yard where the PRR serviced its steam passenger engines.  Also at Spruce Street the PRR had their passenger coach yard where dinners, coaches and Pullmans were serviced.  The PRR maintained a dining car commissary at Spruce Street for restocking dinning cars which were switched at Columbus.  N&W coaches were stored and serviced at the PRR coach yard as well.

        On the far right is a second yard with the tracks curving toward the right.  This is the NYC and the tracks are curving northwest around the PRR's Spruce Street yard.  Once past there the NYC main will curve southwest heading out of town toward Dayton and Cincinnati.  The NYC (Big Four) at one time had a 12 stall roundhouse in the general area of the water tower.  By the time this picture was taken it had been removed and any necessary steam passenger engine servicing would have been done at the McKinley Avenue facility.

        The C&O RR also entered Union Station on PRR tracks.  The C&O main line ran north/south through Columbus about one mile west of this point.  The southbound C&O Sportsman had to back that mile into Union Station and the northbound Sportsman had to back out of Union Station to return to the main line.  

        The N&W passenger train approached Union Station from the east side not using these tracks.  All its trains terminated or originated in Columbus.  The N&W passenger cars would be taken to the PRR coach yard, as mentioned, and the engine would run light to the N&W Joyce Avenue roundhouse on the eastside of Columbus.

        The B&O passenger and freight trains from the west (Midland City) used the NYC tracks through this area.  On the east side of the depot they shared the Columbus-Newark route with the PRR.  Neither the B&O or C&O dropped or picked up cars at Columbus nor require passenger car servicing in the 1950's.