Friday, June 12, 2015

This Is Not 38, This Is Old 97

All of a sudden, I've been surrounded by Norfolk Southern heritage units. Until last Saturday, the only ones I'd seen were the Nickel Plate Road, Conrail, and Pennsylvania units, all with Nickel Plate Road 765 on fantrips; and one sighting of the Lackawanna unit when I didn't have my camera.

Well, all that changed after last Saturday. I happened to be heading home through Creighton, after hanging out at a friend's house. As I was headed towards the C. L. Schmitt Bridge (known to locals as just the 'New Ken bridge'), Norfolk Southern sent an oil train up the Conemaugh Line. I'm headed the opposite direction, and I take a peek at the power. At first, the two black-and-white locomotives didn't seem all that special...until I realized that the trailing unit was the Penn Central heritage unit. I swear I did a double-take, cartoon-style. So I banged a u-turn and did my best to follow the train. He was going fairly slowly for some reason. I tried to get a good picture, but it was too dark and I couldn't hang around.

Worst. Heritage unit picture. Ever. 
Next morning, after meeting my family for breakfast, my sister and I ran a quick errand and then took the scenic route home, up the Kiskiminetas River. We caught up with a train heading east (this is further east on the Conemaugh Line, for those wondering) and I decided to try a new photo spot on the Vandergrift Bridge. As the train came around the curve, I realized that the second loco in the consist was the NS 'Honoring Our Veterans' unit! I was so surprised, that Brie had to remind me to take pictures. I was hoping for a better picture, so we tried to chase to Apollo and Avonmore, but to no avail. He was moving like he was late for a hot date.

We salute you. 
And then, yesterday happened. I just wanted to go out for a little while and clear my head. As I was headed towards the city, I checked the site. I discovered that the Southern Railway and Erie units were converging on the city! I had a moment where I thought I had missed the Erie unit, so I beat feet to Rochester, parked at the bowling alley, and got there just in time to catch the Southern unit on an intermodal train headed west. 

The Southern serves...southwestern Pennsylvania?
Figuring that I'd done well enough for the day, I took a brief cruise back up PA-65, and passed the Conway locomotive service terminal. And to my surprise, there was the Erie unit! It took a slight hike across busy, four-lane 65 to get a good photo, but here it is!

It's not easy being green.
As a bonus, while I was across the highway, I noticed the unit I'd been wanting to see the most - the Wabash! Unfortunately, it was dark enough I had trouble getting a good photo, and she wasn't well lit, as well as hidden behind that BNSF GEVO. But hey, it was there.

Follow That Flag!
I did previously get photos of the Nickel Plate Road, Pennsylvania, and Conrail units. Here's the NKP unit with 765 out by Leetsdale back in 2012.

Nickel Plate High Speed Freight Steam Locomotive On A Passenger Excursion Service
And here are the Pennsy and Conrail units, also with 765, on a chartered excursion over Horseshoe Curve. I got this photo from downtown Altoona.

Don't Stand Me Still? Or Keep It Moving With Conrail? How about both?
And that may not be the end of the story. Back in 2013, my friend Matt and I happened to catch the Lackawanna unit after hanging out at Primanti's in Harmarville; but that was in my pre-smartphone days and I didn't get a picture. However, as of three hours ago, she was due west out of Harrisburg on an oil train and I may have a chance at catching her today!

Also, there's the other 12 heritage units and a few other special locomotives to look out for. I'll just have to keep an eye out.

Also also, I signed up for a spotter account on If you see a spot listed by LL1060, that's me.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

But I Guess Until I Get MY Car Back This Will Do

Self-driving cars suck.

No, I mean it. I guess I'm officially some kind of luddite for this, but a future of Google-type self-driving cars sounds like the most sterile and soulless thing I've ever heard short of Communism. Either that, or it sounds like the revenge of the Parry People Mover. (Note to self: great movie idea right there.)

And yes, I can see some advantages to self-driving cars. People who need to get around, but have a disability that prevents them from operating a conventional vehicle, or an elderly person who may have to give up their license could benefit from such a technological advance. But you will never see me pop into one of these things. I object to the idea from beginning to end. 

For starters, just look at this thing. 

It looks terrible. It looks absolutely derpy. This is the Nerdmobile 9001, even more so than Rick Moranis' solar powered van from Honey, I Shrunk The Kids. Google has other prototypes based on the Toyota Prius, and Audi and Lexus vehicles as well, but I'm still not impressed. Principally because the goofy thing you see above is supposed to be the production model. The modified vehicles have, so far, been used as system testbeds, rather than representing any self-driving version of their manufacturer's product. Of course, one would wonder why Google hasn't decided to try modding a Tesla electric sports car, or dare to automate a '68 Dodge Charger. 

And this brings me to my more important point: there are some of us that just enjoy driving. The Telsa roadster and the '68 Dodge are fun to drive, to operate by hand, to actually control with two hands on the wheel. It's that feeling of control that is going to trip Google up, I think. Sure, there are some people who just view driving as a chore, and would probably be perfectly open to traveling by autonomous vehicle. Maybe they will, in fact, be a majority. But there will always be those of us who prefer to drive ourselves. 

Besides, it just might make it harder to take a trip without much of a plan. It certainly seems like the interface is all about plugging in your destination and away you go, end of story. I can't imagine going railfanning in one of these, where the idea is in fact to stop at places along the tracks to watch and take pictures. That's far easier to do manually. A Sunday drive with an impulsive stop at a yard sale or two? Can you just hit a big red button and stop the car? I have my doubts. Try taking a road trip - again, the destination is vague and the itinerary is flexible in the extreme - can the Googmobile handle that? What if Junior has to use the facilities on a longer trip? That's going to be a real problem in more ways than one. The freedom and control of the automobile as we know it even today is a plus, and I worry that autonomous cars will take a big chunk of that away. 

Maybe, though, we're safe for the time being. The Atlantic has a story that details the technology and its vast scope, pointing out that it's not yet possible to plop one of these cars down in, say, Pittsburgh, and have it start driving. And when they come to Pittsburgh, I want to watch one of these things try to tackle Penn Hills, or the South Side on a Friday night. Meanwhile, Slate takes a more pessimistic view; hell, their subtitle even says it 'may never actually happen'. 

I don't know about you, but I'm perfectly happy to sit behind the wheel for the next fifty years. I guess we'll see if they're still making actual cars then. 

From Wikipedia
Sure, why not.