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Oyler: Rail fan in Va. donates impressive collection to Bridgeville historical society

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By John Oyler
Wednesday, Feb. 12, 2014, 9:00 p.m.

The Bridgeville Area Historical Society recently acquired an impressive collection of railroading books and videos, thanks to donor James. J. Fry.

A resident of Nokeville, Va., Fry grew up in Carnegie and Heidelberg. He and I have been in email contact for three or four years, beginning with his comments on some of my columns published in the Bridgeville Area News and Signal-Item. He receives copies of the columns via my email distribution list.

Last summer, he told me he was in the “downsizing” process and was looking for a home for railroading books and videotapes he has been accumulating for a lifetime. We eventually concluded that the caboose in the history center was the appropriate answer to this question; he, I, and the historical society are all delighted that this has occurred. The society would like to dedicate the caboose to railroad memorabilia – the James J. Fry collection will be the centerpiece of this commitment.

Being a railroad buff myself, my evaluation of the significance of this acquisition is obviously biased. I come from a family of railroaders and continue to be excited about everything associated with railroading, from model trains to trips on tourist trains. Consequently, my excitement about this collection may well be exaggerated; I certainly am excited.

There are 140 titles in the collection, ranging from modest pamphlets to massive encyclopedias. Fry has subdivided them into sub-categories, which the society has wisely elected to retain. It would, of course, be impossible for me to comment comprehensively on the collection within the constraints of this column, but I will discuss a few of them.

Some of the books are highly technical, of great interest to serious railroad buffs. I was impressed with “Baldwin Locomotive Works,” which is a compilation of information from Baldwin catalogues. Specific classic steam locomotives are also covered in books like “Norfolk and Western Class J,” the semi-stream lined engine that became the N & W's logo; and “Baltimore and Ohio's Magnificent 2-8-8-4 EM-1 Articulated Steam Locomotive.”

A few of the books contain information of interest to us in the Chartiers Valley. “The Pennsy in the Steel City” has a few paragraphs on the Chartiers Valley Branch. Unfortunately it has no photographs; we are always on the lookout for pictures of the CVRR and its successors.

We were luckier with “Pittsburgh and West Virginia Time Tables,” which included the route from Pittsburgh to Avella, through Bridgeville. One schedule, from 1919, has a train leaving Avella at 5:30 a.m.; reaching Hickory by 6:02; Bridgeville by 6:50; Carnegie by 7:02; and arriving in Pittsburgh at 7:25. Leasdale is a stop between Bridgeville and Carnegie; we know that is Woodville. The three stops between Hickory and Bridgeville – Acheson, Gwendolyn, and Derby – are all new to me. Perhaps some of the railroaders in our audience can help out on them.

I am particularly interested in “Uncle Sam's Locomotives, the USRA in World War I.” During World War I, the federal government established the United States Railway Administration and nationalized all the railroads, and organized them into three divisions – East, West and South. Nearly 2,000 new locomotives were ordered, based on a USRA standard design.

A number of references valuable to railroad modelers are in the collection, including “A Century of Timeless Lionel Toy Trains,” in which I found my original 1937 Lionel freight train; it is still in good enough shape to be operated each Christmas. Serious modelers will also appreciate “The Railroad Station Plan Book,” “Train Depots and Roundhouses,” and “North American Railyards” for the real-life examples they present.

Fry also donated 34 VHS tapes, covering topics including “Yellowstones-Giants of Steam” (Mallets moving iron ore in Minnesota); “America by Rail” (a winter wonderland trip through the New River Gorge); and “Trans-Siberia Tour” (the famous trip across Russia from Moscow to Vladivostok). I personally am looking forward to viewing two tapes dealing with Pennsylvania rail history – “Horseshoe Curve Helpers” and “Pittsburgh Line Blues” (the last Conrail run east from Pittsburgh).

The historical society is grateful to Fry for this donation. Society members plan to dedicate the caboose to a permanent exhibit of local railroad memorabilia; the James J. Fry collection will be its centerpiece. The history center is open to the public from 10 a.m. till 2 p.m. Tuesday through Friday. This collection makes it a must visit for everyone interested in railroading.

John Oyler is a columnist for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-343- 1652 or

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