Sound track added to Ligonier Valley Rail Road film
For 75 years, the Ligonier Valley Rail Road served the Valley. When the train made its last run on Aug. 31, 1952, the day was preserved on film.
During the past 62 years, the images on the film were seen by very few people, until it was discovered a few years ago in the Ligonier Valley Historical Society archives.
“The historical society gave it to us in 2005 and we have been using it at the Ligonier Valley Rail Road Museum,” said Bill Potthoff, president of the Ligonier Valley Rail Road Association.
Two years ago, Chuck Bowen, a frequent visitor to the museum, asked Potthoff if he could add a musical score to the film.
“He asked if he could sing a song about it,” said Potthoff about Bowen.
Bowen's song tells the tale of the last run from the depot in Latrobe to the Ligonier depot.
“The film was the inspiration for the song,” Bowen said.
The words of the song match the pace of the train as it steams its way past several stops along the way including Longbridge and Idlewild Park.
“The words were perfect,” said Potthoff. “I love the song as a stand alone.”
That moment in Ligonier history is available to the public in the form of a DVD that debuted at the association's eighth annual dinner last week at Ligonier Country Inn in Laughlintown.
After the sound track was completed in 2013, the film and music was sent to Walt Berko who produced the video.
“Walt put the subtitles on it of what was there then and what is there now and he added the instrumental sound track,” Potthoff said. “It's a new piece of history that shows everyone involved in the last run.”
For Bowen, 56, of Pittsburgh, producing the music for the video was just another chapter in the story about his affection for the Ligonier Valley.
Bowen said he and his wife Margaret honeymooned in Ligonier 31 years ago and visit often. During a visit two summers ago, he said he saw a sign for the Ligonier Valley Rail Road Museum.
“We followed the sign, went to Darlington Station, walked in and met Bill Potthoff,” Bowen said. “We got a tour.”
Bowen said he was mesmerized when Potthoff showed them film footage of the last run.
“As a writer, I like moments in time that, when we look back on our lives, there are touchstone moments photos or short film clips,” he said. “I went back to the hotel where I had my guitar and I just started to strum a little something, a waltz sort of song.”
Bowen said the images he watched on film were in his head as he jotted the lyrics down that Saturday evening.
“On Sunday, we stopped back in at the museum. Bill was there. I told him I had written a song. I saw a look on his face like do I have a nut here,”.Bowen said.
But Potthoff's face lit up once Bowen began to play the song.
“When I offered the song to him for free he told me ‘You said magic words,'” Bowen said. “The song almost wrote itself. It is a play-by-play of what's going on inside the video and on the map at the museum.”
Bowen said it reflects a bittersweet moment — celebrating what was and what will no longer be.
“Who hasn't played along the railroad tracks as a kid?” Bowen said. “This film captures a different time and the spirit of it. Those people there (at the last run) knew they were watching the passing of time.”
Bowen's memories of Ligonier go back to his childhood when he would visit during the summer with his parents.
“It was a place both of our parents took us as children,” Bowen said. We found out we went to the same places and could have been there at same time and never would have known it.”
Bowen teaches English at Seton-La Salle Catholic High School and is a member of the Burlap Road Band. The band performed the song he wrote for the DVD at the association dinner on Friday as well as other songs soon to be released on the band's first CD.
“Ligonier is truly a wonderful place. It is magical for us. We went there for our honeymoon. We love to walk around the streets, especially at night.”
They each have a favorite shop to visit every time they come to Ligonier and they have made friends with many shopkeepers.
“Margaret goes to Maddel's. I got to see Norm at the Toy Soldier Gallery,” Bowen said.
The “Ligonier Valley R.R. Last Run” DVD is available to purchase for $15 at the railroad museum located at 3032 Idlewild Hill Lane, Ligonier, or online. For more information, call 724-238-7819 or go to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Deborah A. Brehun is a staff editor for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-238-2111 or email@example.com.