a summer in altoona 


Tucked into the Allegheny Mtns, almost in the centre of Pennsylvania, sprawls the city of Altoona.

Why here ? Cause the early settlers needed to get through the mtns (left of pic) to access the western lands. In order to get over/through the Alleghenys, Pennylsvania Railroad built an amazingly engineered "Horseshoe Curve" to do just that. Back at the end of the 19th Century, Altoona was a railroad town - and it was booming. Not only did they build the massive steam locomotives here, but maintenance was carried out in ever more massive workshops.Boom times indeed.

Segue through to the 1930's, and almost overnight (it must have seemed) diesel power arrived. So, steam trains were no longer needed, and the contract to replace all the steam trains - went somewhere else, as did the maintenance as well. What's the opposite of a boom time? - pick Altoona. Again, almost overnight, 15,000 jobs were lost from a population of 82,000. Disaster. The town we visited has never recovered, and carries an aura of sadness right through its quiet, slightly ramshackle, streets.

Horseshoe Curve however, has remained. So rail fans such as Malkie still take the trek to admire the engineering feat that gets the modern massive diesel up and over the Alleghenys. Norfolk - Southern now, very noisy, and constant - something like one every five minutes.


We drove through the valley of the Alleghany's on a cold crisp autumn days, just as the fall colours were beginning to glow on the hillsides. Altoona was sprawled in front of us, and we had left the mystical forests of Harper's Ferry many hours before. It was 1st October, 2015

       altoona getting there

 We came through the valleys, south to north, but the railroad - steam first, then diesel, needs to access the west, and it does this via the Horseshoe Curve.


       horseshoe curve

If Malkie was writing this - he would concentrate on the Curve - it is a marvellous piece of engineering whereby it lifts the massive trains in a quite sharp curve as it rises up and up and up over the Alleghany's.

      train 1

I did ride the cable car up the mountain to get pics of the train as it bursts through the forest - was all so amazing and interesting. Huge huge trains that went on forever with their loads of cargo headed into the west of the country, with the next almost on the heels of the last one. (Malkie heaven)

      flowers old fashioned

But my emphasis tended to be on how a once thriving town tries to recover when it loses most its industry, and the answer is - slowly and painfully. The streets are shabby, old broken brickwork and paint peeling off - but masses of bright cheerful flowers were planted everywhere along these streets. They looked great !!

     apples use this one 1   apples and this one 2

Found a market right in the city centre - but only a handful of brave souls had stands there. However the apple stand, presided over by a young girl, was quite excellent. You could buy a small punnet of apples,  all labelled and described - she got top marks for enterprise.

     old street 1

Just as we had decided to give up on Altoona as being too dilapidated and run down - we found the murals. And they glowed amongst the relics of a busy city centre. My pictures don't do them justice - they were massive, and in a sequence that told the whole story of Altoona when it was a thriving thronging frontier town. 

    old street 3

In the foreground of this pic, the small shrubs are real, so the massive mural is behind that.They must be covering old buildings, no longer in use - and now somewhat protectd.

By any standard, these murals are magnificent. It surely means the local council is alive and well and focussed on bringing life back into the city. 

         old bridge

And so we left Altoona when Malkie had had his fill of engineering and railroad marvels. We left it to its looming forests, massive trains, and with an overwhelming sense of hope that the people of this city still have an enormous pride in their home.


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