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Kiski Junction Railroad

Alle-Kiski

Kiski Junction Railroad

Mary and Charley Bowyerthumbnail

Location Details

PHONE: 724-295-5577
ADDRESS: Railroad Street
Schenley, PA 15682
HOURS: Tues, Fri, Sat: 2pm Tours (June-Oct)
COST: Adults-$9, Seniors (62+)- $ 8, 4-13yrs $ 7, 3 & under free

Description

The Kiski Junction Railroad track may be short in distance, but the ride is long on stories — especially when Mary Bowyer is doing the talking, which is pretty often.

Running parallel to the Kiskiminetas River, the railroad hauls freight and people — although not at the same time — from Schenley to Bagdad. Total round trip: just four miles.

Mary and her husband, Charlie (he doesn’t really say much), have been working for Kiski Junction since the mid-1990s. Charlie is the engineer. Mary is his brakeman. They moved from Ohio and now make the nearby red caboose their home.

All year, every year, they ride the rails from downtown Schenley (“The population here is 70 plus two — we’re the two,” Mary says) to the Allegheny Ludlum specialty silicon steel plant in Bagdad. There they pick up gondola cars loaded with scrap metal and take them to the bridge overlooking the Kiski and Allegheny Rivers. Each car can hold a 99-ton payload, Mary says, and in 2001 they hauled about 600 cars.

At this interchange, Mary and Charlie leave the scrap metal behind for the Norfolk Southern Railway to take to Natrona–Brackenridge for “re-melt.” Then Mary and Charlie make the short trip back to Schenley. That’s the work part of their job.

The fun began in 1996. It started when a group from the local campground wanted to do something different, something special for the Fourth of July. At first Mary and Charlie just used an open flat car. Twelve passenger cars — and countless passengers from church outings, scout troops, and bus tours —later, the Kiski Junction Railroad has become a phenomenon.

That success can be attributed to the romance of the rails, and to the spirited commentary Mary is only too happy to share with her charges along the hour-and-a-half trip. “People always told me I should talk about this or that, so I started taking notes.”

“This and that” now includes stories about former residents, such as Mary Schenley, for whom the town was named. Her family settled here, then moved to Pittsburgh and donated the land that became Schenley Park. There are also stories about trillium that grows wild on the hillside, herds of deer, flocks of turkeys, bald eagles, horned owls, and one very outgoing bear. “‘Gilpin George’ is a 300-pound-ish black bear that roams all over Gilpin Township and once stopped us dead in our tracks right down this straight stretch,” Mary says.

There are tales about local employers, both past and present. Mary points out that the Schenley Whiskey Distillery, part of the local scene for many years, was originally 26 buildings on 42 acres. “It employed 1,200 people and closed in the 1980s. It’s now a huge industrial park.” The Allegheny Ludlum plant is still operating.“ In the 1960s, Ludlum bought the entire town of Bagdad, Pa., moved all 300 residents, tore down all the homes, and built the big mill up ahead.”

And, of course, there is plenty of talk about the railroad, a four-mile branch line that was part of the Pennsylvania Main Line Canal. In the late 1800s, the canal was filled in and the railroad was built on top. “You are riding on a railroad that has been in continuous operation for 144 years,” Mary likes to point out.

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