MARTINSBURG TOWER & THE BLIZZARD OF 1993
[By Allen Brougham]
I must preface this item with a disclaimer.. Even in my fondest dreams, I can never claim to have been a member of Martinsburg Tower's distinguished family of operators. I never worked there...
But in the most technical sense, I really did.
It happened during the great blizzard of 1993. At the time, they referred to it as the Blizzard of the Century. It came on March 13, 1993 (a Saturday), exactly 105 years from the date of the blizzard of the previous century. (Centuries in this case being the 19th and 20th respectively.) And never mind that a later blizzard in 1996 surely challenged the one in 1993 for intensity - not to mention the one that hammered us in 2003 - the great blizzard of 1993 will never be forgotten. Anyway, it happened like this, and I quote verbatim from the notes I published in the Bull Sheet the month that followed:
- SATURDAY.. I would normally be spending this day in a pleasant afternoon and evening of duty at Miller Tower, which is tucked away in the splendor of West Virginia's Eastern Panhandle. It's not the sort of place to try getting to in a mammoth blizzard... but more on this later. I had spent the night in a motel near Martinsburg, about ten miles from the tower, as I did not wish to tackle my usual 107-mile drive from home after hearing the forecast given the day before. As Saturday afternoon approached, the hilly back roads from Martinsburg to Miller had long become impassable. So I got myself a couple of miles to NA Tower in downtown Martinsburg where I had been offered the thrill of a helper engine ride from there to Miller. But on arrival at NA Tower I learned that the relieving operator for that location (NA) could not get in, so I sort of got drafted to perform duties there instead. A couple of moves were made. But Amtrak's westbound Capitol Limited, which serves Martinsburg, was annulled. Then they decided to shut our part of the railroad down. It was still snowing hard, and I got stuck twice getting out, but I managed to make it back to the motel.
- SUNDAY.. The snow had stopped, but there were high winds and heavy drifting. Almost everything was closed, including the railroad, but they needed me that afternoon back at NA Tower if I could get in. I did. All roads in West Virginia were officially closed by order of the governor, but the order was not enforced on the main streets if you could get through. Two trains were run - lite engines in each direction to clear drifts, fallen limbs, etc. Later that evening I made it back to the motel.
- MONDAY.. It's usually my day off, but I was needed at Miller. The back roads were still impassable, so I rode a switcher - B775 - from NA Tower to Miller. Thrill! We went the low-grade line from West Cumbo, this being the first move on that track since the storm. There were no trees down, but we cut through some pretty mean drifts. A number of trains were running, including the Capitol Limited, its first westbound trip since Friday, and (Thrill, again!) I got back to NA Tower that night on L141, a trailer train being rerouted because of the storm.
My own experience through the so-called Blizzard of the Century was scarcely what could be called a hardship. Conveniently quartered only a couple of miles from downtown, I was able to protect my assignment with little difficulty. In fact, much of the time during the storm and its aftermath I spent enjoying the comfort of my motel room, from which I could watch the snow, or TV, and ponder things to write about. Cabin fever was my biggest complaint.
But not all were so fortunate. One of the operators had to spend most of two days and one night in his tower after his car's clutch failed in the snow. Others were called upon to work unassigned hours to cover vacancies, and some couldn't get to work at all.
It's all history now, and something for all to remember in our own particular way. But one word to the wise whenever snow is imminent: Always carry a snow shovel!
Thus concludes the notes I wrote in 1993. There were a couple of times later on that I did get to go back to NA Tower on assignment. In 1996, following the blizzard of that year and the flood that resulted, and then on another occasion later that same year, the Potomac River rose from its bank to such an extent that remaining at Miller Tower was not practical. (Trains couldn't run through there anyway.) But since the Miller Tower operators also had the duties of assigning vacancies for other locations in the area, we had to transfer ourselves to another location. On both occasions we moved to NA Tower, which was on much higher ground. This arrangement remained until the flood waters back at Miller receded.
Switch, Signal & Control Point Changes Resulting From the Martinsburg Upgrade Project
History of Martinsburg Tower