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As I used to spend a lot of time at Tower FW here in Buffalo, NY I have a soft spot for towers and interlockings. These were the places where you could usually get the most bang for the railfanning buck (or waiting time ;)
I first stumbled upon FW Tower when I was 15 years old walking the old NYC line from Buffalo's Exchange St. Station. I had no idea where the tracks I was walking on went to, but I knew they went somewhere.
The Central shared some facilities in the Downtown Buffalo area with a few different railroads and there was a myriad of connecting tracks in this area. I knew that the Central's wye connected it to the mainline right here, but I didn't know where the tracks that crossed two legs of this wye led to. There was no time like the present to find out so on that cold and drizzly spring day in 1976 I decided to follow them for a mile or so and see if I could find out.
There was rust on the rails, but no so heavy that it appeared to be abandoned. There had definately been a train on it sometime in the past few weeks or months. I figured it was the old Erie Downtown line because they led to an old freight house which had Erie markings on it, but I wasn't sure back then.
After wandering almost a mile amongst industrial looking buildings and weedy grass lots I crossed under the Seneca Street bridge (since removed) and before me was a Railfan's Paradise!
This was one of the busiest looking rail intersections I had ever seen at that point. Lines cris-crossed in all directions and fanned out to the great beyond. In the middle of all this trackage pandemonium was an apparently abandoned interlocking tower. I had come across many old towers in my wanderings on the area Central and DL&W lines and had even managed to get into a few through the courtesy of local vandals. I, being the curious teen-aged railfan trespasser that I was, decided to hike up the stairs and see if the door was open. I was sure it was abandoned and had been nailed shut or locked up, but it sure couldn't hurt to look!
Boy was I surprised when not only was the door unlocked but when I opened it and went inside there was a towerman sitting at his desk talking on the phone, OH NO!!!!!
I hastily apologized for intruding upon his domain and begged forgiveness explaining that I had thought it to be an abandoned building and just wanted to see if the levers (the interlocking machine) were still in place.
To my astonishment he was more than happy to see me and was one of the friendliest guys I have ever met on any railroad safaris. He had some great stories and was a great teacher.
Scotty was the regular first trick operator at FW. He was more than happy to show me the ropes and instruct me in the finer points of lining routes and setting signals. I got to talk to the DM operator (down the PRR at their interlocking with the DL&W City Branch) and signal maintainers. I got to know some of the train crews and other "regulars" at FW. If it had been 50 years earlier it would probably have become my training for working for the railroad. Alas, in the 70's the northeastern railroads were floundering in a sea of red ink and most of the romance of the rails had long since departed. I had to be content with my model railroading instead.
I was always welcome at FW after that. The second time I visited Scotty asked "You're traveling light today, eh?" I had no idea what he meant. After a few moments of me not getting the hint he explained that I wasn't carrying any doughnuts and coffee! You can bet I had some with me the next time!
Scotty smoked a pipe, he preferred french vanilla pipe tobacco from Bernstone's downtown. I had already picked up the bad habit of smoking cigarettes and at Scotty's urging I resurrected some of my grandfather's pipes and took up pipe smoking for a while. He taught me how to properly tamp the tobacco and light up so that the tobacco would burn without going out all the time. It almost succeeded in getting me off of cigarettes...almost. To this day the smell of french vanilla pipe tobacco reminds me of Scotty and FW.
I don't know why I never took a camera to FW. That's one of my biggest regrets about the past. To this day I have found a precious few photos of FW.
To make a long story shorter, I made a great friend and got some experience (and exercise) around a real live Armstrong interlocking tower. I'll never forget Scotty Whitehead and FW Interlocking even if niether one of them is around anymore...
Here's a fair map of FW tower and surrounding lines. I finally found a decent map to work with so I could get a decently clear scan.
The Buffalo Creek connected the NYC main to the NKP, LV, SB, B&SW and BR&P at Buffalo Jct. from the northwest. The Erie (later Erie Lackawanna) came in from their east Buffalo Yards to get downtown, to connect to the NKP, to access the LV passenger main, to get to the Katherine St. Yard, to get to their one-time extensive shops at Smith St and to interchange with the BC. The Pennsy entered from their Harrisburg line to the southeast to get to their downtown yard and the NYC at Tower 49A. The Nickel Plate connected the Buffalo Junction Yards from the south to the Erie, PRR and LV. This was one hopping interlocking, even as late as the 1970's. FW interlocking disappeared during Conrail's "Scorched Earth Purge" of 1983, but I'll always have my memories!