Welcome to the BVJC, B&O "UN" Tower page.
"UN" Interlocking Tower was constructed by the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad between 1890 and 1900 (We do not have the exact date of consturction).
Located in Western Pennsylvania at West Pittsburg, PA the tower controlled train movements in and out of the Eastern end of B&O's New Castle Yard, and sat at the division point between the Pittsburgh Subdivision and the New Castle Subdivision of B&O's Baltimore to Chicago Mainline.
The wooden structure itself was built to the standard B&O two story design that could be found all over the B&O system. One exception to UN Tower is the bathroom that extends out of the back wall of the second floor. Towers are often named after a nearby location or town and UN is no exception. UN Tower sat near the under pass of UnioN Road. UN has 32 armstrong levers. The levers are color coded Gray for traffic, Red for signals and Black for switches. UN?s order board has two colored lights. Yellow to signal the train crew that orders were being hooped up to them and Red to signal the train had to stop, collect, and read their orders before proceeding.
UN also controlled movements of trains to and from the junction with the Pittsburgh and Lake Erie Railroad on which the B&O had gained trackage rights between McKeesport, PA and New Castle, PA in 1934 to run P&LE's level river route along the Monongahela and Ohio Rivers avoiding their own hilly and winding P&W route north of Pittsburgh, PA. The Pittsburgh and Western was a former narrow gauge line bought up by the B&O and converted to standard gauge during the B&O's push westward to Chicago.
PHOTO: One of the many duties of the tower operator was to inspect passing trains. Here we see an operator doing that task in the late 1970's.(photo Joe Jack)
The P&W and P&LE Routes converged near West Pittsburg allowing for an interchange of traffic between the P&LE and B&O in New Castle Yard. CSX would eventually take over the P&LE on September 12, 1992 giving dispatchers two routes through the Pittsburgh area.
Because UN Tower was built in a strategic location B&O, Chessie System, and CSX management always saw to it that only the most experienced tower operators were assigned to work UN.
Mr. Don Piccirillo was the last operator to work UN Tower for CSX and he recalls that four operators worked UN around the clock with a fifth man working the extra board.
Mr. Piccirillo states that "UN was a complicated place to work". "All trains got orders at UN and that kept the operator on his toes". An operator would have to contact three different dispatchers (New Castle Sub, P&W, and P&LE) just to move a train through the interlocking. Likewise the P&LE dispatcher would have to call the UN operator to move his trains into New Castle Yard.
Movement past UN Tower required three sets of train orders depending on how the train was routed. Generally more orders were needed to go East to the P&W or P&LE than West toward Ohio.
"When hooping orders, you could catch an Eastbound from the first landing on the stairs and the caboose three steps up from the ground" Said Mr. Piccirillo.
Because of its busy location UN was left open many years after other towers were taken out of service and replaced with remote electronic equipment.
Mr. Piccirillo tells of "the number 8 lever being the most difficult to pull because it threw two crossovers at the same time". "It had to be kept well oiled".
"The most dangerous lever in the tower was number 17. If not properly aligned it would send an Eastbound train for the P&W head-on to the P&LE" Said Mr. Piccirillo.
As late as the early 90's UN still had a manual crank under the operators desk to signal the next station that a train had passed.
UN Tower served the railroads of the B&O, Chessie System, and CSX Transportation around the clock for over 100 years until November of 1995 when CSX upgraded the signaling system along the P&LE route.
Physical operation of the interlocking was cut over to the electronics in the shiny metal box across the tracks from UN Tower and control was taken over remotely by a dispatcher in Jacksonville Florida. As with many other towers UN was to be bulldozed to the ground and hauled away along with all of its history.
At about this same time the Beaver Valley Junction Chapter of the National Railway Historical Society was looking for a chapter project. The BVJ was just six years in existence, its membership was around 55 members at the time, and helped retore locomotives and railcars owned by others but had no property to call their own.
At the February 1996 monthly meeting a motion was made to approach CSX to see if the BVJ could obtain UN Tower for historical preservation.
In March of 1996 CSX agreed to sell UN to the BVJ for $1000 but the building had to be moved within 60 days of purchase. Chapter members raised the funds and agreed to CSX's conditions. Upon the first day of work at the tower to secure the building and board up the windows CSX required that a flagman be present because of the members being so close to the tracks. The BVJ was later billed for the CSX employees time. Adding up the cost of having the flagman present every time a chapter member worked at the tower (including weekend overtime hours) would financially make the whole project impracticable.
The BVJ approached CSX about donating the flagman's time but was turned down.
After months of letters and phone calls the BVJ was given no other choice but to pull out of the sale in August of 1996. A big disappointment for the BVJ membership.
Out of the blue two years later in March of 1998 CSX contacted the chapter offering UN Tower for sale at a reduced price of $500 and with no flagging costs because of a reconstruction project of New Castle Yard a flagman would be present to protect CSX's own track workers near the interlocking. The BVJ jumped at this offer and work to remove UN started as soon a CSX received the check. Land to re-erect the tower on was found near short lines ISS Rail and New Castle Industrial Railroad in Mahoningtown, PA three miles west of UN's original location but still near the same former B&O mainline.
The best option for moving the tower was buy rail due to UN's location perched on a hill side with limited access. Three months of preparation work went into securing the tower and figuring out how to cut the tower in half for transport.
The levers and model board had already been removed shortly after UN's closing, buy a now defunct historical society, but there was enough heavy 1950's electrical equipment to be removed to keep the BVJ members busy. The equipment was retained to be reinstalled for display purposes.
All of the windows were removed including the two that displayed "UN" markings.
Holes were cut into the center of the tower and three Steel "I" beams were run under the second floor and bolted across at the ends to form a lifting platform. The second floor was then secured with cross bracing and chains to the platform to keep it from twisting itself apart. The B&O never intended for the building to be modular! The first floor was done in a simular fashion but the original 6x8 timbers under the floor served as the lifting platform.
Moving day came on morning of Monday October 5th 1998. CSX shut down the tracks in font of UN tower and ran traffic over the former P&LE giving the BVJ a four hour window to remove the tower.
A crane was positioned on the narrow access road to the tower and a chain saw was used to cut all but the corner support posts of the building. ISS Rail donated a flat car for the move and CSX added the move to the daily switch list of the New Castle Yard crew. Once the flat car was in position the final corner posts were cut and the crane lifted the second floor into the sky and set it down on the flat car. The first floor was done in the same manner. Months of planning paid off. In under 45 minutes UN Tower was secured and ready for its journey. The ironic part of the day was that it took one hour for the New Castle Yard Master to get the dispatcher in Florida to align the switches that UN once controlled so the train could move west through the yard.
Once underway the CSX crew took their historical payload to the ISS Rail interchange where ISS Rail picked up the load with their ALCo RS11.
The tower was parked on an unused siding and work began removing the many layers of old paint and damaged wood. The tower would remain on the flat car for several months until the new foundation could be poured in the spring of 1999.
The first floor was set in place in July of 99' and the second floor set on the ground next to the tower. It is much easier to work on the second floor at ground level. It was not until December of 1999 that the second floor was lifted into place with a donated crane from New Castle Buildings and Bridges and assistance from ISS Rail. Special steel plates were used to bolt the second floor to the first floor joists and uprights.
All throughout the years 1999 and 2000 BVJ chapter members worked hard to restore UN Tower. Over 500 cedar "fish scale" shingles were hand made to replace the original ones removed from the center of the building when it was cut in half. The windows were reglazed. The outside staircase was reconstructed to the original B&O design. Repairs were made to the roof. The outside of the building was cleaned of old paint with environmently safe sandblasting grit, primered, and after researching and voting, painted into B&O's 1950's cream with brown trim scheme.
UN Tower was officially rededicated August 19th 2001 at the Mahoningtown Community Day Festival. The event has grown over the past several years to include train and speeder car rides with UN Tower being the center of focus for the railroad related events.
In October of 2001 UN's original levers an connecting rods were able to purchased from the defunct historical society and ended the search to find levers from another former B&O tower.
In 2002 electrical service had been installed and the wiring taken up to current code. The interior is now being worked on with eventual restoration of the levers which will in the future control a small museum yard to give visitors a real feel for what it was like to work in an interlocking tower.
During the summer of 2004 the second floor interior has been refurbished and painted a mint green to match B&O's original 1950's color scheme.
All 32 levers have been sand blasted and primered
The first floor is currently being worked on for eventual reinstalment of the levers.
UN Tower is the only known B&O tower to be preserved in Pennsylvania and one of only three nationwide.
All of the efforts of the Beaver Valley Junction Chapter N.R.H.S. members to restore this 100 year old slice of B&O history would not have been possible without the assistance of the good folks of CSXT, New Castle Industrial RR, ISS Rail, grants from the National Railway Historical Society and the City of New Castle, PA, and donations of time and money of many other companys and individuals. The BVJ thanks all of you!
UN tower is always being worked on most weekends year around. If you happen to be in the Mahoningtown, PA area just south New Castle, PA along PA Route 18 (SEE MAPS ON HOME PAGE), take a drive down Cherry Street. You can't miss UN Tower. BVJ members will be more than happy to show you around.
Donations for continuing restoration can be sent to: BVJC P.O. Box 222 Conway, PA 15027.
With check made out to: BVJC.
BVJC N.R.H.S. thanks you for you support.