— Sitting on the rambling 100-foot long porch of the Station Inn in Cresson, Pa., the question as to what the inn’s guests call themselves arose. Rail fans, train enthusiasts, rail buffs? Someone even suggested train nuts.
There certainly is more than enough ebullience in the air as guests sit on the porch’s rocking chairs, some with scanners listening to the conversations between the engineers and train dispatchers, some with laptops with all sorts of train information or photos taken throughout the day emblazoned on their screens.
The Station Inn has been drawing rail enthusiasts like a moth to a flame ever since it opened as a bed and breakfast in 1993. What makes the inn a magnet for train buffs is the fact that it sits 150 feet off Conrail’s triple track, Pittsburgh line, which can see as many as 60 trains go by each 24 hours.
"There are a lot of places in the nation where rail fans can indulge in their pursuit of watching trains," said owner Tom Davis. "But they don’t offer the full range and variety of trains as we do."
From the inn, guests can point their cameras in the direction of the tracks in the hope of capturing images of mixed merchandise freights, auto racks, coal drags, ore trains, double stacks and helper engines. Once a day, in both directions, Amtrak’s Pittsburgh to New York line clickety-clacks by, and even more exotic is the annual run of the circus train.
The inn started out in 1866 as the Callan House, a mid-level getaway for vacationing Pittsburghers. Later it became a stopover for traveling salesmen, and in the 1920s, it accommodated crews servicing the rail lines.
Don’t expect luxury at this rail-focused mecca which eschews telephones, TVs and air conditioning in the inn’s seven comfortably furnished, railroad-themed bedrooms, many of which overlook the mainline.
Because the inn is located 2,014-feet above sea level, the temperature cools down comfortably come evening, and, for those addicted to TV as well as trains, a set in the Common Room offers a chance to catch your favorite shows.
As might be expected, Davis stocks a multitude of rail books, magazines and DVDs for his guests to enjoy. He also gives directions to the area’s best train photo vantage points such as the Cassandra Overlook (rated the best by those in the know), the bridge at nearby Lily and Carney Crossing.
Icing on the cake, the inn is only three miles from the Allegheny Portage Railroad National Historic Site, six miles from the Gallitzen rail tunnels, 10 miles from the Horseshoe Curve and 15 miles from the Altoona Railroaders Memorial Museum.
With its cornucopia of rail riches, the inn draws many repeat visitors. Davis claims that 85 percent of his guests return for at least one other visit, and one guest, who holds the record, has spent a total of 83 nights at the inn.
At the time of my stay, Ted Turnicki of Jewett City, Conn., was on his 17th visit, the first of which dates back to 1998 when he saw an ad for the inn in a rail magazine.
"While I come here basically to see the trains, I also like the fact that there’s no telephones or TV and that I can get away from it all.
Connecticut may seem a far away place to come from to watch trains, but Davis’ guest book lists visitors from places like Germany and Australia. One fan I enjoyed the inn’s porch with one evening named Jeff Stern was from Nova Scotia.
Awakening at 8 in the morning after my sleepover, I looked out my bedroom window only to see three guests getting out of their car with camera equipment in hand. From the smiles on their faces and their buoyant camaraderie, I knew they must have captured images of something interesting at Cassandra or Lily bridge.
I guess that getting up in the wee small hours of the morning is an easy price to pay for the chance of being able to show fellow rail fans back home a prize catch. Especially if you’re a train nut.
If You’re Going . . .
The Station Inn is located at 827 Front Street In Cresson, Pa., about 75 miles east of Pittsburgh. The inn maintains a live video feed on the rail tracks accessible on its website stationinnpa.com. Phone 814-886-4757.
For a place to dine, the Cresson Springs Family Restaurant, 7563 Admiral Perry Highway in Cresson, is open seven days a week for breakfast lunch and dinner. Almost everything served is homemade, including breads, soups and pies, and all you can eat specials are offered Monday through Sunday. Phone 814-886-7710.
Dave Zuchowski is a travel writer for CNHI News Service, Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.