William L. Sartore
Railway stations and depots came in a variety of shapes and sizes. Some were large and ornate; cultural centers akin to today’s major city airport. Other stations were small or utilitarian in nature. Regardless of their size, their functions were alike and every little station could be found faithfully standing alongside the rail line it served . . . almost every station that is.
Topography can present a challenge. Anyone familiar with the terrain of southwestern Pennsylvania knows of the “Pittsburgh Acre” — a plot of land located on a hillside that’s best suited for growing rocks and brush. Regardless of the lay of the land, we do what we can with what we’ve got. While looking for a unique idea for my submission to a model railroad magazine contest, I discovered a picture of a station that sat upon a Pittsburgh Acre. Clifton Station, a small station once located in Emsworth Pennsylvania, sat upon a rock shelf about thirty feet above the railway grade. So much for little stations sitting alongside the tracks I thought..
Clifton Station was located about eight miles west of Pittsburgh. It was situated on the north shore of the Ohio River and served the Pittsburgh, Fort Wayne, and Chicago division of the Pennsylvania Railroad. The only access to the station was from two footpaths that descended from the steep hillside above and ended at opposite ends of the station building itself. Travelers heading into the city would then continue across a footbridge spanning the mainline and climb down the stairs to the grade level platform. Once alongside the tracks, people could either wait in a glass enclosed shelter or stand on the platform and watch the river traffic as it plied along the Ohio River. I first became aware of this station while looking through a book that chronicled the Pennsylvania Railroad in and around Pittsburgh. Internet research only provided me with the same image that I found in the book. The internet did allow me to view some historical maps of the area that confirmed that no roads led right up to the station and that only footpaths came near it. I needed more information if I wanted any chance at entering the contest. Anyone having made a scale model appreciates the importance of good drawings or photographs. Had I chosen the Sewickley or Emsworth Stations to recreate, I would have had such material. When the Internet fails you it’s time for the old standby, a trip to the public library. The Emsworth Public Library had centennial and 75th anniversary publications on the shelf that contained numerous photographs and articles featuring people and places within the borough. However, these books provided me with only about three pictures of Clifton Station. As it turns out though, an article provided me with some of the Most Unexceptional information fro recreating this building. In the article, Anne Agnew, a lifelong Emsworth native, relived the days when she would walk down the hillside path to get to the station. She told of the stationmaster and his family, having known of the children that lived there, or having watched the devastating floodwaters cover the tracks in 1936. I wish I had the chance to sit and talk to Miss Agnew. Unfortunately, she passed away earlier this year. I like to think that she guided me in some way as I finished the model. The model may not pass “rivet-counter” standards (a term used to describe model railroad nitpickers) but it does provide a fairly accurate glimpse of a little station that wasn’t exactly “trackside” in the complete sense of the word.
Bill Sartore corresponds with us from Bethel Park where he lives with his wife and two children. He has a family business in Sewickley.