|The Bill Metzger Story|
before the name Bill Metzger comes up. I don't think anyone is ever quite prepared to meet Bill, or to meet with him-anytime. The memory of Bill sitting across the board room table from Dick Wilson, trading barbs-well really it was Bill dishing out lawyer jokes and insults and Dick enjoying every bit of it, still makes me smile.
Bill's interest in the Montour Railroad (MRR) began in 1972 when he spotted one of the SW9's approaching the "Consol" coal washer at Champion. After spending some time photographing the locomotive, he fell in love with the MRR and photographed it frequently over the next decade.
I learned from Bill that the MRR was opened in 1878, originally extending as far as Stoops Ferry. It was named for the Montour Run waterway, alongside which the rails would run. The waterway was named for Andrew (or Andy, as Bill refers to him-I think Bill actually knew him) Montour, a French and Indian settler who operated a trading post near the mouth of Montour Run.
In 1981, Bill's interest in bicycling and trails began when he took a train to Altoona and departed from there by bicycle. Traveling south through Bedford County and eventually into Cumberland, Maryland, he encountered the C&O canal and towpath, which he followed all the way to Georgetown. At that time, a touring bicyclist did not meet very many counterparts on the C&O. As Bill put it, "if you met someone, you stopped and talked because that might be the only person you saw all day."
He spent 2 weeks making that trek and remarked, "I never had a vacation like that before." The solitude and relaxation that one could find on such trails convinced Bill that these types of linear parks could be developed in Western PA, from the many abandoned railroads there. A trail like the C & O would have made a tremendous impact for bicycling in Western PA at that time. On this particular subject, Bill tells another of his amusing anecdotes (which I can definitely relate to after having ridden through PA on a cross-country bicycle trip in 1981). As Bill tells it, "I was riding in Maryland, feeling very relaxed, due to a combination of the nice breeze on my face and a beautifully smooth and wide shoulder. I crossed into Pennsylvania, and RIGHT NOW, the shoulder disappears and I'm on this bumpy narrow road with cars and semis roaring past, (major bummer)."
On April 10, 1984, Bill, Jack Polaritz and Byron Rose chased one of the last trains to run on the MRR. The line was shut down over a period of time during which miles and miles of boxcars were being stored along sections no longer running. The last part to close was the Westland Branch serving the mine on the West Side of Route 519.
Bill told me that Peters Township was influenced by their manager Mike Silvestri's masters thesis some eight years earlier, to buy approximately 5 miles or 100 acres of MRR property in 1984, and put down 2.6 miles of paved trail, in 1985. Although very few people (Bill being one of them) realized it at the time, the Montour Trail was being born.
Bill became involved with an early 1989 study being done in Western Pennsylvania, by the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy (RTC). The coordinator was a lady by the name of Deb Bennett (and she could run faster than Bill). The purpose of the study was to evaluate abandoned rail lines and to determine whether it was feasible to convert them into rail trails. Due to some cheerleading from some of the usual suspects the Montour Railroad was the centerpiece of this study. Stan and I were holding back, awaiting the report from RTC, due to arrive in the spring.