Canadian National had acquired WCL a few years earlier, and while many through freights were operating with CN locomotives a few trains out of Fond du Lac were still assigned WCL SD45s.
I’d made a project out of recording the sounds of these 20 cylinder dinosaurs, while using choice moments to make photos.
This freight had struggled up from Valley siding, where its lead unit had warranted attention from the mechanical department before ascending the five-mile grade to Byron.
The freight was paused short of the grade crossing at Byron, and I exposed this view in the last throes of daylight using my Nikon F3 with Fujichrome slide film mounted on a Bogen tripod.
As regular viewers of Tracking the Light might recognize, I’ve made a variety of photos at Byron, Wisconsin over the years. Key to this composition is my positioning of the codeline, which conveniently switches from one side of the tracks to the other just shy of the grade crossing.
During my visit with Chris Guss in November we explored Chicago area railroads. This was both a means of making photos while proving needed opportunity to discuss the text for book on Chicago’s railroads that we were authoring (along with Mike Blaszak and John Gruber).
On the morning of November 7th, we drove to South Elgin to intercept an eastward Canadian National ethanol train working the old Illinois Central Iowa Division. Back in the mid-1990s, I knew this route as the Chicago Central & Pacific.
As it turned out the CC&P was just a short-lived regional, perhaps now almost forgotten, swept up in the wave of mergers and acquisitions that characterized the railroad dynamic of the 1990s.
Chris favored this location off a bicycle trail below a massive highway bridge. On the opposite side of the river are the tracks of the Fox River Trolley Museum.
Although we missed an earlier eastward freight, we arrived in ample time to set up for this train. I exposed several photos using my Canon EOS 7D, and made this color slide using my dad’s Leica M4 that I’d borrowed for the trip.
Making a slide with this Leica allowed me to maintain interesting continuity, since my father made many slides around Chicago with his Leica cameras in the early 1960s. (Incidentally, some of him images will appear in the book, to be published by Voyageur Press later this year).
These days while I largely work with my digital cameras, I still expose a fair bit of film (usually color slides, but sometimes black & white). I have plenty of old film cameras to choose from, and I often carry an EOS 3 loaded with Provia 100F.
Railway tracks are the defining infrastructure of this transport system. They are key to the whole technology as well part of the title of this Internet Blog.
Often, tracks are view as secondary to the trains that use them. Photographs tend to focus on the locomotives and cars, rather then the tracks themselves.
With this post, I’ve focused on the tracks. I’ve selected a few photographs from my archives in which the tracks are the subject: tracks leading to the horizon across a desolate desert landscape; tracks curling around a bend in the snow; tracks in the weeds and tracks catching the sunlight.
Tracks capture our imaginations, and the images of tracks can be timeless. Yet not all tracks are the same. The condition of the line and nature of the landscape is telling. I’ve made hundreds of images like these over the years; sometimes from trains, other times from the ground, or overhead bridges. The formula is simple, but the results vary greatly.
Often the thought of what lies beyond is the most intriguing. What lies around the curve or just over the horizon? It are images like these that inspire wanderlust for railway journeys. In days of yore, how many young men left home in pursuit of that the elusive view around the next bend in the tracks.
And there are still six tracks, but now it is in effect two parallel lines; a four-track electric suburban route run by Chicago’s Metra, and a double track line run by Canadian National.
On November 7, 2013, Chris Guss gave me a whirlwind tour of Canadian National operations in Chicago, largely focused on former Illinois Central lines.
We scoped this location on East Pershing Street south of downtown, knowing that Canadian National’s southbound freight from Waterloo, Iowa (symbol 33891) was on its way. We didn’t wait long before it came into view.
In the course of about 25 minutes, we caught the freight followed by a wave of passenger trains run by Metra, South Shore and Amtrak.
The old Illinois Central catenary adds an element of intrigue to the gritty atmosphere of this line.
While waiting for trains, an enthusiastic baker came by and offered us butter cookies. Tasty too!
I exposed photos with three cameras, working with both my Canon EOS 7 and Lumix LX3, plus my Dad’s Leica M4.
During out short visit the sky over Lake Michigan quickly changed from blue to gray, a weather condition all to typical of Chicago.