Tag Archives: Chicago and North Western Transportation Company

DAILY POST: Diesel Meets Steam at Dresser, Wisconsin.

Wisconsin Central GP7 and a Northern Pacific 4-6-0 in August 1996.

 This old Kodachrome is a prize! Sometimes a scene has more background that I could have incribed on the slide mount.

Back in August 1996, Dick Gruber and I drove up to Osceola, Wisconsin to spend a weekend photographing Northern Pacific 4-6-0 number 328 that was scheduled for Minnesota Transportation Museum’s Osceola & St. Croix Valley trips over Wisconsin Central’s former Soo Line.

Two days worth of trips were scheduled and we made the most of this classic locomotive under steam. There were some challenges; such as finding a place to stay. I recall scouring motels in the Minneapolis area without any luck.

Steam and diesel
A Wisconsin Central local freight meets Northern Pacific 4-6-0 number 328 at Dresser, Wisconsin on August 17, 1996. I made this image from a low-angle using my Nikon F3T with a 28mm lens.

We ended up back in Osceola in the early hours chatting with crew. The mosquitoes were fierce and accommodations were lacking. I had a sleeping bag in my car, and one of the steam crew suggested I sleep on 328’s tender.

I took this suggestion to heart and laid out my bag on a flat spot away from the coal and got a few hours rest. The heat from the boiler kept me warm, while the smoke discouraged the bugs. Unfortunately, about 5:30 am, a crewman woke me with an apology. “Sorry, you’ll need to move, I need to stoke the engine.”

This was the start for a long but productive day of photography. Some 13 hours later, I made this image. After an excursion, NP 328 had run, ‘light engine,’ (by itself) to Dresser to turn on the wye. Here it met a Wisconsin Central local freight with a former Chicago & North Western GP7, still in its former owner’s paint.

At the time I was researching for my book The American Steam Locomotive (Published by MBI in 1998). I couldn’t help but thinking, that it was GP7s like this one had ousted 4-6-0s from their duties more than 40 years earlier. (However, 4151 was built new for Rock Island, and only acquired by C&NW in 1981). The irony is the GP7 was probably scrapped while today 328 is still around (pending overhaul).

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Chicago & North Western’s Last Year.


Images of the Midwestern Railroad Final Days.

C&NW logo
Historic Chicago & North Western herald on the side of a HyRail truck in Spring 1995.

It’s been nearly 18 years since Union Pacific absorbed the Chicago & North Western system. I was fortunate to have been in position to photograph C&NW in its final year of independence.

C&NW’s busiest route was its largely double-track Chicago-Council Bluffs mainline. Yet, long before C&NW was formally merged with UP, this route had functioned as an eastward extension of UP’s east-west mainline. In the early 1990s, many trains operated with UP run-through locomotives.

C&NW at Rochelle, Illinois.
C&NW was famous for left-hand running. An eastward C&NW freight crosses the Burlington Northern diamonds at Rochelle, Illinois on the morning of April 2, 1995. Nikon F3T with Nikkor f4 200mm lens, Kodachrome 25 slide film.
On April 23, 1995. a pair of C&NW General Electric DASH8-40Cs lead a westward freight on Arcadia Hill in western, Iowa. Nikon F3T with f1.8 105mm lens, Kodachrome 25 film.

I found C&NW’s  surviving secondary lines even more photogenic. Yet, these lines represented just a shadow of C&NW’s once sprawling empire. Many routes had been fragmented or abandoned. Once busy secondary mainlines, served as little more than lightly served freight feeders. Several C&NW operations had been physically isolated from its core network, with the railroad relying on haulage arrangements in place of its own lines.

C&NW Jefferson Junction, Wisconsin
A pair of C&NW GP7s work the Jefferson Junction local on the evening of April 19, 1995. Jefferson Junction, Wisconsin was once the crossing of two important secondary routes, but by this late date it was effectively served as a branch from the Adams Cutoff via Clyman Junction. Nikon F3T with 35mm PC (shift) lens, Kodachrome 25 slide film.
C&NW hoppers at Jefferson Jct Wis Apr 19 1995
C&NW hoppers at Jefferson Junction Wisconsin on April 19, 1995 .

C&NW held onto its identity into its last days. Its historic herald was still proudly displayed on equipment and infrastructure. Vestiges of its former greatness survived as visual cues to an earlier era. So its final year, C&NW retained these threads of corporate continuity. While the appearance of C&NW continued for a while under Union Pacific operation, once it was part of the UP system, these threads were less meaningful.

I made roughly a thousand C&NW images between June 1994 and May 1995 (UP’s intended merger date in late April 1995 was ultimately postponed a few weeks, despite reports to the contrary). These are just a sampling of those efforts.

C&NW logo

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Midwestern Sunset on Chicago & North Western

Iconic image of tracks to the horizon.

railroad tracks.
Chicago & North Western’s Chicago-Omaha mainline at sunset.

In the mid-1990s, I’ve made a variety of similar images along the Chicago & North Western’s Chicago-Council Bluffs mainline that offers a literal depiction of the classic textbook illustration showing railroad tracks to demonstrate perspective.

Why C&NW? The angle of tracks and arrangement offers classic simplicity. This is a largely tangent east-west double-track line that crosses comparatively open landscapes in western Illinois and central Iowa, where installation of advanced signaling combined with burying of code lines and other communications minimized line-side poles and wires.

I’ve exposed for the sky that produces a silhouette of tracks and equipment. C&NW’s highly polished mainline rails nicely reflect the evening sky. For added interest I’ve included a set of interlocking signals in the distance. If I placed them too close,  the signals will have become the subject, and that was not the intent of this image.

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Chicago & North Western 1385 in February, 1996.

Mid-Continent Railway Museum, North Freedom, Wisconsin.

I’ve featured Chicago & North Western 1385 in a number of books, including my American Steam Locomotive (published in 1998 by MBI), and Locomotive (published in 2001 by MBI) and most recently in Alco Locomotives  (2009 by Voyageur Press).

C&NW R-1
This view from inside the cross-tender’s shack at North Freedom show’s Chicago & North Western 4-6-0 1385 pulling up to the water tank to take on water. I made this classic scene in February 1996, during Mid-Continent’s annual “Snowtrain” event. I featured this image in my American Steam Locomotive among other publications. It was exposed on Kodachrome with my Nikon F3T and a 28mm lens.

The locomotive is preserved at the Mid-Continent Railway Museum  in North Freedom, Wisconsin, and was operated regularly when I lived in Wisconsin in the mid-1990s. My friend John Gruber had helped save the locomotive in the early 1960s, and it was his son Dick Gruber who introduced me to the engine when we worked for Pentrex Publishing.

Here’s an excerpt of my text from Locomotive on C&NW’s R-1 Class 4-6-0s:

If any one locomotive could be selected to represent Chicago & North Western’s steam power fleet, it would have to be the Class R-1 Ten Wheeler. In its day, the R-1 was the most common, and perhaps the most versatile locomotive on the railroad. A total of 325 R-1 were built, the most numerous type of any C&NW steam locomotive, and they were among the longest lived classes on the railroad as well.

 During the last 15 years of the 19th century, C&NW amassed quite a variety of 4-6-0s. Most were products of the Schenectady Locomotive Works, in Schenectady, New York, but some were built by Baldwin.

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