Last week I rode from Chicago Union Station over the former New York Central Water Level route to Albany and then via the Boston & Albany to Worcester, Massachusetts.
A familiar run, I first made this trip in August of 1983 and I’ve done it many times since. However, both my first trip and most recent have a commonality: I began these trips with some photography on the former Chicago, Burlington & Quincy ‘Triple Track’ near Aurora, rode a ‘scoot’ into Chicago and changed for the Lake Shore at Union Station.
While I enjoy train travel, I’m not especially keen on really long runs. My usual limit is about 8 hours. I make exceptions for the Lake Shore. For me this is one of the most interesting American runs.
The queuing process at Chicago Union leaves much to be desired. It reminded me of a recent experience with jury duty. Yet once ensconced in my seat in an Amfleet II coach I was happy enough.
We departed Union Station 3 minutes after the advertised and gradually lost more time over the course of the run. I don’t mind this especially, after all the train’s long standing nick-name is, “The Late for Sure Limited.’
Gliding east in the darkness, I squinted to pick out familiar landmarks, as this trip is the thread that really ties my recent posts together.
At 9:37 pm we eased over the 21st Street Bridge; a few minutes later we clattered across the diamonds with the old Rock Island at Englewood, and at 9:58 we raced through Hammond-Whiting, Indiana. I noted where Chris Guss and I had stood a week earlier to photograph both an EJ&E freight and NS’s Interstate Heritage Unit.
Northern Indiana was alive with trains. We passed a CSX stack train at Curtis on the adjacent former Baltimore & Ohio. East of Michigan City we overtook a South Shore freight led by a pair of GP38s roaring along under wire like an apparition from another era. I heard the Doppler blast as the South Shore hit a crossing alongside of us. It was just a momentary glimpse in the night and not far from a spot where Mike Danneman made photos on an icy February afternoon some 18 years ago.
A seeming endless parade of Norfolk Southern freights greeted us on the Water Level Route. Every few minutes a low base roar would precede locomotives blasting by on an adjacent main track. Although Conrail has been gone 14 years, I still find it odd that Central’s old Water Level Route is now run by two separate railroads.
I dozed off, waking briefly at Toledo to watch an oil train roll east, and empty hoppers used to move fracking sand clatter west. Somewhere between Toledo and Berea, Ohio we lost about an hour.
Near Berea we met the rising sun and passed the old tower—sacred ground visited by my late friend Bob Buck and countless other fans over the years. This is the divide, from here east we were rode on CSX tracks.
We paused for Cleveland, then Erie, and for many miles we ran parallel to the former Nickel Plate Road, which now carries Norfolk Southern freight east of Cleveland. I was pleased to see many photographers line-side; my train’s journey was well documented!
At Buffalo, I had a pleasant surprise: instead of taking the normal route via CP Draw and CP FW, we were routed over the Compromise Branch that takes a more northerly (and slightly longer route) through Buffalo, rejoining the other line at CP 437 (the control point near the ghastly decaying remnants of Buffalo Central Terminal). Amtrak’s 48/448 serves the suburban Buffalo-Depew station instead of the old terminal.
Behind me a woman traveler was on the phone describing her trip on Amtrak from Oregon: “We live in such an amazing country! Crossing the plains I saw endless herds of wild Bison and red Indians on horseback! There were wagon trains crawling dusty trails against purple mountains and rainbows! And amber fields of grain! Is that wheat, do you think? And Chicago was like the emerald city, its towers scraping the sky. Such a skyline! And all through the Midwest big factories making the produce of America! It’s just wonderful!”
Indeed. Was she on number 8? Or perhaps one of those ‘Great Trains of the Continental Route’ as advertised in my August 1881 Travelers’ Official Guide?
At Rochester, my old friend Otto Vondrak came down for a brief visit. He and I share various Rochester-area experiences. Then eastward into ever more familiar territory.
At Schenectady, a Canadian Pacific freight overtook us on the Delaware & Hudson before we resumed our sprint to Albany-Rensselaer, where we then sat for an eternity waiting for station space. Here 48 and 448 are divided, with the latter continuing down the Hudson to New York City.
East of Rensselaer, I paid extra special attention to our progress. There are few railroads I know as well as the B&A. At 4:38pm we met CSX’s Q283 (empty autoracks) at Chatham. We paused at CP171 (East Chatham) to let pass our westward counterpart, train 449. At Pittsfield, CSX’s Q423 (Worcester to Selkirk) was waiting for us.
The highlight of the trip was the sinuous descent of Washington Hill’s west slope. There was test of the Westinghouse brakes near the deep rock cut east of Washington Station, and I continued my trip through time and space. Familiar places and landmarks blitzed by the glass; Lower Valley Road, Becket, Twin Ledges, old Middlefield Station, Whistler’s stone bridges along the valley of the Westfield’s west branch, the old helper station at Chester, and east through Huntington, Russell, and Woronoco.
At West Springfield we passed the old Boston & Albany yard. Watching the parade of trains in evening at the west end of the yard were ghosts of departed members of the West Springfield Train Watchers; among them founding member Norvel C. Parker, Stuart Woolley—retired B&A fireman, Joseph Snopek—photographer and author, and of course, Bob Buck—B&A’s greatest fan and proprietor of Tucker’s Hobbies. I waved and they waved back. (Hey, at least I wasn’t seeing herds of wild bison!)
After a stop at Springfield Station, I was on my final leg of this journey. We rattled over the Palmer diamonds—where I’ve exposed countless photos over the years, and raced up the Quaboag River Valley, through West Warren, Warren, West Brookfield, Brookfield, and East Brookfield—where my friend Dennis LeBeau and his loyal dog, Wolfie, were line-side to salute my passage.
At Worcester, my father, Richard J. Solomon was poised to collect me. And so concluded my latest Lake Shore epic. And, yes, 448 was indeed late: 1 hour 15 minutes passed the advertised. Tsk!