As noted in yesterday’s post, I’d been inspecting a maintenance train parked on the siding at Lena, when lo and behold, the signal cleared to green.
I alerted John Gruber and we took positions to make photographs.
So there we were along the old Illinois Central at Lena, Illinois in the fading glow of the evening sun. This had been IC’s line from Chicago via Dubuque to Council Bluffs, Iowa and Back in the mid-1990s it had been operated as a regional called the Chicago, Central & Pacific, before being re-incorporated into Illinois Central on the eve of IC being absorbed by Canadian National.
A headlight twinkled into view, and I could see that a freight was coming, but not very fast.
As it grew closer I had the innate sense that it was a really huge train.
Finally it roared by with CN SD70M-2 in the lead. Many cars into the train was a lone CN DASH8-40C employed as a DPU (distributed power unit, modern railroad lingo for a radio controlled remote.)
I’ll let you in on a secret: I counted the cars. And do you know what? This was the largest/longest train I’d ever seen on the move. That’s with more than 40 years of watching trains. Any guesses as to how many cars? Trust me, it was a doosie!
(To those of you that I’ve told about this already, please keep the correct answer under your hat. And if anyone was working this monster, perhaps you have greater appreciation for its size than I do.)
The answers will be revealed in an up-coming post!
A few weeks back, John Gruber and I were on our way back to Madison, Wisconsin from the Mississippi River Valley. We’d followed the old Milwaukee Road up to Lanark, Illinois, then cut northward on Illinois State highways.
The sun was a golden globe in the western sky above rolling corn fields.
At Lena we intersected Canadian National’s former Illinois Central east-west line that connects Chicago with Council Bluffs, Iowa. I noticed that the signals were lit red and that there was something unusual in the siding.
Unusual indeed! It was a self-propelled draw-bar connected train of articulated flatcars for maintenance service. I’d never seen anything like it.
I’d love to tell you all about it, except I know precious little, except that the ‘locomotive’ had EMD Blomberg trucks and the whole machinery carried GREX reporting marks. Perhaps if I do another book on railroad maintenance equipment, I’ll have the opportunity to research this train more thoroughly.
While I was studying this unusual railway machine, the eastward signals at the end of the siding changed aspects; the cleared from all red to ‘green over red.’ A train had been lined! Hooray!
A favorite location along the river was the Mississippi Palisades Park a few miles north of Savanna. Back in the mid-1990s, Mike and Tom Danneman and I would park at the public lot near river level and follow a designated hiking trail to one of several overlooks.
There standing on a plateau a top a river bluff made from millions of years of sediment, we command grand views of the river.
At the time, Burlington Northern would run a parade of trains in the afternoon and we’d photograph these roaring up and down the old Chicago, Burlington & Quincy line. This was a versatile location, good for photos at all times of the day. I don’t know that we ever tired of it.
At other times, we’d try angles from river level as well.
It was a clear Spring day; Mike and Tom Danneman and I had departed Waukesha, Wisconsin before sunrise aiming for Rochelle, Illinois where Chicago & North Western crossed Burlington Northern’s C&I Line.
At 7:46 am we photographed our first train, a C&NW eastbound crossing the diamonds at Rochelle. By 10 am we’d caught six trains between the two lines and had worked our way east on BN.
At 10:47, we picked up a Canadian National freight working westbound on BN. At the time CN was routing 4-5 trains each way daily over BN between the Twin Cities and Chicago.
We followed this CN freight led by a pair of General Electric cowl type diesels (model DASH8-40CM numbers 2416 and 2440). At 11:57 am it met an eastward CN freight near Stratford, Illinois.
I was working with two cameras. In my Nikormat FTN I had Fuji Provia 100, and in my Nikon F3T Kodachrome 25.
We continued our chase went toward Savanna, catching this train again at 1:36pm near Burke, Illinois. By the end of the day we’d photographed 21 freights. Not bad for a day out.
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.
Finding an old EMD Locomotive at Work Near its Birth Place.
Followers of Tracking the Light may have noticed that I have a penchant for Electro-Motive Division 20-Cylinder diesels. Not only have I featured these in many of my books, but also they have made regular appearances in my Daily posts.
In 2013, true 20-cylinder EMD locomotives have become really rare machines. Many of the surviving SD45/SD45-2 locomotives have been ‘de-rated’ and are now actually powered by variations of the 16-cylinder 645 engine.
Not that this difference really affects the photos, but for the purest, a true 20-cylinder locomotive has no match. For me, it’s the sound that makes the difference.
When I lived in California, Southern Pacific and Santa Fe both still had substantial fleets or 20 cylinder diesels. These days there are probably more old EMD F units in daily service than 20-cylinder 645s. (Maybe? Anyone know?)
Last week (Tuesday November 12, 2013), John Gruber and I were driving from Madison, Wisconsin toward Chicago to meet Chris Guss and Pat Yough. Chris rang me before lunch to say that an Illinois Railnet freight was ready to depart BNSF’s Eola Yard and had an old SP SD45 in the lead. A real SD45.
I stepped up the pace, and with creative driving and some vital landing instructions from Chris and Pat, John and I arrived at the old Burlington bridge over the Fox River west of Aurora just in time to catch this relatively obscure Chicago-land freight railroad at work. I owe this image to teamwork and the ability to react quickly. Hurray!
Amtrak’s California Zephyr on the last lap to Chicago.
Last Saturday afternoon, Chris Guss, Pat Yough and I finished up a day’s photography on the former Burlington ‘Triple Track’ around La Grange, Illinois.
We inspected Metra’s Congress Park Station, which consists of two narrow platforms along the busy mainline. Here the sun held a little longer than other places where trees were causing difficult shadows.
Shortly before sundown, we caught an outward Metra train. An automated voice announced that this train wouldn’t stop. After it passed, I spotted a headlight on the horizon. Mistaking this for a relatively slow moving freight, I returned to the car for a longer lens.
Pat Yough shouted to me, as the train was approaching quickly. I hastily returned to the platform, making test exposures as I ran.
The resulting photos are what our friend Tim Doherty calls ‘Hail Marys.’ I had just enough time to compose and pop off a few frames as the Zephyr blew through Congress Park.
Amtrak Number 6, the California Zephyr approaches Congress Park, Illinois at sunset on November 9, 2013. Exposed with a Canon EOS 7D with 200mm.
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.
The late Mike Abalos and I attended Illinois Central’s public open house on October 8, 1995. This was a well attended event.
Among the highlights was the railroad’s brand new SD70 number 1000 with its cab open for public inspection. Also on display was the railroad’s business train with former Burlington E-units.
The IC business train must have been one of the most secluded executive trains. Not only was this the only time I saw it, but I’ve seen relative few photographs of it on the move.
It’s livery was an impressive application of a monochromatic design.
Although it was overcast that day, I worked with Kodachrome 25 in my Nikon F3T. When exposed properly, K25 could produce a well rendered image on dull days. I also had Fuji Provia 100 in my Nikormat FT3. Both cameras allowed me to expose some interesting photos of the event.
In early July 1995, Sean Graham-White and I spent several days working with the Belt Railway of Chicago for an article on Clearing Yard for Pacific RailNews.
At the time, I was PRN’s Associate Editor and Sean was among our regular contributors.
Sean had organized with the railroad for us to interview employees and make photographs. BRC assigned an Assistant Yardmaster to drive us around and provide introductions.
Among the facilities we toured was the KCBX Terminal (a bulk commodity trans-loading facility for barges) that was routinely served by a BRC local.
On July 2, 1995, the local was worked by a pair of BRC’s vintage Alco C-424 diesels. These locomotives were very popular with railway enthusiasts, but could be a bit elusive and hard to find running, unless one was very familiar with Chicago-land operations.
I made a number of images of the Alcos and the facility, but most of these did not run in the magazine article, which instead focused on BRC’s Clearing Yard rather than the Alcos or the KCBX terminal.
Eighteen years ago today, May 20, 1995, I made this image of a CC&P former Illinois Central GP9 (still wearing pre-Illinois Central Gulf, IC black) working across the Burlington Northern crossing at East Dubuque, Illinois.
For me, this image of a train emerging from the inky depths of a leaf-covered, stratified cliff, crossing another set of tracks and reaching out of the frame, neatly sums up the short history of the CC&P.
During the mid-1980s, Illinois Central Gulf dramatically trimmed its route structure. Among the lines carved out of ICG, was the Chicago-Omaha/Sioux City CC&P. Born at the end of 1985, this ambitious regional line competed for east-west traffic on the its Chicago-Omaha trunk, while serving on-line customers. After a little more than a decade, Illinois Central (by it then had dropped the ‘Gulf’ in its name—adopted as a reflection of the early 1970s merger with Gulf, Mobile & Ohio) reacquired CC&P.
During the relatively short interval of CC&P independence, the railroad never re-painted all of its locomotives, many of which had been in inherited from ICG. Shortly after, CC&P was melded back into the IC family, it too was absorbed by Canadian National. At the time of this photo, CN was actively using trackage rights on BN, and its trains crossed CC&P’s line 8 to 10 times daily.
Railroad Family Trees Coming Soon!
My book, tentatively titled Railroad Family Trees will be available from Quayside Publishing Group later this year.
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.
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 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.
I made this image of an outbound Metra-Electric multiple-unit in the summer of 1996. This heavily traveled former Illinois Central suburban line remains a rarely photographed operation. I’ve always thought it was odd that it’s so infrequently pictured. Often, photographers neglect the most common subjects. So, there’s a lesson on seeing the ordinary in interesting ways.
On February 25,1995, I made this atmospheric image of an inbound Metra train on the ‘Burlington Triple Track’ at Highlands, Illinois (Today a BNSF mainline). A mix of thin high clouds and smog has tinted the winter sun. A cropped version appeared on the cover of Passenger Train Journal issue 217. At the time, I was employed as an Associate Editor at Pentrex Publishing, including PTJ, and often contributed photograph to the Pentrex magazines.
On June 25, 2010, I used my Lumix LX-3 to expose this backlit image of an eastward BNSF intermodal train hugging the east bank of the Mississippi River near Savannah, Illinois. My vantage point is a limestone outcropping atop the bluffs in Illinois’ Mississippi Palisades State Park
I exposed the image in manual mode, using the camera meter to gauge exposure for the river to avoid blowing out the highlights in the water. I turned all the automatic features, (including the auto focus) ‘off’, thus giving me a virtually instantaneous shutter release that allowed me to neatly fill the frame.
One of the difficulties with many small cameras is a ‘shutter lag’—an undesirable delay from the time the shutter button is released and the actual moment the shutter opens. This unfortunate problem handicaps a photographer’s ability to capture the decisive moment and greatly limits the potential for railway action photography. For me one of great advantages of the Lumix LX-3 is the ability to disable automatic functions and thus obviate the problems associated with a delay. The other camera’s other great advantage is its Leica Vario-Summicron lens, noted for remarkable sharpness and clarity.