The old Erie Railroad is one of my favorite lines.
Mike Gardner and I got a very early start on 15 April 2004. We worked our way west to the Portage Bridge at the Letchworth Gorge in western New York State in time to intercept an eastward CP Rail freight.
We chased this capturing it in multiple locations along the old Erie line to Hornell. At this time Norfolk Southern was the owner operator, while CP Rail operated via Delaware & Hudson trackage rights.
Clear blue dome; bright red EMDs, and great scenery with a good quality chase road made the morning extra productive.
My old boss at Pentrex Publishing, Don Gulbrandsen, encouraged my photography along the Mississippi by describing the whole experience as the ‘Spirit of the River.’ While for me the main attraction was the railroads; the towns, scenery, boats and barges, locks and wild life (mostly birds of the feathered variety), which made for added interest.
Between 1994 and 1996, I made numerous trips to the Mississippi River Valley, largely working between Savanna, Illinois and La Crosse, Wisconsin and the corresponding towns on the Iowa-side.
I often traveled with Tom and Mike Danneman, Dean Sauvola, Tim Hensch and others, who added their perspective to the Mississippi Valley. While Burlington Northern (BNSF after September 1995) was the busiest line, whenever possible, I focused on the other railroads, namely Canadian Pacific’s Soo Line and Chicago, Central & Pacific.
The vast majority of my photography from these trips has never been seen, save for the occasional slide show in the 1990s. The other day, on request from a regular Tracking the Light reader, I opened a blue Logan Box filled with cardboard-mounted chromes that is labeled ‘Midwest 1990s,’ and contains some of my Mississippi River highlights.
Some of the photos are classic views, others are more interpretive. At the time, I was aiming to expose scenes that captured the railroad in its environment, often with a greater emphasis on the environment than the trains.
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.
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).
By the mid-1990s, Wisconsin Central Limited operated one of the largest fleets of secondhand 20-cylinder EMD locomotives in the United States, having acquired more than 100 SD45s, F45s, among other 20-cylinder models from class I railroads. It rebuilt the locomotives at its North Fond du Lac shops.
At the time, I lived in Waukesha within earshot of WC’s former Soo Line mainline to Chicago. A few miles to the north was WC’s crossing of Soo Line’s former Milwaukee Road mainline. (This confusing arrangement stemmed from Soo Line’s 1985 merger with Milwaukee Road, and the subsequent spin off of former Soo Line routes which in 1987 had been regrouped as Wisconsin Central Limited.)
Among WC’s freights was T047, which connected with Soo Line in Milwaukee and so utilized the former Milwaukee Road mainline between Milwaukee and Duplainville. On the afternoon of May 7, 1996, I exposed this Kodachrome slide of a pair of WC SD45s (one of which still wearing Santa Fe paint) leaving the Milwaukee mainline on its way north toward North Fond du Lac.