In the dim early hours of September 9, 1995, I spotted Wisconsin Central’s recently acquired former Santa Fe FP45 leading a southward train through Duplainville, Wisconsin.
Normally I walked to work. I lived just a few blocks from the Pentrex Publishing offices on Grand Avenue. That morning, twenty years ago today, I’d been prowling around in my Mazda looking for angle to photograph the Wisconsin Central.
WC’s FP45 6652 was a one of a kind, and a prize to be scored! When I saw that engine roll across the diamonds at Duplainville, knew I’d be a little late to my desk.
WC freights tended to roll along, and chasing was difficult.
However, this southward freight had to make a meet at Vernon, south of Waukesha. The resulting delay was both long enough for me to make a swift drive on country roads to Burlington, Wisconsin, and for the sun to rise high enough to expose Kodachrome.
I set up in the park on the east side of the tracks. The Canadian Geese in the pond were an unanticipated bonus.
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.
Santa Fe had been first to order the FP45—intended as a dual service machine used passenger service and for fast freight. The only other customer for the FP45 was Milwaukee Road which bought five of them. Significant of these designs was the external semi-streamlined cowling leading the locomotive’s ‘Cowls’ nickname.
EMD’s F45 was intended primarily for freight so it didn’t feature a large steam generator. As a result it was several feet shorter. Santa Fe ordered 40, while along with Great Northern and its successor Burlington Northern, bought 56 F45s. Like its SD45, EMD rated both FP45 and F45 at 3,600 hp.These locomotives had a similar appearance to the SDP40F and F40C (see: Locomotive Geometry Part 4).
Although Wisconsin Central operated seven of the big cowled EMDs, I found these to be relatively elusive when compared to WC’s far more common SD45s. Yet, I count myself fortunate to have caught the cowl 20-cylinder locomotives at various occasions, both in Santa Fe and Wisconsin Central paint.
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.