The Illinois Central has been part of the Canadian National system for more than 20 years.
It’s remarkable that classic IC SD40-2s (listed as ‘SD40-3s’ on some rosters presumably owing to changes to the locomotive electrical systems and other upgrades) survive in traditional black paint.
During my travels earlier this month with Chris Guss and Brian Schmidt, I made these photos of a pair of sequentially numbered IC SD40-2s working as rear-end helpers on a southward CN freight ascending Wisconsin Central’s Byron Hill.
Notice the GE builders ‘plate’ on the trailing unit.
Low evening sun and frigid temperatures made for some rosy light.
Exposed using my FujiFilm XT1 digital camera with 90mm f2.0 lens.
With some pavement passing beneath us in spirited run on the ascent to Byron, Brian Schmidt and I arrived at the Highway F overpass near the summit of Canadian National’s Wisconsin Central line over Byron Hill in time to record the passage of a northward double stack train meeting a southward freight.
I’ve featured both trains previously on Tracking the Light:
Byron Hill, Lost Arrow Road—Old location Revisited in January 2019.
For this post: as the northward train glided below me, I was watching for the DPU (the locomotive working as a ‘distributed power unit’, 1990s-speak for a ‘radio controlled remotely operated helper). I timed my exposure to document its passage as the uphill train approached.
Years ago I’d work vistas along Lost Arrow Road south of Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, to picture and record Wisconsin Central’s thunderous SD45s.
Last weekend, TRAINS Magazine Brian Schmidt and I revisited this location to photograph a southward Canadian National freight on its ascent to Byron, Wisconsin.
I made these views using my FujiFilm XT1 with 18-135mm Fujinon zoom lens.
Bright sun was contrast from snowy weather earlier in the day. As the freight made its slow progress up Byron Hill we followed with an aim to make more photos, just like in olden times (but with no SD45s this day).
Both feature southward trains on the former Soo Line, Wisconsin Central route ascending Byron Hill on their way south from Fond du Lac, exposed in the morning from the overhead bridge near the top of the grade.
In the interval between the images, the line was improved to two-main track and Wisconsin Central Limited became part of the Canadian National system.
One of the first standard types of automated visual grade crossing warning was the automatic flagman, a signal commonly known as a ‘wig wag’. [This was] adopted as a standard crossing device by the American Railway Association in 1923. A standard wig wag is actuated by a track circuit and consists of a paddle with a red lamp that gracefully swings back and forth in a horizontal pattern when a train approaches [and] usually accompanied by a bell . . . [at one time] the wig wag was the preferred type of grade crossing protection in the Midwest and far west. [They were] largely supplanted by modern flashing signals and crossing gates.
I was traveling with Marshall Beecher on the morning of August 3, 1996, when I exposed this view of Wisconsin Central’s southward freight ANPR-A approaching a grade crossing on the former Chicago & North Western line in Fond du Lac. This line saw less traffic than WC’s near by former Soo Line mainline over Byron Hill, but the attraction was these antique signals. Notice my use of selective depth of field.
The Illinois Railway Museum has one of the best collections of North American railway equipment. Hundreds of pieces of equipment spanning more than a century are on display.
It’s great to be able to inspect a traditional 4-4-0, and a Forney Tank engine. I’m fond of classics such as the Santa Fe 2900-class 4-8-4, Burlington’s 4-6-4 Hudson and its streamlined Budd-built Nebraska Zephyr, and of course the Pennsylvania Railroad GG1 in Brunswick green.
The old diesels are neat, and there’s great array of old streetcars.
But then, what’s this? A Wisconsin Central SD45? Wow, nice to see that one of those was saved, but it just doesn’t seem that long ago and I was out catching these on the mainline.
And wait, what about this Metra Bi-Level electric? Weird to see THAT in a museum.
Two Chicago & North Western DASH9s!
Now I just feel old.
Views exposed with my FujiFilm X-T1 digital camera with Zeiss 12mm Tuoit.
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.
Ten years earlier in my Pacific RailNews days, I’d often photographed along the Wisconsin Central. By 2004, the railroad had been absorbed by CN, yet quite a few of WC’s old SD45s were still on the move.
It might surprise some regular readers, but photography wasn’t the prime reason for my visit. Rather, I was trying to make high-end audio recordings of the old SD45s working in multiple. As I’ve explained in other publications; the SD45’s 20-cylinder 645E3 produces a distinctive low-frequency sound when working in the mid- throttle positions. I wanted to preserve these sounds that had been so familiar to my earlier railroad experience.
So what does that have to do with this CN DASH 9?
Simple opportunity; that is all. I’ve never been one to squander a chance to make a photograph.
This CN General Electric was leading a southward freight toward the yards at North Fond du Lac, and I set up this image at Subway Road a little ways north of the yard.
Unfortunately, a thermal cloud covered the sun moments before the locomotive reached the optimum position. This would have been a greater problem if I’d been using Kodachrome. As it happened, I was exposing Fujichrome.
I’ve made a few minor post-processing adjustments to the slide scan designed to improve the contrast and color balance.
What about the audio recordings? I made most of those late at night when there was minimal interference from random noise, but that’s really the topic for another time.
It had been a busy morning at Byron. This southward freight had made a meet and was just coming out of the siding, so I had ample time to make images of these SD45s.
As the train grew close, I made a couple of final images on Kodachrome with my Nikormat FT3 and 28mm Nikkor Lens. I took this low view with a wide-angle to get a dynamic photograph.
I was Editor of Pacific RailNews, and we often had a need for photographs with lots of sky to use as opening spreads. It was a style of times to run headlines, credits and sometimes text across the top of the image. I had that thought in my mind when I made this particular angle.
I was also trying to minimize the ballast and drainage ditch that I found visually unappealing, while making the most of the clear blue dome and allowing for a dramatic position for the locomotives relative to the horizon.
Variations of this image have appeared in print over the years.
Here, a potpourri of images illuminated the net; covering everything from unit oil trains to obscure eastern European transit. So, looking back, 2013 has been a productive and busy time for Tracking the Light.
My original intention with Tracking the Light was to disseminate detailed information about railway photographic technique. Over time this concept has evolved and I’ve used this as a venue for many of my tens of thousands of images.
Among the themes of the images I post; signaling, EMD 20-cylinder diesels, Irish Railways, photos made in tricky (difficult) lighting, elusive trains, weedy tracks and steam locomotives are my favorites.
Since March, I’ve posted new material daily. I’ve tried to vary the posts while largely sticking to the essential theme of railway images. I hope you’ve enjoyed the posts and will tell your friends about this site! There’s more to come in 2014!
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).
CN’s Latest Alternating Current Traction Diesels ply the old Wisconsin Central.
There’s nothing like a shiny new locomotive; It will never look any better. Best of all, it’s really something new, not just the ‘same-old, same-old.’
Last week, Chris Guss and I were working CN’s former Wisconsin Central Limited lines in Illinois and Wisconsin where CN’s latest locomotives were plying the rails.
Until very recently, CN was the last major North American freight railroad to refrain from AC traction technology. First used on wide-scale by Burlington Northern beginning in 1993, by the late-1990s most big railroads had at least sampled AC traction diesels. Yet, CN kept ordering DC traction. But not anymore; today AC’s are the latest thing even on CN!
CN’s new ES44DCs look good working in pairs in the rolling Midwestern countryside.
Here’s a few photos I made over a two-day period in early November 2013.
On our second day, Pat Yough joined us for some of the photos and we also met up with Iowa-based Craig Williams near Fond du Lac while waiting for southward CN ES44ACs to emerge from some trees.
We were all on our way to one of the Midwest’s premier railway photography venues: Beecherfest (held near Milwaukee every year).
Southbound CN Stacks work the old Soo Line, November 8, 2013.
Between July 1994 and October 1996, I lived within walking distance of the former Soo Line station at Waukesha, Wisconsin.
At that time the railroad was owned and operated by Ed Burkhardt’s Wisconsin Central Limited (a 1980s regional carved from the old Soo Line after Soo Line merged with the largely parallel Milwaukee Road)
I’ve long since moved to new horizons and in the meantime, the ever-expanding Canadian National empire assimilated the WCL. The line through Waukesha that had once been part of the Canadian Pacific family is now a CN route.
Today’s CN has a very different operating style than that of WCL in mid-1990s.
Where WCL ran a tightly scheduled railroad with frequent but relatively short freights connecting Shops Yard at North Fond du Lac with various Chicago-land terminals, CN leans toward enormous rolling land-barges, many of which now take an Elgin, Joliet & Eastern routing around Chicago to reach the former Illinois Central or other connections.
Like the WCL, EJ&E and IC are now part of the CN empire.
On November 8, 2013, Chris Guss, Pat Yough and I photographed CN’s southward intermodal train symbol Q11651-04 led by SD70M-2 8800 passing the old Waukesha Soo Line station. At the back of the train was a modern General Electric working as a ‘distributed power unit’ (a radio-controlled remote locomotive controlled from the head-end).
This is a big change from the pairs of SD45 leading strings of 50 foot box cars or Duluth, Missabe & Iron Range ore jennies that I regularly saw in the 1990s. And, by the way, DM&IR is also another of CN’s railroads.
On the afternoon of December 3, 1994, Mike Danneman and I were following a southward Wisconsin Central freight up the 1 percent grade south of Fond du Lac known on the railroad as Byron Hill.
Here, heavy freights would slow to a crawl for several minutes as they laboured to reach the summit at Byron. With a bit of swift driving we were able to make several images of the train in the low evening light.
The best part of the experience was listening to the 20-cylinder throbbing roar pulsing into the rural Wisconsin countryside as the SD45s clawed their way up the hill.
Ten years later, I returned to Byron Hill with a DAT recorder to make stereo sound records of SD45s at work.
Tomorrow, Tracking the Light looks at CN on Wisconsin Central.
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.