Notes and photos from a Great Lakes region railfan
Santa Train Weekend, Day 2

Following Saturday’s rather unexpected chase of the GTW Santa Train along the Mt. Clemens Subdivision, Sunday morning found two of the guys I’d run across in New Haven, a third guy and I heading west toward Owosso and the first run (on the last day of the season) of Steam Railroading Institute’s North Pole Express, pulled by Pere Marquette 1225. Having not attempted to chase the North Pole Express trains on snow covered roads before, it was a bit of a learning experience, as was finding places to stop where 4 guys could pile out of the car and set up to photograph and/or record the trains’ passage on video. But…in the end, we managed to watch the 1225 pass us twice before the train reached the “North Pole”.

At the first location we set up, a couple miles north of Owosso, I elected to use the video capabilities on my camera, which I quickly regretted while watching voluminous clouds of steam and smoke billow through the air around the locomotive. Here’s the video I elected to shoot instead:

After 1225 and train had passed, we all piled back into the car and headed north, in pursuit of another shot, but…snow covered roads make chasing steam trains treacherous. Our next opportunity to see 1225 was very last second, as we approached the M-57 grade crossing about a minute before the train did. I elected to take pictures this time…

As the end of the train passed, I also snagged this shot of the guys I was chasing with.

We wound up driving into Ashley (Michigan, the community just north of M-57, and the site of SRI’s “North Pole”). By the time we’d circled the town and found a parking spot, the train had arrived and was unloading passengers. We decided to eat before checking out the now-stationary 1225. I was sticking to cellphone photography at this point, and most of the pictures I took were with other people’s cameras.

After lunch and candids with 1225, we headed south. Our plan had been to see the 1225 and the GTW Santa Train on its trip to Battle Creek. By the time we wrapped up in Ashley, we were starting to cut things a little tight with our timing, but south and east we drove. Our plan was to catch the GTW Santa Train somewhere near Durand, although we weren’t exactly sure where. As we got closer and closer to Durand, we got word that something was approaching Paines (a junction a mile or two south of the diamond at Durand), and figured we probably couldn’t make Durand in time to see the train we wanted to see. So we diverted to Bancroft, which is a couple miles to the southwest of Durand.

As we reached the Bancroft area, our hearts sank as we realized a westbound train was passing over the crossing in the distance. Until we realized that we were looking at autoracks. There were no autoracks in the Santa Train, which meant CN had run some sort of freight train in front of the speed restricted Santa Train, and we had still had time to find a spot to set up at. As it turned out, we would have had plenty of time to make it to the bridge near Durand that we had strongly considered shooting from. I found out later that afternoon that we weren’t the only ones who thought about shooting there, as some friends from the other side of the state started posting their own photos/videos from that bridge. In the end, we were the only ones in Bancroft (that I’m aware of) and only had to worry about staying out of each others’ shots.

Because I hadn’t taken any video of the train the day before, I decided to record the passage of the train on video:

Following the passage of the Santa Train, we headed into Durand and spent a few minutes at the station. Before long, another freight train approached Durand from the west, and blew on through town. Even though the Santa Train was close to Lansing by this point, there was still a small photo line waiting to record the passage of the train. And with 5 locomotives, it was quite a train to record!

Once the eastbound had cleared, after a couple minutes debate (ok, ok- as of the writing of this entry, it’s been almost a month since we chased these trains- the details are getting pretty hazy at this point), we decided to chase the train back towards home.

After some idiotic decisions by the driver (yours truly), we wound up set up at Lake Nepessing Road, on the west side of Lapeer, as the eastbound freight approached Lapeer. A westbound freight train had taken the siding at Lapeer and would depart after the eastbound passed.
First, the eastbound, again led by CN 2872:

Then the westbound:

After the westbound train and the traffic it had backed up at the crossing had cleared, we departed for home. I know we didn’t try for a 3rd view of the 2872 and train, but I’m pretty sure we beat them back to West Tappan (west end of the double track at Port Huron), by at least a couple minutes or so.

All in all, despite the temperatures and the clouds, it was a fun day.

Santa Train

In what has become a yearly tradition for me, I was able to capture the 2017 version of the Grand Trunk Western Santa Train crossing the Pine River in St. Clair County’s Kimball Township.

After catching the 2016 version, I covered most of the prior years’ trains that I’ve caught. You can check out that entry, if you care to do so, here: Tradition

Here’s GTW 5930 leading IC 9614 across the Pine River:

Unlike many years in recent memory, the 2017 edition featured a Grand Trunk Western locomotive on the point. Unusual for this year was that the GTW locomotive was GTW 5930, one of the road’s few remaining SD40-2s, albeit wearing parent Canadian National’s CN North America paint scheme (featuring an outline of the entire North American continent on the long hood). Also unusual this year was the speed restriction placed on the train. In every year I can recall catching the train, the train was moving at, or close to, the maximum passenger train speeds for the line. Passenger train speed limits tend to be higher than freight train speed limits. This year, the train was moving slowly enough to allow for a chase, despite falling snow that had made several roads along the route barely passable. As a result I and others were able to see the train pass in more than one location.

Even though I dallied getting back to the car and back on the road, planning to stop at Menards’ to pick up several things for projects around the house (yes, I still shop there and I even prefer shopping there over the rest of the local big box stores), when it came time to turn back toward town and the projects I had to get working on, I turned south toward Richmond and points south, figuring I just might be able to catch the train at Richmond.

I was wrong. Instead of trying to get into town to set up a shot near the remains of the elevator, I kept going, winding up in bustling downtown New Haven instead. Ironically, I actually ran into a couple friends at the New Haven depot, and came away with what is one of my favorite shots of this train:

All photos in this post were taken 16 December 2017, but this turned into the 2nd of 3 times I’d catch the train on this particular weekend. I’ll have another post (eventually) covering the various Santa (and other) trains I caught with a couple friends on 17 December 2017.

Empty Coal Train

Detroit Edison’s St. Clair Power Plant and Belle River Power Plants, between St. Clair and Marine City, are located at the current south end of track on the former Port Huron & Detroit Railroad. In the past, the two plants would receive several loaded coal trains each year, but recently most coal has been arriving at the plants by boat (lake freighter). I believe the two plants were supposed to receive 3 loaded trains this year, the first of which I was given a heads-up about just before it departed northward.

The old power plant in Marysville has been gone for a couple years now. I was able to catch a CSX movement by the building before it was finally imploded, but until recently, I haven’t tried to shoot photos of CSX in Marysville. (Honestly, I’m not sure why- it’s not as if it’s a terribly long drive for me anymore…it’s just across town.) The two shots below were taken November 12, 2017.

The (empty) coal train, pulled by CSX 937, approaches the site of the old coal plant, while passing the site of the old Morton Salt plant, alongside M(ichigan State Route) 29.

The train has continued past the site of the power plant and is crossing the Gratiot Blvd/I-94/I-69 Business Loop.

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