Notes and photos from a Great Lakes region railfan
Catching Up

It’s been a while since my last new post. If you’ve been following the site for a while, you may be aware that I was using Photobucket for some of my photo hosting, especially if you’ve seen the Photobucket image placeholder that refers to third party hosting instead of the picture that was originally posted. As far as I can tell, all of the pictures that had been hosted on Photobucket have been moved to a different photo hosting site, and the links have been updated to reflect the change. That’s just the images on this site however, I have several images linked to old posts on other websites that have yet to be updated…

Between work, life and everything in between, opportunities to go out and watch trains aren’t quite what they used to be, but I’ve been out a couple times so far this year. With one notable exception, for which I’m still processing pictures, usually I don’t see more than one train at a time, and I figured it was time to finally share some of those shots here.

When the desire to do so strikes me, I’ve been working through my collection of pictures from various past trips, including the meet in Rochelle, Illinois last July. The same meet that I wound up heading home from rather abruptly after getting word that the sewer had backed up into my basement while I was out of town. And the same meet that when I finally got home early Sunday morning, my home smelled like a sewer. Not only did that pretty much put the kibosh on out of town trips last summer, it resulted in a lot of time spent cleaning, sanitizing and disposing of stuff in the basement. But…before I got word of the damage, I had a lot of fun first and saw some really neat stuff. Like this:

And this:

Somehow, I managed to avoid using the camera at all during January. At the moment, I’m not entirely sure why, but I know I had good reasons. I did manage to shoot CN train Q149 (and some other numbers) a couple times in late December, but January itself was pretty much a bust as far as sharing things here go.

Speaking of seeing Q149, how about a couple comparison shots showing the relative snowfall we received Christmas Eve? Q149 is a westbound doublestack train that originates somewhere in eastern Canada, runs through the St. Clair River Tunnel between Sarnia, Ontario, Canada and Port Huron, Michigan, USA, and terminates somewhere to the west (Chicago?). I quite often see 149 in Port Huron on my way to work in the mornings, but it was apparently running a little later these days, either due to the holiday or delays suffered along its route.

My first encounter with 149 was on Christmas Eve. I happened to have my camera with me on my way to family Christmas at my parents’ house, and anticipating a little extra time to see what I could see of railroad movements in the area, I left my house early. I “got lucky” as I approached the I-94/I-69 interchange when I caught 149 marking up to go west. With plenty of time to scout a shooting location, I caught the train holding the main, just west of the east end of the siding at Emmett. Most of the snow we’d received a week or two prior had melted, with just a few remnants sticking around.

The snow wasn’t done for the year, and by the time I had planned to leave for the Christmas Eve service at the church I attend, the road conditions had deteriorated to the point that I wasn’t sure I’d be able to get home afterwards. Just making my way home to Marysville was difficult enough.

I had plans to spend a couple days with a friend from the Bethel days, in north central Indiana after Christmas. As I began the journey south and west, I stopped for gas near West Tappan (the west end of the double track leading west from Port Huron), and while I was stopped, I could hear a train departing for the west. After filling the tank, I too headed west, but now with a planned pit stop at Emmett to catch this train passing through town.

Q149 had a bit more power on this day and one of the blue GECX leasers was included in the consist. Most remarkable about the view though, is the amount of snow we’d received a couple days before. On Christmas Eve there would have been hardly any snow visible in this image.

While I was in Indiana, I didn’t spend much time at all focusing on trains, although there was plenty of noteworthy action in that part of the state this year. Somewhere I have unprocessed video of a southbound CSX freight train passing through Reynolds, Indiana, in the middle of the night, but only because I had the presence of mind to grab my phone and start recording as I rolled up to the crossing just before(?) the train rolled across. I also had the opportunity to see Indiana Transportation Museum’s Santa Train, although it was tied down at the time. I don’t think it moved at all the entire time I was down there, but here’s how it looked the first time I saw it:

As February rolled by, I found myself in desperate need of a change of scenery, but my schedule and the weather wouldn’t allow it. I had to settle for a short trip “up north” (where I’m from, up north doesn’t start until you’re at least north of the Bay City metro area) about halfway through February. I made it all the way up to Standish, where I finally got to see the big, new elevator that was built a couple years ago. I didn’t get many pictures as the point of the trip was to drive, not to use the camera, but I did catch a pair of orange Huron & Eastern diesels sitting east of Saginaw, waiting to exchange the train behind them for freight bound for the east end of the HESR system.

The following day I think I hit a drive through for dinner and took it up to the Amtrak station at 16th Street, just outside the St. Clair River Tunnel. Unlike some days, I did manage to catch a train this day, an M385-18(?)(again, there are some other numbers in the symbol, but I don’t know what they are).

Work’s been crazy this year, especially the past several weeks, and I was finding that if I went in for a few hours on the weekend, I was able to get some of my really hot projects taken care of. Coming home from work one weekend afternoon, I noticed a train on the west end of the Port Huron yard with a single locomotive. That’s not unusual, but in my experience, it is unusual for that single locomotive to be a Norfolk Southern (standard cab) SD60. I heard later that the unit is junk, but someone evidently considered it sufficient for that day’s edition of L501 (and some other numbers).

So far this month, I’ve had the opportunity to get out a couple times, not just to watch trains, but also something a little different. I met up with a local railfan while he was working out of town a couple weeks ago, in the South Bend, Indiana area. We caught several trains, but I’ll save those pictures for a later post. Coming back from South Bend, after “missing” my exit in the Kalamazoo area, I found this neat little park in the Grand Rapids area that offers the opportunity to photograph a slightly different mode of transportation, one I’ve been wanting to try my hand at photographing for quite some time now. I’m going to save most of the pictures for (another) future post, but in closing, here’s something of a teaser image:

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.

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