Notes and photos from a Great Lakes region railfan
First Post of 2017

I was reminded the other day that I hadn’t posted an update for quite some time. Which was true. And is true. And probably will be true for quite some time. From the beginning, this website has been about sharing my photos, primarily of trains and model railroading, with others in an environment where I can ramble on as long as I want without worrying about taking up too much space on someone else’s forum space. Back in college (undergrad) I had a weblog that covered quite a gamut of subjects, including a lot of personal stuff. Unfortunately, some of the things I wrote caused problems with some of my friends, and exacerbated some situations that were already over dramatized. I don’t wish to revisit the past and prefer to leave the drama and BS from the undergrad years in the undergrad years. Hence, my decision to leave most of the non-hobby happenings in my life off of the site. However, as the non-hobby stuff piles up, time for the hobbies has diminished.

That being said, onto the reason you’re here. To see the pretty pictures…

First up is a boxcar. From posts on one of the message boards, these cars were purchased by Chicago North Western in 1995, the same year the company was merged into Union Pacific. I see these cars come through Port Huron every so often, but the years are taking their toll on the paint on these cars and, among other things, the CNW heralds have faded substantially more than the one in this April 2008 photo.

Most of my travels through the past several years have been fairly close to home, usually through areas I can reach and return home from in the same day. Hotels are expensive, especially when I tend to stick to areas I’m at least semi-familiar with. As a result, I’ve not ventured much west of the Mississippi River. One of my (increasingly) long-term travel goals is to spend some time exploring the Great Plains to see the monster grain elevators that dot the landscape, the oddball locomotives kept by many of those elevator companies and the railroads that serve the agricultural industry in that part of the country. The area around the Great Lakes tends to have hills that break up the landscape quite a bit, although the Saginaw Valley is pretty flat and you can farther in any direction when you’re up there than you can in the Thumb and many other places through the state. I haven’t had the opportunity to do so lately, but one of the short trips I enjoy taking once a year or so involves chasing the Huron & Eastern from it’s eastern endpoint in Croswell up through the Thumb to Bad Axe, then west to Reese and over toward the east side of Saginaw. It’s usually an enjoyable trip through the country, and away from the crowds and traffic that come with trips to locations with high density railroad traffic. On one of the more recent trips I took, in September of 2014, there were strings of covered hoppers stored in sidings on the west side of the Thumb. Although the shot could’ve been better, you can see why the prairie skyscrapers are so intriguing.

Third is another shot of the Pere Marquette 1225. I’m pretty sure this was the last trip to Alma during SRI’s Trainfest event in 2014. I processed a couple of other shots I took at this spot shortly after the trip, but this is a different angle and crop than the other shots. I usually prefer whole train shots with the 1225 and similar sized steam engines, where you can see the train and the smoke plume, but figured something cropped a little closer could be interesting too.

In one of my first shots in 2017, you can see the continuing deterioration of the ex-Port Huron & Detroit Railroad roundhouse near Port Huron. The glass blocks from the large block windows have pretty much completely disappeared, thanks to vandals and thieves, and the remains of the interior are easily visible from the public right of way. In comparison to the last shot I posted of the roundhouse, the clutter in front of the building has been bulldozed under a thick layer of ballast.

As it turned out, I had the opportunity to see a pair of trains cross the international border early in January. The times are certainly changing, and both trains brought their own surprises. The first train, west bound M385, was led by single unit CN 2911 upon arrival in the states. This train usually warrants at least a pair of diesels, if not a trio. To see a solo unit was quite a surprise, but even more surprising was the sight of CN 2805 buried about a third of the way from the end of the train. 385 is one of the trains that (based on my observation) seems to have a hard time clearing the crossing at 16th Street on a regular basis, due to train length and the physics involved in stopping the train at the west end of the yard after clearing the tunnel approach. I’ve observed this train stop at the west end of the yard with multiple cars on the east side of the 16th Street grade crossing on several occasions. To see the entire train move at a consistent rate up the grade out of the tunnel and into the yard, without slowing significantly in the process, was very impressive.

The east bound train, which might have been M398, was a relatively new train to me. It’s been running for quite a while, but it was added after life intervened in my frequent train watching in Port Huron. The surprise wasn’t the elephant-style power or the cut of covered hoppers (my favorite kind of rolling stock) on the head end of the train. It really wasn’t even the train itself, it was how significantly the shot of trains coming out of the yard had changed. Amtrak has invested quite a bit in the Port Huron station over the past couple years, but aside from a pair of small signs with the station name on it, there wasn’t much to visually identify the location to arriving passengers, other than the fact that they were at the end of the route upon arrival. Until now. Apparently someone at Amtrak had extra funding in their sign fund because they went all out.

I hope to be able to spend more time over the next couple months editing and processing additional shots, especially some of the shots I’ve taken of specific locations or types of rolling stock over the past several years. I also hope to share those shots here, and more frequently than I have recently.

Some Fall Shots

The past few months have been…interesting. Between both expected and unexpected health issues, work on the “train warehouse” and other life non-events, time to watch or photograph trains has been rare. I have gotten out a few times, but only enough to retain my sanity.

In the meantime, I’ve spent a little time here and there editing shots both recent and otherwise and I thought I’d take a few minutes and share a couple.

First is this shot from the 2015 Fall Meet in Deshler, Ohio. BNSF 4883 leads an eastbound tank train toward the plant in downtown Deshler, Ohio, on a sunny September Sunday. 13 September 2015.

Next, an unexpected late October catch in Port Huron, CN 5258 wears a fairly fresh looking CN paint job with CN’s web address below the logo. 29 October 2016.

I drive through the parking lot at the Port Huron & Detroit Railroad Historical Society’s office complex every couple weeks or so, as one more set of eyes to make sure there aren’t any problems when nothing’s going on. Other than the peeping Bruce I ran into several weeks ago, it’s mostly been an opportunity to see firsthand what progress is being made on the projects the Society is working on. And it’s been pretty cool, for the most part. On the other hand, the CSX-owned roundhouse that shares the triangle-shaped parcel of land in the middle of the wye that forms the north end of CSX’s PH&D Industrial Subdivision is continuing to deteriorate. On my last circle through the parking lot, I found that the view through the building is becoming steadily less obstructed. No trains were moving, but if they were, you could probably use the building as a photo prop to add interest to the steady parade of CN red/black/white painted diesels moving behind the roundhouse.

On that note, if you’re a member of the PH&D RRHS, the Holiday party is tomorrow (December 11, 2016) at the Dorsey House Bar & Grille. Among other things, we’ll listen to a presentation by Jeff Mast about the 62 and participate in a railroad memorabilia auction to raise money for the Society and likely the upcoming relocation of #52 to the waiting display track at the PH&D RRHS office building.

If I don’t see you at the party tomorrow, have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!


Canadian National is running the annual Santa Train over the Grand Trunk Western in Michigan this weekend. The train traverses the same route at approximately the same time and is parked in the same terminals at the same times as it has for the past several years. And like the past several years, it’s an all passenger movement, pulled by a pair of CN painted locomotives. For a basic rundown of the train’s consist since approximately 2010, see my post from last year about this train.

This year’s train was slightly different from last year’s in that the GTW locomotive lead the IC locomotive. The power was also slightly different, utilizing GTW 4915 and IC 9565, and with four cars in tow, there was one fewer car than last year’s train, but one more car than the train ran with just a couple years ago.

I wasn’t sure I’d be able to see the train this year, as ongoing work on my train warehouse has been occupying most of my weekends in recent memory. On the plus side, that work is wrapping up, and routine maintenance should overtake the major remodeling projects that have required most of my time lately. But as luck would have it, I got a late start yesterday morning and found myself stumbling out of the house just before the train was scheduled to leave Port Huron for the run to Flat Rock. As I made my way toward the tracks, I dug my scanner out of my camera bag, to see if the train was on time or otherwise. And sure enough, the crew was getting their Track Authority from the dispatcher as I turned the scanner on. A quick rearranging of my planned series of errands enroute to the warehouse, allowed me to arrive at my planned photo location with about 5 minutes to spare, the shortest time I’ve ever had to wait for the train in this particular location. True to tradition, the spot was devoid of other railfans.

I’d originally planned to just take pictures of the train, but I do like to take video when I can, if for no other reason, to have an audio version of the passing train. I keep an older camera handy for taking pictures when I do choose video over photos, but for some reason the older camera didn’t want to cooperate yesterday. It wasn’t a big surprise, but it was my primary backup camera for catching the train. Not to be deterred by a malfunctioning camera, I realized the camera on my cell phone was better than the camera on my last cell phone, and just might function as a suitable backup. So…I might need a little better timing using the phone as a camera, but at least the shots I got weren’t blurry. I did want a decent roster shot of the IC 9565, which I managed to screw up using the phone, but…it’s hard to do everything perfectly when you’re not using your equipment regularly.

In the end, the cellphone shot of the train came out pretty well, all things considered. The video is what it is- a recording of the passing of a train. It’s not a work of art, but you can hear what I heard and see some of what I saw.

In other news, I hope to have additional website updates before the end of the year, although I’ve found editing and uploading content to be increasingly frustrating as time goes on, due to a combination of software issues on my end and various changes in Flickr’s interface. Nonetheless, as the train warehouse remodeling project wraps up, I hope to have more time and energy for my photography and limited videography projects, and the ability to share them here.

If I don’t see you over the next couple weeks, have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

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