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July 2016

Go West Episode III: San Francisco Railroading

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Above: San Francisco Bay Railroad ALCO S-2 takes a cut of “dirty dirt” cars out of their small bay area rail yard. This shortline was definitely among our favorites on this trip. All photos are © 2016 by Michael Polk and Drayton Blackgrove.

Part III of our series begins on February 2nd and we’re in Watsonville, California as guests at The Santa Cruz & Monterey Bay Railway. After a series of unfortunate weather events, Michael Polk and I had to change our plans from visiting the Tehachapi Loops southern California to visiting this unique Iowa Pacific-owned shortline railroad. We certainly were not disappointed, as our friends at this unique shortline allowed us special access to their operations. The Santa Cruz & Monterey Bay Railway provides freight service, connecting with the Union Pacific at Watsonville Junction, California. The railroad also operates seasonal excursion trains with plans for additional excursion service and dinner trains.

Construction was started on the Santa Cruz Railroad in 1873 and completed in 1876 as a narrow gauge line. The Santa Cruz was later acquired by the Southern Pacific in 1881 and shortly after was converted to standard gauge. SP ultimately acquired other lines into Santa Cruz but before the SP was merged into the Union Pacific in 1996, only the 32 miles between Watsonville Junction, Santa Cruz, and Davenport remained. The line was eventually purchased by the Santa Cruz County Regional Transportation Commission. In 2012 Iowa Pacific was selected to operate the line and service commenced in November, 2012. At several locations the line hugs the Pacific Ocean and features well-known trestles at La Selva and Rio Del Mar. Another interesting feature of this line is that the railroad runs down the middle of Walker Street through downtown Watsonville.  Some of the key commodities of this railroad are lumber, frozen food, and input for biodiesel processing.

Below: Ex-ex-Milwaukee, ex-Mount Hood GP9 #89 rolls down Walker Street in downtown Watsonville.

24158847703_8ebc466f83_oToday, ex-Milwuakee Road GP9 #89 was picking up a lone center beam car from the Big Creek Lumber Company. The empty car was to be taken to Union Pacific’s Watsonville Junction Yard to the east of town for interchange. After dropping off the car, the #89 returned as light power. We again caught the locomotive as it ran down the middle of Walker Street.

In all, it was an exciting day. Though visiting this shortline was not on our original schedule, we enjoyed our visit and are still incredibly thankful for the hospitality shown to us by Iowa Pacific. That night, we drove to the outskirts of San Fransisco to pick up our friend, Davis Strench. He would act as our tour guide while visiting the area.

The next day, after picking up Davis from his dorm at the University of Berkley, we found ourselves driving over the bay bridge into downtown San Francisco. After sitting in an intense amount of traffic, we finally made our way to the San Francisco Bay Railroad on the southeast side of the city. This amazing shortline uses an Alco S-2 switcher every day and is very railfan friendly. So much so, we were invited into the cab by our friends Sam and Danylo. Who would have thought we would be riding a diesel in revenue service that is as old as Nickel Plate Road 765?

The State Belt Railroad of California was a shortline that served San Francisco’s waterfront until the 1980’s. Although locals nicknamed the line the Toonerville Trolley and the Wooden Axle Line, the State Belt had an illustrious career. The first trackage of the State Belt was built by the Board of State Harbor Commissioners in 1889. At that time, the lands along waterfront were owned by the State, not San Francisco. These lands were once under water, so they were not included in the original survey of the City.

IMG_0672The original tracks were dual-gauged, to allow transfer of narrow gauge freight cars from the North Pacific Coast R.R. (Marin County) and the South Pacific Coast R.R. (Alameda, Santa Clara, Santa Cruz counties), as well as standard gauge cars. These first tracks did not yet connect to the outside world – all cars were ferried in from around the San Francisco Bay. Belt tracks finally connected with Southern Pacific tracks in 1913 at a small interchange yard located at Townsend and Berry Streets.

Left: Engineer Sam from the SFBR smiles for a photograph. 

The State Belt built a five-stall concrete-reinforced roundhouse at Sansome and the Embarcadero. (This historic structure still stands today as an office building). This engine facility housed a modest number of oil-fired steam switchers (mostly 0-6-0’s), and later, ALCO S-2 diesels. The railroad also owned four freight cars – idler flatcars that were used to prevent the heavy engines from rolling onto the car ferries.

State Belt’s ferry slips were located near Fisherman’s Wharf. The railroad transferred cars from the Santa Fe, the Northwestern Pacific, and the Western Pacific. In the twenties, the Santa Fe built its own car ferry operation in China Basin, and State Belt tracks were extended over Third Street and the Mission Creek drawbridge to make a connection.

Construction at the 1915 Panama-Pacific World’s Fair and traffic to Fort Mason justified the construction of a tunnel, 1500 feet long, 15 feet wide and 22 feet high underneath the Fort Mason Military Reservation. Eventually tracks were extended across what is now the Marina District to Crissy Field to serve the Presidio. World War II generated a large amount of trans-Pacific traffic, and the State Belt contributed greatly to the movement of materials during the War. Army and Navy switchers were added to provide enough locomotive capacity. The State Belt also delivered trainloads of fresh troops to debarkation points, and picked up hospital trains and returning troops. The railroad moved 156 troop trains and 265 hospital trains in 1945 alone.

Operations slowly wound down as shipping moved across the Bay to Oakland. In 1969, with the State wanting to get out of the port business, San Francisco voters approved a bond issue to buy the Port of San Francisco. The State Belt R.R. thus became the San Francisco Belt Railroad. Later in 1973, the City offered to sell the railroad to any operator for $1. After more than half a year, a 20-year contract to operate the railroad was signed with KYLE Railways. Total trackage had fallen from 67 miles in 1950 to 58 miles in 1973.

By 1993, most trackage north of the Ferry building was gone or inactive. The only activity took place at Pier 96, a newly built container facility near Hunter’s Point. ALCO S-2 #23 was chosen to serve the facility, and was given a new number (#49) and a new paint job in 49er colors. At the same time Alco #25 began a long term loan from the Port of San Francisco to the Golden Gate Railroad Museum at the Hunters Point Shipyard. Soon thereafter, the #49 was also loaned to the museum. They joined State Belt Steam Engine #4 as part of the GGRM’s San Francisco Railroading Heritage collection.24713422521_ff4423a527_o

Right: SFBR #23 takes another cut of cars from the ship yard, with a classic plume of ALCO made carbon exhaust.

In 2000, the Belt Railroad was renamed the “San Francisco Bay Railroad” (SFBR), and both ALCO locomotives were sent back to the Port for restoration by SFBR in 2004. In addition to complete restoration of the #23 and #25 to their original condition, the railroad decided to convert both locomotives to use biodiesel. This made SFBR the first railroad in the U.S. to exclusively operate on biodiesel. Today, only one ALCO continues to operate at the Port of San Francisco, with the second being restored. The Bay also plans on receiving an MTU locomotive from the Knoxville Locomotive Works in the future.

SFBR operates on 10,000 feet of track in its paved railyard and a short stretch of track along the southern waterfront of the Port of San Francisco. The railroad’s core business is soils and other waste materials in containers and gondola cars from various San Francisco and East Bay projects and refineries by rail to Utah, Idaho, Oregon and Texas. Loaded trains can be up to 54 cars long and empties vary between 50-80 cars. Each car can carry 100 to 110 tons of payload, the equivalent of 400 – 450 heavy duty diesel trucks. Locomotives operate at speeds averaging 10 miles per hour over short distances.

Today, Union Pacific’s local train, the YSF70, would meet the San Francisco Bay Railroad and interchange at the yard. This local is affectionately named the “South City Switcher” and can usually been seen multiple times throughout the week, interchanging with this unique shortline. Another interesting aspect of this branch is that it street runs for most of the distance to the interchange on Rankin and Quint Streets.

At Rankin Street, the crew of the UP local must wait for CIRCOSTA Iron & Metal’s ground employees to clear the tracks before proceeding to the interchange. This street is extremely busy throughout the day and mass chaos always seems to ensue once the trains arrive on the branch line.


Above: With a former Cotton Belt locomotive on the point, the local slowly moves down Rankin Street after CIRCOSTA’s ground crews cleared the busy city street.

After catching the locomotives at Rankin Street, we tried to beat it once again at the interchange – but could not navigate around roadway traffic and construction zones fast enough. Earlier that morning, Sam and Danylo took Mike, Davis, and me on a quick trip down the street running segment.

Before leaving the yard limits, any train the travels on this section of trackage must get clearance to cross a double track light rail system on Third Street. This diamond is governed by signals on timers. If there are no light rail trains in the area, the Bay Railroad is given a clear signal and the light rail system is given restricting signals on each main.

While waiting for he UP local to return, we camped out on the corner of Quint Street and Davidson Avenue. We met quite the interesting character in our downtime, who wanted to wait for the train after making a delivery at a local industry… Yes, the land of fruits and nuts… it very well seemed. After an intense political debate with our newly made acquaintance, the delightful sound of an air horn got our attention and we rushed to our positions. Before jumping back onto the main, we caught the train from the Oakdale Avenue overpass with the city as a background. We were shooting through a fence at this location and it can be extremely difficult for anyone with a video camera.24867143886_7dd7ae4ace_o

Above: The South City Switcher slowly rolls down Quint Street after picking up a long train of loads from the SFBR.

After shooting the Union Pacific local, we grabbed lunch in a San Francisco pizza joint. It was delicious and gave us energy for a busy afternoon of watching trains. After stuffing our faces with pizza, we paid a quick visit to the Cable Car Museum in the Nob Hill neighborhood. This museum was a great look into the city’s amazing public transit system with a history spanning over 130 years. Here, the giant cables that move the cars are still in operation and can be seen from a viewing platform. After our visit to the museum, we drove about forty minutes across town to see the Richmond Pacific Railroad. This included a trip over the world famous Golden Gate Bridge.IMG_0693

Left: Richmond Pacific’s GP15-1 #424 at the Levin Richmond Terminal Port.

The Richmond Pacific Railroad is the successor of the Parr Terminal Railroad and its primary function is to serve the Levin-Richmond Terminal (port of Richmond). The railroad acquired a large amount of SP trackage that they were no longer interested in serving and expanded from just the port trackage. They interchange with both BNSF and UP and are heavy in chemicals and export Rocky Mountain region coal to South America. Unfortunately, when we arrived, the crews had just finished their work for the day and were tying down the power. We visited with the management for a little while and left with some souvenirs, including hats and t-shirts.

Right upon leaving the yard, we caught a BNSF light power move with heritage from both the BN and the Santa Fe. Later on, at Crockett, California we shot several Amtrak trains by the C&H Sugar Plant. The line we are on is the old SP, referred to by local area buffs as the ‘Cal-P’ which is short for California Pacific Railroad, which is the fallen flag that a section of the line was built off of. Its officially Union Pacific’s Martinez Subdivision (pronounced Mar-tee-nez). The line sees Amtrak’s Capitol Corridor Service which runs primarily between San Jose and Sacramento but two trains per day extend as far as Auburn, so its really an Auburn to San Jose service.IMG_0695

Right: Mike, Davis, and Danylo admire the sunset as we grabbed our last train of the day at Hercules, CA.

The Capitols are used heavily as long-distance commuter trains and have enjoyed surging ridership since their inception and have some of the highest on time performance in the Amtrak system (its somehwere in the high 90% range, you can look it up Im sure). The line also sees San Joaquins which run between Oakland and Bakersfield and serve the Central Valley. In addition it sees the California Zephyr and Coast Starlight. The line is extremely Amtrak heavy and while a major corridor for UP, it is relatively freight-light.

Moving to the pacific coast, we shot one last train as the sun sank below the horizon. It was a fantastic two days in west central California and it wouldn’t have been possible without our friends at Iowa Pacific and the San Francisco Bay Railroad. These two shortlines put on quite a show and are on the top of our list for the next time we visit the area.

Watch the video below:

Project 2716: A New Lease On Steam

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Above: C&O 2716 as a Southern and C&O locomotive.

In 2014, I became involved with Project 2716: an effort to restore Chesapeake & Ohio 2-8-4 #2716 back to service by 2020. This steam locomotive, built by the American Locomotive Works in 1943, was “the one that got away,” according to group CMO, Jason Sobczynski. Since her first return to service with the Southern Railway steam program in 1981, the engine has had a troubled career of running for a short time, inspiring thousands of people trackside, and then being stored away to await another assignment. The potential this locomotive has to continue the education of new generations and inspire folks trackside was still there, it just needed a spark.

Below: The locomotive is seen under the shed at KRM, with volunteer Joel Marksbury cleaning the rods.

13308446_823907097742130_3760961815860525206_oAt Train Expo 2014 in Owosso, Michigan, my good friend, Chris Campbell of Kentucky Steam Heritage Corp., approached me with his vision: restoring the mighty Kanawha back to steam. As a big fan, supporter, and volunteer at the Fort Wayne Railroad Historical Society, I couldn’t help my excitement. Another 2-8-4? Under steam? Sign me up! From that moment forward, we began to plan things out. An idea started to become an act in motion. But, it wouldn’t be until next summer that we met the right person to head the mechanical aspect of the restoration.

During the summer of 2015, Chris and I met with Jason Sobczynski during our search for a project CMO. Jason’s background is quite extensive in the steam railroading community. Known as “That Steam Guy” online, his experience with groups like Fort Wayne, American Steam, TVRM, and the Grand Canyon made him a great candidate for our project. Not only that, but Jason was among the new age of steam locomotive mechanics. He understood the fusion that is needed in 2016 of online presence and vision to gain traction and support for the restoration. I introduced the two of them and they hit it right off. You can hear Jason’s story below:

Once Jason was on board, we began to form a plan. Joining forces with other Kentucky steam enthusiasts like Joe Nugent, Chad Harpole, Jeff Lisowski, and Brett Goertemoeller – we spoke with the Kentucky Railway Museum, the current owners of the locomotive, about our idea. They were interested. Initial inspection of the locomotive was done in November of 2015 and the prospects were good: the rumors of the “unrepairable firebox” were untrue and the locomotive was in exceptional condition – especially for being outdoors for almost twenty years.

For the next several weeks, negotiations were made with the Kentucky Railway Museum for a long term lease on the engine. Once the terms were met, the restoration was set to start in the spring, with the official project announcement being made public on 2/7/16. I had the honor of producing the roll-out video for the project, which received nearly 20,000 views on the date of release. It has been an amazing journey from the initial conversation Chris and I had at Train Expo 2014 to the active work sessions at the Kentucky Railway Museum this summer. Though in its infancy, what was once Chris Campbell’s dream, has now been made a reality. A C&O 2-8-4 could very well be under steam again by the year 2020 and I am thankful to have a front row seat to it all. You can watch the rollout video below:

At Delay In Block Productions, we’ll be using all of our online reach to keep you updated on this amazing group of volunteers as they work to bring the 2716 back to life. Though we won’t be posting updates on our own YouTube Channel, we will be producing videos on the Kentucky Steam Heritage Corp.’s YouTube Channel, which can be found by clicking here.  Be sure to like C&O 2716 on Facebook and visit www.2716.org  for more information on how to make a donation or become a volunteer.

Thanks for stopping by,

-Drayton Blackgrove

Go West Episode II: Winslow and Vegas

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Above: This intermodal train, with a Tier 4 demonstrator in tow, would be our last train at Canyon Diablo as we continued on our journey to Northern Arizona. All photos © 2016 by Michael Polk.

On the second day of our westward adventure, Mike and I tried to find the Apache Railway’s illusive ALCOs between Snowflake and Holbrook, Arizona. However, our efforts turned up with poor results – so we continued further west to Winslow.

The town of Winslow was once a thriving place and was a popular stopping point on Route 66. Since the opening of I-40 bypass in 1977, the downtown area had been in steady decline until the early 2000s, when tourism gradually started to pick back up. Winslow is still a busy place along the BNSF Railway’s Transcon Line, with a large yard and a division point located in the small town.

On this chilly afternoon, we shot an onslaught of BNSF high priority intermodal trains. Our first train had two GE wide cabs on the point, the traditional power on this line. You can almost be certain to see a GEVO or a Dash 9 leading nearly every train throughout the day and today was no different.

We shot all of the trains from the overpass bridge on Winslow Industrial Spur, just west of town. Between Winslow and Flagstaff, Arizona is a vast wilderness of dry desert. In the distance, one can see the giant peaks of the San Fransisco Mountain Range, where Arizona’s highest peaks can be found. Flagstaff is nearly sixty miles from Winslow.On the rear of most every train through Winslow are DPUs. These extra locomotives help provide assistance up the steep grades heading west.

Our second train would be an eastbound local. We were pleasantly surprised to see a former Santa Fe EMD GP50 leading the train with a General Electric B40-8W trailing. In 2016, it’s slowly becoming less and less easy to find yellow and blue on the mainline.

Below: A Santa Fe EMD GP50 leads a short local into Winslow Yard.24530423592_e34aeb42c4_o

Less than five minutes later, we encountered our third train: a westbound loaded grain train with four lead GE’s, all running elephant style. Not only that, but there were three more middle DPUs, and two trailing DPUs on the rear of the train.

After the grain train cleared, there was a slight lull in the action so Mike and I broke for lunch. After returning, we caught several more trains streaking a cross the desert sand. At the time this video was filmed, the railroads were in a serious state of decline. Thousands of locomotives all over the Class I railroads were being stored and even more railroaders were being furloughed. We were surprised to see as many trains as we did in such a short time on this January day.

Moving west, we found ourselves at Canyon Diablo, Arizona. This area is famous for the large bridge located here, over the canyon that once was the site of a treacherous stagecoach route and town during the pioneer days. The Canyon Diablo Bridge was built in 1883, but not after months of delays. When the Atlantic & Pacific Railroad ordered the steel for the bridge, it was found that the span would be too short to reach the other side of the canyon. Therefore, the construction of the railroad was delayed many months and a small town sprung up here to cater to the many railroad workers.

The town of Canyon Diablo was completely lawless and quickly produced numerous salons, brothels, dance halls, and gambling houses. Main Street was called “Hell Street” and the town was said to be wilder the Dodge! A few years after the bridge was finally completed, the town died and became a ghost town a few miles from Old Route 66.

That night, we drove to Page, Arizona, in the northern portion of the state, in hopes of shooting the Black Mesa & Lake Powell Railroad. In the morning, Mike and I woke early to chase the first train of the day. Because of this railroad’s secluded location in the Navajo Nation’s land, it’s hard to find reliable information about their day-to-day operation.

24290019649_d075c1fe79_oAbove: The Black Mesa & Lake Powell’s MOW train was the only thing running upon our visit.

This railroad is one of only a handful of privately owned electrified railroads. It opened in 1973 and runs 78 miles from the Peabody Energy’s Kayenta Mine near Kayenta, Arizona to the Navajo Generating Station power plant at Page, Arizona. It is completely isolated from the national rail network and does not interchange with any other railroads. During normal operations, the railroad operates 3 round trips per day on a 24-hour-per-day basis. The Black Mesa & Lake Powell uses E60 locomotives that were either built for the railroad or purchased from Mexico.

Today, however, was maintenance day on the railroad. Mike and I were only able to shoot one train – a ballast move with a former N de M locomotive leading. We only caught the train twice, mostly due to the remoteness of the line from main roads. It was somewhat disappointing, but it just meant we would have to make this railroad a priority on our next adventure to Northern Arizona.

Our next stop? Sin City, USA. Vegas. The Polk family calls Las Vegas, Nevada home and while visiting his relatives, Mike and I made some time in our busy week to shoot Union Pacific’s Moapa Local. With a pair of three, beautifully matched Union Pacific SD40-2 diesels, we were in for an exciting day. Along Interstate 15, we caught the train as it headed north. The train had a friendly crew who waved to us throughout the day.

Next, we caught the train jumping off the main and onto the Lake Meade Branch Line, as it continued its journey to the Moapa Valley. The Moapa Local was hauling silica on this day, dropping off empties for the Simplot Silica Plant in Overton. After a short haul down the branch line, the train arrives at the plant. They would spend about an hour and a half switching the cars, so Mike and I decided to break for lunch.

24420974570_cd0f7e6677_oAbove: Union Pacific’s Moapa Local can be easily chased when using I-15 outside of Las Vegas.

We ate at a local restaurant and then drove to Jackman, Nevada. There really isn’t a town here, just a beautiful looking curve and a small bridge over the Muddy River. At a location called Crystal, we caught a hot shot westbound intermodal train with three lead units and one DPU. This line is not the most active on the UP system, seeing five or so through trains per day. About ten minutes later, our train with the three EMD six axles rounded the curve at speed.

By 5:30PM, the train arrives back at Arrolime Yard. This location is also home to the Pabco Gypsum Plant. Yes, our second, third, and fourth days out west were also highly successful and we had many days ahead of us still. We would spend time visiting with Mike’s family over the next few days, but by February 2nd, we would be shooting trains yet again on the Pacific Coast of Santa Cruz, CA.

Watch Part II of the Go West Railroading Series below:

Thanks for stopping by,

-Drayton Blackgrove

A Hoosier Keystone: NKP 765

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Above: The mighty Nickel Plate Road 765 stops to pick up passengers on the CVSR in 2013. Photo by Drayton Blackgrove.

With deadhead moves and employee excursions under her belt, Nickel Plate 2-8-4 ‘Berkshire’ 765 now girded her loins for an even bigger event – a long weekend’s worth of public excursions over the Pittsburgh Line, between Lewistown and Gallitzin. To accommodate the teeming masses eager to ride, the Norfolk Southern-supplied consist was expanded to include cars borrowed from Mid-America Railcar, Iowa Pacific, and the Washington DC Chapter of the NRHS. The 17-car train was capped off with four dome cars – two full-length and two standard – and the DCNRHS’ heavyweight Pullman, ‘Dover Harbor’. To provide braking assistance in the mountains and ease her appetite for coal, the 765 was attended by two diesel-powered ladies-in-waiting – ES44AC 8102 in Pennsylvania Railroad Tuscan Red, and sister unit 8098 in Conrail Blue. The footage from all three days’ excursions has been compiled here, into a single virtual trip.

On the weekend of October 26 and 27, the Lady Berkshire would return to the famous Wabash Huntington District for a weekend of excursions between Fort Wayne and Lafayette, Indiana. This was the first time steam had traveled over this line for over seventeen years, with the last excursions being pulled by C&O Berkshire #2716. On these trips, the 765 was accompanied by five Norfolk Southern passenger cars, six cars from Mid-America Rail Car Leasing, two dome cars from Iowa Pacific, and two New York Central heritage cars, with the Hickory Creek bringing up the rear. Best of all, the 765 would pull both trips without the assistance of a diesel helper.

You certainly won’t be disappointed when you purchase this amazing coverage of the 765 running in all of her glory a crossed some of the most beautiful scenery that Norfolk Southern has to offer.

The Man Behind The WiFi: Deshler Crossroads Park

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Above: Greg Zoll is responsible for maintaining the park’s WiFi connection, landscaping, and other miscellaneous tasks. He and several other important area residents are what keep this park open to the public.

Greg Zoll, long time volunteer at Deshler, Ohio’s famous Crossroads Park, wears many hats. For years, he has been assisting the Bartlow Township Historical Society in maintaining the hallowed ground. In this tiny town of 1,800 people, two of CSX Transportation’s busiest mainlines intersect. North to South is the Toledo Subdivision, while the East/West mainline is divided by the Willard to the East and Garrett Subdivision at the diamond.

Below: Deshler Crossroads Park as seen from an aerial drone view.DCIM100MEDIADJI_0039.JPG

Deshler is unique because it is run entirely by volunteers and it is not a city park. It takes a lot of time and effort to keep the grounds well maintained and clean for visitors. Another unique feature of the park is that camp fires are allowed and there are no fences. Railfans are asked to be present at all times when fires are 13239312_10154168789152463_1426361184356429073_nlit and are also asked to clean up after pets. The Pet Owner is a notorious offender in leaving unwanted deposits behind.

On a typical day, one can expect to see anywhere from sixty to eighty trains in a twenty four hour period at this intersection. It’s a place railfans all over the world make a pilgrimage to visit. In our most recent YouTube upload, we interviewed Zoll for an overview of the park, a short history of how it was created, and how people can continue to support it. To make a donation, please send a check to PO Box 131 Deshler, OH 43516 or drop a cash donation in the box located at the park (seen in the image on the right).

Watch the video interview with Greg Zoll below:

Steam Locomotive Ride Along

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Above: Norfolk Southern used this beautiful streamlined steam locomotive, owned by the Virginia Museum of Transportation, to haul several mainline trips over their southeastern mainlines in 2016.

In this video, ride along on a famous American steam locomotive on the former Southern Railway mainline between Asheville and Grovestone Siding, North Carolina. Hear the whistle blow and watch the wheels rolls as the train makes its way through winding curves, steep grades, and large crowds of admiring fans at each grade crossing.

Death of the High Hoods

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Above: Norfolk Southern #5168 still retains its high-short hood at Bryan, Ohio. All photos © 2016 by Drayton Blackgrove.

In early August of 2016, Norfolk Southern Corp. announced an auction to sell off un-wanted, older EMD locomotives from their roster. The list of locomotives on Black Mountain’s website included fifty former Southern Railway high hood GP38-2 diesels. It’s absolutely heartbreaking for most railfans to see the majority of the class disappearing from the mainline… But, the writing was on the wall.

Since 2014, Norfolk Southern has actively been rebuilding their fleet of non-RC equipped high hood four axels, in an effort to increase visibility and the longevity of their lifespan. Much like the Spartan Cab SD40-2 rebuilds, these four axels have received similar cabs, but with much shorter noses. “Stubbed nosed” is what the crews are calling them. These days, it seems that as long as a locomotive has air-conditioning, crews are happy with whatever they get in the yard.

Below: Norfolk Southern #5074, a former Southern Railway High Hood GP38-2 at Jackson, MI.


Though the locomotives Norfolk Southern is disposing of in this August 18th auction are high hoods, most of them had been recently shopped by Altoona or Chattanooga – with fresh, Horsehead paint and upgraded electrical systems. It makes you wonder why some of these units aren’t being considered for the rebuild program.

A few months ago, we filmed Norfolk Southern #5096 in Bryan, Ohio. We chased the locomotive and a short local freight from Bryan to Waterloo, Indiana on a chilly winter day. Though this engine is not on the list of the locomotives to be auctioned off by the Class I, it was still great to see an old Southern locomotive still earning her keep on the mainline. Since these locomotives will soon become extinct and resemble virtually every other Class I’s yard power, try to catch them while you can. You can watch the video of #5096 below:

Go West: Three Arizona Shortlines

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Featured photo: After interchanging with the FMI Railroad at Clifton, the Arizona Eastern departs for Lordsburg. All photos © 2016 by Michael Polk.

After twenty two hours of consecutive driving, Michael Polk and I had finally arrived in Eastern Arizona. The adrenaline had finally kicked in after the exhausting drive with little to no sleep. At the sight of the first train on our cross country odyssey, we knew we were in for an adventure of a lifetime.

Descending the nearly 5% grade through Morenci, The Freeport-McMoran Industrial Railroad made their presence known on the way to Clifton, Arizona. It was like watching a train descend Saluda. In fact, this is one of the steepest railroad grades in the United States.


Above: The FMI slowly descends the 5% grade from the mine into Morenci, Arizona.

The Freeport-McMoran Industrial Railroad, commonly referred to by their reporting mark of FMI, is the result of one of the largest copper mines in the world. After first discovering copper ore here in the 1870s, investors from the east settled here and formed the towns of Clifton and Morenci to house thousands of miners.

By 1879, the railroad finally reached Clifton in the form of a narrow gauge line to the smelter and became one of the first steam-powered railroad in the State of Arizona. This railroad would eventually become the FMI. By the early 1880s, the Arizona & New Mexico Railroad built a branch line from Lordsburg, New Mexico to Clifton, making the town a terminus. There, the railroad would interchange with the mine’s own industrial line.

Below: The FMI Railroad slowly descends into Clifton, after snaking around the steep grade at Morenci.24585844591_61e46173ec_o

With the newly built railroad, it made shipping the ore much easier. Before the steel ribbons reached Clifton, the only way to the mainline railroad in the south was by mule. Often, these mule teams were attacked by Apache Indian tribes en-route. By the 19-teens, the Southern Pacific Railroad acquired the branch line and continued interchange with the mining railroad at Clifton.

This line was operated by Southern Pacific and then Union Pacific until 2008, when Iowa Pacific purchased the Clifton Subdivision as part of their Arizona Eastern Railway.

In 1988, Southern Pacific sold the line from Globe to Lordsburg to the KYLE Railroad, which eventually became part of RailAmerica in 2001. RailAmerica then sold the line in 2004 to Iowa Pacific Holdings, who owned and operated the shortline until 2011. The line was then sold for over $90,000,000 to Genesee & Wyoming Inc., the current operators of the Arizona Eastern.

24362179540_e2d30d1246_oAbove: The AZER slowly ascends the steep grades out of Clifton as it heads south.

The Arizona Eastern is a railfan favorite because of their unique standard cab Dash 8-40B’s. The classy orange, black, and yellow of the Genesee & Wyoming’s corporate scheme also make for a special touch. The railroad interchanges with the FMI every day throughout the week, traveling up and down steep grades and tight curves to reach Clifton Yard. The railroad brings loads for the mine and hauls away materials produced by it.

Truly, watching these two railroads work together is an amazing experience and I wouldn’t have wanted to witness it with anyone but Mike. And it was only the beginning. Later that morning, we traveled about an hour to Ray, AZ to watch the Copper Basin Railway return from a mine run out of Ray. By this time in the day, it was 73°F! It was a total contrast to the sub-zero temperatures of the midwest that we had experienced just days before.

The Copper Basin has been independently operated since 1986, when Kennecott Copper handed over the operation. This stretch of railroad was originally built by the Phoenix & Eastern Railway in 1904 and was leased to the Santa Fe until 1907, when the Southern Pacific took over the subsidiary company.

24691455535_41f6a3ec25_oAbove: The Copper Basin Railway drops the ore deposits at the Winkelman dumper facility.

Today, the railway is one of the most photographed shortlines in the country and is a railfan favorite because of the company’s friendly attitude to photographers. The two of us were very thankful to the company for allowing us such access to their railroad.

At Hayden, the train slowly runs through the dumper. Here, the ore deposits are dumped and sorted out through a smelting process. The ore is in its most natural form here, but will be refined and made pure for manufacturing purposes.

Much of the reason that the Copper Basin has been so successful is due to “Jack” Jacobson, the company’s Chief Operations Officer. With his great work ethic and mutual respect for his employees, his railroad has become one of the most efficient and well-managed operations in the country.

In all, this was an amazing first day on our cross country road trip west. We spent over three weeks exploring Arizona, California, Nevada, and Colorado – aquiring some of our best work yet. Subscribe for more videos from the “Go West” series here: http://www.YouTube.com/user/DelayInBlock

Watch the Video Here:

Cab Ride on the Illinois Central

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Above: Michael Polk and Craig Willett pose for a photo before the train departed Horn Lake, MS.

In our most recent YouTube upload, take a cab ride on the former Illinois Central passenger main between Horn Lake and Batesville, Mississippi. As you make your journey south, you’ll go through the luscious green countryside, over bridges, and through small towns on this modern-day City of New Orleans, operated by Iowa Pacific’s Grenada Railroad. Your crew on this journey will be student engineer Michael Polk and Iowa Pacific locomotive consultant Craig Willett. With a train this sharp, it’s hard to believe this wasn’t recorded fifty years ago.

Watch below:

Illinois Central Time Machine: 1956 or 2016?

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Above: A Premier Rails Pullman Porter poses for a photograph after the all-day excursion from Horn Lake to Grenada, Mississippi. Premier Rails is owned by Iowa Pacific Holdings and provides first class service on all passenger trains operated by the company.

On June 5th, 2016, The Grenada Railroad hosted an excursion between Horn Lake and Grenada, Mississippi. The leisurely, all-day excursion traveled over the original Illinois Central passenger main to New Orleans. The famous train, named after The City of New Orleans its self, once traveled these very rails at speeds up to 80MPH.

Iowa Pacific Holdings owns The Grenada Railroad, the current operators of this historic line. Ed Ellis, President of IPH, spent his childhood watching trains on this very railroad as a young boy in Paducah, Kentucky. His dream of working for the Illinois Central Railroad eventually came true and he spent most of his career building a name for himself. Over time, he gained a lot of experience and even became the VP of Amtrak. In the early 2000s, he and his business partners formed Iowa Pacific and own many shortline railroads all over the globe. It was only fitting that when the Grenada Railroad line was put up for sale, Mr. Ellis purchased it.


Above:  The train crew from the day’s successful excursion pose for a photo at Grenada, MS.

Even though Mr. Ellis has had experience operating railroads in all corners of the United States, his favorite still remains the old IC. Because of his love and affection for the “central,” he chose to have all of his company’s equipment to be painted in Illinois Central livery.

It doesn’t get much more historic than this: an Illinois Central passenger train operating over the original route of The City of New Orleans and the same line Ed Ellis grew up watching trains on, an entirely matching consist, two EMD E8A diesels, and an Illinois Central magnetic decal on the front of the #515.


Above: Engineer Craig Willett climbs up into the engine compartment of E8A #515. This historic locomotive was built in 1953 and has C&NW heritage, but wears Illinois Central livery under ownership of Ed Ellis’ Iowa Pacific Holdings.

On board, the passengers were enjoying their journey south. In these beautifully restored passenger coaches, it really did feel like 1956 again. With the countryside rolling by and the sound of the Nathan P5 air horn, one could almost feel like they had traveled back in time. Enjoy the feature-length video presentation on The City of Grenada below: