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Lake State Railway Celebrates 25 Years of Excellence

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AboveLake State Railway’s attitude toward preserving heritage is most evident in Saginaw Yard, with the company still utilizing the Pere Marquette turntable and roundhouse for maintaining locomotives on the property.

This year, one of Michigan’s most important and most-loved shortlines has reached a milestone: 25 years of serving the great lakes region in transportation. That’s right – Lake State Railway turns 25 this year and is celebrating their anniversary in a big way. Rolling out earlier this year was Lake State Railway #4325, an EMD GP40-3 that now sports a commemorative paint scheme for the company’s anniversary.

Lake State Railway was founded in 1992, when the late railroad businessman Jim George purchased the former Detroit & Mackinac lines in northern Michigan. The former D&M was famous for their use of ALCO locomotives. Now a completely EMD railroad, the Lake State has grown from a small shortline to a regional player in the area. In 2005, LSRC acquired rail property from CSX in the Saginaw, Michigan area. These lines were operated under the name Saginaw Bay Southern Railway (SBS) until January 2012, when LSRC merged these two companies together under the name Lake State Railway Company. In April 2012, SBS interchanges and railroad accounting practices were converted to LSRC, completing the consolidation.

BelowLake State Railway #4325, an EMD GP40-3, now sports the company’s 25th Anniversary paint scheme. Photo by Kevin Burkholder.

Grain, fertilizer, coal, chemicals, aggregates, cement, steel, and scrap metal are just a few of the commodities that are transported along the Lake State’s lines. The railroad continues to be consistently profitable and shows a high priority to maintaining and improving the company’s rail infrastructure. Earlier this year, we had the honor of being part of the company’s celebration by producing a 25th Anniversary promotional video for the Lake State. In our video, we showcased an array of the company’s unique infrastructure, including their many bridges, dispatching tower, the roundhouse, and their new road-slugs in service at Bay City, Michigan.

Below Right: Lake State Railway Company was created by the vision of the late Jim George in 1992, when he acquired the railroad lines previously operated by Detroit & Mackinac Railway Company (D&M). His passion for expanding the railroad and providing exceptional freight transportation services is what brought these lines from being nearly abandoned, to being a successful railroad.

In the company’s March of 2017 newsletter, Lake State Railway President and CEO John Rickof states, “I want to talk about the importance of 2017. Lake State Railway Company began operating in 1992 making this our 25th anniversary. We are proud to have thrived for a quarter of a century and are looking at an even brighter future. Expect to hear and see from us throughout this year as we celebrate and grow towards new milestones. LSRC intends and expects to be ever striving to provide safe, reliable Excellence in Transportation!”

The newsletter continues, “In celebration of 25 years of service, LSRC would like to take this opportunity to give a special thank you to all our dedicated and hard-working employees who have helped make Lake State Railway the thriving company it is today. Also, a special thank you to all of our loyal customers who put their trust in us everyday. We are proud to have you all on our team and look forward to many more years together as LSRC continues to grow and prosper. ”

It’s obvious from the outside looking in, this company takes great pride in serving the many Michigan communities its rails run through. We were honored to take part in the company’s 25th Anniversary and we hope you enjoy our video, showcasing just a brief look into the company’s incredible operation. Stay tuned for upcoming project related to the Lake State Railway. You can watch our official promotional video below.

Restoring Kentucky’s Steam Locomotive

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AboveL&N 152 during a nighttime photo charter in the 1980s. Photo courtesy of Ron Flanary.

Designed to pull the L&N Railroad’s most important scheduled passenger trains, #152 was the epitome of high-speed steam. However, in 1912, the locomotive would pull one of the most important passenger trains in US history: Former President Theodore Roosevelt’s Whistlestop Tour between Louisville and Corbin, Kentucky. Though Teddy lost the election of 1912, 152 would be the vehicle he used to spread his progressive values to the deep south, creating a movement that still influences American politics today. Just over a year later, in 1913, the 152 was involved in an accident at Livingston, Kentucky, being turned on her side. The crew perished in the accident, but the 152 was given a second chance, being rebuilt in the railroad’s South Louisville Shops shortly thereafter.

Below Right: L&N 152 at a station stop during her revenue career with the L&N Railroad. Photo courtesy of the L&N Historical Society.

The 152 would continue passenger service on the L&N, serving all over the system until more powerful locomotives were purchased by the railroad in the 1920s. The Pacific Class locomotives were then assigned to the Gulf Coast, a geographically flatter area. In 1934, the K-2a Pacific would again be called to pull another famous passenger train. This time, 152 would be pulling the “Al Capone Special,” conveying the famous gangster and forty three other prisoners in modified passenger cars, retrofitted with steel bars, between Atlanta, Georgia and Mobile, Alabama for further transportation to Alcatraz. Capone, with an extensive criminal history during the prohibition era, was convicted of tax evasion just three years earlier.

The locomotive would spend its time serving the railroad along the Gulf Coast throughout the thirties and forties. By 1953, the locomotive was the last of its kind on the L&N roster. On February 17th, 1953, the 152 was retired, with its fate hanging in uncertainty. During this time it was stored at Mobile, Alabama. In 1954, thanks to efforts of local L&N railfans, the #152 was sent to the Kentucky Railway Museum, then in Louisville, Kentucky. It was one of the museum’s first pieces. For thirty years it remained inoperative until a small group of volunteers assembled for the first restoration.

After thirteen years of work, in 1985, the locomotive was again alive under her own steam power. Thanks to the dedicated steam team of the 1980s, #152 would operate extensively on excursion trips over TTI, CSX, and Norfolk Southern. Later, the engine was used on the museum’s Lebanon Branch out of New Haven, one of the original routes the locomotive was assigned for when delivered to the L&N in 1905. Locomotive #152 has the distinction of being the Official State Locomotive of Kentucky and is also part of the National Register of Historic Places and things. From 1985 to 2011, the locomotive was operated in regular excursion service, but has since been waiting a second restoration at the Kentucky Railway Museum. Watch the official restoration campaign video below.

Help bring 152 back to steam! Consider donating or volunteering at the Kentucky Railway Museum. For more information on this incredible locomotive, visit https://www.kyrail.org/

My YouTube Story: Building a Brand of Railroad Media

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AboveI had the honor of sharing “My YouTube Story” at the Center for Railroad Photography & Art’s annual “Conversations” Conference this April. Photo by Otto Vondrak, CRPA.

Since I was about 12 years old, I have been playing with cameras. From my parents Palm-Pre cell phone back in 2010, to my first experiences with TV-broadcast cameras on set during college, I have had a wide variety of experiences. For me, digital media is a passion I gradually learned to love. With my background and passion for railroading came this desire to capture what I was seeing on the mainline and then enjoy it for many decades thereafter. That simple desire led to forming my own production company, which has taken me to heights that I would have never imagined possible.

Below LeftSince its inception in 2011, the Delay In Block YouTube Channel has grown beyond all of my expectations.

In November of 2011, I formed Delay In Block Productions – a digital media company aimed at capturing the essence of railroad. At the time, I was in 9th grade and had no idea how to tell stories. The only thing I knew how to do (at the time) was capture what I saw and then would commence dropping the footage into my cheap, run of the mill video editor. My main focus was to share my hobby with the world and I did so with this amazing medium called YouTube. In fact, what inspired me most was YouTube slogan: “Broadcast Yourself.”

Beginning in 2012, I set out to create the most epic examples of capturing freight railroads in the midwest. My first goal was to have a channel that was interesting and had a general theme. That theme would be professionalism. In my hobby, there is a lot of crap posted to the internet every day – and I wanted to change that. Over that year, I took advantage of several great opportunities that allowed me to gain a large online following. These opportunities included filming the clean up of a large train accident in my hometown. That video received over 100,000 views on YouTube and brought a large following of subscribers to my channel.

By 2013, I had a small fan base. Continuing on with my goals, I was able to further gain in terms of my subscriber base by filming things my audience wanted to see. For instance, I would film special trains that I knew would receive more views than others. While doing so, I enhanced my skills by purchasing new equipment and learning new techniques. With the ability to produce better content, my audience kept growing to the point where I was able to make a substantial income, through advertisement revenue on my YouTube Channel.

In 2014, I met filmmaker Kelly Lynch. Lynch, a lifelong Fort Wayne resident inspired me. Since he was about five years old, he too had a similar interest in trains and his desire to capture what he saw led him to become a filmmaker. He branched out and not only filmed railroads, but dramas, TV commercials, and so on. His company, Lynchpin Creative, is one of Fort Wayne’s most wide known film production companies.

Below RightKelly poses for a portrait with the mighty 765.

His talents inspired and intrigued me, causing me to have a desire for film production and storytelling, rather than just the same old format I had been used to. Because of Kelly, I decided to take the next step and attend film school, where I learned how to better my story telling abilities. I had no idea where this venture would take me, but I knew I wanted to continue learning.

Over the last three to four years, many things have inspired me when it comes to the actual railroad. Whether it be the history, the locomotives, or the people who operate them. Indeed, railroads inspire us, as railfans, for many reasons. For a few, they are the very thing that makes life worth living. Enter Gavin Steel, the only child to be diagnosed with both Cystic Fibrosis and DiGeorge Syndrome. Connected through social media, Gavin’s father, Jason, reached out to me in 2014. In his message, Jason told me that Gavin loves watching my YouTube videos during his lengthy hospital stays and medical treatments. The long, sometimes painful breathing treatments that Gavin uses to clean his lungs can last for over thirty minutes, and my railroad videos help him pass the time. Being inspired by Gavin’s incredible story, an idea was born.

Through my relationship with the Fort Wayne Railroad Historical Society, Gavin and Jason were able to ride behind Nickel Plate Road 765 from Buffalo to Corning, New York in the summer of 2015. This was Gavin’s first real train ride – and what better way to experience it than behind a steam locomotive?

After riding behind the 765, our story was told by several local news stations. Through a GoFund Me Campaign and promotional coverage by the news stations, my subscribers learned about Gavin and were inspired to help raised enough money for Gavin and his family to attend Operation North Pole – an event that would change my life forever.

BelowWHEC News of Rochester, New York broadcasted our story on the evening news.

Operation North Pole is a Chicagoland non-profit organization that gives children with life-threatening illnesses a special train ride to a winter wonderland. The event is put on by Metra and Union Pacific, along with hundreds of volunteers, that include local fire and police first responders. Since 2014, I have had the honor of producing the official event videos for the organization. It’s an incredible experience to partake in Operation North Pole and I would encourage anyone interested in helping to volunteer or donate. You won’t regret it.

If there’s anything that this hobby has taught me from my experiences, I have learned that it’s all about the people. From non-profits who volunteer to hours of personal time to operate steam locomotives on the mainline, to the encouraging comments I receive daily from the over 30,000 subscribers I have on the Delay In Block YouTube Channel, it’s the people that make being part of this hobby so great. I am so thankful for the opportunities that YouTube has afforded me.

One of the most exciting things to happen in the last few months for me was being invited to speak as a presenter during the Center for Railroad Photography and Art’s annual “Conversations” Conference this year, which was held at the beautiful campus of Lake Forest College. In my forty-plus minute presentation, which you can watch below, you’ll learn about how I grew Delay In Block to become the brand it is today. From humble beginnings to my large and ever growing subscriber-base, Delay In Block has become a modern day brand, much like Pentrex in the 80s, 90s, and early 2000s.

Introducing: The CW Rails Series

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AboveA BNSF freight train rolls by the Downers Grove, Illinois Metra Station – as seen from the CW Rails Series first episode on our YouTube Channel.

Below RightPictured is Chris Wehman, my longtime friend and producer of the CW Rails Series.

Since 2013, I have had the pleasure of knowing Chris Wehman. An Ohio native, Wehman has been shooting trains on video for years. He has produced countless railroad videos from locations all over the country. Over the last two months, Wehman and I have been working on a little YouTube Series, narrated and produced by Wehman, showcasing some of his work. The series will be called “CW Rails” and will be marked as so, with the episode number in the title.

You can watch the first episode of the series below:

In the first episode of Chris Wehman’s Rails Series, you’ll spend time on BNSF Railway’s Racetrack in Chicagoland. With Metra commuter trains, manifests, and intermodal freight trains, this nearly hour long video showcases some of BNSF’s best action for train watching in the Chicagoland region. All scenes in this video were filmed in Downers Grove and Hinsdale, Illinois.

Hoosier State to use Amtrak Equipment in March

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Above: Iowa Pacific’s Hoosier State Train offers services and amenities not seen in American passenger railroading since the 1960s. In 2015, we rode along with CEO Ed Ellis for a behind-the-scenes look on Iowa Pacific’s joint operation with Amtrak.

Amtrak announced this morning (January 30, 2017) that The Hoosier State train will no longer use Iowa Pacific equipment in March. The news comes only weeks after the Chicago-based company laid off over thirty employees from the Texas State Railroad. On August 2, 2015, Iowa Pacific assumed the passenger operations of the state-subsidized Hoosier State train in partnership with Amtrak. The company owns nine freight railroads all over the United States, but are also known for operating Polar Express excursions on some of their properties and Pullman Rail Journeys.

Below: Amtrak’s official statement that was released this morning:

The Hoosier State train operates between Chicago and Indianapolis, serving various communities between. With service and amenities not seen in American passenger railroading since the 1960s, Iowa Pacific is stunning passengers from all over the country with their excellent service. To date, the train is equipped with a full-service dining car and a dome car. Breakfast and dinner meals are prepared fresh, every operating day by the two chefs on board the train.

The Hoosier State has been operated in a joint effort between Amtrak and Iowa Pacific. The vision for the train came from CEO of Iowa Pacific Holdings, Ed Ellis, who has a very successful and colorful career in the railroad industry. From his humble beginnings on the Illinois Central Railroad to today, Ed Ellis hopes to grow the services his company offers on other passenger lines a crossed the country. With this decisive blow in Amtrak’s announcement this morning, only time will tell if his dream comes to fruition.

In 2015, we rode along with CEO Ed Ellis for a behind-the-scenes look on Iowa Pacific’s joint operation with Amtrak. You can watch our video tour below.

How Christmas Moves: CSX Santa Train

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AboveSanta and his helpers are ready greet families at Haysi, VA.

On November 19th, 2016, CSX Transportation operated the 74th annual Santa Train on the former Clinchfield Railroad. Led by an SD40-3 locomotive that was wearing Clinchfield heritage decals, the train would stop in every town along the railroad between Shelby, Kentucky and Kingsport, Tennessee.

Beginning in 1942, the Clinchfield Railroad hosted the annual Santa Train as part of its local passenger train, No. 38. The train was originally conceived by several Kingsport businessmen who wanted to give back to their communities. Over time, the train grew and grew to become a regional spectacle – with children and families looking forward to the yearly visit of Santa Claus along the Clinchfield Railroad’s mainline.

Below RightThe entire town of Haysi came out to greet the train. This is a spectacle every year for the families in this small Appalachian community.

Every year, Saint Nick himself rides the on the rear of the train – tossing out candy and presents to the children below. For many kids, this is the highlight of their entire year. Thanks to the many sponsors of the train, the gifts were provided through monetary donations – giving these families joy and hope. For some families, these are the only presents they receive during the holiday season.

The train is not just exciting, it also makes one appreciate the spirit of giving. Operated the weekend before Thanksgiving, it reminds us of what it truly means to be thankful for what we have been given in this great country. Throughout the morning, the Santa Train rolls along at 25MPH over bridges, through tunnels, and up the steep grades of the Clinchfield mainline.

Though it’s cold and wet out this November morning, the excitement of the train’s arrival keeps the small town of St. Paul, Virginia on their toes. As the train slowly comes to a stop, the people greet Santa Clause – creating memories that will last a lifetime.

Below: Hundreds of families gather to witness the arrival of the Santa Train in St. Paul, Virginia.

To end our adventure with the Santa Train, we caught it one last time from above, over the famous Copper Creek Trestle. In our video covering the magnificent event, the train is seen soaring 167ft. above the Norfolk Southern’s mainline located  directly below.

Though the Santa Train’s days might be numbered, with 2017’s train rumored to be the last run – its legacy will forever be remembered. CSX takes pride in the former Clinchfield Railroad and there’s no telling what the future may see brought back. You can watch our coverage of the 2016 Santa Train below.

A Day on the Indiana Northeastern Railroad

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AboveIndiana Northeastern #2185 leads a westbound train by the Coldwater, Michigan depot.

The Indiana Northeastern Railroad is a Class III Shortline headquartered in Hillsdale, Michigan. The railroad operates over three railroad lines. In the south, the Indiana Northeastern operates most of the remaining trackage of the former Wabash 4th District between Montpelier, Ohio and South Milford, Indiana. On the north end of the railroad, the shortline operates over the former Fort Wayne & Jackson Railroad to Bankers, Michigan and the New York Central’s “Old Road” between Hillsdale and Coldwater, Michigan.

Below LeftA view from the cab of the classic, 1962 EMD product: GP30 #2185.

On June 22nd, 2016 and Conductor Jeff James and Engineer Jimmy Van Heerde were preparing for a long day’s work on the shortline. Starting the morning in Ashley, Indiana – Jeff and Jim fired up EMD GP30 #2185 and GP9 #1602 to use as the motive power for a long northbound train to Hillsdale, Michigan. Before going north, the train shoved several miles to the east, where it would then take the northern connection to Hillsdale at Steubenville, Indiana.

Also on duty that morning was a maintenance of way crew. Utilizing GP30 #2230, the MOW Crew will follow closely behind the shoving manifest train to Steubenville. After the manifest takes the connection to Hillsdale, the #2230 and crew would head east, toward Edon, Ohio. We chased the #2185 after catching the MOW train at the Steubenville Connection.

The Indiana Northeastern Railroad began operations in 1992. Evolving from its initial operation as the now defunct Hillsdale County Railroad, after twenty years of steady growth and rehabilitation, the Indiana Northeastern has become a key shortline player in the region.

The railroad features a classic roster of EMD four axels, with two GP30s, a High Nose GP7 and 9, a former Santa Fe GP7U, and an ex-Illinois Central GP10. The railroad also purchased two six axel EMD locomotives in 2016. Both are SD40-2’s, with one having a rebuilt carbody of an SD45 and the other being rebuilt from a standard SD40 carbody.

The #2230 was built in April of 1963 for the Pennsylvania Railroad and still retains its original road number. The locomotive became part of the Penn Central Railroad System in 1968 and later, in 1976, became under Conrail ownership for the next twenty years. The #2185 also has a similar history, being built for the Reading in July of 1962. It also became part of Conrail in 1976, when the Reading dissolved into the newly formed super railroad. In late 1996, both locomotives were sold to Larry’s Truck & Electric for leasing service to shortline railroads. Power hungry in the early 2000s, the Indiana Northeastern acquired the #2230 and the #2185 from Larry’s and began operating the vintage locomotives on their system ever since.

After the long shove to Steubenville, the manifest train headed north on the Fort Wayne & Jackson mainline to Hillsdale. There, the connection is very tight and trains have to take the curve slowly. After the #2185 and the #1602 take the train north, the #2230 and crew headed east on the Wabash to Edon, Ohio.

At Fremont, Indiana – Jeff and Jim switched out a few cars. The Indiana Northeastern services Letica Plastic Fabrications and New Horizons Bakery in Fremont. Engineer Jim stopped the train to pick up Conductor Jeff, who had been following the train closely between Steubenville and Fremont in the company crew vehicle.

The second unit on the train, EMD GP9 #1602, is one of the oldest locomotives on the Indiana Northeastern’s roster. Built in April of 1957 for the Great Northern Railway, the locomotive operated all over the GN system between the Twin Cities and Seattle, Washington. In 1970, the locomotive fell under the ownership of the newly created “super railroad,” The Burlington Northern. Sold off after fifteen years of hauling trains for the BN, the locomotive was purchased by the Hillsdale County Railroad, where it continues to operated today, but under the ownership of the Indiana Northeastern.

After switching out the hoppers and dropping off Conductor Jeff at the crew vehicle, Engineer Jim the #2185 eased the train out of town. The lengthy consist continued on through the communities of Ray, Montgomery, Reading, Bankers, and finally Hillsdale before breaking for lunch and switching over to The Old Road. At the tiny community of Ray, the train will cross the Indiana and Michigan State Line. Montgomery is another rural, farming community in Southern Michigan. The original Lake Shore & Michigan Railroad depot is still located there.

AboveThe train rolls through Montgomery, Michigan while on route to Hillsdale.

The Fort Wayne, Jackson & Saginaw Railroad (later called the Fort Wayne & Jackson) was built between 1868 and 1869 to connect namesake cities with the rest of the growing rail network in south-central Michigan and northeast Indiana. The Lake Shore & Michigan Southern would have a controlling interest in the Fort Wayne & Jackson until the New York Central acquired the Lake Shore in 1914.

The Fort Wayne & Jackson would continue to operate under New York Central ownership and was the industry giant’s only access point into the City of Fort Wayne. Since Fort Wayne was primarily a Pennsylvania and Wabash dominated railroad town, the Fort Wayne & Jackson allowed the Central to access the thriving hub and compete with the two other companies for traffic heading north.

South of Reading, Michigan, the train stopped due to a fallen tree blocking the right of way. Engineer Jim stops to assess the situation and then decides to shove the train back to the nearest grade crossing, picking up Conductor Jeff who was wielding a chain saw. We gave Jeff a ride, leaving the crew van in Reading to take him to the grade crossing Jim had the train stopped at. After chopping the troublesome tree down, the train continues north to Reading, where Conductor Jeff is dropped off at the crew vehicle.

Continuing north, the train wound along the beautiful southern Michigan countryside. The train would go through the Community of Bankers. The curve at Bankers is where the Detroit, Hillsdale & Southwestern Railroad connected with the Fort Wayne & Jackson. The Indiana Northeastern operates over the DH&SW line to Hillsdale, where it then takes “The Old Road” line to Coldwater.

BelowIndiana Northeastern services this large Anderson’s grain elevator at Reading, Michigan.

At Hillsdale, the train arrived at the Indiana Northeastern’s Yard. Hillsdale is the location of the company’s headquarters, with the yard office being the central dispatch facility and crew base. There, the train tied down for a short lunch break before going further to Coldwater.

North of Hillsdale, in the small town of Jonesville, the Indiana Northeastern services Omni Source Metals. The #2185 did the switching. Taking loads and dropping off empties, Indiana Northeastern provides a vital service to industries like Omni Source in south-central Michigan.

After switching at Omni Source, the train continued on “The Old Road” to Coldwater. At Jonesville, the train will turn to the west. Jonesville is also the location where the Litchfield Branch connects to “The Old Road.”

Rolling along, the train slowed outside of Quincy, Michigan. The train will service the Star of the West Elevator before continuing to Coldwater. Star of the West is one of the key customers along “The Old Road” line, being serviced several times a week in the summer.

Right#2185 and #1602 switch out Omni Source in Jonesville, Michigan.

After switching out the elevator, the train rolled through Coldwater at speed, ending a long day’s work for the dedicated crew on the Indiana Northeastern Railroad. Truly, this shortline serves a vital part in keeping the economy moving in a unique region of the midwest. See the full video below.

Go West V: The Durango & Silverton

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AboveThe crew of locomotive #478 dumps the ash from the pans in a reenactment photo shoot in Durango. All photos are © 2016 by Michael Polk.

Durango and Silverton: two names synonymous with the Rockies. Located in southwestern Colorado, an amazing narrow gauge railroad continues to haul passengers between the two namesake towns, passing by some of the most beautiful vistas in the United States.

Formerly built as a mining railroad in the 1880s, the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad  sees over 200,000 yearly visitors from all over the world. Today’s trip was no exception: with photographers from Switzerland and the United Kingdom on board. The date is February 14th, 2016 and during our Go West adventure, Delay In Block Productions participated in the railroad’s annual winter photographer’s special.

Today’s train consisted of Durango & Silverton’s #478 and eight coaches, set for a round trip between Durango and Teft Station Spur. On board, nearly one hundred other photographers eagerly waited to point there shutters at one of the most iconic steam trains in the United States. After the first set of runbys, we rode the train over the “high line.” This segment of the railroad is one of the most recognizable stretches of track in the country, with the raging rapids of the Animas River 400ft below.

The Durango & Silverton was constructed to serve the Denver & Rio Grande Western between the two namesake towns in the desolate southwestern portion of Colorado. For the first time, these settlements could easily be reached by the outside world. The rich mining communities blossomed with the arrival of the railroad, which spread commerce and culture to the region. The area continued to be prosperous with the expansion of the railroad for nearly eighty years.

BelowThe winter photographers’ train rolls over the “high line” portion of the railroad.


The route was originally opened in 1882. The line was an extension of the D&RG 3 ft narrow gauge line from Antonito, Colorado, to Durango. The last train to operate into Durango from the east was on December 6, 1968. The States of New Mexico and Colorado purchased the 64 miles between Antonito and Chama, New Mexico in 1970. That portion is operated today as the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad. The trackage between Chama and Durango was removed by 1971.

The line from Durango to Silverton has run continuously since 1881. Although it is now a tourist and heritage line, it is one of the few places in the U.S. which has seen the continuous use of steam locomotives. In March 1981, the Denver & Rio Grande Western sold the line and the D&SNG was formed. Today, this amazing tourist line continues to inspire and captivate the imagination – to a time when life was a little more simple.

As we roll along our scenic railroad journey, the train crosses a span called “High Bridge.” Installed in 1894, the bridge is one of the architectural highlights along the railroad. In November of 2015, the line was out of service for three weeks due to thorough inspection and maintenance.

After a brief fuel stop at Tank Creek, passengers de-boarded at a location called “Tall Timber” for two more photo runbys. At Teft Spur, the train was turned and we were given another chance at another photo runby. We would also capture the train crossing the Animas River Bridge from the hillside. This wrought iron bridge was installed in 1911 and is still standing strong 105 years later.

Shooting the train at the bridge was quite the thrill, but we would stop again for another runby at the Tacoma Power Plant. Here, a small siding allowed for photographers to hop out and frame the train from a distance.

Our final runby location would be on the world famous high line, with #478 giving it all she had on the mountain grade. The rest of our time in Colorado would be spent trackside on Union Pacific’s Moffat Tunnel Subdivision, watching Amtrak’s California Zephyr at various locations along the famous stretch of railroad. We even visited the namesake tunnel that made this railroad so prosperous – the 6.2 mile long Moffat Tunnel. Watch the video about the excursion train below.

The World’s Worst Railroad Tracks

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AboveA Maumee & Western train slowly makes its way through the thick weeds on the former Wabash 5th District. All photos by DIB Contributor Brent Kneebush.

On August 22nd, 2016 we found ourselves along the former Wabash 5th District between Napoleon and Defiance, Ohio. Today, this line is operated by Pioneer Rail’s Napoleon, Defiance & Western Railroad Company. Purchased on December 28, 2012 from Spencer Wendelin’s Maumee & Western Railroad – this 51-mile long shortline began operations in January of 2013, serving industries and elevators between Woodburn, Indiana and Liberty Center, Ohio.

Since day one, Pioneer Rail has gradually been upgrading the line through long-term heavy maintenance projects. This shortline has been nicknamed “the world’s worst maintained railroad” because of the fifty years of deferred maintenance by its various owners. Pioneer hopes to change that and has made a lot of improvements since our last visit in 2013.

Today’s locomotive is PREX #1601, a GP16 locomotive that was originally built for the Atlantic Coast Line in 1951 as GP7 #233. The locomotive was upgraded to a GP16 classification when it was rebuilt in the late 70s by “The Family Lines.” Its signature high hood was removed for better crew visibility and the locomotive has been active in serving branch lines ever since.


AboveMaumee & Western #4 leans as it switches a few cars around Defiance Yard. Photo courtesy of DIB Contributor Brent Kneebush.

This line was originally built in 1855 by the Toledo and Illinois Railroad, five years before the civil war began. The route follows the Maumee River between New Haven, Indiana and Maumee, Ohio and was built to connect the growing cities of Fort Wayne and Toledo. Known as the 5th District, the railroad was built over the former Great Black Swamp.

40 miles wide and 120 miles long, the Great Black Swamp was once an oozing mass of water, mud, snakes, wolves, wildcats, biting flies, and clouds of gnats and mosquitoes.  The swamp was a pre-historic extension of Lake Erie that is responsible for the rich and fertile flatlands in Northwest Ohio. It was nearly big enough to cover the entire state of Connecticut and the water could be as much as five feet deep.

Above: ND&W file footage from 2014, taken just west of Defiance, Ohio.

In the early 1850s, state and federal drainage projects gradually made the region navigable for transportation by horseback and the soil was very fertile for agriculture. Because the region was completely flat, it made for an ideal railroad route between the two growing city centers. Therefore, the railroad was chartered in 1853 and and began running daily scheduled passenger, mail, and freight trains after its completion in 1855. The towns of Toledo, Defiance, and Fort Wayne were the location of three large rail yards.

The railroad would eventually come under control of the Wabash Railroad System in the late 1870s, after being consolidated through a series of midwest railroad mergers. The Wabash would operate this line until 1964, when they were taken over by the Norfolk & Western Railway. Passenger service would end five years prior to the takeover, in 1959. Under the N&W, the 5th District became a secondary branch and maintenance was deferred


AboveNapoleon, Defiance & Western’s motive power is seen at Defiance Yard. Photo by DIB Contributor Brent Kneebush.

Combined with the fact the line was built with light-weight rail over a former swamp land, the roadbed began to sink into the ground, causing trains to lean to the west. In 1982, N&W became part of Norfolk Southern Railway who would operate the line for only eight years.  Due to declining traffic, NS abandoned a segment of the branchline from Maumee to Liberty Center. In 1989, the line was sold to the Indiana Hi-Rail Corp. for operation between Liberty Center, Ohio and Woodburn, Indiana.

Indiana Hi-Rail operated the line for several years with ALCO locomotives until the company was liquidated in 1997. By that time, this once prosperous line seemed to be facing a possible abandonment. However, the Maumee & Western Railroad, with help from the State of Ohio’s, “Rail Development Commission,” purchased the line between Woodburn and Liberty Center, with their headquarters being located in Defiance, Ohio. The Maumee & Western operated a daily train between Defiance and Napoleon, except for Saturdays and Sundays.

Maumee & Western File Footage:

At the time, the cost to repair the line was estimated in the millions, and way too costly for the MAW to maintain. Despite the poor conditions, the MAW had made some minor improvements with ballast and tamping. But without the sufficient funds, the line still deteriorated further – forcing the MAW to sell off their remaining assets to Pioneer.

In 2012, we caught the Maumee & Western Railroad at Jewell, Ohio (see the above video). Using a former Illinois Central GP10, the train slowly rocked back and forth on this horribly maintained stretch of track. During the summer of 2012, we were able to shoot the same locomotive in Napoleon, Ohio through the thick weeds and brush that covered the rails. Since taking control in early 2013, Pioneer has greatly reduced the presence of weeds and shrubbery along the right of way.

Approaching Defiance, the train had to stop so the crew could remove a fallen tree that was blocking the right of way. It gave us a few extra moments to photograph the Indian-Hi Rail sign over the bridge leading into Defiance Yard. After clearing the tree from the right of way, we caught the train rolling over the Maumee River Bridge in downtown Defiance, Ohio. Here, the train would drop off the loads and pick up a lone empty hopper car for one of the customers along the line. You can watch the video below.

Go West IV: Utah Railways

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AboveA Utah Railway train travels into Provo at track speed. All photos are © 2016 by Michael Polk.

On February 4th, 2016 Michael Polk and I found ourselves along the Southern Pacific’s Donner Pass line, near a location called Yuba Pass. After spending an entire day shooting trains along the San Fransisco Bay area the previous day, we got up early and hiked several miles down the pass to shoot freight trains in the snow. Our first train would be a westbound intermodal train, with the last unit being UP’s Southern Pacific Heritage Unit. We moved several thousand feet to the east, on the opposite side of the second tunnel, when we caught our second train. Leading the way was UP AC4400CW #7219 with a missing nose logo and a friendly crew.24825620885_eb555a5a08_o

AboveOur second train over Donner Pass had a GE leader with a missing nose logo.

We decided to venture further east and grab lunch in Truckee, CA. After eating an incredibly delicious lunch Full Belly Deli, we caught the same train yet again, just east of town. We missed several trains during our lunch break and felt rather defeated. However, our luck would turn around briefly, when we caught both Amtrak California Zephyrs within thirty seconds each other at a location called Hinton, just east of Truckee.

After shooting the two passenger trains, we went back to Donner Pass, but missed two more freight trains and decided to hang our hats for the day. We drove northeast and spent the night in Reno, Nevada. On the 5th of February, we would begin our slow journey back to the heartland, shooting shortlines and mainline freights in Nevada, Colorado, and Utah. We still had at least two weeks left of traveling ahead of us.

At Lovelock, Nevada, we shot a high priority westbound Union Pacific train with three units on the point. Notably, a brand new Tier 4 GEVO was trailing and a DPU was on the rear. Note just how weathered the leader is compared to brand new GEVO. Less than five minutes later, the local would fly by our cameras with an SD40-2 running long hood forward. As a Southern fan, I was delighted… But, Mike was less than pleased.

15 miles to the northeast, we would catch two trains at a location called Oreana, just off I-80. The first train would be one of the railroad’s highest in priority: the eastbound salad shooter, which hauls produce freshly picked and shipped from the west. The short train was equipped with two units, with one being a rear DPU. About ten minutes later, we caught a high priority autorack train with an SD70ACe leading the train west. On the rear, another ACe would be acting as the DPU.

BelowOur second train at Oreana, NV was led by an SD70ACe and another trailing on the rear.

24219118233_e01fa4df87_oFurther east, at a location called Rye Patch, Nevada, we caught another westbound intermodal train with a GE AC45CCTE locomotive leading. Why such a strange classification of a General Electric Evolution Series locomotive? Union Pacific chose to have their ES44AC locomotives equipped with CTE software. Likewise, the AC4400CW was originally classified as a C44AC and the AC4400CW-CTE is classed as C44ACCTE. Currently, UP is the only railroad who uses the CTE software. The older model AC4400CW’s (C44AC’s) are being upgraded with the CTE software and reclassified C44ACCTE’s as well.

Simply put, the CTE software is used to reduce the tractive effort of the locomotive when it is used as a DPU in mixed freight type service. The higher tractive effort of the AC units when mid train or on the rear can be too much for the lighter trains. This is not necessarily the case in bulk commodity service though, such as unit coal or grain trains. The UP System Special Instructions cites that units are limited to 110K in tractive effort when in CTE.

Below LeftOur last train of the day had a GE and EMD duo, as seen here


Later in the day, after eating lunch at Winnemucca and a long afternoon drive on I-80, we caught a short manifest train southwest of Argenta, Nevada along the Humboldt River. It would be our last train of the day and we would continue our drive in the dark to Provo, Utah.

The next morning, February 6th, we found ourselves in Heber City, Utah to chase a unique excursion train through the freshly fallen snow. The Heber Valley Railroad operates weekly excursion trains through the Provo Canyon on sixteen miles of track, using historic diesel locomotives to pull the trips. Once upon a time, they operated a small consolidation locomotive on the property, but it has since been out of service for several years now. Today’s locomotive would be an EMD MRS-1 diesel electric with a unique sounding air whistle.

The 1813 was built in 1952 for the US Army Transportation Corps. They were built with multi gauge trucks, as specified by the US government for operations on wide and narrow gauge lines all over the world in case of another world war. Thirteen of the locomotives were built, with serial numbers 15873–15885. At almost $500,000 each in 1952 dollars, more than three times the price of a standard locomotive of the period, these were very expensive locomotives.

The specifications for the design was requested, with EMD and GE selected as the two manufacturers. Both companies were given contracts to produce a batch of thirteen locomotives which would be evaluated by the USATC. The company that designed the better locomotive would then produce the rest of the required locomotives for the roster.

Both manufacturers delivered their sample batch in 1952, and after testing the GE locomotives, which were actually produced by ALCO as a subcontractor, were declared the winner, and another batch of 70 locomotives were ordered from GE. No more EMD locomotives were built. As delivered, they were painted in gloss black with white numbering and lettering. They were numbered as 1808–1820 in US Army service. These locomotives, when delivered, were stored for many years and never used for military purposes during wartime. Declared un-needed for wartime operations in about 1970, they were then used on various military bases around the United States, with some serving on the Alaska Railroad. Five locomotives are preserved, with three currently in operating condition. Ironically, there are no ALCO versions of the MRS-1 in operation today.

After shooting the short excursion trip, we found ourselves along the Union Pacific’s former Denver, Rio Grande & Western Utah Division at Colton, Utah. On this day, two brand new CSX GEVOs and a BNSF Dash 9 were running eastward, as they made their way over the Soldier Summit line. Today, this important mainline is part of Union Pacific’s modern day Provo Division and hosts the famous Utah Railway.

Today’s Utah Railway operates over 423 miles of track between Grand Junction, Colorado, and Provo, Utah, of which 45 miles are owned, and the remainder operated under agreements with BNSF Railway and Union Pacific. The company still hauls a significant amount of coal; of the 90,000 carloads hauled each year, over two thirds are coal. The Utah Railway also owns a subsidiary railroad, the Salt Lake City Southern Railroad, serving over 30 customers on over 25 miles of track between Salt Lake City and Draper, Utah.

 BelowCSX power was a very surprising sight on Union Pacific’s Provo Division. We drove 3,000 miles for this?!


The line dates back to the early 1880s, when the predecessors of the D&RGW completed a 3ft narrow gauge line through the Royal Gorge, over Marshall Pass, through the Black Canyon of the Gunnison, across the Utah desert, and over Soldier Summit. It was rebuilt to standard gauge in 1890, and has since remained a through line, often serving as parts of larger networks including the Gould transcontinental system, Southern Pacific, and now the Union Pacific. The division also included a number of branch lines

Between Woodside and Green River, in Emery County, we caught the train again off Route 191. After our previous shot in Carbonville, we hung our hats for the day, not expecting to see anymore trains. However, to our surprise, we were traveling to our next destination of Moab, Utah when we saw the train out of the corner of our eyes, prompting a few more pictures. Finally, we would end our chase of the manifest at Crescent Junction, Utah during the fabulous golden hour light.


AboveThe BNSF through train, with CSX power, is seen near Green River, UT in this image. At the same location, well-respected railroad photographer Mr. Mel Patrick once shot the D&RGW’s California Zephyr.

The next day, we would awake early to chase Union Pacific’s weekly Potash Local between Brendel and Moab, Utah. This nearly 38 mile long branch line is known as the “Cane Creek Branch” and was built in 1963 by the Denver & Rio Grande Western. This line was one of the last major branches built in the United States, being constructed to service a large Potash plant near Moab. Today’s power consisted of two EMDs, with the leader being a former Denver, Rio Grande & Western unit and the trailing being a former Southern Pacific GP40M-2. It was a pleasant surprise to see EMD four axels as opposed to the usual General Electric six axel power.

Below Right: Michael Polk photographs the pair of Armor Yellow EMD’s through a thick patch of fog.

24589508100_a7c1d0470b_oThis line has a general track speed of thirty miles per hour until it reaches Bootlegger’s Tunnel north of Moab, where the speed restriction is marked at 10 miles per hour. The line has three significant grades, with one near MP12, and the other two on both sides of Seven Mile. The ruling grade is estimated at just over 1%, with the only real siding and station on the line at Seven Mile.

This train operates only one day per week, which is normally Sunday. The only other real traffic occurs at night, where trains serve an UMTRA radioactive waste site north of Moab. The UMTRA facility focuses on the removal radio active soil that had been effected by Uranium ore-tailings that were dumped there by the former Atlas Minerals Corporation. The site is situated on the west bank of the Colorado River. The site encompasses 480 acres, of which approximately 130 acres is covered by a uranium mill tailings pile.

Another interesting feature of the Cane Creek Branch is that the tracks exit the 7,000+ foot Bootlegger’s Tunnel at the west end and travel through Arches National Park. The Corona Arch is clearly visible from the right of way, but because of the long hike back to the cut, we were unable to capture the train with the naturally occurring stone arch. Truly, this is one of the most beautiful stretches of railroad in the United States.

BelowThe Potash Local begins to traverse through the scenic red rocks of Southern Utah, before entering Bootlegger’s Tunnel outside Moab.24360954383_2cc76f8990_oDowngrade, we caught the train several times before it arrived at Intrepid Mining’s Potash Plant. We would break for lunch at Subway in Moab while the train was doing some switching work, but returned to find the train climbing the grade back through the park. We ran up the mountainside and set up our cameras, slightly out of breath. After the train exited the park and traveled through Bootlegger’s Tunnel, we caught it several times outside of Moab, as it made its way back to the mainline at Brendel.

The lead locomotive on the return trip is Union Pacific #1482, a GP40M-2 that was acquired by the Southern Pacific Railroad from the B&O. It was originally built in March of 1969 and was eventually acquired by and rebuilt by the SP, who eventually were taken over by Union Pacific in 1996. The second locomotive, Union Pacific #1363, was originally built by EMD for the DRGW in December of 1972. The locomotive originally was equipped with a nose light that has since been removed. It was acquired by Union Pacific in 1989.

24987813855_fd9fbe1590_oAboveThe Potash Local at Arches National Park.

After our final shot a few miles south of Crescent Junction, we would drive all evening back to Provo, where we would spend the night in a hotel before shooting the Utah Railway the next morning. We would arise early, around 4AM on February 8th, to scout the line and chase the train from Provo to Helper, Utah. On our way, we also saw a Union Pacific train struggling up the grade east. At Carbonville, we got our first daylight glimpse of the Utah Railway’s empty coal drag to Helper.

Near Wellington, we observed the train at the coal tipple, being loaded for the journey back west. The Utah Railway Company was incorporated on January 24, 1912, with the name of Utah Coal Railway, shortened to Utah Railway in May of the same year. It was founded to haul coal from the company’s mines to Provo in reaction to company disappointment in the service and route of the existing Denver and Rio Grande Railroad nearby. It was known for owning the most modern locomotive equipment.

When first built, its large “Santa Fe” (2-10-2) and “Mallet” (2-6-6-2) steam locomotives had automatic stokers, a new invention at the time, and a convenience that drew many firemen from the D&RGW’s Utah Division to the Utah Railway in 1917 when that line opened. In addition, the Utah Railway was the first to equip its air brakes with fourteen-pound tension springs instead of the standard seven-pound springs. The company was one of the earliest coal hauling railroads to employ diesel locomotives, and was early to adopt automation technologies, including the use of flashing rear end devices instead of cabooses.

Today, the Utah Railway is owned and operated by Genesee & Wyoming Inc. under the reporting mark “UTAH.” Primarily a coal-hauling railroad, other commodities transported include aggregates, brick and cement, building materials, chemicals, coal and petroleum products. The UTAH was acquired by Genesee & Wyoming in 2002.

BelowA matching set of UTAH power rolls downgrade on a cold, windy February afternoon.

24813272661_4254c40f67_oG&W has slowly started to repaint their locomotives and for many railfans, it’s a sad sight to see. For me, as a big fan of their paint scheme, I would have gladly taken whatever orange was scattered in the consist. Mike, however, was hoping and praying all week for a completely matching consist.

He would get his wish, when the crew switched out the orange locomotives from the lead power and transferred them to the mid-train helper crew. All of the extra switching movements didn’t make much sense, unless they were taking out the orange power out just for us, because it caused a lot of extra work for the crew. Nonetheless, we were very happy and ready for the chase back to Provo.

The City of Helper was settled in 1881, when the Denver, Rio Grande & Western arrived. The name is derived from the railroad, since helper locomotives were tagged onto the rear of westbound freight trains to make the grade over Solider Summit, the fifth-highest summit or pass on a U.S. transcontinental railroad mainline after Tennessee Pass, Moffat Tunnel, Sherman Hill Summit, and Raton Pass.

Helper began to develop as a population center. By 1887 the D&RGW had built twenty some homes, with more built later in the year. The railroad planned to make Helper a freight terminal after the rail lines were changed from narrow to standard gauge. The changeover process began in 1889 and was completed in 1891. In 1892, Helper was designated the division point between the eastern and western D&RGW terminals in Grand Junction, Colorado, and Ogden, Utah, respectively, and a new depot, hotel, and other buildings were constructed.

The town has experienced growth and change throughout its 130+ year history, with coal production having increased during World War II and continuing strong through the 1960s, although with significant periods of uncertainty and temporary decline. Not all of the communities surrounding Helper were able to weather these difficult periods of economic instability, and the town is within a few miles of a large number of former coal mining settlements that were abandoned between the 1930s and 1970s, and are now ghost towns. These towns include Castle Gate, Coal City, Consumers, National, Peerless, Rains, Royal, and Standardville.

Today, Union Pacific still has a large presence in Helper, as evident by the many locomotives and cars idling in the yard. Amtrak’s California Zephyrs stop here, and a frequent flow of daily freight trains are still prominent in town. After catching the train several times between Helper and Soldier Summit, the train stopped for a crew change. This location is at the peak of the hill. The locomotive leading the train today is an MK5000C and is a 5,000HP North American diesel-electric locomotive developed by MK Rail. At the time of its introduction in 1994, the MK5000C was the most powerful single prime mover diesel-electric locomotive ever made, a title it would hold for only for one year until GE Transportation Systems released its competing 6,000HP AC6000CW model in 1995. The MK5000C appears similar to many 1990s era EMD products, having a fuel tank and long hood that appear very similar to EMD designs. Internally, however, the original designs for the MK5000C shares very little in common with any EMD product.

In the early 1990s MK Rail, a long time locomotive remanufacturer, announced its plan to compete directly with EMD and GE by beginning its own high-horsepower locomotive program, starting with a 5,000HP-DC drive locomotive, with plans of continuing on with the construction of 5,500HP and 6000HP-AC drive locomotives in the future. In response to the MKRail program, GE announced the GE AC6000CW, and EMD announced the 5,000HP SD80MAC, and later the 6,000HP SD90MAC.

A total of 6 examples were built, three in August 1994 for demonstration on the SP, and another three in August 1995 for demonstration on the UP. Due to termination of the MK Rail high horsepower program, neither of the railroad companies purchased the model, and the units were returned after one year of demonstrations. Production was stopped after the sale of MK Rail in 1996, and 3 more partially built units sat in storage until 2001 when their frames were scrapped by MK Rail successor MotivePower Industries.

BelowMK50-3 #5004 slowly picks up speed as it leads the train over Soldier Summit, shortly after a crew change.

24279755703_d8d4ee941f_oIn 2001 The Utah Railway tested and later acquired all 6 units from Wabtec, the owner of MotivePower Industries. However, after one year of operation, all units were out of service due to problems with the main bearings on the Cat 3612 diesel engine and Kato main alternator. The units were returned to Wabtec and had the Cat 3612 and Kato main alternator removed and replaced with an EMD AR11 main alternator.

At the same time, the engine blocks were replaced by EMD 3500HP 16-645F3B diesel engines from 5 retired Union Pacific EMD SD50 and 1 retired Union Pacific EMD GP50 locomotives. The 6 units were reclassified with the designation MK50-3 and are now back in service with the Utah Railway.

Downgrade, we would catch the train several times as it made its way back to Provo. For a full disclaimer, some of the audio was dubbed in this portion of the video because of the horrible wind noise we suffered throughout the evening. Even with a windscreen, it made the audio recorded from this segment very rough and I felt the need to dub it out.

After catching the train at grade level, we shot it just east of Thistle, before the train enters the tunnel off Highway 89. We had to hike down the edge of a steep hill in deep snow to grab this shot. After the train cleared, Mike was struggling the climb back up the hill. After finally getting back to the car from the bitter cold, we drove straight to Provo where we caught the train at track speed one final time. You can watch the full video below.