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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.

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: