Wednesday, September 14, 2016

The Trains I Rode: Fall 1991 Edition

For someone who likes to ride trains, the Fall is usually a magical time. There are often more trips to take than time or money to do so. Nineteen ninety one was no different. After an essentially dormant Summer, things really heated up.

Chicago & Illinois Midland
The weekend after Labor Day found me on my way to Springfield, Illinois. The goal was to ride the entire Chicago and Illinois Midland railroad. This line runs from Taylorville, Illinois to Cimic (the junction of the CIM and the Illinois Central...IC...clever, huh?) where it runs on trackage rights to Springfield. From Springfield it runs to Pekin, Illinois where it joins the Peoria and Pekin Union for the trip into Peoria. It was built by Commonwealth Edison interests mainly as a way to get coal from its mines to power plants. However the utility got smart and built a power plant at a mine mouth, cutting the railroad's traffic a lot. In 1991 it still hauled coal, and of all things popcorn!

After a drive down from Chicago with my friend Rick Moser on Friday, early on the morning of Saturday, September 7 we headed over to the C&IM Springfield yard and shops complex. There we were met by a school bus which took us down to Taylorville where the train awaited. The train consisted of a C&IM diesel (supposedly rare, but I don't follow such things), and three private cars: the Chief Keokuk, the Cimmaron River, and the Caritas. There were about 50 passengers spread through these three cars and it wasn't crowded (except on the observation platform). Once we got to Cimic, passengers had to get off the train for a bus ride to Springfield while the train ran on the IC tracks (no passengers for the IC, no siree). As compensation, the bus chased the train and offered several photo opportunities. From Springfield the train went up to Pekin, where it turned around for Springfield again, arriving about 5pm. Then it was over to the Amtrak station to drop off fellow passenger Keith White, and the long drive back to Chicago.

On the Pittsburgh and West Virginia near Monongahela, PA
Skipping ahead to the first weekend in October, the Caritas, Cimmaron River, and Blue Ridge visited the Akron, Canton, and Youngstown and the Wheeling and Lake Erie. This was a two day trip which covered almost all of these railroads. I had some of the mileage, and the price was steep so I elected not to ride. My friend Bill Metzger and I chased it from Mingo Jct. (Steubenville) to Connellsville, as it traversed some incredible high bridges. My wife Barbara is from the Monongahela area near where the above picture was taken. She later told me that her son Chris and is friends used to walk across the bridge when they were about 13 years old.

The following weekend, Barb, Chris, Chris's then girlfriend (and now ex-wife) Amy and I went over to Rook yard, in Pittsburgh. There we boarded a 21+ car train of mostly junk equipment for a roundtrip to Connellsville over the same route Bill and I had photographed the previous week. The Fall colors were out in most of their splendor, and although the train was late and it was cold, it was a very interesting trip. I had wanted to ride the line to Connellsville for years. Since there was a rumor that the Wheeling would abandon that line within the next several years (it didn't), I'm glad I got the chance. I'd already missed the chance to ride the Pittsburgh and Lake Erie to Connellsville. That line was long gone.

819 in Mount Pleasant, TX
October 18 found me in Pine Bluff, Arkansas boarding the Cotton Belt Historical Society's special train to Tyler, Texas. The train was about 14 cars long, and was hauled by their steamer 819. We were late most of the way to Texas, mainly due to a faulty air brake somewhere on the train that would cause us to stop periodically as the pressure dropped. This was fixed at Texarkana, and we had no further difficulty. By cutting out photo runbys (not clear any where scheduled), and by cutting short a visit in Pittsburg, Texas, we were able to reach Tyler at 7:00, about 30 minutes late. This was tons better than my last experience behind 819, which was on the way back from the NRHS convention in 1990. That was a 90+ degree day, and the air conditioning failed in every car, the train was incredibly late into Pine Bluff (3am), and we were attacked by DC-6 sized mosquitos around Brinkley, Arkansas. A totally miserable trip (but I got the mileage :-)

My friend Rick Moser had spotted his minivan at Tyler ahead of time. After the train arrived a bunch of us hopped into it and drove several hours up to Paris, Texas where we spent the night. The next day (Saturday), we drove to Omaha, Nebraska stopping only once to shoot a train we came across (on the Burlington Northern). After a night in perhaps the worst Super 8 ever built (in Council Bluffs, IA), Sunday morning at 7am, found us at the UP's TOFC (trailer on flat car) yard near downtown Omaha (across from the Amtrak Station). It was cold, and we were ready to board the train, but it didn't show up until after 8 (for an 8am departure). When it did show up it was a beautiful sight: steam engine 844 pulling the UP excursion consist, all looking like it had just been built. In addition to coaches, and the usual tool cars that accompany steam engines, the UP had provided a museum car (very interesting display of UP history inside a baggage car), a dome diner, a full diner, and a lounge car complete with bar service.

844 pulling a spotless UP train to Marysville
We boarded a very uncrowded train (considering that virtually every seat was filled), and headed to Marysville, Kansas. This line had not seen passenger service of any kind since at least the 50's. Almost every card carrying mileage collector in the country was there and most of us sat in one car. The train was operated by the Camerail Club (of Omaha) and they did a great job. They provided complementary coffee, doughnuts and juice in the morning, a lunch in the diner, and Pizza Hut pizza (delivered train side at Lincoln) for dinner. The UP provided a train that ran well, was comfortable, made 6 (!) photo runbys, and looked great. We arrived at Marysville around 5pm and left 844 behind, as we were pulled by diesel back to Omaha (no place to turn 844 in Marysville). The lounge car was busy that evening, both because of reasonably priced drinks, and two televisions carrying the World Series. (This was the year that my Pittsburgh Pirates managed to lose to the Atlanta Braves in game seven of the playoffs after having Atlanta down to their last strike in the ninth inning. I was not happy about a World Series featuring the Braves and their awful tomahawk chop. Thankfully the Twins won the Series.) We arrived back in Omaha around 10:30...a very long day.

Somewhere out of Parkersburg
On Sunday, October 26 I drove to Parkersburg, West Virginia to ride from Parkersburg to New Martinsville (50 miles, but it was close to home, and it connected with the previous year's Huntington to Parkersburg trip). The colors were great too!

611 enroute from Atlanta to Chattanooga
Then, on Friday, November 1, I flew to Atlanta to ride behind steam again from there to Chattanooga for the Norfolk Southern Steam Program's 25th Anniversary. (This was the only NS trip of the year for me...probably a new record low.) After the banquet on Saturday night, we drove to Etowah where we rode another special from Etowah to Cooperhill and back on Sunday, November 3. To do this we gave up the return portions of the Atlanta to Chattanooga trip. That was triple headed steam out of Chattanooga which would have been quite a sight. But getting the mileage was more important.

The train to Etowah
Enough mileage for the year, right? Not quite. I attended a work-related conference in New Orleans in early December. I took the obvious routing...flying to San Antonio, spending the night in a hotel, and catching Amtrak's Sunset Limited into New Orleans. (Obvious for a railfan who needed the mileage that is.) And that really did close out the 1991 mileage year for me.

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