Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Cheyenne Odyssey

In March of 2003 the Sherman Hill Model Railroad Club announced a steam excursion from Cheyenne, WY to Joyce, NE over the "Yoder Branch" of the Union Pacific Railroad. The trip would be pulled by old friend Union Pacific Challenger 3985 and was to occur on Saturday, July 12, 2003. The Yoder Branch was considered to be extremely rare mileage so I (and most of my interested friends) immediately began making plans to ride.

I was unsure of the exact specifics of how I would get there and back. I was chairing a conference in San Francisco from June 22 to 25 and then a workshop in Monterey until around the 28th (meaning I was always "on") and would not get back to Pittsburgh until June 30. I obviously needed to spend some time back at the office after the workshop and then there was the 4th of July weekend so I initially figured that I would somehow fly in on the 11th and home on the 13th. But then friends Rick Moser and Dave Ingles proposed a slow multi-day drive to (and a fairly quick return from) Cheyenne with railfanning along the way leaving Chicago on July 7, and I decided to join them. Since my parents lived in the Chicago area my family and I spent the time immediately prior to the trip with them. I'm pretty sure I sandwiched a day or two of work at the office between returning from San Francisco and leaving for Chicago -- I mean, I needed to file my expense report sometime, didn't I?

So it was that on the morning of July 7, my father dropped Barb, Lizzy, and I at O'Hare airport around 11:30am. I checked Barb and Lizzy in for their (delayed) flight to Pittsburgh and then went out to the baggage claim curb where, at 11:45am, I was picked up by Rick driving his Toyota Sienna mini-van and we headed to Waukesha, Wisconsin to pick up Dave.

One of the reasons for the meandering trip to Cheyenne (as opposed to a more direct routing) was because Rick had recently taken up the hobby of taking pictures of railroad depots -- operational and abandoned. Dave (and his father) had been doing it for years but he and I were both happy to join in. Thus we made lots of stops off the beaten path as we headed to our overnight destination of La Crosse, Wisconsin. On this first day, guided by information available online at the website of the Railroad Station Historical Society, we stopped to take pictures of stations or other railroad structures in:
  • North Prairie, Wis. MILW (Milwaukee Road)
  • Whitewater, MILW
  • Milton, MILW
  • Milton Jct., MILW
  • Edgerton, MILW
  • Stoughton, MILW (newer)
  • Stoughton, MILW (older)
  • Tomah, MILW
  • Sparta, C&NW (Chicago & North Western)
  • La Crosse, MILW
  • La Crosse, Grand Crossing Tower (in Copeland park), MILW-CB&Q-C&NW (Chicago, Burlington and Quincy)
  • La Crosse, CB&Q frt
  • La Crosse, MILW frt (restaurant)
Amtrak #7 "The Empire Builder" at  the Milwaukee Road Station, Tomah, Wisconsin

We checked in to a Hampton Inn in La Crosse for two nights and then went back to the La Crosse Freight House (an ex-Milwaukee Road station that Dave had previously enjoyed) for a nice dinner.

On Tuesday, July 8 we spent the day along the Mississippi and shooting stations more or less south and east of La Crosse. We covered:
  • Viroqua, MILW
  • Prairie du Chien, CB&Q
  • Crawford Tower (remnant), CB&Q-MILW
  • Marquette, Iowa, IC&E (Iowa, Chicago, and Eastern)
  • Marquette, MILW (Blue River, moved)
  • Boscobel, Wis., MILW
Prairie du Chen, Wisconsin
Near Prairie du Chen, Wisconsin
Milwaukee Road Station, Boscobel, Wisconsin

and then had dinner back in La Crosse at the Hungry Peddler.

On Wednesday, July 9 we checked out of the Hampton Inn and headed for Worthington, Minnesota taking pictures of the following along the way:
  • Winona, Minn., MILW
  • Rochester, CGW (Chicago Great Western)
  • Rochester, C&NW (newer, now DM&E, Dakota, Minnesota and Eastern)
  • Owatonna, C&NW-MILW
  • Waseca, M&StL (Minneapolis and St. Louis, now a liquor store)
  • Waseca, C&NW
  • Albert Lea, RI (Rock Island, now Union Pacific)
  • Albert Lea Tower, MILW-RI
  • Albert Lea, MILW
  • Albert Lea, M&StL
  • Wells, MILW
  • Mankato, C&NW-CMO (Chicago, St. Paul, Minneapolis, and Omaha)
  • St. James, CMO
  • St. James: Amboy C&NW moved
  • Worthington, CMO
  • Milwaukee Road-Rock Island Crossing, Albert Lea, Minnesota
    Minneapolis & St. Louis Depot, Albert Lea, Minnesota
    Close up of the M&Stl Station
Union Pacific northbound near St. James, Minnesota
We checked into the local Super 8 for the night and had dinner at a Perkins.

On Thursday, July 10 we checked out of the Super 8 and headed to Nebraska shooting:
  • Luverne, CMO
  • Sioux Falls, South Dakota, GN (Great Northern)
  • Sioux Falls, IC (Illinois Central)
  • Sioux Falls, RI (Rock Island)
  • Sioux Falls, RI frt
  • Mitchell, MILW
  • White Lake, MILW
  • Chamberlain, MILW
  • Winner, C&NW
Chicago, St. Paul, Minneapolis, and Omaha Depot, Worthington, Minnesota
Nobles Rock diesels, Chicago, St. Paul, Minneapolis, and Omaha Depot, Luverne, Minnesota
Great Northern (now BNSF), Sioux Falls, South Dakota
Ellis and Eastern Railroad, in Sioux Falls, South Dakota
The Corn Palace, Mitchell, South Dakota
Dakota Southern (ex-Milwaukee Road) Station, Chamberlain, South Dakota
Dave insisted we visit Winner, South Dakota. After all we were all winners.
before checking into the Super 8 in Valentine, Nebraska and dining at the Peppermill.

On Friday, July 7 we had about 5-6 hours worth of driving to reach Cheyenne and decided to take things a bit easier than on some of the other days. We drove south out of Valentine and hit the BNSF coal line at Thedford and followed it into Alliance. We then dropped south to Bridgeport and picked up the Union Pacific mainline into Cheyenne near Kimball . We took depot pictures in:
  • Bridgeport, CB&Q
  • Cheyenne, Wyoming, UP (Union Pacific)
  • Cheyenne, C&S (Colorado and Southern)
Between Thedford and Alliance, Nebraska
Between Thedford and Alliance, Nebraska
Near North Ogallala, Nebraska
Between Ogallala and Bridgeport, Nebraska
Alliance, Nebraska
South of Alliance
Westbound at Dix, Nebraska, note the ex-C&NW unit leading
Westbound between Kimball and Pine Bluffs, Nebraska
Eastbound between Kimball and Pine Bluffs, Nebraska
Eastbound between Kimball and Pine Bluffs, Nebraska
We checked into the La Quinta Inn for two nights, met up with a bunch of friends who were also staying there and all went to have dinner at Little America, before going to bed early so as to be ready for the steam excursion the next morning.

Saturday, July 12 was the big day, the whole purpose of the drive, etc. and we awoke to find that the train would not be going down the Yoder Branch after all! It seemed that someone at the UP had not talked to someone else at the UP and the line was "stuffed" with coal hoppers making the trip impossible. Instead the trip would be up the UP's famous Sherman Hill, which would have been a thrilling alternative except that virtually everyone (and in particular the three of us) had already ridden up the hill. We pow-wowed for a bit and decided that if we left for home that day we could take our time and also shoot more depots than we had planned along the way. So we went back to our rooms at the La Quinta, checked out, and began the trip home. Along the way we stopped at:
  • Lodgepole, Nebraska, UP
  • Julesburg, Colorado, UP
  • Big Springs, Nebraska., UP
  • North Platte, Hershey UP, moved to Cody Park
  • Gothenburg, UP
  • Cozad, UP
Heading to Julesburg, Colorado
Union Pacific Station, Julesburg, Colorado
Between Julesburg and North Platte, Nebraska
Between Julesburg and North Platte, Nebraska
Near North Platte, Nebraska
Union Pacific Station, Gothenburg, Nebraska
Enroute to Lexington, Nebraska
We tied up at the Super 8 in Lexington (after striking out in other towns). We ended up at the local VFW club for dinner, recommended by the motel as the only decent place in town. The food was good but the service was not.

On Sunday, July 13, we began the day in Lexington and ended it near Omaha stopping at:
  • Lexington, Willow Island UP, moved
  • Holdrege, CB&Q
  • Minden, CB&Q
  • Hastings, CB&Q
  • Hastings, UP
  • Grand Island, CB&Q
  • Fairmont, CB&Q
  • Friend, CB&Q
  • Crete, CB&Q
  • Lincoln, RI (now a bank)
  • Lincoln, CB&Q
  • Lincoln, Roca CB&Q, moved to State Fair Park
  • Ashland, CB&Q
  • Council Bluffs, Iowa, RI (now a railroad museum)
Between Holdrege and Fairmont, Nebraska
Rock Island Depot, Lincoln, Nebraska
On the BNSF near Ashland, Nebraska
Rock Island Depot, Council Bluffs, Iowa

Dinner was at a Cracker Barrel and we overnighted at a Wingate Hotel near the Omaha airport.

On Monday July 14, we pushed across Iowa, stopping to shoot pictures of:
  • Omaha, Union Station
  • Omaha, CB&Q
  • Shenandoah, Iowa, CB&Q
  • Shenandoah, WAB (Wabash)
  • Red Oak, CB&Q
  • Corning, CB&Q
  • Creston, CB&Q
  • Osceola, CB&Q
  • Chariton, RI
  • Ottumwa, MILW (IC&E)
  • Ottumwa, CB&Q
  • Fairfield, RI
  • Fairfield, CB&Q
  • Mt. Pleasant, CB&Q
  • Burlington, CB&Q

CB&Q Station, Omaha, Nebraska
Wabash Railroad Station, Shenandoah, Iowa
Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Station, Red Oak, Iowa
Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Station, Creston, Iowa
California Zephyr arriving at Burlington, Iowa
CB&Q Depot, Burlington, Iowa
Dinner was at Big Muddy's Restaurant in the Rock Island Freight House along the Mississippi. We overnighted at a Comfort Inn.

Tuesday July 15 had always been scheduled as the last day of the trip and I would normally be looking forward to getting home (but see below). Anyway, after leaving Burlington we took pictures at:
  • Burlington, RI frt (restaurant)
  • Milan, Illinois, RI
  • Rock Island, RI (now a rental hall)
  • Davenport, Iowa, DRI&NW ("Union Station")
  • Davenport, MILW frt
  • Bettendorf, DRI&NW (Davenport, Rock Island, and North Western)
Alco C415 on the Burlington Junction Railway, Burlington, Iowa
Rock Island Depot, Milan, Illinois
Rock Island Railroad Depot, Rock Island, Illinois
After we had planned this trip I learned that I had to be in Washington D.C. for yet another meeting on July 16. I had already booked myself back to Pittsburgh on the 7pm flight out of ORD. It turns out that there was a connection at PIT for Washington, so I had my company book me on that flight. This would be an 11pm arrival in Washington which was not optimal, but it meant that I didn't have to miss this last day of our journey.  So, after a quick lunch in Bettendorf, Iowa (I believe Rick and I ate at the local Steak n Shake, and Dave ate at the nearby Culver's) we drove to our friend Mike Schafer's house in Lee, Illinois where Dave's wife Carol met him so that he could be home in Waukesha that evening.
Lee, Illinois
A farewell photo (taken by Mike Schafer) of the fellow travelers (Dave, Chuck, Rick) in Lee, Illinois
Rick dropped me O'Hare in plenty of time for my 7pm flight and then headed home himself. I was early enough to be able to stand-by on the 5pm flight and got to my hotel roughly two hours earlier than I would have on the original schedule.

It was a very tiring but very fun and memorable trip. Had I known that we were simply just going to make a roundtrip drive to Cheyenne with no train ride I would probably not have made it, but in some ways I'm glad that things worked out the way that they did. (I'm even happier that I was able to participate in the Union Pacific Historical Society's trip that covered the Yoder Branch on July 10, 2009, almost exactly 6 years later!)

Thanks to Dave Ingles for adding to and correcting this remembrance.