Byron Hill and Environs
Sept. 23, 2015

by Dave Ingles

Tired of having to let sunny, warm days pass by without being able to get away from the local railroad scene for most of the month, on Wed., Sept. 23rd, Carol and I decided to head north to the Fond du Lac area and CN’s line up Byron Hill. Since Wisconsin Central faded from the scene after CN’s takeover in 2001, this has become at best a once- or twice-a-year destination. We set as a target lunch at Ardy & Ed’s, the old-fashioned drive-in restaurant on Oshkosh’s south side, alongside U.S. 45 and the CN main line. As usual, we got going late in the morning and aimed to go “straight to Oshkosh,” saving railroading for on the way back. Nevertheless, we ran into CN’s northbound NS connection (formerly, or maybe still, #445) going thru Waukesha and began our day shooting him at Duplainville, crossing Green Road: new GE units 3009/3001 in charge, at 11:41 a.m. This was fortuitous as we determined as we went north that he was not having any meets, so we were able to highball up newly designated I-41.

We did check sidings at Ackerville (from the 164 overhead) and Marsh (south switch off County D), and did take “the old road,” Highway 175, from Highway 49 at Lomira through Byron and down the hill. (Aside: County B East which crosses CN mid-grade at Hamilton, is closed west of 175.) We got clear to the US 151 junction and spotted stacker #198 heading for the hill, so doubled back and got him at Lost Arrow Road at 12:55 and then at Church Road on the hill itself at 1:07. Normally with newer 8800- or 8900-series EMD units, this day he had a two-GE consist worth a short chase: Ex-Santa Fe Warbonnet CN 2190 leading and Dash 8 widebody 2422 trailing. The sweeping curve visible north of Lost Arrow has grown up some, so all I got of the head-end in the “open windows” of trees were slides (fresh roll loaded for the day, after weeks of digital-only work), and a going-away digital at the grade crossing, then a token digital on the curve of mid-train stacks. After the two encounters we rejoined I-41 off B east and went nonstop to the Oshkosh area, taking back roads south of town directly up to Ardy & Ed’s.

At Ardy and Ed’s we found management serving the cars, sans roller skates. The explanation is likely it’s after Labor Day and the young skating car-hops employed in summer are all back in school. As we waited for our food, a road grader turned the corner, a prototype of the metal late-1940s toy from my childhood, somewhere in our basement. As we ate, a northbound CN train went by, which I shot thru the windshield showing a corner of the drive-in, then out the driver’s window. Time: 2:12 pm, units 2222/5707/3014/3005.

After lunch we drove north a few blocks for my first views of CN’s new lift bridge over the Lake Winnebago exit of the Fox River, which replaced a circa-1900 C&NW swing bridge. The bridge operators work 12-hour shifts during boat season.

Following the line south on 45 and then R (formerly 175’s north end), I found what I think is a renamed control point (from Black Wolf to Badger) on CN’s separated main lines. We look north on the former Soo, with the former C&NW to the right (east). At Van Dyne, I was surprised to see the back-street grade crossing, which had a wig-wag signal (only) past the turn of the current century, sill intact and not guarded by anything but crossbucks and stop signs, nothing electronic. Then as we drove on south, we spotted a northbound train apparently leaving Shops Yard. We went back to the road just south of Van Dyne, which also to my surprise had no electronic guards either, just crossbucks and stop signs. The train eased up and stopped short of the crossing, at 3:20 pm, so I still got a desired photo angle, and it turned out to be the northbound that we shot at Duplainville. I’m guessing it may have gone right thru Shops Yard and stopped up here for a crew change. If not, I have no clue why it did what it did.

I took exactly one photo at Shops. CN has not only closed the Lakeshore Drive crossing by the yard office (which happened a few years ago), now they have blocked off the road a good ways west of the tracks. A pair of CN-WC SW1500s, 1552/1554, was switching back and forth and I wanted to shoot them, finally managing one telephoto shot, which is presented here, heavily cropped, looking east along the former roadway. There is, to me, no reason to return for photography anywhere around Shops Yard.

We would have better luck out south of town at each end of Byron Hill. Checking the crossing just south of I-41, I spotted a headlight, which turned out to be, not the Quad Local from the plant at Lomira, which we’d seen going uphill earlier but couldn’t shoot, but rather a set of SD40-2 style helpers that had just finished pushing a potash train up the hill: GTW 5931/IC 6203, shot at 4:35 pm. Last time I was up here, 6203 was paired with an EJ&E SD38-2. We found the potash train parked by the small grainery at the hamlet of Byron itself, units 8857/2831 up front and, we’d later see, DPU 8832 on the rear. I’ve never seen Byron Hill pushers attached to a rear DPU, and I’d just missed this one. Of course now the train is supposed to stop to uncouple the pushers, which I assume it did; in WC days, the uncoupling would usually be at (slow) speed.

From Byron itself, we went to the County Y crossing just south of the end of the hill’s double track and north of the switch into the big Quad/Graphics plant north of Lomira, and we wound up spending an hour and a half here, basically all the remaining good sunlight, from 4:30 until after 6. The Quad Local was visible to the south, obviously done with his switching work and ready to head back down the hill to Shops Yard. As it turned out, he’d have to wait for 4 trains to pass first! The first was a surprise, Local L510, which goes from Shops south as far as Duplainville at night, then works its way back. And while it often gets re-crewed, sometimes at “Dupy” or Ackerville (near Slinger), this return here at 4:35 pm seemed awfully late, and he was quite long with 79 cars behind the same power he’s had for well, more than a year, at least: IC SD40-3s 6204/6202. His “caboose’ with the “FRED” is one of our local “rock train” cars, originally a CN ore jenny, then WC for this rock service with SSAM reporting marks. Undoubtedly it was a bad-order set-out someplace.

The potash train that was helped uphill and held in Byron was next, passing us at 4:45 with, to repeat, 8857/2831 up front and DPU 8832 trailing 85 cars.

Meantime, the farmers were harvesting the corn across the track, and we had a constant parade of trucks going back and forth on Y, raising dust. The diversion was kind of neat to witness, though.

Still, the Quad Local didn’t move, as another southbound had negotiated Byron Hill and approached us – an empty Green Bay WPSX coal train with UP 6810/5827/5906 and 122 cars, at 5:18 pm.

Now, surely the Quad Local would get to go home. … Nope! The UP coal train had to go clear down to Marsh siding, south of Lomira and Theresa (pronounced “Thress-uh”) to meet the next train, the same Herzog ballast-car train we’d seen in Waukesha 3 days previous, returning north to somewhere I don’t know to re-load, I assume. Same power, too, 2835/2888, with 98 cars at 6:03 p.m.

Would the Quad Local get to get out and pass us before the sun went down? Finally, yes (!) with a nice pair of CN-IC GP40s, 3137/3110 and 10 cars, approaching us at 6:09, backing up to pick up the conductor at the switch after he realigned it, and then leaving at 6:13.

That was a fitting end to a very enjoyable and profitable visit to the Byron Hill area, but we made one more stop in the last rays of sunlight, not far south of Lomira. Taking the old road, Highway 175, south to avoid one-lane construction delays on I-41, we stopped at the corner of Soo Road where it overlooks the main line, and surprisingly, found the shot downhill to the east to still be an open view, which will be filed for future reference since this is a location I haven’t shot since WC days, owing to inability to chase trains on this line anymore, account train speed, plus hey, it’s CN, not WC! Note the moon visible in the street-sign photo. We returned to I-41from 175  on Highway 28, as dusk took over, and got home 45 minutes later for a late, take-home supper.


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