Early May 2016 Local Action

Photos by Dave Ingles

Having been on hand in Chicago on May 1, 1971, Amtrak's first day of operation, whenever possible, I try to go out and photograph at least one Amtrak train on each May 1st. If I'm in town, it's usually just the Empire Builder, and that was the case this year, Amtrak's "45th birthday." No. 8 lately had been running on-time virtually every day, but this day it was about an hour late, and came thru Duplainville at 2:35, just about 60 minutes behind, with engines 71/133 and 12 cars, the rearmost being PV obs "Dagny Taggart," which turned out to be headed to Chicago to be on Amtrak's Kentucky Derby Special to Louisville, Ky., the following weekend. The slogan pictured is on car 85999 in Amtrak's Exhibit train, which passed thru Milwaukee eastbound on May 2nd in bright sunlight, en route to Chicago after display at the St. Paul Union Depot event on the weekend.

Having a hunch the Exhibit Train would deadhead east on Monday, May 2nd, i verified that from Twin Cities friends and so as to photograph the train at low speed, headed out early toward downtown Milwaukee, taking city streets to avoid the construction messes on US 18 in Waukesha and I-94 going into the city. The Builder was running just a little late, for a change, then for some reason spent 20 minutes at Columbus, Wis., due to engine trouble, I later learned. So I had time to prowl around in the city a bit, and discovered in an office park on the site of the old Milwaukee Road shops, a parking lot that is accessible to give one a good sunny-side view of the CP just west of the old Cut-Off interlocking tower site. A little ECO Geep was working in the yard and came just far enough west for a telephoto shot from just a block north of the corner of the dead-end 33rd Court and Roundhouse Road, before pushing back into the yard. The roadway above the unit is the extension of Canal St. west from the downtown Potawatomi Casino to the Miller Park (baseball) area, which has a wide sidewalk here that is considered part of the Hank Aaron (recreation) Trail, but the long bridge has no true parking spaces on the section pictured.

I next camped and read the paper alongside the tracks on Mt. Vernon Ave. 2 blocks west of the 13th St. grade crossing, the best open area on the sunny side on the east-west alignment leading into the depot. First came CP #281, led by CEFX 1020/NS 7013, an SD60E rebuild with the "brow cab." He crawled by from 1:50 to 1:57 with 88 cars, 34 trilevels and 54 misc. freight cars. The high viaducts in the distance carry I-94/I-43 south over the tracks and Menomonee River valley from the interchange just west of the depot on the southwest corner of the city's downtown.

With time to kill before #8's expected 2:30 arrival, I meandered over to CP's Muskego Yard, aka "5 Rings" in MILW days (for the old party-line company-phone system code -- don't you just love rail lingo!), where I snapped an old Soo caboose, #138, and two engines in what passes for the local "engine terminal," with units DM&E 3800 and CP 4522 present. It appears you can drive right into that area from both the parking lot below the yard office, and from the north off Canal St., but I wasn't in the mood to trespass for what little was on hand. The high electric line towers visible in the distance had the TMER&L interurban lines beneath them back in the day, and are right alongside today's I-94, a sort of rail history landmark for local fans. The darker street bridge below the "horizon," actually closest to us, carries north-south 27th St. over the Menomonee River valley and the CP yards and main line, and the brighter road viaduct appearing below that, but farther away, is again the Canal St. extension/Hank Aaron Trail. In the caboose photo, the buildings "above" it in the distance are part of the Marquette University campus complex, I believe.

I used my 80-200 zoom lens full out to capture #8 coming under the 16th St. viaduct toward me right at 2:30, 22 minutes after I'd shot that Soo caboose. I had also loaded my 2nd slide roll of the year into the N90 since it was a sunny day and i'd shot only digitals of the Exhibit Train deadheading west. It took the train, led by units 180/45, a couple of minutes to pass me. Hiawatha #335 from Chicago was approaching on time at this moment, so he would use Track 1 in the depot as they prefer for the "HI's" and the Builder had to use an outer track to unload disembarking passengers. Note the car ahead of dummy F40 406 is 32000, the first Superliner sleeper, the Portland-Chicago car. Pacific Bend, an old UP 10&6, is the Exhibit Train crew's dorm when on the road. I must say if Amtrak is really returning to the red-white-blue stripe color scheme, I'm all for it! Rear unit 822 was on-line, so go figure why Amtrak didn't shuffle it up front if it had engine problems with 180 or 45 -- too much trouble, obviously.

Having not been in the city to photograph for quite a while, I meandered south, checking good photo spots that used to be. Maple St. access up to the tracks now is for bikes and peds only, and I''m not up to climbing (mostly downward) a steep slope anymore. Beecher St. has only morning access, as always. The only grade crossing, at Waterford Ave., now is a quiet zone with paddles and parking only a couple hundred feet from the tracks. So I wound up at good old Grange Ave. overpass, just north of the Airport Amtrak station and the Hwy. 119 freeway spur to the airport. Grange here is a wide street, parking allowed, with wide sidewalks, and so far, no camera-inhibiting fences. I figured as I negotiated the city streets I'd missed seeing #8 leave, but intended to shoot the Hiawatha consist outbound as #338, due out at 3 p.m. and at MKA 10 minutes later. So I set up for the going-away view (street too wide to rush across for both front and back of a "Hi"), even tho there is a bad black cable in the southward view. Right about on-time, headlights showed up to the north around the curve at Waterford Ave., and I tried a long telephoto, heavily cropped here, just for the heck of it, and could not tell in that split second that it was not the Hiawatha. I'd heard some indefinite scanner talk about engine problems, I assumed on #8, but I was still surprised when this train turned out to be #8 and the unit showing up below me being 180, not the NPCU ex-F40 leading #338 (I'd glimpsed #335 down a south-side street heading south from the depot area, but hadn't seen the  power or NPCU). So I made the best of things and shot the rear end of #8 again, this time getting a good slide of engine 822 which i'd failed to shoot close-up on the N90 at 15th and Mt. Vernon, and just a telephoto digital. The time here for #8 was 3:14, meaning if you subtract a couple of minutes between me and him at 13th St. and 10 minutes to get from the depot out to the Airport Station, he took about a half-hour delay somewhere outside the depot southbound owing to engine trouble.

Just 3 minutes after #8 went under me, here came #338 right on his tail, NPCU 90413 leading the usual 6 cars with P42 56 as power on the rear. Again I tried a long telephoto coming-on, in which I had to include Grange Avenue's north bridge railings in the frame to avoid it being too soft, it's such a strong crop. I'm not sure I've ever shot a detail of the roof of an NPCU, but you can tell it's just a carbody, tho now used not just for checked baggage but also passengers' bicycles! In the going-away view, that's the Airport Station you see beyond the freeway bridge. The train went under me at 3:17, so he lost about 10 minutes off schedule in following trouble-prone #8. I never did check to see how each did into Chicago that afternoon.

By this time it was close to #7's time, so I went south a mile to the old Lake Tower site, below the College St. overpass, and had just enough time to park and grab him passing at 3:26, headed for an "early" arrival at MKE as often occurs, with the same units as Sunday's #8, again normal practice, 71/133 and 11 cars. I then went home, satisfied with my foray into the city.

Tues., May 3rd was mostly sunny -- tho not at a critical moment, as things would soon turn out -- and in early afternoon approaching Empire Builder time, CN had a jam around Duplainville. There was a southbound tank train on the siding, stacker #119 going north on the main, and a southbound stacker I'll call #198, the 2288 South, pulling into the siding from the north to edge up to the tank train's rear. Here is the front end of #119 with the conductor out to roll-by the stacker crawling into the passing siding, at 1:25 p.m., engines 5688/2569.

If you look close in this shot from the car on Duplainville Road's shoulder, you'll spot the southbound stacker's lead unit 2288's cab at the left, and part of the "CN" noodle on the rear DPU on the tank train, just to the right of the "COSCO" top container. I don't know if #198 had Hwy. K beyond the siding's north switch blocked or not, I was concentrating on getting back to Dupy for Amtrak #8.

The Builder, #8, was reported on-time as usual, but clouds had rolled in as I positioned myself at curbside south of the Dupy Road gates to look, if not shoot, the train. Here he came, stirring up dust along Marjean Lane at a spot of freshly spread ballast. I had the short zoom, 35-80 mm, on the D700 as usual, as it has become non-sharp if not on wide-angle. Thus this frame is heavily cropped.

I hadn't intended to shoot #8 in such a dark condition, and its usual consist of 11 cars behind 79/157 was no incentive. BUT, just as I spotted his headlight, I heard a horn behind me, and Carol yelled something as I sprang out of the car and turned around to shoot CP #199, whose units met #8's just to our right, between the grade crossing and the CN diamond.

The time was 1:40, and in a flash, the meet was over. i've deliberately cropped out the crossbuck above the flashers on the eastward views so as to minimize the bright sky, as i had no time to adjust the camera figuring I wasn't even going to use it on #8. I've lightened the shots as much as I could. Leading #199 was CP 8906, but the trailing unit is lost to history as either #8 or a pole hid the cab number (and it was one of CP's dirtier units with most of the numerals peeled away), and the dust to the west obscures it. I don't care :-). We hadn't had lunch, so went thru Waukesha to a Mickey-Ds not far from the tracks, but the CN tank train came thru at 2:05 while we were still at the McD's drive-thru, so we don't know his lead unit(s), but his trailing DPU was 2269, obtained up at Duplainville siding. No biggie, and as we munched lunch along West Avenue on CemeteryHill waiting for #198 to follow, the sky improved and he came along at 2:15 with 2288 (which we knew) up front, 143 container wells, and 2657 as rear DPU.

I made a U-turn to the street's west side to set up for the DPU shot, and, well, sometimes you just get bored. Finished with lunch, I shot the containers including the rear-view mirror, then the DPU. We then called it a day.

Thursday the 5th was a gorgeous day, and I was home, not at the office, but a late morning foray netted nothing but the local CN switcher, GP38-2 5856 still in GTW blue with what's left of an Operation Lifesaver scheme, running long-hood first out of Duplainville siding with cars to work with in Waukesha. I went out again in the afternoon, after #8, and at 2:45 or so was surprised by CN #346 around Duplainville, so I beat it back and did something I rarely do, trespass into the Payne & Dolan quarry parking lot (I never cross the tracks -- this is a private crossing heavily used by dump trucks to the numerous highway projects in the area) to see his front end, as construction and lane restrictions in Waukesha I knew would prohibit me from catching him any farther south. I've shot here a few times, and not been bothered: units 3046/2832 at 2:53 p.m. I'm posting the "faraway" to show some of the quarry apparatus. In the foreground -- we are at MP 99.25 by the marker -- is the Waukesha passing siding, with a yard track, then the train on the main track, and an easterly side track, as we look east (well, northeast). Local L504 will do a lot of switching in here, but it's pretty much inaccessible, which is fine.

With no other activity imminent on either CN or CP, I made a spur-of-the-moment decision to go do something "on my calendar" but as yet not accomplished -- buy a new telephoto lens. So off I went to Art's Camera on Waukesha's northwest side, and thanks to a sharp saleswoman, I was out of there in less than 15 minutes with a "pre-owned" 80-300 zoom Nikon lens, shade, filter, little lens bag, and 2 memory cards, all for just over $250. I would "road test" the lens in 2 days, on Saturday. The objective was not to replace my trusty huge Nikon 80-200 zoom I keep in the car, but it's about a foot long (well, it seems that way) and is very heavy, tho sharp as a tack! But in early June i'll be on a weeklong private-car charter train trip on BNSF, and with the short zoom now sharp only on wide angle, I need a "portable" telephoto. Turns out this one vignettes a bit sometimes, but I crop most images and it'll do nicely. Most important, it is less than 6 inches tall and will fit in my camera bag! That accomplished, I returned to the CN and was caught up at Hwy. K by southbound #348 zooming by with no fewer than 5 units! The fourth one, IC SD70 1016 in full CN livery, needed a slide taken, so i concentrated on that as I chased him back south. Presented here are one "grab" frame to get engine numbers, which I'd normally trash but I got no digital of the full 1016, and then the best I could do of #348's front end, at Green Road from the Quad/Graphics parking lot as he rolled on south. Time: 3:49, units 2820/2926/2900/IC 1016/5647. The last 2, if not the middle one, were off-line, and I suspect were destined for CN's storage line at Woodcrest Shop in Homewood, IL. One time recently at dinner in Waukesha at a trackside cafe, we saw a 7-unit southbound, and other folks have reported similar as units are sent south to be parked in a pretty-much graffiti-safe place at the shop.

I did a little more shooting Thursday, but nothing worth posting, a common #7 and the CN local running long-hood-forward, and Amtrak #8 and a CN stacker on Friday afternoon. However, I finally got the local unit parked so I could shoot its clear front end, here at the depot at 4:25 on Friday afternoon. Now GTW 5856, it was built as Rock Island 4374, according to the Canadian Trackside Guide, which lists it as the only member of this class, which totals 43 units of GTW (5812-5836), P&LE (5844-5849), DW&P (5850-5853), and RI (5854-5861) ancestry, to receive O.L. lettering. (The DW&Ps also were built for RI and then became GTW.) As regular viewers of this website may recall, we've also had ex-IC, GM&O, and DT&I GP38 family units assigned as the local switcher, plus original CN units of course.

With good weather on Sat., May 7th, we declared this "road test day" for the newly acquired zoom lens, and headed north, thinking maybe Byron Hill and environs, good telephoto territory. But after finding absolutely nothing stirring on both CP and CN around Duplainville, and north toward Fond du Lac, we turned around and went down to CP's C&M line, which although straight and flat, would at least guarantee us some Amtrak action. Which is almost all we got, the 2 CP freights did present themselves. it was already after noon as we checked out angles at crossings heading south, making it to Hwy. 11 in Sturtevant, by the old depot site, before getting our first train, Hiawatha #336 with 90413 and 6 cars with P42 27 pushing, at 1:30. This is the first of 3 frames coming-on, which had the worst vignetting, tho I've cropped that out here. In the going-away, the word "Hiawatha" on the trackside bar-restaurant is obscured by the grade-crossing signals' cantilever. Vignettiing on this frame was minimal, but it was close to the 80mm widest. Someday i'm going to see if the food at the Hiawatha is any good.

CP #199 appeared next, at 1:41, with 111 cars (7 trilevels ahead of 104 container wells) behind 8745/9355. At least I could compose to include the Hiawatha sign on the freight. The pedestrian "ditch bridge" is actually a photo-line platform, or was on February 19, 2012, when friend Craig Willett, still in Amtrak employ, ran the Iowa Pacific E8 from Chicago to Sturtevant on a charter train to use the wye to head back. The unit was lettered Arizona Eastern (since sold by Iowa Pacific) in an SP-black-widow-inspired scheme, and after turning the train and while waiting for a slot on the C&M main eastward, Craig spotted the train on the wye perfectly so the photo line went from trackside west across this little wooden bridge and across the access road. In the photo here, Craig is slowly pulling up to "spot." Having gotten great shots further west on the wye just before this, we did not wait for a spot in line but headed south to set up for our Chicago-bound action shot..

Next up was CP #281, 9 minutes later with 9741/NS 1135/CP 6241, by us a mile or two south at Brown Road. We didn't count the cars. Oddly, this strong telephoto did not have any vignetting, but I did not have time to attach the lens shade, which probably explains it. No curve, but a nice test of the lens's sharpness on a straight tele. This 80-300 is not as sharp as my huge 80-200, but it'll do nicely as a backup for train trips.

For Hiawatha #335, we set up at Hwy. C just compass north of Sturtevant. He was on Track 2, probably to stay out of the way of #8 and/or #281 up near Milwaukee, but the intermediate signals had given that away to us, so we made the best of a tight angle here, whose road has good shoulders to park on. Engine 183, 6 cars of course, and NPCU 90200, the conversion from the first-ever F40PH; time: 2:19, a few minutes late.

We were putting off lunch, but #8 was on-time so we sat still. No. #335 crossed over at Oakwood, and #8 came by, also on Track 2, at 2:35, with 180/131 and the usual 11 cars. Presented are the farthest-away of 3 coming-on telephotos, then the closest, then the going-away. We then broke for lunch, getting a Subway to go at Sturtevant, just west of the new depot.

Back at Hwy. 11 for Amtrak #7, he showed up at 3:21, on-time, with 162/133 and 11 cars, nothing special but so what, this was a lens test. I never touched the N90 for any slides this day.

Ending the Sturtevant visit was #338 with the same set as #335, of course, photographed up at the crossovers, still guarded by searchlight signals (!)  by the old depot site at 3:36, about 10 minutes late. Note the trackside pole line, still intact right here in the trees at right.

Going home, as we approached Waukesha from the south on Hwy. 164, I cut over to Oakdale Rd. to check the signals at the north end of Vernon siding on the CN -- but no need, as stack train #119 was going north as we arrived. Just for grins, we decided to go thru town and up to Duplainville to see if we would overtake him, or encounter a meet with a southbound. The latter did not occur, but we had a few minutes before he came by us at MP 104.5 at Weyer Road, 150 container wells behind 2878/2136 at 4:55, finishing our day.

The next day, all we shot of note was #7 in a springtime scene at the retention pond in the business park at MP 103, engines 180/131 again with 11 cars at 4:12, on-time. These were shot with the 35-80 at wide angle, the first one heavily cropped.


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