Visit to Rochelle, IL
October 1st, 2015

Photos by Dave Ingles

You might call this day-trip “scratching an itch,” in that I’d been “thinking about” spending a day around Rochelle, Ill., which I hadn’t done in months. It seemed that always something came up – getting up too late, the weather being cloudier than predicted, the occasional magazine duties getting in the way, you name it. With the weather still great, and a free day 8 days after Carol’s and my fun outing up to Oshkosh and Byron Hill on the CN (see separate file, Byron Hill and Environs), the promise of relief from CN orange and black and CP red was more than tempting. Our most recent visit had been on the way back from shooting the CRSA train with the Iowa Pacific IC-painted equipment around Bureau, Ill., on May 13th.

We actually got away in good shape about 9:30, with a half tank of gas bought locally a few days before at $2.55 a gallon. The sky was unexpectedly filled with low-level clouds and only about 40% sunlight, but we pressed on, figuring to turn back if clear-sky conditions didn’t materialize. Less than 2 hours later we exited at Rochelle and immediately stopped to fill the tank at Road Ranger, as via I had spotted the cheapest gas in our path as being at Rochelle at $2.29 (all point-9s are ignored as usual). Rochelle is usually higher than the usual cheap spots at the Wis.-Ill. State line, which this day were about the same as around home, and Waukesha is a bit higher than many area spots. If I’m going farther south on I-39, Mendota is usually cheaper, and once Oglesby has been.

The sky was slightly less cloudy, but we were in Rochelle and decided to stay awhile. In addition to fuel, we also got sandwiches to go at the Subway at Road Ranger, which I will not patronize again unless the in-town outlet at 38 and 251 also does not honor the recent Subway “frequent eater” cards. I suspect that the Road Ranger one does not participate is because it is in a truck stop by an Interstate, but we shall see next time. Prices were no different, just the “points” thing.

As we left Road Ranger, and went south on Dement Road, an eastbound UP sand train was heading up the hill to Creston, so I broke some speed limits on the back roads, which involve two stop signs and 3 90-degree turns, and we were just in time at the downtown Creston crossing to get the first of what would become 22 different trains (3 of them more than once) in 6 hours flat. You can do the arithmetic. (Our late, lamented friend Pete Stonitsch always cautioned me that it’s arithmetic in that drill, not “math.” He was a career math professor at the local 2-year U. of Wisconsin outlet.) The springs on the sand hoppers were up, so I figure the huge train was headed back to Wisconsin loading sites – EMD units 4163/4288/3872 pulling 186 cars (!) at 11:38 a.m., and yes, in full sunlight, a good omen! Yeah, 186 cars – those could NOT have been loads.

As is our custom, we avoided the Rochelle Railroad Park itself for most shots, especially BNSF, as the light angles are not good, but wound up shooting at a half dozen locations in town including the Park, plus outlying points including Creston, Flagg Center, near Chana, and Steward, all familiar and frequent photo spots. As one who knows the roads, and the homesteads, northwest of Rochelle out to Chana, from many visits to BNSF’s C&I line (aka Aurora Sub), one objective of mine this day was to try to determine which area of homes had sustained some damage in the tornado of April 9, 2015, that wiped out half the hamlet of Fairdale, Ill., up north on Illinois 72 east of I-39, a tiny community which sits on the north side of CP’s former IC&E/MILW line east of Davis Junction. Carol and I had swung off I-39 thru Fairdale after the CRSA train chase, and newspaper reports alluded to other damage “northwest of Rochelle.”

So with nothing else imminent on Rochelle rails, we headed out to Flagg Center via 38 and Center Road and then, seeing the eastward home signal on BNSF at Flagg Center — where the two main tracks start — displaying approach diverging, decided to do the zig-zags to Chana to intercept the approaching eastbound. Aside: Through Rochelle itself, BNSF track crews were busy just west of the UP diamonds replacing rail, with a very long string of yellow track machines busy, hence the “main line” between Flagg Center and the MP80 crossovers south of Rochelle, out toward Steward, was closed for trains – any action would be on Track 2. Also, when we got to Flagg Center, we found Flagg Road, the east-west county trunk thru town, also closed to thru traffic, as BNSF crews were renewing the grade crossing. But from Center Road, the next crossing west, we could read the home signal.

If anyone wants to pull the info, I’ll list here, from GoogleMap, our normal left-right, zig-zag route to Chana from Flagg Center: N on Center, W on Fowler, N on Skare, W on Hemstock, N on Knoll, W on Grist Mill. Not all crossings are great for photos, usually because of no shoulders to park on. But I’ve probably shot from most, if not all, over the years. Chana (Chay-nuh) itself has four crossings from just beyond its passing siding at each end, plus in-town views. Approaching Chana on Grist Mill, you can go N on Stone Hill, whose crossing is on a curve with a wide-open view both ways, or continue on Grist Mill to Chana Road, and then N on it into town.

First, we spotted several homes’ roofs being replaced (blue tarps visible from afar) in the newer subdivisions of large homes straddling Fowler Road east of Skare Road, so that is where the tornado damage was – no homes leveled or anything that bad. Then, as we started west on Grist Mill, the flashers ahead of us, in a glade where there had been decades ago, yes, a grist mill (historical signs are posted), turned on. So I settled for a shady side but nose-lit digital-only shot of our 2nd train, an eastbound coal loads (unusual for the C&I here) of 93 cars behind 5139/6842/4195, at 12:10 p.m.

We went on into Chana, checked the eastward home signal west of town (dark), and so headed south on Chana Road to see if the UP would give us anything. Chana hits 38 at the north-south segment just east of Ashton, so we went into town, parked by a grade crossing with good views each way, and chowed down on our Subways. UP gave us nothing, but the choice of lunchtime was fortuitous. We left on 38 east and did another zig-zag to get up to the BNSF west of Flagg Center (N on Brooklyn, E on Flagg, N on Skare, E on Fowler), and lo, found the home signal again displaying approach diverging. We set up on Center Road, newly widened with curbs in Flagg Center, and at 1:20 got our 3rd train, an eastbound stacker with 125 wells behind 8198/CREX 1310/CREX 1311/4155/7514. NOTE: All units are home-road unless labeled; the CREXs are the attractive gray GE leasers with yellow striping and blue lettering, of which BNSF has a bunch.

As he cleared he was slowing to go by all the MofW guys, so we broke some speed limits down Center and into Rochelle on 38 to “the Lincoln Highway crossing” (my abbr LHC for brevity) just west of the diamonds, where we shot him again (digital going-away only) and counted the wells. This was at 1:26, so you can calculate our speeds (it’s about 5 miles, with a stop sign entering 38).

BNSF was playing “keep the diamonds” (the interlocking is first-come, first-served) by keeping MofW machines in the plant, and we found a westbound UP “vehicle train” (that’s a Santa Fe term, with a V symbol, meaning trilevels) parked just short of 9th Street biding its time. I took a telephoto digital at 1:40; the only unit on the point was GE 6789. This meant, of course, he had Rochelle’s two downtown grade crossings blocked for a while, but this is why the city built the bridge over both railroads on 7th St., Route 251 (old US 51). We then sat at the BNSF Lincoln Highway crossing watching the MofW guys work, taking some photos around 1:50.

BNSF train action finally began heating up at 2:07 when a westbound empty oil train came thru behind CSX 7771/CSX 7527/BNSF 5511.

We then went to the Railroad Park and soon, the machines cleared the diamonds and the UP tri-level train headed through, which I shot from a dead-end street on the south side just east of the diamonds. Behind 6789 were about 97 cars with DPU 8498 (I think) on the rear, which I couldn’t shoot as by then we were headed around to 1st Ave. to be at the LHC again. You will note the home signals for the diamonds, which is a UP project, is status quo for some months now, new bridges erected, new tri-light signals attached, but still turned away and the old signals still in use, on both railroads.

Aside: The food plant south of the UP west of the 1st Ave. grade crossing, which used to be alternately switched by UP and BN locals, now has its own switcher, which I saw working at a distance but never had the opportunity to shoot. Looked like an EMD of some sort.

Another empty tank-car BNSF train was next, 100 cars past us at the LHC at 2:35 behind CP 8524/UP 5176 – just what I came to Rochelle to see, a CP 8500 (Not!). This was our 6th train, with one each BNSF and UP so far having been shot twice.

We wandered back into town to eyeball UP east out toward Creston Hill and lo, as we crossed at UP’s Rochelle station (still a busy MofW HQ), headlights! Before he got to us, though, an eastbound merchandiser showed up at 2:45, GEs 7801/7513 up front with 107 cars and DPU 7827 toward the rear. Both trains were running normal (i.e., “left-handed”), so the 7801 East did not interfere with our shooting the westbound stacker coming by at 2:48, with SD70Ms 4156/4146 on the point. He was likely heading into Global III west of town; if he had a DPU, we didn’t see it as we watched him as we drove east out 1st Avenue and south on Caron Road to see if BNSF was offering up any more westbounds, typical this time of day.

On our way south on Caron, we noted the local BNSF switcher 2008, tied up; we’d heard him working out there via radio off and on since our arrival. South of the Steam Plant Road crossing, a 12-unit “light-engine set” was parked, crew on board. Looking into the sun, we wrote down all 12 unit numbers, which you’ll get in a bit here when we saw this aberration head west. With nothing else evident on BNSF, we drove back downtown and parked by the UP station, just in time to get an eastbound tri-level train, our 9th of the day, with 80 auto carriers behind 3834/4220 at 3:24. We left too soon, though, as a westbound began whistling and all I could do was shoot a telephoto digital northward up Lincoln St. of his lead unit, 7883, at 3:30.

We then heard a horn to the southeast and just made it across the BNSF on Lincoln to catch that 12-unit “light engine” set heading west, at 3:32: 5509/4553/9756/4434/5866/5127/4004/4095/5178/4001/CREX 1314/9970.

The 3rd unit was still in Grinstein green, but the trailer SD70MAC, 9970, was in orange. You’ll note I don’t bother much with model designations anymore; they’re either GEs or EMDs, and in most cases you can look at the photos.

Since the light engines had the UP diamonds, we hustled over to the Railroad Park for another shot of UP 7883 West, though it was only a going-away view of 7883/7814 up front as he had stopped right at the home signal by the Railroad Park! Usually UPs that are stuck by the BNSF will hold back of 9th St. east of the Park, if they’re not out east of town at the Dement crossovers beneath Dement Road. I did get good going-away slides (only) of 7883 West’s twin-unit DPU, 8700/8710, at 3:38. We also got in a quick visit with hometown friend Denny Hamilton, who stopped in Rochelle on his way home from trying unsuccessfully to get some of his slides in return from Mike Schafer down at Lee, Ill. Mike gave him a Carousel tray of slides, but they turned out to be not Denny’s!

A “Diesel consist of the day” award might go to the next train we saw, our 12th, one of BNSF’s usual westbound afternoon intermodals behind 4668/7309/4714/9749, the third and fourth of which were in silver Warbonnet and Grinstein green, respectively; they passed us at the LHC at 4:03.

We knew his passage had stabbed a westbound UP, so we drove around thru the abandoned factory parking lots to just west of the diamonds to shoot him, at 4:08, a 62-car mixed merchandiser led by UP 8519/NS 2651.

Back at the Railroad Park for a potty break, we had time before our 14th train, a westbound UP intermodal with 7669/7746/7452 and 56 trailers, went by at 4:26.

Things then got quiet – even the BNSF work gangs had tied up for the day, moving their parade of machines off the main lines at the yard office east of Main St. where the switcher usually parks -- so we went back out south to Steam Plant Road, seeing and shooting Burlington Junction SW1500 1516 attached to a string of the usual “cold” reefers on the ladder tracks at the Wiscold cold storage place along Caron Road, in a shootable position at 4:32. We could see a headlight east on the BNSF and quickly parked by Steam Plant’s grade crossing, but I forgot to turn my N90 (slide camera) back on and got only a digital as westbound stacks rolled by at 4:35 behind 4348/4865/4914/CREX 1323, our 16th train. We then drove east to check on the BJ’s (Rochelle Railroad) parking spot, where I shot the MLW (Alco) switcher 8711 in good light at 4:40. (BJ is contract operator for the city-owned RRRR. They also have such operations in Montgomery and Quincy, Ill., for BNSF spurs, plus their own ex-RI trackage in Burlington, Iowa.) I counted the SW1500 and its cut as a “train” but not the 8711. Note the wind direction and speed, by the flag behind the 8711.

Aside: The actual city steam plant has been razed for some time, and now the city has reconfigured the intersection, bending Wiscold Drive, the dead end you take east to get to where the BJ units are parked, on a curve to the south thru the old plant site and directly into a 90-degree intersection with Caron and Steam Plant Roads. The paving and curbs look brand-new; for now, and maybe it won’t change, it’s a 3-way-stop intersection, with no stopping for eastbound cars or trucks as they cross the BNSF and RRRR main lines.

Back by the BNSF, we saw another westbound headlight in the distance to the south and began to park south of the Steam Plant grade crossing for a shot, but a BNSF pickup truck wanted to turn in there, so to avoid either taking time chatting with the driver or upsetting him for being on railroad property (next to the road, but still …), I headed west to South Steward Road, which becomes Main St., to set up by the old BN depot site. As we raced into town, though, we had our first “miss” of the day as an unexpected eastbound BNSF stacker roared by ahead of us (evidence of both mains being open for business now). Oh, well. We did get the westbound, 4766/4726 with 127 wells, at 4:50 by the old BN depot site. A headlight was visible to the east on UP, which turned out to be stacks behind 5755/5094/3928/5229 at 4:56 by the UP depot.

IMPORTANT NOTE: Without Carol along, I’d have to dig out engine numbers from the digital images, and probably wouldn’t get them all. She faithfully noted all the engines we saw, and when we could, she’d count the cars. Several car-counts had to be abandoned mid-stream as action called us away from our spot to the “other railroad.”

Back to Steam Plant Road we went as an empty oil tank-car train pulled up short of the road and stopped, just barely into telephoto range (next to cars parked in BNSF’s yard) with 7908/CREX 1350, which I shot sitting there at 5:05, our 19th train.

Meantime, we’d heard on the radio that the eastbound BNSF stacker we’d just missed in town was going to “wait for four” at Steward. We figured, correctly as it turned out, that the 4766 West was the first, and the 7908, which had just stopped, was the second. So with some trepidation we headed out Steward Road but were not skunked by a third westbound – turns out, as we learned via radio at some point here -- he’d gone into emergency “at Steward.” The eastbound had stopped at the typical distance back from the Elva Road crossing, which put it barely in good telephoto range, with the ethanol plant in the distance as a backdrop. At 5:15, I made up for the “miss” by shooting him, 4303/5150/7863/5337, sitting there.

Having heard nothing from the stopped westbound, we eased into Steward proper, noting the “depot” shot still in good, altho low, sunlight, but no stopped train visible. We went east to a half mile or so beyond the I-39 bridge before seeing tank cars moving to our right. We did a quick U-turn and, breaking speed records, got back into town and across the track by the preserved (and turned 180 degrees) depot just ahead of the Perry Road gates going down and got the nice “depot shot” of 4002/4825 on a 102-car empty oil train at 5:23.

This left one more train to see, the 4th for the 4303 East to wait for and our 22nd, which showed up 16 minutes later, at 5:39, behind CSX 8521/CSX 7385/BNSF 4767.

With the 4002 West stopped ahead of him short of the MP80 crossovers, the CSX 8521 West had to wait, and stopped after about 24 cars passed us. This blocked us from direct I-39 access, so we went back up Steward Road into Rochelle (the CSX man having stopped short of the Steward Road grade crossing just east of the switch where the two main tracks start), and we retraced the “fast route” thru the southeast end of town. We used Caron Road, 1st Avenue (which becomes Creston Road), and Dement Road to get back to Highway 38 to get onto I-39, noting as we went over the Dement crossovers that a UP empty coal train was stopped a quarter-mile east of the overpass. This was at 5:54, and I didn’t count that train since our luck had been so terrific — it was dusk and there’s no place to stop on the bridge, and he was too far away for even a short zoom shot. We made the obligatory dinner stop in Rockford at Steak n Shake just as the sun hit the horizon, and after the usual great food/good service meal there (and a Chili-Mac to-go for daughter Suzy), listened to hapless Brewers baseball on the radio as we went home, arriving about 8:30.

I did an hour-by-hour analysis of the trains we saw, not by “the hour” but by the 60 minues at 38 and 39 minutes past the hour, from our first shot at Creston at 11:38 a.m. until our 22nd in Steward at 5:39. The results of our shots: 11:38-12:39, 1 UP, 1 BNSF; 12:39-1:39, 1 BNSF; 1:39-2:29, 1 UP, 2 BNSF; 2:39-3:39, 4 UP, 1 BNSF; 3:39-4:39, 2 UP, 2 BNSF, 1 BJ; 4:39-5:39, 1 UP, 5 BNSF. Totals: 9 UP, 12 BNSF, 1 BJ.


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