Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Indiana Wants Me

A full selection of photos from this trip can be found in Photologues. Photos appearing on this page can be purchased at ShopDaylightImages.com.

The genesis for this trip started after Summerail in Cincinnati in August 2008. I headed from the Queen City into southern Indiana to photograph trains passing the remaining few semaphore signals on the ex-Monon Railroad, now a part of CSX Transportation. The line is little used, with one train a day the norm. But on Mondays CSX sends a local from Mitchell, Indiana, into Louisville, Kentucky, and the Indiana Rail Road has a train operating on trackage rights from its Hiawatha Yard through Mitchell and on to Louisville, making for two trains over the line in a day. That fateful August Monday I chased the Indiana Rail Road through the blades, only to miss the best shot on the line at Hitchcock, Indiana, due to traffic congestion in the nearby town of Campbellsburg. Regrouping, I got to Hitchcock in time for the following CSX train, only to have clouds ruin the shot. Since that day, I had vowed to get back to Hitchcock.

In March 2009 I had planned to get to the semaphores on the return leg of a trip to Chicago, but persistent rain changed that plan. My brother Bruce and I then started working our calendars, clearing a few Sunday-Wednesday blocks to potentially make a run to Indiana from New Jersey if the weather cooperated. A pair of high pressure systems moved into the heartland and it looked like May 18-20 would be pristine in Indiana. On Sunday, May 17, we made our move and headed west.

Plans were rapidly developing for the trip. Thanks to intelligence from Mark Mautner, Mike Biehn and others, we found that the semaphore chase should get us to Louisville in time to chase the Louisville & Indiana's evening job north. Furthermore, on Tuesday we could catch the Alco power of the Southern Indiana and then head over to Paris, Kentucky, where Transkentucky Transportation was running coal trains with four GE diesels on the point and four more pushing. Four railroads, all of which should run, but none of which were guaranteed to run. It was a schedule built like a house of cards. Could it hold up?

Day 1 -- May 17, 2009
Southern Indiana is a long way from New Jersey, and we know it will take most of a day to get there. Happily, along the way there is a railroad that I had wanted to check out -- the Fayette Central tourist operation in Uniontown, Pennsylvania. I had seen photos of the line's Rail Diesel Car (authentically painted for the Baltimore & Ohio) running on street trackage in Uniontown, and I really wanted to get shots there. I noticed on their schedule that they ran north out of Uniontown on Saturdays and south on Sundays, and after searching Google Earth I figured the street running would be used on days the car went south. Thus, a Sunday stop there would work right into our plans.

With the forecast calling for more clouds than sun, we decide that a 5:00 a.m. departure to get to Uniontown in time for the first trip of the day at 11:00 wasn't necessary, so we plan to arrive at about 1:00, in time for the first trip to come back and before the second trip departed at 2:00. We get to Unionton in plenty of time, and after circling the town trying to figure out the track layout (Uniontown was served by the B&O and the Pennsylvania Railroad) we find the street trackage and set up with about 20 minutes to spare.

While waiting for the RDC, we start to notice the track -- the flangeways are clogged with dirt, indicating that no trains had used them recently. Uh, oh. Maybe the RDC ran north, or maybe it didn't run at all... But then we follow the street trackage south, and it unexpectedly ends at a small business. This wasn't the through route the car would use to get to Fairchance. We soon deduce that the photos in the magazines of the RDC in the street had to be a staged shot. Now totally confused, we head back to where signs indicated the trips depart from and wait. It isn't long before the RDC appears on its return from Fairchance. At least it's running.

Once the train arrives at the loading area, we start talking with the crew. Sure enough, the conductor of the train is the mastermind behind the photos of the street running. I opine that I really would like to get my own shots in the street, at which point the crew states that it could be worked out (this was the second operating day of the season and ridership was light; if no one shows up for the 2:00 run to Fairchance, the crew offers to head over to the street running instead). No one shows up for the 2:00 run, and with the offer of good publicity in Railfan & Railroad, the crew lets us ride in the RDC over to the street trackage to get our photos.

This turns into our own little photo charter, as we make a stop near the ex-PRR freight house for a quick runby, and then head down Beeson Street where the RDC stops in each block while we walk ahead to set up for photos. Finally, with all the photos in the bag we ride the RDC back to its storage location where we also get the chance to photograph the railroad's Alco diesel (painted in B&O colors).

With a very successful stop accomplished, we thank the crew profusely then resume our trek to Bedford, Indiana. Phone calls from our Indiana contacts are promising -- it looks like the Indiana Rail Road will indeed be operating on schedule Monday morning. The plan is working so far.

Day 2 -- May 18, 2009
Be on the street by 8:30. That's the word we got before retiring at Bedford. Sometime before 7:00 a.m. the phone rings; Mike Biehn on the line. "The train has to set off a bad order car, but should be in Bedford around 9:00. I'm leaving Cincinnati (almost two hours away) now." Fifteen minutes later Mark Mautner calls. "The train is leaving Hiawatha Yard now." Fantastic. We get out and pick our spot on the south end of the street running in Bedford.

The town clock strikes nine and still no train. Not to worry, though, as a short time later we hear horns to the north. I phone Mike and let him know the train is approaching town. "I'm two blocks away," he replies, and just about the time the engine's headlight appears on the north end of town Mike comes screeching to a halt and hops out with his camera. On the point is nicely painted SD40-2 No.4001 and it makes a nice sight as it passes our location.

From here we head down to Mitchell where, if things go according to schedule, there should be a CSX local waiting. We get there, and no local. Bruce and I opt to head down to Orleans, the location of the first semaphore, just in case the local got out early. Nope, no CSX in Orleans. We set up camp at the northern semaphore in town and wait for Mike to show up, closely followed by the Indiana Rail Road train.

Once that shot is in the bag, we wheel to the semaphore set on the south end of town, comfortably beating the train there. Then it's on to the set at Leipsic (where the semaphores for each direction are located on the same side of the track, an unusual configuration). Out of Leipsic, and we nail the train twice near Saltillo, passing a single semaphore at each spot.

The busy town of Campbellsburg is coming up, but so is the shot that I've been obsessing about since August. Hitchcock is just three miles beyond Campbellsburg, so Bruce and I opt to bypass the blades at Campbellsburg and Smedley, heading straight to Hitchcock. Mike gets greedy and stays with the train at Campbellsburg.

So here I am at the shot I drove 600 miles (one way) to get. This time there's a blue dome overhead. I check the camera once, twice, three times, to make sure everything is working. All is set. Mike shows up, so the train can't be far behind. Headlight. One last check. The train gets to the semaphores and -- click -- I got it. The purpose of the trip has been accomplished and the rest is now gravy!

The congested town of Salem is next, and we manage to get through that just in time to grab a broadside shot of the train passing the court house. Then there's one last set of semaphores to get, this time at Farabee. Despite a long walk and drive out of Farabee, we still beat the train to Pekin, where we get a nice shot off a hill of the train in town. Just a few miles farther, we catch the train running in a private median between two streets in the town of Borden, then a few miles beyond that we get an across-the-field shot near Carwood.

With the chase now five hours long and the busy outskirts of Louisville coming up, we decide to push ahead of the train and scope out the street running in New Albany. We quickly find the street running, then decide to take a quick break for lunch, figuring we were way ahead of the train. This proves to be our first mistake -- while returning from lunch we hear the CSX local heading north! We had just missed it on the street trackage. Dang! Nonetheless, we get our train heading down 15th Street in good light. The chase has come to an end, and what a chase -- six shots with semaphores and two stretches of street running (plus the median running in Borden). Hard to argue with that chase!

After the chase we run into railfan Lee Gordon in New Albany, then Mike suggests we head over to the waterfront to look for a Norfolk Southern westbound until we need to be in position for our next chase. Once on the viewing platform along the Ohio River we run into Brad McClelland (who I haven't seen in years!). We do get an NS westbound, but the light has just crossed over to the north side of the tracks when it shows up. Nice shot, but it could have been better.

We head to Jeffersonville, just east of New Albany, to get in position for the northbound run of the Louisville & Indiana train to Columbus, Indiana, due out at 6:00. Quite a gathering of railfans is present at the convenience store just north of the railroad's yard and, sure enough, at about 6:15 the train appears and the chase is on. We opt to catch the train crossing a deck girder bridge just north of Cementville (the bridge still reading "The Pennsylvania Railroad"), then get the train again at Sellersburg. A few across-the-field shots are accomplished, then we get it again curving through Henryville. Next up is a driveway shot north of Henryville, followed by a scene passing a church in Underwood. A long across-the-field shot is done at Vienna, then we get the train passing a small depot in Austin. Whew!

We're still not done, however, although the roads conspire against us, with nothing running near the track. We grab a couple of bang-bang shots at Chestnut Ridge, just south of Seymour. From here Mike heads back to Cincinnati, while Bruce and I fight through Seymour to get one last shot at the cemetery in Jonesville. The sun sets, and we head back 45 miles to Jeffersonville to tie up for the night. Our "house of cards" trip is holding up -- three railroads attempted, three railroads in the bag.

Day 3 -- May 19, 2009
We wake up in Jeffersonville and our first goal of the day is the Southern Indiana. This small railroad serves a cement plant in Sellersburg, Indiana, and once a day makes the five-mile trek to the CSX interchange in Watson. We need to be over in Paris, Kentucky, by 2:00 for the Transkentucky Transportation's northbound coal train (assuming it runs), so we have a bit of a time constraint on the Southern Indiana.

We find the engine house of the railroad, but no one is around, and both of the Alcos are missing from the engine house. We head over to the cement plant and, after some circling around, we find the locomotives. Fortunately, they are parked fairly close to a parking lot, so we drive into the plant and get as near the engines as possible. From here I track down the crew to find out what's going on. "We're stuck here," says the brakeman. Seems a bad loading hose in the mill has switching shut down. Worse yet, trackwork on the line means the run to the interchange won't occur until the afternoon. Seems our luck has run out.

The way the locomotives are parked, the light won't be good on them for photography for another hour, so we decide to head over to Watson where a former Baltimore & Ohio tower is still standing. We follow the line and note that photo opportunities are limited. Arriving at Watson, we see trackwork on CSX and sadly note the tower is in deep shadow and will remain so for quite awhile. Time to head back to Sellersburg. We briefly ponder leaving the short line and heading somewhere else, especially if it turns out TTI isn't going to run either. A quick call to the TTI reveals that they have coal sitting in Paris and they will "probably" run, so rather than go off on an adventure somewhere else, we decide to stick with the plan and hope the Southern Indiana heads to the interchange at some point.

Circling the plant, we discover that the locomotives have started switching, so we start shooting. We get some nice shots from the adjacent golf course, with golfers putting on a green while the locomotives work beyond them. Then the Alcos head back into the plant and we are able to get some nice shots from the grade crossing that bisects the plant. The locomotives move forward, and suddenly the brakeman is waving and pointing forward. They're heading for the interchange! At this point it's only 11:00, so our decision to stick it out paid off.

We quickly get a shot at the first grade crossing beyond the mill. Funny thing happens, though, at the second grade crossing. The train comes to a stop. "Time for lunch," says the brakeman. Movement east won't happen for another 40 minutes. Well, that should still leave time before breaking for Paris.

To kill time we follow the line once more, planning our photo strategy. When we get back to the train, we wait another 15 minutes before the crew arrives and quickly they're off. We noted that there weren't any good shots until milepost 1, almost to the interchange, so we head there and wait. Once we get that shot, we get stymied by a slow-moving truck that prohibits a second shot arriving at the interchange. Rounding a curve, we're surprised by a small traffic jam -- CSX is in town switching as well!

With this turn of good fortune we take a few shots of the Alcos shuffling about (the runaround move puts them back on a curve I had wanted to get earlier before the truck slowed us down). Time is ticking, though, so we grab a shot of the CSX train and make our break for Paris. We have just enough time to get there before the train starts working at 2:00.

Arriving in Paris, we find the train doubling together in the yard right on schedule, so we head north to seek our first photo location. The coal trains operate with four GE's on the point and four pushing on the rear, so the decidedly north-south orientation of the line favors going-away shots of the pushers. We hear the brake test on the scanner, and shortly thereafter we bag the helpers pushing past the Bourbon Drive-In Theatre. The chase is on!

Next up is a rather nice shot of the train going away through a through-truss bridge in Millersburg. In Carlisle the tracks break just enough south to let us get a decently lit shot of the head end, and walking back along the curve we get the rear end also well-lit -- a two-fer! This is followed by a very nice elevated view of the head end approaching Myers, and a quick drive to another nearby spot gives us another good view of the helpers.

Cowan and Ewing don't have angles that float our boat, so we set up for a going-away view at the depot at Flemingsburg Junction, followed by a nice rural view at Mill Creek. We finish the northbound chase with a nice overhead view near Lewisburg as the train approaches its northern destination of Maysville.

At Maysville the train has to pull all the way through town to cross over CSX's main line to reach a coal transloading facility, so we find a perch near some bird houses just west of the Amtrak station for what could have been a killer shot except for stored boxcars on a siding between the train and the Ohio River. Once the train reaches the crossover we beat feet back to the highway bridge over the Ohio and get a few shots. By 5:30 the train is in the transloading facility.

Now we wait. With a little bit of luck the train will head south before dark, and with a little more luck CSX will send a westbound past us while we wait. We set up at the Amtrak station to wait it out. Sadly, we don't see CSX. But on the other hand, our train is pushing out at 7:00 in good shape for a bit of a southbound chase. For the return trip with empty hopper cars, TTI puts all eight locomotives on the head end. Cool!

A quick call to Mike Biehn gets us oriented -- head for Strodes Run Road. We do just that and find a multitude of nicely lit angles. Unfortunately, we can only get one so we wait on a hillside for the train that shows up surprisingly quickly. After getting the shot we try to negotiate the narrow road, but have to settle for only a grab shot near Lewisburg.

From here we try to beat the train to Mill Creek, but we can't quite get to the position we needed to be in before it showed up -- in retrospect we shouldn't have stuck with Strodes Run Road after the first shot but instead should have hopped on Route 11 and gone directly to Mill Creek. From here we're fighting long shadows, and we don't find anything else until we're way down the line at Carlisle where a hillside provides an elevated view as the power picks its way through a thin sliver of setting sunlight.

Suddenly the "house of cards" portion of the trip is over. Five railroads to chase, and all five ran when they should have in good light. The house held up. Wednesday is largely a "drive home" throw-away day, and anything that's bagged is gravy.

It's now way later than I would have liked it to be. My original plan was to finish the chase at about 7:00 and then drive three hours and see where we were. Instead it's 8:30 and we're just getting underway. Bruce starts perusing an Amtrak timetable and notices that the eastbound Cardinal will be making a station stop in Charleston, West Virginia, shortly after 8:00 tomorrow morning. Charleston is a bit farther than what I wanted to drive, but the Cardinal gives us a morning target, so Charleston it is. We have two options from Charleston for Wednesday -- head north to Morgantown and do the former Monongahela lines, or head east and follow CSX into the New River Gorge. Despite the late arrival at Charleston I stay up and peruse maps, and finally make a decision on where to head the next morning.

Day 4 -- May 20, 2009
One option for getting home is to take a fairly direct route towards Morgantown, spend maybe five hours on the former Monongahela lines and then head home. A second option is to head into the New River Gorge in West Virginia, visit some classic Chesapeake & Ohio towns like Thurmond and Prince, and hit the road for a straight shot home at about 2:00. Since I didn't have my complement of Monongahela maps and resources, that option would be tough. On the other hand, Amtrak's Cardinal has opened up a few possibilities. I have always had bad luck in Thurmond, with either clouds or no trains working against me. This day the forecast has lots of sun and the Cardinal guarantees at least one train through town. We decide to head for Thurmond and get the Cardinal and then wait for one CSX freight. If all that comes together, we'll head over to Prince and try for shots at the art deco ex-C&O station.

We wind our way down into the valleys surrounding Thurmond and soon we're in town. Thurmond is just a flag stop for the Cardinal, but we find passengers waiting at the fomer C&O wood frame station. Shadows have much of the trackage covered, but the rapidly rising sun has the shadows retreating. A coal train is tied up just north (railroad west) of town. Close to on-time, we hear horns and soon the Cardinal is rumbling through town behind a lone GE unit. Once out of town, we get some good news -- the signals clear up so we anticipate a CSX eastbound. We are not disappointed as a coal train rumbles through not long after the Cardinal has vanished.

With the day running like clockwork -- we got the Cardinal and an eastbound freight in short order -- we head over to Prince (a mere eleven miles away by rail, but a long drive around the mountains by road). Our goal here -- get a train passing the art deco train station with its raised lettering on the platform ends. We're in Prince before 11:00 and figure we have three hours before we have to dig into the nine-hour drive home.

Coming into Prince, we see a train waiting to head into Quinnemont on the Piney Creek Sub. We also find a westbound sitting in the station. We aren't in Prince very long before the wesgtbound (which is not very well lit) is moving -- I opt to shoot the train from inside the depot passing the windows. Shortly after he clears, the train on the Piney Creek Sub crosses the New River and passes the station area. We need the train on Track One against the platform -- we get it on Track 2. The train has pushers, but rather than wait for them at the depot (where they'll be poorly lit), we hop into the car and head into Quinnemont, getting nice shots of the head end rounding the curve near the yard office and the rear units going away under a C&O cantilever signal bridge. The head end power is cut off, and soon both sets of power are side by side as the train switches. We hear the crew say they need to head to Thurmond after switching, so we keep that in mind.

Heading back into Prince, the sun is swinging off the station for eastbounds, but just as it's getting bad a coal train heads east out of Stretcher's Neck Tunnel -- the train we had seen tied down at Thurmond earlier. Once again we're foiled as the train takes Track Two, away from the platform.

Our crew off the coal train that needs to go to Thurmond has its new train together, and we set up at the now-lit west end of the platform. Yup, the train takes Track Two away from the platform. To top it off, the nose door is open. Yuck.

Our 2:00 cut-off is now upon us, but things are getting interesting. A train is being assembled to go up the Piney Creek Sub, and the end of the bridge over the New River is lit -- very well lit. We decide to hang around, but there's plenty of switching to do. The light keeps getting better, but the hour keeps growing later. Finally, at about 4:00 the train leaves Prince and rumbles over the bridge for an excellent shot.

The original plan had us getting back to Bruce's at 10:00, then I could head home from there which should put me in at about 1:30. The delay caused by the train heading up the Piney Creek means there's no way I'm making the final leg of that drive, and I decide I'll tie up at Bruce's that night. That means we still have another hour we can now spend in Prince, hoping to get our platform shot. Maybe we'll even stick around for the westbound Cardinal!

Getting back to the station, we quickly discover that the trees around the station will put the Cardinal in shadow when it arrives, so we don't need to stick around for that. We do, however, finally get our train on Track One. Unfortunately, it's an eastbound coming right out of the sun. No good. With our new departure time finally approaching, another eastbound appears, this time on Track Two. Hoping that it has pushers, we head to the west end of the platform for the going-away shot. Alas, all we get is the last hopper on the train. Time to hit the road for home.

Arrival at Bruce's is at 1:30 a.m. on Thursday, and I get up at 6:30 to finish my drive home and go into work. Looking back on the trip, I can't help but marvel at how everything fell into place -- we had five railroads on the original list, all of which were supposed to run, but any of which could simply not run for any of a niumber of reasons. Every railroad ran when it was supposed to, and even on the days where we had multiple targets planned everything fell into place. Getting Amtrak and CSX in Thurmond was a nice bonus, and after reviewing my shots I decided that the shot of the first eastbound in Prince wasn't so bad (even if the train was on Track 2). The only disappointment was missing CSX on the street in New Albany, but actually it wouldn't have been lit very well anyhow.

All in all, it was quite a trip. It was built like a house of cards, but the house held up beyond my wildest expectations.

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