Driving Trip - August 15, 2009

       It had been a while since I had set out to canvas the great state of Ohio for trains so I teamed up with my official trip navigator John for a day of traveling. This time with the aid of the GPS we were sure to not miss a turn! I'll cut back on my normal verbose details excepting in areas which warrant the verbiage.

        First we headed south and drove by the new NS Rickenbacker intermodal yard along the NS (ex-N&W) Columbus District. Hard to believe that this was a corn field a couple years ago! Things looked fairly empty over there with only a handful of domestic boxes. This will certainly change once the economy and the tunnel work is done. As we continued south we paced a loaded NS coal train south (yes, south) to Ashville. In Ashville we noted the interurban depot, interurban power plant building, and truss bridges on the NS mains. Cars were spotted at the grain elevator.

        Continuing south we drove around Circleville (Get it? We drove around...) Yuck yuck yuck! First we noted that the large grain elevator along NS still was in business despite its current lack of cars spotted on site. Following NS' big curve to the southeast we came across the former PRR RofW. This line runs from Lancaster to Washington Court House, and was abandoned by Penn Central. To the west the line disappears into a lot of brush but my recollection is that the track only goes about 1/2 mile west of here. We then followed the PRR track east to the other end of the line about 1/2 mile east of the switch off the NS mainline. Though nothing was spotted at the customer on the end of the line, it certainly looked like they were still receiving cars of fertilizer. We then drove around noting the old PRR depot, overpass of the interurban over the PRR, and a church with a nice pipe organ which I got to hear last spring.

        As we headed south we then passed a CSX westbound (direction north) coal train moving at a slow pace on the CSX (ex-C&O) Northern Subdivision. Its leisurely speed struck me as being odd but I didn't think too much of it at the time. However as we paralleled the C&O south it became clear why - an eastbound train was coming and the westbound was meeting someone at HC Cabin. As we approached Chillicothe we searched for a road crossing. The C&O Northern Subdivision has few road crossings in this area so we stopped at the first available spot which was the road crossing at KN Cabin. Here are a few moody photos of the location.



        The line goes from double to single track as you move south. After waiting a few minutes we saw this grain train.


        It was then time to review the goofy trackage in Chillicothe. We simplified things and did not go over to where the B&O, C&O, and CH&D lines crossed and stayed in town. We started out at the station where the NS Columbus District crossed the B&O Chillicothe Subdivision. A transfer track exists in the southeast quadrant of the former diamond location. The B&O abandoned the line in 1987 and rails pulled a year or so later from the station west to Greenfield. My in-law's father was the engineer of one of the trains which pulled up the track. Years ago he showed me a couple photos he took of the process. If I can get my hands on them I will scan and post. Here are links to photos of the B&O line when it was still standing in the late 1970s (courtesy of http://oak.cats.ohiou.edu/~duplerd/oh/sohio_rr.html):


        An aside: much has been said about the dismantling of the B&O across southern Ohio. Many feel that it was one of the biggest mistakes CSX ever made. It was a high speed, signaled mainline with relatively new rail on a good portion of it, and had high clearances which could handle autoracks and TOFC (the COFC "double stack" concept had just been invented and had not yet widely become the new standard). However the line was down to a handful of trains a day, and with little online business it made economic sense at the time to sever the line.

        Hindsight is always 20/20, and it would seem that in today's world, this line would be an attractive alternative bypassing the nation's largest railroad parking lot called Chicago. There is some merit to this argument and I used to subscribe to this 100%, but the Conrail split changed my opinion of this a bit. If this truly was the case, then the line now owned by CSX from New York to St. Louis would be stuffed with double stack trains, but it isn't. Manifest traffic has increased, but it still is far from being the thriving mainline like the CSX (ex-B&O) or NS lines across northern Ohio.

        Enter a new factor: westbound container traffic. NS' Heartland Corridor and CSX's National Gateway projects all are based on the premise that the trend of increased westbound container traffic from the east coast ports is going to increase, and that intermodal in general is going to increase. This is where I think the B&O would have come into play as some of this traffic ultimately is going to go somewhere other than Chicago, and the St. Louis gateway route would be a nice alternative. The jury is still out if this really is the case, however if we see intermodal train frequencies increase along the CSX Indy Line after the National Gateway clearance projects are done, then this theory could be considered validated.

        And now, back to the trip.

        The large station in Chillicothe is serviceable shape but is starting to look ratty. The NS line narrows to single track right before the station moving north. N&W CPL signals still stand. Here is the westbound signal.


        The B&O main today exists from about 1/4 mile east of the station for a number of miles east to Red Diamond. It looks like some sort of a bulk transfer facility exists at the end of the track by the station. A little further east is a large grain elevator with a number of tracks. Stacks of new ties were by the rails and some grading had been done so either the grain elevator is expanding their rail capacity or rebuilding the tracks. A little south of this location is where we picked up the B&O (ex-CH&D) main which now extends from the former Mead Paper plant in Chillicothe to about a mile or so south to the Scioto River. A connection exists between the B&O and CH&D mains on the south east side of town. CSX uses this connection to gain access to the paper plant. The line crosses the NS line at Renick which is somewhat inaccessible without some considerable hiking on private property. A B&O signal on the paper plant property guards the diamond for eastbound movements on the CH&D, but the satellite image is inconclusive if a signal governs the westbound movements (and we couldn't see one from the nearest road crossing).

        We heard NS 185 west coming so we set up for a shot just south of the station.



        Somehow I managed to get a photo of the signal changing aspects!

        Next we drove by the paper plant and found where the CH&D exits the paper plant property (try saying that five times fast). Just west of the plant is a small "yard" stuffed with empty log cars and a couple company use boxcars painted in gray paint, still with a small "MEAD" stencil on them. Looks like everything has been in here for a while. I believe the rail around here is jointed 105 lb., 1926 or so vintage rail, but I did not write the information down.

        We decided to move west so we left town. As we did we drove by the two B&O cabooses (Or is it cabeese?) near the river valley downtown. I suggested to John we try to find Mussellman which is where the B&O and CH&D lines split. The satellite maps made it look like it was a bike trail. I suggested a certain route but didn't realize that it was going to throw us way out of route (gee, maybe I should have let my navigator tell me how to get there, or use the GPS!). So we scrapped that plan and simply started crossing the B&O here and there. In 20+ years, Mother Nature has done a good job at reclaiming the RofW. One of the places we crossed the line was at Lyndon. A former girlfriend's father was born around this area and once wrote to me how he used to go to the operator's building and listen to the Morse Code be sent and received. Sadly I no longer have his e-mail detailing these recollections.

        The next town of note is Greenfield which is where the B&O line picks back up. It also is where this line used to cross over the DT&I line which extended from Washington Court House to Waverly, and further south from there. A fairly long connection track exists between the two lines due to the grade separation. Here's a photo of where the connection (on the left) and the DT&I line (on the right) meet.


        The DT&I line was Henry Ford's access to the coal fields of Ohio which he used to support is power plants, which supported his auto factories in Detroit. Today a mile or so section of the DT&I exists from just south of the junction between the two railroads, extending north to the now closed Johnson Controls plant. This was the last customer on this part of the B&O (and on the DT&I for that matter), and John and I were five days late in seeing the last train to switch the plant. Time will tell if everything simply gets railbanked or if Rail America (who now operates the line) decides to pull stuff up. Here's a photo I found online of the last run (courtesy of http://www.rrpicturearchives.net/default.aspx):


        In Greenfield, depots for the two railroads sit on a hill away from both mainlines. One now houses a business and the other I believe is a home for a historical group. We drove down to the B&O main in town and noted a long deck girder single track bridge over Paint Creek, though the concrete supports show that it may have been double track at one time. Here's the view of the RofW just west of the bridge, looking west. Note the pole line still standing on the left side. The rail here is welded 115 lb. 1975 vintage rail.


        Our next encounter with the line was a few miles west in Leesburg which now hosts the furthest east customer on the line, Candle Lite (Lancaster Colony). The plant makes candles which was clearly evident by the pleasantly fragrant scent outside the building. A few tank cars were spotted next to the plant. A depot still stands in this town.

        Moving further west we stopped in New Vienna. A "New Vienna" sign stands next to the track. I'm guessing this is a Rail America sign as it looks too new to be placed by CSX/B&O. A small feed mill stands next to the tracks which appears to be occupied by a business. The spur track leading up to the mill has 90 lb., 1909 vintage rail (100 year old rail!).



        Continuing west we arrive in Midland City which at one time must have been a busy place for the B&O. Here the east-west line is met by the Midland Sub. which extends from Midland City to Columbus. A relatively large depot sits between the two mains. There also appears to have been a connection track east of the station allowing trains to wye their power, but it no longer exists. Like the depot in Chillicothe, it is starting to get pretty run down. In my "archives" I have a photo of CSX train R315 coming around the curve with a piggyback trailer as its first car!






        While inspecting the station, a gentleman in a truck stopped and said that he was "a council member" and that they were planning on moving and restoring the station. He asked me to take photos of the station and e-mail them to him. Problem: the e-mail address given to me does not work. So if anyone knows who "tmanian22@aol.com" is please let me know so I can send the photos to him!

        After contemplating how life was at one time in this sleepy town, we checked out the small three track yard just west of the station. About 20 cars were in the yard waiting for their next assignments. West of the yard is a section of what used to be double track. However, one of the mains has been relegated to storage. Something John and I were expecting to see were cars in long term storage, and sure enough we found some. A very long string (maybe a mile or so long) of 50' SLGG boxcars were stored on the second main. Need photos of SLGG boxcars? This is the place to go!

        We continued west to Blanchester which is where the B&O had a line branch off to the southeast towards Hillsboro. Remnants of this can barely be seen on the southeast side of town. An old freight house sits on the west side of the "downtown" with the depot probably sitting nearby.


        Today, Rail America has a crew office here and usually lays power up here as well. Here we see a colorful switcher tied up.



        We decided it was time for lunch so we made a beeline up Rt. 68 to Wilmington, paralleling the Rail America (ex-CSX, B&O) Midland Subdivision for most of the way. During lunch we decided to abandon the Midland and head north to check out some trackage not seen in a while for either of us. So we went northwest and arrived in Xenia, a town which used to have multiple mainlines criss-crossing the town, but today has none with the last line pulled up in 1984. Each of the former rail routes is now a bike path and a replica of the old PRR station which used to sit at the same site now serves as a restroom for bikers, and a small Xenia railroad history of museum of sorts as well.

        Continuing up Rt. 68 in town, John notes that there used to be street-running trackage in town. The PRR line north to Springfield used to run on street trackage for about 1/3 mile in Xenia, just north of the station. We continued to drive up Rt. 68 and crossed the line again in Yellow Springs. There used to be Chessie cabooses next to the bike path but they are no longer there (anyone know what happened to them?).

        Eventually we end up in Springfield and pick up the DT&I on the southeast side where it comes in from Washington Court House and meets the NS (ex-CR, CCC&STL) Dayton District. The coal tower on the north end of the small DT&I yard still stands. The yard also had some intermodal equipment stored in one of the tracks. Several of the road crossings in Springfield are being/have been set up as "quiet zone" crossings. Signal indicators give train crews information as to whether the crossings are working as intended.

        Not hearing anything coming we follow the wandering trackage through the park on the north end of town, and head north following the DT&I. Interesting that the pole line still stands along several stretches of this line. Thackery is the location of a large grain elevator but there were no cars on site. A cement footer likely for the station still can be seen on the east side of the track.

        We reached St. Paris, noting the junction of the DT&I and PRR lines (and the freight house near the junction). We then headed back east to Urbana, a town we have visited several times before. We crossed the PRR on the west side and were simply in awe at the incredible condition the line is still in. This was the mainline from Columbus to Union City. The PRR depot has been restored and now is a coffee shop and serves as the starting point of a bike path. A PRR MofW camp car also sits at this location. The depot's canopy has been restored and now the station looks as it did years ago. Very cool!

        The PRR line meets up with the Erie Dayton Branch and goes under the Rail America (ex-CR, CCC&STL) line. They extend a mile or so north to a grain elevator. An Erie freight house sits just east of the overpass. The two remaining lines are connected by a very broad and long connection track on the southwest side of town. John and I noted the NYC style signal still standing on the Rail America branch on the west side, a little north of the overpass with the PRR. Though the wires have been cut, the signal heads still are aligned with the track.

        We then followed the CCC&STL north. This line is all welded rail, still looking like it could handle a freight at 40 mph easily. A few miles north in West Liberty is a grain elevator which is the last active customer along the line. The elevator is on the old RofW alignment and sits in a valley, while the main bypasses the small town. Nothing was spotted at the elevator but showed signs of recent activity.

        Continuing north about five miles outside of Bellefontaine we found more cars in storage. This time it was all intermodal equipment, mostly TTEX "twin 48" flats still with the hitches up. Again, if you want to document this type of equipment, this is the place to go! We figured that this likely was the first set of rail cars to traverse over this line in years since there are no active rail customers north of West Liberty. The stored cars end about a mile or so south of the end of the track near BN Tower where the CSX Indy Line curves through town.

        It sounded as if someone was coming on CSX so we killed time in town. However, based upon the scanner chatter we realized that whatever was supposed to be moving wasn't so we followed the Indy Line east to Ridgeway where we found Q366 accelerating east away from us. No chance to catch it, we drove through Mt. Victory and settled around MP 107 where we got to see K401 head west.




        Finally we stopped in Marion and saw a couple trains through town, including this CSX WB with UP power. Both units had Leslie K5LA whistles, first I've heard UP power with these whistles.


        We then called it quits and drove back to my house. The GPS said we drove 419.3 miles, but with all of our stops it certainly didn't feel like it. I do believe we would do it again.

        Comments, questions welcome.


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