Driving Trip - December 30, 2012

        Note: click on the thumbnails for a larger image

    The clock was ticking, time was getting short. Less than 48 hours left in the year and the question on the minds of railfans everywhere was this: would John and Tony take a driving trip in 2012 and continue their consecutive year run for trips? Thanks to some last minute discussions and decision making (we're much more efficient than Congress at this) the answer would be "Yes!". This would also be our first trip in the new Honda so we would give it a good run in the snow.

    A side note before we begin. This trip was different than most others in the past. I didn't worry about writing down every unit number and train symbol, car numbers from trains or even worried about changing lenses. Why? Well for one thing it was too darn cold to carry a pencil and paper around or to worry about lens changes! Yes I could have done a few of either, but instead I wanted to focus on enjoying the hobby and the sights and sounds of the trains in the cold, snowy weather. I think "Trains" editor Jim Wrinn wrote an editorial to this effect several months ago. Sometimes there's something to be said to just sit and observe and take everything in. There are some details in these notes but everything is from memory. Enough of the editorial, let's get going.

    While on the way to pick up John the thought came to mind that there might not be much to see due to the holiday shut downs at manufacturing facilities and that we're past the peak shipping season for retail. Plus while driving to pick up John I heard very little on the radio. But our trip would be less than five minutes old before we saw our first train, a westbound stack train kicking up the snow on the CSX Columbus Line Subdivision with three units and maybe 25 cars. We were unable to get in position to take a photo as it passed us on an overpass at a decent rate of speed.

    We then followed the Columbus Line north through Cardington and briefly admired the neat three-arch cement rail bridge in town. The bridge definitely looks wide enough for two tracks. A little further north we drove through Mt. Gilead and took a look at one of the few pieces of the Toledo & Ohio Central Eastern Branch still in place to serve a grain elevator. The branch comes off the main at the station name Edison which is where the two lines used to cross. The branch also has a spur to another industry but it appears to be vacant.

    Hearing some activity on CSX somewhere north of us we headed toward the Mt. Victory Subdivision (aka  Indy Line) and crossed the track at Caledonia. This is an interesting piece of trackage where the Erie and CCC&STL used to parallel each other from Galion to Marion. Twin truss bridges on the east side of town are a reminder that this used to be "double track" territory of sorts. The Erie line has been removed, just like in so many other parts of Ohio, and the Big Four remains in place. A search light signal, becoming harder to find around here, still stands on the west side of town. We also drove by the Glen-Gary Brick plant, the one customer in town to see if they are still using rail. The spur has some weeds growing between the rails so our guess is that they aren't but with snow covered rails it was hard to tell how rusty things were.

    Back to the radio chatter earlier, we heard someone on CSX telling the dispatcher that they were ready to "depart for home" (presumably from Crestline) so we figured they were either heading to Buffalo or Indianapolis. Since there was no way we would catch up to them if they were headed east we headed west to Marion. This turned out to be a very fortuitous decision. As we arrived in town we heard some chatter on NS of trains meeting at Harvey. A few minutes later we captured this westbound coal train pass under the new signals for the diamonds at AC. The snow-covered coal makes it look like the train is hauling snow! The old N&W signals are probably experiencing their last winter. 

NS at AC
NS westbound at the home signals for AC

    We surveyed the area and noted the new signals about to be put in service. Interesting that the eastbound signals on the C&O which are maybe three years old are being replaced. The eastbound signals on the Indy Line are not being replaced while the westbound signals are.

Looking east on the Indy Line
Looking east on the CSX Indy Line
Looking north on the CSX Columbus Sub.
Looking north on the CSX Columbus Sub.
Looking south on the CSX Columbus Sub.
Looking south on the CSX Columbus Sub.

    We headed back into the car to warm up. We heard the defect detector at 38.7 on the CSX Columbus Subdivision come to life as Q634 passed by it. The detector said it was 17 degrees but that seemed a little low. After the train paused to check a hot box found by the defect detector, we performed our own rolling inspection as it passed old and new signals at the Marion diamonds.

Q634 west at Marion
Q634 west with the entire train in view!
Q634 west
Q634 splits the signals at Marion

    Again we headed back to the car to get an update on NS (and warm up). We were greeted with radio transmissions from an eastbound train on the CSX Indy Line. Here it is passing by us at the station with a new front door on the lead unit.

CSX Eastbound on the Indy Line at Marion
CSX eastbound on the Indy Line at Marion
Kicking up the snow
Snow getting knocked off over the diamonds

    We headed back into the car expecting to hear NS call signals but instead heard another whistle from the west. The eastbound parade on the Indy Line continued with an empty gon train. John does his best impression of a station agent as it passes.
CSX eastbound on the Indy Line at Marion
The station agent is on duty! A CSX eastbound on the Indy Line passes the Marion station.

    Things finally got going on NS with an eastbound loaded coal train and a westbound mixed freight meeting at AC. I told John they were going to meet at the whistle post sign and I wasn't far off from my prediction.

NS eastbound at AC
NS eastbound loaded coal train at AC. Note the non-standard number boards and number font on the side of the unit.
EB NS train
NS trains meet just east of the diamonds while the AC "operator on duty" observes. The third unit on the westbound train is dead in tow.

    We headed back to the car to warm up again (by this time John was taking full advantage of the Honda's seat warmers). We heard the NS dispatcher state that, "CSX has one lined through". Shortly after that transmission we heard the New Bloomington detector go off and announce a speed of 59 mph. The last eastbound in the parade was Q008 which was being challenged to a race by a track inspector. The train won the race to the diamonds. An observation: sometimes the new GE units sound like a helicopter, vaguely similar to the sound the old GE U18Bs made.

CSX eastbound with track car on the Indy Line
CSX Q008 and track car exchange greetings while heading east on the Indy Line
Q008 at Marion
Q008 wins the race. It also appears to have hit a few snow drifts along the way.

    From the station property we could see a NS eastbound sitting in the distance but after a five or so minute wait we got in the car. Hearing nothing on the scanner we decided to change our position. We drove by the CSX yard and saw two ex-Chessie units CSXT 6065 and 6132(?) idling, and in the NS yard a low nose 6100 series unit idling along with a blue ex-Conrail caboose. The Erie caboose was nowhere to be found in the CSX yard.
    The NS train was still stopped but now had company as another NS eastbound also approached on the other main. Shortly after we decided to head north the dispatcher lines up both trains for what would have been a pretty cool photo of both eastbounds heading toward AC. Both were empty coal trains with single units in the lead. We hear that NS 218 is behind one of the eastbounds so John directed me to the road crossing by OBL. Here we catch 218 passing by with the large coal tower in the distance. This train used to be entirely made up of UPS trailers but now shares the space with other companies. John notes that the few remaining 48' UPS trailers left on the train, once a staple of any intermodal train from the past 20 years, look old and tired.

NS 218 east at OBL
NS 218 heads east at OBL. The large coal tower sits in the distance.

    Continuing north we work our way ahead of the NS westbound we saw at AC. Hoping for a fast train photo in the snow, we get ahead and then carefully head down a partially snow covered, partially clear county road to the tracks. Here's the westbound moving about 45 mph just south of Monnett. A perfect shot would have been from the other side but we'll take what we can get. The all EMD lashup sounded good, though the last unit was dead-in-tow.

NS westbound at Monnett
NS westbound kicks up the snow just south of Monnett

    We continue north into Bucyrus (temperature of 24 degrees according to a bank sign) and drove by the American & Ohio Locomotive Crane Company on the south side of town. While the place looks deserted it could be due to a holiday shut down. We also passed Transco Railway Products which rebuilds railcars. Both industries sit along a short piece of the same T&OC line we saw in Mt. Gilead.

    After getting a very tasty lunch and obtaining some "souvenirs" from a man giving out religious propaganda at the local Wendy's, we crossed the Chicago Fort Wayne & Eastern Ft. Wayne Line in Bucyrus west of the NS diamonds. Judging by the mostly snow covered rails and piles of snow at the road crossings nothing has been over the tracks for at least a day or two. John and I contemplated how amazing it is that this line which used to be the main PRR route from New York to Chicago moving dozens of trains a day at speeds faster than a mile a minute has been reduced to a less than a train a day route. East of Bucyrus it is still relatively busy, but west of it is a different story.

    We then heard NS westbound I33 call the signal just south of town. As I'm sure everyone has experienced at one time or another, the timing of small town traffic lights can be very frustrating and are seemed to be designed to keep you in town rather than moving you through town. After enduring two stop indications at two consecutive intersections, we get a stroke of luck and are able to get back to NS just in time to see the westbound pass the beautifully restored T&OC station and pound the NS/CF&E diamonds. It doesn't look like any more work has been done to build a connector in the southwest quadrant of the diamonds. A PRR signal still governs the CF&E eastbound at the diamonds. There's also a N&W caboose near the station which I believe used to be the caboose used in the Marion yard.

NS I33 at Colsan
NS I33 at Colsan (Bucyrus). The T&OC station is just to the left of the utility poles.
NS I33 at Colsan
NS I33 hits the diamonds with the CF&E (ex-PRR) at Colsan.

    After crossing the Spore Industrial Track (T&OC) which looked like it hasn't seen a train since it first snowed a couple weeks ago, we decided to follow NS a little further. There's no chatter on the radio so we're basically wandering aimlessly around in the cold, snowy Ohio tundra. Then the NS dispatcher tells an eastbound that there will be a meet at Benson. So we changed direction and headed west toward the tracks. At this point we both came to the realization that the terrain is anything but flat around here. As we approached the NS line looking for a place to take a photo we noted the large curves in the line as well as the decent grade. We're close to the dividing point between the Lake Erie Watershed and the Ohio River Watershed so this may very well be the spot at this location.

    We headed down (Steve) Carrell Road and found ourselves at the west end of Benson, a place Robert Guillaume would be proud of (this spot has all kinds of TV show references!). This also appears to be the top of the grade as the line appears to go downhill in either direction. First we catch an eastbound pulling mostly CN and CP traffic, then see a westbound empty grain train which John dubs "a company PR train" with the solid NS power with matching rolling stock.

View of westbound signals at west end Benson
View looking north (west) at the West End of Benson. Note the curve and grade in the distance.
NS eastbound at West End Benson
NS eastbound at the West End of Benson. The sun has decided to make an appearance.

NS westbound at West End Benson
NS westbound grain train at the West End of Benson. This scene could be from Minnesota!
NS westbound at West End Benson
NS westbound grain train at West End of Benson. 

    We then paced the grain train to Carrothers at the crossing of the Wheeling and Lake Erie diamonds. Earlier in the day we heard the NS dispatcher give the signal to a Wheeling eastbound and the flangeways confirm that something has been over it recently. We then headed west and criss-crossed the Wheeling line several times, including the town of Sycamore which has a very neat looking feed mill building in the center of town. We also find where the T&OC line used to cross through town including a few remaining telephone poles from the old pole line.

    Continuing east we arrived in (Ron) Carey, OH and do a reconnaissance of the quarry operations in town along with the railcars parked along the various parts of the plant. Most of the cars had somewhat rusty wheels so things must be on hold during the holidays. After driving by the beautiful Our Lady of the Shrine church (and it's nice pipe organ!), we followed the C&O east, again criss-crossing it along the way. In Upper Sandusky CSX had a locomotive in a yard track awaiting its next assignment to move some of the grain hoppers in town. At the CF&E diamond we see that the PRR signals have been replaced with crappy looking C&O-ish signals. At least paint the replacements so they look decent!

    Continuing east we passed the west end of the Upper siding on the C&O. CSX has kept the C&O signal bridge but replaced the C&O signals with new hooded signals. The siding is the longest on the line at just short of 13,500 feet. It's clear that the track arrangement was different years ago and that a center siding also existed here. We then heard some radio chatter on the C&O as it sounded like an eastbound and a westbound were approaching. We continued to head south and caught Q636 through Harpster in the snow.

CSX Q636 west at Harpster
CSX Q636 kicks up the snow at Harpster.
CSX Q636 west at Harpster
A closer shot of Q636 at Harpster.
CSX Q636 west at Harpster
Q636 passes the signal at West End Harpster


The eastbound was in the Upper siding waiting for Q636 to pass so this gave us time to move further south. We hoped to see the train at the road crossing at MD siding but the train was too far away and there was no good place to stop because of the snow. As a side note, this spot on the C&O looks, for now, to be completely untouched by CSX. C&O signals still stand, the pole line is still in place, it looks like the C&O. Get your photos now before something changes. There's also a bridge just north of here that has a very small Chessie System emblem painted on it.

    We headed back to the Marion station and saw a westbound NS and the CSX eastbound, Q637, by the station, along with a CSX train taking the connector from the Indy Line to the C&O.

NS westbound at AC
NS westbound at AC
CSX Q637 east at Marion
CSX trains pass at Marion

    On the way to drop John off the detector at 38.7 says it's 11 degrees. Again we agree the reading is a little low. I dropped John off and we wished each other a Happy New Year and agreed the Honda passed the test. We've made our trip for the year so now for me my year feels complete!

Comments, questions welcome!

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