Driving Trip - October 19, 2013

Note: click on the thumbnails for a larger image

Vowing to not repeat what we did last year and wait until the next-to-last day of the year to do a driving trip, John and I finally got our schedules to sync on October 19th. The weather report was not pretty but after analyzing the forecast we figured we could minimize the rain by driving to the northwest part of the state. It is a part of the state I've driven multiple times but it would be mostly new territory for John. For those who wish to follow along a SPV Rail Atlas and a Delorme Gazetteer are helpful. For those not interested the "delete" button is available.

I picked him up and after crossing NS at Troyton and CSX at Meredith (no trains imminent on either line), we headed more or less straight north and arrived at the CSX Mt. Victory Sub. near New Bloomington. The elevator sput had two hoppers in scrap tie service spotted on it. John and I noted that the RofW here is definitely wide enough for two tracks thought it is single track here today. A little further west is the town of LaRue which again shows signs that this used to be double track territory.

Continuing through the light but steady rain we hear an eastbound call a signal west of us. We arrive in the town of Mt. Victory and watch a lengthy Q132 go by us. This train is made up entirely freight booked by the intermodal marketing company Pacer International which is John's current employer and my former employer. Some of John's traffic is on this train so maybe we could write off our trip as a business trip. 

Mt. Victory, OH
Q132 east passes through Mt. Victory, OH; note the soon to be replaced signals in the distance
Mt. Victory, OH
7,000 HP vs. 1 HP - An Amish man and his horse watch Q132 pass

CSX has installed replacement signals for the existing NYC searchlight signals on the west side of town. Time is definitely not on the side of the searchlights.

Signals at Mt. Victory, OH
Signals at Mt. Victory

We continued west and arrived at Ridgeway where the Mt. Victory Subdivision crosses a north-south CSX line at a division point. South of the Mt. Victory Subdivision is the Scottslawn Subdivision and to the north is the Toledo Branch. A few months ago CSX installed a new transfer in the northeast quadrant of the diamond to allow intermodal traffic moving west from the Schneider intermodal yard in Marion quicker access to the CSX intermodal terminal in North Baltimore. CSX personnel were scattered around the area preparing for the cutover of new signals which would again displace the existing NYC searchlight signals on the Mt. Victory Sub. and NYC style tri-light signals on the north-south route. While there we see a southbound grain train head from the Toledo Branch and take a turn west.

Westbound grain train at Ridgeway
Westbound grain train at Ridgeway
New signals at Ridgeway
New signals at Ridgeway

We then followed the Toledo Branch north noting that a decent amount of the pole line is still up in places. Eventually we arrive in (Stan) Kenton, OH where the Toledo Branch once crossed the Erie at grade at a spot marked as "KN" on the SPV railroad map, and was also crossed on a viaduct by a PC line which ran northeast-southwest from Sandusky to Bellefontaine. The Erie is the first of the four mainlines we would cross which traversed from New York City to Chicago. The Erie double track main still exists for about a mile from the Toledo Branch eastward. The line appears to be used for car storage for the large grain elevator in town. A remanent of the PC line also exists from the former Erie main southward about a mile to an industry. John's eagle eyes detect a couple tank cars on the property between a few buildings.

We continue north and eventually arrive in Dunkirk where the Toledo Branch crosses the Rail America (ex-PRR) Ft. Wayne Line. The PRR line is the second of the four Chicago to New York routes we encountered during the day. This part of the PRR is a shadow of its former self but has been discussed as being a possible regional high speed route from Columbus to Chicago. The block tower still stands at the diamond. Here's a photo from 2010 just after the PRR signals were replaced. The block tower can be seen in the background.

Dunkirk, OH
2010 photo of Dunkirk

With nothing doing on either route, we then get on Rt. 30 and head west to Bluffton where the NS (ex-LE&W) Lima District once crossed the AC&Y. The satellite maps show that there were transfer tracks in the northeast and southeast quadrants of the diamond. The NS RofW is very wide here and appears to have shared space with an interurban line. The AC&Y depot has been rebuilt and is now an ice cream shop. The AC&Y RowW itself is long gone at this location, though it is more evident east of the NS line.

One of our goals was to see all of the mainlines in northwest Ohio so instead of following either line in Bluffton we took a beeline to Leipsic where the NS (ex-NKP) Fostoria District, CSX (ex-B&O) Toledo Subdivision and Rail America (ex-DT&I) lines all cross. John and I have been here a few times before and it seems like more tracks keep being built. The ethanol plant just northeast of town has resulted in several tracks built around the B&O/NS diamonds, as well as a lengthy lead track which runs up to the DT&I but is not connected to it. B&O and NKP signals still rule their respective routes and the block tower at the B&O/NS diamond also still stands.

We then followed the B&O northward and soon heard a train following us. At Belmore, a town which looks to be 80% abandoned, we stand out in the rain to see this northbound CSX empty ethanol train. The track here is welded 132 lb. 1976 vintage rail.

Belmore, OH
CSX northbound train at Belmore, OH

A little farther north we encountered CSX Q241 south at the south end of Deshler with a healthy mix of auto racks, auto parts and frame flat cars.

We continued north and arrived in Deshler on the southeast side where John and his expert spotting techniques pick up what's left of the B&O RofW that ran from Deshler to Findlay. We then watched the last 50 or so cars of an eastbound on the CSX (ex-B&O) Willard Subdivision. John observes that almost everything on the train is raw materials freight rather than finished goods. The east-west B&O route is the third of the four main Chicago-New York routes we would encounter on this trip. In Deshler we stopped briefly at the railfan park which was unusually deserted. B&O signals still stand on the north-south B&O line while newer signals installed during the rebuild of the east-west B&O route govern this line.

Deshler, OH
South of Deshler, OH looking north
Deshler, OH
Southwest tranfer in Deshler, OH


We then followed the B&O west to Hamler where the line is crossed by the DT&I line seen earlier in Leipsic. A large grain elevator, able to be served by either railroad, sits in the northwest quadrant of the diamond. The rail on #2 main is welded 136 lb. 1997 vintage rail. Here we see Q160 head east on #1 main. 

Q160 at Hamler, OH
Q160 at Hamler, OH



At this time, Mother Nature teased us a little and allowed the sun to peek through the clouds. We departed northward and followed the DT&I to Malinta where the DT&I used to cross a N&W (ex-CL) line which ran from Toledo to Holgate. Along the former RoW of the N&W line is the Malinta depot with a DT&I caboose spotted next to it. Satellite pictures show transfer tracks used to be in the southeast and northwest quadrants of the diamonds.

Malinta, OH
Malinta, OH train station / museum


A little north of this is where the original DT&I main veers to the northwest toward Napoleon. The existing main is known as the Malinta Cutoff and was built in 1924 to create a shorter route to Rouge, MI for the DT&I. Today the old main goes for about 1/8 of a mile from the existing main before ending in a field. A couple tracks, one occupied with some older looking boxcars, also exist. Normally John and I would have tried to investigate this further but RailAmerica had track crews in the area so we had to settle for a quick drive by.

After grabbing a bite to eat in Napoleon, we headed east to join back up with the DT&I line, but first encountered the line now run by Pioneer Railcorp as the Napoleon, Defiance and Western. This former Wabash line was for many years run as the Maumee & Western Railroad Corp. and before that the Indiana Hi-Rail Company. Regardless of the name it unfortunately has the reputation of having some of the worst active trackage in the state. Derailments were a daily occurrence before some much needed track work was done in the past year. They also recently received a state grant to rebuild a section of line between Defiance and Cecil to once again make the line continuous from Liberty Center, OH to Woodburn, IN. 

John and I crossed the line about a mile west of the diamond with the DT&I at Liberty Center and found it stuffed with essentially brand new tank cars in storage, all with 7/13 build dates. The string of cars ended at the road crossing just west of the diamond at Liberty Center. The tank cars had rusty wheels so it was obvious these hadn't moved in a while. The RofW east of the road crossing was full of weeds so it didn't look like the new owners of the line are using it to serve the grain elevator at the end of the line in Liberty Center. However we did not verify this.

ND&W line with cars in storage
Tank cars in storage west of Liberty Center, OH
Liberty Center, OH
A cat checks out the tank care in storage on the Napoleon, Defiance and Western near Liberty  Center, OH



We continued to follow the DT&I line north again noting the occasional section of pole line still standing in places. While driving north the clouds finally began to break up and the sun showed itself to the world. There was still a little bit of mist falling which resulted in a very low angled rainbow in the northern horizon. John and I commented that neither of us had seen a rainbow with its apex so close to the horizon. This natural pheomeona distracted us long enough to miss the beginning of the long eight mile fill of the DT&I as it begins its decent to eventually rise over another ex-Wabash Line (now the Wabash Cannonball Rail Trail), and the NS (ex-NYC, LS&MS) Water Level Route at Delta. We crossed under the fill in a few spots and noted that it was wide enough for two tracks and also noted the ornate looking railings on all of the overpass bridges. None of the bridges had DT&I logos.

In Delta we made a quick stop by the depot along the NS line to give it a once-over. The building's construction is similar to other depots along this line. NS maintenance forces occupy this building which is in good shape. The RofW here is wide enough for three tracks which is confirmed by the width of the nearby overpass. We contemplated driving straight west but decided to cross the line once to check out the track. Great timing as we saw a headlight in the distance headed west. We waited a few minutes to catch this westbound domestic double stack train. The rail here is 136 lb. 1999 vintage rail.

NS WB at Delta, OH
NS westbound just west of Delta, OH


The problem with all of this was that I had not heard a peep on the scanner that this train was approaching. I thought this line was on 160.980 MHz but nothing was coming in except for an occasional transmission by the Toledo East Dispatcher. I put the radio on scan hoping to hear the train which just passed or something else.

We made a quick drive by the massive steel plant in Delta and other businesses on the west side which had rail service, then continued to follow the line westward where we encountered our next town of note, Wauseon. This is where the original DT&I and the NS line once crossed. The old DT&I RoW is just west of the CP320 signal on the west side of town. The depot in town is occupied by a local club and is well maintained. With signals just west of the depot, this is a nice spot to sit and watch the trains go by. 

We passed by Pettisville, where the satellite images show a small grain elevator with a spur, and arrived on east side of Archbold and encountered the Sauder Furniture complex. Sauder primarily makes ready to assemble furniture but also has branched out into drop ceilings and even caskets (hopefully assembled before you die!). Their assembly and distribution building is on the north side of the tracks with the rest of their operations about 1/8 of a mile west and on the south side of the tracks. Both complexes have active rail spurs.

While driving between the two complexes we suddenly saw an eastbound freight train roll by the overpass by the north Sauder building. Once again we did not hear this train on the radio so at this point I'm baffled as to what frequency they are using. I double checked my radio and found that old Conrail channel 1 160.800 MHz was not being scanned. Shortly after putting that back in I heard the eastbound we just saw call a signal. What's old is new again! They are on 160.800 MHz again!

After driving through the Sauder complex we made a brief tour through Archbold. While driving through we saw a black squirrel in someone's yard, a creature I hadn't seen in a long time. On the west side of Archbold is a large ConAgra plant which also has an active rail spur. NS has two decent sized customers in a relatively small town!

We continued west and arrived in the next town of significance, Stryker. The name of this town always struck me (no pun intended) to be of rail origin, which it is but not for the reason I had in mind. According to the village's web page, Stryker is the last name of a lawyer who was the founder of the Michigan Southern Railroad Company which built the tracks through town. In my convoluted mind I've confused Stryker with with striker which is the metal form where the coupler is inserted on a railcar. Railcars are sometimes measured by the "length between strikers". Anyway, another small depot, similar to the one in Wauseon and also in good shape, still stands on the north side of the tracks. 

As we approached Bryan, I reminded John that this is the section of track where a bad train accident occurred in 1999 where one train rear-ended another train close to track speed around MP 337.2. The resulting collision struck another train on the adjacent track. The accident occurred at night and visibility was near zero as a thick fog blanketed the area. At the time Conrail did not require crews to call signals over the radio, something which may have helped prevent the collision. According to the NTSB report, it is assumed that the train which rear-ended the other train did not see the signals because of the fog. Here are some photos of the track around the collision site.

3551 signal
Signal at 3351W, near the rear of where the second train was when it struck the train ahead
3381 signal
Signal at 3381W. The train head had just passed this location when it was struck from behind
3241 signal
Here's a photo of the 3241 signal. This type of signal bridge was in place at the 3381W signal when the collision occurred. The NTSB report discusses visibility issues resulting from the fog, signal location and view from the locomotive cab



For whatever reason this accident has always intrigued me, maybe because the NTSB report, found at  http://www.ntsb.gov/doclib/reports/2001/RAR0101.pdf , is so descriptive and comprehensive that it places you at the scene and in the cab of each train involved so you feel like you were there. It also documents crew rest patterns, crew habits, operating procedures and many other details that most railfans probably don't ever consider. The report is 63 pages long but all you need to read is the first 10 or so to understand what occurred. The photos in the report of the collision are incredible. After seeing the photos, you'll wonder how the event recorder was able to survive the crash.

At MP 339 we were treated to a westbound and an eastbound.

NS Westbound at MP 339
NS westbound at MP 339
NS eastbound at MP 339
NS eastbound at MP 339


As we approached Bryan, OH we heard a westbound call a signal a few miles away. We drove to the Amtrak station (more like an "Amshack" station) and watched the westbound by. Note that the RofW is wide enough for five tracks at this location.

Bryan, OH
Bryan, OH passenger platform
NS WB at Bryan, OH
NS westbound at Bryan, OH



This section of track is also where, in 1966, NYC tested a jet powered RDC passenger car which reached a maximum speed of 183.85 mph, the fastest speed recorded on a railroad in North America. Perhaps this record will be shattered in the next 10 years with the building of the high speed rail line in California. For those with access to the archives of "Trains Magazine", check out the February 1989 issue which details the event. A historical marker at the station documents the event.

Bryan, OH
Bryan, OH historical marker


After the train passed we drove by the freight station which had a Trailvan trailer in the yard.

Bryan, OH
Bryan, OH freight station
Bryan, OH
Trailvan trailer by Bryan, OH freight station

We then went back east about 1/2 mile to where the NS line once was crossed by a PC (ex CCC&STL) north-south line. Transfer tracks existed in the southwest and southeast quadrants. NS has a small yard on the NYC RofW at this spot which appears to be a staging location for a local based here. We follwed the PC line south through Bryan which is parallelled by a public street. A number of industrial buildings are located along the line, most of which look to have used rail at one time. Several gons were parked on the main so if anyone was still getting a switch it would require moving the gons first. The line ends at the Titan Tire plant on the southeast side. This was built by General Tire but was sold several years ago by then owner Continental Tire to Titan. Carbon black cars were spotted atn the plant.

As we doubled back through Bryan, John and I noted something we saw in Archbold, a black squirrel. Then we saw another, then another, and another, and it seemed like that's all there were in town! Who knew Bryan was known for their black squirrels.

Black squirrel in Bryan, OH
One of many black squirrels in Bryan, OH. Note the PC main in the background


We continued west following the NS line and its seemingly endless tangent track. John commented that he thought he could see Chicago in the distance. Ha! After we pass through Edgerton, where the RofW is defintely wide enough for four tracks, the Honda reminds me that it needs gas so we cross into Indiana to fill up in Butler. As we approached the NS (ex-Wabash) route from Detroit to Ft. Wayne, the crossing protection activates and we see this train pass by. John notes that this train is taking a new connection installed as part of the Conrail split. I'm two for two seeing trains on this track at this spot, and both times with CP power!

NS train at Butler, IN
NS southbound to westbound at Butler, IN


After filling the tank we hear someone call a signal for CP352 which is just east of us. We then position ourselves at the curve in Butler which is the end of the 67 mile long tangent track that starts in Toledo. We see the intermodal train photographed below pass by. It was mostly 53' trailers of trucking companies and intermodal marketing companies proving that TOFC is not dead. Like everything else, TOFC has simply evolved from trains full of rail owned equipment (primarily 45' and 48' trailers) to privately owned 53' trailers and reefers.

NS westbound at Butler, IN
NS westbound at Butler, IN


We then began our slow trip back home by dropping straight south and picking up the CSX Willard Subdivision at the Indiana-Ohio state line. The road crossing here at the state line has to be one of the more peculiar you'll ever run across. Thanks to B&O re-grading #1 main in the 1920s to reduce the grade for heavy westbound trains, it is even with the road while #2 main remains elevated on a fill. Here are photos of the crossing with a K train passing by on #2 main.

Ohio-Indiana state line crossing on CSX
Ohio-Indiana state line road crossing on CSX with K train east on #2
Ohio-Indiana state line crossing on CSX
Ohio-Indiana state line road crossing on CSX; #1 track is at grade with the road, #2 is on the fill


We followed the main back east to Hicksville where by this time both tracks are back on a fill through town. A fertilizer dealer has a spur to take in cars, but the decent sized grain elevator does not. John and I discuss that there seem to be a number of small and medium sized grain elevators located next to the tracks which no longer have rail service. The reason could be a combination of a) the railroads only going after large volumes of business thus give quotes which are cost prohibitive for the elevators, and b) the elevators pooling resources to single source load/unload points in order to combat the railroad's rates. Either way the number of small elevators being served on Class One main lines is less than in years past.

Continuing east we make a quick stop in Sherwood to check out the active grain elevator which is next to the CSX main but along the alignment of the north-south PC line we saw in Bryan earlier in the day. Definitely no one giving rail service to this elevator! A further east just west of Defiance we encounter the new grain elevator being built on the south side of the CSX main. This is a large complex complete with a balloon track for continuous loading and even has a dwarf signal to get back on the main. It is grain elevators like this that the railroads will gladly serve with the ability to load a unit grain train possible on site without having to switch blocks of cars.

About this time we hear an approaching eastbound train. We quickly see Q130 east pass us at a high rate of speed.

CSX EB Q130 west of Defiance, OH
CSX eastbound Q130 just west of Defiance, OH
CSX EB Q130 west of Defiance
CSX eastbound Q130 just west of Defiance, OH


We then drive into Defiance and do a quick reconnaissance of the Napoleon, Defiance and Western yard which doesn't look any better than when the Maumee and Western was the operator. With nothing doing on CSX we drop south and pick up the NS Fostoria District again which we parallel eastward. We catch up with a grain train made up of older 4750 cu ft hoppers stopped at Townwood. Radio traffic reveals that a westbound is approaching. We stop at a point called Shawtown (which also has a small grain elevator) to watch Roadrailer 261 fly by us at what seems like passenger train speeds. Impressive!

NS WB signals at Townwood, OH
NS westbound signals at Townwood, OH
NS WB 261 at Shawtown, OH
NS westbound 261 at Shawtown, OH


Further east we stop in McComb and watch the previously seen grain train pass through town. We also check out the remanent of the RofW of the B&O line in McComb which we saw in Deshler.

With no trains in the area and out of light we decide to head back home.

Questions, comments welcome!

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