Over the Memorial Day weekend I chased one of the Spencer streamliner ferry moves for two days and more than 1,000 miles.
I was unable to attend the streamliner festival at the North Carolina Transportation Museum in Spencer and but I really wanted to see the Nickel Plate Road painted PA1. My only chance to get it would be to catch the transport move.
We left Cleveland a little after 6 a.m. and headed toward Chicago. The goal was to catch a move consisting of Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Silver Pilot, the Chicago & North Western F7 No. 411 and Soo Line FP7 No. 2500.
This consist would then pick up NKP PA1 No. 190 at Elkhart and continue east and south for Spencer.
The problem was we didn’t know which route it would take east of Elkhart. There were several possibilities and the railfan community didn’t seem to know for sure.
In fact there were some lively discussions to this effect. The two most likely routes were (A) Toledo-Bellevue-Portsmouth or (B) Elkhart-Richmond-Cincinnati.
The special move left Chicago around 9 a.m. and promptly got stuck in traffic. The Norfolk Southern mainline was a virtual parking lot between Chicago and Toledo.
This had even delayed the Capitol Limited which took more than four hours to get between Toledo and Elkhart.
We headed for the state line and had almost gotten there when the train started moving. The Silver Pilot conveniently had a GPS, which made chasing fairly simple or rather knowing where the train was. But chasing it turned out to be anything but simple.
We first caught it at Odgen Dunes, Ind., and followed the train to Elkhart where it arrived around 7 p.m.
I had hoped that it would be well east of Elkhart before dark, which would let us know for certain which route it would take.
But after several hours it was obvious the train would not be moving soon. We got a hotel room and hoped the streamliner ferry move would remain overnight as well.
Waking up Sunday morning, we received a shock, to put it mildly.
The train that had taken 10 hours to move about 100 miles had left Elkhart after midnight and was now just north of Bellevue.
I had calculated – wrongly – that even if this occurred it would only get as far as Toledo, if that. We had a play but had to hurry. In short order we were on the freeway heading back to Ohio.
Knowing where the train was – the GPS tracker was working perfectly — spurred us on.
We gained ground on it, hoping it would be delayed along the way.
It stopped in a yard in Columbus but was on the move just as we hit the city limits. By the time it got to Portsmouth we were only 10 miles behind.
The train changed crews and we picked a spot east of the yard. And then nothing happened.
The streamliner ferry move sat for an hour so we backtracked and were able to get photos in the yard from the employee parking area. Unlike at Elkhart the special wasn’t buried in the middle of the yard.
Another railfan from Cincinnati had also chased and was taking photos. He related how an “expert” friend of his told him the special would be routed from Columbus through Cincinnati. So much for that speculation.
Finally, the special got on the move and we caught it one last time.
On the way to Indiana we also chased late running Amtrak trains. We would catch the Lake Shore Limited two more times and even the Capitol Limited west of South Bend. That was an amazing feat considering that No. 29 had left Toledo before we had left Cleveland.
Article and Photographs by Todd Dillon