The shot of the day was from the Miami Street overpass in Toledo. The 414 with NS 8114 is moving forward on Track 2 before backing into the Stanley Secondary.
For more than a month, railfan photographers have been salivating at the prospect of catching the Norfolk Southern 30th anniversary heritage locomotives that have been rolling out of shops at the rate of about one per week.
Photographs of NS heritage units have been plastered all over the Internet and tales of catching one of the prized locomotives have dominated many trackside conversations.
But work obligations had me chained to my desk for nearly as long as the heritage units had been plying the rails. “When will I get to see, let along photograph, my first heritage unit?” I often wondered as I saw photo after photo of locomotives celebrating the memory of such railroads as the Pennsylvania, Nickel Plate Road, Conrail and Norfolk & Western, among others.
“Which of these would be the first that I would see?”
My work obligations finally began easing late last week and I vowed that I’d get out over the weekend to bag an NS heritage unit.
Fellow ARRC member Roger Durfee told me on Friday night that the Norfolk Southern heritage unit was at Mingo Junction and we made plans to go see it Saturday morning.
But that idea evaporated due to cloudy skies.
Roger tracks the location of the NS heritage units more closely than many people keep tabs on their stock portfolios. He thought there was a chance that one of the units might make it to Northeast Ohio by Sunday afternoon.
When I called him Sunday morning about 9 a.m. to see what he knew, it was the proverbial bad news-good news-bad news situation.
The bad news was that it was unlikely that any heritage units east of Ohio would make their way here on Sunday.
The good news was that the Norfolk Southern heritage unit had reached Cleveland during the night and would be going west to Toledo on a coke train.
The bad news was that I was tied up with obligations at home through late morning. Roger said I could ride with him on the chase, but would I have time to catch up with him before NS 8114 left town? Things didn’t look too promising.
I finished my domestic obligations and called Roger. The new crew of the coke train, the 414, was not yet on the train, so it would not be leaving just yet. The crew could show up at any minute, though, and the train could charge westward shortly thereafter. Or maybe not.
I began racing toward Roger’s location near Cleveland Hopkins International Airport.
Roger said he’d call me if the train began moving. I eyed my cell phone warily as I glided westward on I-480.
As I approached the exit for the airport, I got some good news. There in bright sunshine was the Norfolk Southern heritage unit in its brilliant orange, yellow and black sitting just north of the Ohio Route 237 ramp leading off I-480 toward the airport.
Maybe this thing will work out after all. At least I got to see it.
The train began moving as I neared Roger’s position. A coke train doesn’t exactly accelerate like a jack rabbit from a standing stop, so I was able to park, get my camera out and get into position.
Let the record show that I got my first photograph of an NS heritage unit at 11:10 a.m. on Sunday, May 13.
Chasing this train would be a challenge. There was no rail traffic ahead of it. Roger figured – correctly – that the crew could taste a short day of maybe three hours before going off duty. It had plenty of incentive to keep the throttle open.
And that is what happened. The lumbering train picked up speed and kept rolling along.
The Toledo East dispatcher offered a glimmer of hope that maybe this would not be the straight shot to Toledo that the crew wanted.
Signal problems near Fairlane had her single-tracking while a maintainer worked to resolve the issues. If the maintainer didn’t clear up by the time the 414 got there, it would have to wait for three eastbounds.
It was what we wanted to hear, but shortly thereafter the maintainer released his track authority and only a grade crossing protection order would slow the coke train’s progress.
Some deft driving by Roger got us ahead of the 414. We figured to make our first intermediate photo stop near Bay Bridge west of Sandusky.
We almost squandered that opportunity. Roger wasn’t sure what road to take to find the spot he wanted to photograph near Gypsum. We didn’t have a DeLorme atlas or a GPS.
We wandered around a bit, keeping an ear on the radio. We did not hear the 414 calling signals. That turned out to be because the NS 8114 didn’t have the greatest radio.
As we made our way down a private road near CP 253, we saw a headlight bearing down on us a short distance to the east as we crossed the tracks. “Where did that come from?”
We had just enough time to bail out, set up and fire away.
We got back to Route 2 and continued the chase. Exiting onto Ohio Route 163, we barreled toward Oak Harbor.
The highway and railroad tracks were within sight of each other for much of this section, so we knew we had caught and passed the 414.
But we also knew that we weren’t that far ahead of it, either. Roger suggested finding a place for an across the field shot, but we couldn’t find anything that was open enough.
Traffic and red lights slowed our progress through Oak Harbor. There was no chance of getting a photograph here.
Indeed, the 414 had gotten ahead of us again. We set our sights on Millbury.
We could hear a stack train, the 21G, calling signals behind the 414. On another day that would have been good news because the stacker was gaining on the coke train.
The dispatcher noticed that, too, but told the 21G that she couldn’t run him around the 414 because there was a steady stream of eastbound traffic ahead on Track 2.
The 414 crew must have sensed its clear path into Toledo because it kept highballing along as though it was Amtrak’s Capitol Limited.
We made Millbury and barely had enough time to get out and shoot at a grade crossing.
Catching the 414 at Vickers seemed out of the question, so Roger made contact with his friend Michael Harding. We met on the road and Harding led us to the Miami Street overpass in Toledo.
As it turned out, the 414 got delayed at Vickers, enabling what I am sure was a good crowd of photographers to get good photos.
Earlier in the journey, the crew of the 414 had told the Toledo East dispatcher that it was a celebrity train today. She didn’t know what that meant.
So the crew explained that it had one of the new NS heritage units and photographers were out taking its picture.
As we were driving through Toledo, we heard the 414 declare an emergency. As it was starting to move at Vickers, it lost its air.
The Toledo Yard dispatcher had informed the 414 that it would be crossing over from 1 track to 2 track and then backing into the Stanley Secondary.
We set up on the Miami Street bridge and waited. I had never railfanned in Toledo before, so I made the most of the wait by photographing an eastbound manifest freight crossing the Maumee River on the swing bridge.
By now the last of the clouds that had cast a pall over Toledo earlier in the day were moving out and we saw clear skies to the west.
That eastbound manifest freight momentarily kept the 414 from moving ahead, which meant the 21G had to cool its heels as well. A northbound CSX train crossing NS at Vickers on the former Toledo Terminal also figured into the traffic flow.
The traffic cleared, the 414 had its air back and everything began unfolding as intended. For a brief moment we thought we might get a side-by-side shot of the NS 8114 and the head end of the 21G.
But it was not to be. The 414’s head end was well ahead of the stack train by the time the 21G arrived at our location.
The crew of the 414 tied the train down after putting it into the Stanley Secondary.
It was still mid afternoon and Roger wanted to wait until about 5 p.m. when the side lighting on the 8114 would be nice.
We killed time by photographing from the Route 795 overpass a Canadian National train creeping into CSX’s Stanley Yard.
Then we went out to Vickers, which Roger had assured me is one of the busiest rail junctions in Ohio. A CSX northbound was crossing as we arrived, but over the next hour or so the place was quiet. There wasn’t even a peep on the NS road channel.
We had started to make our way back to the Stanley Secondary when we spotted a headlight on CSX. It was a southbound stack train and it would have to wait for NS trains in each direction.
After that flurry, we got the static shots of the 8114 that we wanted.
The CN train we had shot earlier at Stanley Yard was ready to go back to Lang Yard so we waited near Vickers to shoot what would be our last train of the day.
The attraction on this train wasn’t the two generally filthy CN units up front, but the third unit, a BC Rail locomotive.
And with that we headed toward Cleveland. Toledo seems like a nice railroad town. I ought to get back there sometime soon.
Article by Craig Sanders
Photographs by Roger Durfee
What a beauty it was in the sunlight.
We almost missed getting this shot at Millbury.
The view from the Miami Street overpass in Toledo was the best of the day.
From here the 414 backed up into the Stanley Secondary. This gave us two opportunities to shoot the NS 8114.
On the Stanley Secondary in late afternoon light.