What Were They Thinking About?

Conrail MTO loco

Conrail MTO caboose

It’s early April 1982 in my hometown of Mattoon, Ill. I have just finished my work shift at the Journal Gazette.

I was a reporter there, but on this day I filled in as wire editor for a guy who had the day off. That meant having to start early, very early. It was around 5 a.m. or so when I walked in.

For reasons I no longer remember, after work I drove downtown. An unusual spring snow squall had descended upon east central Illinois as I left the office.

There had been a going away party for a guy in the advertising department who I had gotten to know.

We shared an interest in photography and had spent hours talking about making photographs.

I had taken my personal camera to work to make some color photographs of his last day at the newspaper. My work camera would have had black and white film loaded in it.

I don’t remember how I learned of this approaching train. I might have gotten out of my car to walk somewhere or maybe I saw the crossing gates go down.

But I heard a train horn blowing on the former New York Central mainline to St. Louis, which was owned by Conrail at the time.

At the time, seeing any train on this line was a rarity. The overhead traffic had been removed in summer 1980. A local worked on the line for a while.

Less than a month earlier, Conrail had received permission to abandon the ex-NYC between Paris and Pana, Ill.

Within a year, these rails would be ripped up. But for the next 120 days the rails must remain in place in the event that someone wanted to buy the line and operate it as a railroad.

I scrambled to get into position to get off the top photo, which is the best of the three frames I made of this train approaching the crossing at North 16th Street.

To the left is what is left of the passenger platform for the NYC station, which is out of sight to the left.

In the bottom photo the train is about to cross North 15th Street. I’ve often wondered why this train was out here.

Perhaps the crane had been out picking up things to be removed in preparation for removing the rails.

Or maybe the crane had been stored elsewhere and needed to be moved off the line now that it was no longer being used to haul freight and Conrail was in the process of walking away from it.

I also often have wondered what was going through the minds of the two railroaders on the back of the caboose.

Were they making the last trip they would ever make over these rails? If not, it was likely one of their last trips.

What are they thinking? Are they reflecting on their railroad careers?

It is a mystery for which I will never know the answer. More than three decades later, I’m glad that I was in the right place at the right time and had a camera with me.

Article and Photographs by Craig Sanders

 

 

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One Response to “What Were They Thinking About?”

  1. Bob Farkas Says:

    I really like the story behind the image. The story brings the photos together and makes them come alive.
    The two railroaders on the caboose look like they are out in the snow by choice. Perhaps they wanted one last glimpse of what once was a major mainline and would soon be an unwanted wound stretching across the miles.
    Bob

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