Bessemer Orange Fading to IC Black

My first glimpse of an Illinois Central SD70 on the Bessemer & Lake Erie came in Albion on a northbound train.

My first glimpse of an Illinois Central SD70 on the Bessemer & Lake Erie came in Albion, Pa., on a northbound train.

I photographed my first Bessemer & Lake Erie locomotive on Nov. 12, 2005. It was a beautiful late fall day with warm weather and blue skies.

Ed Ribinskas and I had ventured to Conneaut to photograph Norfolk Southern trains on the trestle over Conneaut Creek.

Getting a B&LE train that day was a bonus. It wasn’t much, just a yard job coming out of the yard for head room.

B&LE No. 868 had its nose against a cut of hopper cars, but I didn’t care. That orange and black unit looked sharp in the autumn sun.

Over the next nine years I made occasional forays to the Bessemer, sometimes with Ed, sometimes with Marty and sometimes with others.

It always amazed me that the orange and black motive power on the B&LE remained for as long as it did.

There always seemed to be rumors about replacement locomotives being sent to the Bessemer, but those never seemed to show up.

Reportedly, locomotives painted in parent Canadian National colors worked on the B&LE, but I never saw one nor did they last for long.

Fast forward nine years. I’m again in Conneaut with Ed. There is a yard job working and doing a lot of talking on the yard channel.

At one point someone says there is an inbound train that is expected to arrive around lunch time.

We head for Albion, Pa., where the signal that you can see from East Pearl Street displays an approach indication.

We also hear the detector south of town announce that a northbound train has passed through.

We parked and walked to the east side of the crossing. A fresh coating of snow covered the ground and some of it clings to the rails. At least the sun is out.

In recent weeks, the railfan cyber world has been talking about six Illinois Central SD70 locomotives being assigned to the Bessemer Subdivision. Being that the IC is my favorite railroad, I consider this to be fantastic news.

The opportunity to see an IC unit is what prompted me to call Ed and suggest that we go to the B&LE on Saturday morning.

The gates go down at Main Street and a locomotive nose comes around the curve. It has the famed IC “deathstar” on the nose. I’m quite elated.

I see orange behind the two IC SD70s, Nos. 1032 and 1034. Then I see red. That is not so good news. It means that a CN unit will be leading when the train leaves Conneaut.

At least it is bright red and looks good, unlike the other two CN units on the B&LE that all but scream to be repainted.

Ed and I chased the train back to Conneaut, getting it from the U.S. 20 overpass as it comes into town off the horseshoe curve.

As the train makes its way into the yard, I hear a locomotive horn on Norfolk Southern and a longtime dream of mine of getting an NS train over a Bessemer train finally comes true.

Later, Ed and I are sitting in my car by the Old Main Street crossing waiting for the road crew to finish its work in the yard and head out of town.

We talk about past outings that we’ve had on the Bessemer. Ed tells of the time that he and Robert Surdyk, walked along the tracks toward the yard to photograph two F units sitting there.

I reminisce about an April 2007 outing I made with Marty Surdyk in which I chased a B&LE train out of Conneaut for the first time.

As Ed and I traded stories, it dawned on me that today represents the end of an era for railfanning on the Bessemer.

The B&LE that I had come to be quite fond of was going away. No, the railroad itself will still be there and I’m still excited about the prospect of seeing motive power consists of all IC black and white.

As much as I like the IC, those locomotives will always seem a little out of place on the Bessemer.

The B&LE was a boutique operation that hauled iron ore pellets and limestone for the steel miles of Pittsburgh.

If the Bessemer hauled any other freight, I never saw it. There is a siding at Conneautville, Pa., that could, presumably, be used to deliver agriculture products.

But I never saw a boxcar or a manifest freight on the Bessemer, only hopper cars.

Last year the B&LE started handling coal and that was the commodity that Ed and I saw being pulled on Saturday out of Albion.

With centralized traffic control, well maintained rail and searchlight signals, the B&LE had the look and feel of a big time railroad even if, relatively speaking, it wasn’t that large and had a low level of daily traffic.

The B&LE will continue to have those things and it will continue to cater to the needs of the steel industry.

It was, after all, once owned by U.S. Steel and its reason for existence has not changed. We won’t be seeing intermodal traffic on the B&LE anytime soon and probably never.

A lot of B&LE fans are upset that the orange and black SD40Ts are being taken away and that motive power with Bessemer orange will become rare if not nonexistent.

I’m thankful that I took the time to photograph the Bessemer when it still had its B&LE character.

But now a new chapter is about to be written and I’m going to make sure that I get over there to document it.

Article and Photographs by Craig Sanders

IC 02b

The nose of IC 1032 is battered and bruised and the unit looks like it could use a shower to wash away the road dirt and grime.

 

The full consist is on display as the train leans into the curve on the north side of Albion, Pa.

The full consist is on display as the train leans into the curve on the north side of Albion, Pa.

One benefit of winter is that the trains are easier to see when coming through a forest.

One benefit of winter is that the trains are easier to see when coming through a forest.

A wide perspective of the B&LE train grinding and twisting its way through the valley of Conneaut Creek.

A wide perspective of the B&LE train grinding and twisting its way through the valley of Conneaut Creek.

Think of all of the history that has been seen out of the windows of that house on the hillside overlooking the B&LE tracks in Conneaut.

Think of all of the history that has been seen out of the windows of that house on the hillside overlooking the B&LE tracks in Conneaut.

Heading into the yard where there is plenty of work to do.

Heading into the yard where there is plenty of work to do.

Bonus! Norfolk Southern train 145 crosses over the top of the inbound B&LE train. It is the first time I've gotten an over and under image of these two railroads.

Bonus! Norfolk Southern train 145 crosses over the top of the inbound B&LE train. It is the first time I’ve gotten an over and under image of these two railroads.

Words that are quite pleasing to me, even if they seem out of place.

Words that are quite pleasing to me, even if they seem out of place.

The classic image of a B&LE train along Conneaut Creek. In this case, though, the train is backing into the yard.

The classic image of a B&LE train along Conneaut Creek. In this case, though, the train is backing into the yard.

CN 5422 leads the train out of the yard for good. Conneaut Creek is to the right and few people are fishing in it today.

CN 5422 leads the train out of the yard for good. Conneaut Creek is to the right and few people are fishing in it today.

It might be the last B&LE SD40T that I ever photograph in action. It is trailing CN 5422 at Pond Road.

It might be the last B&LE SD40T that I ever photograph in action. It is trailing CN 5422 at Pond Road.

 

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One Response to “Bessemer Orange Fading to IC Black”

  1. bigboy4006 Says:

    Very good pics!

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