It has been more than a year since Peter Bowler and I had chased trains together so we were long overdue for an outing.
Everything fell into place one recent Sunday as we made plans to meet early – as in 5:30 a.m. – to travel to Conneaut to catch a train on the former Bessemer & Lake Erie.
But the first order of business was getting Amtrak’s eastbound Lake Shore Limited just east of Conneaut.
No. 48 was running about 10 minutes late when it rushed past us in the early morning light. We then went to see if we could intercept an inbound B&LE train at Albion.
As we drove toward that city, I heard the detector go off at MP 117 and then heard the crew call out over the radio a 10 mph slow order for MP 125. They were at MP 122.
That was a good omen. The train was coming. But our luck ran out when we found a bridge closed on U.S. Route 6N a couple miles short of Albion, Pennsylvania.
Further bad luck hit when Peter discovered the Pennsylvania Gazetteer he had brought was missing. We still don’t know where or how he lost it.
Relying on A GPS on Peter’s smart phone, we searched for crossings west of Albion, but we never saw the train.
As we were driving back to Conneaut, we heard the sound of a remote control switch being toned up on the radio. It turned out to be the creek switch at the south end of the Conneaut yard and we missed the head end of the train, although we did see the rear.
All we could do was wait for it to come out once it was done switching in Conneaut yard. It first poked its nose beneath the Norfolk Southern trestle at 11:17 a.m.
As the crew was switching, I was able to ascertain from their radio communication that the lead locomotive facing south was Illinois Central No. 1018.
Given that B&LE owner Canadian National sent a fleet of ex-IC SD70s locomotives to its Bessemer Subdivision last March that was not a surprise.
But I had heard the crew talking about a 905, which I knew from an online posting was B&LE SD40T-3 No. 905, which is the only tunnel motor still working on the Bessemer Sub.
It turned out that the 905 was the second unit behind the 1018, so that kept my streak intact of having a B&LE locomotive in every train I’ve ever photographed on the ex-B&LE.
The motive power consist also included CN 5336 (SD402-W) and IC 1019. The CN locomotive was one of the rattiest looking I’ve ever seen. It had the appearance of someone having taken a blow torch to burn paint off its flanks.
I’ve seen trains come out of the Conneaut yard and go past the Old Main Street grade crossing while switching, but I had never seen one stop just north of the crossing when it was done.
That provided a rare opportunity to make an image of the motive power sitting still on a curve with good lighting.
When I spotted the CN truck coming to drop off the conductor I knew the train would be leaving soon.
We relocated to the U.S. 20 bridge. I’ve photographed here before, but had yet to get an outbound move with an IC SD70 in the lead.
Mindful of the U.S. 6N bridge closing, we had mapped an alternative route to Albion via Pennsylvania Route 215 and Old Albion Road.
We waited for the train at the crossing of Route 215, which was a new photo spot for me.
We then did some traditional B&LE photo locations in Albion, Conneatuville, Hartstown and at KO Road.
The latter is widely known as KO Junction, but CN now calls it Sandy. The dispatcher told the crew that it would re-crew at Sandy.
No new crew was on hand to board the train there so we went into Greenville to look around. That, though, is for another story.
Article and Photographs by Craig Sanders