Flip-da-Flop, Flip-da-Flop. Chase of the ‘Valley Girl’ on the Sandusky District Had Plenty of Sole

This particular Sunday dawned sunny with unseasonably warm temperatures. The sunlight through the stained glass windows at church had a special glint to it today. It was going to be a memorable day. Little did I know in what way.

My plans for the day were set, at least for the early hours. I was to attend the birthday party for my great nephew Griffen in the morning. Yes, in the morning, actually, 11 a.m.

The Grif had a hockey game later in the afternoon. Yes, beside trains, cars and trucks, the Grif is a hockey puck. (Hard to believe he’s 6 already)

I thought I might head out trackside in the afternoon, depending on what the weather was doing and/or if any Norfolk Southern heritage units were around.

I was the first from nephew Henry’s side of the family to arrive. We went to the basement to inspect the work he’s done on his new HO scale train layout.

The bro and his clan arrived shortly after I did. The first thing Robert said wasn’t, “Hi,” it was, “Lehigh Valley at Columbus coming north on No. 174.”

“Wonderful.” I thought to myself. “One of the units I’ve never seen close by and a nice weather day . . . figures.”

As lunch was served and the party progressed, the progress, or lack thereof, as it turned out, of the Valley Girl was tracked via the Heritage Unit app.

“Lewis Center at Noon.”

Didn’t look good; we still had cake to cut and presents to open. I was hoping for a miracle, maybe, just maybe, it would get delayed somewhere.

As the gathering broke up about 1:30 p.m, the Valley Girl was still shown at Lewis Center at noon. Could this be our miracle or just no one reporting it today?

Robert was game for heading to Bellevue to see if we might catch it. Henry got sprung from parenting duties to join us. Grif, unfortunately, had to get ready for his hockey game.

We were off to Bellevue shortly after 2 p.m. We used the Ohio Turnpike to make the best time. You can make Bellevue via the Turnpike from my house in less than one hour.

Upon arrival in Bellevue, we found no railfans in position to catch an imminent move of a heritage unit. Either it was already by or still a long way off.

We stopped for a leg stretch at the south wye to watch two westbounds go by on the Fostoria District.

To my surprise, while driving out to Bellevue the sole of my right shoe came about two-thirds of the way off. When I walked it made a flip-da-flop noise.

I tried to attach it, but it didn’t hold. The noise didn’t bother me, but Robert and Henry didn’t care for it.

So I walked around as much as I could . . . flip-da-flop . . . flip-da-flop.

Since it looked like it hadn’t arrived yet in Bellevue, we continued south in search of the Valley Girl.

We would occasionally pick up a train calling signals as we rolled south. We were behind train No. 194, but gaining on it.

No. 194 was routed into the Benson siding north of Bucyrus. No. 194 would sit here for several hours before continuing on.

The Sandusky District dispatcher finally cleared up the situation as he explained to No. 194 what his plans were.

He had five northbounds between Columbus and Marion. The last one was an 11,000 foot monster. No. 194 would be held at Benson for all five to pass. One of them had to be No. 174 with the LV.

Henry found a post about the No. 174 and the Valley Girl that said that it was leading a long train with mid-train DPUs. “That must be the 11,000 foot monster the dispatcher was talking about.”

We stopped south of Bucyrus to shoot the second of the five northbound trains. The first one got by us as we tangled with traffic in Bucyrus.

This was a grain train, the lighting was not very good, but we did the best we could. The search was on now for a suitable photo spot for the 174/Valley Girl.

Late afternoon, in the dead of winter, with a northbound train? Not a good set up, but it was all we had to work with.

The third northbound, we shot closer to Monnet. Again, not great light. We continued on.

The spot we settled on was at Tobias. There are some spots here that you can get back enough to get some side lighting on a northbound.

The fourth northbound was fast approaching. Tobias is north of the U.S. Route 23 overpass on the northern outskirts of Marion. The coaling tower at Harvey can be seen in the distance.

We had a chance to get a “test shot” of the 195 as it passed. This should work for the Valley Girl, as its headlight was right on the block of the 195.

As we waited, I made sure to walk around as much as I could. Flip-da-flop . . . flip-da-flop . . . flip-da-flop.

As train time approached, two more cars full of railfans showed up. This was more like it. Show time was now upon us.

The gates went down at the crossing we were at. The Valley Girl was leading a Canadian Pacific GE. About three-quarters of the way back, there were two NS black DPUs.

The chase was on. I had Robert drive due to my shoe malfunction. I didn’t want the flap of my shoe to get caught under the brake or gas pedal and cause a serious safety issue, especially in the heat of the chase.

No. 174 and the Valley Girl weren’t setting any speed records; the trains ahead kept their pace in check.

We got through Bucyrus and headed for the north end of the Benson siding.

The rear end of No. 194 was clear of the crossing when we went by earlier. This would be the best lighted shot we would get. The tracks turn a little to the northwest here.

We had a couple of minutes to wait. I passed the time flip-da-flopping . . . flip-da-flopping.

Finally the train showed up. Film and pixels were exposed and we were off again.

“Let’s go for the Attica Reservoir,” Robert said. Since he was driving, he calls the shots.

We arrived to see the last cars of No. 195 passing by. The 174 better hurry, the sun was getting very low. Thankfully this is flat country and the sun stays up a lot longer than in the mountains.

We also had to hope that they didn’t get stabbed by CSX at Attica Junction. If 174 has to stop our day was over.

All things worked out and the 174 passed by us while the sun was still up.

If we were to get another shot, we would have to beat it to the Ohio Route 4 crossing north of Attica Junction. Otherwise, we would have to wait for all 11,000 feet of train to pass.

Just enough traffic and a red light in Attica cost us any chance of getting one more shot. I was able to count 48 cars behind the DPUs, as we waited for the train to cross Route 4.

By now both Robert’s and Henry’s wives were on the phone, wondering if we’d be home for dinner. The chase was called off at this point and we headed for home, satisfied with our results.

What do the Grif and the Valley Girl have in common? They were both the star of the show on the same day.

Article by Marty Surdyk

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