Good Place Now to Catch IC ‘Death Stars’

Not that long ago if you wanted to photograph SD70 locomotives that had been built for the Illinois Central and still wore their “death star” livery a good place to go was Canadian National’s Bessemer & Lake Erie Subdivision.

Back in early spring 2015 CN sent a fleet of ex-IC SD70s to the B&LE where they were, for the most part, standard motive power for most trains.

Of course I was pleased by that and my trips to Conneaut increased dramatically along with my chases of trains on the ex-Bessemer.

But motive power assignments change and in recent months CN has sent an infusion of different motive power to the ex-Bessemer.

The IC SD70s have gone elsewhere, including back to their original stomping ground.

You won’t see ex IC SD70 motive power on every train on the former Illinois Central mainline between Chicago and New Orleans but based on my experiences of the past year the odds of finding one are greater now than they had been.

To be sure, CN is slowly repainting the SD70s into its own colors and I’ve even seen motive power sets of pure SD70s in CN red, black and white.

But there are enough “death stars” still on the rails so that if you spend any time railfanning the one-time Mainline of Mid-America you have a reasonable chance of catching one of them leading a train.

That was the case on a recent Sunday when I ventured over to the CN Champaign Subdivision where good fortune fell my way.

I was driving north on U.S. Route 45 when I spotted a southbound in the distance led by ex-IC No. 1036.

A quick turnaround on an intersection rural road had me headed for South Tuscola (top image) where the siding in Tuscola ends on the south end.

Adjacent to the tracks were corn fields still awaiting harvest. In the background are grains bins of the massive Archer-Daniels-Midland facility at Tuscola that is served by CN and Union Pacific.

After getting my photos here, I sped off for the Dewitt Avenue bridge in Mattoon. This is the northernmost of the five bridges that span the former IC tracks in my one-time hometown.

Interestingly, this was only the second time I’ve photographed a train on the ex-IC from Dewitt Avenue.

Earlier in the day I had caught the “death star” duo of Nos. 1000 and 1029 leading a northbound at Pesotum.

Pairs of “death stars” are not necessarily common, but not unheard of either.

I had caught one of these duos earlier this year. That had also occurred in Pesotum but with a southbound.

It was like going back in a time machine to when the IC was still an independent railroad run by the legendary E. Hunter Harrison.

In time the SD70s will either be repainted or sold off and “death stars” will no longer be seen on the ex-IC. But in the meantime I’ll look for as many of them as I can.

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