Heritage Hour in Waterloo

I didn’t see let alone photograph three Norfolk Southern heritage locomotives in all of 2021. So go figure that this past Sunday morning I caught three of them in just under an hour’s time in Waterloo, Indiana, on the Chicago Line.

Two of them were leading and one of those I didn’t know was out there until I saw it in the viewfinder of my camera.

Going to Waterloo wasn’t my original plan for a day of railfanning under sunny skies and mild temperatures on the Chicago Line. My initial plan was to go to Goshen and hang out on River Street, which parallels the Chicago Line for about two blocks just east of the Elkhart River.

But as I was eating breakfast, I checked HeritageUnits.com on my phone and saw that the Central of Georgia H unit had been spotted in Chesterton, Indiana, on a rail camera at 5:15 a.m. leading an eastbound container train.

I would be leaving shortly and reasoned I had a fair to good chance of getting to Waterloo before the NS 8101 and its train, the 26E, did. But if I went to Goshen I would probably miss it.

That change of plans would be pivotal in setting me up for a lot of good fortune later that morning. While en route I learned that Amtrak 49, the westbound Lake Shore Limited, was running late and not expected into Waterloo until after 9 a.m.

I reached Waterloo around about 8:10 a.m. and the first thing I did was check at the first grade crossing I came to west of town to see if there were any headlights coming east or west. I didn’t see anything so I continued into town down to the crossing at Peneton Street, which is situated just west of the eastbound home signals for the CP 367 interlocking.

There was a clear indication for Track 2 and in the distance I could see a headlight. I decided to stay here and photograph that train because it might be the 26E. The sun had risen about 20 minutes earlier and there was nice early morning light that combined with lingering ground fog created a dramatic effect.

As the eastbound got closer it didn’t look like the Central of Georgia heritage unit. But it also didn’t look like a typical NS locomotive nose, either.

Moments later it came into sharper focus. It was the Pennsylvania Railroad H unit leading the 885 and its empty hopper cars headed back to a mine in Eckman, West Virginia.

I didn’t know until I saw it that the Pennsy heritage locomotive was out there. It passed Waterloo at 8:17 a.m. and I posted that on a Facebook group devoted to the NS Chicago Line.

I also learned from social media that the 26E with the Central of Georgia unit had been spotted at the Elkhart fuel pad around 7:30 a.m. Also, the original Norfolk Southern H unit, the 8114, was the trailing unit in the motive power consist of the 20E, which would be running behind the 26E.

I relocated to a parking lost just west of South Wayne Street. Amtrak 49 continued to lose time and its arrival might complicate getting photographs of the heritage units if one of them arrived at the same time as the Lake Shore. So I wanted to be in a position to get both, but I would favor the heritage units if I had to make a choice.

Amtrak would turn out to not be a factor, though. The 26E came through Waterloo at 8:53 a.m. and the 20E at 9:10 a.m. No. 49 wouldn’t arrive until 9:29 a.m.

Yeah, it would have been nice had the 8114 been leading instead of trailing on the 20E. But at least the lead unit was a shiny and clean NS unit, something that also can be tough to find.

Aside from the sun, the moon and the stars lining up to create a multiple heritage units day I had some other factors working in my favor.

All three trains were eastbound at a time of day when the light favored them. All three operated at a time and in a place where operations went as smoothly as the dispatcher and the computer program NS uses to dispatch trains intended them to do.

That would not be the case further east, particularly in the Toledo area, where a myriad of complications were unfolding to create traffic congestion.

This included a unit of the 21T, a Kansas City-bound intermodal train that diverges from the Chicago Line at Butler, Indiana, having an axle freeze and create a 5-inch flat spot. That train was reported doing walking speed in Wauseon as NS officials tried to figure out where to set off the malfunctioning unit.

The 64R delayed the 26E and 20E alike at the recrew point in Toledo and there were plenty of other trains, most of them westbounds, in the Toledo area but not enough recrews to handle all of them. That would mean that I would only catch three westbounds all day, one of them Amtrak and the other one coming off the Marion District in Goshen.

The 8101 would develop mechanical problems during its journey from Toledo to Cleveland. This included the locomotive’s horn going on the fritz at Oak Harbor. By the time the 8101 and its train reached Berea around 3 p.m. an inoperative battery was complicating problems with the unit’s positive train control system.

The crew was taken to Rockport Yard to get another locomotive and the 26E left Cleveland with the 8101 trailing.

The 885 followed the 64R out of Toledo and onto the connection at Oak Harbor to the Toledo District. But the 885 would be tied down at Klines in Bellevue for lack of a recrew being available.

As far as I know the 20E was able to operate as normal through Northeast Ohio.

So it was for me a case of being in the right place at the right time with the right light.

In checking my records later, I determined that the Pennsy heritage unit was the last H unit I had seen and photographed. I caught the 8102 last November in New Castle, Indiana, leading a westbound intermodal train in less than ideal later afternoon light.

I also discovered I’ve only photographed the Central of Georgia H unit one other time. That was in March 2015 in Olmsted Falls. It would be the last of the 20 heritage units that I would catch to complete my “collection.”

I may never have another three heritage unit day again and, for that matter, I might not find another NS heritage unit for the rest of this year. I’ve learned to appreciate any heritage unit photo op. that I have, soI[‘ll keep looking and hoping to find something else out of the ordinary as I go trackside this year.

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