Reprinted from the July 2016 Akron Railroad Club Bulletin
“Papa, you want to come see the train?” was the question I overheard when the bro answered his phone while we sat at the picnic table in Alliance.
“Uncle Mart and I are in Alliance right now, Grif.”
Grif was referring to the Norfolk Southern 9-1-1, the First Responder’s Tribute unit. It was coming north on train No. 178. It was sighted at Columbus shortly after we arrived in Alliance.
A few minutes later, it was reported at Lewis Center, a northern suburb of Columbus. I figured we wouldn’t make Bellevue before it did, so we stayed put in Alliance.
Our quarry for the day was either a westbound on the Ft. Wayne Line or an eastbound going down the Bayard Line that we could chase.
In the meantime, we had plenty of intermodal trains to shoot moving from the Cleveland Line to the Ft. Wayne Line.
Henry, Grif’s father, decided to go after the 9-1-1. He, Grif and Nicole, Henry’s wife and Grif’s mother, were heading for Bellevue in hopes of intercepting the colorful NS unit.
We wished them luck and waited patiently for NS to run something in the right direction.
It wasn’t long before I heard the switch roll over west of the diamond. The bro walked east to see if the crossover near the Amtrak platform was also lined. It was.
It looked like our westbound heading for the Ft. Wayne Line was nearing. The Cleveland Line Dispatcher confirmed our sighting.
“580, OK into Alliance”
580 was a westbound loaded coal train, most likely loaded on the former Monongahela in southwest Pennsylvania.
We headed out of town to the cemetery in Maximo for our first shot. The tracks are heading south here, so a morning westbound can be done in good light. Although on this morning high clouds were obscuring the sun.
The 580 had NS 3603 up front, a new unit in fresh black paint. Two additional units trailed.
They were rolling right along, so we couldn’t dawdle if we were to stay with the train.
From Maximo, we made our way west to US 62 West, a four lane divided highway and a 70 mph speed limit until you get to the outskirts of Canton. Then it is 50 mph with numerous traffic lights and lots of congestion. If we were ahead, we soon lost our edge.
US 62 runs with I-77 for a ways through Canton. When we went over the tracks, the 580 was going by underneath.
We picked up US 30 on the south side of Canton and decided on Orrville for our next shot.
We should beat him there because he has Buck Hill west of Massillon to slow him down.
Our arrival in Orrville was slowed by the last few cars of a Wheeling & Lake Erie westbound that was crossing Ohio Route 57 on the south side of Orrville.
We alighted on the south side of the tracks across from the depot and tower. I figured we had a few minutes to kill, so I broke out my sandwich and started to eat lunch. It was a few minutes after noon.
I took about two bites, when the 580 called the distant signal for CP Orr and horns were heard to the east. Time to drop the sandwich and get to my photo spot.
So much for having some time. Buck Hill must have seemed like a speed bump.
We shot the 580 and thought about heading onward, but the Pittsburgh West Dispatcher came on the radio and informed 580 that their re-crew at Mansfield was not on duty until 2 p.m.
We decided to finish our lunch here and regroup. Henry was on the phone seeing if we had any news on the whereabouts of the 9-1-1. It was not in Bellevue yet and they were heading south looking for it.
We were again headed west in a few minutes and the 580 should be nearing Mansfield by now. If we stayed with the 580, we had time to kill or should we continue on US 30 west to Bucyrus and try to intercept the 9-1-1?
Henry and company made it all the way to Marion without a 9-1-1 sighting. Some fans were trackside waiting for it, but no one had seen it yet.
A check of HeritageUnits.com still showed the last sighting at Lewis Center over four hour ago. What the heck happened to it?
With this news to go on, we committed ourselves to the 9-1-1. As we approached Bucyrus, Henry called and OSed 9-1-1 on train 178 at Marion. They and the 9-1-1 were coming north.
We decided to head for Ridgeton, a few miles north of Bucyrus for a shot.
Ridgeton used to be one of my favorite grain elevator shots in Ohio until the elevator was demolished.
I went to the spot where I used to shoot the elevator with a train and did a “what’s missing from this picture?” shot.
The bro stayed on the other side of the tracks. He wanted to stay near the Jeep, so we could get out of town faster after the train passed. The only problem was that I had the keys.
Henry, Grif and Nicole shot the 9-1-1 at the next crossing north of Ridgeton. They missed the road to Ridgeton.
We had our sights set on the new reservoir at Attica for our next photo spot.
Henry got there first; we were about a minute behind. At first I thought we wouldn’t make it; we were not catching and overtaking the 9-1-1 very quickly.
But as it neared the Honey Creek crossovers, it slowed way down. CSX had the diamonds at Attica Junction and he was going to be held for a few minutes.
This gave us time to catch up with the family. Grif was sporting a digital camera of his own. How many 5-year-olds have their own camera? But Nicole had her camera out, so everyone was shooting today.
The 9-1-1 whistled off and resumed its journey to Bellevue. We lensed it and made tracks out of town.
“Papa, come with us!” yelled the Grif. Papa declined, his camera gear was in my Jeep and he might want to change lenses at the next spot, wherever that may be.
The 9-1-1 made good time until it got close to Bellevue. They were going to be held out of town to let some other traffic clear before they would be allowed into the yard.
This gave us a chance for a shot at Shriver south of the town of Flat Rock. He stopped at signals that are called “Flat Rock” on the railroad and waited his turn.
We arrived at the Kemper Railfan Park in Bellevue in time to view an eastbound coming in off the Toledo District, led by a Canadian Pacific unit. Then one came in off the Fostoria District. The 178 with the 9-1-1 was next.
Everyone scattered to their photo spot as the 9-1-1 approached.
Afterwards, Henry and family were going to try for one more view at the Ohio Route 4 overpass in the yard and then head for home. The bro and I were going to hang out here at the platform for a while before calling it a day also.
Behind the 9-1-1 were two more trains. The 866 that made the turn onto the Fostoria District. The 217 did the same. A 28N auto rack train came in off the Fostoria side.
Things got quiet for a few minutes, so we checked out the new connection on the north side of the yard that lets trains access the Sandusky District directly from the yard. Previously, they would have to back out of the yard and reverse directions in order to head to Sandusky.
The trip home on the Ohio Turnpike as quick and uneventful.
I’m glad Grif called his grandfather and let us know that the 9-1-1 was coming. It was had been an interesting day.
Heritage units sometimes just pop up in the darndest places sometimes.
Article by Marty Surdyk