Posts Tagged ‘Railroaders’

Giving it a Rolling Inspection

March 13, 2022

The crew of the New Castle Southern job was just about done for the day. They had tied down their train in New Castle, Indiana, and were wrapping up some loose ends before going off duty and going home.

But then Norfolk Southern grain train 50Q showed up headed toward Cincinnati. The NCSR crew stopped what they were doing and got into position to conduct a roll-by inspection of the 50Q.

Nothing was amiss so the NCSR crew finished their work, got in a couple of vehicles and drove off to other things until it was time to report to duty again.

Railroaders Button Hole Members of Congress

March 5, 2020

Railroad employees and shippers descended on Washington this week in a day-long lobbying exercise to tell Congress about the railroad industry.

The event was organized by The American Short Line and Regional Railroad Association, but also included some Class 1 railroad employees.

All told approximately 450 employees, shippers, and representatives of railroad supply companies spend time making contact with members of Congress and their staffs.

The Railroad Day event has been held for nearly 20 years.

In particular, Congress was urged to make permanent the Short Line Railroad 45G Tax Credit as part of the pending Surface Transportation Reauthorization bill.

Other talking points included opposition to increasing the size and weight of trucks and preserving a balanced economic regulatory environment for freight railroads.

A Father’s Train Story Still Resonates Decades Later

January 18, 2020

Walter Sanders waves to a passing Union Pacific trains west of Benton, Illinois, in March 2014. Decades earlier he had watched Missouri Pacific trains pass here during his boyhood.

It was a warm March day, although a little windy, the kind of day that makes you think that maybe winter really is giving way to spring.

“Where was it you used to stand and wait for that train?” I asked my Dad.

“Over there,” he said pointing with his cane.

Dad was not a railroad enthusiast in the way that I am, but he grew up next to a Missouri Pacific Railroad branchline outside of Benton, Illinois, and sometimes he would tell train stories.

He had come of age during an era when railroads were a larger part of the fabric of people’s lives than is the case today.

Most of those stories involved riding trains, particularly during World War II when he served in the Navy.

He liked to talk about riding the Chicago & Eastern Illinois night train from Benton to Chicago that stopped at every town. Just as soon as the train got up to speed it was slowing for the next station.

They changed locomotives in Villa Grove, which for years was a service and crew change point.

There also was the story about almost missing a train in San Francisco. Dad said he was running down the platform as the train started to pull out.

I believe he was traveling on orders and had he missed that train the consequences might have been severe.

During the war women would approach uniformed servicemen and say, “hey sailor, I be your wife.”

It was a ploy to be able to board a train because servicemen and their families had priority. Once on board Dad said his new “wife” disappeared, never to be seen again.

He also mentioned a few post-war trips, including one with my mother from St. Louis to Effingham, Illinois, aboard a Pennsylvania railroad train that was late, crowded and dirty.

Dad also claimed Illinois Central’s Panama Limited had the best pancakes.

But my favorite story that Dad told is a more poignant one.

To put it into context, Dad was born in 1925, making him part of the “Greatest Generation,” a phrase created by former NBC-TV anchorman Tom Brokaw in a book of the same name.

It refers to those who grew up during the Great Depression and fought in World War II or worked on the home front to help win the war.

Dad rarely discussed in much detail what it was like growing up on a farm during that era.

He would make occasional references to his parents and siblings and hint at how difficult life was in rural Southern Illinois, but it wasn’t until he and I made a few trips down there after I became an adult that I began to understand just how tough it was.

The middle child in a family of seven, Dad’s family didn’t have a working automobile, running water or electricity although the latter came sometime in the late 1930s courtesy of the Rural Electrification Administration.

Southern Illinois could be a lawless place and Dad liked to tell stories about the gangsters who fought each other with machine guns during Prohibition.

His father attended the April 19, 1928, hanging of Charlie Birger on the square in Benton, the last public hanging to occur in Illinois.

Birger was convicted of ordering the murder of the West City Mayor Joe West because he was associated with a rival gang, the Sheltons.

The story that Dad told the MoPac train that passed the family farm every day, went something like that.

That train came up once a day to Benton, which was the end of the line. He would stand next to the tracks at a grade crossing to wait for it and wave to the crew.

They took notice of him and began throwing him a newspaper, the St. Louis Globe Democrat. On Saturdays they would wrap in the newspaper a Denver Sandwich candy bar.

He read that newspaper religiously. He was fascinated with the team name of the Philadelphia Phillies baseball team and like to read about them.

The train to Benton didn’t move very fast, Dad said, and his older brothers, Lawrence and Roy, would walk down the tracks to jump aboard it and throw off coal as it approached the crossing.

After the train had passed they would go back to retrieve the coal and use it at home. There is some irony in this given that Dad’s father worked in the coal mines and Lawrence and Roy later would work there, too.

If the train crew was aware that these boys were stealing coal they apparently looked the other way. They had jobs and many people didn’t. It was the depths of the Depression and you did what you could to get by.

Dad never said that, but it became obvious as he would describe in those bits and pieces over the years what life was like in rural Franklin County.

Now fast forward to August 1995. I’ve learned that the St. Louis Chapter of the National Railway Historical Society is sponsoring a circle trip in Southern Illinois out of St. Louis on Union Pacific that would travel over that former MoPac line that passed the farm where Dad was raised.

I called him and asked if he be interested in riding it. Yes he was so I got two tickets.

As the train left Benton we looked out the window to find the site of Dad’s former home.

The house had long since been razed and the land around it grown up in trees and brush. The grade crossing was closed.

We thought we might have seen where the house and farm used to be, but Dad couldn’t be sure. Too much had changed for the site to be easily recognizable.

This excursion was one of only a handful of times I rode aboard a train with Dad. We traveled on Amtrak to visit his brother Sonny in Wisconsin in the early 1980s and rode on tourist trains together three times that I remember.

Between 1994 and March 2014 we had a twice a year ritual in which he would pick me up and drop me off at the Amtrak station in Mattoon, Illinois, when I would travel by rail from Cleveland to visit him.

By the time I made that last trip, a major change was coming to Dad’s life.

My mother had died in 1979 and he had remarried in 1983. His second wife died in February 2013.

Dad was having health issues and my sister and I worried about his ability to take care of himself while living alone.

He agreed to move to Arizona to live with my sister and that would occur in early May 2014.

That March I made a final trip to visit Dad in Mattoon, where he had lived for 64 years, and I had grown up.

I drove him to Benton for what I knew would be his last visit to the cemetery where his parents and youngest brother are buried, and to go out to see the old homestead.

I wanted to make a photograph of Dad standing next to those railroad tracks where he used to stand as a boy and wave at the trains.

As we drove through the countryside, we passed the site of the former one-room schoolhouse he had attended and the church where the graduation ceremony had been held.

Dad had talked before about that school, but on this trip he provided some details I didn’t recall him ever discussing.

He was the first in his family to graduate from, let alone attend, high school.

Getting to high school every day was an ordeal. He would walk about a mile to a dairy farm and catch a ride into town aboard the wagon that farmer used to take his goods to market.

After school, Dad would hitchhike south out of town on Illinois Route 37 to be dropped off at a cross road on which he walked the rest of the way home.

During his junior year the school district started a school bus route on Route 37 but it only took him to that cross road.

When I asked Dad why he went to all this effort to get to and from high school he simply replied, “because I had seen the life my [older] brothers had and I wanted something better.”

He said getting an education was the only way to make that happen.

By the time Dad graduated from Benton Township High School in 1943, World War II was raging and he enlisted in the Navy, serving as a signalman in the Armed Guard, which protected merchant ships in the Atlantic and Pacific theaters.

With the help of the GI Bill he attended Chiropractic school and set up a practice in Mattoon that began in February 1950 and ended with his retirement in July 1990.

As we drove those back roads on that March 2014 day Dad talked about how reading the newspapers those railroaders used to throw to him and reading books in school had instilled in him a desire to see the world and learn about it.

Dad probably never met those railroaders whose generosity of giving him a newspaper every day played a role in motivating him to go to high school.

As we stood near what is now the Mt. Vernon Subdivision of Union Pacific, I heard a locomotive horn to the east.

A minute or two later a UP manifest freight rumbled by westbound. The Mt. Vernon Sub is part of the UP route between Chicago and Texas that bypasses St. Louis.

I asked Dad to wave at the train so I could get the photograph I wanted. He probably wasn’t standing exactly where he had stood decades earlier but it was close enough.

I then used his iPad to record him standing there while telling the story he had told so many times before.

Not long after that I heard another horn to the east and another westbound came by, this one led by a CSX locomotive.

The sound of steel wheels on steel rails faded away and the only sound was the wind. It was time to leave, this time for good.

Walter Sanders died on Jan. 9, 2020, at age 94 in Sun Lakes, Arizona, where he had lived since May 2014. In the intervening years we talked about many things from the past, but the story of him waving at that train near Benton wasn’t one of them. Just before Christmas I flew to Arizona for what I knew was likely to be our last visit due to his declining health.

I asked him when he had graduated from high school and he smiled and said, “what are you writing my obituary?” Then he started singing his high school fight song, something I’d don’t remember ever hearing him do before. And yes, I was gathering information for his obituary.

I’m Gonna Be Like Him, Yeah

September 19, 2017

When I made this image my purpose was to catch a Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad volunteer trainman in a candid moment.

He was standing by the entrance gate to the platform at the CVSR station in Independence, Ohio, a Cleveland suburb. I’m not sure if he knew I had photographed him.

He seems preoccupied thinking about the work facing him in the boarding of his passengers.

He was assigned to a steam excursion train that I and hundreds of others were ticketed to ride.

But first the regular CVSR passenger train, which can be seen in the background, had to finish its work in the station before the steam train could board its passengers.

It was after I downloaded this image that I noticed the boy to the left who appears to be looking at the trainman.

Maybe he isn’t, and maybe it’s just my imagination. But the expression on the boy’s face caught my attention. He seems to have a look of admiration as through he is impressed with the trainmen and their uniforms.

If so, he belongs to a long line of children who were awe struck in seeing railroad conductors and trainmen in their passenger uniforms while at work on their trains.

Presumably, over the decades of passenger train travel, boys have looked up to conductors and wanted to follow in their footsteps. Many might have done so, although that is more likely to have occurred in another time than today.

Although it was written for a different context, the words to the Harry Chapin song Cat’s in the Cradle came to my mind. “I’m gonna be like him, yeah. You know I’m gonna be like him.”

Maybe this boy will some day become a CVSR volunteer so that he, too, can wear a passenger uniform.

That dream might have started here while he waited to board a train.

Planes Were the Objective Along With the Trains

May 1, 2017

Having picked up a third unit, the motive power set of the 20R is returning to its train, which was parked east of CP 194.

When I saw the weather forecast for Sunday, April 23, I knew I just had to get out someplace trackside.

The winds were going to be northeasterly, which sealed the deal on going to Olmsted Falls. Why? Because aircraft landing at Cleveland Hopkins International Airport would be landing on runway 6 left and that would put their final approach path just to the west of the depot.

I could photograph trains and planes. Maybe I would get lucky and get a heritage plane as well as an NS heritage unit.

It turned out that I got neither. All of the motive power was standard NS black. All of the planes were in their usual colors and markings.

Not a single foreign unit led a single train during my nearly nine hours there.

I did succeed, though, in photographing for the first time Allegiant Air, which began flying into Hopkins in February. That same month Allegiant stopped serving the Akron-Canton Airport.

I also got an American Airlines MD80 in its original livery. American plans to phase the MD80 out of its fleet later this year so those planes are flying on short time.

This outing had something in common with the ARRC’s Dave McKay Day back on April 1.

On McKay Day, NS train 20R had to pick up another locomotive. The same thing happened on this day, too.

The 17N cut off its power and dropped a spare unit at the far west end of the Berea siding. The 20R power set ran light through the Falls to pick it up.

Otherwise, it was a pretty routine day, but even a routine day can be a good day when you are trackside on a nice spring day.

Article and Photographs by Craig Sanders

Eastbound 22K passing a budding tree by the depot.

The crew of NS train 17N returns to its train after dropping off a unit for the 20R in the Berea siding.

A stack train with a colorful set of containers approaches the Olmsted Falls depot.

I believe this is NS train 206.

Big wheels keep on turning. Tractors hitch a ride on eastbound NS train 14A.

An Allegiant MD80 is lined up to land on at Cleveland Hopkins Airport. Catching Allegiant for the first time was at the top of my objective list for this outing. This flight is inbound from Orlando Sanford Airport.

Ohio Central Steam Memory on the CVSR

February 28, 2017


Most photographs that Northeast Ohio railfans made of Ohio Central 4-6-2 No. 1293 were made on its former home rails, which are now operated by Genesee & Wyoming.

By the Pacific-type owned by Jerry Jacobson made three visits to the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad, that last of which occurred in September 2012.

The first excursion of that visit occurred on Sept. 8 and ran from Rockside Road Station to Indigo Lake.

It carried those passengers attending the CVSR’s 40th anniversary gala held at Hale Farm and Village.

Shown in the cab are Mark Perri (left) and engineer Tim Sposato.

Tie ’em Down at Archbold Siding

May 10, 2014

The ritual begins with a crew member closing the door on the nose of the lead locomotive of the tanker train that is sitting in the siding at Archbold, Ohio, on the NS Chicago Line.

The ritual begins with a crew member closing the door on the nose of the lead locomotive of the tanker train that is sitting in the siding at Archbold, Ohio, on the NS Chicago Line.

It had been the end of long day of railfanning that had seen us chasing Nickel Plate Road No. 765, stopping by the National Train Day celebration in Toledo, and bagging a pair of Norfolk Southern heritage units.

As we maneuvered through Archbold, Ohio, on Ohio Route 2, I spotted the nose of an NS train.

We doubled back and as I started to photograph it I noted that it was a tanker train that was probably headed back to pick up more crude oil in North Dakota.

The train was sitting in the Archbold siding and in front of me was playing out a ritual that occurs hundreds of times a day across America on every Class I railroad.

Either the crew had outlawed or for operational reasons the operating department has told the crew the leave it in the siding and tie it down. Perhaps they had been sitting here for a while.

One crew members was already on the ground and another was tying up some loose ends on the locomotive’s nose.

In the distance I saw the headlight of an approaching stack train. The disembarking crew would not have to wait long to get a lift to their terminal.

Article and Photographs by Craig Sanders

As a crew member adjusts the front coupler of the lead unit, the headline of the westbound stack train that will pick him up is visible in the distance on Track No. 1.

As a crew member adjusts the front coupler of the lead unit, the headline of the westbound stack train that will pick him up is visible in the distance on Track No. 1.

The crew members chat as they await their ride. "I'm telling you that Walleye I almost caught in Lake Erie last week was this long."

The crew members chat as they await their ride. “I’m telling you that Walleye I almost caught in Lake Erie last week was this long.”

The stack train is crawling at a snail-like pace alongside the tanker train.

The stack train is crawling at a snail-like pace alongside the tanker train.

With grips (or back packs) in hand that hold their belongings, and coolers that carry food and drink, the crew prepares to board the stack train and leave Archbold.

With grips (or back packs) in hand that hold their belongings, and coolers that carry food and drink, the crew prepares to board the stack train and leave Archbold.


The crew that is going off duty prepares to board the westbound stack train and it will resume its journey momentarily. The two trains are nose to nose as the intermodal train eases to a halt.

The crew that is going off duty prepares to board the westbound stack train and it will resume its journey momentarily. The two trains are nose to nose as the intermodal train eases to a halt.