Monday, June 5, 2017

Westward Ho!

I just returned from a short week-long trip to the northern plains to burn off a little steam (err..., stress) after a long year and a half on the road. I had some work to wrap up prior, but still scheduled some time to visit family on my Dad's side in northeast South Dakota after flying into Fargo earlier in the week. After the day's obligations thoughts drifted towards railroads - as they usually do - and some serious railfanning was in order, especially being in Dakota territory.

You see, I've fallen hard for the Milwaukee Road #261 S-3 Northern as a tie to my family roots in CMStP&P prairie country, and my early interest in the Milwaukee. This early June the 261 team was running their annual Spring fan trips on the Red River Valley & Western Railroad around the Fargo, ND and Breckenridge, MN areas - all former NP and GN secondary routes shed by Burlington Northern some years ago. Of course, this wasn't my first rodeo with the 261 but certainly one of the best trips thus far.

The 261 is the largest coal-burning steam locomotive in operating condition, and as a late wartime example of modern steam power has all the latest appliances such as roller-bearings, a streamlined pilot, Mars light and even a single-chime air horn to accompany it's traditional whistle. Couple that with the team's beautiful consist of Milwaukee Road passenger equipment in traditional harvest orange and maroon and it's the train to beat on the excursion circuit. So much so that after riding both days fall color tours in 2015 I joined the Friends of the 261 group as a life-member (read: groupie) - and have been riding ever since.

Thursday and Friday's excursions were from Davenport, ND to Lisbon, ND along a former Northern Pacific branchline, and Saturday ran from the depot in Breckenridge, MN to just shy of Davenport - turning back at Kindred, ND. The final day's run was along the GN's former freight cutoff and connection to the famous Surrey cutoff to Minot. The heavy rail and multiple-arm pole line gave away the importance of this subdivision to the Great Northern Railway, and the 261 seemed most at home on the sturdy mainline roadbed courtesy of James J. Hill.

Yes, I finally got bitten by the steam bug but that doesn't mean I'm abandoning diesels by any means. An excellent model of the 261 by Broadway-Limited has joined the stable of contemporary heavy-haul locomotives in Canadian Pacific, Union Pacific and CEFX lease paint plus my Amtrak P42 units on my western Superliner consist. It is just now an option to run a steam fan trip on occasion, and imagine myself catching the breeze in an open baggage car or sitting comfortably with a drink in the Super Dome, my favorite car in the fleet to ride by far.

Besides the steam bug the quality time on the Dakota prairie has my modeling interest driving further west towards Granger country - my chosen place on the plains to decompress amongst God's people that work the land and feed the world with little fanfare. Yes, those strong German-Russian roots are calling me home, and if I can't always be there in person I certainly can in spirit (and, perhaps, in scale miniature as well).

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

North to Milwaukee

From Burlington, Wisconsin that is. Some more late-night surfing for online tidbits of info on the old Fox River Valley RR led me across this gem of a discovery. Sweet... loads of details on the TM interurban line that ran between both cities - the grade I plan on using for my fictional UP (C&NW) Burlington subdivision.

A couple of pages stand out - here photos of the through girder bridge that carried the line over the White River in Burlington, as well as the diamond crossing with the Soo Line tracks (later WC-CN). Also a couple of pages later shows the orientation of the curve from the bridge onto Congress Street, which then curves towards the northeast to begin the private right-of-way alignment towards Rochester.

Looking over Google Maps the retaining wall in the second photo is still there, now edging the back of a used-car dealership's parking lot and along the Fox River. As is common with many former interurban ROW's a utility line marks the location of the old track alignment in this section. Scrolling to the right shows where the private ROW begins, now a rails-to-trails path.

Monday, August 31, 2015

Old, yellowed maps

They may be old, but they can contain a wealth of information - or, in this case, confirmation. I had posted before that my HO scale rendition of Union Pacific's Burlington Sub - the erstwhile Chicago and North Western Railway's primary freight entrance to the Beer City - was based upon an alternate history. Well, thanks to the efforts of a fellow aficionado Nick Trimberger one can see the old (proposed) routing of the Fox River Valley RR north-northwest from Turner Junction - now West Chicago, IL - through Crystal Lake and Richmond, IL into Burlington, WI and ultimately Milwaukee. Nick found these gems in the National Archives, and has shared them - along with many other "paper" railroads on his fine blog.

Eureka! (and many thanks, Nick)

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Back to the Future

Many miles have gone by since my last post, yet my absence has been fruitful in a way. I was able to “shake the demons” (distractions) that pulled focus away from the Burlington Sub layout – gone are the 1:87 scale MILW and 1:160 scale BNSF tangents I entertained over the past year or so. I have since doubled-down on the UP-CNW Fox Valley line theme that comprises my under-construction basement empire. Travel is still weekly so basement time has been limited, but that hasn’t prevented me from doing a bit of “paper modeling.” See this link for a Google Map rendering of the Burlington Sub route from Ringwood, IL – current UP end-of-track – and Belton Jct. outside Milwaukee.

UP Burlington Sub map

I was able to “track” (pun intended) the old FVRR grade north from Richmond, Illinois to Burlington, Wisconsin and beyond. I was amazed that the old grade was still clearly visible from the air, considering the right-of-way never had track laid after its initial grading in the 1850’s. No matter, it was rather easy to follow the surveyed line from Richmond to Burlington, after which the grade was actually used by an Interurban electric line for a number of decades – since preserved as a rails-to-trail path or utility corridor along the way towards the Beer City.

As I traced the grade I could imagine if the C&NW had used this routing as its primary freight route between Proviso and Milwaukee’s Butler yard, versus constructing the New Line – the latter staked out only a few miles west of the existing Kenosha Sub. What the Panic of 1857 rendered abandoned could have been resuscitated, with westward Wisconsin Division freights swinging northwest at Turner Junction, now better known as West Chicago. Well, it will... at least in my basement train room. For now enjoy following the erstwhile grade as I did, and imagine long freights working towards Milwaukee and points north and west.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

On a Slow Train to Georgia

...or South Carolina, New York, Wisconsin, Austria, Hungary, India... you get the picture.

It's been some time since I've last posted, but a new job has the tendency to do that to pastimes - whether hobbies or journals. I ended up leaving my logistics gig after almost five years of service back in mid-December. There was the usual reasons... a bunch of reshuffling towards the top, lots of folks I respected left the company (including my boss), the offer I couldn't refuse (respected former co-worker a couple jobs ago needing assistance, showing me the money), etc. Of course, there's the saying that one can go "from the frying pan to the fire" and here I am with another troubled project I'm working to get back on the rails.

Long and short is I haven't had the time nor the energy to touch the layouts in the basement. Being on the road Monday-Friday and the irregular weekend certainly puts the damper on things - the little time I have on the weekends not dedicated towards laundry and repacking the luggage goes towards family and the occasional "honey-do's." However, I have been poking around with the layout plans a bit - having downloaded a new layout design CAD program for my MacBook Pro to "fiddle" (pun intended) with the Milwaukee concept a bit while traveling. One has to do something to unplug from the job stress - even if it's just some doodling.

We'll have to see what the future brings as far as job schedule and the like. We just had a bombshell dropped on us with my spouse's diagnosis of MS this past week by her neurologist after comparing three MRI's over the course of the past couple years. She'd been experience absence episodes (possibly seizure-like) over several years, where she drifts off for a spell. They've been coming more often lately, which we had attributed to pre-menopause changes. However, with the definitive MS diagnosis our lives could be changing soon - we'll have to see.

Life can often be like riding that branchlike mixed train - with stops both planned and unplanned - where we have to reassess the timetable we planned our lives to. We don't know where this train is going but we have to trust in the Lord that His steady hand on the throttle will guide us to where we need to be. Knowing that we just need to settle back into our seat and take in the view from our window seat - the rain and the sun - and accept the path those rails (i.e. fate) will take us.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

A Pocket Yard

I've noted in the past on this Blog the advantages of having something to run while building the larger basement empire. After reading this thread in the modeler forum of Model Railroad Hobbyist magazine (a fine - and free - online publication, I might add) I finally decided to get off my duff and start a small Inglenook Sidings-based switching yard. I've always wanted a portable switching layout to take to shows and exhibitions, and have a hardwood baseboard at 12"x52" that has been lying around for a few years unused. With the larger UP-C&NW pike a number of years away (well... at my pace it is) from being operable I am making the move towards becoming an active operator versus being perpetually stuck in the civil engineering stage.

An added bonus is the ability to do some modeling and operating in a different era and with a new prototype than the basement-anchored layout. Well, the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul and Pacific Railroad - aka The Milwaukee Road - isn't really a "new" prototype for me. I grew up in the '70s watching the Milwaukee pass through and switch my family's hometown in north-central South Dakota before the Embargo of Lines West at the turn of the decade. Now armed with a pair of EMD switchers, some MILW rib-sided rolling stock and a smattering of SOO, CNW and other connecting foreign-road equipment I can somewhat relive those idle days of youth with my micro-sized "time-machine." A few Peco code 75 Electrofrog turnouts, a small number of "sticks" of Atlas code 83 flextrack and my NCE PowerCab and we're soon in business.

More to come on the Milwaukee's early-'70s era vest pocket yard switcher once it's a bit along. For now just consider the advantages of building something small and portable - whether to hone skills before committing to the larger pike, embrace a smaller budget or to get something operating now when space or available time is at a premium. You can still crack a throttle and move cars around - and quite realistically - within not much more than four-square feet.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

The Great Flood of ‘14

2014, that is (unfortunately). I haven’t done much posting as I had a little plumbing issue to resolve – actually, several. First of all, I now understand the “minor” importance of closing the interior valves on my outside “frost-free” hose spigots. Seems our colder and snowier than normal winter this past season – thanks to “Global Warming” – caused more than a little frost this spring. Of course I was out of town on business travel when my wife called me in a panic that water was pouring all over the layout room (and my benchwork). I got her to flag down my neighbor, who first proceeded to turn off the water feed to the house – and then the interior valve at the damaged line.
With several inches of the wet stuff on my carpet she and the kids proceeded to mop up the most of the mess, and let a good number of fans do the rest. By the time I got home there was little damage other than a few ceiling tiles – now reduced to paper mache – and some expanded Homasote. I’ve since cleaned up the majority of the aftereffects and console myself with the fact I haven’t yet started scenery or even tracklaying for that matter. I suppose the long hours on the job were good for something – in that I hadn’t made enough progress to lose it to “Mother Nature” via The Great Flood. Of course, all bad things come in three’s so a couple more leaks from the upstairs bath have kept me busy with additional plumbing chores, drywall and the like.

Hopefully that is it for a while, and the Burlington Sub can resume progress soon.