The Railfan 5 Challenge

The challenge was first posed by Mr. Eric Gagnon, over at Trackside Treasure.  It was taken up by several others, that include some other Lost Rail friends: Oil-Electric and Confessions of a Train Geek.  Robert over at Oil-electric passed the challenge directly to me.

The challenge share five photos that visualize my introduction to and development as a ferroequinologist.   This is a difficult challenge: actually choose 5 photos (I have included 5.5) that show my journey as a rail "enthusiast."  Perhaps this is made easier for me only because many of the formative pictures are still kept by my parents so I am left with a smaller selection.  My choice of 5 spans the decades and leads to a future second installment, picking up where this series leaves off. 

Picture 1:  CPR 374, Vancouver BC ~1982
CPR 374 was the first locomotive to pull a train into Vancouver.  The date is pre-1983 when she was removed from her park setting (where children liked to play on her) for restoration as part of Steam Expo '86.  Our hero looks back at his mommy in the picture below who is capturing the moment with another relic from a bygone era, the Pentax Spotmatic.  Growing up in BC, it was the Canadian National that I really loved, however.  Perhaps it was because its mainline was only a mile or two from our house and the old house would shake each time a train rolled by.  Other photos from the period show the young lad wearing train hats and playing with some indestructible Lionel trains.  I have often wondered if all small boys go through a period of loving trains, but a few of us never outgrow it?

I would cross paths with the 374 again many, many years later when attending a conference in 2010.  It wasn't until I uncovered this earlier photo that I realized the old girl and I actually had a history.

Picture 2:  Amtrak's Hoosier State in 1992
In the late 80s my family moved from Vancouver to Iowa.  Though I started life in Vancouver, BC and still feel at ease in the Pacific Northwest, in many respects, I grew up in the Midwest.  Instead of mountains, it was big skies and fields that provided the backdrop for the boy's upbringing.  For a brief period of time before I acquired my own Spotmatic gear, I was the proud owner of an old Kodak Brownie of one sort or another.  It loaded film easily and with the click of a button captured images like the one above: the local Hoosier State making its daily call in Lafayette, IN.  It's interesting to note that Horizon cars and Amfleets were in use then just as they are today.  I reckon they had a few less miles on them then though, just like me.

My grandparents lived in Lafayette and I would eagerly await early morning walks down to Lafayette's 5th street to see the trains through.  During these years the Hoosier State was daily while the Cardinal operated on its normal 3 days per week schedule.  Unlike the Hoosier State (above), the Cardinal had a diner and sleepers and would arrive just a bit earlier in the day with breakfast being served.  The smells of breakfast from the diner were always a special treat.

My grandpa and I spent quite a few mornings wandering the length of 5th street, hoping for a Family Lines locomotive to slowly meander down the middle of the road.  It was still early enough in the CSX era that Family Lines were not difficult to spot.  Not far away were the former Wabash tracks that would host many, many trains per day including the new and strange looking Roadrailers.  Grandpa would point out the old Monon station on 5th street (being used as a performing arts theater) as well as the old Wabash station that looked decrepit even in those days.  These were memorable experiences and still stick in my mind as I reflect on the railroads and times that were formative. 

Picture 3: Iowa Interstate in Iowa City, IA in 1997

While this blog is normally focused on the Milwaukee Road's Lines West, it was the Rock Island which formed an initial and lasting bond through my years in Iowa.  The large bridge over the Iowa River still held Rock Island logos, and daily interchanges with the local CRANDIC Railroad were always fun to watch.  Locomotives like the 401 would come charging up the interchange track from the lower CRANDIC line to the main yards on the old RI main.  The speeds were slow, but the noise and action was fierce.  These rebuilt Paducah GPs were the mainstay of the IAIS fleet during the 1990s and their distinctive headlights still make me smile.

Number 401 herself lasted for a long time around Illinois and Iowa.  According to the unofficial IAIS photo archive and railfan guide, the 401 started tenure with the IAIS in 1987 and was sold in 2005.  Not bad.

Picture 4:  Monon Semaphore Signals, Indiana, 1998
As my interests in photography expanded, my attentions began to focus more on the "remains" or "left behinds" of prior state of the art.  One evening in the summer of 1998, a friend and I were doing some railfaning around the state of Indiana and I happened to glance right to the old Monon mainline that was running parallel.  Standing out against a low setting sun was this lone blade, 130.6.  

We stopped and took about a roll's worth of film and set about the next day to find as many other blades as we could.  I would return to these signals different times to capture them before they were removed from service by CSX.  As with many of the holdovers and remains I've come to seek in my wanderings, I am always amazed and humbled a bit by how much history has passed during the tenure of these old signals.  They were originally placed by the Monon and saw countless freights and passenger trains (like the Thoroughbred) that spanned the steam and diesel eras.  They were a lasting presence out on those Indiana planes and the sunset captured that day is just one of thousands that cast its light on the silver sides of the old blade.  One day, I'll put together a blog posting about semaphore signals.  These Monon signals are among my favorites: upper quadrants, captured in active service in a time period that has long since passed them by.

Picture 5: CTC signal on the Rock Island at West Liberty, IA, 2003
 The final photo finds a dismantled CTC signal at West Liberty, IA.  This is the north-facing interlocking signal along the North-South line which protected the crossing of the East-West Denver main.  The signals were controlled, as I recall, by the operator who was stationed in the West Liberty depot.  Over the years I had found the late light of evening and sunset to produce some very interesting photos and, just like the blades along the Monon, the old CTC signal stands out well against the planes of the MidWest.  It is winter time in the photo above, and I had spent the day out and about looking for relics just like this one.  The days of Rock Island passenger trains like the Zephyr-Rocket are gone as is the railroad that operated them, but the lone signal remains as a standing reminder of what once was and what we've lost along the way.  

A few decades from now, I wonder if any young railfan will attempt their own Railfan 5 Challenge?  Will the images be filled with Amtrak Genesis units and a sense of nostalgia over bygone Horizon cars?   Perhaps even a photo of a GE "Toaster" will make it in?


SDP45 said…
This is an interesting challenge. Having just completed a black and white photo challenge over on Facebook, to stop and take the time to find 5 of my own photos has caused me to reflect on my experiences and abilities over the years. My first photos were taken on an old Kodak Instamatic, loaded with 120 film, to today shooting with the newest Nikon. Yet those first photos and the most recent were taken only about 5 miles from each other. I've been to a lot of places, yet seem to have come full circle.

Very interesting, Leland. I've enjoyed the offerings of Eric and Steve as well. Seeing CP 374 in Vancouver when she was an outdoor display overlooking English Bay ( a long time ago.)

They brought 374 in out of the rain, into a world class display!
Eric said…
Thanks for your evocative photos nicely shared, Leland. I'm glad to see this challenge spreading. Dan, please share yours! The challenge does often indeed bring us full circle (it did for My Railfan Five on Trackside Treasure) and often involves folks and cameras that were significant players in our history.

I also saw 374 at Steamexpo. There were a lot of fine steamers in Vancouver in '86!

Eric Gagnon
Kingston, Ontario
regarding your last questions: of course- every today is going to be someone's "good ol' days"

as usual, great pics

Popular posts from this blog

Morning is coming, but also the night

Fire in the Sky

The Long Shadow