Saturday, July 08, 2006

South along the Scioto

June 30, 2006
I arrived in Circleville, south of Columbus, at 6:55 am, with the intention of meeting up with some fellow Ohio railfans and exploring the parallel CSX and NS lines that run south out of Columbus toward the Ohio River. I had no sooner parked the car than I heard an airhorn, and a headlight appeared to the north. Two light engines rumbled south. The leader was a lease locomotive in UP yellow, the second a former Conrail engine. I shot wide to include the impressive grain elevator. The day had gotten off to a good start.

The scanner kept picking up CSX trains, and while I knew that CSX ran nearby, I couldn't figure out where. I decided to find out, as I had time before the expected arrival of my fellow railfans. I headed south, and CSX's former C&O line appeared along side Ohio 23. At every opportunity, save a factory entrance, I check the side roads for railroad crossings. And darn that C&O, it seemed the whole line was grade separated. Some of the overbridges even had old C&O marking on them, but with 10 feet of bridge showing, it wouldn't do much for the train photography. I had to go nearly to Chillicothe, the next large town south of Circleville, before I found a grade crossing- complete with classic C&O signal. A signal maintainer was talking to an eastbound grain train, so I figured my train would appear around the bend, and pass under the signal bridge. Instead, a few minutes after arrival, a rumble to the south announced the arrival of Q311-30 (Russell Ky-Avon In). I crouched low and shot him with a ground throw switch in the foreground. I should have been a little higher, so the throw didn't 'touch' the train, but it would do. The crew was getting a little air conditioning through the open nose door. I listened to the crew talk to the dispatcher all the way into Columbus' Parsons Yard.

After my Q311, I headed north, to find a spot where I could see both NS & CSX while waiting for my fellow railfans. I found a spot a few miles north of Circleville, on an overbridge. The tracks went straight for both directions on both lines. It would do, more or less, although the sidewalk was closed. After a few curious glances from the locals, I decided to head back to Circleville. When I got back, Columbus native Chuck Carenna arrived and parked next to me.

After introductions, we discussed our plans. We would head south, and check out the NS and CSX lines southward. After a few minutes, an airhorn sounded and we had a northbound. A more or less brand new Sd70m-2 and a bland grey leaser pulled a coal train past us. Again I shot low, to include the grain elevator. I like grain elevators (especially rail served ones) and it was an area landmark, a good thing to include in a photo, to give a sense of place. That said, the photo is missing something. I like the poles though, which makes me about the only railfan that does. Some of them have a bracket on top that was particular to the Norfolk and Western, who built the line.

The grain elevator was unloading a hopper car, and I wanted to get a shot of the guy on the roof of the car closing the hatches. We waited around a while, and I gave up on him ever reemerging from the grain office. We headed south.

We followed the valley of the Scioto, south into Chillicothe, where we looked around but left, uninspired by the rapidly worsening light. We headed south along some little roads that Chuck had once ridden in a bike race. We were focused on a spot near a map-dot called Greggs Hill. It appeared, on the map, at least, that the old C&0 and the N&W crossed, with the DT&I making an appearance nearby. The Detroit, Toledo and Ironton was long gone, abandoned after a merger with the Grand Trunk in the early 1980s. The Chesapeake and Ohio was now CSX, the Norfolk and Western now Norfolk Southern. The map made Greggs Hill look like a promising spot, despite the loss of the DT&I. So we followed the tracks south, first NS, and then after crossing the river, CSX. We missed a northbound coal train on the CSX before finding Greggs Hill. We saw the DT&I roadbed, and after looking around a bit, I began to get a sinking feeling that I had led us astray, that CSX and NS didn't cross, just came close enough to kiss, and then parted ways. Crap.

Chuck wasn't too bothered though, in spite of my grand promises about an over-under crossing, and we parked his car and hiked up to the tracks to look around. The NS was quite a bit lower than CSX, both double track lines curving very close together, the CSX about 15 feet above the NS.

We agreed that we could make some photos here, and we went back to car to get my gear and some water. It was hotter'n hell. (Why I didn't bring my gear the first time, I don't know!) We marched trackside, and waited. We talked about photography, and trains, and this and that. Suddenly, a rumble, and a southbound appeared around the bend. We knew one was coming, more or less, but waited in the shade, rather than the sun, where we could photograph the train. My shade shot, two Sds appearing around a curve, provides a valuable lesson- be prepared, lest you end up with a crappy photo.

Shortly after our slow southbound squealed past, we heard more scanner chatter. We headed into the sun to wait. We were much chagrined to see an NS train pass below us, I even more so when I saw there was a four trucked depressed center flat car in the train, something I have been wanting to photograph for years. Just not an above view through bushes.

A glow on the side of the CSX tracks on the distant curve alerted us to a southbound coal train, the V109.

A pair of AC44s, typical CSX coal train power, rolled past with a variety of loaded coal hoppers, CSX, former CR, and leasers. After it cleared, we headed into the nearby town of Waverly, to check out the NS bridge over the Scioto (not particularly accessible) and find lunch.

After grabbing lunch, me at Kroger, Chuck at Burger King, we headed north, crossing the river at Omega, in search of a possible CSX train. We sat near a signal and waited, eating and chatting, until we heard the dispatcher tell an NS maintainer that he would meet two at Omega. So we went back to Omega.

Omega was a bit lacking, so we headed north. After all, I reasoned, we had two trains coming, so if we missed one, we would still have one behind it. Sure enough, when the road wound it's way back to the tracks, a row of grain hoppers were bounding their way south. Despite my reasoning, I was bummed. The spot where was saw the tracks would work though, with a field of beans and the distant hills framing the tracks. Shortly afterwards, another train rolled south.

While we were getting read to leave, a guy in a van asked us what we were photographing, beans? Trains and beans, I said, and he laughed. He said he wished he had nothing to worry about besides beans and trains. Me too.

We followed the tracks north, figuring on maybe catching a train on the way back to Chillicothe, where we would search for the over under. We had both seen pictures, and Chuck had a pretty good idea where it was. He had pointed out where he figured it was on the way down, so we headed there, just off a busy commercial road. After a bit of looking, we parked behind a Mexican restaurant and hiked to the tracks.

The solid, sturdy looking C&O bridge loomed over the double track NS. It wasn't long before a southbound coal train thundered over it, but the structure was so thick that the train was mostly obscured. Chuck and I retreated into the underbrush to find somewhere shady. We would an ancient drainage stream, with a pair of concrete and stone tunnels. The air was 20 degrees cooler in the shade of the ditch, and we hung out and chatted while waiting for the NS signal, an ancient N&W color position light, to change to green. We kicked around in the ditch, and tried to figure out why it was there. 1915 was cast into one end of the concrete, 1931 in another part.

The signal eventually changed, right in the middle of another CSX coal train. We raced up to the track, to wait for an NS train. We decided to shoot from a different spot, so we couldn't talk. I sat in the weeds, trying to find shade, and fiddled with the ballast. Chuck was further around the curve, so when the train appeared, I yelled and waved until he saw me. A bright BNSF GE thundered south, laying on the horn and dragging the long string of empty hoppers that made up NS train 851.

To tell the truth, when I am on NS, I would rather have an NS leader. Same with pretty much any other railroad. But beggars can't be choosers.

After the southbound we headed back into Chillicothe, to see if we could get a train passing the station there. We hadn't been there very long when another southbound coal train appeared. Chuck shot by the station, I shot further up, with some houses in the frame. I like a sense of place, for better or for worse.

The former station area is now partly covered by an over pass. One of the abutments, one that used to hold the bridge up over the B&O and N&W, had a steam engine mural on the side. It was across the street from a bar, and I tried to figure out how to work a train into the scene. I shot some coal hoppers rolling south, and then a little while later just the scene with no train. Minus one pole, I think it could be a good spot. For a northbound. Of which we saw none.

We waited, and as suddenly as last time, an airhorn sounded. I was out of position, so I ran down the street, and down an ally, hoping to frame the train between two houses. But as usual, the train was bigger than I expected, and the alley didn't allow as much train as I wanted. A guy is in the photo too, hidden in the shadows. He was giving me the eye as I ran down the street and into the alley.

Chuck and I headed back to the car after the last one, the southbound 218, a hot pig train. We were standing around figuring out what to do when I shot a guy working on his bike in front of a building.

I was starting to feel my 5:30 wake up, so we went back to Circleville to try and get something coming through town. I had given up on the day and we were shaking hands good-bye when we heard an airhorn, the sickly goose honk of a new Sd70m-2. It rounded the curve past another grain elevator, the shiny nose catching the last rays of sun. It was a nice way to end the day.

1 comment:

Chuck said...

Great report! Being the guy that went with you makes me feel kind of famous, especially since the photos are so great. Nice job Chris, and I'm looking forward to doing it again sometime.

P.S. I ate at the much "healthier" Wendy's, not Burger King! -LOL