Jan and I set out early Saturday morning with an ultimate destination of DeKalb, where our youngest, Aaron, is near graduation with an MFA in painting at Northern Illinois University. On Sunday afternoon, we were to attend the opening of his show of oil and charcoal works called "consist" - railroad theme, of course!
We decided to follow the UP, and stopped first in Des Moines where the MPRKS was just leaving Short Line Yard. They crossed Scott Street at 8:23 with UP 5969 and CNW 6844. After driving north on I-35 to the UP mains, we stopped at Ames Yard, where CR 519 was sitting with a long string of company (MP) flat cars.
The rest of the day we paralleled the UP as closely as the highways permitted, keeping an eye on railroad traffic and stopping to get a picture now and then. Here are some of the trains we encountered along the way in Iowa:
I was beginning to get a little concerned about our ETA in DeKalb, so we drove straight to Rochelle without stopping to take train pictures. We did meet a few more trains along the way in Illinois:
I talked to a few of those around the diamond and learned that construction on the new park was progressing rather slowly. Around 5:00, the UP pulled up west of the crossing, cut the power and a few cars from the train and ran eastward to the interchange with the BNSF with CNW 8644 and UP 9302 and 5968.
We'd booked a room in a DeKalb motel right next to the UP mains - I do mean right next. Our room was about 20 yards from the right of way, with nothing but parking lot in between. Although the motel had a fence at the rear of the lot, the mains were on a fill, so that you could see the rails over the fence from ground level.
This motel was listed in a web page with other Illinois motels as a Motel 6, but it is now a Travelodge:
Illinois Motels ... Danville Ramada Inn 388 Eastgate Dr CSX De Kalb Days Inn 1212 Lincoln Hwy UP De Kalb Motel 6 1116 W Lincoln Hwy UP Des Plaines Holiday Inn O'Hare 1450 E Touhy Av WCL ...The other DeKalb motel listed, Days Inn, just west of our Travelodge, appeared to be out of business. So was another high-rise motel just east, which had been converted to apartments. There is a Ho Jo with a view of the tracks, but from the far side of the Lincoln Hwy.
The DeKalb Travelodge was not exactly the nicest place we'd ever stayed - the police paid frequent visits, always in at least two cars, and we witnessed a guest being arrested Sunday morning. The room was worn, dirty and sparsely-furnished. I can recommend it only to hardcore railfans. If you like trains - lots of trains, it's worth the trouble.
The management knew what we wanted when we mentioned the trains and they seemed eager to please. Speak slowly, keeping the syllable count low, and you'll be understood. They have about 20 rooms on the south side of the motel next to the mains. Our room was on the ground floor - I think a second floor room would have afforded a better view, and I went up there on Sunday morning to get a few pictures of passing freights.
Since it is a good distance from the motel to the nearest grade crossings, you don't get much warning of an approaching train unless you're outdoors or have your room window wide open. There are detectors about 10 miles away in both directions, so with a good scanner you can tell when somthing's approaching. The dispatcher and detectors were on ex-CNW channel 3 (161.040)
If you visit DeKalb, check out The Junction restaurant just east on Lincoln Hwy. from the motel locations. It has a railroad theme, with a garden railway running around the dining room on some intricate wooden trestles.
On Sunday morning we cruised around the town, discovering a couple of captive cabooses in front of a small office building out north on Hwy. 23. We took our take-out breakfast to the depot and saw an eastbound intermodal there at 8:26, with CNW 8635 and UP 3220.
We had a beautiful, clear morning, and I took advantage of it to hike out to the old coaling tower at the east end of town. The structure stands astride the mains, and once had four chutes to deliver coal to passing steam locomotives.
The tower is fairly accessable to railfans from either side of the tracks. On the north, the RR property is adjacent to the Rotary Park. To reach the park, go north of the UP depot to State Street and follow State east until you see the park sign on the right. The park has a paved walking trail around a pond. Near a UP 3/4 mile marker pole at the south side of the park there is a path leading to the right of way just west of the tower. To get to the tower on the south side, follow Lincoln Hwy. east until you reach a grade crossing. Immediately east of the rails, go north on a gravel commercial property access road. Follow it to the south side of the mains and then go east to the tower.
To get those pictures you want, you might find yourself walking on RR property (Yeah, it could happen...). Be cautious! This is a very busy line, and they really barrel through town. Stay alert and always look and listen before you make a move near the tracks.
After spending most of the day with the family and friends, and checking out the art show, we were back on the road again and headed home around 4:00 on Sunday afternoon. We decided to do a little more Illinois train-watching before taking to the Interstate, so we stopped first in Rochelle.
Just as we entered town, we saw an eastbound manifest with UP 9485 and 645 on the point. I stopped to get a picture of the Rochelle depot, and before long we could see another eastbound train approaching. They hit the diamond at 4:43, with NORX coal loads led by UP 6832 and 8051. In a few minutes a westbound manifest showed up with UP 5958 and 5986. We took a picture at the east end of town, next to the interchange track with the BNSF.
We paced this train westward, planning to stop next in Nelson. We saw them meet a coal load near Nachusa at about 5:20. We got to Nelson in time to see them roll up to the junction at 5:36. A crew was putting together a set of empty HJUX cars off of the Peoria line, and rolled by us at 5:47 with UP 8141 and 8140. I had a short conversation with a crew member from Chicago who turned out to be a Rock Island Technical Society member.
As they pulled slowly eastward, we drove around to the north side of the tracks and back to the east to have a look at another CNW coaling tower. We gathered from the scanner that another train or two were in the area, so we waited, and got a look at another eastbounder. This train was a manifest with many empty autoracks, and was pulled by CNW 8616 and UP 3264. They were under the signal bridge by Nelson's only grade crossing at 6:06. After that, we hit I-88 and made straight for home.