RITS National '98
Elmhurst, Illinois
September 11 and 12, 1998


Jan and I got away from Indianola around noon on Friday and got onto I-80 for a trip to the Rock Island Technical Society's annual national meet in Elmhurst. We took only one detour from the direct route, going off the interstate into Bureau Jct. There, we paid a nostalgic visit to the Ranch House, a motel where we'd stayed a few times years ago when out chasing Rock Island trains. The Ranch House once afforded a view of the RI mains heading west toward Iowa, but from the back of the motel, the scene is now blocked by trees. Just as we got to the motel, an Iowa Interstate train was pulling out of town. The head end was out of sight by the time we got trackside.

We went down to the Bureau depot where the Peoria line joins and got a picture of the structure, painted white with green trim and now pretty well boarded up. We've visited this location quite a few times in the past, including a time when the depot was a bright red and yellow.

We arrived at the Holiday Inn in Elmhurst around 7:00, got checked in and found a few of our RITS friends. Since the beginning of the board meeting was going to be delayed a few minutes, we got some supper in the hotel restaurant. Jan headed for our room and I joined the meeting in progress. The board meeting, typically a marathon affair, was moved along fairly well under the direction of Bob Riebe, and we were out before midnight.

Saturday morning, Jan and I went out fairly early to explore Elmhurst. We went downtown, got some bagels and juice and parked near the UP tracks at the Metra station near York Street. Before long, a westbound string of hoppers, with UP 6631, and SP 297 and 143 came through. In a few minutes, the eastbound Metra train appeared, with cars 8416, 7779, 7836, 7205 and engine 138, "Village of Lombard". This station is just a couple of miles from the west end of UP's (formerly CNW's) Proviso Yard, so there is plenty of freight traffic mixed in with the communter runs.

Back at the hotel, we set Jan up near the convention entrance with a Mac G3 laptop and the RITS WWW site on a CD-ROM. She provided demonstrations to people attending the meet who'd not had a chance to browse the extensive collection of RITS files available on the Internet. Meanwhile, I checked out the swap meet and got a chance to meet face-to-face some of my Internet friends.

Plenty of Rock Island models and memorabilia were available at the swap meet, and the room also provided a chance for people to get together to discuss layout plans and to trade stories about the Rock. Just outside the door was a nice collection of model contest entries. Clinics were held in a room nearby, and I dropped in on one about building the open-type autoracks.

We decided to do some more train-watching at lunch time, and went back down to the Metra station for a picnic. While having a picnic lunch by the tracks, we saw more Metra traffic and some light power led by UP 1723. Interestingly, the grade crossings in the area are well-protected by gates, and the trains do not routinely use the air horns.

On Saturday afternoon's schedule were open houses by three area model railroad clubs, scheduled just for the RITS meet. Remarkably, all three of them were just a short walk from the Elmhurst Metra station and within one block of one another! All of the layouts are HO scale and all are housed in the basements of downtown Elmhurst businesses.

Our first visit was to the Salt Creek Club. This is a mature layout with plenty of scenery and detail. Many of the buildings have interior detailing and lighting and the layout also has an overhead wire powered traction line. Operation is by elevated cabs and a separate dispatcher. The layout included a large scratchbuilt passenger terminal area. Salt Creek has an adjacent meeting room where a few members were watching RR videos.

Right next door to the east is the Elmhurst Model Railroad Club. This is a huge walk-around layout, much of which is under construction. Control is by radio throttles and block switching panels. A couple of very enthusiastic members were on hand to demonstrate the layout and answer questions. They even had Rock Island powered trains running today. Some portions of the layout are near completion while others have only mainline trackwork in place. One rural corner of the layout features fully-detailed corn and bean fields, along with a crop-duster.

Across the tracks and a couple of buildings to the south we visited the Wagon Masters Model Railroad Club. I asked, and learned that the "Wagon" referred originally to "covered wagon locomotives". This layout, which used plug-in throttles and a central dispatcher, was divided between two basement rooms and is to be expanded into adjacent rooms in the future. A central feature of the layout is a large passenger terminal. Western roads such as Santa Fe, UP, Rio Grande, and SP predominate on the layout. They were running a Golden State passenger train when we arrived. The layout is currently pretty much filled to the limit with rolling stock. In spite of the posted "No Smoking" signs, the room was uncomfortably smoky from members' cigarettes. Apparently we were the first to appear for the open house and Wagon Masters on hand expressed disappointment at the low attendance by RITS members.

With the combination of UP freight traffic, Metra trains and model railroads, Elmhurst is a great train-watching spot! The model railroad clubs are normally open to visitors on the following schedule: Salt Creek: 8:00-9:30 p.m. Fridays, Elmhurst: 7:00-10:00 Fridays and 1:00-4:00 p.m. Sundays, Wagon Masters: 7:00-9:30 p.m. first Fridays.

After our layout visits, we got cones at a nearby ice cream shop and sat on one of the many benches along the UP line to watch some more trains. The UP cooperated by running a couple of westbound freights by us. We took a drive around the area, getting as close as we could (legally) to Proviso and North Proviso yards. At least one overpass provides a view of Proviso, but it was under repair so traffic was pretty congested.

Late on Saturday afternoon, RITS held a general meeting, where the board and officers (Riebe, Zimmer, Engle) (Hile, Cannon, Riebe) reported the actions of the previous night. Engle was substituting as secretary for the meeting. Director Hutchins was not able to attend. The board has decided to add to membership benefits a multiple-page calendar and to reactivate the data sheet publications. Paul Schuch is doing the calendar and David Koziol will handle the data sheets. Regular annual dues will increase to $20. Sustaining membership will change to a minimum of $30. Receiving a printed full membership list will become an extra-charge ($2.00) option.

Plans are already well underway for future national meets. RITS national '99 will be in Moline and '00 in Dallas, jointly with the Burlington Railroad Historical Society.

The general meeting concluded with the awarding of model contest prizes and drawing for door prizes. I got very lucky, holding the first number drawn, and selected a Proto 2K GP-9 from the box of prizes. The general meeting was followed by a social hour and banquet. Chicago-area attorney Mike Blazek presented a fine slide show following the meal. Many thanks to Steve Suhs and others in the area who put on a fine program this year!

On Sunday morning Jan and I first headed back down to the tracks with our take-out breakfast. We saw another Metra train and both eastbound and westbound freights.

After checking out of the hotel, we went west and north to the suburb of West Dundee to pay a visit to our youngest son and his wife. We stayed there until after lunch and then came back south to pick up the UP line and start homeward.

Our first stop was at the Rochelle Railroad Park in Rochelle, Illinois at around 2:00 p.m. We knew that a westbound UP train was right beside us and we saw it entering the town with UP 6343 and another unit. The train was a very short intermodal. We parked across the tracks to the north of the diamond, in what used to be the "Rochelle Railfan Park". The new park, provided by the city, stands in the east corner of the diamonds where the BNSF and UP lines cross, and was occupied by about a dozen railfans this afternoon.

While we were still on the north side of the tracks, an eastbound UP merchandise train came through behind a very smoky CNW 8813 and UP 4246. After this train, we crossed over to visit the new railfan park. This is a great location, and the shelter is equipped with a scanner and information explaining where the detectors and such are relative to the diamonds. The nearby museum building has on display a "critter", a 7-ton Whitcomb actually built in Rochelle in 1928.

At 2:33, an eastbound BNSF container train showed up with BNSF 1076 and 4820. The 4820 was a little short on stripes.

The next train, at 2:42, was a BNSF westbound intermodal, with SF 634, 9537 and BNSF 4757 on the point. Having now seen one train on each of the four intersecting tracks, we headed on westward.

Our next stop was in the little town of Nelson, Illinois, where the Peoria branch leaves the UP mains. We stayed there long enough to see two trains, both of which arrived at 3:37. On our side of the tracks, we saw an eastbound manifest with UP 7072 and SP 311. Another manifest passed behind it on the south track, where we couldn't see the engine numbers. Parked just south of town on the Peoria line was a northbound coal train with UP 5070, CR 6106 and UP 6798.

After leaving Nelson, we got back on the interstate and headed straight for Des Moines. We got back to Indianola around 8:00 p.m.