Return to the Lounge Car

My Chicago Odyssey

Part One

By Paul R. Tupaczewski

Text and photographs are Copyright 1996 by the Author. Redistribution without permission from the Author is forbidden.

MEMORIAL DAY WEEKEND... What to do? After a call from an old friend in Chicago, it was decided: four days of trains in the Windy City! To make things more interesting, the trip would be accomplished by rail as well. Herein lies that story...

Friday, May 26, 1995 dawned cloudy and muggy. My bags packed, I went to... work! Yes, as a matter of convenience, I decided to work a half-day of work, since my office is 15 stories above Newark (NJ) Penn Station. No problem! At 11:30, I casually walked downstairs to await my 12:14 PM Metroliner. I was excited, as this was going to be my first Metroliner ride. Precisely on the advertised, Amtrak AEM7 906 rolled into the station. I quickly got on, and the train was off in under two minutes. A first observation: The Metroliner Amfleet cars seem to have much more leg room, and it eerily felt like... an airplane! Ahhh, reality check - a look out the window sees the landscape of central New Jersey roaring by at the maximum 125 mph. The feeling of speed is simply not there, though - the ride is quite smooth, and very little wind noise or turbulence to spoil the illusion. As an experiment, I decided to try out the "Railfone" to see how good quality of an onboard phone would be. After paying (Visa and MC accepted, ahem!), I rang a friend. Amazingly, the connection was crystal clear, and the phone booth was isolated enough to keep out most noise. After staying on all of three minutes ($5.00, ouch!), I went back to my seat to relax. End of phone experiment!

Once clear of Philadelphia, I ventured forward to the cafe car. My stomach was grumbling now after not having its daily lunch, so I decided to grab a snack. I was greeted with a lengthy line... ugh! I managed to get a pretzel and a cranberry juice (this ain't Tavern on the Green, folks), and returned to my seat. Keeping my camera handy, for any "impulse" photography, I sat and watched the scenery roll by... past the old Baldwin plant... past a SEPTA trolley car shop... Things got interesting pulling into Wilmington, DE - The baggage car that accompanied the ICE train around the country was sitting at the shops. The old PRR roundhouse there appears to be on the verge of collapse. And as we arrived at the station, a brand-spanking-new Amtrak GP38 pulled by with a work train. Not a bad trip so far! As we got further south, the clouds began to part and sunlight began to peek through. Nearing Baltimore, I was surprised to see quite a bit of Conrail power at the adjacent Bay View Yard. (Photo) The tinted windows produced less-than-optimal photography, but what can you do? We leave Baltimore Penn Station and traverse a series of lengthy curving tunnels, finally appearing in the light - SUN-light! Now my spirits were up. We flew down the Corridor, passing a MARC diesel-powered passenger run on the way down. The rest of the run to Washington went by fast, and we arrived at Union Station shortly after 3:00 PM, five minutes ahead of schedule. (Photo)

Washington Union Station proved to be quite a place in itself. Entering the concourse, my jaw literally dropped. The interior is simply stunning (Photo), and features an elevated restaurant and shopping mall. Taking a quick step outside (another reality check - as soon as I exited down the door, I saw the Capitol Dome straight down the street - yep, Washington!) to take a look at the exterior of this magnificent building (Photo), which was just as impressive as its interior. The building was bedecked with American flags for Memorial Day, a nice touch. I then went back inside to check on departure time for my Chicago-bound train, the Capitol Limited. I had another 45 minutes to explore, so I paid a visit to "The Great Train Store," a chain hobby shop that was located within the mall. I picked up a few magazines for reading on the way out, then I was off to the platforms again for some photography. For reasons unknown to me, there were six private cars sitting in the westernmost tracks of the terminal, deep under the eaves, including two somber-looking Norfolk Southern heavyweight cars. After examining the cars, I ventured forth to shoot some of MARC's commuter power. Unfortunately, most of the units extended beyond the end of the platform, but I still managed to get some interesting shots. (Photo) At this early hour, there were no Virginia Railway Express trains to shoot, much to my dismay.

At this point, I noticed that my train had backed into the station, and appeared to be ready to board. I figured I had about 20 minutes, so I took a stroll down the platform to check out our power for this trip. Ahead of me was an elderly gentleman with a small Instamatic camera who appeared to be doing the same. As I approached the engines, the man took his picture and began walking back. We exchanged a friendly "Hello," and I continued forward. I framed our lead F40PH with the station tower in a rather interesting shot (Photo), before IT happened.

IT happened to be a loud, raucous voice shouting at me. "Hey!" shouted the voice. "You!" I turn around, before getting a chance to continue down the platform to get a front view of the train, and see a female Amtrak police officer, wearing dark glasses and her hair neatly tied up behind her hat. Oh yeah, and a cold, steely face - uh boy! I cautiously approach her, and inquisitively ask, "Yes?" With a steamed look, she stammers back, "WHAT do YOU think you're DOING?!" Ah. A trick question! "Ummm, photographing the front of the train..." I reply. "You are NOT allowed HERE..." she begins, and then I cut her off by pulling out my ticket and saying, "But I am a ticketed passenger..." Without skipping a beat, she retorts, "I don't care if you're TICKETED! YOU are NOT ALLOWED HERE! Do YOU see the COACHES down here?" At this point, we're standing next to the material handling cars at the front of the train. "Uh, no..." "Well, I can ARREST you RIGHT NOW for TRESPASSING! DO you know THAT?!" "Uh, no..." "Well then, GET BACK TO THE TRAIN!" "Uh, OK..."

A digression. At this point, I figured that I had about 10 minutes before departure, so I wasn't going to argue. In retrospect, I should have gotten the officer's name so that I could file a complaint later. To wit, the sign at the entrance to the platform simply read "Only ticketed passengers allowed on the platform." To wit, the platform extends literally down to the tower (reference my above photo for proof). I was simply standing on the platform, which as a paying ticket holder it appears I have the right to do. I probably wouldn't have gotten as perturbed if the officer would have politely asked me to return to the head of the platform. Regardless, I was in no mood to argue (though being detained and missing my train would certainly have raised my dander a bit!) I'm still miffed at Amtrak, and plan on letting them know about it. End of digression!

Anyway, after my little "run-in," I boarded the train and got into my coach seat. The Superliners are amazingly comfortable, and my only complaint is that the stairs going to the top floor are a bit cramped. I quickly settled into my seat and soon after, we were off. From my high vantage point, I was able to grab a shot of a relatively rare MARC AEM7 (only four exist) as we departed. (Photo) We slowly rolled out of the terminal throat, and soon turned west on the old Baltimore and Ohio mainline. As we curved around, we passed by the Washington Metro shops, and one of their GE center-cab switchers was reposing outside in the sun. (Photo) We were soon rolling at a good clip on the well-maintained B&O trackage. At this point, I moved into the adjacent "Sightseer Lounge." Since I've never been in a Phase I car (this one was a brand new Phase II car), I can't contrast the two, but this particular car offered a beautifully clear view on both sides. (Photo) It was really enjoyable, rolling along through the small suburban towns, many with neatly-kept B&O stations. About 30 minutes out of Washington, in suburban Maryland, a large carnival was set up alongside the tracks. More surprising was the string of about 20 passenger cars lettered for the carnival company! I've seen circus trains before, but never a carnival train! I grabbed a shot on a whim of the cars (Photo), perhaps someone could help me identify these?

We rolled on, passing such well-known locations as Point-of-Rocks, MD and Harpers Ferry, WV (where an old baggage car, perhaps of B&O ancestry, sat adjacent to a store, shorn of its trucks - (Photo)). I eagerly watched the opposing main, and we were passed by two CSX freights before we reached the Cumberland (MD) Yard of CSX. A CSX SD38 was shoving cars over the hump in the light of the setting sun (Photo), and the yard was filled with cars. At the other end of the yard, I was surprised at the sight of about 100 factory-fresh Burlington Northern covered hoppers (Photo), undoubtedly on their way west as I was. The roundhouse at the west end featured CSX units in many predecessor schemes, but most behind fences and other obstructions.

At this point, the first call for dinner was held, and I sat down and had my first real "dinner in the diner." The dinner was served on real china, much to my surprise, and the food was excellent. (For the record, I had tortellini in pesto sauce) One of my table companions had a camera with him, but he wasn't a railroad photographer per se - he just enjoyed photography. Dinner ended after the sun had set, so I retired to my seat and just watched in awe as our train wound its way around the tight curves and steep grades of the legendary Sand Patch hill. This locale is literally "out in the middle of nowhere," and we came upon quite a few railfans camping out along the right-of-way. Some even had portable generators and televisions to watch the video that they shot earlier in the day! Mental note: Visit Sand Patch someday! We were passed by several CSX freights, and we also overtook several freights as well. By the time we reached the Pennsylvania state line, it was dark. I read the rest of the evening, and around 11 PM, I noticed a string of lights out the window on the side of a hill, and I then recognized it as Kennywood Amusement Park - we had made it to Pittsburgh! We pulled into the station, passing by three pairs of SD40-2 helpers for Conrail's Conemaugh Line. After watching the silhouettes of Pittsburgh industry fade into the night, I fell asleep.

I awoke to morning sunlight, which surprised me as the weather had been forecast as rainy for this particular day. Wandering forth to the sightseer lounge, I found out that we were within fifteen minutes of the Indiana state line. I went to the diner and had a filling breakfast - pancakes, home fries, sausages, a grapefruit, and a bagel. Ahhh, just the way to start a morning - breakfast as we rolled across Ohio's farmland at 60+ MPH! After finishing breakfast, I went and camped out in the lounge again, knowing full well that we were approaching Elkhart, location of a large Conrail yard. The Elkhart station is located at the east end of the yard, so I prepared to shoot some pictures. As we stopped, I noticed that directly across from us was a large collection of railroad equipment. This was the National New York Central Museum, replete with an E-unit in primer, an NYC Niagara, and... A GG1? (Photo) The mind reels at the thought. Most of the equipment is in the process of being restored, and many pieces were hidden, but it showed promise. Soon enough, our train began to move. The yard was filled with cars, and at the west end, I spotted a classic yard switcher - a mother/slug set of a GP10 and an MT4 slug. (Photo) It warms the heart to see classic power still doing work! And then, out of the corner of my eye, I saw a Conrail freight arriving from the West... let's see: a C40-8W, another C40-8W, another C40-8W... and a Santa Fe Warbonnet B40-8W!? (Photo) Just a taste of things to come!

Shortly thereafter, the sun disappeared behind some thick cloud cover. That was the last sun I'd be seeing for the next two days! We rolled along through Indiana, past fields and steel mills. Then, off to the right, I could see the Sears Tower through the haze. Almost there! We click away the last few miles, and are held just south of the station. We then get permission to pull ahead around the station wye, then back into the station. Again, we're early - this time, 13 minutes!

The last time I was in Chicago was 1991, and at that time, the station was in the midst of a renovation. Well, it was done now, and the station is indeed impressive. The ticket booths look almost airport-like, and the high-ceilinged waiting room lets in loads of natural light. (Photo) After meeting up with my friends, and looking around the station for a little bit, we began our Chicago railfanning. What better way to start than to go and shoot the Amtrak engine facility with the city as a backdrop? (Photo)

We then headed towards Joliet, where we would find the primary reason for visiting Chicago - Santa Fe Warbonnets! Cyberspace World Railroad's Dan Dawdy was kind enough to meet us out there, and we spent the better part of the afternoon shooting trains. Unfortunately, the weather was less than nice for shooting trains, but after coming nearly a thousand miles, you take what you can get! The action started rather quickly when we waited no more than 10 minutes, and we got a green board for a westbound train. What should appear then, but a brand new SD75M in Warbonnet paint?! (Photo). Trailing were two other Warbonnet units, including a relatively new C44-9W, all very clean. (Photo) Impressed? Easily. Excited? You bet! I figured this had to be a good omen. After another few minutes, an eastbound train appeared with more big Warbonnets on the point. (Photo). Another few minutes and another eastbound, this one with yet another new SD75M on the point. (Photo). And trailing this unit was one of Santa Fe's unique rebuilt U33C's, reclassed "SF30C" - these units are not long for this world, from what I understand, and their rugged looks make them a very photogenic subject for railroad photography. (Photo) This was just too easy! In between trains, a Metra commuter run squeezed by across the diamonds at the station, ending its run here. Leading the train was one of Metra's not-particularly-esthetically-pleasing F40PHM's. (Photo) The day was not devoid of non-Warbonnet power, however. A Santa Fe GE B40-8 led one train we saw (Photo), while another of the fan-pleasing SF30C's led another piggybacker. (Photo) And even local action got into the picture, and I was surprised to see one of ATSF's old GP20's soldiering on! (Photo)

Much to my surprise, an Amtrak train arrived from the West (Photo) with double elephant-style P40's (or Genesis I, or AMD103, or whatever you choose to call these tubular units!) It was the Southwest Chief, and it was almost to its destination. The train made an initial stop to drop off baggage, then pulled forward to discharge passengers. Much to my surprise, on the tail end was brand-new Superliner II sleeper New Jersey (Photo) To think, I, a New Jerseyan, had to travel a thousand miles to see this particular car! Such is life (and clearances!). Dan had also mentioned that Southern Pacific has trackage rights over ATSF and IC to Chicago, and had a train in each direction each day. Well, after we had all but given up hope, we managed to catch the eastbound SP stack train, led by a typically grubby set of SP power. (Photo). After nearly three hours of watching Santa Fe action, we parted company with Dan and headed on our way to do some more exploring.

After Joliet Union Station, we headed back north, and while passing under a bridge, we spotted a pair of orange Elgin, Joliet and Eastern SD38's going over us. Although the train was going slowly, there were no roads to easily follow the train (at least ones that we knew!), so we ended up making a futile attempt to find where the train went. We never did see that train again, but we did stumble upon the EJ&E engine facility in Elgin, if memory serves me on the town. The engine facility itself is behind a slatted fence, but between the cracks we could make out some very colorful power. So close, yet so far... A road bridge goes over the end of the yard there, so we parked and took a walk. An impressive and imposing shop building shadows the yard complex, but unfortunately was not in use by the railroad anymore and had a "For Sale" sign on it. A sign of the decline of the US railroad industry, I suppose. Sitting on a yard track not too far from the building was a small two-tone blue EMD switcher, with an "RE" road number on the cab (for Relco Leasing), and smaller "RADIO CONTROLLED" lettering. The unit was coupled up to a string of side-dump cars, and it appears that the engine and train are leased by the railroad or used by a contractor for construction purposes. (Photo) We did find an active engine, though - EMD switcher number 323, but not in EJ&E's attractive orange scheme. Instead, it was painted a rather somber brown, with a silver underframe to liven up the scheme a little. (Photo) After watching the switcher do its work for a few minutes, we were off again.

Taking the "long way" back, we decided to spin by Burlington Northern's Eola Yard. Road construction was in progress, so we parked in a safe location and walked in on a public access road to the yard's east end. Sitting there were a pair of new SD70MAC's (Photo), yet another first for this Easterner. From any angle, these things are BIG! (Photo) The units did some quick switching, and then grabbed a cut of cars and headed east to Clyde Yard in Cicero. Meanwhile, another BN freight, this one a stack train, roared by eastbound with a cabless B30-7A and a Conrail Geep in the consist. (Photo) Shortly after the SD70MAC's left the yard, a local job arrived from a branch that left the yard to the south (and I still don't know where it went!), with a pair of Geeps (one an EMD Leasing unit) on the point. (Photo) Overall, not bad for a 25-minute "grab" stop! With some light still available on this dark and overcast day, we hit the opposite end of the yard where the engine facility is located. Not much action going on, but I did get a good luck at the unique CB&Q full-truss turntable bridge, with yet another EMD Leasing unit and some switchers. (Photo)

Thus ended my first day of railfanning in Chicago. Luckily for me, better weather was in the card for the next few days, as well as other unique things to see... to be continued!

Photo List

AMTK906.JPG - Amtrak AEM7's nos. 906 and 920 rest at the end of their runs in Washington (D.C.) Union Station on a dreary May 26, 1995.

ATSF203.JPG - Brand-new Santa Fe SD75M no. 203 leads bretheren Warbonnet power west through Joliet, IL; May 27, 1995.

ATSF215.JPG - Santa Fe SD75M 215 stands out on the point of yellow and blue power as it clatters east across the diamonds at Joliet, IL; May 27, 1995.

ATSF2915.JPG - Older power can still be found on ATSF - witness GP38-2 no. 2915 leading a GP20 west at Joliet, IL; May 27, 1995.

ATSF528.JPG - Santa Fe C40-8W 528 leads a grimy set of Warbonnet power on a dreary day past Joliet Tower; May 27, 1995.

ATSF685.JPG - Big-footed Santa Fe C44-9W 685 is the trailing unit on this westbound piggyback train at Joliet, IL; May 27, 1995.

ATSF7440.JPG - Santa Fe B40-8 7440 leads a freight westbound past the Joliet Union Station platform; May 27, 1995.

ATSF9517.JPG - Unique-to-Santa Fe "SF30C" 9517 trails SD75M 215 as it heads toward Chicago; May 27, 1995.

ATSF9528.JPG - Santa Fe's rebuilt SF30C's (note the Dash-8 style nose) continue to soldier on; number 9528 leads a freight eastbound through Joliet as a piggybacker heads west; May 27, 1995.

BN_CARS.JPG - Impressive to see is this string of factory-fresh Burlington Northern covered grain hoppers, sitting at the west end of CSX's Cumberland (MD) Yard; May 26, 1995.

BN70MACS.JPG - Big is one understated way to describe BN's new SD70MACS; here are 9506 and 9544 at the east end of the Eola (IL) yard; May 27, 1995.

BN7929.JPG - A BN stack train rolls east through Eola, IL, featuring a cabless GE B30-7A and a Conrail Geep; May 27, 1995.

BN9506.JPG - Very clean and new BN SD70MAC 9506 rests between switching moves at the east end of Eola (IL) Yard; May 27, 1995.

CARNIVAL.JPG - At some point during the journey on the Capital Limited, I spotted a traveling carnival, and managed to grab this "proof" shot of the carnival's cars, somewhere in Maryland; May 26, 1995.

CHI_AMTK.JPG - What a first sight! The view of the Amtrak engine facility in Chicago, with the city skyline in the background. Note the rear end of a Genesis I unit to the left of the F40PH; May 27, 1995.

CHI_STA.JPG - A view of the waiting room in Chicago's recently refurbished Union Station; May 27, 1995.

CR_BALTO.JPG - Yes, freight is still on the Corridor! The quick grab shot of the southern end of Baltimore's Bay View Yard (ex-PRR) sees an SD40-2 and a new SD60M switching; May 26, 1995.

CUMBHUMP.JPG - A CSX SD38 shoves the last few cars of a string over the hump at the Cumberland (MD) Yard as the sun sets; May 26, 1995.

EJE323.JPG - Elgin, Joliet & Eastern SW1200? 323 switches the Elgin (IL) yard; May 27, 1995.

EJESHOPS.JPG - A view of the now-abandoned EJ&E shops in Elgin, IL - note the remote-controlled Relco switcher with its string of side-dump cars; May 27, 1995.

ELK_ATSF.JPG - Elkart, Indiana - SURPRISE! An ATSF B40-8W trails a trio of big Conrail GE's as they enter Elkhart Yard from the West as the sun rises; May 27, 1995.

ELK_CR.JPG - Conrail runs its share of older power as well - here is a GP10/MT4 mother-slug pair switching the yard at Elkhart, IN; May 27, 1995.

ELK_GG1.JPG - Ummm... a GG1? In Indiana? At a New York Central museum? You bet! Elkhart, IN; May 27, 1995.

EMD804.JPG - An EMD Leasing GP38 and a BN sister enter Eola (IL) Yard from the east; May 27, 1995.

EOLA.JPG - A view of the ex-CB&Q engine facility at Eola, IL - note the unique steel-truss turntable bridge at the left; May 27, 1995.

HEADEND1.JPG - The head end of Amtrak's Capitol Limited, as it prepares to depart Washington, DC; May 26, 1995.

HFERRY.JPG - An old baggage car (of B&O heritage?) sits next to the Harpers Ferry (WV) station parking lot; May 26, 1995.

JOLIETSP.JPG - Some typically grubby Southern Pacific power leads one of the few run-through trains over ATSF trackage through Joliet, IL; May 27, 1995.

MARC4900.JPG - MARC AEM7 4900, as seen from a Superliner, in Washington (DC) Union Station; May 26, 1995.

MARCWASH.JPG - New MARC GP40WH-2 diesels rub shoulders with older GP39PH-2's at Washington (DC) Union Station; May 26, 1995.

METRAJOL.JPG - A Metra commuter run on ex-Rock Island trackage rolls to its final stop at the Joliet (IL) Union Station; May 27, 1995.

METRO_GE.JPG - A low-profile GE switcher is utilized by Washington's Metro subway system for shop movements; May 26, 1995.

SUP_INT.JPG - The interior of a Phase II Superliner "Sightseer Lounge" as it cruises along through the suburbs of Maryland; May 26, 1995.

SUPER_NJ.JPG - I had to come out to Chicagoland to see the Phase II Superliner sleeper "New Jersey," here in Joliet, IL; May 27, 1995.

SWCHIEF.JPG - Amtrak's Southwest Chief pauses for a station stop at Joliet, IL, led by elephant-style Genesis I diesels; May 27, 1995.

WASH_EXT.JPG - If you didn't know better, one would assume that Washington Union Station was just another government building! Decked out with flags for Memorial Day; May 26, 1995.

WASH_INT.JPG - Part of the amazing interior of the beautifully-restored Washington Union Station; May 26, 1995.