With 2021 being chock full of trips and photo opportunities alike, it's been a very busy year to say the least. Late summer and fall were really intense - a weekend with the IAIS 6988, then just a few days later embarking on the Big Boy 2021 tour, and the back-to-back London/Drumsheds and MILW261 trips (not to mention the LS&I trip a month and some change before it all). It was just packed. So, of course, there has to be something to round it all off.
Well, in that case, I took another adventure up north to Wisconsin to see the Soo Line 1003, where I participated in the Trains Magazine photo charter with the little 2-8-2. Now that was quite a weekend, and quite a send off as my last trip for the year. Clocking in at three days including transit, this little outing would prove to be quite the experience indeed.
When I was writing Big Boy 2021 and A Trip To London, I mentioned I'd received a surprise message from the official Union Pacific Railroad Instagram account. I think it's time to finally fully acknowledge just what that entailed!
Earlier this year, when UP was just announcing the Big Boy 2021 tour, they added a little note in their email that said this:
We LOVE seeing your photos of our steam locomotives, and during the 2021 tour, we're going to be giving away Big Boy T-shirts to people who post the best photos during the tour to their Facebook, Instagram and Twitter feeds using the #BigBoy2021 hashtag! Make sure the permissions on your posts are public so we can see them, and watch your DMs on each platform to see if your photo has been selected as a winner!
So, naturally, I did tag my photos with that hashtag, really just expecting a little extra traffic on them. I did not, however, expect to actually be one of those winners.
On Sunday, September 26th, I landed back in the United States on a plane ride from London to Chicago. Then, on Thursday, September 30th, I was hightailing it up I-39/I-94 to Minneapolis to chase the Milwaukee Road 261 for the weekend after last second major car repairs and a distinct lack of sleep from the previous few days.
What the hell was I thinking?
Something I frequently talk about is my ongoing hunt for the IC Deathstars, where I always say that "you never know when they're going to disappear one day." It's an unfortunate truth, in that everything does come to an end eventually and we won't be able to catch everything. One hundred years ago, the thought of steam locomotives going away would be strange to most folks, yet within three decades, almost the entire country was dieselized and steam was a rarity. The first and second generation EMDs are a dying breed, and now catching a pair of SD40s on a road freight is rare. The oldest diesels are entirely gone from revenue service, and even newer engines have disappeared completely.
Now, we are down another unique class. As of May 8th, 2021, the CN/Illinois Central's Blue Devils are retired. Their numbers dwindled down to a mere seven, with some lost to CN noodle paints and the Dash 8 purge last year. Now, though, six of the seven blue devils are listed as retired on CN's roster. Only 2466 wasn't listed, but the most recent sightings showed in storage in Canada, essentially marking it as dead now too.
With only seven to catch, spotting them was something I didn't expect to do. I only ever saw three of them before they were all retired.
2020: The Year of the Deathstar
In years past, when asked about the things I take photos of, I always answered with trains - of course - but always specified something to the effect of: "only really interesting ones, like steam engines. I would never go chase a diesel because they aren't very interesting."
Well, suffice to say I don't say that anymore.
I happen to live at an interesting railroad crossroads of sorts. The old east-west line, owned by too many companies in years past to list but including the New York Central, Penn Central, Conrail, and now Norfolk Southern, certainly acts as a bit of a dividing line in town. But it's the north and south mainline of the Illinois Central that is the true split. It literally divides the town in half and is very much a focal point in the town. In fact, this mainline is the reason the town exists at all.
The Illinois Central went through many changes over the years, including a rebranding into the Illinois Central Gulf after its merger with the Gulf, Mobile, & Ohio, but its parent company finally dumped the railroad on its own in the 1980s. Finally, the IC was on its own again, and ready to rebrand. The new Illinois Central saw a dip back to its classic black paint, but with a new set of logos - a big "i" overtop a circle made up only of parallel lines. The birth of the Illinois Central Death Star.
Well. I don't think I need to bore you with world events as of late. I think we all get the gist.
So, furloughed, no classes, no work, and really anything else going on, there hasn't been much to talk about. It's been depressingly quiet for the most part - until somewhat recently, at least.
If you've seen the Gallery lately, or my Flickr or Instagram, you might have noticed a few new shots crop up. A few things happened in the last two months which have given me a few nice photo opportunities. Shameless shoutout where I ask you to follow me on either or both of the aforementioned platforms - stuff appears there first almost always. Links to those (and others) in the sidebar.
So, let's start from the beginning.
Welcome to part two - and coincidentally, day two - of chasing the Union Pacific Big Boy #4014 across the Midwest! If you haven't read part one, I recommend it - I'm just gonna jump straight into things. Here's a link to part one if you missed it: Link
The Union Pacific certainly has a thing for Great Races - which certainly makes sense, as chasing down their trains certainly is a race!
Throughout July and early August this year, the Big Boy #4014 embarked on its second journey - called "The Great Race Across The Midwest." The locomotive visited Minneapolis, Duluth, Chicago, Des Moines, Omaha, North Platte, and many, many towns and cities along the way. It took routes a Big Boy has never once travelled before, making it a prime opportunity to chase. Of course, it was about a full month, so there was no way I was to be able to follow it the way I did during the Great Race To Ogden because it was prohibitively expensive (as we all know from the Ogden trip...) and getting that much time off work was difficult.
Nevertheless, I managed to secure a short trip - July 30th & the 31st. The route for these two days was simple: West Chicago to Cedar Rapids on the 30th, then Cedar Rapids to Des Moines on the 31st. In Part 1, we'll cover the first day, the 30th, and the ridiculousness that was chasing a Big Boy in Illinois & Iowa.
Going back to the beginning of the Great Race To Ogden, there was one particularly early day in the schedule. Specifically, May 6th, 2019 - when the Union Pacific #4014 & #844 left Rock Springs, Wy at 4:00AM. This was because it allowed them to get around scheduled track maintenance - but more importantly, this caused the train to go through morning light.
Of course, before it could be seen in said light, it had to actually leave Rock Springs. At four in the morning.
So, leaving our hotel somewhere around 3:45AM, we headed over to the yard in Rock Springs to take a quick peak at the giant locomotive and its smaller - yet still sizable - companion in the darkness.
Now, I am not a night-time photographer - I don't claim to be. My photos have a bit of grain and often some shakiness from longer exposures, so they're not perfect. I never really planned to do night shots - and my flash refused to fire for whatever reason! So they're a tad bit weird. Still, I grabbed as many as I could in the little time we had.
I am very glad I did.
Hundreds, even thousands, of pieces of railroad history are lucky enough to be saved and cared for, many restored cosmetically, operationally, or even just sitting quiet in a collection. Unfortunately, not everything has that luxury, and many pieces of history have been lost or have nearly been lost, and others sure feel lost. One such example is a little place called Loweth, Montana.
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