It's a pretty typical Thursday afternoon on March 25th, 2021. Work is slow - orders have all been shipped and picked up, I've finished a spreadsheet for some item name changes, and some of my coworkers have already decided to call it a day a little early. In my corner of the warehouse, where I often work alongside two others, one has just left and we've said 'see ya tomorrow' to her. A few minutes later, I look at the corner of my computers screen. 4:40pm. Yeah, good enough for me.
I finished up and shut down for the night and after saying goodbye to my other coworkers, I clock out and head for home. As is usual for this time of year, it's cloudy as hell, another dreary day. It's par for the course considering just how dull of a workday it's been, zero excitements and a lot of just plain and simple boredom.
It's about halfway down North Market street I decide to turn on my scanner - I carry my camera and scanner with me everywhere these days, why not? My route home takes me near the south end of the IC's rail yard and if anything is ever sitting there, I can see it and decide if its worth stopping to shoot - or maybe even chase!
The scanner is quiet, the south end of the yard is empty. Well, it can't always be an exciting day, I figured. So, on I went towards home, thinking nothing of it.
As I'm headed down Bradley, my scanner crackled to life. A slightly static-y voice came through the speaker and said, "NS2, Homewood, requesting permission to proceed east through Champaign."
"All clear," came the response after a moment. They said something else, but I missed it. East through Champaign? There's only one line in Champaign that goes east. Today is a Thursday... Thursday is the day the NS local typically runs, and east means...
At this point, I'm a few blocks from the NS tracks that cross over Bradley near the intersection at Prospect. I looked closer and realized, oh yes, those are hoppers on the tracks moving east. There is an eastbound train. It is finally happening.
I promptly took the first available left and raced eastwards, hoping desperately I was going to be able to beat it. Normally, a simple NS freight train isn't much to write home about. However, there was something important here - but not the train itself. That train was headed for the diamond, and there are two signals on the NS that protect the diamond - the eastbound approach is an old searchlight signal, but the westbound approach is a semaphore signal. For months I'd been watching and waiting for the opportunity to snag a shot at the semaphore, but the way light works, a sunny day would mean shooting it would be impossible unless it's the morning, and NS very rarely - if ever - runs in the morning. Daytime is rare enough as it is!
The key to making sure I wasn't wasting my time was to hit the crossing near the diamond, right beside the switch that connects the CNIC to the NS and see which way the points were lined. Thanks to having spent a little too much time in the general area, I knew the route there like the back of my hand and checked it - the points were lined across the diamond, just as I hoped! Not to mention, the green over red signal really sent home the point: this train was headed across the diamond. A glance in the opposite direction showed headlights, and while they were slow, they didn't have to stop for anything but I most certainly did.
Stoplights and stop signs feel like they take hours when you're in a hurry. They are not fun. The whole way over, I can hear the NS local blowing for the crossings, and while I'm not exactly able to count exactly how many horn blasts and how many crossings and all that jazz - I'm driving here! - I do know that it's close. I made it across the IC, took a crossing over the NS again to see that yes, I was still beating it, but boy, I wanted to be at that signal already!
I was rather glad that I was now familiar with the route to the semaphore, as it took hardly two minutes to get there. I park up on the road beside it and see I'm not the only one aware of the local, there are two other railfans standing there. I grabbed my camera and headed over.
We greeted each other politely but really just focused on our cameras and the incoming NS local. I stood a little behind the other two guys, just far enough over to not get myself hit by the train nor get them in my shot. The local was still a few blocks away and I was already prepping my shot. I made it.
Whatever horn they had on the locomotive was nicely tuned, it was surprisingly pleasant sounding as it approached the old signal. It was also quicker than it looked, and before I knew it, I was grabbing shots as the train rolled beside the semaphore signal.
NS 6149 is former Norfolk & Western SD40-2 and has spent time across much of the NS since the N&W merged with Southern. At some point, it received chevrons on its plow, multiple beacons, and maybe even some RCO antennae on the roof. From what I've gathered, it was a former Bellevue hump engine that made its way out here since Bellevue was shuttered. It very leisurely pulled its four car train past the old semaphore.
The signal itself I know nothing about. I'm assuming it's former Peoria & Eastern or New York Central (or maybe the "Big Four" even?), but I do know it's been here for a while and looks pretty good all things considered. Being that it's located in Urbana, I knew I had to name the photo after a truly legendary Urbana landmark.
Obviously, I'm talking about the American Football house.
When the train had passed and I looked down at the shots on my camera, I had to say, I was quite happy with how the day had turned out.
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