If there's one constant in this world, it's that things don't stay the same forever. It's the nature of the world, things have to change - some of them are big, sweeping changes or outright replacements, other times its just details. When it comes to the world of trains and railroading, you see a lot of changes of all shapes and sizes. Some are for the better unquestionably, such as improving construction standards on tanker cars, but others are unquestionably terrible, such as BNSFs recent Hi-Vis attendance policy that keeps engineers and conductors away from home and family alike and offers no flexibility.
Other changes... they don't have any real impact on the world or railroading at large, but yet we find their negative effects regardless. Perhaps it's just a visual change - functionally everything is the same, but it doesn't quite look or feel the same. This is exactly what has happened at the small community of Lodge, Illinois this year.
Lodge, to most people, is completely irrelevant. The little community holds barely two dozen buildings, most homes, one a church, and a grain elevator. Lodge is home to the north end of a siding on the NS Bloomington District, the south end approximately 1.8 miles south and is known as CP Mills. CP Lodge itself is directly in the center of town, right beside the elevator. A third track beside the siding sits between the elevator, curving to the northwest before disappearing into the ground. In a previous life, the Illinois Central had a line that branched off of its Havanna District at White Heath that crossed the Wabash line in town, paralleling where Route 10 exists today. Route 10 itself used to be a bridge over the Wabash trackage, now owned by Norfolk Southern. Just south of the crossing next to the grain elevator sits a pair of railroad signals: one two headed dwarf, capable of a rare lunar aspect, and the other a taller two headed US&S H5 searchlight with paint slowly being weathered away. To the north of Illinois Route 10 sits a massive three headed H5 searchlight to direct southbound trains either through the mainline or into the siding.
Or, that's what Lodge used to be like.
You see, most of Lodge is the same today. A number of houses, a church, a few beat up roads, the Norfolk Southern line still runs through there, and the seemingly endless fields of corn and soybeans surround town in all directions for miles and miles. But Lodge was hit with a one-two punch early in 2022 with the removal of its original southbound searchlight signal, and most importantly, the entire grain elevator.
I received a message from a friend at NS who informed me that the three header was coming down, and the second three header in town was finally being cut in. The reason? That tall metal box on the opposite side of the tracks. It's a relay cabinet, and it's connected to the old codeline that still follows much of the Bloomington District. The cabinet has a battery circuit in it, and that paired with the 6 spans of codeline being used to power it (and thus, work the signal) was deemed to be unnecessary. So, on May 24th, 2022, the original 1959 three header was cut out and turned to the side.
Typically when old signals like these are replaced, a brand new modern signal will be the one to replace it - typically nicknamed "Vaders," these traffic-light style signals are now built with easy-to-replace LEDs instead of moving parts and glass lenses inside the back of the heads. If we are being honest here, the modern signal is the better option - cheaper and easier to maintain, and does standardize signal indications as more and more are placed down.
However, in an odd move, the searchlight was replaced with... another searchlight.
Two years ago, give or take, a US&S H2 searchlight was erected just south of Illinois 10 and right beside the switch for the CP Lodge siding. Its heads were dim and turned to the side, and it sat like that, begging questions from enthusiasts in the area. Why is this here? Well, we finally got our answer this year.
The differences between an H2 and H5 searchlight aren't many, as I understand it, however one thing is obvious: the sheer size difference. For whatever reason an H5 is absolutely massive. Outrageously so, if we're honest - it's thicker, taller, wider, heavier... pretty much bigger in every single possible regard. The weight of just one of the heads on an H5 is unimaginable. The size of the target - that big shield that surrounds the lenses and their hoods - is also significantly larger. Simply put, the H5 is a big, big signal.
Ultimately, the replacement does mean little. It's still a searchlight guiding trains at Lodge, but a little piece of Wabash history is gone. CTC was installed onto the line in 1959, including the massive H5s with it, and they've remained standing in place all these years.
I was present to see the cutover of the old and new signals, just to document the change and ask someone about the fate of the signal.
I inquired about the fate of the H5 and was told ultimately it was going to be stripped for parts to help keep the remaining searchlights operational. Despite suggesting a purchase outright, unfortunately there was no acquiring the signal as it was.
Later that same day, the signal and its relay cabinet were pulled down and dropped onto a trailer. NS then left that trailer sat there overnight. I'm told that some locals took a pretty close look at the signal only to find the internals had all been stripped away already, leaving the 20ft tall signal little more than a giant 1000lb hunk of scrap metal. Today, the Lodge home signal sits in the spare parts pile in Decatur, left to rot away.
I never had very good luck getting northbound trains at the signal, but I was able to catch the second-to-last D36 (with D41 tacked onto the end) fly past the signal.
One of the last green indications the signal would ever display.
The signal replacement at Lodge is one of those inconsequential changes I mentioned previously. Really, nothing changed - a searchlight controls traffic on the line. But to those of us who saw the original signal that did it, it has changed, and Lodge felt a little less like Lodge after that - but only a little.
But nothing could have prepared any of us for what happened next.
With the signals still standing guard over Lodge, the one thing that the community had that made them stand out was the grain elevator. A classic wooden, box elevator, clad with sheets of slowly rusting metal. It's practically the face of the Bloomington District, what with the two header and the dwarf making it the prime place to shoot a train. You get classic signals and a classic elevator - what's not to love?
Around the same time the news of Lodges original signal being removed came out, another friend of mine who I often chase and shoot with pointed out that the conveyor belts had been removed from the grain bins. A few weeks earlier, while shooting some trains in the area with my girlfriend, we noticed some machinery parked nearby the elevator that would allow someone to inspect the elevator. It begged some questions to be sure, and finding the removed conveyors sat between the elevator and metal silos was only adding more to that.
Imagine my confusion. Why? The elevator and its facility hadn't been used in years and years, and such an elevator is hardly worth re-activating or refurbishing. There was one obvious answer, but it was one nobody actually wanted to believe. Nobody really did believe it until the silo was removed from the back.
Attached to the back side of the elevator was a huge concrete silo. On memorial day, I was out and shooting a train my friend was on - light power - and when I arrived at Lodge, I was presented with this horrific sight.
There was no question now that the elevator was going to disappear. After shooting the train, I returned to Lodge to walk around the elevator and take as many photos of the elevator as I could from every angle I was able to. If nothing else, I'd have some photo documentation of the elevator, hopefully useful to create a model - be it physical or digital - one day. The sudden speed of the removal was unprecedented, and I had no idea how long the main elevator itself had.
It turns out that the light power I caught there was the last train to ever pass the elevator. The very next day, it was gone.
No trains moved the rest of the day in either direction, none overnight either. That was it.
I visited the site shortly after, on my way to meet with friends in Wisconsin, and found the elevator gone and the silos the only remaining structures on the property.
After my Wisconsin trip, I found myself with little time to venture towards the Bloomington District. Work had me firmly in its grip, and then I was off to the east coast for a good week, and a week after that out to England to see my girlfriend. After returning from that (which is a whole story in and of itself...) and recovering from the horrendous illness I contracted while overseas, I didn't revisit Lodge until the very end of July.
It's just not the same.
Previously, you could see Lodge from miles away - the conveyors attached to the grain bins are like a skyscraper out here in the midwest. Now, however... Lodge is all but invisible from the distance. No longer do you see the towering conveyors as you approach from CP Mills, nor can you recognize the community from far down Route 10. It's just a cluster of trees and houses, with no single identifying feature. There's just nothing left but a small grassy field.
Ultimately, it means nothing. And that's the sad reality of it. Signals can be replaced and elevators torn down, and few will care or notice. And why should they? These things are inconsequential to most folks, and there's nothing wrong with that. More often than not these sorts of things just don't influence what most people do. In actual fact, they only ever matter to people like me, the ones that stand trackside and capture photos of what these places are like.
Lodge has never been documented very well. Mostly just in passing text here or there, but in recent years as signals fall, it and the Bloomington District became more of a focus than ever, and more photos of Lodge have been taken in the last five or ten years than the previous hundred combined, more than likely. It's hard to imagine what it will look like in another decade, or in many more. One day this little community will likely no longer exist, and the only thing left will be the lonely railroad control point and a few photos of a long-dead grain elevator.
To think, Lodge once hosted so much more in it. Never a big town by any stretch, but there were two railroads - trackage rights from a third sometimes - and an interlocking tower, bridges and signals... Lodge held a purpose that today, it doesn't quite match.
For me, I'm just glad I was able to see and document Lodge as I've seen it. I only wish I could have done more of it.
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