Rails & Trails Pages

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

St. Croix Valley March 2018

I was invited by the St. Croix Valley Railroad of Rush City, Minnesota to take a ride with them on their railroad on March 20, 2018.  It was a very overcast day with slight snow so the following pictures have been greatly lightened with PhotoShop.

The St. Croix Valley operates on 36 miles of track between Hinckley and North Branch with their office and shop in Rush City.  Today two crew members will take a train north from Rush City to Hinckley while I will ride a train to Harris and back.

The railroad's biggest power are their two SD40M-2s.  These were built as SD45s but have been modified, or rebuilt, as SD40-2s.  Numbered 1325 and 1326, we will take the 1325.  It was built in 1967 and rebuilt in 1978.  Originally with 20 cylinders it packed 3600 HP while now it has 16 cylinders producing 3000 HP.  It was built as Denver & Rio Grand (DRGW) 5335.  The 1326 was built as Southern Pacific (SP) 8840.
As we head south, the 1325 switches the mill (more about it later) before taking 13 cars to Hinckley to be picked up later by the BNSF.  The crew will cab back to Rush City.
We head out, crossing two city streets.
The signal maintainer is out working on the signals.

Just south of Rush city is a siding for the Interstate Energy Partners propane facility.

Along the right-of-way are lots of empty battery boxes and signal bases from Northern Pacific Railroad days.

Entering Harris.
Milepost 44 means this location is 44 miles from St. Paul.
Just south of Harris are two adjacent industries.  The first one is Tiller Corporation Industrial Sand Company.  Frac sand from Grantsburg, WI is loaded into rail cars here.  This is a small company and with only a trackmobile for moving cars, it takes one hour to load each car.  And they load unit trains without enough siding to hold an entire train so loading takes days.
Just south of the sand loading we find the 2 St. Croix Valley GEEPS awaiting work on another day.
The other industry served here is ZINPRO Corporation which makes animal food additives.  Today we will be dropping two tank cars of hydrochloric acid here.
We leave the GEEPS on the main where they will be plugged in to keep them from freezing in cold weather.
We pull into the sand plant where the trackmobile can grab the two empty sand cars off our north end so we can go back to Rush City.
Now this is the way to throw a derail, with a switchstand!
GEEPS are GP or General Purpose diesels which can be used for road service or switcher service.  The St. Croix Valley has two, a GP9 and a GP8.
Heading back north to Rush City, entering Harris.
We are traveling on the famed Skally Line.  This line was built as Lake Superior and Mississippi Railroad in 1877.  It was bought by the Northern Pacific Railroad in 1900.  It operated from St. Paul to Duluth with branches to Minneapolis, Taylors Falls, Kettle River, Cloquet, Grantsburg, and Superior.

These hopper cars are used as buffer cars when transporting tank cars.
Bridges are always fun to cross.
And we are back in Rush City.  The depot is not the original depot but certainly fits the Northern Pacific Railroad decor.
In Rush City is the large Ardent Mills Flour Mill.  It specializes in Durum and Semolina pasta flours.  Wheat is brought in and ground into flour.  Loads in and loads out.

The railroad has built a large engine house for working on the locomotives and keeping them warm in the winter.  We will leave our engine inside.
The engine inside is undergoing usage testing by the St. Croix Valley for Independent Locomotive Services.
To wrap up this Blog, here is a picture from inside the office of Rush City in the early days.  You can just feel the history when you ride this neat railroad!
Thanks to the St. Croix Valley crew for a great day of railroading!




Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Cass Scenic Railroad 2017


On Wednesday, July 12, friend Gary Muehlius of Seattle and I rode the Cass Scenic Railroad in Cass, West Virginia.  This is one of the most famous scenic railroads in the country and runs with classic steam power, Shays and Heislers.

The Cass Scenic Railroad is owned by the State of West Virginia as are the trains out of Elkins, WV and the Durbin Rocket.  They are currently operated by the Durbin and Greenbrier Valley Railroad.

As we drove to Cass, we discovered that the state of West Virginia has no road (other than interstates) that is straight for a distance of over 100 yards!!!  And it is all hills!  (Actually the Alleghany Mountains) BUT beautiful scenery.

Here is an observation lookout at Curtin, West Virginia on the way.  It overlooks the village of Curtin and still has a large sawmill.
We arrived in Cass late Tuesday afternoon to be ready for our Wednesday departure.  We found the town almost deserted.  Here is the depot with the Company Store behind it, which now sells souvenirs.
Our motel is just across the Greenbrier River.
And offers this view of the depot area.
A tour uptown reveals these company houses, built for the West Virginia Pulp & Paper Company sawmill workers.  These are now available for rent to tourists.
There are 2 trains leaving Cass daily.  The early train is an 8-mile two hour round trip to Whittaker Station.  We opted for the later 22-mile 4.5 hour trip to Bald Knob (naturally!)  Here the early train backs into the depot.
And in a time-honored photo of every steam engine getting some TLC, Shay #4 gets a little more oil.
Before steaming out of town.
Between train action, a video is displayed and this great model of Cass enjoyed by the next train's passengers.
Then our train backs into town.
Here are 2 railfans who just can't get enough train rides.
Our seats are in the end car which will lead the train up the hill
Come along for a ride on grades reaching 12% and climbing to an elevation of 4,700 feet.
The sawmill had been left intact when lumbering stopped in 1960 but a fire in the 1980s pretty much destroyed it.





 This one is going to need a little work . . .



 In order to gain the necessary elevation, two switchbacks are still used.  These are the only active switchbacks still being used in the United States.  We will pull past the switch and then pull the train up to the next switchback.


 At the upper switchback we find the Whittaker train waiting for us.  We will pull over the switch and then that train will come through the switch and push down to the next switchback.
 And we will now shove again up the mountain.
 The scenery is simply spectacular--and would be even more in fall colors.
 Here is Whittaker Station, where the first train stopped.

 On the trip back down the mountain, our train stopped here so we could explore a recreated logging camp.  Here is a log skidder which could bring logs to the rail cars from distances even across the valleys.
 Continuing back up the hill . . .




 The track on the left goes to Elkins.  After it had been removed, the state of replaced it so trains can run all the way from Elkins to Cass where the railroad's shops are located.
 The locomotive holds 6000 gallons of water and it takes 6000 gallons to reach Bald Knob.  So the train stops here and siphons water to replenish its tank.

 Note the track in the center of the picture.  That's the new reconstructed track.

 Near the top of the mountain there is a wye track for reversing their engines.

 It's a great sight and feel to have this big horse snorting on the end and shoving us uphill.
 Here is the maximum grade on the railroad.  If you look REAL close toward the top of the track you will see a black dot on the right.  As I was talking with the conductor in the doorway, a bear bolted across the track.  By the time I got my camera in position he was almost gone.
 And we reach Bald Knob, elevation 4700 feet.
 The wood structure on the right is a viewing platform.  You will note a caboose at the end of the track which is rented to overnight guests, and is occupied.
 Unbelievable scenery.
We had no cell coverage in this area (Federal Orders).   Note the white circular object in the center of the picture.  That is the Green Bank Observatory.  It measures radio waves in outer space and has a 10-mile restricted cell phone coverage.

 We head back down the 'hill.'  Even though the train has air brakes, a brakeman on each car turns down brakes when needed to keep the cars taut so the passengers have a smooth ride.

This is an unbelievable train ride which should be enjoyed by all railfans (and non railfans).  You won't be disappointed!!

As we traveled from Cass to Elkins, WV, we passed through Durbin, where the Durbin Rocket had ended its trip for the day.  At the present, their track is only about 5 miles long but it is being rebuilt to connect to Elkins.  We didn't have time to ride this train . . . this time!

Looking like a shot from 1950 . . .
And, just waiting for another train . . . . . . . . . . .