Rails & Trails Pages

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Gateway - Bruce Vento Bike Trip

In 2011, I found out about a bike trail in Northeast St. Paul that is on an old railroad grade.  Called the Gateway Trail, I vowed to ride in in 2012.  Well, it almost didn't happen, but I lined up the ride with friends Joe Lewis and Rod Peters.  I emailed some biking friends in the Cities and they recommended we ride the trail south (it goes DOWNHILL in that direction) but when we got where it crossed  the Bruce Vento Trail, we should take that trail into downtown as it would be more scenic.  OK--we would go on Wednesday, September 26th.

It was a GREAT day for riding--temperatures in the 50's, sunny, and NO WIND!  Rod Peters (center), Joe Lewis (right) and yours truly are ready to go!!

For a large portion of the trail, a horseback riding trail parallels our blacktop path.  (2 Horsepower on the left).

We pass many small ponds and lakes.

It looks like Joe was here before, but he says he wasn't!!

We pass under several different highways.

I don't know when the railroad was removed from here but I remember seeing the rail here paralleling Highway 36--and no trains.  I wondered which railroad ran on there and where it went???  Now I know--it is the old Soo Line passenger track from Wisconsin into the Twin Cities.  A convenient bridge is built over Century Avenue.

We pass North St. Paul High School, home of the Polars.

And, a high school gym class is using the trail for exercise.

We come to the Bruce Vento Trail, crossing the Gateway at a right angle.  This picture is taken from the Vento Trail, looking north (we will be riding south).  We came from the right and if we would have continued to the left, we would have ended up near the Capital.  Whereas the Gateway Trail was Soo Line trackage, this part of the Vento Trail was Northern Pacific trackage and was the 'Skally Line.'

The tracks crossed at grade with a diamond and there was a tower here for train protection.  A neat sign had pictures and explained the location.

Here's a shot of a Milwaukee Road train on the Skally Line crossing the Soo Line tracks, courtesy of George Forero.

 We headed south and passed through the backyards of several homes and apartments.  We skirted Lake Phalen.

Things were going good and we were enjoying the ride, UNTIL we came upon this sign.

We had no idea where to go.  We looked at our map, Rod bought a candy bar, we looked at the map, we rode some sidewalks, we looked at the map, and we had no idea where to go.  So we headed south and of course, we were well away from the Vento Trail.  BUT--this was BETTER!!!  We ended up at Indian Burial Mounds Park.

This park is located high on a bluff, overlooking the Mississippi River.  We had seen many pictures taken from this location but none of us had ever been here.  Check out the view!!!  First is the Pig's Eye Yard, former Milwaukee Road trackage, then Soo Line, and now Canadian Pacific.  On the near tracks, BNSF trains also travel between the Twin Cities and Chicago.

Adjacent to this yard is the Union Pacific yard.

More great shots.

We rode this path down the bluff where we could ride right next to the tracks.  These tracks are very busy with many railroads sharing the tracks.  Soon a Canadian Pacific train arrives.

Check out this great video that Rod took of a Union Pacific train coming uphill.  (Coming Soon)

But--we missed the lower part of the Vento Trail and Swede Hollow--which everyone said we had to see.  So, we pedaled north--uphill--on the Vento Trail.  This section was Milwaukee Road trackage.

One of the major industries served by the Milwaukee Road was the Hamm's Brewery, now a derelict set of buildings.

We pass under Union Pacific trackage.  This is the former Omaha/CNW track from Altoona to the Twin Cities, and there is another train stopped right on the trestle.  Picture time.

We go just a little further and then circle back and see that it is a frac sand train arriving from Wisconsin.

We had a meeting set up for Jackson Street Roundhouse and MTM (Minnesota Transportation Museum) so we grab a quick bite at Wendy's and go to Jackson Street.  There's way too many neat exhibits to take pix of but a hit of the show is 'Hustle Muscle.'

This Soo Line caboose is used for their Saturday caboose hop train rides.

Equipment at MTM is turned on this turntable.

MTM has 3 steam engines.  Although none are functional now, hopefully 328 will be again some day!!

A FUN DAY!!!  Biking, trains, friends, food, coffee--who could ask for more???

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

On September 23, 2012, Dick Johnson and I rode the "Nebraska Zephyr."  This train is on exhibit at the Illinois Railway Museum in Union, Illinois and it was run from Chicago to Galesburg to Quincy and back on both Saturday and Sunday.  Dick got the last parlor seat available and I rode coach.  We only did the Galesburg to Quincy and return trip on Sunday.  We arrived in Galesburg on Saturday evening and caught it at the depot, returning from Quincy.

This trainset was built in 1936 for service between the Twin Cities and Chicago.  The trainset was built for speed with lightweight cars and was articulated, meaning one set of wheels served the ends of two cars. The engine is an E5A, built in 1940 and is the only one left in existence.  It is powered by two 1,000HP 12-cylinder engines and was originally geared for 117 MPH (we only got up to about 83 MPH!).  This engine is named the Silver Pilot.  Following is a picture taken by Tom Sharratt, who along with his wife rode the train on Saturday.

 Here is a video of our train at 'running speed.'

Galesburg is a 'railroad town' with 2 mainlines of the BNSF Railroad crossing in the city.  With its rich tradition, it has several railroad displays as well as a railroad museum.
 Beside the depot was this short train which is a test train for the new 'Positive Train Control' which will be implemented on major railroads in the near future.

Here is the coach I will be riding in, called the Minerva.
 The land in this part of Illinois is mainly flat with lots of corn and soybean crops.
 At Quincy we find the small Amtrak depot, built in 1985 and a few miles from downtown.  A new Amtrak-bus terminal closer to downtown is in the planning stages.
 It's always a good view passing over bridges, this one over a highway.
 Here we pass over Quincy Bay Channel.
And now we get to cross the Mighty Mississippi.
It's a long way down to the water.
On the far side of the river at West Quincy is the wye where our train will be 'reversed' for the trip back north.
Now is time for our lunch and we proceed to the dining car.  Here are some of the passengers awaiting their meal.
Going back over the 'Big Muddy' and looking out the other side of the train we see the city of Quincy.
A GREAT Ride.  But a fun part of the trip was the ride down and sight-seeing.  This included seeing as many trains, and variety of trains, as I have seen on a trip.  I left Barron on Friday morning to stay overnight in LaCrosse.  In Menomonie I saw a Canadian Pacific train with a CP engine and a Canadian National engine--running on Union Pacific track--very unusual.  In Alma I stopped to watch a barge go through the locks and FOUR trains passed under me as I stood on the walkway bridge over the tracks.  In Winona I saw the Union Pacific train running on CP trackage with a Missouri Pacific transfer caboose.  And that was just the start of the trip!!

On Saturday morning, Dick and I left to head for Galesburg.  Here's the neat depot in New Albin.
Street running (trains running in the streets) has always intrigued me.  Lansing, Iowa has such a neat track but no train was running through here as we passed.  In Bellvue, there is great street running but again we didn't catch a train.
We spent quite a bit of time in Dubuque. We explored the industrial section.  There would have been lots of tracks in this area in the 'old days.'
For nostalgic reasons, they left some of the old rail in place.  But I would like to see the train that could traverse this track:

 Here's the neat bridge over the Mississippi River that was Illinois Central trackage, then Chicago Central, and now Canadian National.  Note the tunnel at the far end as the track runs straight into the rocky hill.  The tunnel will make a right angle turn in the hill and we'll see the far portal later.
The entire waterfront has been cleaned up and much of it is convention oriented.
Here is the old Burlington (CB&Q) depot.  Dick is waiting in front for a passenger train.  Actually, he may find one here some day as Amtrak is looking at instituting passenger service between Chicago and Dubuque.  Will this be the station they use??
We crossed the Mississippi to East Dubuque.  Here's the east end of that tunnel--but no train coming.
We stopped at Clinton, Iowa--looks like a really neat town.  I'd like to spend some time back here some summer.  Here's the CNW depot--which is for sale!!!!
At Sabula we found this really neat bridge.
This time we got lucky as a DME engine set crossed.
On display at Sabula was this Milwaukee caboose:

Crossing the river, we went into Savannah.  A great museum here with a Civil War display and a large model railroad and advertised to be open on weekends.  Guess what--closed!  We found this caboose and Milwaukee coach displayed.

South of Savannah we came to Thomson, which had a train depot including a museum, and advertised to be open on weekends, and of course, . . . 

On Sunday morning, before we left on the train ride, we met up with Richard Lee, a son of one of my grade school friends who I grew up with.  Richard is the Supervisor of Locomotive Repairs at Galesburg.  He gave 6 of us a great tour of the BNSF yards.  The first 3 pix are some of the yard, taken from Richard's vehicle.
This yard sees an average of 120 trains a day, sometimes up to 160.  It is the third largest yard on the BNSF system, behind Kansas City and Barstow, CA.  360 engines are assigned to Galesburg.  There formerly were 2 hump yards but now there is one and it handles 1200-1300 cars a day, or, on a good day, 2000 cars will come into the hard, 2000 humped and sorted, and 2000 shipped out.  There are 48 tracks off the hump which are called "Bull Tracks."  They try and get cars out in 48 hours.  Occasionally, when the wind is blowing, the cars will come off the hump so fast that the switches don't get switched in time and cars derail!7 different tracks come into Galesburg.  Over 2,000 people work for the railroad here.
Richard's facility services 60 engines a day.  He took us up into the tower where he works.  Here's his office:
And this is one of the computers he uses.  He can track any train within 60 miles of Galesburg.
On the south end of the yard there is a highway overpass.  This is a very popular picture taking site for railfans.
A GREAT trip.  There was a lot of 'action' in a few days!!!