Friday, December 28, 2018

Trestle Park in Milwaukee

The Trestle of Trestle Park. Andrew Grigg, photgrapher.
Trestle Park is Milwaukee's tiny answer to the growing trend of linear parks in major cities which utilize abandoned railroad corridors, in the same vein as Philadelphia's Rail Park and New York City's amazing High Line. While Trestle Park is much smaller than the other parks mentioned, after visiting it, I can say it nonetheless has a great charm in it's small size.

Looking from one end of the park to the other.
The Park opened earlier this year after being proposed and approved in 2017. The signature trestle pictured, while certainly it's namesake, isn't part of the park. The park, located in the Historic Third Ward neighborhood south of downtown Milwaukee is part of the Third Ward RiverWalk, along the Milwaukee River. It is part of a large scale redevelopment of the area as well, which was quite obvious on the drive to the park. Many new condos, restaurants, and businesses make up the nearby landscape.

One really cool thing about the park, the design incorporates the former railroad crossing signals in it's design!
According to, the Trestle was originally built in 1915 to replace an earlier 1890 bridge. Once upon a time, this was the original Chicago & Northwestern mainline through Milwaukee, carrying CNW's signature Twin Cities 400 trains over the river. 400 was so named because of the 400 minutes between Chicago, IL and Minneapolis, MN. The original Milwaukee depot is long gone, and nowadays, Amtrak's Hiawatha and Empire Builder trains use the Milwaukee Intermodal Station, paralleling the river, for it's long distance trains.

Image: Milwaukee County Historical Society via FlyerScope.
Northeast of here, the former line is now the Oak Leaf Trail, but the trestle survived much later, being used in industrial operations until the early 2000's.

Looking west toward the river from Erie St.
I'd been meaning to visit this park for some time. But I couldn't justify the 90 minute trip to Milwaukee for such a small attraction, but it was definitely on my to-do list. Upon passing through the city, we gave it a go. As for my personal opinion on it, it was exactly what I was expecting it to be, small but certainly charming. There are tons of benches for people to sit, relax and enjoy the neighborhood, but it is also not someplace most would visit in the winter (we were the only ones there). The trestle and nearby scenery is certainly well incorporated into the design of the park, with plenty of photo opportunities of your surroundings.

Overall, I think it is a great gem for the neighborhood, although not something that is going to attract people outside Milwaukee.

Except for the occasional abandoned railroad photographer.

That being said, there are a couple proposals that would have the City of Milwaukee purchase the trestle and potentially expand Trestle Park onto the west side of the river, so I might be back here in a few years if that ever materializes.

As always, thanks for reading!

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

2018 Recap, and What's Next in Abandoned Railroads

As 2018 comes to a close, I figured I would review what an incredible year it's been, what I've been doing, what I've accomplished, and what's next to come. With that said, this year was made possible in large part thanks to the individual contributions and help from many of you, so as always, thank you and keep up the good work!

January began for us in frigid conditions next to Lake Como, WI at the French Country Inn Hotel. Unbeknownst to me what I booked the hotel, there was an abandoned railroad right of way in the parking lot. At a temperature of -16, I took this shot of the former CNW Williams Bay branch. At this time, I was already well on my way to tracing abandoned railroads, and was aware of the Williams Bay branch, having taken some pictures of the ROW which is currently Lake Geneva's Bike Trail nearby, but I wouldn't connect the dots until looking at topo maps when we were at the hotel.

It would set the tone for the rest of the year.

CNW Railway Bridge in Chicago on a frigid January morning.
A few days later I received an email from Atlas Obscura asking me to interview for an upcoming article on my map. I was very excited and once the article published, busy, as I got roughly 150 emails about omissions on the map.

I decided I really enjoyed abandoned railroad mapping and photography as a hobby, and was going to stick with it and create a blog. And, obviously, I'm still with it, and continuing to get better day by day. While this blog started on WordPress, I found the Blogger platform more easy to use.

The first iteration of my Blogger blog shows how far I've come.
As January came to a close, I visited Illinois Beach State Park in hopes of finding some of the abandoned right of way, but ultimately was thwarted by a couple inches of snow.

Illinois Beach 1/29/18
I figured my niche could be photographing abandoned railroad corridors and rail trails, while describing the history of the line, and so far that has served me well. While sometimes that's easier said than done, the brain trust of the railfan community has served me well to that end.

I didn't really do much in the way of photography until March, as I was more busy in February trying to respond to people in regards to map, as well as beginning to move. But March would be the first photo blog on Blogger, with The Gary Line as the subject. I also discussed IL-56 as the original East-West Tollway, a beginning of an incorporation of other modes of transportation history discussed on this blog.

March would feature 8 blogs, a total I have yet to match in a month, and I doubt I can, as honestly I had a few blog ideas on my chest before then, including discussing my favorite rail-trails, as well as trying to show the benefits of rail-trails from a railfan's perspective, to which I feel I've been somewhat successful, although there's still plenty of haters out there. Oh well. 

I created a page on Facebook to show off my blogs and share interesting abandoned nuggets from Railways, Roads & Places, and the occasional sunken ship and/or meme. Since that's a mouthful, it's simply called Forgotten Railway, Roads, and Places

April was when I would move, and thus had little time to do much in the way of photography, but I still had some interesting ideas that I wanted to both learn more about and share with the world. In regards to unbuilt railroads, I took what was going to be one blog and split it into two for easier reading. Another thing I thought was interesting was a few of the railway lines I'd come across in my mapping efforts that were abandoned not because they weren't feasible, but destroyed in disasters.

I visited New York City with some friends for a weekend trip and got some amazing pictures of The High Line, in addition to the many wonderful tourist traps of the city. Of course I would visit again simply to walk The High Line. 

This is one of the best pictures I believe I've ever taken, and there are many spots along The High Line designed solely for amazing photography.
The rest of the month was rounded out by two blogs on historic roads, each of which are no longer driveable today, abandoned railroads in places you wouldn't expect, like Greenland, and a history of railroads across Lake County, Illinois.  

One thing I really liked about that blog was being able to discuss the predecessor railroads of active lines today. While there are thousands of abandoned and defunct railroad companies out there, many of those companies are still in service under the huge conglomerate Class I railroads we have today, so any chance to talk about some of them is always nice, even if they aren't abandoned.

June & July:
I combined these two months since as the summer was finally upon us, I got to do some great traveling, and get some amazing pictures from a road trip (which happened to fall on June 29-July 3). A blog on suburban scharchitecture was among my most popular blogs to date. 

For a long time, I had been interested in the "hidden" highways of Illinois, in other words, the roads that IDOT maintains that aren't part of Illinois' numbered highway system. There is still a lot for me and the rest of the roadgeek world to learn about this system, however.

Argonne National Laboratory's Abandoned Railroad Tracks.

One set of tracks among a few that piqued my interest in abandoned railroads was located in Waterfall Glen Forest Preserve, which I observed in a 2012 walk. I had to know more about them! After a few trips for pictures and a successful request for information from Argonne, I wrote a blog about them. Thanks once again to Argonne for the information! This was one of my favorites as it was well researched.

As I was visiting the Kinzua Bridge as part of my road trip, I wrote on some of the abandoned railroad places everyone should have on their bucket list. I've been to two of the six that I mentioned, The High Line, and the Kinzua Bridge.

Nothing prepares you for the view from the bridge. Not online, at least.
Whereas there are many tourist destinations made from railroad history, there are some towns and railroad lines that are gone forever, simply due to damming. My blog touched on the subject, but in all honesty, the amount of history washed away is too much for one blog, which only introduced the subject. 

View of the city skyline and St. Charles Air Line Bridge, and one light post that I wish I'd had the foresight to not get in my photo!

Finally, we visited Ping Tom Park in Chicago to end July, once a former railyard, now turned garden, pagoda, Water Taxi Stop, and Chinatown Square, with plenty of shops and restaurants.

While I did not blog on Heidecke Lake, I did go fishing at the spot where an out-of-service former EJ&E line once served a nearby power plant. Some of my best pictures came from there. The juxtaposition between water, beach, and railroad made some really interesting pictures!

Looking west.

August was the last month I really had a good amount of time to devote to blogging and ideas that I hadn't talked about. I would say from now on, 3-4 blogs will be commonplace per month. But nonetheless...

View from Goldmine Rd, this railroad crossbuck appears to have been put up by a private owner.

The Chicago Great Western was always one of the most interesting rail lines for me, mainly because of the Great Western Trail, the signs I'd see for it driving on I-355, and it's amazing length, being the longest abandoned railroad line from Chicago. I also had pictures through all of Western Illinois. 

Later in the month we visited another local place I had wanted to visit for awhile; The Joliet Iron Works, which has it's place in both industrial and railroad history.


September was busy prepping for a new day job (yes, I do more than just talk about railroad abandonments) and thus I only had time to write one blog, on a town I'd noted in my study of abandoned railroads had lost each of it's lines in Anthony, KS.

We visited North Judson, IN's rail museum early in October, at the intersection of four abandoned railroad lines, much like Anthony, KS. Chock full of abandoned artifacts, and rights-of-way, both on the museum grounds and around the town, it was a great visit.

One of my favorite photos. I'd experimented with black and white photography before, but I think this is the best example of it in my photographs.

I hadn't been out for a walk on my own for awhile, which is something I really enjoy doing, so to clear my head and not go for photos or history, I went to St. James Forest Preserve near Winfield. While I succeeded in getting a walk in and clearing my head, I utterly failed to realize I was on the right of way of both former IL-56 and the Chicago Aurora & Elgin Railroad. Thus, I was back to work blogging!

One of my favorite photos. Looking west along former Butterfield Rd in the Forest Preserve.
On Halloween, I realized one of the things I'd been wanting to blog about for some time, and still have things to discuss: railroad reactivations, either from abandonment or many years' removed from service.

November featured another blog on scarchitecture, this time in the largest cities around the US, which as always seems to be my most popular blogs! Another blog I'd been wanting to do for some time was create a how-to for creating abandoned railroad maps (or frankly, anything with Google My Maps). I still am going to update that blog if/when more questions come about, but I'm already surprised at how popular it was. 

The month ended with a visit to a city I used to cover, and it's missing expressways. New York City had over a dozen expressway proposals that were cancelled mainly due to public opposition. 

Finally, December featured a blog on the Pere Marquette 1225 and the Polar Express, which I had honestly written for an audience like myself, who hadn't grown up with the movie but was nonetheless interested in the history and development around it.

Earlier in the month, I finally finished a blog I had been working on for some time, in what I believe is one of the most interesting pieces of abandoned railroad infrastructure, the Aurora Roundhouse.

In some ways, it's been a very long year, in others, it's hard to believe we're in the final week of 2018. I've kept busy this year in the blog, the abandoned railroad map, and curating content in Forgotten Railways, Roads & Places. Once again, I say thank you to those who have helped toward the end of finding all the abandoned railroad routes across the US and the World!

What's to come in the New Year:
My Christmas present to myself this year was a Canon Rebel T6 camera, which I'm still learning how to use and get the most out of. Before then, all of the pictures I've taken were with an iPhone 8 Plus Camera, which works well enough, but I'm excited to see what I can do with a DSLR camera. I am going up north to take some more railroad pictures with my new camera between Christmas and New Years, and will probably be posting at least two blogs worth from that trip in the next month. 

We are also now members of the Illinois Railway Museum, and while I've visited there before, I will again in 2019 for another couple blogs worth of content I've wanted to do around the Chicago area. In the meantime, I highly suggest checking out The Trolley Dodger, who has done a lot of amazing blogs on areas before I had the chance to do so!

We do have a couple trips planned in 2019 which would involve both current and abandoned railroad destinations, but obviously those are never confirmed until they actually happen, so I cannot say for sure as to what exactly will happen.

I am still working on the map at great pace, and will continue to do so. I am always looking for ways to expand it's reach and collaboration potential. I might take a break here and there, but I am not stopping the goal of tracing each and every abandoned railroad right of way out there.

As for the blog, I am looking at redesigns and other ways to expand and update it as well, and potentially busying myself with some other projects, both inside and outside the rail industry.

And with everything, your ideas and input are always welcome, because without you reading, and sending me abandoned lines, this blog and project would be nowhere, so as always, thank you!

Friday, December 21, 2018

The Polar Express (Pere Marquette 1225) History & Movie Review

It's the Holiday Season once again, and as a result, I figured I'd mix things up a bit and discuss a Christmas Movie, The Polar Express, and it's significance to the railroad industry as a whole.

The movie is based off of a 1985 book of the same name, which itself is based off of a locomotive, specifically Pere Marquette 1225. The author, Chris Van Allsburg, grew up in Grand Rapids, MI, and visited the Steam Railroading Institute in Owosso, MI, where the locomotive was in service and on display, which it remains to this day.

According to it's fan-page, Pere Marquette 1225 is "is a class N-1 2-8-4 Berkshire-type steam locomotive". As someone who's interests in railroading are more in the routes themselves and not so much the engines, I really don't know what that means.

That said, the locomotive really is gorgeous, and it doesn't take much imagination to see how glorious it would be as a Christmas steam engine. Take a look at it in action:

The locomotive was put into service in 1941, making it among the last steam engines constructed before diesel would become the norm for railroads. It was in service until 1951, after which time the Pere Marquette Railway had been purchased by the Chesapeake & Ohio Railroad. It was saved from scrap in 1957 after it was purchased by Michigan State University, where it remained on static display until 1971, when it was rebuilt to begin service once again at the Steam Railroad Institute.

Van Allsburg was so stricken by the locomotive, and specifically it's 1225 numbering as symbolic for December 25th, that he wrote the novel based almost entirely on the locomotive. That being said, in both the novel and the film, that is pretty much the only thing in reality that the locomotive has to do with the story, which is entirely a Christmas fantasy.

The book was before my time, and the film was after my time growing up when I would've been interested in it, so other than bits and pieces, I had never actually seen the movie in it's entirety until this week, when my girlfriend decided we should watch it for Christmas.

With that said, I know this movie is for kids, and in many ways it seems like a children's Christmas story, but at the same time, there are many really dark moments in this movie that would freak me out as a kid. Overall, I had mixed feelings about it. Some have complained about the art style of the movie, and while some of the characters do look a little off, I thought overall the computer animation was pretty good. It also has a very nice soundtrack that kids are sure to love.

The movie begins when a nameless child is trying hard to sleep the night before Christmas, eagerly waiting the possibility of Santa showing up. As soon as he appears to fall asleep, he is awoken by the sound of a train running outside his front window.

Street Running Trains are awesome.
He is beckoned inside by a conductor (because kids should always get in vehicles alone without any parental supervision at night; but whatever), and in his coat pocket appears a Golden Ticket for a round-trip ride on the Polar Express to the North Pole. He isn't alone though, as many other kids are North Pole bound on this train.

Then we meet some of the other kids, including this train nerd:
My guy. Image
Except he's wrong when he says the PM 1225 was built by Baldwin, indeed it was actually built by the Lima Locomotive Works.

Now about the route itself...this is the scariest train route in the entire world. Again, I know this is a kids movie, but the grades, speed and moves that this train pulls off is more akin to The Fast and the Furious. See for yourself:

I guess it's a fun ride to say the least. And since miraculously no one was hurt, the ride continues to the North Pole, with hot chocolate for the kids. Throughout the movie, or at the very least during the first few scenes with him, I thought the conductor was a little edgy for the kids. Which is probably how it would be in real life, the conductor wanting an orderly and on time train, but we've already established that this movie is well into fantasy.

The girl in the car loses her ticket, and it appears is going to be thrown off the train, leading the main character to follow her and the conductor, and cross cars alone, in a storm, at max speed...this inevitably ends badly, and the kid finds himself on the roof of the car with a ghost, and is able to make his way down to the engine where the girl is now running the train. And that doesn't even cover what happened to the ticket!

After crisis is averted yet again, the kid finds himself in the first car, full of marionette puppets and the remnants of unwanted and thrown away toys. This is another jarring scene that does nothing other than add some creepy elements to a movie that really doesn't need it.

They finally make their way to the North Pole, and the girl, another boy and the protagonist get separated from the rest of the group, and must cross railroad ties that must be hundreds of feet up with nothing to guard against them falling.

Is this a Skyrim level? Nope, a kids movie.
While this scene will freak anyone out who's afraid of heights, I really think the animation and art style of the North Pole, and this scene in particular is amazing.

Fast forwarding a bit, and Santa is about to depart on his sleigh for the night (it's been 11:55 for most of the 2nd half of the movie). The kid doesn't see Santa until he screams out that he believes. Ultimately, I'm not sure what, if any message this movie has, but it certainly has one, since upon the return trip, the conductor punches each of the kid's tickets with a cryptic note.

"Lead" for the girl who was briefly engineering the train.
"Learn" for the know-it-all kid.
"Believe" for the protagonist

The return trip is much less eventful than when they headed to the North Pole.

Overall, this is a good movie provided you don't take it seriously, or try to decipher it as anything more than simply a Christmas train movie. There are parts that seem a little overblown as well as some needlessly dark moments, but it ultimately survives under it's own weight.

Much like the Polar Express.

As always I hope you enjoyed today's blog, and thanks as always for reading! And finally, have a Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, a Crazy Kwanzaa, a tip-top Tet, and a solemn, dignified Ramadan.

Thursday, December 13, 2018

The Aurora Roundhouse - From Railroad History to Walter Payton and Today

As with any building, it's time and purpose comes and goes. The railroad industry is no exception. Such was the case for the Chicago Burlington & Quincy Roundhouse and Locomotive Shop in Aurora, IL.

The Aurora Roundhouse in the 1930's. Image:
The Roundhouse and it's subsequent buildings were first opened in 1857 for servicing locomotives on the Chicago & Aurora Railroad, not to be confused with the later interurban railway the Chicago Aurora & Elgin. The C&A was the first predecessor railroad which would develop into the Chicago Burlington & Quincy Railroad, and it's Chicago to Aurora route is to this day one of the busiest in the United States, both for freight and passenger traffic.

Locomotives using the roundhouse. Image: Matthew Powers
There were actually two roundhouses in the complex by the 1870's. But an 1880 fire would destroy many of the original structures. The 2nd roundhouse was replaced with a newer one in 1925. (Link). As diesel engines began to replace steam engines, the importance of the roundhouse complex dwindled, but it nonetheless maintained CB&Q's fleet of Zephyr locomotives through most of the mid-20th century.

But by 1974, the need for the Roundhouse Complex had ceased, and it was closed by CB&Q's successor railroad, the Burlington Northern.

Image: Wikipedia Commons
While most structures were demolished, the iconic Roundhouse remained upright, albeit in very bad shape.

Roundhouse in the late 1970's. Image: Vicki Moore

The building would lay dormant for 21 years, a reminder of the area's manufacturing and railroad history, but nothing else, until 1995, when an investment group led by Chicago Bears legend Walter Payton purchased the building with the intention of turning it into a restaurant.

It would be called the Walter Payton Roundhouse and later America's Historic Roundhouse. The complex had an open-air pavillion, brewery and museum, which also had some of Payton's memorabilia in it, such as his Super Bowl XX ring.

The complex would receive a National Preservation Award on October 22, 1999, ten days before Walter Payton's untimely death to liver cancer.

The restaurant was acquired by Two Brothers Artisan Brewing Company in 2011, who still owns it. We visited the restaurant recently and had a great experience, except for the parking lot which is far too small. 

Entrance to the Roundhouse. The history of the place is well documented in it's logo, but there are little mentions of it's past life inside. It's website nonetheless tells the story well.

Much of the original limestone structure is still intact, although the restaurant area is on wood platforms slightly above the shop floors.

One of the beers available is a nod to the Illinois Prairie Path, itself a redeveloped piece of railroad infrastructure.
A light, crisp ale that is apparently gluten free.
Visiting at night, I didn't have a chance to take many pictures of the complex, but I hope to return in the summer and grab some more shots in the daylight. Even so, while the restaurant is worth a visit, it is the history of the place that makes it a truly unique experience.

As always, thanks for reading!