Friday, September 20, 2019

Scanning Old Railroad Photos: Keeping Railroad History Alive

In any industry, media preservation is an ongoing issue, particularly when it comes to film and photography. For example, many early Hollywood films have been lost to history.

To its credit, the railroad industry has been quite proactive about keeping its history preserved, at least when it comes to the largest companies and routes, as have the numerous historical societies that have existed long before the digital age.

That said, much of the history of smaller short line railroads can be much tougher to come by, some of it is all but gone. It was only this week that a user clued me into a small railroad in the Chicago area I had no idea existed; The Midlothian and Blue Island Railway. Certainly, given the size of the ever-changing rail network, railroad historians have had their work cut out for them keeping up with the changes.

The internet and digital media have been a fantastic tool to this end. Without it, my map of abandoned rights-of-way couldn't exist, at least not in a searchable and shareable format.

I've recently acquired another tool to help preserve the past, at least in a minuscule way, a photo scanner to move Kodachrome slides to the digital age.

Union Pacific 7663 near what I believe is Lawrence, KS in the early 1990's. Original photographer: Dan Warren
Much like film, old photographs allow for an important window into our past. In addition to the scanner, I've also purchased about 3,000 photos, many of which I still have yet to process, but in the month or so I've worked on this hobby, I can definitely say it brings me joy that these photos won't be lost to history. 

A view from inside the MetroLink St. Louis shops. Image: Larry Stiles
Slide scanners are nothing new, and there exist dozens on the market, ranging from smartphone scanners to professional grade scanners that cost hundreds of dollars. Mine was on the low end of price; the DigitNow! 135 Film and Negative Scanner. Each of the historic photos in this blog were scanned using that scanner, and while it certainly isn't perfect, it's perfect for what I need it for.

The DigitNow Scanner in all its glory.
It can fit in your hand, although its quite easy to slide slides (or film) into one end, hit scan, and insert another one afterwards. It actually doesn't even need a PC to function, just a USB or power cord, both of which are included. It does need a memory source, and supports SD cards up to 32gb

On the highest setting, each photo is about 3 megabytes in size, so memory shouldn't be an issue with even the largest collections of photos. The quality depends on the photo itself, although with a little work in Photoshop or another photo-editing tool, it's usually good enough for what is necessary for sharing slides.

If you try to remove images too early, quality issues do come into play, like the image below of La Plata, MO.

This one didn't turn out so good, but that was mainly my fault. Original photographer: Dan Warren.
So far I haven't come across any images that I can honestly say have preserved railroad history, but I've also only scanned about 1,500. For those of you with vast collections of slides and photos, I'm more than certain that some of them are one of a kind photos, or nearly so.
A steam-engine tire being put on, using fire to make the metal expand, than cooling it to secure it to the wheel. Unknown photographer, 1988.

UP X3985 during a 1993 excursion trip. This image, and many others like it, were taken in what appears to be rainy and foggy weather. Image: Larry Stiles
I have seen a couple views that you can't really see today, at least legally (and safely). Below is a view from the McArthur Bridge over the Mississippi River. While it is still in service as a railroad bridge, it also used to carry auto traffic.
A shot of the Terminal Railroad Association of St. Louis' right of way. This shot is from the now-defunct McArthur Bridge, once part of Route 66. Original photographer: Larry Stiles
NKP 587 during a 1990 excursion trip. Original photographer: Larry Stiles
There are many ways, and many media, to preserve all kinds of history. I'm thankful to live in a time where I can share photos with the rest of the world. My plan is to use this scanner to create a searchable database of photos and allow them to be shared with the world. I'm still early on in the project however and thus have nothing more to share on that end, but much like my abandoned railroads map and all the other maps I've created, its main end is to bring transportation history to a wider audience. 

Thanks as always for reading!

Thursday, September 12, 2019

Railcars in Storage

The US railroad network is an engineering marvel. And just as important to the industry as the rails themselves are its rolling stock. After all, without railcars, the rails would be nothing but iron.

But the demand for railcars is not constant, and different kinds of cars are needed at different points of the year. While the exact number of railcars in service in North American railroads and holding companies isn't known, it's about 1.6 million.

On any given day however, about 900,000 won't move. While many of these are simply waiting in large railyards, many more are redundant at certain points of the year, and yet will be needed in the future. Thus, there is a market for train tracks to hold excess cars.

While many of these can be stored away in yards, an alternative to placing a line out of service or abandoning it outright is to lease the space and store railcars and other rolling stock on it. However, the practice isn't without controversy. Some of these cars can stay parked for years, leading to environmental and blight concerns for some nearby residents.

Some last a lot longer than that...

Image: Abandoned Reading Railroad cars. 
Today we explore some of these tracks that otherwise have no other use.

1) Kofa, AZ

Kofa, AZ. Image: Google My Maps
Between Welton, AZ and Goodyear, AZ lies a branch of the Union Pacific Railroad that it inherited from Southern Pacific. While much of it appears to still be in service, a stretch of railcars near Kofa can be seen on Google Maps. On the latest imagery, it appears to extend all the way to Growler, AZ, about 11 miles south.

2) Mescal, AZ

Arizona is also home to another long line of rolling stock; in this case diesel engines. Union Pacific holds about 300 diesels west of Mescal, AZ that can be seen from I-10. As such, they've attracted quite an audience of railfans and urban explorers.

3) Abandoned Passenger Car on the San Diego Arizona & Eastern Railroad

The San Diego Arizona & Eastern, perhaps better known as the "Impossible Railroad", is a treasure trove of abandoned artifacts, despite the fact that is potentially going to be reactivated in the next year or so. On a siding, you can see several old Metra passenger cars covered in graffiti.
Image: Wonderhussy Adventures on YouTube
Further down the line lies Goat Canyon Trestle, the largest standing wooden trestle in the United States.

4) Crivitz, WI

Just east of Crivitz, WI. Image: Google My Maps
Between Crivitz and Marinette, WI lies a line in very rough shape. Using Google Street View, it's quite easy to see miles upon miles of cars stored here. In each of the shots, you can tell that cars have been moved, but how often this occurs is unknown.

5) Lakeville, MN

Image: KARE 11
Lakeville, MN has been one of the more controversial railcar storage lines in the United States, given its a suburban area as opposed to a more rural place where storage is much more common. For Progressive Rail, it nonetheless made sense to store cars on the ex-Soo Line tracks between Lakeville and Savage, MN, given they were headquartered nearby.

While owners fought the storage of cars here for years, as of 2018 on Google Street View, it appears the line no longer serves that purpose, and is now out-of-service.

6) Mazomie to Sauk City, WI

Image: Google Maps
North of Sauk City, WI this line is abandoned, but it appears as though this corridor still serves as a temporary holding spot for freight cars. You can look on Street View and see the change of cars over the years.

7) Corydon Jct, IN

South of Corydon Junction. Image: Google Maps
Much like the Mazomie-Sauk City line, heading south from Corydon Junction is still serving railcar storage interests. Sadly, no street view exists of the rolling stock.

8) South Fork, CO
Image: Google Maps
Another long stretch of railcars exists, or has existed, near South Fork, CO, where immediately west of here begins an out-of-service stretch of this ex-Denver & Rio Grande Western line from South Fork to Creede, CO.

9) The Adirondacks, NY
The Adirondacks were another place where railcars were stored, but much like Lakeville, MN, this generated significant controversy, in this case, environmental groups against them being stored in and around forests. Eventually, politicians got involved and the idea has been shelved for the moment.

10) Elk Grove Village, IL

Image: Google Maps
This is actually a storage facility located within a business park, that has been home to a few vintage pieces of rolling stock, and has thus caught the attention of railfans, both near and far.

Image: Chicago Terminal Railroad right of way.

There are many, many more places railcars are stored in North America, many of which are inaccessible without trespassing. As always, please do not trespass on railroad property to view any kind of railcars.

Thanks as always for reading!

Thursday, September 5, 2019

The Amstutz Expressway: Lake County's "Road to Nowhere"

Freeway proposals don't always work out, as this site has discussed with both New York City and Chicago's abandoned expressway proposals. Still many others are built, but not in the entirety their planners originally envisioned them to be. Such is the case of Lake County, Illinois' Amstutz Expressway, one of the shortest and least traveled limited access freeways in the Chicago area.

Image: Amstutz Expy under Grand Ave. Google Maps
A Lakefront highway proposal had been planned since the very early part of the 20th century in eastern Lake County. Generally, early proposals had the road continuing to near or even beyond the Wisconsin State Line.

During the early 1970's, the North Amstutz was completed between Greenwood Ave and Sheridan Rd, where it remains to this day.

So how exactly did we get here, and what is the future of this road?

Looking south at the north end of the Amstutz. Image: [jonrevProjects]
Planning and Design:

The main purpose for the road existing in the first place was to facilitate traffic from the Tri-State (I-94), about three miles west of the plan area, to Naval Station Great Lakes, industrial areas in North Chicago (such as Abbvie Pharmaceuticals), and downtown Waukegan.

One page of a 1985 IDOT planning document showing three different proposals for the facility. "The Buckley Road Alternative" was chosen. Well, sort of.
Plans in favor of the expressway noted the safer and more efficient access to the industrial areas of North Chicago and Waukegan, something that remains an issue to this day. 

The plan chosen was to reconstruct Buckley Rd (IL-137) as a 6 lane arterial corridor between I-94 and the eventual location of the Amstutz, just immediately west of Sheridan Rd. To help facilitate traffic along the chosen plan, the Amstutz would be a northerly extension of IL-137, making it a "J" Shaped route, with both east-west and north-south cardinal directions. 

Unfortunately, right as development of the Amstutz gained traction, economic downturns in both cities invalidated the benefits the expressway was to provide, and thus the Amstutz we know today is a tale of two unconnected limited access north-south freeways both carrying the IL-137 designation, separated by downtown North Chicago. In 2010, the South Amstutz was renamed the Bobby Thompson Expy. The link between these two freeways was described in the 1985 plan, but never built.

I've made a map of this plan below. In Crimson is the never built east-west 24th St Fwy, in Pink is the current Bobby Thompson Expy, in Red is the unbuilt connection between the Amstutz and the Bobby Thompson, in Green is the current Amstutz Expy, and in Periwinkle is the never built north extension to Wadsworth Ave.

The Road Today:
Now sealed up, this is what the north end of the Amstutz looked like at Greenwood Ave. This was known as "The Batcave" Image: [jonrevProjects]
Today, as stated, the Amstutz is actually two different highways. Illinois 137 turns north from Buckley and becomes the Bobby Thompson Expressway, which runs between Buckley and MLK Jr. Dr, about a mile in length. 137 then continues along Sheridan Rd through North Chicago and Waukegan.

Interestingly, depending on which signs you're looking at, you'll see Sheridan Rd if it's an IDOT sign and Genesee St if it's a Waukegan sign, as the road is aligned closer to Genesee in Waukegan's grid system, even if Sheridan Rd makes more sense to thru travelers.

Genesee St sign put up by Wauekgan. Image: Google Maps
IL 137 Sheridan Rd sign maintained by IDOT. Image: Google Maps
Finally, at an intersection with Genesee St (confusing things further), IL 137 becomes a limited access freeway with an interchange at Grand Av and Greenwood Av. And that's how it gets the moniker of "Road to Nowhere". The lack of interchanges does allow it to be closed for filming movies, such as Groundhog Day.

In addition, Batman Begins was also filmed here, specifically the location of the Batcave, which is how the never built section under Greenwood Av got its name. 
"The Batcave" the unbuilt area under Greenwood Av at the Amstutz's north end. This was sealed up in recent construction. Image: [jonrevProjects], 2011

That's about it. The road completely bypasses downtown Waukegan to the east, cutting off access to the lakefront as well as the Waukegan Harbor. You can see the entirety of both the Amstutz and the Bobby Thompson in the video below. Combined, it takes less than three minutes to drive the entire length of each highway in one direction.

I will say about the Amstutz; even in its present form, it's far from useless. Those referring to it as a "massive purple wart" are hyperbolic, even if their ultimate point is correct. In 2017, when the road was being used as a set for Chicago Fire, it was closed for three days. During those rush hours, Sheridan Road, its parallel surface street, had huge backups in both directions. While it only handles 15,000 cars per day, that's still about six times as many cars as I-180 in Central Illinois serves.

The Bobby Thompson Expressway also prevents Sheridan Rd traffic from getting caught at the very busy Union Pacific North line railroad crossing at MLK Jr. Blvd, and helps facilitate traffic into the Naval Station, which can back up significantly during graduation days.


That being said, it unquestionably makes it difficult for the City of Waukegan to fully take advantage of its lakefront. It's a difficult and unsafe walk over the highway and the adjacent railroad tracks.

However, the road was recently repaved, with reconstruction eliminating the ghost ramps that were built to facilitate a future north extension, not that it was ever going to be extended north anyway. Thus, I wouldn't expect any major changes to the alignment or grade anytime soon. Connecting to the Bobby Thompson and completing the Lakefront Expressway as planned is all but dead.

But in the longer term, perhaps a conversion to an at-grade boulevard, similar to what was once I-895 in New York becoming NY-895, might help connect downtown Waukegan to the rest of the lakefront, along with a realignment of railroad tracks in the area. Such a boulevard could easily handle the Amstutz's current traffic volume.

What do you want to see as the future of this facility? Let me know in the comments.

Thanks as always for reading!