NWI chapter members pose in front of the mural at the entrance of BRC's Clearing Yard.
Although the weather looked down right horrible here in
Rockford on Saturday morning, September 13, 2003 we went and packed up onboard
our chartered bus for the trip to Chicago--We’re RAILFANS, damnit! A little rain won’t
stop us! And besides,
a check of the Weather Channel before I left the house showed the rain moving northward and the Chicago area looked to be far enough east to avoid the precipitation.
About 30 or us met up near CherryVale Mall east of Rockford to get onboard our chartered motor coach from Dixon-Meyers to head into Chicago that day. As we previously mentioned in the newsletter, chapter members Jerry Stauffer and Dennis Kern had used some of their business contacts through work (Dennis is the paper buyer at Quebecor Printing in Mt. Morris, IL and deals with the BNSF and BRC) to set up a tour of this pair of Chicago facilities.
The first surprise to greet us was a slight change in plans--the BNSF contacts had advised us that our group would get a better tour (with more things to see) at the ex-ATSF Corwith Yard instead of the ex-BN Cicero Yard, so we pointed our bus that direction after stopping near Woodfield Mall in Schaumburg to pick up about 20 additional members from the Chicago area. The motor coach was equipped with a VHS tape player and we enjoyed watching a few videos as we made our way down to Corwith.
The NWI Chapter is no stranger to Corwith--back in 1989 then-President Jerry Pyfer arranged a tour that stopped in at this Santa Fe facility. Boy, how things have changed since then. We entered from the west side and drove past the enlarged diesel facility and up to the yard office. Back in 1989 the building was quite a bit smaller--now the third story extends all the way to the south end of the building, with the windows overlooking the intermodal yard. We went into the office and up to the second floor where we were herded into a classroom that was barely big enough to contain our group. Everyone got a BNSF folder with some neat goodies: a BNSF notepad, pen and system map along with track schematics and fact sheets for Corwith, Cicero, Willow Springs and Logistic Park intermodal facilities.
From there we split up into two groups of 27 or so, the one group went back onboard the bus to go down to the diesel facility for some picture taking with Jim Keukck, Manager of sales--Industrial Products, while the other stayed in the classroom.
At this point Joseph Lumbert, Assistant Hub Manger took 4-5 of us at a time up to the main yard office overlooking the intermodal yard. We got to see and hear them explain how they assigned tracks and build trains. The back side of room has a large erasable marker board showing inbound and outbound trains with track assignments. From the classroom on the eastward side of building we could also photograph the yard engines as they worked the north end of the yard. Only one of them this day was a former ATSF unit, but it was sort of a treat--it was BNSF 1667, a GP9 rebuild still in the blue and yellow. Other locomotives for the north end jobs included the BNSF 1523, one of a handful of BN GP28Ms to wear the Operation Life Saver decals. Also present were the BNSF 2809 (one of the GP39Ms that retains its GP30 carbody) and BNSF 1376, an ex-Frisco GP15 that had a bit of Mandarin Orange bleeding through its Cascade Green paint.
We had a chance to ask some questions to the Trainmaster in the classroom during this time. Corwith Yard originates or terminates 18-24 trains a day--all of them intermodal trains. Some of these ‘trains’ though are light engine movements to and from Willow Springs yard, the UPS facility located a few miles west of Corwith along the ex-ATSF mainline. The Corwith facility is mainly a container yard now with 98% of its business COFC. The yard is the second busiest on the BNSF system, handling nearly 60,000 lifts per month.
After the first group got back from the diesel pit, we switched positions and went down there, while they got the chance to go up in the tower. Although it was still cloudy, the overcast was a blessing here--since we would have been shooting directly into the sun if it would have been clear. Notable units included the BNSF 8620 and 337 lashed up together. The 8600-series are the ex-ATSF 7400-series B40-8s that have all been painted in the Heritage I scheme and the 337 is one of the Santa Fe’s GP60Bs that also wears the orange and green paint. Partially buried was the TFM 2387, a Super 7 General Electric six-axle unit. The BNSF 100 was also present. I know that I can remember back when these war-bonnet GP60Ms were first being delivered in 1990. Joe McMillian came out to one of the NWI Chapter meetings and had slides of the same unit just after it had been delivered--probably sitting in about the same location! She looked alot better in Joe’s slides than she does now though.
After our turn down around the diesel facility, we went back to the yard office and picked up the other half or our group and then took a tour around the container lift facility. We drove around to the east side of the yard, past all the Mi-Jack overhead cranes--most of which have been painted orange and green, along with yellow stripes: they’re in Heritage paint! From there we headed back to the yard office and thanked our BNSF tour guides for the great experience we had at Corwith Yard.
After a lunch break at McDonalds (although some of us took advantage of the Mexican culture in the area and had a very good lunch at a nearby Mexican restaurant), it was on to Belt Railway of Chicago’s Clearing Yard in Bedford Park.
Here we met up with Royal Gelder. He’s the Director of Risk Management and Quality for the BRC. He’s a railroader at heart though--he came up through the civil engineering ranks. One of his first jobs was on the Southern Pacific when they purchased the ex-Rock Island trackage east of Tucumcari, NM and he was in charge of the ballast aspect of upgrading the line “with 10 old U33Cs and 500 ballast hoppers,” Roy knew railroading from the ground up--literally.
Roy took us down around the southside of the dual hump yard, near the crest for the eastbound classification yard. It was shortly after 3 PM when we arrived and there wasn’t anything going on--it was shift change. We busied ourselves shooting roster views of the BRC 565-565B one of their “SD38-slug” sets (the 565 is actually an ex-BN SD40-2 that’s been deturbocharged and the 565B is a cut-down SD of some sort). A crew came on duty a short time later and grabbed that pair of engines to work the east end and another crew got the 562-562B from the west side and came under the distinctive overhead hump tower as our cameras clicked away.
The weather had been getting better all day and now it was nearly ‘full sun’ as we drove around and saw the car repair facility and then stopped for a while to watch the eastbound hump job classify CSX covered hoppers that were sand loads from Ottawa, IL off the old Rock Island.
The conductor for the hump jobs sits in the tower, instructing the ground man on where to make the cuts. Only two loaded cars can be humped together--even if adjacent cars are bound for the same destination--that reduces damage as the cars couple into standing cuts after going over the hump.
After watching this for a while, we went over by the diesel shop, but the most desirable units (to me anyway), the BRC locomotives, seemed to know we were coming and back away from shootable distance as we piled off the bus! There were still a number of engines to take aim at though. Those included an NS lashup that had a hi-nose GP38 trailing, a pair of CP units, a pair of the LLPX 2800-series SD38s that the BRC was using until they got another SD38-slug set and a long string of about 30 stored LMX B39-8s. The gray GEs looked pretty sorry sitting there--a far cry from when the BN C&I Line was alive with the units on intermodal and merchandise trains.
After a trip down around the east end of the diesel shop to shoot some derelict CSX orange ‘ballast pumpkins’ and some other smaller locos we wrapped up the BRC tour with a stop at the sign at the entrance to the yard for a group shot. Roy then led us down the west departure yard, where we got to glimpse a set of WSOR locos and what appeared to be two sets of IC&E SD40-2s; must have been power from the regular M-NABR and a grain load.
Before we left the BRC made sure we got some goodies though--we each got a BRC pen and a VHS tape that the BRC had made up in August of 1999. It shows the entire railroad from the air all the way from Cragin down to the Rail-to-Water Transfer on the southside of Chicago.
From there it was back onto the highway up to Woodfield to drop off the Chicago people and then we were back at CherryVale by 7 PM or so. It was a great event, being able access to these facilities.
Thanks again to Jerry and Dennis for setting it up. The BNSF guides mentioned that ‘we should see Logistic Park sometime.’
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