From the journal of a railfan watcher:
"I've always been a railfanner at heart. I grew up in the Windy City, amidst a sea of Cascade Green. I hear many older folks talk about seeing the Norfolik and Western, The Rock Island, even the Loisville and Nashville fly at speeds unheard of in the steam era past their homes. But me? I was raised with Burlington Northern Cascade Green. Every day I'd sit at the train station and watch those big E-Units do their duty and pull the dinky parades day in and day out. Well any chance I got that was. Burlington Northern in Chicago was Synnamous with famous trains such as the Empire Builder and the North Coast Limited. And even though I wasn't born in the 70s, I was fasinated with them. Those beautiful Cab units pulling people to and from was a sight to be seen. Of course being a small boy I never thought the day would come that those colors would disappear. But it happened. Cascade Green slipped away and was replaced with Pumpkin Orange when the famous ATSF and Burlington Northern merged into a super railgiant. Things would never be the same again. Or so I thought.
It would be many years later during a college photography course in Colorado that I would not only meet these colors but find out that the Burlington Northern would never die. I had gotten word from a friend about a small Class III Terminal railway in the deep Rocky Mountains called the Wolfcreek Terminal. I was told by my friend that he had seen a pair of Cab units being used as their daily motive power. Cab units in use today were nothing special. Smaller railroads used them as did several Bigger railroads. But I was figuring it would be a good photo chance. I met up with my friend and we split up to find the main route that the Train would be seen on. After asking several locals in the area, we turned our CB Scanners on and started to listen for comm traffic. Nothing. The only thing we saw were some Union Pacific units. I began to feel my heart sink. I drove along the tracks for a bit hoping for a change until I hit a small cafe. I sat in building with my CB Scanner on. Hoping that maybe I would still have a chance. The day was late and the sun was beginning to set. A man sitting at the counter had overheard. "What exactly are you looking for?" he asked. He was straight to the point, I was a bit taken back and hesitated to answer but I told him "My friend and I were looking for a pair of Cab Units that were supposed to be heading down the line. I was hoping to snap some photographs of them." "So that's the pair then. Last I heard they were headed to the scrap yard. Should be through here any minute now, come to think about it." My heart began to sink again. Scrapped? Did another pair of cab units bite the dust?
After finishing my meal I left the cafe and was headed to my truck when I heard the distant blast of a Leslie-S3 Horn. What a familiar sound. Most of the E-Units back home had used those horns. I saw two vertical lights in the distant. Distinctly a top mounted MARS light and the Cab Door Headlight. As the engines approached closer I was awestruck. Cascade Green. White Striped Nose, though she had a Wolf Head on her stripes with a green moon in the background. The infamous Hockystick Stripe. The BN Hearalds were in place, except following them it clearly said "Wolfcreek Terminal" These cab units looked like FP9's. Even the power car behind them was painted up in the same colors. The three boxcars had white lettering that said "Wolfcreek Terminal Salavage Storage". Behind the cars were a huge load of Bulkheads. All filled with scrap materials. So that's what the old man had meant. I heard a crackle over my trucks CB. "Hey, did you find them? I found out there's a local scrap train going through where you are." I responded, "I found them. And their just as perfect as they were 2 decades ago." But just then I got one more really big surprise as a Burlington Northern Wide Vision Caboose with a bay window modification off center on the rear passed by. Again with the BN Heralds and the "Wolfcreek Terminal" stenciled beside it. So much green, And all in great condition.
The next day I headed for Wolfcreek to try and find them. I was stopped at the Wolfcreek Station. Their railyard was literally 3 feet off the mainline switch. I began to walk along the fence line when I saw the girls again. They were nothing like they used to be. They were sporting EMD Parts from different railroads. The winterization hatches from Canadian Pacific, Burlington Northern Nose Lift Rings, ATSF Inertial Air Filters, etc. They even had the same style Tubular diaphragms as BN-1 and BN-2. They were a little dirty around their fans and exhaust stacks but in near perfect condition. I watched as the locomotives Engineer and Radioman climbed down. The Young girl and boy couldn't have been much older then myself. I don't know what prompted me to flag them down but I did. I wanted to know... everything. What kind of condition the unit was in, the engine it was housing and so much more. I was surprised to find the pair very friendly.
We all got to talking and I was given a tour of the units. Rebuilt engine from an EMD GP38-2. The interior was nothing I had ever seen before. The cab was fully computer controlled. The only other unit I know like this was Kansas City Southern-1. I didn't think a Class 3 railroad had this kind of money. I was told by the girl that with the financial help of Union Pacific Railroad, Wolfcreek took part in their locomotive rehab programs. She did most of the mechanicial designing for the systems and Union Pacific had a team of mechanics help rebuild the units. When I asked where, she pointed across the yard to a facility called the "Wolf Ridge Car Shops". The units were different. Rebuilt as FP-10A and FP-10B. They didn't look like the Illinois Central's F/P-10's. But my research did show that FP-10's Weren't true EMD units and they were the same length as the F-9's. I inquired about the rebuilding as an FP-10 and she told me "EMD doesn't service or support these units anymore. Even KCS and NS railways have to shop their own units. So why not change the model designation? Besides these old Spokane, Portland, & Seattle Units have come a long way since their original build date." SP&S? These old BN Units? I wanted to know about the paint for the terminal railway and the heralds.
"The colors were the railways choice. Most of our units are former Burlington Northern Units, mostly bought from leasing companies. The option to continue using the BN herald on these units was my choice. I was originally from Chicago and my partner here from Minneapolis. We both grew up around the Cascade Green." I must have had bright candles lit in my eyes as she continued. "I saw no reason to remove these girl's heritage. All I did is have the Terminal name stenciled in place of the normal 'Burlington Northern'. As for our equipment car, It's a former CB&Q Power car. We did some extensive rebuild work on it and the decision to repaint in Burlington Northern colors and heralds was again my decision. We do a lot of transfer runs for the Union Pacific in Cheyenne so you can imagine many peoples surprise to see these greens units." I felt like the day had been won, and I was able to take many pictures of these units and their trailing car.
Even the Equipment car had a story to tell. It was a general purpose car that could do everything if need be without the need of specialized cars. Because of that and it's small size, it was limited into it's functions how ever. Dynamometer, generator/HEP and A/C Units were packed underneath, half the windows were covered up and the steps were also covered up with streamliner style covers. Inside they housed a bunk, a kitchen, and a garage storage area that held 2 weed sprayer tanks. I later saw the spray bars at the rear of the train underneath. They carried Track geometry sensors on the rear trucks aswell. Trainphone antenna's and air tanks mounted on the roof. But the thing that threw me off, was the end of the power car. The black end had a theater style roll up door. 2 actually, one inside and one outside. This was for monitoring the track if need be. But they sported the same gaint wolfhead logo with the green moon and a giant BN Herald within the moon. Underneath was the words "Burlington Northern 1970-1995 A Railroad for our Generation" I almost tearred up. This truely was our railroad. Burlington Northern may have became about in the 70's but it was a railroad my generation had grown up with. We didn't see steam, or streamliners or anything like that. We saw Green. Lots of Cascade Green. That green was something we took for granted and when it was gone, we didn't know what happened until it was too late.
I was about ready to call it a day when the pair's radio went off. A UP Train was heading across their tracks and was requesting a pair of helper units on the rear. The young girl looked at me and said "How about a nostalgic trip in these girls for old times sake? Won't take but a couple hours or so." I was fighting the childhood giddiness within me and some how calmly said "Ok." I scrambled back up into the cab with them only to find another suprise, a pair of dogs. The female dogs belonged to the pair and I guess I really didn't take notice much more then that. I sat with awe as I watched this girl manuever these 100ton behemoths with skill and prescion all with the modernized controls. In no time we were coupled nose first onto the intermodal train. I had noticed that the couplers were not locked. I assumed that was because they were going to pull off once the destination had been reached and retreat back down the line to Wolfcreek Station. I was right. Once the cars were safely down the mountain pass, near the switch to Union Pacific's line once again, the girls slowed their speed down and the last intermodal began to slip away from them. These old units slowed to hault while the young man secured a return route. I looked over at the girls control console as the units began to reverse. The monitor flickered with the cameras that were mounted on the rear of the equipment car. These weren't the track sensor camera's either. It was giving them a clear reverse run.
Innovation. I was blown back by innovation, by people my age. I wanted to ask the pair when we returned about how they got into the business but they were called out for a cargo pickup in Cheyenne. But before they left, the young girl told me "Because like our forefathers, it's in our blood." I may never know the story behind those two. I truly wish to know. But I've never had the chance to meet with them again. I know their still running for Wolfcreek, I get a letter once a month from them. And deep in my heart, I know that was my most fun filled day. I learned something, that even though we took the Burlington Northern colors for granted, they still exist. They didn't die. And those colors will continue stand the test of time, to let future generations know that when we were kids, this was the railroad we grew up with."
- Title: A Railfanner's Journal
- Artist: Kaori Syen
- Description: As a hardcore model railroader, I go beyond the details of locomotives, weathering of cars and making scenes look like real life. I go as far as to write about the layout as viewed form the little plastic figures on the line. This is a sample of a railfanner who came to visit the "Wolfcreek Terminal Railway".
- Date: 01/20/2010
- Tags: railfanners journal modeltrainstories