Surely for the train enthusiast, a visit by Charles Dickens’ Ghost of Christmas Past would evoke images of railroading.
Words and Photographs by Gary Dolzall
Along with the holiday season each year comes a rush of cherished memories, of family, friends, of past holidays and never-to-be-forgotten journeys. For the railroad enthusiast, the holiday season also may bring reflection and warm recall of some of our favorite railroad experiences, whether a holiday trip home aboard a train or captivating trackside experiences wrapped in wintry white snow. Surely for the train enthusiast, a visit by Charles Dickens’ Ghost of Christmas Past would evoke favorite images of railroading.
Such is indeed the case for me: No railroad-related memories stand more pristine in my own recall than, as a young teen, a Christmas trip with my parents aboard the superlative Santa Fe Super Chief, or years later in a generational turn, a journey with my wife and our children aboard the Amtrak Silver Star to enjoy a family Christmas holiday at Disney World.
The holidays (at least for those of us in Northern climes) also spur visions of trains in the snow and, yes, sometimes bone-chilling temperatures, offering us a chance to bring back to mind our favorite winter moments at trackside and, often, the memorable rail photographs that resulted.
In the photographs and captions that follow here, join me if you will at trackside for some of my own favorite snow-dressed scenes that recall the magic of winter railroading.
Like a ghostly specter appearing from winter’s snowy white vail, Milwaukee Road EMD SD40-2 184 and a sister hurry east with a manifest freight, passing through Duplainville, Wisconsin as a late winter blizzard rolls across America’s Upper Midwest on March 14, 1987.
Dusk is settling and the wind is howling across the Midwestern plains as an Illinois Central Gulf freight fights its way northbound at Gilman, Illinois on a bone-chilling January 1977 eve. Led by ICG EMD GP38AC 9505, the lash-up includes diesels wearing the liveries of merger partners Illinois Central and Gulf, Mobile & Ohio.
Icicles decorate the eves of the Liden (Indiana) depot as Amtrak’s southbound Floridian races south on the Louisville & Nashville’s Monon Subdivision and clatters across the diamond crossing of the Norfolk & Western (ex-Nickel Plate) in December 1976. In a long tradition of railroading, the Linden operator has “hooped up” train orders which a member of the engine crew is about to grab while on the move.
Admired by railfans, the Soo Line, with a 4,000-mile route system extending north and west from Chicago to the Canadian border, was no stranger to the challenges of winter railroading. A Chicago-bound Soo Line freight with EMD SD40 736 on the point is making a pick-up amid knee-deep snow at Waukesha, Wisconsin in 1979.
Set against the skyline of Milwaukee (Wisconsin), Amtrak’s pre-Superliner Empire Builder/North Coast Hiawatha makes its way westward on Milwaukee Road rails in 1979. The bank tower clock and thermometer in the distance tells us it is 2:09 p.m. and the temperature is 6 degrees Fahrenheit (-14 Celsius)!
Amid the golden glow of a February dusk, Chicago & North Western Electro-Motive SD45 963 is leading a Minneapolis-bound freight on C&NW’s Adams Subdivision as it passes alongside wintry Wisconsin marshland.
Wearing its original and striking “phase III” livery, Amtrak AEM-7 electric 918 is not the least bothered by the light cover of snow as it leads Train 153 – The New England Express – through Westport, Connecticut in 1991 (above). Far more daunting is the wintry weather as New York-bound Amtrak Acela 2027 eases it way through Bridgeport, Connecticut on Northeast Corridor rails buried in snow (below). At 9:40 a.m., on January 19, 1991, Conrail GE C36-7 6633 and kin have defeated both the winter cold and the tough grades of the Berkshire Hills as an eastbound freight reaches Washington, Massachusetts, and the summit of the famed “B&A” (Boston & Albany).
There is little doubt the conductor aboard Soo Line caboose No. 100 is thankful to be safely inside as his freight rides through Mother Nature’s swirling winter fury. The holidays, winter, and railroading – it is a combination guaranteed to leave train-watchers with cherished and lasting memories.
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