The end of the year holidays always mean one thing around here - a trip home to see family and friends. Of course this also means a nice change of railroad scenery and a chance to watch railroads that I normally don't get the chance to see in action. One of these is obviously my favorite regional, Iowa Interstate. The other is a relative newcomer that I've only gotten a brief glimpse of - the new Iowa, Chicago & Eastern, which took over the former I&M Rail Link (IMRL) in July of 2002. Even though I only get to see my family a few times a year, spending 10 days solid with them and my wife's family might make me a bit crazy and not really relaxed at all. So, I temper it with a bit of railfanning and everybody has a much better time.
This year, my goal was to spend more time on the Iowa Interstate. Seeing as it runs within half a mile of the houses of both my parents and my wife's parents, you wouldn't think that would be all that hard. However, in years past I've mainly concentrated on the IMRL for some reason. While I vowed this year would be different, it started out in the late evening hours, checking out what was sitting at Nahant Yard in Davenport - on the IC&E. (Photo #1) However, in this trip report you'll see three days out with IAIS's Blue Island-Council Bluffs trains and a morning spent with IAIS's Milan Local. We'll just get that IC&E stuff out of the way first, though...
Christmas Eve this year was planned with my in-laws. Since my wife's family and mine live within 15 minutes of each other, going home is usually an interesting balancing act of splitting time, so we typically rotate (on a yearly basis) Christmas and Christmas Eve. This year, Christmas Eve was with the Thayers, but both my mother and father-in-law had to work for at least part of the day. What to do, what to d... oh wait, go railfanning!
Being that it was the eve of a holiday, I expected that the railroads would be starting to shut things down by mid-afternoon. I'd already received Iowa Interstate's holiday plans, and there'd be nothing in the afternoon worth going after. Heck, even on a normal day, there's little to nothing IAIS-related going on in eastern Iowa or western Illinois. I also needed to stay relatively near by, as I figured dinner would be around 1700h or so, and I didn't want to roll in at the last possible second. So I made the assumption that the Iowa, Chicago & Eastern would be my best bet, and the best place to check on them is their main yard in Davenport - Nahant.
For those unfamiliar with the area, Nahant is a rather large flat yard with an engine service facility, located at the southwest end of Davenport. Public roads provide very good access without ever setting a foot on railroad property. From River Drive in west Davenport, South Concord Street will take you there. It's the intersection immediately after you cross over the mainline. Otherwise, if you're coming from the I-280 end, take the Rockingham Road / Hwy 22 exit, go northeast a bit (back towards Davenport), and you'll see a small road turning off to the right called Wapello Avenue. This will take you right to the turntable and roundhouse. I've never had any problems down there, and there's usually tons of power sitting around to shoot. It's also a great place to watch for departing trains, if you're looking for one to follow.
To my surprise, a quick trip to Nahant revealed a northbound readying for departure with a matched set of four IC&E SD40-2s on the front (ICE 6413, 6457, 6443, and 6453). The crew was using them to pull a cut of cars off one of the yard tracks and splice it into the train when I got to the S. Concord Street crossing. A monster of a train, indeed, reminiscent of the IMRL days. The Concord St. crossing had rather horrid lighting (directly backlit), so I headed into downtown Davenport to look for more palatable conditions around the riverfront.
While the Davenport riverfront has been mostly infested by a riverboat casino and its associated private parking lots, there are still a few public parking areas. There's public parking along bits of Beiderbeck Drive, near Ripley St., I believe. There's also parking to the east of Perry Street, behind the restaurant by Lock and Dam 15. Heck, just park in the casino lots, I've never been bothered (but I don't stick around long, either), and its the citizens that handed them our once beautiful riverfront in the first place. I have no moral objections to casinos or their ilk, but this one's just so damned ugly and sprawling in a place that used to be beautiful. Yes, you should be sensing a bit of anger and contempt in my tone, in case you were wondering.
Regardless, being able to park and await the train's arrival gave me a chance to check on something. Unlike most of the ICE SD40-2s, I got a good look at 6453 beforehand, and it had oddball nose-mounted headlights. Every other one of the rebuilds I'd seen had high-mounted lights, so I was wondering as to the lineage of this unit. Thanks to Joel Kirchner's excellent IC&E website (as I mentioned in the abstract), a quick check showed that ICE 6453 was none other than BC Rail SD40-2 number 757. It wasn't until I arrived back in Colorado that I put the pieces together - 757 and the other BCOL SD40-2s used to make ICE 6450-6453 were the same set I saw dead-in-tow on a BNSF manifest in Montana back in May 2003.
Horns sounding for the crossing down by John O'Donnell (the local baseball stadium) snapped me out of my temporary BCOL fixation. After years of trying to move the former Milwaukee main off the riverfront (under the guise of it being an eyesore, dangerous to already oblivious and trespassing individuals, etc.), the city and developers finally conceded and just fenced the sucker. Good for the railroad, bad for the photographer. Anything other than a long telephoto shot tends to get a lot of chain link fence in it. So, a long telephoto shot it'll be of ICE 6413 leading across one of the half dozen or so grade crossings in the downtown area. (Photo #2) The bridge in the background is the Davenport side of the Centennial Bridge - the big multi-arched one you see in many shots of the QC area.
Since I was caught on the wrong (river, rather than highway) side of this manifest due to light reasons, I had to wait through the whole darn thing before I could actually head off towards the next shot. It gave me a moment to sit and contemplate the next shot, which I'd tentatively planned as somewhere near the waterworks in east Davenport. However, after finally crossing the tracks (having to wait for all of the gamblers stuck behind it as well before I could even pull out) and then getting stabbed by a couple of red lights on River Drive, it was quickly becoming apparent that the waterworks wasn't going to, well, work. The next shot I knew how to put together in a hurry was at the Bettendorf floodwall.
Located just to the east of the I-74 bridge in Bettendorf and accessed by 12th Street, there's a great little park down at the riverfront near the south end of the siding. Being a public park, it's a good place to sit and watch the action without getting hassled. The park itself sits up on an embankment (part of the flood wall), giving a nice perspective looking down on the main and siding below. At the west end of the park (railroad south) is the south switch and the floodwall gate. The gate is a large steel barrier dropped in whenever the old Mississippi starts crawling over its banks to prevent water from outside Bettendorf (which does not have a flood wall) into the downtown. It does sever the railway, but by the point they use it, the mainline through Davenport is already under water. Our train, the 6413 north, pulled up to the switch and passed right on through. (Photo #3) With their slowing, I suspected that they might be in for a meet, but no such luck. They were just checking the the switch was lined appropriately, I'm guessing.
From there, I'd hoped to grab another shot somewhere up by Alcoa, but the crew (probably anxious to go home for the holidays, but I don't know) was taking full advantage of the good track speeds through Bettendorf, and I, once again, had to wait for the entire train to pass before departing. I wasn't even up to the tail end by Alcoa, let alone far enough ahead to put together a shot. North of Alcoa lies Pleasant Valley, and north of there I knew of a sweeping curve in the line right alongside US 67 north. The highway was recently widened to four lanes here, and with many people used to parking alongside the road to walk to their riverside cabins below, no parking signs have sprouted everywhere. I found a spot, though, where I could both get safely away from the highway and be far enough (probably an eighth of a mile or more) from a no parking sign to have plausible deniability if the law decided to ask questions. In a few minutes, I had yet another one of those shots I'd always thought about actually safely captured in the camera. (Photo #4) Also, a second or two later, ICE 6413 passes right below me and in front of one of those small riverfront houses I'd mentioned. (Photo #5)
Ah, the joys of being on the right side of the train when you get done with the shot. Within a minute, I was back on the road and even with the lead unit again. Still, Le Claire is where the Mississippi River changes from flowing north-south, as it does for most of its journey, to flowing east-west as it does through the Quad Cities. This means that the railroad and the highway also swing to the north, putting some severe backlighting on most possible shots. Still, Le Claire is a neat old river town not to be missed, as it, too, has near street running. The ex-Milwaukee runs down streets or nearly down streets in many of these river towns due to the limited space between the bluffs and the river below. In Le Claire, it runs down the side of a back alley behind the main street. It's also the first siding out of the QC area, and seems to see a lot of use for meets (or at least it did while I was around - I'm not that familiar with IC&E operating patterns). 6413 made the necessary speed adjustment for town, but made no sign of taking the hole for a meet. (Photo #6) I didn't really expect one, considering a holiday was quickly bearing down on us and traffic should be lightening up, but there's always wishful thinking.
I pulled off to the side of US 67 north of Le Claire to get a shot if 6413 north with the town in the background. As I was pulling over, I was looking behind me, and I could see headlights barely peaking out this end of town. What I didn't notice was what was in front of me - Dakota, Minnesota & Eastern 6360 leading a southbound. It wasn't until I looked up after shutting the truck down that I noticed a big blue diesel looking back at me. There was a meet, and I'd almost missed it! (Photo #7, 8, 9)
I'd planned to turn around at Le Claire anyway, but now I had a legitimate reason - another train to follow. I just couldn't find a spot on the big curve from before that I liked again, so I set up at the grade crossing just down from there (the road the leads to Lock and Dam 14, one up from Davenport). It took what seemed like a small eternity, partially because the meet was a saw-by. Based on what I saw passing back through town, 6413 was holding the main because it was too darn long to fit in the siding. Presumably, 6360 south took the hole, waited for 6413 to pull through and clear the switch, and then let itself out the other end. Still, I like the resulting image (Photo #10) - typical warm late afternoon light in the Midwest, one of those things I really miss out here where the mountains cut off the light about 30-60 minutes before sundown.
Lying at the boundary between Davenport and Bettendorf is a bit of a wide spot in the river. At this point, there's a large curve at what's known as the Village of East Davenport (now just part of the city proper), near the Davenport water works. This is also where the Eldridge branch splits off and heads up the hill. Easily accessed by a bit of Bridge Ave. that crosses the tracks down to a restaurant, it's a nice public spot. From here, you can see across the wide spot to the line passing below the massive old homes of lower Bettendorf (Photo #11). A few minutes later, the train emerges right in front of you as it follows the river down through Davenport. There's a walking/biking trail along here that makes for a great way to set up close shots while remaining safely out of the way. (Photo #12)
After getting that last shot, I decided to call it a day. The light was failing, and I only had an hour or so until dinner. So I packed it in and headed up the hill for Christmas Eve. Coming up in Chapter 2 - other bits of the IC&E that came from the rest of the trip. While I didn't ever follow any other IC&E road trains, I did check by Nahant and other parts of the IC&E in the area quite a bit to see what was going on and get roster shots of as many units as possible.
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This work is copyright 2004 by Nathan D. Holmes (email@example.com), but licensed under a Creative Commons License. This allows and encourages others to copy, modify, use, and distribute my work, without the hassle of asking me for explicit permission or fear of copyright violation. I encourage others to consider CC or other Open Content-style licensing of their original works.
All photographs in this trip report were taken with a Canon EOS 10D with a Canon 28-105mm USM, a Canon 100-300mm USM, or a Canon 75-300mm f4-5.3 IS/USM.