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Progressive's 40 and University

I went to Minneapolis to shoot the Progressive's SD39 #40

Once again, on Tuesday, June 7th, I got out of bed way to early to be considered sane, so that I could be into Northfield by the time the Progressive's Lakeville Turn went on duty. I was on the road at 3 AM.

I don't mind getting up that early. I think it feels good to be on the road that early in the morning, before the sun has decided to show up, and before the world decides it needs to go out for a drive. I like not seeing another car on a four lane highway for ten minutes at a time. Driving that early just feels right.

It was four lane almost all the way to Northfield, with the only two lane being the final 9 miles into town. The sun was begining to rise when I rolled through Owatonna, and by the time I was within a mile of Northfield I had to pull over for a few shots. I had time: I was gonna get into town a half hour early. That was fine with me, it gave me some time to scope out the yard, find out how I am gonna chase them north out of town, and get some breakfast.

Sunrise in Northfield

Joe with Progressive had told me that the Lakeville Job was called at 630, but when I got back to the yard at what I think was a quarter after 6, they were just beginning to start making up the train to Lakeville. I sat around the yard and watched them pull a string of cars from one of the tracks and "kick" individual cars onto one of two tracks they were using. Only two cars in today's train caught my eye: Southern 531096, a "waffle side" boxcar that says "Southern: Gives a green light to innovation" with the "O" in southern filled in green (I like that motto, and I don't see many of those cars around here), and the words "C of G" in tiny lettering in the upper right hand corner of the car. That car must be assigned to the Southern's subsidiary Central Of Georgia. The other car that caught my attention was Milwaukee Road 6259, a 60 foot double door exterior post box car. It had the large "MILWAUKEE ROAD" lettering, but unfortunately it didn't have the slogan "America's Resourceful Railroad," as I also like those cars and don't see them much anymore.

But that’s not the reason I'm in Northfield this early in the morning. No, the reason I was there was the locomotive that would be leading the Lakeville Job up to Lakeville: Progressive's SD39 #40.

PGR SD39 #40 is special. She and sister MNS 41 were bought by the Minneapolis, Northfield & Southern to replace their aging Baldwin locomotives making the run from Northfield to the MNS's Glenwood Yard in Minneapolis. The line I would shoot today was part of this run. The 40 and the 41 almost never ran together, instead they would be put on the point of 2 or 3 of the MNS's end cab switchers and one would run north and the other would run south. The SD39s were the only "hood" units on the MNS's roster at the time of the SOO takeover: everything else was end cab switchers, mostly SW1200s and SW15s. With the SOO takeover, the 40 and 41 were renumbered 6240 and 6241 and painted in SOO's red and white paint scheme. After SOO was bought by Canadian Pacific, the 6241 was sold to a scrap dealer in St. Louis, and the 6240 was donated to the Minnesota Transportation Museum in Minneapolis.

I saw her at MTM in 2002 getting work done on her battery boxes, but the thought at the time was "oh, yay, another 6 axle EMD, I can see those on the IC whenever I want" so I didn't take a picture. Shortly after that, the Progressive bought it and a former Reserve Mining SD38-2 for their newly acquired Northfield-Lakeville trackage.

So here I stand in Northfield, the smell of creosote fills the air, a gentle breeze rustles the wild flowers alongside the yard, and I squint against the low sun to see the 40 and 42 coming back down into the yard for another cut of cars. They slow to a crawl and there’s a BANG as they couple into the next cut. The ground shakes with the low rumbling from the two units, and the air is filled with the high pitched whine from the turbo-charger on the 40 as the two units throttle up and bring the cut up to the mouth of the yard.

The time of departure grows near, so I decide to head over to where my first shot on the line will be. Pulling into the parking lot for the old Milwaukee Road depot in Northfield on the Spine Line, my attention is taken away from the yard a half mile to the south. An air horn sounds off to the north, and I look over in time to see a Union Pacific train rounding the curve and approaching the crossing next to the depot. CSX 8159 led CSX 8337 and a unit potash train south past the depot on the Spine.

The Progressive’s yard in Northfield is actually on the Union Pacific’s Spine Line, and to access it, PGR has trackage rights on the Spine for a mile or two through Northfield. Well, I guess that means I won’t stay bored for long while waiting for the Lakeville Job to leave, and I am right. A half hour later, UP 8237 and UP 8274 came south through town with a unit coal train, and shortly thereafter it began to rain. Knowing my luck, I assumed that since it had started raining that the Lakeville Job would be leaving soon. I knew it would rain sometime during the day because it always rains when I go to the Twin Cities, so I dug around in the back seat for my umbrella until I realized that I had left it on the kitchen table that morning.

I went over to the gas station to see if they had any, and they suggested that I look in the Walgreen’s across the street. Going out the door, I heard another air horn, this time from the south. A quick look behind me towards the back of the gas station, and....yup. The Lakeville turn sailed across the crossing and I took off in a dead sprint to my car. A red street light prevented me from getting my shot at the Milwaukee Depot, and the combination of traffic and road construction meant that I was pacing the 40 out of town at a pitiful 25 mph. Once past the road construction and after a large jump on the speedometer, I found myself along the former MN&S just north of Northfield. The headlight in the distance told me that I hadn’t missed anything yet.

Remembering shots I’ve seen of granger railroads from the 1960s that tastefully include the crossing signals in the shot, I tried for that sort of thing. That image is below. After failing at 3 other attempts that day to include the cross bucks tastefully, that’s one of the only shots I like with them in it.

PGR's ex-MNS SD39 40 leads the Lakeville Turn out of Northfield during a short break in the rain

I was quickly northbound on 11th avenue which is a gravel road this far out of town. A road grader was working on some new gravel when I pulled up to my next shot off of the road. He shot me a weird look that I’m used to by now and continued his work, heading off towards the crossing just down the road. He got there right as the train did, and somehow I don’t think he was as happy to see it as I was. Oh well: to each his own.

After grabbing a shot of the train passing milepost 48 along 290th street and slowing WAY down for a state trooper sitting at the corner of Hwy 23 and Hwy 86, I found myself standing on a bridge over the tracks. I had almost missed it; concentrating on traffic and the shot possibilities around the crossing in front of you tends to do that. I saw out of the corner of my eye that the road rose pretty high over there, and went to investigate. Sure enough: concrete bridge. I got out and sighted through the lens. To say I was pleased with the composition of the scene would be an understatement. This was going to be it! This would be the shot that comes to mind when I think of this trip. This will be a shot that I’d be looking at 20 years from now. This will be a shot that other people are looking at 20 years from now. This is going to be one of the shots people think about when they think about me, long after I’m dead and gone. Yeah, I actually had those thoughts running through my mind as the rain began again. No problem, the water will saturate the surrounding foliage making for a better shot.

And what do I get? BURN!!! The shots of the head end turned out to dark and murky to be the shot that I hoped it would be, and the head lights were too bright which was bad with the rain.... I shall hang my head in shame now. Filled with the enthusiasm of getting the aforementioned shot but not knowing how much of a bust it would be, I headed for Eureka Center.

The 40 approaches Eureka Center, in the rain, in what I thought would be a great shot

The road parallels the tracks for a little ways in Eureka Center, a town of no more than 500, and its 500 if they’re lucky. There wasn’t really a shot there so I tried to include the street running away from the tracks and a few houses on it....and failed. On towards Lakeville.

The last stop was at a farm house on 225th street, just south of the Airlake Industrial park in Lakeville. The shot there was ok, but I saw a better one after the train had passed, and I got that shot with the industrial park in the background when they headed back south.

I got into Lakeville as the crew for the switch job was shooting the breeze with one of the truck drivers leaving the freight house. They saw the Northfield turn coming in and made a dead sprint for their switcher sitting near by so they could be in position to interchange.

Progressive’s little SW1500 #67 swapped cars with the pair of big SD’s and went back to its business in the industrial park as the rain stopped and the clouds began to clear. I decided it was a good time to go meet a guy I had talked to a few times over the last year, and went into Progressive’s offices in the freight house. When I walked into the main office with boots on, a camera around my neck, and smelling like bug spray, the receptionist kinda gave me a questioning look. But I glanced outside through the big windows at the Lakeville Job and she seemed to understand.

"Is Joe here?" I asked.

"I believe so. Do you have an appointment?"

"Umm, kinda. He asked me to stop by when I got into town."

"Ok, I’ll call him for you....He isn’t answering his office phone, I’ll go see if he’s there" She got up and left, and then came back after a few seconds. "He’s not in there and his cell phone is on his desk, so I don’t know where he’s at and I can’ t reach him. Do you want me to tell him you were here?"

Joe had wanted me to stop by to sign some release forms to be on the property, but by the time he found out that I had been there, I’d probably already be back in Northfield. "No, thanks," was my reply and I left the air conditioned freight house.

The crew for the Lakeville Turn disappeared into the freight house, so went to a dirt driveway overlooking the building and the maze of tracks around it and waited for them to get going again.

After almost falling asleep twice, and then swatting flies with the towel I was using to keep my camera and lenses dry on the trip up, the Lakeville Turn finally crossed back over Highview Ave and departed south. The chase back to Eureka Center yielded the aforementioned shot with the industrial park in the background and a shot that I took from the road ditch with wildflowers in the foreground.

Knowing the shot in Eureka Center wouldn’t work any better going south, I decided to look along the highway that parallels the tracks and found milepost 44 right along the road. I set up for that shot, and since there wasn’t much going for it, I got roster shots of both units and a BN coal car that was in the train.

The 42 now leads as the Lakeville Turn is on its way home south of Eureka Center

From Eureka Center back into Northfield, it was pretty much the same shots except looking the other way. The last gravel road crossing before Northfield had an old Soo property marker that had ivy growing up over it. I cleared off the ivy hoping it would be an MN&S property marker, but I used it anyway. Then I found where the old MN&S joins up with the Spine Line, but wanted some kind of depot shot so I continued to that. While waiting for the MN&S to show up, a pair of college girls came out from the apartments behind the depot, sat in lawn chairs in front of their apartment and talked quite loudly about things I didn’t want to hear about...

PGR 42 leads the Lakeville Turn back into Northfield

The Progressive finally showed up, and I got a half way decent depot shot. They stopped in front of the depot, but I didn’t have the release signed to be on the property, so I left Northfield and headed north to the Twin Cities. Being my first time driving in a large city, I hunkered down in the car and got ready for a most unpleasant experience. Except for the part where we were all doing 80 and everybody in front of me just up and decides to stop right on the highway, it was pretty fun.

The first stop was Humboldt Yard, across the river from Northtown. The only reason I was there was to see if there were any Bandits out doing some switching chores...there wasn’t. There was one way out in the middle of the yard, but it was too far away for a shot (either 1548 or 1542, its to far to read the last digit). Time to go over the river.

The road from Humboldt to Northtown goes over the transfer yard at Northtown and it is very easy to watch the trim jobs pull cuts of cars out of the bowl tracks and switch them in the transfer and departure yards. They usually store locomotives in the departure yard also. Among those units stored today: BNSF 3408 in BNSF paint and BNSF 3514; 3531; 6105 in BN paint. I watched BNSF 2195 in Santa Fe paint doing switching chores in the departure yard before heading up to the diesel house.

Parked at the diesel house were BNSF 3538; 3543; 3649; 6857; 7843 in BNSF paint, and BNSF 8134; 6826 in BN paint. Along with them were lease power EMDX 791 and NREX 6811. There was a mother/slug set setting on the hump, but it wasn’t pushing anything over it so I went down to the southern end of the yard and watched the action for the rest of the day at University.

First by was a BNSF intermodel with BNSF 7303 (BNSF paint)/FURX 7252 (BN paint)/BNSF 7879 (BNSF paint). A Canadian Pacific transfer from Northtown to CP’s Shoreham Yard next to Northtown was next, behind CP MP15 #1444, while an autorack train behind CP 8533/CP 9666 waited to go to Humboldt. The majority of the trains I saw at University were CP trains using the joint CP/BNSF tracks to this point, then taking CP’s own tracks to their Humboldt yard across the river.

CP autorack train waits it's turn at University while a transfer (out of picture) runs to Northtown

Then the catch of the day showed up. I was sitting in the car-which happened to be facing the opposite direction of the tracks-and reading an article on the MN&S line I had chased earlier in the day when I felt the sudden need to check the tracks. Looking up, I caught a bunch of intermodal cars in the rear view mirror snaking their way from Shoreham and on to the track that runs over to Humboldt. I watched and waited and finally could see a switcher pushing on the end of the cut of cars. It stopped at a very bad angle for shooting, but it was showing enough of it’s self for me to see what it was. BANDIT!!!

The crew sat there and talked for a while and didn’t move their train. Bandits! Just out of reach! The ultimate torture. I can see them, but I can’t shoot them. And I LOVE the Bandits. You have no idea how much I love them. This was just awful. And then....the put it in reverse! NOOOOO! They’re leaving! I’m gonna go shoot something!

But then, as if to laugh and say "just kidding," they slowly came back forward and around the curve into full view. SOO 1543 and 1551 have never been so beautiful....I shot a whole roll of those two just moving through the junction.

Soo "Bandits" 1543 and 1551 lead a transfer from Shoreham Yard to Humbolt Yard

Then came a BNSF unit grain train with BNSF 5841/BNSF 709 (in Warbonnet paint), and what’s this? DPU on a grain train? Huh, I’ve never seen that before, but then again, I don’t get up this way often. BNSF 4306 brought up the rear. There was also something else in this train I hadn’t seen before: the new BNSF logo. BNSF 480318 rolled by with the new logo and I about puked. I think it SUCKS. Its not that it’s bad, its just so...BLAH. The old logo is so much better.

The new BNSF logo... YUCK!!!

Then there was a lull in traffic on the BNSF/CP. For an hour I sat by myself in the heat with not a cloud in the sky. A few times I looked down at my legs and wished I had brought the truck and Keri ( so I could lay in the bed and tan, for it was the first time since August that I had worn shorts. My thoughts of tanning with short and blonde were interrupted by the low rumbling of EMD prime movers. Headlights caught my eye from the left and I looked up to see a pair of SOO SD60s leading a freight east out of Northtown. I got several shots of SOO 6019/6028 as the drug their train of mostly covered hoppers past me and under the signal bridge just east of my position.

Action came heavy in the next 1-2 hours with the following rolling past my shaded vantage point: BNSF unit coal train with BNSF 6841/BNSF 8292 leading and no DPU; CP manifest with CP 9505/CEFX 2787 (an SD45 in UP paint); CP manifest with CP 8601/CP 9584 and a bunch of Minnesota Soybean Producer hoppers; CP manifest with CEFX(?) 1031/CP 5952 (yay! A CP SD40-2) which included BN 8308(?)79 and appears to be an 85/89 ft flatcar, but the 4th digit was rusted over and not readable; and CP 9505 helped make up the afternoon’s Sprint train along with a CEFX unit in UP paint.

It appeared that it would be quiet again for a while, but then the UP’s daily train to Duluth showed up behind UP 1022/UP 1963 (a GP60 still in SSW paint). It was getting late, and a very bad looking cloud line was rolling in, so I told myself one more and then I’ll head for home. The one more turned into two when BNSF unit grain came by with BNSF 5133/FURX 8135 on the point. I was getting ready to leave and shooting rosters of the BN grain cars because I didn’t want to go home with half a roll left when a light power move came by. BNSF 8012 (BN paint)/BNSF 7817 (BN whiteface paint)/OKWY 9051 rolled by and I snapped a few roster shots of the Oakway SD60 to finish off the roll.


With no headlights visible from either direction, into the car I went and I began to head for home. At Lakeville I stopped at a Wendy’s to get something to eat, and right as I got back onto the interstate it began to rain. And rain. And rain more. Bad lightning could be seen off to the south east and the rain came in sheets until I got to the Iowa border. It was smooth sailing from there as I watched the light show to the north while cruising eastward on Hwy 18 out of Mason City. The rain was so hard that when I got home, dad gave me praise for actually washing the car this time. Well, I guess only you and I will know the truth...

All photos copywrite Dereck Reiter, 2005