INER at South Milford and MSO history in Michigan

Give us a run down of what you saw, post pictures if you'd like...any info is welcome.
GP30M4216
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INER at South Milford and MSO history in Michigan

Unread post by GP30M4216 »

Mackinac Mac and I learned that the Indiana Northeastern was planning to load a grain train at the South Milford Elevator this past Friday, July 24 at the western end of the remains of Wabash's old 4th District. He lives in Toledo and I was coming from west Michigan, so it was kind of like meeting in the middle. We ended up cruising back roads, small towns, and generally hanging out on both sides of the Indiana/Michigan border.

As it turns out, the grain train wasn't the only activity on the INER that day. Former Reading Railroad GP38 #2185 arrived at Fremont, light engine, to switch the two local industries and take empties back south. They pulled two empties from Letica Corp and one from the flour transload siding. Here's a shot of the completed train departing Fremont southbound getting underway.

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You don't catch a GP30 just any day and so the chase was on! We paralleled them south through Angola and Pleasant Lake, where we caught them twice for additional photos. At Steubenville, where the former LS&MS line once crossed the Wabash 4th District and the two lines now join heading east, we found INER's venerable 1952-built GP7 #1601 with three MofW work cars. The #2185 coupled up to the rear of this additional 3 car train, and the entire consist proceeded east past the switch, then reversed west to setoff both cuts of cars at Ashley. See below a photo of them running in reverse at the S 200W crossing, just west of the old diamond site. 1601 received a new coat of paint about a year ago and it looks amazing in fresh NKP-inspired livery.

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With the cars setoff at Ashley, the two units continued west to the INER enginehouse in Hudson where they were tied down. GP9H #5903 and GP9 #1602 were also at the shop. The compass pointed west and we continued to South Milford. We found the grain train! An INER crew was actively loading the train in small cuts. The process seems to go like this: The empties are spotted on the passing siding. They are pulled east in small cuts of about 15 cars and loaded starting with the last car and shoving west, one at a time. Then, the whole cut is pulled east clear of the switch, and the loaded train is assembled in blocks on the main track. Today, INER's biggest power, former CP Rail SD40-2 #3084 and former SP SD45 (now a 40-2) #3125 had the switching honors. It was fun to watch the loading process underway. The next shots show the power adding another loaded cut to the growing train on the main track. GP10 #1073 is tied down on the side track on this day.

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INER seems to be building an ever stronger business along their lines near where Indiana, Michigan and Ohio meet. New businesses are being built alongside their track in Ashley which may one day use rail service. Ashley, along with Coldwater, are the two major concentrations of businesses along their lines. Geep-9 1602 will be joining its two high hood sisters and will get a fresh coat of paint before the end of the year. The two GP30s, workhorses of the fleet, are scheduled for new paint in 2021. At South Milford, new track is being laid down the old roadbed to extend the track several thousand feet further west, allowing for an entire second grain train to be stored there prior to or after loading, increasing flexibility. Rail replacement is proceeding. Older 80-pound rail is being swapped out for heavier 105 or 115-pound rail, which allows them to increase their speeds. If high hoods, GP30s, rebuilt Geeps, or now a pair of larger SD-units with interesting histories are your thing, this line is worth a visit!

And a profile shot of the former SD45 #3125 on the Indiana SR-4 overpass in South Milford:
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As the grain switching continued, we learned it wouldn't be until later afternoon or evening that they were scheduled to depart for Montpelier, and that GP30 #2185 would be coming down from Hudson to take the lead. The thought of seeing a classic 30 leading the way was tempting, but the light would be all wrong for photos. Instead, we opted to venture north, crossing the border below Sturgis to check up on the Michigan Southern. MSO operates the western portion of the NYC "Old Road" line, between Sturgis and the Grand Elk RR interchange at White Pigeon. 20 years ago, this was an Alco-powered operation with some second hand RS- and S- series units leading short freight trains on tracks along US-12. Today, it's owned by Pioneer Railcorp. In addition to operating over the 12 miles of former Old Road, they also operate a short stretch of former GR&I/PRR north-south trackage from Sturgis down to the state line. A diamond is formed in Sturgis at this crossing. After visiting multiple times in the 1999-2011 timeframe, it's been almost 10 years since I was last along this line. I was overdue for a check-in.

We found the former LS&MS passenger depot in its new location along the former GR&I/PRR grade at the US-12 crossing. This building was moved in 2014 from "old Depot Park," its original location just north of downtown east of the diamond. The restored building looks great at its new home, still along tracks giving the context it needs. But it's sad it no longer occupies its traditional location along the Old Road. The old depot park is now partially occupied by a dog park. When the depot was moved, a portion of the original brick platform was moved with it, but long sections to the west and east of the building weren't moved, and still remain in their original empty location. The first photo shows the original brick platform looking west toward the diamond. A single trackcar stands near the SW wye track in the distance. The depot would have been located right over my shoulder in its original home. Additional images show the depot in its new location, with former GR&I rails in the foreground. This is actually the former site of the former GR&I freighthouse, long since demolished. Today, the building is home to the Sturgis Area Historical Museum.

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Despite a few decades of no care in the mid-20th Century, the LS&MS depot is very well preserved and cared for today. Yes, that's a rowboat. No, I can't explain why it's here. Recent artifact donation to the museum? Hmmmm.....

We also found PREX GP16 #1616, a former Seaboard unit, tied down just north of the diamond. The next image shows the unit near the McKee Street crossing, with the lead into Atlantic Packaging to the right, full of boxcars. Atlantic is one of about a half dozen customers on the MSO. 1616 has been on the MSO for about 10 years now, but this was the first time I'd seen one of their units parked in Sturgis, which is where a majority of their customers are. I wonder if this is a new operational practice to leave a unit kept here? Other Sturgis area customers of the MSO include Abbott Labs (1 tankcar spotted), Frank Miller & Sons snow melt products south on the GR&I almost to the state line (4 covered hoppers spotted), and the Omnisource scrapyard, which we couldn't see into.

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And the view from the other direction, looking north, where the ghost of the PRR Northern Arrow roams...

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No other activity was sighted here, so we continued west on US-12 to the other end of the MSO line at White Pigeon, just 12 miles away. White Pigeon is the traditional home of the MSO, dating from the days when it was a privately owned line owned by Gordon Morris. First, we located the MSO's second unit, another former SBD GP16, #1603. It was parked on the lead to the small engine house near the Kalamazoo Street crossing. That horn-antenna gettup is something different, eh?!

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Next, we found MSO's operational caboose ALAB #500006, a former Southern RR bay window, nicely painted near the Elkhart Street crossing. I'm not sure how often they need to use this but it appears to be fitted up for shoving duties with an airhorn mounted to the roof. We circled the "loop" to the SW side of town, where we found large high side gondolas spotted at Commodity Concepts, for woodchip service? We didn't see any other cars spotted for interchange on the Old Road lead near the US-131 crossing. Coming around from the north, we spied MSO's cupola caboose, #04549 on the old NE wye track with a line of short covered hoppers, most of which had ALAB reporting marks. A number of large open top hoppers were also spotted here for some kind of transload service.

Our last stop was the former White Pigeon Paper Mill just further south on Elkhart Street. This papermill has been running for over 100 years and has been a regular MSO customer. Taken over by Graphic Packaging last year, GP recently announced they were closing this paperboard plant in favor of a major investment and expansion of their larger mill up in Kalamazoo. White Pigeon was scheduled to close Jun 30 but it seems operations were extended for about one additional month. Business was clearly winding down, with but a few tractor trailers on site and only a few cars in the employee parking lot. The mill received kaolin in tankcars here, this photo shows what are probably the last two loads brought to this plant.

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Not a lot of trains by volume, but a wide assortment of older geeps, my first visit to South Milford, and great opportunities to check in on Indiana and Michigan rail history. Hope you enjoyed!

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AARR
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Re: INER at South Milford and MSO history in Michigan

Unread post by AARR »

Excellent report GP30! Thank you for posting.
PatC created a monster, 'cause nobody wants to see Don Simon no more they want AARR I'm chopped liver, well if you want AARR this is what I'll give ya, bad humor mixed with irrelevant info that'll make you roll your eyes quicker than a ~Z~ banhammer...

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