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Nostalgia & History > Progression of CNW power in the Powder River

Date: 11/08/12 15:49
Progression of CNW power in the Powder River
Author: SP8595

In the 10 year span from 1985 to 1995, I took a couple of vacations that included photographing trains in the Powder River Basin of Wyoming. It seemed that on every trip back there, the Chicago North Western always had a new model of engine on their roster assigned to the coal trains in this region as they tried to stay atop of the burgeoning traffic levels.

1)On our first visit in May of 1985, this was the power combination on just about every CNW coal train. A pair of CNW SD40-2's usually one in the Zito scheme and one in the older yellow and green followed by a pair of Missouri Pacific SD50's in Union Pacific paint. In this scene, the pair of CNW SD40-2's, 6932 and 6923 are both in the Zito scheme as they lead MP 5066 and 5018 on single track approaching Bill, WY. Even at this early date it was apparent to the Burlington Northern and CNW who shared this track that expansion of the physical plant was necessary and as can be seen, work is under way to double track this stretch of track South of Bill.

2)My next visit was in May of 1986 and new to the CNW was EMD model SD50's ordered at the end of 1985. Due to mechanical issues with this model, these new CNW SD50's weren't very common in the Powder River Basin due to the grades and tended to run on the river grade running East of So. Morrill, Nebraska. A somewhat unusual all CNW consist waits at Shawnee, Jct. to enter the shared portion of the line with the BN, also of interest was that this train consisted of all CNW lettered steel hopper cars instead of the utility owned cars ending with a "X" initial.
CNW SD50's 7012, 7000 with SD40-2's 6917 and 6918 led this Westbound empty train.

3)By May of 1989, CNW SD60's was the power of choice replacing most other CNW engine models in the Powder River Basin. Here a trio of the SD60's, 8031, 8045, 8054, CNW SD40-2 6908 and Union Pacific SD60m 6109 are Eastbound with a loaded train East of Lusk, WY on the refurbished section of the old Cowboy Line. Operating practices at this time usually found all of the CNW power pulled off at So. Morrill and the train continuing on East powered by just the single Union Pacific SD60m.

Next Three Pictures Posted Below, Enter GE!---------------

Date: 11/08/12 16:07
Re: Progression of CNW power in the Powder River
Author: SP8595

4)By my next visit to the Powder River at the end of 1991, CNW had ordered General Electric C40-8's and now that engine model was on the point of almost every train! Even though I really liked the looks of this engine type, I certainly did not care for the Zito scheme on these engines as exemplified by CNW 8541 leading Union Pacific SD60m 6190 and Union Pacific C40-8 9225 on a Southbound coal train. In this view there are at least 4 trains visible, good thing they had double tracked this portion back in 1985!

5)In late 1993 and continuing into 1994, the CNW bought wide-cab C44-9W's and painted them into this cool "lightning stripe" scheme.
Here CNW 8647 leads 3 C40-8's, 2 Union Pacific and 1 CNW along with a high nose Norfolk Southern "baby boat" into Bill, WY in Sept. of 1995.
The CNW/UP found out that with the increased train tonnage in the lighter aluminum cars, three of the high-horsepower engines were not quite enough for the grades of the Powder River lines and instead of wasting another six-axle engine, they added UP and NS 4-axle GE models to give them just enough boost to get over the hills. As for the reason on the NS engines, I guess that was the way that these 2 railroads worked out how to pay back horsepower hours owed.

6)The Grand Finale on CNW power, the AC4400CW! Painted in the "lightning stripe" scheme and all lettered with Operation Lifesaver logos on the side, these engines were a fitting tribute to the end of the CNW!
CNW 8810, Union Pacific 6143 and UP 9107 head South near Nacco Jct. also in Sept. of 1995.

Date: 11/08/12 16:21
Re: Progression of CNW power in the Powder River
Author: coach

In 1994, as I was doing my bicycle trip across the U.S., I rode along US 30 thru Nebraska and Iowa, and thus saw many, many of these trains and C&NW engines. Their paint scheme was attractive to me (still is). It beat UP's boring, boring yellow smear hands down.

I had never seen coal trains before, so while the sight was impressive, the sound is what got me. The horns were different, the engines different, and the sound of 110 exact dimension coal cars rolling / clanking / pounding by was trance inducing. I remember waiting for one to go by, and watching a rail joint give consistently, methodically, endlessly under the passing wheels. It was perfect, methodical stress loading. "Probably a mechanical engineer's stress failure nightmare", I thought. It seemed similar to why troops, when crossing bridges, break into random regular walking so as to not create an undulating rhythm that could damage the structure.

And seeing all the coal roll by, it was even harder to believe ALL OF IT--TRAIN AFTER TRAIN OF IT--CAR AFTER HUNDREDTH CAR OF IT-- was going to burned somewhere, and go up a smokestack in exhaustion...

Date: 11/08/12 17:14
Re: Progression of CNW power in the Powder River
Author: King_Coal

Fantastic series. Thanks for posting.

Date: 11/08/12 20:56
Re: Progression of CNW power in the Powder River
Author: nwkrailfan

Awesome post! Thanks for posting.

Date: 11/08/12 21:08
Re: Progression of CNW power in the Powder River
Author: TCnR

For some reason photo #1 was immediately identifiable as the oilfield overpass on the edge of downtown Bill Wyoming, even though the number of tracks had changed and the perspective had changed, just not too many landmarks out there to get confused:

Interesting photo essay of the CNW era, thanks for posting.

Date: 11/08/12 22:29
Re: Progression of CNW power in the Powder River
Author: NH2006

Fantastic! I miss the CNW.

Date: 11/09/12 06:47
Re: Progression of CNW power in the Powder River
Author: captrr

This is a great post. Good photography...superb description of the evolution of CNW Powder River coal trains. Having only visited the Thunder Basin once...when wide cabs were predominant...this is a really worthwhile photographic essay. Thanks!

Date: 11/10/12 16:56
Re: Progression of CNW power in the Powder River
Author: onthebell

Wow! Nice job!..

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