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Eastern Railroad Discussion > West Michigan Wednesday - CSX Helpers on East Saugatuck Hill

Date: 11/06/19 05:43
West Michigan Wednesday - CSX Helpers on East Saugatuck Hill
Author: ironmtn

As often discussed here on Trainorders, manned helpers are increasingly uncommon. Sometimes, though, one can find them in unexpected places, as not far from the shores of Lake Michigan in southwestern Michigan, where apart from towering sand dunes along the big lake's shoreline, the terrain is generally fairly flat or gently rolling . But that terrain is cut by the Kalamazoo River and its valley as the river flows westward toward its confluence with Lake Michigan near Saugatuck.  As a result, two short but substantial grades climb out of the Kalamazoo River valley between the small village of New Richmond on the river, and the town of Fennville on the south side of the valley; and between New Richmond and the small crossroads of East Saugatuck on the north side. Here, where Pere Marquette Berkshires like the restored PM 1225 once lifted trains up the grades, heavier CSX manifests sometimes still have to double the hill in this ex-C&O nee-PM territory. And if they're lucky and need the help, they will get a manned helper to give a welcome push.

Such luck was with the crew of CSX train Q326 (Chicago to Grand Rapids, Mich. / Wyoming Yard) yesterday, 11/5/19. With a brisk and chill wind blowing in sharply from the big lake, about five miles to the west, and clouds playing tag with the sun after days on end of rain, wind and gloom, it was a good day for the crew not to have to double the hill with a long and heavy train. And for us to watch the show as the last glow of a glorious autumn color season lingered. Enjoy.

Muskegon, Michigan


Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 11/06/19 21:18 by ironmtn.

Date: 11/06/19 05:47
Re: West Michigan Wednesday - CSX Helpers on East Saugatuck Hill
Author: ironmtn

1 & 3) Train Q326 makes a good pace climbing the grade from the Kalamazoo River up to East Saugatuck, as it approaches and climbs past the grade crossing at 65th Street, about one-third of the way up the hill. Of course, the beautiful clear autumn sunlight disappeared behind a big grey cloud just as the train arrived. Still, a nice scene.

2) Earlier, the two manned helper engines headed downgrade approaching the 65th Street crossing, heading for the west end of Wells siding (W/E Wells, in CSX parlance), just south of Fennville on the CSX Grand Rapids Sub, where they will tie onto Q326. The engines were operating under symbol D801-05. They may have originated at the terminal at West Olive, Mich., between Grand Haven and Holland, which serves as the termination point of heavy coal trains that serve the large Consumers Energy J.H. Campbell Generating Complex located there. Note: this is a correction from the original writing of this post, which stated that the helpers may have originated at Waverly Yard in Holland.

4) The train had a good-sized block of these gons, carrying what looked like big plastic trash bags. "Dirty dirt" bound for safe disposal somewhere? The black-and-white placard number on the cars was 3077 (Environmentally Hazardous Substances, Solid, N.O.S.). Some of the gons were marked "U.S. Ecology". Anyone know anything about this movement? Interesting in any case, and something I have not seen before.

5) The sunlight finally breaks out to illuminate the scene, and the manned helpers are pushing hard as the end of the train approaches the 65th St. grade crossing. The big GE's sounded great as they leaned hard into the long, heavy train.

6) Like a submarine surfacing from the deep, the helpers emerge from a narrow gulch and reach the top of the grade amidst farm fields at East Saugatuck. In the West, big grades sometimes start amid great rock formations, or at a dramatic gateway to a high-cliffed canyon. Here in the Midwest, it can be more subtle.  Substantial grades in the Midwest sometimes begin like this, starting on level prairie, and following a swale or narrow rivulet or small creek that gradually cuts downward through farm fields down into a much larger and deeper river valley. Another grade that is formed like this on its eastern end is on NS ex-Wabash trackage near Chapin, Ill., west of Springfield. Trains there too almost seem to rise up out of or descend down into the farm fields, as here at East Saugatuck.

Edited 2 time(s). Last edit at 11/06/19 21:24 by ironmtn.

Date: 11/06/19 05:49
Re: West Michigan Wednesday - CSX Helpers on East Saugatuck Hill
Author: ironmtn

7) After crossing 136th Avenue at East Saugatuck, the train stopped north of the grade crossing, and the helpers dropped off before Q326 proceeded on to Holland and Grand Rapids. At Wyoming Yard in Grand Rapids, blocks are dropped, swapped and switched for industries there, and for interchange to regional carriers like G&W's Marquette Rail, operating on the ex-C&O nee-PM line to Ludington, Michigan. Some traffic may also go on to Detroit on Q328 that evening, or on to a local the next day that works east of Grand Rapids to Ensel Yard in the state capital of Lansing. Here the helpers cross 136th Avenue at a small farm supply store and grain elevator at East Saugatuck.

8) The helpers head southward back down into the river valley past the signals at East Saugatuck. The DS indicated on the radio that there was some work for them further south at Grand Junction, Mich. I wanted to follow and photograph them, as I knew some areas further south that likely had great fall color. But a thick coating of my own bright red maple leaves blown down by the last storm off the lake were covering my back yard (and filling the rear gutter on my house). So, I had to  head back north to my home to get therm cleaned up before the next storm (with snow, no less!) was to arrive today -- and indeed it's coming down at a good clip as I post this. Now that I am recently retired, I get to do such chores on a weekday afternoon instead of a Saturday. Perhaps after a little railfanning, of course.

Hope you found this visit to a somewhat unlikely and not too well known helper grade to be enjoyable and interesting. Thanks for viewing.

Muskegon, Michigan

Note 11/17/19: Some information corrected on the basis of helpful comments helpfully received from another TO member: 1) Origination point for Q326 changed to simply be Chicago. Bedford Park may not be the correct origin point.  2) Ensley Yard at Lansing corrected to Ensel Yard. 3) Possible origination point for the D801-05 helper changed from Waverly Yard at Holland to the terminal for the Campbell Generating Complex at West Olive, Mich. 4) D801's work after completing its helper assignment changed to only completing some work at Grand Junction, Mich., and with no additional travel southward to Sawyer, Mich. (not Sawyerville). My apologies for these errors. Thanks to member CO5232 for these helpful corrections.


Edited 3 time(s). Last edit at 11/06/19 21:40 by ironmtn.

Date: 11/06/19 06:04
Re: West Michigan Wednesday - CSX Helpers on East Saugatuck Hill
Author: drsilverstreak

In the early 1980s the run through to the CP 937 used to triple the hill at times.  No helpers then.

Date: 11/06/19 06:06
Re: West Michigan Wednesday - CSX Helpers on East Saugatuck Hill
Author: kevink

Nice reporting on a line not often mentioned here on TO. Always good to see something besides coal trains on this line.

Date: 11/06/19 07:58
Re: West Michigan Wednesday - CSX Helpers on East Saugatuck Hill
Author: DLM

Sometimes the daily coal trains heading to West Olive, MI are pushed up the hill and sometimes they are split in two for their trip up the hill.  All coal trains require something due to their tonnage.  With leaves falling and some snow or rain, it can be even a harder climb up the hill.

Date: 11/06/19 11:32
Re: West Michigan Wednesday - CSX Helpers on East Saugatuck Hill
Author: inCHI

Excellent write up. I've always been interesting in this since I found out it existed. 

Date: 11/06/19 18:29
Re: West Michigan Wednesday - CSX Helpers on East Saugatuck Hill
Author: gbmott

Nice photos and good write-up.  This is an operation of which I was not aware and am glad for the information.


Date: 11/07/19 06:11
Re: West Michigan Wednesday - CSX Helpers on East Saugatuck Hill
Author: SD45X

" I get by with a little help from my friends"

Date: 11/07/19 17:12
Re: West Michigan Wednesday - CSX Helpers on East Saugatuck Hill
Author: ironmtn

Thanks to you all for your kind comments. Glad to know that you enjoyed the post, and found it interesting and informative.


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