Monday, May 30, 2022

Lawrence: U-boats to Ditch Lights


When my friend Carl Graves was an active railfan, I would from time-to-time drive from my home in Oklahoma to his in Lawrence, Kansas, where we would spend a few days drinking beer, looking at slides and taking photos along a short section of Union Pacific's Marysville Subdivision in and around town.  Lawrence is home to the University of Kansas and was, during the "Bleeding Kansas" era, a bastion of anti-slavery.  A free state, Kansas was the center of many violent confrontations, including perhaps the best-known raid in 1863 of Confederate guerrilla William Quantrill, who burned Lawrence to the ground.  Anti-slavery Kansans called "Jayhawkers" soon retaliated, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Like a train whistle's echoing between mountain ridges, the actions of long-ago still ring today in Lawrence through Free State High School (where my wife's niece teaches Art) and the Free State Brewing Company (where Carl and I once spent way too much time).  The university's sports teams are called the Jayhawks, and even residents whose knowledge of the Great American Conflict is as shallow as a child's wading pool seem somehow to realize that Lawrence was and is a special place. 

What follows are images taken along the Marysville Subdivision in and around Lawrence, Kansas, from 1973 through Carl's retirement from railfanning in the early 21st century, during which (1) the double-track line went from Automatic Block Signal to Centralized Traffic Control, (2) the Rock Island, which shared the line from Kansas City to Topeka, disappeared like smoke from a distant automobile accident and (3) motive power evolved from monstrous General Electric U-boats spewing oil to equally monstrous alternating current engines with ditch lights. 


Some of my earliest images were taken in Lawrence in the summer of 1973, shortly after college graduation.  To put it mildly, I knew little about cameras and film, like a tenor who cannot read music.  The following photographs were taken with GAF slide film rated ASA 400!  The grain looks as big as pea gravel.  Today, GAF manufactures shingles and other roofing materials.  For a brief and completely unsuccessful moment, as brief as the instant between the traffic light's turning green and the vehicle honking behind you, the company challenged Kodak in the slide film market.  I may have the only GAF slides still existing in the world.

Rock Island U28B 281 leads a parade of eastbound power and trailers towards Lawrence in July 1973.

Another U28B, westbound Rock Island 261 is framed beneath an eastbound thunderstorm.  July 1973.

Rock Island GP40 348 is running westbound beside the Kansas River in July 1973.  By 1990, as the succeeding images from that year will demonstrate, the cottonwoods had grown enough to completely obscure the water from this location.

July 1973 -- Union Pacific U50C 5023 heads eastbound to Kansas City in another location that in 20 years would be completely overgrown with trees.  The U50C was a twin-engine 5000 horsepower model produced by General Electric, with two three-axle trucks salvaged from UP's turbine locomotives, and was prone to electrical fires and oil leaks.  The unit in this image is relatively clean.  Others were not so fortunate.  Forty were delivered to UP between 1969 and 1971.  By 1976, all had been removed from service.  

This is the predecessor to the U50C, the U50 (sometimes incorrectly called the U50D), also a twin engine 5000 horsepower unit riding on eight axles rather than six.  Here a single engine pulls a manifest westbound in 1973.  The design was effectively two U25B's on a single frame.  Union Pacific took delivery of 23 units in 1964 and 1965.  Twenty were withdrawn from service in 1973 and 1974.  The last three remained on the roster until 1977.

A U50C at sunset, eastbound to Kansas City.  In 1973, both tracks were controlled by Automatic Block Signals.  There were only a handful of cross-overs between KC and Topeka, all hand-thrown and used only in emergencies.  Thus, traffic in one direction could easily bottleneck.  I remember more than once when ten trains came through in less than an hour, all running on yellow boards.

Led by U30C 2889, this eastbound manifest is seen between Topeka and Lawrence in the summer of 1973.

With the grain elevators of Topeka towering in the background, Union Pacific U28C 2801 is heading east.  Frisco power would occasionally show up on the Marysville Sub, providing an interesting contrast to Armour Yellow.  In 1973, this location in the hills above the tracks made for nice photography.  Alas, trees consumed the spot many years ago.

Eastbound UP 2837, a U30C, has passed Topeka and is headed to Lawrence.  Both U-boats and manifests were ubiquitous at this time on the Marysville Sub, but coal trains and intermodals were on the way.


One year later, I had deserted GAF slide film, or perhaps the film had deserted me.  I no longer remember if the film was still sold that year.  In any event, like someone changing brands of whiskey, I had switched to Kodak, both Kodachrome and Ecktachrome.  My friends told me not to shoot Ecktachrome because, "the dye will fade in about ten years."  Well, these slides are now about 50 years old and haven't faded yet, though I have.  I challenge you to distinguish Kodachrome from Ecktachrome in the following images.

Rock Island GP35 313 hauls a manifest west out of Kansas City along the Kansas River -- 1974.

Rock Island in 1974 -- U25B 219 rolls eastbound.  This train most likely came off the Golden State Route.

1974 -- Led by U30C 4584 in your author's favorite Rock Island paint scheme, this westbound hotshot has passed Lawrence with a clear board to Topeka.

In 1972, Rock Island purchased this GP7 from the Rio Grande, repainting the herald on the nose and the lettering on the side.  Here it leads boxcars toward Lawrence on a very cold day in January 1974.

U30C 4583 rolls west beside the Kansas River on a very hot day in July 1974.

Two U50's rolling west beside the Kansas River -- 1974 -- two of the cleanest units of this model I ever saw on the Marysville Sub.

U50C 5003 leads a manifest east in 1974.  The second engine is a GP-9 B-unit.

Another U50C is on the point of three Norfolk and Western units headed westbound.  Norfolk and Western power was common on the Marysville Sub in 1974 as trains ran through Kansas City off the old Wabash.

A lashup of all Norfolk and Western power heads eastbound, led by GP30 538 running long hood forward, as was the N&W's custom.

GP30 717 beside the Kansas River -- 1974.  You may have noticed in earlier images, but during this time, UP power contained the engine number on the nose.

A single U50C east of Topeka.

 Union Pacific SD24 417 leads a trio of Missouri Pacific power.  The SD24 was the first turbo-charged unit produced by EMD.  This image was taken in the summer of 1974 after recent heavy rains had filled the Kansas River from bank to bank.

The Union Pacific line runs into Lawrence from the east on the north side of the Kansas River, while the bulk of the town is on the south side.  At the old passenger station, the tracks turn north for several miles before turning west again.  Here a westbound U50C is making the turn to the north.  To the right of the engine is Mount Oread, a hill in Lawrence upon which is located the University of Kansas and which separates the floodplains of the Kansas and Wakarusa Rivers.

A cold day along the Kansas River in March 1974.  The two U50Cs show the result of oil leaks.

Union Pacific 748, a GP35, leads a merchandise freight west during a March 1974 snowstorm.

Union Pacific 746, another GP35, rolls east along the Kansas River.

SD40-2 3196 rolls west toward Topeka with two Frisco units trailing -- summer 1974.


In 1976, your author began law school -- a long slog through knee-keep mud that seemed to end back where it had started, as though I had spent the prime of my life going nowhere, like a dog's chasing its tail or a model train on a circular track.  There were no visits to Lawrence, and virtually no railfanning until after I had passed the Bar Exam and completed a few years' work.  Only then did I feel confident enough to take time off.  (You may think that I'm exaggerating, but I'm not.)

Also, during that period, Carl was out of state obtaining a Ph.D. in Labor History from Harvard.  So there was no one to visit in Lawrence anyway.  By 1981 he and his wife had returned.  (At least he had spent those years doing something useful.)

In the seven years since my last visit, the Marysville Sub was both the same and different.  Both tracks were still controlled by automatic block signals, but the U50's and U50C's were gone.  Traffic was as heavy as ever, perhaps even heavier, but the Rock Island was also gone, having shut down for good on March 31, 1980.  I spent only a couple of afternoons along the tracks in 1981 and present here a few of the better images.

UP 8089, an SD40-2, is eastbound to Kansas City.  Built in 1979, this unit was geared for 80 MPH.  EMD delivered 100 to Union Pacific, which called them "Fast Forties."  The unit was later renumbered 3598.

In1980, the Burlington Northern purchased the Frisco.  Here in 1981, two BN units (one still in Frisco red and white) follow UP 2485 (a C30-7) west out of Lawrence.

U30C 2954 leads autoracks and two Conrail units east (compass south) toward Lawrence in July 1981.

UP 2950 (another U30C) leads two Missouri Pacific units west.  To the lead unit's right is a train indicator, vital link in the ABS chain.  Before radio communication was common, maintenance of way crews and others on the tracks could check the indicators to see if trains were approaching.  There were indicators for each track.  Since trains ran in only one direction on each track, if an indicator showed a train in the block, one knew from which direction it was approaching.


The calendar moves forward to 1990.  Your author will turn 40 in November and has been practicing law 11 years.  His son is six years old and alternately unintentionally humorous and intentionally infuriating.  Ditch lights are almost a decade away, but the first "safety cabs" appeared in 1989.  Although coal traffic has increased dramatically, the railroad is still dominated by manifests.  The flood of intermodal traffic, well underway on AT&SF's Transcon, is still a trickle in northeastern Kansas.

Probably the biggest change on this section of the Union Pacific is the age of the photographer.  He is no longer enthusiastic about waking before dawn and reaching the tracks as the summer sun rises.  He no longer bothers with summer photographs taken during the middle of the day.  He has begun the occasional use of a tripod for any lens longer than 50 millimeters, though he still prefers to "hand hold" his 135.  The consistent use of zoom lenses must wait until the 21st century. 

In all of the images above, the westbound track through Lawrence was jointed rail.  This vestige of 19th century railroading has now disappeared.  The railroad industry, almost against its will, is starting to modernize, though the process is as slow and painful as the removal of a wisdom tooth.    

Union Pacific took control of Missouri Pacific in 1982, but the MOP retained its identity on locomotives until January 1, 1986, the consolidation date of the two roads' operating departments.  Missouri Pacific's 5000 class SD50s were delivered new by EMD in yellow and gray, with Missouri Pacific lettering.  Here 5003 and 5029 roll west with an empty coal train.  Your author is uncertain what the first load behind the power might be.  Both 5003 and 5029 were previous numbers of the retired and scrapped U50C's.

SD40-2 3467 powers west out of Lawrence in the summer of 1990.

Another SD40-2, two trailers and a long string of autoracks.  Your author has no idea what the second unit might be.

Union Pacific absorbed the Katy in 1988.  Here SD40-2 3395 leads MKT 634 (another SD40-2 in the last Katy paint scheme) across the farmland east of Lawrence.  

More farmland in 1990.  GP38-2 2307 (formerly MP 2307) leads this train east.

The first safety cabs I saw on the Marysville Sub. SD60M's 6188 and 6212 are on the point of an eastbound loaded coal train.

UP C40-8 leads its sister and an empty coal train west in a location that once gave a broad view of the Kansas River.  (See earlier images from 1973 and 1974).  Here in 1990, cottonwoods have won the battle.

Another pair of Missouri Pacific SD50's headed east to Kansas City.  To the lead unit's right is another train indicator, demonstrating that in 1990, the Marysville Sub through Lawrence was still controlled by Automatic Block Signal.

SD60 6034 leads a westbound manifest past the only visible portion of the Kansas River in 1990.

A trio of SD60M safety cabs.

Into the sunset of 1990.  (I believe the lead unit is Southern Pacific.)


In 1995, the Marysville Sub in and around Lawrence was still controlled by Automatic Block Signals.  Everything west of Topeka had long been Centralized Traffic Control; the same for the area closer to Kansas City.  But in Lawrence, trains were still limited to right-hand running with no centrally controlled cross-overs.

The images in this section were taken on a single afternoon in 1995, when eastbound traffic was stopped because of a traffic accident on the eastbound track in Lawrence.  The opposite track was still open, but there was no way to route the trains for left-hand running, so everything eastbound just sat there, quietly, as though each engine had run out of fuel at the same time.  Some crews went dead on the law, turned their headlights off and went home.

I doubt that this single event caused the UP to convert the line through Lawrence to CTC, but it may have been the last straw.

Eastbound SD40-2 3328 is dead on the mainline.

C41-8W 9443 and C40-8 9334 wait silently on the eastbound main for approaching traffic.

GP38-2 2263, originally CRI&P 4325, waits quietly without a crew.

UP 3751 (SD40-2) sits on the mainline with a load of autoracks, waiting for the tracks ahead to clear.

While eastbounds were motionless, westbounds continued to roll.  Here C40-8 9190 is headed to 
Topeka without a worry in the world.


Ditch lights appeared courtesy of federal regulations.  Since I favor limited government (i.e., none where none is needed), I was initially non-plussed.  After a few photographs, I quickly changed by mind.  When shot head-on, ditch lights dramatized my images, especially those taken with long lenses.  In some cases, the effect was subtle; in others, startling.  My overall impression was that ditch lights, like bacon, made everything better.  

I am quite certain that the government was not thinking of me when it mandated ditch lights.  Still, you take your pleasures where you find them.  So a tip of the hat to those federal bureaucrats who inadvertently injected a highlight into an otherwise gray world.

In addition to ditch lights, UP power in this era began to sport eagle wings on the nose.  This touch, combined with ditch lights, made these engines quite photogenic, in no small measure because they were clean.  No road grime in those days.  

At the beginning of the 21st century, the Marysville Sub through Lawrence also converted to Centralized Traffic Control.  Your author does not know the exact date, so for enlightenment, he queried his friend Carl, who responded by email:

In the late 1990s the last remnants of ABS and center sidings were replaced with CTC and high-speed crossovers in the Kansas City-Topeka territory. The line west of Topeka to Marysville had been CTC for some years. The last ABS was a 28-mile stretch between Grantville (MP 61.5) and East Lawrence. I don't have an exact date but I am guessing it was all CTC by 2000. 


The Marysville Sub begins to see eagle wings and intermodal traffic.  Also, alternating current locomotives have appeared, like this AC60CW leading trailers westbound.


More intermodal traffic, led by SD70M 4125.  Union Pacific ordered 1000  of these units (numbers 4000 through 4999).  In 2019, 4014 was renumbered 4479 to accommodate Big Boy 4014.  

In a maneuver not possible in ABS days, AC44CW 6815 (pulling a loaded coal train) waits on the main (notice the conductor's boots on the dash) while SD60M 6203 races around with an intermodal hotshot.

AC44CW 7236 meets SD40-2's 3463 and 3620.

Coal traffic is beginning to dominate the Marysville Sub.  Here AC44CW 7208 leads coal loads through the farmland west of Kansas City.


And so we arrive at your author's most recent images from Lawrence -- taken 14 years before this post of May 2022.  I have no idea what the railroad looks like now, nor do I have a good idea of what it looked like then, save for the images below.  At certain moments, my life seems compressed into a single point, an undifferentiated singularly, if you will, and I cannot distinguish one date from another, 1974 from 2008 from 2022, as though I have lived them all simultaneously.  The images contained herein tell me differently, because they are date-stamped, and date stamps don't lie, do they? 

These images tell me that in 2008 the Marysville Sub through Lawrence, Kansas, is crawling with coal trains, day and night, round the clock, 24/7, with no pause, no respite, no moment to clear one's thoughts.  The endless parade grows monotonous, like Irish folk music.  The Union Pacific has made the transformation to the 21st century; the old railroad indices are gone, as are the old railroad men, as progress charges forward. 




And more.


Etc. Etc.

Not every movement was coal.  Here AC4400CW leads westbound grain.

C40-8 9347 and Oakway EMD SD60 9043 pull autoracks east.  This may be the most recent image your author has of Oakway power.  (Since I have about 20,000 slides, I'm not going to verify this conjecture.)

Beneath a new signal tower, AC45CCTE 7797 flies west into the sun.

Off the Rails

I end with something not even remotely connected to railroads.  Unless you enjoy speculating about things that don't effect your life at all, you may want to stop here.

But I do enjoy pointless speculation.  And if my hallucinations turn out to be accurate, if my life really is compressed into a single point, if the universe really is an undifferentiated singularly,  then everything that will happen has already happened.  It happened in the same instant that everything in the past happened -- a single point containing everything that ever was and ever will be.

At the speed of light, time stops and distance ahead shrinks to zero -- an undifferentiated point where there is no past, no future, no distance, no duration, all of which we experience because we are subluminal.  We do not move at the speed of light.  If we did, mass would increase infinitely, an impossibility.  We are trapped in a world of past and future and feel that time flows past us.  But it does not.  Our existence is like a book.  We read it page after page, but the book is already complete.  We cannot experience it all at once.  Nor, alas, can we go back and read it again.  That is not the book's fault.  It is ours.

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