Old 04-06-2009, 03:02 AM   #1
Andrew Blaszczyk (2)
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Default A tank engine, sugar cane trains and abandoned stations...

A tank engine, sugar cane trains and abandoned stations can only mean one thing...Florida for spring break!

Papers were handed in (some not-so-on-time) and finals were over which meant it was time for the annual spring break road trip to my grandma's house in Florida with the family. The trip begins bright and early on March 26th and after a traffic-free drive down I-95, we settled into the hotel just before 8PM. The South Carolina Central provided the first train activity of the week at 10:30PM as the road freight rolled east along Rte. 52 to the CSX interchange in down town. The hotels along the strip road off 95 provide an excellent view of the line which runs between Rte. 52 and the service road, Lucas St. The train returned west at 1:30AM.

It was another early departure on Friday. The first stop was lunch at Folkston, GA where another railfan's ATCS screen showed nothing in either direction. It was the first time visiting the 'Funnel' that we have not seen a train roll through town. After lunch, we took Rte. 301 south along the CSX line through Callahan, Baldwin, Starke, and Ocala. A stop at our usual spot in Lochloosa, FL yielded nothing other than some scanner chatter but the stop signals held their ground. A bit disappointed, we jumped onto I-75 for the last sprint south of Tampa. Naturally, we happen to see the northbound Tropicana juice train off the interstate just outside of Wildwood ending the "railroad" portion of the trip down.

Saturday was set aside for housework, relaxing, and enjoying the sun and heat which hadn't quite reached the Northeast yet.

A cold front took longer than expected to move through the area and did not begin to dump rain until 'sunrise' Sunday morning. By 11AM the rain had ceased but the clouds were still in the area so I tuned to the NWS channel on the scanner which brought the good news of sun in the Tampa area. My parents and I jumped into the car and headed north to the Florida Gulf Coast Railroad Museum in Parrish, FL. Flagg Coal 0-4-0T 75 was visiting the museum for the month of March and this was the last weekend the little steamer would be running there while GP7 1835 handled a freight. We arrived, in clouds, just before the 2Pm departure and shot both trains as well as the two display trains which both face east before the two runs left. The freight behind #1835 left a good 5-10 minutes before the passenger train with #75 on the west end but we managed to beat both trains to the Dickey Road crossing, the only one on the line. The clouds parted for the arrival of the trains. The freight continued east over the crossing while the passenger train stopped adjacent to a "wild west town" where actors provided entertainment in the form of a shootout and more. The train then continued east over the crossing about a mile or so and then returned non-stop to Parrish under a cloudy sky. Families walked the museum grounds, enjoyed tours of 75's cab, and ate food from the cart brought in for the weekend's activity. Finally, the last of the clouds moved out a few minutes before the 3:50PM freight left and stayed out for the final round trip of 75 at the FGCRM. We took a ride to the museum's shops and yard in Willow and saw a handful of primered and recently painted coaches. It was back home for dinner and sleep.

A high pressure system had moved into the area after the cold front bringing clear blue skies and cooler (read: 70s rather than mid-to-high 80s) temperatures. What better way is there to spend such a day other than a drive to Lake Okeechobee. Okay, the lake wasn't the real reason for the 100-mile drive east but it was part of the day's itinerary along with shooting and chasing the sugar cane operation of the South Central Florida Express based out of Clewiston, FL. We got into Moore Haven, FL and started exploring the SCFE line from here with a stop at the movable bridge over the Caloosahatchee Canal. The bridge was in the open position but a white pickup parked on the access road to the bridge. After observing for a few minutes the bridge closed and a few guys began inspecting it so we decided to split for Clewiston to check out what was happening at the engine facility. With the bridge being closed, we decided to follow the line rather than taking Rte. 27 directly into town and sure enough a westbound manifest presented itself around the curves at Liberty Point. We set up at the sugar cane field Gramlin and then chased back to the bridge in Moore Haven where we decided to give up chase due to poor light further up the line. A quick sprint down Rte. 27 brought us into Clewiston where things were already buzzing, in the form of GP11s 9028 and 9023 moving about in the engine facility. 9028 was dropped in front of the engine house and 9023 went east to pick up a tank car and a couple of covered hoppers. We shot the engines sitting by the engine house from public property and then decided to see what the 9023 was up to. After some confusion getting used to the track setup around the area, the train lead us to the nearest road to the US Sugar refinery where switchers were constantly shuffling cars back and forth. As we watched, a 'wildfire' burned east of town which disappeared after a few minutes and then flared up again. Curiosity and a lack of a train got the best of us so we decided to investigate. As we turned south onto Rte. 835 to head into the sugar cane fields, it clicked when we saw the smoke from one of the fires disappear yet again; it isn't a wildfire...its part of the harvesting process! We continued down to the first crossing where we saw one train being loaded on a short dead end spur, another in the siding along the main, and the 9023 heading towards us east on the main. After glassing him over an irrigation ditch, we continued down Rte. 835 until we saw another train weaving its way towards the refinery behind USSC 405. Lack of any visible movement lead to more exploration down Rogers Road off of Rte. 835 which brought us up close to one of the many loading sites in the fields. It was almost lunchtime and we had managed to venture 12 miles outside of town so we began the drive back where we ran into more loads heading west.

After a quick BK lunch, I figured we'd take a break from the trains for an hour or so (high sun ) and take a look at Lake Okeechobee. We scooted around the southeast side to Pahokee State Park to get a clear view of the lake. 15 minutes later, we were on our way back to Clewiston to see what was happening with the two trains we saw loading in the morning. Hoping to run into the Fort Pierce Turn returning, I had to settle for an empty sugar cane train heading to the Bryant Plant yard behind 9024. With the train at the end of its journey we continued southwest. The scanner gave us a heads up on a loaded train entering the yard with the "work train", 9023 and a covered hopper, following it in as well as a light engine move west on the main. Unfortunately, we were a few minutes too late getting to the Rte. 835 crossing. We sat at the crossing hoping another train would go west in the best light of the day but all was quiet on the rails. The Clewiston dispatcher was trying to reach the Fort Pierce Turn who was not answering or was not close enough for the scanner to pick up their response. Just as we were about to call it a day, the Clewiston dispatcher answered a call from the Sebring Turn asking for permission into the Moore Haven Block off of the Palmdale Block. I realized that the Sebring Turn was the manifest we had seen in the morning and was returning back to Clewiston from the CSX interchange. We took off for the Rte. 27 bridge in Moore Haven not knowing how long it would take them to get there. The bridge was still open and the same pickup was parked so I was confident we had beat them. Finally, at 5:20PM, the bridge was closed and the train came into view some 3 miles away to the west. The train rolled east towards Clewiston after stopping at the stop sign just before the bridge and the crew chatted with the guys from the truck. All in all it was a successful and educational day on this one of a kind shortline in south central FL.
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Old 04-06-2009, 03:04 AM   #2
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Since, I had used up two of the vacation days with all day excursions, Tuesday through Thursday consisted of bumming around the house with afternoon trips to the beach for sunset over the Gulf of Mexico. The only train related activity was half an hour spent shooting the Seaboard Coast Line station in Venice, FL which now serves as a commuter bus terminal and the home of the Venice Area Historical Society.

With my grandma staying in Florida, the drive home would just be my parents and me which meant some train stuff mixed in with the 1200 miles of driving. I knew I-75 would be a parking lot going north to Tampa so I convinced my dad that taking Rte. 17 up through the state would be quicker and less stressful as well as a chance to see some new things. The first interesting site we came across was the ex-SCL station in Arcadia about 2 miles east of the current Seminole Gulf/CSX interchange which was quiet on this cloudy morning. Driving north on Rte. 17 in Zolfo Springs, we came across a little park with a steam engine on display along with some old wooden buildings. The steam engine is Brooks-Scanlon 2-6-2 7 which was used in hauling logs and timber out of Florida's thick forests in the early 1900s. We found another Seaboard station adjacent to the highway in Wauchula. Another cold front moving to the south began to drop some very isolated showers on us as we neared Bartow and CSX's Bone Valley. The chatter on the scanner seemed very promising but there would be no exploration due to the weather. As we crossed the ex-ACL line in Mulberry, I was pleasantly surprised to see a headlight. We got as close as we could on the public streets that parallel the tracks and did not have to wait long for him to start heading south. We jumped ahead and set up at the diamond of the ex-ACL/ex-SCL which is located right in the median of Rte. 37 but unfortunately they stopped at the signals north of Rte. 60 and the diamond. Being a little behind schedule we gave up on him and continued west. The original plan was to head north through Plant City but my dad somehow managed to convince me I-75 would be "fine" since it was after rush hour and we were north of Tampa. He was the driver so I gave in and sure enough we caught two pockets of traffic, which to his credit were not AWFUL just annoying. Once again, the CSX line from Ocala to Baldwin was quiet other than the southbound Tropicana juice train which somehow slipped past without any warning at Waldo. Finally, the train gods cooperated and we caught up to a northbound manifest at Crawford, FL. It wasn't quite late enough for the sun to light the junction at Callahan but we took the shot anyway before heading north to Folkston. With Folkston's Rail Watch the following day, railfans were already plentiful in town including dozens of cars at the platform and around the freight house and campers parked along the RoW so we decided to head out as soon as we caught the northbound. Florence, SC would be the stop for the night again.
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-Andrew Blaszczyk a.k.a. AB(2)
Proud fan of the Sabres, Islanders, Rockies, and Lions.

"My camera is an artistic medium, not a tool of terrorism."

www.ab2photography.com Coming soon!
My photos on RailPictures:
http://www.railpictures.net/showphotos.php?userid=960
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