Friday, March 13, 2015

OO&FRV: CB&Q's Ottawa, Oswego & Fox River Valley RR

(Update: some of my own photos of the IR, this is the route that uses the lift bridge across in the Illinois River in Ottawa. Fox River Branch)

Ted Gregory posted
Bathtubs in storage near Streator.
Big revenue for shortlines.
Dennis DeBruler On the IR/CB&Q route north of town? That must mean they got the bridge over the Illinois River operational again. Or did they add a new connection somewhere to use this track?
Ţed Ģregory Dennis correct on the Q. there is no connection in Streator. The bridge has been operational from what I have heard. It was in raised position for boat traffic today. There was power, an SD 40-2 on the main just to the north of bridge at the IR headquarters in Ottawa.
Jeff Lewis They may as well start recycling those bathtubs. The coal biz is never going to rebound.
Ţed Ģregory they may he waiting on higher metal prices Jeff

The yellow line is still in service (Illinois Railway, Streator to Mongomery with trackage rights to BNSF Eola Yard), the red lines are abandoned, and the blue line to Wenona, IL was never owned by CB&Q. The "blue line" became part of the ICG/GM&O/Chicago & Alton branch to Lacon, IL. But it has also been abandoned. (2019 Update: the part between Ottawa and Streator is now used just for car storage.)

Source: 1991 Map, © www.MemorialLibrary.com, used with permission and is authorized for this site only.

Jon Roma posted a question about historic freight activity on this CB&Q branch.
Don Crimmin: Jon, I was born in 1951 and was raised with the branch literally in my backyard in Oswego. While I was too young to remember regular service steam, O1 and O1a 2-8-2's were branch power in later years. I suspect 2-6-2's and maybe a 4-6-0 or two plied the branch in earlier years. In addition to the silica sand that came from Wedron and Ottawa, virtually every town had an elevator for corn and soybean loading. Examples still stand in Oswego, Yorkville, Millbrook, Sheridan and Grand Ridge but none are in use today. Gravel pits also supplied many cars from pits near Oswego and Sheridan but the Oswego operations were mostly gone by the early 1950's. Ottawa and Streator were industrial towns with the locally mined silica sand plants providing material for glass products from bottles to automobile windshields. Service on the branch in later years consisted of the Mon-Fri daylight "Fox River" wayfreight between Eola and Wedron/Ottawa, No. 85 & 86 which were Cicero jobs that went to Streator and then over toward LaSalle/Peru and Zearing and the summer/fall of 1965 the nightly "Roustabout" worked the branch. Switch engines were maintained at Ottawa and Streator to switch the local industries. The passenger service at the end was, as you surmised, provided by a motorcar between Aurora and Streator. Service was a "double-daily" operation until it was reduced to one roundtrip a day and then finally discontinued. Alexander Lumber Co had facilities in Oswego and Sheridan and got their lumber by rail in boxcars and on flatcars. Oswego also had a small coal yard located just west of the Rt 34 crossing on the now-removed passing track/siding. I would guess that the other towns had simple unloading facilities as coal was a major source of fuel for home heating in those days. Oswego had a depot on the east side of the tracks at W. Jackson St. It was demolished in the Spring of 1972.
Dennis DeBruler: Don Crimmin #85 & 86 answers my longstanding question of how the Illinois Valley and Northern Railroad (IV&N) branch between Streator and Zearing got served.


The CB&Q's Ottawa, Oswego & Fox River Valley RR (OO&FRV) was incorporated August 22, 1852 to build
from the town of Ottawa, in La Salle County, to the town of Elgin, in Kane
County, by way of the village of Oswego, in Kendall County, running along the
Fox River Valley, by the most direct and eligible route . . . And also from the
said town of Ottawa, running in a southerly direction to any point on any rail-
road running northerly from Bloomington, in McLean County, or to any point
on the Alton and Sangamon Railroad, or both.
It was organized in Newark, IL on August 24, 1852 and reorganized on May, 1866. Preliminary surveys were made in 1866, but construction north of Streator was not commenced until the spring of 1869 and the portion to Montgomery (just south of Aurora) was completed and opened January 15, 1871. It opened a 9.46 mile segment from Aurora (Geneva Switch) to Geneva on May 1, 1871.

Prior to October, 1867, it completed a westerly route from Streator to Wenona, IL, where it connected with the Illinois Central Railroad. This was the first "spoke" to Streator, and it supported the first coal mine in Streator --- "Old Slope." (BiogInBlack)

Before the northerly routes were finished, CB&Q leased them on August 20, 1870, and it bought them June 1, 1899. "Abandonment of Part of Section: That portion of the line from West Batavia to Geneva, 2.16 miles, was abandoned on or about June 30, 1907.  Mileage (first main) after abandonment..., 65.83 miles."

(CorporateHistory, pp. 35-36)

BNSF Track Segments, Segment 60, indicates the CB&Q assets, except for 0.4 miles in Streator, which was abandoned, were sold in 1999 to Illinois RailNet, which became Illinois Railway (IR) on May 1, 2005. But, looking at the IR system map, I think the segment north of Aurora to Geneva was also abandoned.

Illinois Railway serves the "Sand Capital of the World." I'm guessing the sand has been used by the glass industry for many years. I know that, because of its size and hardness, it is now also used for fracking sand. In fact, some of the sand mines have expanded in recent years. With that expansion, the IR now pulls unit trains of sand that are over 100 cars long to interchange with BNSF at Eola Yard. But, according to some comments that I can't find again, IR does very little track maintenance. If you have only one train a day, speed is not a big issue. Although it does take several hours to deliver a train if the speed limit is 10 mph. But derailments are an issue. The comments indicated that derailments are rather frequent on this line. Fortunately, sand doesn't burn like oil or ethanol does. If the owners are putting the earnings into their pockets instead of into maintenance, it won't be the first time railroad owners have screwed their customers when they walked off when the track became too bad to use. The former Wabash line between Fort Wayne and Toledo was the first time I read about this, effectively, legal fraud. (The original shortline owner that got the track from NS was paid $6 million by NS to improve the track. They didn't. Subsequent owners are trying to upgrade the track.) On the other hand, I have seen some shortlines that demonstrate that decent track maintenance can be done even if the carload count is rather small. The good news is that when I was searching for the comments concerning a lack of track maintenance, I came across a "craigslist" job posting by OmniTRAX, which is the owner of IR, for a track inspector.

It seems the Surface Transportation Board currently gets involved with a shortline only after it petitions for abandonment. That is, after the damage is done. I'm not comfortable with a lot of the STB regulation activity. But stepping in before a shortline ruins the track is a case in point where I think we need more regulation.

Update: I'm happy to observe that IR has done extensive track maintenance work. Evidently they were putting their earnings into a maintenance fund instead of their pockets and waiting until the fund was big enough to buy Continuous Welded Rail and lots of ties and to lease the MoW equipment needed to upgrade the track.

Will the fracking sand market recover almost as quickly as it crashed a couple of years ago? As U.S. shale oil activity surges, sand could be in short supply "Wells are getting longer and wider, requiring larger amounts of sand."

Raymond G Weber posted
Ottawa Illinois switch engines
Sorry don't know the year I think it was early 70s
Bob Campbell In October of 1953, 5611 became the first O5 to be scrapped; the engine, that is. The tender, with cut-down coal bunker, survived as a diesel fuel storage container shown to the right in this photograph. The ground under it was drenched in #2 diesel fuel.

Tim Holmes posted the comment:
Hello, I was looking for some information on the old Streator Branch. What did the Railnet interchange with the NS? I know they would Occasionally have a set out for the lumberyard at the North end of Streator. Also was it mostly corn that was set out and filled in Grand Ridge? Also if you have any more information about the line I would appreciate it. I am working on a video of the Streator Branch. Thank you for your help! Have a great night! Tim
Adam Elias: Sand for NS. [IR still takes sand trains from the Ottawa area north to BNSF's Eola Yard.]
Kevin Mengoni: Fertilizer, Sand, Lumber With Grand Ridge, Streator, Interchange with NS.
Dan Buckley: Grew up in Grand Ridge and late 60's and early 70's and do remember anhydrous unloading on south end of town and dry fertilizer on north end also was told a wooden ramp was used to unload tractors and other equipment, was 3 sidings that ran the length of town till about early 80's.
[Last revenue trip was probably in 2013 or 2014. They also discuss the Chicaga, Ottawa & Peoria interurban.]

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