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Ode To The SD40-2

April 3, 2010

Do you remember?

There once was a time when the SD40-2 was boring; train after train led by three, four, five, six of them. An endless parade of them screaming by.

Every now and then someone would say it: “You know, one day we will look back fondly at these things.”

It was hard to imagine that day ever coming… and then it did.

I was in Best Buy in Chicago and noticed one of the ubiquitous cheap railroad DVD boxed sets on the shelf recently. Looking at the back of the package just for kicks, I realized that contained within were a number of older Green Frog titles that I had worn out VHS copies dating back several years, including some titles shot on the Santa Fe in the early 90’s.

I popped one of the discs in when I got home, and found myself staring at train after train led by EMD Dash-2 and GE Dash-7 power. “Ah, those were the days,“ I found myself thinking.

I can remember the first time I saw a brace of SD40-2’s out on the road. You see, growing up along the Illinois Central Gulf you rarely saw such things. Sure the ICG had a few of them, but majority of the power running around in those days was a hodgepodge of older rebuild Geeps that often sounded as though they were on the verge of shooting a piston or two out of one of their liberated exhaust stacks. Then there were the former GM&O GP30’s and 35’s, along with GP38’s and 40’s, oddball GP and SD28’s and rebuilt SD20’s. There were a number of older SD40’s from the pre-merger era running around, and ICG had acquired several Dash-2 editions as well, but to see a solid set of anything was rare indeed.

It was on the first of May, 1988, that I first saw what would have been considered a boring sight by most railfans of the era; a straight set of SD40-2’s. My friend Mike and I had been camping along the mainline south of Makanda, Illinois. We had followed the train down to trackside well after daybreak, when a set of four Burlington Northern units led southbound SE-1 up the hill.

I was impressed; this was what all those lucky fans out west got to see all the time! How cool!

Over the years my horizons were able to expand, and I was able to see what everyone else already knew: the SD40-2 was a dime a dozen. And then the renamed Illinois Central put the majority of its geriatric power out to pasture and replaced it with used SD40-2’s let go by Burlington Northern when their leases expired.

Now, of course, the SD40-2 hasn’t disappeared. It isn’t the frontline power though, and the ranks are starting to thin. What railfan, following train after train of today’s cookie-cutter wide-nosed power, hasn’t seen a train led by several of the venerable SD’s and been thrilled by a rare sight? And ten years ago, these things were boring!

So forgive me if I get a bit nostalgic about what was once boring, but here is a look back at the previous generation of ubiquitous cookie-cutter power.


Looking not unlike the first set I ever saw, a quartet of Burlington Northern units leads a run-through taconite train down the Illinois Central mainline and past the old passenger depot at Carbondale, Illinois, in this photo by Randy Dominceck.


February 18, 1989, was the first day I ever went on a railfan expedition on a railroad other than the Illinois Central. At Gorham, Illinois, this set of former Missouri Pacific units was waiting for a signal with a northbound empty coal train.


On another such expedition on May 18, 1989, a Union Pacific “snoot” led a couple of units from recently acquired M-K-T.


A trio of former Missouri Pacific units slows for a crew change at Jefferson City, Missouri, on February 8, 1990.


On October 3, 1991, a southbound Illinois Central freight was waiting for a signal at South Carbondale. The railroad’s newly acquired former Burlington Northern units were just starting to arrive on the property, and a unit in fresh paint trailed another still sporting its original number and BN green.


On a cold January day in 1992, a recently arrived SD40-2 leads a pre Dash-2 unit around the wye onto the St. Louis District at DuQuoin, Illinois.


On a late afternoon in February, 1992, a Southern Pacific unit leads a train up the Union Pacific’s Chester Subdivision at Aldridge, Illinois.


On February 5, 1992, a trio of units leads a train away from its crew change at Jefferson City, Missouri.


A pair of units leads a southbound train on Union Pacific’s Chicago Subdivision just south of DeSoto, Illinois. The line has since been split into two subdivisions; this is now the Mount Vernon Subdivision.


A Chicago & North Western unit heads up a northbound manifest on the Chester Subdivision at John’s Spur, Illinois, on May 11, 1997.


Going, but not yet gone. A couple of runthrough CSX units were southbound on the Chester Subdivision at Gale, Illinois, on the snowy morning of February 15, 2010


Photos by Mary Rae McPherson except as noted.

Copyright 2010 – Mary Rae McPherson

3 Comments leave one →
  1. olehogger permalink
    April 3, 2010 3:24 pm

    The IC had several 6000 class SD40s that were used out here on the west end of the line on the Omaha district, and they were a real work horse while pulling 109 cars of coal out of Council Bluffs.
    They were something else when running a light train, like running with just a caboose or a light train going back to the ‘ Bluffs to pick up a coal or grain train. They would get to bouncing so hard at certain speeds that we thought they would leave the rail! Have had to really “stomp” on the brakes many times to keep from getting a double hernia from that bounce 😉
    I don’t spend much time looking at railroad stuff any more since I retired as an engineer on the IC, but still enjoy some of the comments on here every once in a while.

  2. T. J. Kaufhold permalink
    April 3, 2010 6:43 pm

    Thank you again Mary Rae. Nice selection of here and there done well. T.J.

  3. Brian permalink
    April 3, 2010 7:58 pm

    Great stuff as always! Thanks for the memories of the boring days! OH TO HAVE THEM BACK!

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