(Photo by George W. Hamlin)
October 1, 1970 was shaping up to be a fine early-Autumn day in Chicagoland; the kind that immediately caused a railfan photographer to think about how best it could be put to use. Unfortunately, there was the matter of class attendance standing in the way; I was less than a month into my graduate education in transportation at Northwestern University’s Transportation Center in Evanston, and it didn’t seem to be prudent to replace coursework with recreation.
Chance entered the equation, however, when, after waiting the requisite time period for a full professor, the Good Doctor still hadn’t shown up for the appointed lecture. Shortly afterwards, people began filtering away, and a friend and I joined the departing crowd. Since this was the only class on the schedule that day, the topic of how to spend the rest of the day surfaced soon, with the inevitable conclusion that trains should be seen, and photographed.
Since we were still new to the area, there was much of the rail scene in the area yet to be seen. Then, as now, there were basically only commuter trains, in the form of Chicago & Northwestern bi-level “Scoots” to be viewed in the immediate area, meaning that a longer excursion was in the offing. (Hindsight view: if offered the chance now to photograph multiple green-and-yellow C&NW commuter trains being pulled by EMD cab units today, it wouldn’t take long to assent.)
Soon enough, the decision to head for the Burlington’s (CB&Q) triple-track main at suburban La Grange was agreed upon. Since a convenient way to get there involved passing by O’Hare Airport, the friend indulged my wish to stop and photograph one of the few remaining United Airlines Caravelle aircraft. Imagine, in today’s environment, walking in the front door of the terminal, and proceeding directly to the departure gate sans both ticket and any other formalities, including security. The friendly gate agent even let us go with him down the loading bridge so that a better photo resulted than would have been possible shooting through glass.
Following this successful stop, we headed south, and arrived at La Grange, specifically the La Grange Road stop on the former Q/now the BN. We parked a short distance to the east, on the north side of the tracks. As I was about to go feed the parking meter, I happened to notice a westbound approaching on the center track, and … look at was leading! Unfortunately, the light dictated that the best shot would be south of the tracks; fortunately the train was approaching slowly. A mad dash got us across in time, and I now had what turned out to be my only photo of a Great Northern (the BN merger was five months old as of this date) “Big Sky Blue” locomotive leading a train, and a cowl unit, to boot.
After the train passed, it dawned on me that I hadn’t had a chance to insert coins in the meter, so I returned to the car immediately. The apparently-efficient meter police in La Grange had already visited, however, and I found a parking violation ticket on my windshield. This document indicated that payment could be received at a location nearby, so I went there, hoping that my explanation would result in not having to contribute five dollars to the town’s coffers. The clerk was amused, but required payment, nonetheless. In retrospect, well worth the price.