Saturday, November 18, 2017

Her Steaming days are Done

Outside a small town in North Central Illinois sits a lonely survivor of an earlier age of Illinois rail roading history.  She was born in Schenectady New York in 1924 at the American Locomotive company on order for the Grand Trunk and Western railroad. She was built as an 0-8-0 meaning she had 0 wheels under the pilot, 8 wheels under the main body and 0 wheels under the cab. She came out of the factory as a class P-5b switching engine and was designated #8305.

She worked hard for the next 30 years or so pulling cars from one part of a rail yard to another to be hooked up to larger, more powerful locomotives that would then carry its cargo all over the nation. By the 1950's however the age of Steam was drawing to a close. Diesel locomotives, more powerful and cheaper to operate, were making huge inroads onto the rail roading scene and so it was that in 1960 #8305 and 15 of her sisters were sold to Northwestern Steel and Wire in Sterling, IL to be scrapped.

Here is where Fate took a turn. The man who owned Northwestern Steel & Wire Loved the old steam trains. In his large industrial complex he already had a small fleet of  ex Chicago, Burlington & Quincy 0-6-0 switching engines which were worn out and near the end of their useful life. So....He scrapped His engines and kept the newly acquired 0-8-0's as replacements. Restoring them and putting them back to work at the same ob they had been doing their entire lives.

So it was that for another 25 years while other locomotives were being scrapped or gutted,  #8305, now shortened to just #05,  and her sisters chugged happily away moving cars and rolling stock around the freight yard. All good things must come to an end however and in the early 1980's she and her 11 surviving sisters were retired from service for the final time. Over the years some were donated to museums or city parks. One was restored and is at the Illinois Railway museum in Union,  In the end only #05 remains on that neglected siding but if you close your eyes you can almost hear the hissing of the steam and the mournful sound of her whistle blowing.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Down by the Old Mill stream

There are many structures that are instantly identifiable when you see them, a windmill, a grain elevator, a train station.....and a grist mill.  In Morrison stands a historic grist mill even now being restored back to its former glory. In 1858 William Annan and John Robertson constructed a stout building along the banks of  Rock Creek for the purpose of milling wheat, buckwheat flour, and cornmeal. Local sandstone was used and the walls are a sturdy two feet thick with heavy timbers from oak and walnut trees and put together using thick wooden pegs.

Using turbine power, Annan mill had a capacity to turn out 40 barrels of flour in a 24 hour day. Farmers came from as far as 50 miles away due to the reputation the mill had for quality product. The mill was So popular that it would frequently run around the clock with customers sleeping in nearby cabins as they awaited their turn to have their wheat ground. The mill even ran on Sundays during the busy season.

The mill ceased operation around 1940 or so and sat empty for the next 50 years before being bought in 1990 and partially converted into a house. It was sold in 2015 to a local resident who then donated it to the Morrison historical society last year. They plan to turn it into a museum showcasing farming and agricultural methods used in the past and are thrilled to have the mill which has the further distinction of being one of only two or three stone mills left standing in the state.

The Annan mill is located right on the edge of town on the Lincoln Highway and is instantly identifiable. My special thanks to Stephanie Vavra and the Historical society for permission to use some of their written material as well as interior photographs.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

The Memory stones

On a recent trip out Lil' Nick, Tom Anderson and I met Stephanie Vavra at the Morrison cemetery. Ms. Vavra was there to document the placement of the last of fourteen stones commemorating the service of the local boys who had paid the ultimate price in the wars and conflicts that our nation has seen since its inception.

 Not just the world wars either, or the more recent conflicts of the gulf and of Iraq and Afghanistan. Also included are casualties from the Spanish-American war, the Philippine insurrection, the Civil war and even the Blackhawk wars. The war of 1812 is represented as is the Seminole Indian war & the Mexican civil war.  In all 520 names are inscribed in the back marble as a testimony for their service.

To quote from Ms. Vavra's article "The bulk {of the new names covering three tablets} are Illinois National guard members based in Morrison. They called themselves the Morrison Rifles."  "They were sworn in September 11th,1878 and reorganized to become Company I, 6th Illinois infantry in 1882. From April 21st to May 5th  1886 they were called to the Martin Iron factory in East St. Louis {, IL. to quell} a Union strike. In 1897 they were sent to handle the Chicago {, IL. } riots {over workers rights}. They served in the Spanish-American war {1898}, and some served in WW1. Later the name changed to Company C, 14th Battalion. In the 1930's it became Company M. The Rifles served in WWII and the Korean conflict"

It was an Honor and a privilege to be there when the last stones were put in place. If you ever find yourself in Morrison be sure to stop off at the cemetery where you'll find not only the memorial stones but also a nice selection of turn of the century grave stones, many unique and one of a kind.  I'd like to extend my personal thanks to Stephanie Vavra for graciously giving me permission to use some of her material for today's posting. For the full gist of her article visit her website or click on this link:

Saturday, October 28, 2017

A Witness to History

On a recent road trip I and two of my faithful minion, Little Nick and Tom Anderson came across the historic old train depot in McLean, Illinois.  Built in 1853 it would already have a claim to fame as the oldest building in town and a rare wooden depot. But it has one other notable distinction. It's one of two depot's left standing that saw Abraham Lincolns funeral train go by.

The civil war ended in 1865 and like the rest of the country Lincoln felt like an enormous weight lift off his shoulders. There was still the weighty problem of reconstruction to be dealt with as well as hundreds of thousands of suddenly freed slaves but for the moment the country was celebrating.  Not everyone, however, was happy with the wars outcome and one man took it upon himself to express his anger in a very tangible way.

Everyone knows the story of what happened that night at Ford's theater and I won't go into it here.  On April 21st a funeral train left Washington D.C. for an arduous journey across the nation to deposit Lincoln back in his home state of Illinois.  On May 2nd the train passed through McLean on it's way to its final destination.  The Chicago and Alton railroad no longer exists but the McLean depot still does.

Most depots from this era are either torn down or sit abandoned sitting in the weeds forlorn and forgotten. But in this case the old McLean depot has been repurposed as, appropriately enough, a store for model trains.  The inside is almost the same as it was on that black day in 1865 and there even some old graffiti scrawled over the inside walls of the freight room. As an added bonus there's a couple of track inspection cars parked outside. So if you ever get a chance to visit, go on inside and visit a piece of genuine history.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

The little Engine that Could

Not too long ago I took a drive with fellow photographer Stephen Beatty and we went to a farm show. In the fall many such events take place with lots of antique and vintage equipment brought out for the public's enjoyment as well as their fellow farm show enthusiasts.  One whole section was devoted to the ubiquitous Hit and Miss engines.  These were the little workhorses that ran everything from sump pumps, windmills, grinders, and everything in between.

There were engines so large they had their own trailers and were as long as the truck pulling them. Then there were some so Small that they sat on a table top. One even looked like it would fit in the palm of your hand! A lot were restored and repainted, looking like the day they were sitting on the show room floor. Others looked worn,battered, and showed their age.  It was a thrill to hear them sputtering away, with their distinctive putt-putt of the engine as it whizzed merrily along.

We are So Lucky to live in a state with such a Rich cultural heritage to fall back on and explore.  Even if farm machinery doesn't thrill you as it does this old farm boy, consider attending a fall festival someday. I guarantee you'll get something out of it. And if you listen Realllly closely, you might hear that little engine puffing "I Think I can! I Think I can!"