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  • PhotoRoster: Belt Railway of Chicago Part I


    Left: If railroad rosters can be likened to football teams, then BRC's six Alco C424's must surely be defensive tackles. Here, three of the "Refrigerator" units get down to the task of lugging one of BRC's numerous transfer runs while exercising trackage rights on joint Indiana Harbor Belt-Baltimore & Ohio Chicago Terminal track at La Grange, III.

    Right: Although BRC was noted for such exotica as its burly C424's and unusual cow-and-calf switcher sets, it also rostered many not-so-unusual locomotives, such as its eight yeoman EMD GPTs, represented by handsome 477, seen at Clearing during October 1984.

    The massive shop building at Clearing Yard has acted as a backdrop for many railroad roster photographs over the years, including both BRC's own steeds and its owners' units. The "family photo" here depicts BRC siblings GP7 417, SW9 523, SW1 200's 526, 525 and SW9 521.
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    In last month's installment of PhotoRoster, we examined the early history, operations and motive power of the Belt Railway of Chicago. This month, we'll investigate latter-day BRC history, operations and its diversified roster of diesels.

    Conceived as a convenient link between all line-haul railroads entering the Chicago Switching District, the "Belt" has assumed several different and wholly separate functions not envisioned by its developers when built. Not only has it become a major means of interchange among Chicago railroads, it is also a major industrial switching road and a path for numerous pool and run-through movements operating over two or more regional carriers. In addition, increased utilization of the Belt by its owners has resulted in the downgrading and even the closing of several railroads' perimeter city classification facilities.

    Belt ownership has also undergone a major metamorphosis as well, due to the many recent consolidations, mergers and bankruptcies. The number of owners has dwindled to ten: Santa Fe; Burlington Northern (Chicago, Burlington & Quincy); Conrail (Erie Lackawanna, Pennsylvania); Chessie System (Chesapeake & Ohio); Grand Trunk Western; Illinois Central Gulf (Illinois Central); Norfolk Southern (Norfolk & Western, ex-Wabash); Sea board System (Chicago & Eastern Illinois, Monon); Union Pacific (Missouri Pacific, ex-Chicago & Eastern Illinois); and Soo Line. It is very likely that BRC ownership will be further modified in the near future, considering the rapid pace of change in the railroad industry precipitated by, the Staggers Act and subsequent deregulation.

    Dramatically affecting the Belt's operations (and resultant revenues) has been the sharp decline of its traditional industrial traffic base. Paramount among that business is the steel indus try. At one time producing 25 percent of the nation's semi-finished and finished steel, the Chicago district (which included adjacent northwestern Indiana) has suffered from a lack of re investment in new facilities and machinery, and from an increase in foreign competition. The Calument Industrial District, much of which is served by the BRC, has been especially hard hit. This situation is so severe that steel traffic has all but dried up. In fact, with the closing of United States Steel's South Works and LTV Steel's ex Republic Steel blast furnace and oxygen furnace, raw steel is no longer produced within the city limits of Chicago. Not only has steelmaking been affected, but manufacturing and fabrication industries have suffered too. A drive through the once-thriving Clear ing Industrial District reveals many under-utilized and vacant buildings, indicative of the marked decline.

    While these and many more factors have served to hurt BRC's traffic and revenues, other events have actually increased utilization of Belt lines and facilities. While it is not within the scope of this article to outline those changes, it will suffice to say there has been an increasing tendency on the part of owner railroads to employ BRC's ample classification and terminal facilities at the expense of their own. One blatant example of this was the recent downgrading of the joint Missouri Pacific-Seaboard System (ex C&EI) Yard Center classification yard, in deference to BRC's own Clearing Yard.

    The Belt has always had a diverse and faSCinating array of locomotives, and their diesel purchases were no exception. Experimenting early with the likes of General Electric box-cabs powered with Ingersoll-Rand prime movers and high-hood Alco HH600's, the property also sampled a number of different models from Alco and Baldwin. These included utilitarian Alco S1's and S2's to fearsome-looking and peculiar Baldwin DS4-4-10' s and turbocharged, eight-cylinder VO's. BRC also purchased Alco road power in the form of nine RS2's before it turned its attention (and almost with out exception, its loyalty) to Electro Motive Division products.

    Besides purchasing rather nondescript, off-the-shelf GP7 and GP9 mod els as well as SW9's and SW 1200's, BRC opted for EMD's unusual cow and-calf TR2 and TR4 locomotive sets. Initially coupled with semi-permanent drawbars and equipped with m.u. controls on their "B" ends, the TR units were later fitted with m.u. on both ends and had standard couplers installed for added flexibility.

    Later Belt motive power purchases were more in line with those of its owner railroads, but there were two glaring exceptions: its 1957 purchase of Alco S6 420 and the acquisition of its famed Alco C424's, numbered 600605. While the S6 is currently stored, the handsome Centuries are alive and well. Incidentally, the husky C424's (which sound more like GE's than AI cos) are ballasted for heavy drag and transfer service, ranking them among the heaviest B-B diesels ever construct ed. They are also specially geared for low-speed running.

    Latter-day BRC equipment consists of maintenance-of-way items and diminutive, steam-era "shorty" cabooses, some of which still carry the Caboose Red colors of earlier years. The current scheme is medium gray and black, offset with yellow and white accents. In this era of cabooseless consists and EOT's, it is most refreshing to find real, live end-of-train devices on the rear of BRC freights.

    Modelers who choose subjects like the BRC can expect a considerable amount of latitude in the different kinds of trains they can realistically operate over their layouts. This variety makes the modeling of belt railroads an attractive option, especially in an era when "big-time" railroading is be coming ever so efficient and homogeneous.

    Right: Some call them "critters," others use adjectives such as "lowly." No matter. BRC workhorses like Alco S1 306 (top) formed the backbone of the Belt. Note the unusual exhaust stack and front-mounted bell on the 1942-built unit, seen in 1965.

    The least photographed diesels on the Belt surely had to be its three Baldwin switchers, two of which were V01000's, such as 401, shown stored unserviceable at Clearing on Nov. 25, 1962.

    Sporting a cast-steel underframe and "postwar" car body. roster unique BLW DS4-4-10 405 was powered by a normally aspirated 608NA prime mover. The homely looking orphan is seen here at South Chicago on Aug. 19, 1961.
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    Left: During the United States' 200th birthday it seemed as if everything was covered, at least in part, with a liberal coat of patriotic-if-not-gaudy red, white and blue. Locomotives were certainly no exception to this informal rule, witness BRC's own "billboard" bicentennial, none other than EMD MP150C 534. The unit still retains its unusual colors, some twelve years after the big event.

    Originally intended to supplement its husky Centuries in heavy drag and transfer service, BRC's six EMD GP38-2's, such as 493 shown here at Clearing, were found to be somewhat less desirable than the Alcos for this type of work. Belt management placed an order for six MP15DC's in 1982 to replace them, only to later cancel the order.

    Alco 52 410 i s one of six delivered to the Belt between 1948 and 1950. Note the rectangular exhaust port atop the hood and the winterization hatch protecting the smaller than-normal cab window opening. Unit 410, at Clearing on March 27, 1965, would have no need for winterization protection soon, since it would eventually migrate south to Armco Steel at Houston, Texas.

    Right: Top: Another unique engine on the BRC roster was Alco S6 420, one of only 126 built. Housing a six-cylinder 251A 900-h.p. prime mover under its updated and spartanized car body, the heavily ballasted unit spent most of its life at Clearing Yard, where it is shown on a sunny Aug. 11, 1971.

    Alcophiles will delight to find that BRC rostered nine very smoky RS2's, such as 450, shown being serviced at Clearing on March 27, 1965. Right: RS2 457 resting between jobs at the Clearing backshop on June 26, 1965, could be easily modeled, using any of the RS3's available in several scales. Don't forget essential BRC de tails, such as the front-mounted bell and protective grid over the radiator.
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    Cabless calf No. 515 displays its flanks wearing an older version of BRC's gray, black and yellow paint scheme. Note the differences between it and the colors on unit 504 above.

    Left: The Belt's diesels have always been clad in conservative-yet-handsome black and gray with yellow and white accents. The present paint scheme is illustrated on page 29, and the Belt's earlier garb is depicted here by EMD GP7 474 (left) and GP9 480 (below). The BRC logo is comprised of a belt surrounding a "Y," symbolizing the confluence of the North and South Branches of the Chicago River.

    Considered road units even though much of the Belt operates under yard limit rules, the line's heavily ballasted GP38-2's see all kinds of duty, including working Clearing's bi-directional hump yard. Both BRC scheme decals are available; the original scheme from Walthers and the present one from Virnex Industries.

    Right: Oddballs certainly seem to have been the rule on the BRC rather than the exception, exemplified by its somewhat rare cow-and-calf heavy switching/transfer sets. What would separately be referred to as very late NW2's are collectively known as TR2's when in this configuration. Units 500A and 500B are seen here dragging cars from the Nickel Plate interchange at Pullman Jct. on an overcast April 4, 1958.

    Similar in appearance to TR2's were BRC's TR4 cow-and-calf sets. Built in 1950 and packing 2400 total h.p. (1200 h.p. each), TR4A&B sets, such as 502A and 502B seen here, were originally semi-permanently coupled and equipped with m.u. controls at their "B" ("brake" ends only. All were later fitted with standard couplers and m.u. on both ends.

    Unit 504 is a fairly standard EMD SW7, which started life as "master" to 504B, later renumbered to 513. This unit could be modeled virtually "out of the box" from any of several available SW7's. Don't forget that BRC's later 500's had m.u. on both ends.
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    Left: Unit 521 is one of four 1200-h.p. SW9's purchased in 1951. Powered by a 12-cylinder Model 567B prime mover, the SW9 is distinguished from its almost identical SW1200 cousin by virtue of its six battery box louvers, as opposed to the SW1200's five.

    Resting between jobs adjacent to the Clearing backshop are two of BRC's three SW1200's. Being fairly late examples of this model, the locomotives were built with m.u. controls on both ends. Note: not all SW1 200's have five battery box louvers. Those constructed between January 1954 and March 1955 have six.

    The Belt's four SW1500's are truly all-purpose units. equipped with m.u. controls and flexicoil road trucks to make them suitable for road service. Muscular-looking 531, switching in the Clearing Industrial District during January 1985, sports unusual tubular exhaust stacks, a BRC characteristic.

    BRC No. 536 i s an MP15DC, built by EMD. Like the SW1500's, these units are also designed for both yard and road use. They are the Bell's newest power.

    Right: BRC's handsome Alco C424's, still in daily transfer service, are among the heaviest B-B diesels ever built, weighing a whopping 271,550 Ibs. Above, class unit 600 rests between runs at Clearing on Nov. 6, 1969. At right, engineer's side view of 605 reveals its spotting characteristics and details. The Centuries are usually run in sets of two or three.

    Whoever coined the phrase, "good things come in small packages," must have had BRC's diminutive cabooses in mind. Shorty No. 214 awaits its switcher near the now-defunct Wisconsin Steel Works during July of 1984. Note the smokejack and window protectors. "Bobber" caboose 19 is seen during a much earlier era on the caboose track at Clearing. Both cabooses would make interesting modeling projects.
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    Article Details

    • Original Author James E. Humbert
    • Source Prototype Modeler
    • Publication Date August 1986

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