2018 Recap, and What's Next in Abandoned Railroads

As 2018 comes to a close, I figured I would review what an incredible year it's been, what I've been doing, what I've accomplished, and what's next to come. With that said, this year was made possible in large part thanks to the individual contributions and help from many of you, so as always, thank you and keep up the good work!

January began for us in frigid conditions next to Lake Como, WI at the French Country Inn Hotel. Unbeknownst to me what I booked the hotel, there was an abandoned railroad right of way in the parking lot. At a temperature of -16, I took this shot of the former CNW Williams Bay branch. At this time, I was already well on my way to tracing abandoned railroads, and was aware of the Williams Bay branch, having taken some pictures of the ROW which is currently Lake Geneva's Bike Trail nearby, but I wouldn't connect the dots until looking at topo maps when we were at the hotel.

It would set the tone for the rest of the year.

CNW Railway Bridge in Chicago on a frigid January morning.
A few days later I received an email from Atlas Obscura asking me to interview for an upcoming article on my map. I was very excited and once the article published, busy, as I got roughly 150 emails about omissions on the map.

I decided I really enjoyed abandoned railroad mapping and photography as a hobby, and was going to stick with it and create a blog. And, obviously, I'm still with it, and continuing to get better day by day. While this blog started on WordPress, I found the Blogger platform more easy to use.

The first iteration of my Blogger blog shows how far I've come.
As January came to a close, I visited Illinois Beach State Park in hopes of finding some of the abandoned right of way, but ultimately was thwarted by a couple inches of snow.

Illinois Beach 1/29/18
I figured my niche could be photographing abandoned railroad corridors and rail trails, while describing the history of the line, and so far that has served me well. While sometimes that's easier said than done, the brain trust of the railfan community has served me well to that end.

I didn't really do much in the way of photography until March, as I was more busy in February trying to respond to people in regards to map, as well as beginning to move. But March would be the first photo blog on Blogger, with The Gary Line as the subject. I also discussed IL-56 as the original East-West Tollway, a beginning of an incorporation of other modes of transportation history discussed on this blog.

March would feature 8 blogs, a total I have yet to match in a month, and I doubt I can, as honestly I had a few blog ideas on my chest before then, including discussing my favorite rail-trails, as well as trying to show the benefits of rail-trails from a railfan's perspective, to which I feel I've been somewhat successful, although there's still plenty of haters out there. Oh well. 

I created a page on Facebook to show off my blogs and share interesting abandoned nuggets from Railways, Roads & Places, and the occasional sunken ship and/or meme. Since that's a mouthful, it's simply called Forgotten Railway, Roads, and Places

April was when I would move, and thus had little time to do much in the way of photography, but I still had some interesting ideas that I wanted to both learn more about and share with the world. In regards to unbuilt railroads, I took what was going to be one blog and split it into two for easier reading. Another thing I thought was interesting was a few of the railway lines I'd come across in my mapping efforts that were abandoned not because they weren't feasible, but destroyed in disasters.

I visited New York City with some friends for a weekend trip and got some amazing pictures of The High Line, in addition to the many wonderful tourist traps of the city. Of course I would visit again simply to walk The High Line. 

This is one of the best pictures I believe I've ever taken, and there are many spots along The High Line designed solely for amazing photography.
The rest of the month was rounded out by two blogs on historic roads, each of which are no longer driveable today, abandoned railroads in places you wouldn't expect, like Greenland, and a history of railroads across Lake County, Illinois.  

One thing I really liked about that blog was being able to discuss the predecessor railroads of active lines today. While there are thousands of abandoned and defunct railroad companies out there, many of those companies are still in service under the huge conglomerate Class I railroads we have today, so any chance to talk about some of them is always nice, even if they aren't abandoned.

June & July:
I combined these two months since as the summer was finally upon us, I got to do some great traveling, and get some amazing pictures from a road trip (which happened to fall on June 29-July 3). A blog on suburban scharchitecture was among my most popular blogs to date. 

For a long time, I had been interested in the "hidden" highways of Illinois, in other words, the roads that IDOT maintains that aren't part of Illinois' numbered highway system. There is still a lot for me and the rest of the roadgeek world to learn about this system, however.

Argonne National Laboratory's Abandoned Railroad Tracks.

One set of tracks among a few that piqued my interest in abandoned railroads was located in Waterfall Glen Forest Preserve, which I observed in a 2012 walk. I had to know more about them! After a few trips for pictures and a successful request for information from Argonne, I wrote a blog about them. Thanks once again to Argonne for the information! This was one of my favorites as it was well researched.

As I was visiting the Kinzua Bridge as part of my road trip, I wrote on some of the abandoned railroad places everyone should have on their bucket list. I've been to two of the six that I mentioned, The High Line, and the Kinzua Bridge.

Nothing prepares you for the view from the bridge. Not online, at least.
Whereas there are many tourist destinations made from railroad history, there are some towns and railroad lines that are gone forever, simply due to damming. My blog touched on the subject, but in all honesty, the amount of history washed away is too much for one blog, which only introduced the subject. 

View of the city skyline and St. Charles Air Line Bridge, and one light post that I wish I'd had the foresight to not get in my photo!

Finally, we visited Ping Tom Park in Chicago to end July, once a former railyard, now turned garden, pagoda, Water Taxi Stop, and Chinatown Square, with plenty of shops and restaurants.

While I did not blog on Heidecke Lake, I did go fishing at the spot where an out-of-service former EJ&E line once served a nearby power plant. Some of my best pictures came from there. The juxtaposition between water, beach, and railroad made some really interesting pictures!

Looking west.

August was the last month I really had a good amount of time to devote to blogging and ideas that I hadn't talked about. I would say from now on, 3-4 blogs will be commonplace per month. But nonetheless...

View from Goldmine Rd, this railroad crossbuck appears to have been put up by a private owner.

The Chicago Great Western was always one of the most interesting rail lines for me, mainly because of the Great Western Trail, the signs I'd see for it driving on I-355, and it's amazing length, being the longest abandoned railroad line from Chicago. I also had pictures through all of Western Illinois. 

Later in the month we visited another local place I had wanted to visit for awhile; The Joliet Iron Works, which has it's place in both industrial and railroad history.


September was busy prepping for a new day job (yes, I do more than just talk about railroad abandonments) and thus I only had time to write one blog, on a town I'd noted in my study of abandoned railroads had lost each of it's lines in Anthony, KS.

We visited North Judson, IN's rail museum early in October, at the intersection of four abandoned railroad lines, much like Anthony, KS. Chock full of abandoned artifacts, and rights-of-way, both on the museum grounds and around the town, it was a great visit.

One of my favorite photos. I'd experimented with black and white photography before, but I think this is the best example of it in my photographs.

I hadn't been out for a walk on my own for awhile, which is something I really enjoy doing, so to clear my head and not go for photos or history, I went to St. James Forest Preserve near Winfield. While I succeeded in getting a walk in and clearing my head, I utterly failed to realize I was on the right of way of both former IL-56 and the Chicago Aurora & Elgin Railroad. Thus, I was back to work blogging!

One of my favorite photos. Looking west along former Butterfield Rd in the Forest Preserve.
On Halloween, I realized one of the things I'd been wanting to blog about for some time, and still have things to discuss: railroad reactivations, either from abandonment or many years' removed from service.

November featured another blog on scarchitecture, this time in the largest cities around the US, which as always seems to be my most popular blogs! Another blog I'd been wanting to do for some time was create a how-to for creating abandoned railroad maps (or frankly, anything with Google My Maps). I still am going to update that blog if/when more questions come about, but I'm already surprised at how popular it was. 

The month ended with a visit to a city I used to cover, and it's missing expressways. New York City had over a dozen expressway proposals that were cancelled mainly due to public opposition. 

Finally, December featured a blog on the Pere Marquette 1225 and the Polar Express, which I had honestly written for an audience like myself, who hadn't grown up with the movie but was nonetheless interested in the history and development around it.

Earlier in the month, I finally finished a blog I had been working on for some time, in what I believe is one of the most interesting pieces of abandoned railroad infrastructure, the Aurora Roundhouse.

In some ways, it's been a very long year, in others, it's hard to believe we're in the final week of 2018. I've kept busy this year in the blog, the abandoned railroad map, and curating content in Forgotten Railways, Roads & Places. Once again, I say thank you to those who have helped toward the end of finding all the abandoned railroad routes across the US and the World!

What's to come in the New Year:
My Christmas present to myself this year was a Canon Rebel T6 camera, which I'm still learning how to use and get the most out of. Before then, all of the pictures I've taken were with an iPhone 8 Plus Camera, which works well enough, but I'm excited to see what I can do with a DSLR camera. I am going up north to take some more railroad pictures with my new camera between Christmas and New Years, and will probably be posting at least two blogs worth from that trip in the next month. 

We are also now members of the Illinois Railway Museum, and while I've visited there before, I will again in 2019 for another couple blogs worth of content I've wanted to do around the Chicago area. In the meantime, I highly suggest checking out The Trolley Dodger, who has done a lot of amazing blogs on areas before I had the chance to do so!

We do have a couple trips planned in 2019 which would involve both current and abandoned railroad destinations, but obviously those are never confirmed until they actually happen, so I cannot say for sure as to what exactly will happen.

I am still working on the map at great pace, and will continue to do so. I am always looking for ways to expand it's reach and collaboration potential. I might take a break here and there, but I am not stopping the goal of tracing each and every abandoned railroad right of way out there.

As for the blog, I am looking at redesigns and other ways to expand and update it as well, and potentially busying myself with some other projects, both inside and outside the rail industry.

And with everything, your ideas and input are always welcome, because without you reading, and sending me abandoned lines, this blog and project would be nowhere, so as always, thank you!


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