Wednesday, May 23, 2007

1981: High Gas Prices and BN U-Boats!

American Steel: Wymore, Nebraska, summer 1981

Speaking of high gas prices, prior to the current price run-up, the historical high price for gasoline in the United States occurred in the summer of 1981. Where was I in the summer of 1981? Halfway across the country from my Seattle home, off on a wild-hair vacation to photograph, among other things, US Steel F-units in Wyoming, Utah Railway Alcos in Utah, and the last of Burlington Northern's U25B's in the midwest.

So, somehow, I ended up one morning in Wymore, Nebraska, a couple dozen miles south of Lincoln. Wymore was once a division point on the Chicago Burlington & Quincy railroad, the crossroads of a number of branchlines and secondary mainlines connecting McCook, St. Joseph, Lincoln and Superior. A number of local trains still operated out of here, and the railroad maintained a pretty extensive crew base here as well. This being 1981, local trains operated with a yummy mix of SD9's, GP7s and 9's, and a smorgasborg of BN's four-axle General Electric "U-Boats"--U25B, U28B, U30B. All these GE's had one foot in the grave at this point, but I was most interested in the U25B's, so east from Colorado we drove with a computer print-out from the Denver diesel shop pinpointing the location of the half-dozen or so U25B's still operating (1981 was a recession year, and many of these expensive to operate diesels had already been stored or stricken from the roster). We bagged a couple of 'em south of Lincoln the next day, dodging tornado warnings on the radio (crazy stuff for a Northwesterner), and eventually would up in Wymore, where GP7's and a U28B were departing on one local while U25B 5402, an ex-Great Northern unit, was being readied at the roundhouse for a run to St. Joseph. I chased the train to St. Joseph, clueless in navigating the backroads east of Wymore. I even got high centered on a farm road near the tracks, and the crew stopped the train and push me back onto the shoulder of the road, leaving me in their dust. I barely got ahead of them again before they arrived in St. Joseph.

But my favorite shot from the day was outside the Wymore roundhouse, where an early 1960's General Electric locomotive traded war stories with other relics from the same era: a Chevy, and Oldsmobile, and a Ford. Sho' nuff, Everything Turns To Shit: everything in this photograph is now gone, including the railroad.

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