Two Westbounds, One With A Conrail Leader, At Thibodaux Junciton – 7 March 2004

by Jim on 2014/03/07

[Jimbaux is not living in the past; you want to laugh.]

One of my favorite regular places to watch and photograph trains on the Lafayette Subdivision was known as Thibodaux Junction on Acadia Road in northern Lafourche Parish one mile east of Schriever (which is in Terrebonne Parish.)  I say “was” because the location is no longer publicly accessible, since the parish turned the right-of-way over to farmers in early 2005, robbing me of a real gem of a location at which, as far as I know, I was the only person who regularly – or even almost ever – photographed trains.

However, even though I started taking pictures of trains in the late 1990s and seriously in 2001 (and more seriously in 2002, and even more seriously in 2003, when I got my first mid-range telephoto lens, the Nikkor 80-200mm/f2.8), this location was only a regular spot for me for a briefer time – simplified by calling that time “the year 2004” – due to the fact that it was tree-lined prior to around the beginning of that year.  Late afternoon summer lighting did allow some telephoto-wedge shots a few hundred feet from the track prior to 2004, but it wasn’t until many of the trees were cleared near the crossing that new and better shots opened up, which you will see here as scanned Fujichrome slides, thanks to Petersen Studios.

In retrospect, though, it is easy now to see these “developments” of the land as a precursor to me not being able to access it; the cliché “the only constant is change” comes to mind, and that is true not only with what happened to the location in which these pictures were taken but also of the lead locomotive of one of the trains that we will see today.

I need to explain why this location is called “Thibodaux Junction” and the significance thereof, but a better explanation will be made once you see one of the pictures here.  For now, I can tell you that we are just east of milepost 54 of the Sunset Route and fewer than 1,000′ from the eastern end of the siding at Schriever.

On Sunday 7 March 2004, the day after I shot another IATCI at this same location, in the hopes of seeing and photographing the loaded coal train that The Shadow Warrior had seen, I ventured trackside.  I did not see the coal train, but I did see two westbound trains, including the stack train that The Shadow Warrior, who died of pancreatic cancer nine years later, saw.

Our first of two trains is an unidentified BNSF manifest train (the NWOBEL, NWOBAR, NWOLAL, and NWOPTR were common trains of the time period) led by BNSF 4076.

The second locomotive was a Yellowbonnet SD40-2, the BNSF 6942; the train had 424 axles, which I could tell because I could hear the automated reading from the detector at milepost 49.6 from this spot, whereas I could not (and usually still can not) hear it from Schriever, another reason why this location was so valuable (meaning that I could be sitting there in my truck reading a book or doing some paperwork and be alerted to an oncoming train before it came into view.)

Please note in the above picture the pile of former trees at left, which recently as actual trees blocked this view, and please notice the sugarcane field in the background, the likes of which occupy the foreground today; such is the case as urban sprawl (from Thibodaux) encroached on older cane fields.

Here is a cropped version of the above image.

You can probably already see why I loved this location so much, and the shot from the other side of the track was almost as good too, but the above view would greatly be improved by about 20′ of elevation, because the line formed by the tops of the trees is too close to that formed by the top of the train, causing this view to be a little bit too tight for my likes, but that’s okay.

Isn’t that neat?

Our second train, which Shawn had seen earlier in the day, was Union Pacific’s IATCI (Intermodal – Atlanta, Ga., to City of Industry, Ca.), a run-through intermodal train for the CSX to the UP, the predecessor to the KATCI and the ZATLA and ZATLC trains, and this train shows something else that is no longer with us: Conrail-painted locomotives on the CSX.

How is that?  That is something that you don’t see anymore!  I really miss the Conrail, not that I ever really ‘knew’ it in the first place.  Our next picture, which is of the same train, is what I will use to explain why this place is called “Thibodaux Junction” and paying particular attention to the foreground.

Normally, I crop out the bottom portions of images like the one that you see above, but I left it in this picture to show you what was a leg of a wye. which you can see going toward the mainline from the lower-left corner of the frame.  What was known in later Southern Pacific Railway times as the Napoleonville Branch – where I first and often saw trains as a child – diverged from the mainline just west of here at the east siding switch of Schriever in an eastward direction, meaning that a train entering the branch had to do so from the siding, not the mainline (at least once this eastern leg of the wye was removed.)  What was known later as the “Napoleonville Branch” was originally built just into Thibodaux, a city that did not want a mainline railroad, which is why the New Orleans, Opelousas & Great Western – the original railroad here – turned southwestward at Lafourche Crossing, avoiding Thibodaux, and creating the town of Schriever – called “Terrebonne Station” at first and later named after a railroad official.

Anyway, what you see in the above picture in the foreground is the remains of the roadbed of the eastern leg of the wye, which was probably removed not long after the end of steam operations.  In Thibodaux, the SP (or one of its predecessors) extended the branch to Napoleonville; the switch at Canal Boulevard in Thibodaux was therefore known as Napoleonville Junction.  So, Thibodaux Junction was where the branch to Thibodaux diverged from the mainline in both directions, and Napoleonville Junction was where the Napoleonville Branch branched from the Thibodaux Branch, but in later years, the entire thing was known as the Napoleonville Branch (even when it terminated in Supreme.)

Looking now to the west as we watch this passing train taking stuff to California, we can barely see the remaining stub of the Napoleonville Branch at the far right.

Three years and three months later, with this new thing called a digital camera, I took some pictures (the last three in the post linked here) that show what remains of the Napoleonville Branch.  I have really only tried to do the westbound shot here – but not really “here,” since you can’t get there anymore – in the digital era, and that was when a special event happened that I felt the need to record: the last BNSF train out of New Orleans before Hurricane Isaac.

Does this make sense?  I hope that you enjoyed this trip back in time.

Good night.


{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

1 John Shine March 7, 2014 at 07:55

Conrail, another Great railroad that is no more:{ Nice shot of that train as well!


2 Angeline March 7, 2014 at 11:10

These photos have a very different “look” to them. I’m looking forward to seeing more.


3 Jimbaux March 7, 2014 at 18:50

Ah, great! What does that “look” mean? They have a different “look” to me too, but I can not, for myself, answer the same question that I just asked you!

Here is a joke that is part of a response that I got via e-mail: “Slides? Are those something you create with Instagram?!”

Wow!! Yes, while it may simply be the location that I have never shown before because it stopped being publicly accessible in my film days, I’m thinking that it being on film has something to do with it, but I can’t seem to identify what it means or figure out how to replicate that “look” – that feel – to them in post-processing. I’m not (yet) an Instagrammer, but I have seen pictures on there that have an ‘old’ look to them but were obviously taken recently.

I’d write more about this now, but I am really tired and hungry. I want to explore this topic, though; so, if you have anything to say about why these photos have a “very different” “look” to them, I’d love to hear it!


4 Angeline March 7, 2014 at 19:59

I can’t explain it, it’s there but I don’t know how to articulate exactly what I’m seeing. I think I’ll look at some of your more recent photos and then I may be able to answer.


5 Jimbaux March 8, 2014 at 18:18

Well, let’s see; to test the film theory, I will link here all postings that I have yet made with scanned slides.

You might remember that two-and-a-half months ago, I posted several pictures of a memorable day on the Lockport Branch that were taken two-and-a-half months before these pictures:

Here are some slides taken in June 2004 in Mexico:

The first picture here shows a scanned slide from August 2001, the first time that I ever took slides:
There are film pictures of the Lockport Branch in that post too.

Over on the Facebook page, a few weeks ago I published a picture that was taken in 2004 a few weeks before the pictures in this post on which we are commenting, and this was taken from the same basic location but on the other side of the track:

In December 2003, one day before that memorable Lockport Branch chase seen in the aforelinked post, I got this picture:

One month before that, I got this picture at Schriever:

About a month before that, I posted this picture taken in Oklahoma:

And this one:

And, one week before that, this one in Schriever:

A day before that, I took this one:

In late 2002, I took this picture:

I think that those are all of the scanned slides that I have online, but more will come soon!


6 Donovan March 29, 2014 at 01:02

After looking at these and your other slide photos, I would agree with Angeline (with her comment she left on your June 2004 entry from Mexico). I find that it’s because these photos were taken with a film camera that they just have that different feel to then compare to your more recent digital camera photos.

I’m not very good at explaining things at times, but, the colors and dynamic range (if I got that right) are different to digital photos. Why is that? I think it is the film used compared to digital files. That’s the best I can come up with. 🙂

Ahh, I almost forgot to thank you for sharing these scanned slides. I favor the ones showing the stack train. It’s a look back in time at a train I see present day and with that neat Conrail leader, too! I didn’t see many of those myself.


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