Lone-Car Train on the Lockport Branch – 31 March 2004

by Jim on 2014/03/31

[Every mother’s son had better hear what Jimbaux said.]

There Is No Place Like Home

Yes, friends, we are back home on the Lockport Branch, the no-longer-active 14-mile (the first mile in Raceland is still in use) former Southern Pacific Railway branch down the eastern bank of Bayou Lafourche, and we are looking at scanned slides from early 2004 in my film days.  The pictures in this post were taken of the northbound Louisiana & Delta Railroad train going back to the mainline on Wednesday 31 March 2004 after it served Valentine Paper, a facility that recycled paper rejected by mills from around the continent and made it into specialty paper; Valentine Paper closed in December 2007, dooming the railroad branch that served it.

You might remember three-and-a-half weeks before this date a set of film shots taken at Thibodaux Junction.

Foam Is Where The Heart Is

Here is the post I made on one of the foamer forums a few hours after these pictures were taken, edited only slightly.

By some weird twist of fate, I photographed a train on the Lockport Branch today for the first time since December 23.

I arrived in Valentine around 16:00 for reasons other than trainwatching, and I was surprised to discover the train there.  It’s normally of the branch and onto the mainline long before I get off of work.

The Mountain Laurel 13 was just leaving the place with one Norfolk Southern boxcar.  There was another boxcar in the yard, and there were two clay slurry tank cars spotted.  I believe the tank cars – and perhaps the other boxcar – were brought there today.  I think the NS boxcar was brought there Monday.  I passed this place Sunday with some family members in town, and I was depressed to see not one car in the place.  (There is still one tank car at Valentine Chemicals.)

So, I paced the red-silver-black GP10 and its lone boxcar northward until I finished my roll of Velvia 50.  I photographed it in three locations, the latter two for the first time.

This caught me by surprise.  I’m glad I got the shots and enjoyed the chase, since train season is rapidly coming to a close.  Funny thing …. I realized that a year ago today, I left work sick and was able to see and photograph a loaded coal train on the way home.  Then as today, my pain was my gain.

The crew mentioned something about going back to Valentine on Friday.  There will be at least one empty boxcar to pick up.

Yes, and you’ll note that it was the first time that I was able to photograph a train on the Lockport Branch in three months, when I had an epic day of storm and sunlight on the branch.  Yes, if you haven’t read that piece linked in the previous sentence, you should; it’s one of my best, and it helps to explain this unexplainable fascination and this unexplainable obsession with trains.

Another thing to note about my writing from that day is the use of Fujichrome Velvia 50, a film noted for its color saturation.  See the Thibodaux Junction post linked in the first paragraph, as it has discussion with comments of this dynamic that I struggle to understand now, how to replicate the film feel with digital pictures.

The “off of work” statement is a reference to the fact that I was at the time a teacher (of world geography) at the local high school, this being a little bit more than a year before I moved from the bayou to New Orleans, a huge and needed life change.

Pictures, Please

Here we go.  We start behind the shipyard that doesn’t get rail service despite having a railroad right behind it.

Yes, the Mountain Laurel 13 still had not been renumbered with L&D reporting marks yet.

One of the many things that I do not miss about film is the poor shadow detail, as seen in the below going-away image, though that could partly be due to the low speed of the film.

The boxcar would have been empty, going away from the paper plant.  All of the inbound boxcars were loaded with paper rejected from other mills.

A few miles later, we are at (or near) the LeBlanc property.

Some explanation about why this location was significant for this period in time is warranted.  The LeBlanc property had been in my family, albeit somewhat, for lack of a better term, tangentially.  It was simply a result of the recent death of Aunt Lucille, my maternal grandfather’s older sister.  Aunt Lucille had died earlier this month.

Although I mentioned in my forum posting that this was the first time I had photographed a train on the Lockport Branch since December 23, it was not the first time that I saw a train on the branch since that day.  I did see a train on the branch earlier in the month on the day that Aunt Lucille was sent off.  I posted on the foamer forum on the night of Monday 08 March 2004 a report of this sighting thus:

I left work at 09:30 to attend a funeral.   The weather was beautiful.  I hope the weather is like this the day I am eulogized and laid to rest.

Anyway, as I walked out of the school into the parking lot at 09:30, I could hear the soft horn of a GP10.  WTF?  Was I just happening to leave school just as the train was passing on the other side of the bayou?  What a coincidence!  I peered through the trees and could see the L&D 1850 pulling one tank car.  This must have been a load of something for Valentine Chemicals.

I was afraid that the branch was completely shut down, but it’s sad that this train had no cars for the paper mill.  I crossed the bayou to get a better look at the train before getting to Lockport for the funeral.

After Aunt Lucille was laid to rest, I left the churchgrounds to return to work. (I told them I’d be back at 12:15.)  I crossed the bayou in the hopes of possibly seeing the return trip of the train.  As dumb luck would have it, at 12:00 that’s just what happened.

The train had one dark tank car and one CSXT boxcar.  The tank car was likely an empty from Valentine Chemicals, but the possibility that it was the same tank car as on the inbound trip and was just a Raceland Sugars tank along for the ride crept into my mind.

This is the first time I see a train on the branch since December 23.  I sure hope that the branch isn’t in its twilight.

The Opportunistic Foamer

Yes, in a relative sense, the branch was in its twilight.  That post mentions Valentine Chemicals, the only other customer on the line, and it only shipped a few cars per year, which was not enough to keep the branch open once Valentine Paper closed.  You can also see, from reading that and from looking at these pictures, that both of the times that I saw trains on the branch in March 2004, they were one-car trains; that is what heightened my already-constant sense of the branch’s fragility reflected in my writings then about the line.

Here is one more view from the LeBlanc property.

I truly miss the Lockport Branch in ways that I am unable to describe, like, I guess, how some people miss an old house or an old field behind a house.  Speaking of fields, here is a classic sugarcane field broadside view.

That seems to be the only shot from the day that wasn’t taken from the top of my old truck.

To end the chase – and the roll of film that had also showed us the now-gone fly ash trains at the now-inaccessible Thibodaux Junction, adding to our theme of change – we are in the southern part of Mathews (in other words, northern Lockport, or northern Rita) behind Clotilda Plantation.

Such is home.  The end.

The ownership of Valentine Paper changed hands in 2005, and the plant briefly shut down.  During that time I was able to photograph action on the branch a few times, including some August 2006 shots seen here.  The company that acquired the plant supposedly wanted to learn the process done at the plant.  Two years later, that process learned in a manner that allowed the company to implement it elsewhere, Valentine Paper shut down for the final time in December 2007, dooming the branch.  I was fortunate to be able to photograph the last-ever railroad delivery to Valentine Paper, a post that is one of my best, very soulful and very implicitly explanatory of this seemingly (to most of you, but not to me) bizarre fascination with trains.

I’ll leave you with that.  C’est bon.




1 Steve Boyko March 31, 2014 at 07:51

Great post, Jimbaux… bitterwsweet.

A CP freight was blowing its horn for the crossings a mile or two away from me as I was reading this post. Nice.

2 Jeff Guidry March 31, 2014 at 18:27

How do you know if the branch is doomed? Why would BNSF, Valentine Chemicals, Lafourche Parish fight UP via STB to keep the branch
a viable prospect? Have faith brother. Hope all is good.

3 Ross April 1, 2014 at 18:32

Beautiful artwork. Is the line still in service under any conditions? E.g., once-a-week local, or anything??

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