The Milwaukee and Soo Southeastern Division

The Milwaukee and Soo Southeastern Division on Video

John Szwajkart

Format: DVD

Length: 1 hour 18 minutes

Time Period: 1985- 1990’s

Locations: LaGrange, McCook, Argo, Crete, Hammond, Dolton, Franklin Park, Blue Island

Source: John Szwajkart

Soo Line’s surprise merger with Milwaukee Road had already occurred by the time this video was being filmed. Both railroads were easily found in the Chicago area. The Milwaukee quickly was losing it’s identity, as the Soo used a harsh looking, black paint out of the Milwaukee Road logos and billboard lettering on locomotives. As the caboose was also being phased out, that much less of Milwaukee was seen on the end of the trains.

This show is aimed at the hardcore railfan. It is the type of video that would have been found in the early days of train videos. There are many trains to be viewed. Action is abundant and the footage is 100% freight trains. Those are the strongest points of this DVD. The beginning is 1985. This is early stage of the Soo- Milwaukee merger. Ends much later, with 3rd generation power, wearing Soo Line and Canadian Pacific paint.

Production is very minimal on the show. The video seems to be a direct transfer to DVD format. This is not a digital remaster, color corrected/ enhanced type of show. There is no narration or music. The soundtrack  consists of natural audio picked up by the microphone on the video camera. You will hear the limitations of the small microphone as some of the diesels deep tones, will rattle and can overload the microphone. Wind noise is heard often, along with passing auto traffic. Birds are heard frequently, but those sounds are picked up better by the microphone. Just as in real life, birds are fine and too many autos a distraction. The larger locomotives will cause the most issues with some distortion.

On screen lettering will give locations. They are accurate, and change with each different scene. No maps are used. Those who are familiar with Chicago, will be comfortable with the graphics. If you are not able to tell LaGrange from Dolton, look at a map. The locations vary, and do jump around. He is usually following a given line. Sometimes leaping back to a previously covered town, as the timeline progresses.

FYI- Indiana Harbor Belt tracks were used by many railroads during the time period. Besides the normal IHB moves, the lines were heavily traveled by assorted roads. You might see almost anything moving through LaGrange, at the time. Trackage rights, and run through equipment, gave much variety on Indiana Harbor Belt. Watch for this unremarked bonus, on other John Szwarkart shows that were recorded on the IHB.

Milwaukee Road, Soo Line, Chicago Northwestern, Union Pacific, Chessie System,CSX, CP Rail, Conrail, Grand Trunk, DT&I and Belt Railway could all be found there. At times, detoured trains would provide even more variety. Quite an interesting line to railfan at that time. Some of that action does show up in this show, albeit mainly Milwaukee and Soo.

The camera seems to be handheld. It shakes and bounces along at times. Some shots are steadier. At certain points, the shaking detracts from the viewing. Zoom is used effectively, for the most part. As is an issue in some other videos on the market, many of the shots are  tight to the trackage. Looks fine as the train approaches. After the locomotives pass, the freight cars are hard to distinguish, due to the sharp angle of the lens. Many of the trains are shown in or near their entirety. The majority of the freight cars need better visibility. Cabooses are on many of the trains and nicely viewed. The conditions of neglected caboose maintenance are obvious. The cabooses are near the end of their service life.

From a technical standpoint, this show does not compare well to the professionally produced releases, from the well known companies. It is an amateur level of a train video. It is interesting, good and very watchable. The shake of the picture is the main flaw. A steady tripod would have made a huge improvement. Consider it a throwback style to the earlier era of raw train videos. You do get a wealth of trains, and location graphics. There is a good chapter menu on this DVD.

Three main chapters make this show. The 1985 Milwaukee Road transition to Soo Line. Soo Line is then the railroad, covered in the following two parts. Franklin Park to Blue Island via Indiana Harbor Belt trackage. Dolton and former C&EI tracks on the far southside of the greater Chicago area.

By the way, the cover reads ‘Coal Hauling Line’. Most of the trains are general freight traffic. There are coal trains and intermodals. Freight trains are the show.

We begin with original appearance, Milwaukee Road trains. The bulk of the program quickly becomes Soo Line. You will see numerous, ‘bandit’ Milwaukee paint outs. They are as ugly as I remember them. The way things were, at the time. The original painted units look much better, as seen at the start. An occasional, late Hiawatha repaint can also be found. The bandits are mu’ed to Soo units in the lash-ups. We still enjoy a caboose on these freights.

Soo Line ends up with the bulk of the film. CP Rail eventually appears, and that is seen, more frequently. A few return to lessor, repaint/ renumbered diesels, also make some cameos. Mainly 2nd generation EMD power. SD40-2 locomotives are the most common. Newer paint schemes are visible, as the years march forward. A good assortment of CP Rail and Soo Line units. Milwaukee has some rebuilt, chop nosed SD9’s, along with the SD40-2, GP38-2 and GP40 units.

This is a train video for the hardcore railfan. The type of person who, has a priority of  watching the trains offered here. Others, may not like the rough edges and lack of polish. Not recommended for those who are new to train videos. It is good for experienced fans, who want this uncommon assortment.

This title delivers what it advertises. Soo Line fans will get the most amount of material. Milwaukee Road and Canadian Pacific are like a pair of bookends on the program. One surprise at the end, but you can see for yourself!

Rating: 3 Stars

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