Conrail Hot Spots West

Conrail West Cover.indd

Producer: Pentrex

Timeframe: 1996

Locations: Illinois, Indiana, Ohio

Length: 2 hours

Source: Pentrex

Hotspots are where high concentrations of trains can be viewed. Sometimes, a busy section of a mainline.

They are often, trackage crossings. Multiplying opportunities to see trains. Intersecting lines that offer increased variety.

It doesn’t take a mathematician, to realize the benefits for railfans at such locations!


This show covers: Ohio, Indiana and Illinois. Eighteen hotspots are visited.

All the screenshots are not exactly matched to the review progression. The realities of a coherent article and illustrative flow.

Pentrex in house productions maintain high standards of excellence. Everything done correctly. One of the few reliable producers. Frequently, a matter of the subject chosen. Quality is usually a given.


The unburned fuel is putting on an awesome display, on this General Electric unit!


Maps are in an abundant supply! Notice, how this enables a smooth flow to the procedings.

A professionally written script. Again, works to keep the program casually rolling along. Balanced with ambient sounds.


David Drui is the ever present narrator. Broadcast grade announcer. On many of their older releases. That guy!


Ashtabula, Ohio is the jumping off point. Notice there are additional tracks to provide access to the opposing rails. Just the beginning…

ATVR Bonus..Who pays for the Crossing trackage installation? A. Original Railroad. B. Newer Railroad.


Answer. B. The newer line is responsible.

The northern Conrail line is featured first. Running compass, East to West. Let’s look at some on the Chicago line first.


Toledo has a Vickers hot spot. Conrail has plenty of action here. CSX is a main crossover partner. Union Pacific, Chicago & North Western, Grand Trunk with CN and CV units all pass through.


Indiana has Elkhart, with a CR freight yard. Jake’s Restaurant for railfans. A New York Central museum. Complete with a steam engine on display.


South Bend offers up freight trains. Transporting cargo or empties, to the massive Chicago classification yards. Clearing Yard and Proviso Yard, for example.


The above Chicago & North Western SD 40-2,Operation Lifesaver diesel, is doing that task. On it’s path to Proviso Yard, with a mixed freight.


Hammond is the end of the Chicago line, for this hot spot West tour. Heavy traffic, as one would expect, just outside of Chicago.


Pentrex has on screen designations for many of the trains. Narrator does explain the fairly simple codes. After a time, most viewers will be able to decipher many Conrail codes.

Amtrak shown, just for variety.


Southern Conrail line next, for the remainder of the long program.


Our eastbound return begins at St Elmo, Illinois. Conclusion will be in Alliance, Ohio. Many hot spots visited on the sojourn.

vlcsnap-2019-02-12-15h44m02s092Pentrex fact. An EMD wide cab is no wider than a standard cab. It is the nose!


Effingham, features Illinois Central at the crossing. A well known spot for years. Nice passenger station there. active Amtrak stop, as well. The Illini is the Amtrak train.

This Union Pacific led train is actually another Conrail move. Looks can be deceiving in this modern era. One almost needs a scorecard to keep on top of the action. Pentrex takes care of it in this show.


Haley Tower at Terre Haute, IN. An old railroad town. The towerman was busy this morning. Plenty of Conrail and CSX trains.


Marion still must be the grandaddy of the Ohio hot spots! CSX and Norfolk Southern are still active here. The original tower and station, are still here. Yes, this place still has it going on. Although the tower is no longer in service.


Quadruple diamonds. Action all the time. What’s not to like at Marion?


Alliance, OH. is the final spot. Cleveland and Ft. Wayne lines are there.

Eighteen hot spots in this program. Pentrex had their favorite West. My pick would be Marion, Ohio. Although Elkhart ran a close second! What is your favorite Conrail West hot spot?


Conrail Hot Spots West. End to end, trains filled by, big blue and more. A great Pentrex show. This is one of those, that you will be replaying.

A fun one with: assorted locales, views and of course, the many trains. Conrail Quality.

Rating: 5 Stars


Burlington Northern E-Units

Producer: Pentrex

Timeframe: 1990s

Location: Chicago to Aurora

Length: One hour

Source: Pentrex

Pentrex takes a grand tour of the BN Racetrack! The triple track mainline, serving Chicago. Featuring the venerable E9A locomotives. A fast paced and interesting visit, is on tap.


Professional in all aspects of production. Expert Videography is just the start. A slick edit that is intelligently cut. Really keeps what could have been a repetitive drag, into a highly engaging program.


Excellent narration by one of the best house professionals. Smoothly delivered. A finely tuned, script.

*ATVR bonus FYI. Two E9s together, are usually mechanical issues. Breakdowns, diagnostics or shakedown runs.


A chapter menu is included. As is, a simple map. This is all at is required. The BN terrirory is approximately a 30 mile westbound, straight shot exiting Union Station. Station stops. Nothing to it.


The action begins as it obviously should. At Chicago Union Station. Cavernous and dark. What a difference when the train emerges into the sunlight!


Moving outwards towards the western suburban destinations. Fine audio. As one would expect from Pentrex. Well balanced.


Eventually reaching the obvious conclusion at Aurora, Illinois.


The placement of transporting into the cabs of the E unit at random times.


BN # 9914 is the locomotive with the camera. This elevates and maintains a higher interest level of viewing.


A number of stops are visited.  Famous Brookfield Zoo is mentioned. Special architecture at the Brookfield station. No taverns are visited at any stops. Oh well… You can’t have everything.


FYI- Not mentioned in this show. A little ATVR reader bonus. Congress Park had a large trackside building, back in the 1950s. West Hinsdale once had a large, old wooden station. Burlington Route era. Seek still photos of these, for more. Also… All the various BN E units were upgraded to E9, during rebuilds.


Beautiful, Stone Avenue Station was always a personal favorite. LaGrange is the town.

They missed the LaGrange Road station. That one is located at the center of town. Similar to the other brick designs.


Highlands, in Hinsdale was another favorite station. Great architecture!


At Western Avenue. Locomotive 9907 gives a perfect view of the 1970 Cascade Green (hockey stick) paint scheme. Same firm that designed the Great Northern (Big Sky Blue) circa 1967.

Naperville is pretty far out. High growth city. That famous curve, has been previously filmed, as in the old (CB&Q) days. Not included in this show.


A few freights sneak into the show! As it should be. They appear between those dinky sets, as well.


The Engineer needs to reverse his position on the train. Take the cab controls on top of this car. Continue inbound, to traverse the BN trackage into Union Station.


Burlington Northern E-Units. An extremely well done program. Good for family viewing. Good rewatch value. A winner!

Rating: 5 Stars

Classic Chicago & North Western Volume 3


Producer: C. Vision

Timeframe: Late 1970s

Locations: Iowa, Missouri, Minnesota

Length: 1 hour 36 minutes

Source: Fred Crissey

Continuation of Fred Crissey’s films from the late 1970’s. A smorsgasboard of locations. Across 3 midwestern states. CNW freight trains operate on ex: Rock Island, Chicago Great Western and Minneapolis & St. Louis trackage.


This third volume was shot in Iowa, Missouri and Minnesota. Dawn to dark.


These are silent reels. Basic narration and musical overlays. There are zero live train sounds. Still, the show is very worthwhile, to the right people. I mean railfans.


Graphics denote locations along the bottom of the screen. Unfortunately, no maps to make any sense, of these small towns. Rendering the graphics nearly useless. There is a chapter menu.


Fred is a capable Cinematographer. Improved editing, would make his hard work appear finer, in the finished product. The way it turns out in this program. Good composition, about half the time.


Too far away- too often. Across farm fields. While chasing trains. Semi-obstructed views at other times. Editing much of this out. Viewers would never have missed most. There are too many. Not long, but frequent.


The dramatic bridge views are fine. A few shaky grab shots. Could have trimmed those too. Plenty of quality, is left to watch.


Railfans who already are familiar with CNW, may be best suited for this series. The collection of period films should be satisfactory. Lack of ambient train sounds, not a deal breaker. Given the specific subject matter at hand.

Good narration. Simple style. Locations and some engine types. A few more details. Could have used additional information. It is sufficient, at a minimal level.

What was known as the Spine Line from St. Paul, Minnesota to Kansas City, Missouri.


The yellow and green was an attractive paint scheme. The low hood units wore it well. A surprise Falcon Service SD40-2 leads an empty coal train.


A variety of EMD locomotives operated. SD45 units always looked strange on CNW. The lack of dynamic brake blisters, left the long hood looking bare. Plus the odd nose bell.


Some foreign power is also seen, occasionally.

vlcsnap-2019-02-08-04h50m52s325Say- Yes to Chicken wire! The F- units in daily service, are worth the price of admission!


There are: F7A, F3A and F7B units, that are active. Still leading many trains!


Some F-7s are chased,  leading on freight over former M&St.L , plus Chicago Great Western tracks. A way too long of a chase for sure.


Fred does enjoy a train chase. I do somewhat… only to a point. They vary. Would have much more, preferred to see the caboose on each train.


A caboose was generally required on the end. You would never know it. They are almost never seen in this show.


C Vision has a basically satisfying program.

The main act- first generation locomotives.

Electromotive of LaGrange.

Get your green and yellow, F unit groove on!

Rating: 3 Stars


Hot Spot: Argo


Producer: Midwest Video Productions/ Highball

Timeframe: 1995-1997

Locations: Bedford Park, Argo Yard, Argo Crossing.  Elkhart, South Bend, LaPorte, IN.

Length: 83 minutes

MVP pulled the wool over buyer’s eyes here. Hot Spot: Argo, my foot! The show meanders, all over the place. Filler in front and behind.

This is exactly what drives buyers away, from train videos. Does not deliver on the advertised. Substandard viewing. Issue this junk. Then they whine… Where are the sales?


Where’s Argo? I did not see: Elkhart, South Bend or LaPorte, Indiana in the title. Nothing personal against Indiana.

This show was supposed to be about Hot Spot: Argo. That constitutes, Argo Yard and Argo Crossing. These locations are in Summit, Illinois. A specific targeted area. Inherent, are certain railroads and type of action, at those locations. I paid for THAT.


Alternative. Look I get bunch of time filler… Not enough Argo in the can. Obviously.

What ripoff! No problem. Hose’em down.


We begin at a CSX ramp. This is listed. Feels like filler. This is Bedford Park. A little portion would pass. However, it does takes quite a while, to move away from this ramp. Twenty minutes. That is a big chunk.


Sure. The vintage Belt locos are too cool. Perhaps, the best of show. Off topic, like much of the program. Proves my point actually.

No Chapter Menu, by the way.

Bedford Park CSX ramp. Runs excessive, considering the topic. Again, this is not the Hot Spot: Argo!


Finally. We move. A map. He doesn’t bother to display the CSX ramp. Where we were stalled for so long. Does a good explanation of Indiana Harbor Belt and B&OCTRR, now CSX, trackage mapping. Ownership of IHB.

Which brings us to video quality…


Throwback, would be a kind word. This appears one step above, a 1980’s era shot set of tapes. It is rough end to end.



Hard to watch. Lighting, colors, grain. He mentions some video lines! That is the least of the problems. UGLY!

Post production work may have been able to improve some of this. There is a general murkiness to much of the background. Auto-focus issues perhaps.

Narration offers plenty of train information. Train designation. Even where the trains are going. Including long haul destinations. Crew changes.

Audio is fine. Narration and live audio. No complaints.


Argo Crossing. Used to be the GM&O line it crossed. Later on, that was Illinois Central Gulf into Illinois Central etc..

The steel truss bridge, crosses a canal in the background. At this point, the tower  is in the process of demolition.


Argo Yard is eventually acheived by the film crew. Nearly 28 minutes to arrive here! Too long, for the title and main feature.


Argo Yard is a rather small one. Especially in the Chicago area. It is next to a humongous, Corn Products (CPC) plant. That has rail service. Surprisingly, this is not mentioned. Neither is the stench.


Busy place. The 910 assignment switches the yard. Back and forth…


Argo is a crew change point.

vlcsnap-2019-02-01-10h14m24s013A Willow Springs bound power set passes by the camera.

vlcsnap-2019-02-01-10h30m19s850CN-GT power, with a Proviso to Blue Island transfer, via the IHB trackage. One never knows what will come down the tracks.


A former CNW GP15 is now in Union Pacific colors. It is entering Argo Yard.


Additional crew change. This BNSF train will travel to McCook Crossing. Not far.

Timing this at 54 minutes. That is all folks? Out of Argo already! Are you kidding?


Control point 466 at (who cares) Indiana. He mumbled it…


However, by the time we are transported to Indiana. No map. All geographical orientation, goes out the window. Save for the location screens. Useless, sans a map.


Now, it is just an extended series of mindless runbys. Conrail action now, for the majority. A lack of being centered this round. Standing trackside in the middle of where? Makes all the difference…

(This deception, is about the equivalent of purchasing a show titled ‘Horseshoe Curve’ and spending more time, at alternate locations.

One would not expect to be spending significant time, trackside on a single CSX line, out in Ohio. Off topic, for a Horseshoe Curve titled show).

Same garbage here. How does Indiana relate to Hot Spot: Argo? Does not fit.



Yet I myself digress. Back to our review. Back to Indiana. Back to the wasted money! Still stuck with a rather abysmal visual, as well. This isn’t much fun. Is it over yet??


On to Conrail’s Elkhart Yard. Still murky. Yawn.


Where’s Argo?

Only 27 minutes @ Argo… Insulting!

There is nothing in this show, that you can’t find, in better quality elsewhere.

Wanted to sit back and enjoy the show. Ended up with this loser! One and done.

Argo… Not hardly. A Loser. Pass…


Rating : 1 Star


A Day with Belt Railway of Chicago #525


Producer: MVP/ Highball

Timeframe: 1997

Locations: Bedford Park, Rockwell Street Yard, Clearing Yard, Nabisco

Length: 1 hour 25 minutes

Source: MVP

Midwest Video Productions had a series, based on Chicago area belt lines. Railroad switching companies, that serve the Chicago area.

Interchange service, that was part of why this city was the rail hub capital of the industry. Transfer train service across the city. Local delivery, as well. Belt Railway of Chicago is one of these railroads.

A Day With Belt Railway of Chicago #525.  June 19, 1997. East End Series . Second Program. SW1200. 3 man crew.

Rockwell Street Yard. East End industries


In this episode, Belt #525 is followed as it goes about it’s daily chores. Viewers get a complete look at the job. Dispatcher’s office to locomotive controls. A hands on experience, well close enough for video.


The local ‘Cookie Job’ will switch a Nabisco plant. That will come later. It does have other tasks to perform.


An onboard camera allows us to cabride with the working crew. Additional ground camera augments the views.


Overall image quality, is somewhat dissappointing. Considering the year it was shot. Expected more clarity, and better color balance. Inconsistency is the main issue. Although mostly in the good range. Not comparable to other companies videos, recorded during the same years. Probably, the original field equipment that was used.

The edits are often too abrupt. Not really bad. Just not smooth, pro transistions.


Check the too bright Union Pacific locos. Minor example.

Perhaps the imagery could have been improved in post production. Same with edits. Time is money, they say.


Fade to black and voila! Basic information screens.


This is how the program proceeds.

There is full narration. Live employee audio is sometimes heard. All audio is very clear. Enviornmental sounds include those of the trains.

The narrative is informative. At certain times, it falls short. Those familiar with the area, want to know… Which chemical plant?


Some maps are referenced early on. These outline the area visited. Covered.


It is interesting to watch the engineer work the locomotive controls. Listen to the radio chatter of our train. See it back up through diverging trackage.


Sensible editing keeps the show moving along. More critical than most realize!


Rather surprising, as all the turnouts are hand thrown! Even in the classification yard. That’s a different experience in minus 20 degrees wind chill. We are here in June.


The Cookie Job finally makes it to the plant. Tight clearances. This place is massive!


Nabisco is one of their largest plants! Flour, granulated sugar, liquid sugar, corn syrup and packaging products. All move via rail. The Cookie Job is very busy here.


In and out of Rockwell Yard. This is a big part of how the crew on 525 spends the day. Switching the local industries. Nabisco was last…

Pickup some cars and return to Clearing Yard. Park the locomotive, and done!


Some other various road power is encountered. Union Pacific, Conrail… This is Chicago!

A Day with Belt 525. This is an experience. Viewers will come away with the feel of what working a switch job is like.


Making it safely over the route. The routine and somewhat repetitive workload. Paying attention to surroundings and safety. Bits of humour. You may feel a bit tired, at the end of the day!

Good narration. Good audio. Video portion, far below expectations. Sum total; is a well put together program, with the listed faults.

The weak video, does make me hesitant to jump on the remainder, of similar MVP shows. At least, same years Chicago. A bump up, for the uniqueness of this show.

Far from perfect… Have a cookie!

Rating: 3 Stars