I took delivery of a brand new Honda VF-500F Interceptor motorcycle in February of 1986. That machine and I were inseparable on weekends and days off for four years. One of my earliest trips on that bike was to Tuscola Illinois. Tuscola is located on the Illinois Central mainline 158 miles due south of Chicago Illinois. Also located at Tuscola was the Baltimore & Ohio line from Indianapolis to St Louis MO as well as the C&EI from south Chicago to Christian Illinois. Therefor Tuscola hosted three railroads of which the Illinois Central was double track. These three railroads crossed at grade requiring a tower. The ICRR ran north/south, the B&O ran east/west while the C&EI ran diagonally from north east to south west. Tuscola sported three railroads and five diamonds all controlled by TY Tower which was manned by the ICRR! Interestingly, the C&EI crossed the B&O on the east side of the ICRR then crossed the ICRR just south of the B&O’s crossing. Four of the diamonds were on the ICRR!
When I visited in 1986, there was evidence of a new track plant going in. A new bridge on the west side of the IC would carry the combined B&O/C&EI line across the ICRR where the two railroads (B&O & C&EI) would then split. The ICRR line would be reduced to a single track. Very quickly five diamonds were reduced to one! And that was a cue to de-commission TY Tower.
While trains were the focal point and the tower being a bonus, Tuscola was not as well known for its rail activity among rail fans as it was known for the tower operators. Tuscola had one of the meanest; most un-friendly (first shift) railroad employee’s imaginable. This guy was even documented in Trains Magazine! Also at TY Tower was Bob, the second shift operator. Bob was a great guy and let many railfans into the tower. As for the first shift operator…..well…..more than one visitor had a run in with him…. including yours truly!
On my first visit I approached the tower and the operator with respect and caution. I gave the operator a shout as to when a train would be coming by when he yelled quite bluntly…”I ain’t no (expletive) rail-fan”. His tone was so harsh and angered I simply turned and walked back to my motorcycle and watched from a distance. I was at a dis-advantage and felt no need to be confrontational.
Bob, the second shift operator was much more polite. I never made it into the tower which I regret. I learned later that Bob was much more hospitable and by the time I returned the show was over. Two things that are well known about the tower among fans, TY Tower was home to some very brave mice (rats) and never lean on the north window sill. One look (at that time) at the peeling paint and stains would cause one to question. Bob would say (…no bathroom up here so…..)!
I do not know when TY Tower closed. In May of 1994 the mechanical plant was dismantled and some of the machinery made to a local museum. The Illinois Central Railroad offered the tower to the city of Tuscola for one dollar! But the tower had to be moved. The city did not take the tower and it was demolished some time in 1994.
Tuscola is one of many places my motorcycle and I had rail encounters. While not the best train spot or busiest place or even what one would call a scenic place, Tuscola is a place of engrained rail-fan memories. TY Tower is certainly a “keeper” memory.