Friday, May 2, 2008

Prairie Observations

On Wednesday the 30th I travelled from west of New Ulm to Austin in southern Minnesota. I chose to take Hwy 14 to Owatonna then head south on 218, a route that parallels the DME/ICE conglomerate almost all the way. Even though the weather was a bit dodgy when I set out around lunch time, I hoped to get some shots of DME trains traversing the prairies of southern Minnesota.

My first sighting was in Sleepy Eye, where I stumbled across this item of DME MOW equipment on a siding on the west edge of town.

I'd like have seen some of the battles this plow has fought over the years clearing cuts drifted shut by the wind. Another interesting thing about this find was the road number, which was shortly proven to be very close to a DME GP40 type loco that I came across in New Ulm. I stopped at the depot to eat a sandwich while watching for train traffic, but the only action I caught was the crew climbing aboard this unit to head out for an afternoon of switching around the New Ulm area.

I paralleled the south bank of the Minnesota River in the hopes I would catch a train in the valley between New Ulm and Mankato, where there is the chance of a very scenic shot. However, there was no traffic to be had this early afternoon and my next stop was in Mankato, where I found this Pro Rail switcher resting between assignments in a yard along the highway.

After I found my way out of Mankato, I discovered the reason for the lack of traffic on the east/west main on this day: a Maintenance of Way crew was replacing a culvert near Janesville. I stopped and shot a couple of photos of the operation, which obviously had the railroad tied up for some time.

After seeing this I figured the chances of me encountering any more trains was slim, but I was surprised when I reached Waseca and found two eastbounds waiting to enter town. Flaky light and a lack of access to the area limited photo opportunties, but given that one train was led by a pair of KCS GE's, I shot a few pictures anyway.

By this time I had programmed the DME road frequency into my scanner (Thanks Hudson!) and soon heard a warrant being cleared near Owatonna. It sounded like a westbound was close, and I swung south about a mile to the tracks and immediatly spotted the westbound behind a pair of SD's, the leader still in CP red. I decided to try a sweeping landscape shot, with what I feel are less than stellar results. I needed to be a little closer to the bridge to make the shot what I really wanted. I did notice that heat waves were starting to affect the shots taken over the black fields.

Within about 15 minutes I encounterd my 5th and final train of the day when I was leaving Owatonna headed south on 218. Just on the south edge of town I came across this stopped ICE train behind a handsome matched set of SD's. With the light in pretty poor shape by this time and the head end of the train very close to the crossing photo options were limited but here is what I got:

All in all, it was more traffic than I expected to see, but I also learned that I need to learn some new approaches to photography to capture the best angles offered by the rolling hills and scenery this area presents. I'm kind of excited about heading back down after things have greened up and especially this fall when the "amber waves of grain" show up.

1 comment:

Frederick said...

Some of the traffic you experienced may have been due to flooding reroutes.

Unrelated, but you may want to check out the CP River Sub next time you are in southern MN. It parallels the BN across the Mississippi from the cities down to La Crosse. 15-20 on the CP, and probably 30-35 on BNSF. On the CP, you also see Amtrak, ICE, and occasional BNSF coal trains. The Mississippi River valley down that way is one of the top scenic drives in the country, too. There are lots of high limestone bluffs.