Monday, June 30, 2008

Sunday Night (Un)Spectactular

Hello fellow railfans and other assorted surfers:

The story of Sunday evening, the 29th of June, began quickly as Mrs L4T and myself headed uptown for a burger in preparation for an evening of fanning. As we pulled into the Orton's in Wadena for a quick gas stop, a DEEX coal train was paused at the Jefferson St Crossing in town, blocking the 2nd St W crossing. Even though it was directly into the sun, I took a picture since he had four units and that is becoming very uncommon in the area.

We made the decision to head over to Perham for supper. That proved to be a good move as I was able to catch an intermodal train with three GE's up front as he approached the underpass between New York Mills and Perham. I like this location as it is one of the few in the area that afford any elevation. This train was kind of unusual as well, with a visiting CN unit bringing up the rear of the consist.

After a quick meal at the DQ, we began the journey back to Wadena. We were in no hurry, and before too long I spotted a headlight coming. I zipped across the next crossing and in less than a minute the train was there. After my previous statement about the rarity of four unit consists on coal trains, you can just guess what the power set for this empty looked like.

And that was it for train action on a Sunday evening. I usually can count on a merchandise train with CAT equipment on the headend through the area on Sunday evening but it was nowhere to be found this day. Anyway, another enjoyable evening of looking 4 (and even finding a couple of) trains.


Saturday, June 28, 2008

Southwest Minnesota Sightings (Cont.)

We pick up the story on Thursday morning, which found me deep in the corn country of southwest Minnesota. After finishing up at my first stop on Thursday, I had one more visit for the week, in Marshall. A glance at the map told me that I would be able to follow the DM&E for a few miles until I reached Highway 59, which would lead me right into town. The few miles of DM&E were trainless, though, and I continued on north.

Leaving Marshall, I decided to take MN 23 northeast as it parallels the BNSF line to Willmar. I turned the scanner on and in a matter of minutes I heard chatter between a train and the dispatcher. I also heard Fort Worth Mechanical talking to a different train about a radio problem. My first sighting was a southbound merchandise train just entering Cottonwood. He was moving at a good speed and I didn't have time to get to the sunny side, so shot him backlit.

I passed through Granite Falls with no further action, but when I reached Clara City I spotted a headlight. This proved to be BNSF 1061, the train I had heard the Fort Worth Mechanical Desk talking to earlier about a bad radio. I think they were having problems with the DPU unit on this train. I shot him from the ground, and from the overpass as he backed past the elevator.

That proved to be the extent of BNSF action for the day. My next target was the CP line into Glenwood and north. I was determined to catch something-anything-on that line to complete my trip. Ny first opportunity was an old SOO caboose that was part of an MOW consist sitting in a siding near Sedan.

Trains were moving both ways as I entered Glenwood. This was my first time in town, and I snooped around a bit trying to find a shot, but the yard was packed and all I could come up with was this.

And that was the end of trains for the day.

It's great to have a job where you get to travel the entire state, and to have a chance to pull over and take a picture once in a while. It was a good trip, got a lot of work done, and had the chance to see some railroad action.


Friday, June 27, 2008

Southwest Minnesota Sightings

Greetings again from the rambling railfan of rural Minnesota. This past week I ventured into little explored (by me) portions of southwest Minnesota in my quest to earn a living, along with taking advantage of some railroad related observations that fate tossed my way.

My adventure began on Tuesday, when I travelled to New Ulm for a meeting. Upon the completion of my work there, my itinerary called for an overnight stay in the area. I selected Springfield as a great spot to overnight, given the proximity of a nice Microtel Inn to the DM&E main. On my way over I passed by the enormous Harvestland elevator complex just east of town, and found a DME GP40 type at rest on the end of a string of covered hoppers. Even through the engine was front-coupled, I pulled over and grabbed a photo since the light was so nice.

An investigation of Springfield on foot later that evening revealed no rail action, and my camera went unused for the balance of the day. I still have hopes of catching a DME train passing through this beautiful small city someday soon.

The following morning, after working in the area until about 11:00, I headed south with a destination near the Iowa border. My route took me through Windom, and I angled off on Highway 60 to get closer to my target. The next rail action I encountered was an engine at the enormous Heron Lake ethanol plant. Even though the sun was high, I pulled over for a photo:

Within moments I heard a horn from the southwest, which I took to mean a UP train would be approaching. I stayed where I was and shot him as he approached the crossing I was at. Again, the light was less than perfect, but I have very few if any Armour Yellow engines in my collection and was not about to pass up an opportunity to add three modern units to my tally.

I then proceeded on to my destination and completed what I had been summoned to do. After a productive afternoon's work I headed to Worthington for the night, but soon found that the recession has not yet sunk into that community as there was no room at the Inn for your humble correspondent. Plan "B" called for overnighting in Windom, which led to another run up Highway 60, paralleling the UP main the entire way. While there were no more mainline trains out and about, I did catch a couple of industrial units along the way. First was this former Conrail SW doing duty far from his former home. He is now assigned to Cargill's Miloma Farm Service Center.

Just up the line I came across the vast Minnesota Soybean Processors complex and discovered a Trackmobile at work spotting covered hoppers for loading.

And that wrapped up the photo ops for the first couple of days of my venture. The photos from the third and final day of the trip will have to wait for another post. Don't forget to keep looking 4 trains!


Monday, June 23, 2008

June 20 Jam-up

With L4T world headquarters here in Wadena being graced by the presence of Mrs. L4T's mother, it seemed that some entertainment was in order the evening of Friday, June 20. Since the Staples Dairy Queen has attained a certain status in our clan, the logical thing was to head east and see what could be seen.

The run to Staples revealed something interesting-a merchandise train holding a couple of miles west of the detector on Main Two. I soon heard that major machinations were underway in the town of Staples, with a vehicle train trying to get out of town eastbound, and a grain train heading up the Staples Sub with a mission of wyeing its power that very evening.

The vehicle train head end had just crossed the 6th St crossing when the radio reported a "lurch" and possible train on the ground. Progress at that point came to a screeching halt and dispatcher SWA instantly had his hands full. The conductor from the vehicle train was out walking his train, while the grain with power to turn asked if he could proceed up Main One. The dispatcher allowed him to continue up the main at a creep, and both crossings in Staples were tied up for at least 7-8 minutes.

The problem with the vehicle train turned out to be an air line that had come apart right behind the engine. After a quick reconnect, the train was able to get the air built up and scoot out of town. At the same time this was going on, two other eastbounds cleared their warrants as they passed through Wadena and got the bad news they needed to find a place to park for a while. Also, a coal empty off the Brainerd was looking for permission to enter Staples. Trains were stacking up in three directions from Staples.

And the plot thickens, as the vehicle train calls dispatch once again with the news that they had not even made it to Philbrook before going into emergency again. It seems one of the air hoses was a tad short and any movement threatened disconnection. After a few minutes of fruitless search for a longer hose the remedy was to unhook the cables that support the hose and hope for the best. It must have worked as I heard no more problems from that end. However, the train that was to wye it's power (3 C44-9W's, all in different paint schemes-never did figure out why turning the power was so important?) had the entire yard tied up. I headed east to catch the waiting coal empty near Motley.

When I returned the three light engines were paused at the depot for some reason, and my patience was wearing thin.

I decided to head back to Wadena. Interestingly, one of the waiting eastbound trains was a loaded coal train sporting an ES44DC pusher facing the right way, stopped just as he cleared the crossing in Verndale. The crossing gates were still down. I decided to try once again to get his reflection in the railhead.

One more eastbound was heading through Wadena just as we arrived, and I could hear the dispatcher was still wrestling with the light power as it moved from the Brainerd to the Staples on the wye. I made it home while things were still tied up, and listened to heavy traffic from my easy chair until bedtime.


Sunday, June 22, 2008

West End Washout

June 14th was the birthday of the heir to the L4T fortune, and he decided that a family get together in Fargo, where he is now living, was the appropriate way to celebrate this event. So after a trip to Staples in the morning to check out some action at the center of the Staples Sub, Mrs. L4T and myself headed west for a party.

I had moved the scanner into the road car, and with the camera close at hand I had visions of capturing traffic in fresh locations under sunny skies. The trip from Wadena to DL revealed no train traffic, and even the scanner was quiet. Once we entered DL, though, I heard an easbound pass a detector outside Detroit Lakes. I made the best possible time through the construction and set up to catch him at a crossing near the Wal-Mart store in DL.

Turned out to be a pair of SD40-2's with a long string of diesel fuel cars headed east. I'm still not sure if these trains are loaded or empty when they are eastbound. With diesel fuel at $4 a gallon 60 cars loaded with 16,000 gallons each is approaching $4 million in value. It's not cheap to run a railroad these days.

The scanner was silent after this encounter, with only a couple of scratchy transmissions on the Dilworth frequency as we approached Moorhead. One empty coal train was entering the yard as we arrived, but I had no chance for a shot. It seemed unusual to me to traverse the line from Wadena to Moorhead and only get one shot on a Saturday morning.

We spent the day celebrating our son's birthday, and ended up at Applebee's in Fargo for an early supper. While in the restaurant a strong thunderstorm passed through, with high winds and heavy rain. I expected this might result in overcast conditions on the return trip, but by the time we left Fargo the skies were patchy blue in the west with sun more common than clouds.

Just as we arrived at Watts, I spotted a westbound train coming into the yard and set up to shoot him between Dilworth and Glyndon. You can see the thrunderstorm as it makes its way east in the sky on this shot.

With high hopes that this was just the start of a fleet of westbounds, we continued toward Wadena, with a detour at Hawley to follow the line through the scenic countryside east of there. While the scenery was great, traffic was non-existent. I had to shoot a couple of photos just to remember what might have been if BNSF had cooperated.

And one just for MN Chris, from a favorite location of his.

I waited for half an hour for a train to show itself, then continued toward home. Careful observation revealed that there were NO trains moving on the portion of the railroad I was travelling along. I was frustrated with traffic levels, but enjoyed the scenery none the less.

And of course, once we got home, the horns started to blow signalling that the floodgates were open and traffic was once again returning to normal on this busy stretch of railroad.

It still made for a great day, spending time with family while getting a couple of train photos and seeing some wonderful scenery.


Saturday, June 21, 2008

A DPU Oddity

I made it out this morning for about an hour, looking 4 trains right in Wadena. While I have a few more shots I will share later I thought this deserved its own post, since it is kind of unusual to me.

One of the trains I saw was a westbound grain train. This was led by a single C44-9W, so I thought I might have a shot at the DPU going away from the sun. Imagine my surprise when there were TWO engines on the rear.

I'm not sure if the EMD was working or not, since I have never seen a DC tranction motor EMD in DPU service. I suppose it is possible that the GE unit was controlling the EMD but I have no way of knowing. Just thought this was interesting enough that I would share it.

Edit-I don't know why the video shows up this way, it's the first time I have tried posting a video through Blogger. If you know why this is let me know. Thanks, Jim

Friday, June 20, 2008

Some Summertime Action

It's been a while since I posted, and much of the interim has been dominated by clouds and rain. I have had the chance at a few shots, though, and the backlog is starting build to the point I need to get some of these posted.

June 12th was one of the days I have my shortest commute to work-Wadena to New York Mills. Of course, I still had the camera with and just after I got on Highway 10 the 174.1 detector sounded off for a train on Main Two. Hmmm, I should try a shot at one of my favorite locations-the curve just west of Wadena where the tracks climb up out of the mighty Leaf River plain. I didn't wait too long before a fast train rounded the curve behind an ES44DC, leading a few stack cars and a long string of vehicle cars. It was a nice way to start the day.

Friday evening, July 13th, Mrs. L4T and I headed over to Staples to try and avoid the bad luck demons. There was a nice assortment of power in the yard, including eastbounds behind CSX and KCS power. The KCS unit was an SD70-2 in the "Southern Belle" scheme. This was the first time I have seen one leading a train on the Staples Sub but obviously the Friday the 13th demons followed me to Staples and prevented any decent photos due to lighting difficulties. After waiting a few minutes and offering a Dairy Queeen treat to the demons, the scanner announced the impending arrival of a couple of westbounds. I headed south to intercept, with mixed results. I shot the first train southeast of Staples, then chased him back to Staples and got him again as he approached the depot.

I decided to head back to Wadena, and while we were on the way I heard a second westbound cross the detector at Staples. I headed back out to my old reliable location at the Bluffton curve, and this time shot a westbound as he approaches the tangent track at the bottom of the hill.

Interestingly, this train was all NSPX bottom dump hoppers. I can't recall seeing this before on the Staples Sub, but I think someone mentioned seeing a train like this loaded eastbound a couple of days earlier. Anyone know if these are serving the Becker plant nowdays?

Saturday morning I headed to Staples with the intention of catching the KCS unit in the yard in morning light. Of course it was gone, and the other trains that were there the night before were still there. I fooled around with a couple of puddles in the area with ho-hum results. I think the best effort was this one:

There was just enough cloud cover to spoil some nice shots.

I did get one treat that day, though. Rather than a "late eight", Amtrak surprised me with a late #7. Of course the light was wrong for a head on shot but I tried a couple of different things during the very brief stop at the depot. Here is one of my more unique angles.

A quick run to the detector gave me one more chance to shoot him but my camera missed the focus. After that, I gave chase but quickly realized that Amtrak has a distinct speed advantage to Highway 10 traffic as I was unable to gain any ground at all. Anyway, it was a nice surprise for me, if not for the passengers who were waiting for the train.

A trip to Fargo later that day yielded a couple of shots, but those will be the basis for another post. Til then, remember to keep looking 4 trains!


Monday, June 9, 2008

Stormy Weather

Having been involved in railfanning as a casual hobby for many years and more seriously for the last couple of years, I have learned that sometimes things just don't go your way. The last couple of weekends have been a good demonstration of this fact.

The final weekend of May found Mrs. L4T and myself venturing back to Borderland for a graduation party. Since we were to be there overnight I blocked out early Saturday morning for a chance to visit my old haunts and see if I was able to catch any rail action on the move in the International Falls area.

I just couldn't wait, though. A short drive through town the evening we arrived caught one of the MD&W Alcos hard at work sorting a string of boxcars for storage in the laydown yard east of town. I got a shot out the car window in hazy conditions with a badly blown out sky.

Little did I know that this would be the only action I would see all weekend. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

I awoke to sunny skies on Saturday AM and promptly headed out. Upon arriving in Ranier there was a train parked well back from the crossing, and horribly backlit. I had hoped for a southbound crossing the lift bridge and I could hear a train in the Fort doing some switching, but it became obvious from scanner traffic that he was tied up longer than I could wait. So I settled for a few shots of stored MDW and IBT boxcars and headed back in.

This weekend I got up early on Saturday, with a full day of mowing, painting, and other assorted "honey-do's" arrayed ahead of me. But first, given the sunny sky, a quick trip trackside seemed the appropriate way to begin the weekend. I no sooner made it uptown than a loaded COLX train blasted through Wadena. I shot him as he passed the newly restored Wadena depot with some strange light from the rising sun.

Hoping this was an omen, I headed just west of town to the Bluffton curve. After a wait of maybe 20 minutes I heard the 174.1 detector, Main 2, crackle to life with a call of "total axle five six". Here comes the Builder. And, coincidentally, the clouds. You can always hope for a sucker hole. But there was to be no such luck this day.

A nice three unit consist, too.

That was enough to send me to the lawnmower to take out my frustration on some too-tall grass. And this was the story of my weekend-sun when I couldn't use it, and none when I could. I just haven't learned the knack of taking good photos when the sky is flat white.

But I got to spend time trackside both weekends, and see trains both sitting and moving. Some were common, some unusual for me. And even with all my frustration over photography opportunities, what it still boils down to is seeing the trains moving and doing their jobs. I get more joy from the action than I would from a month of perfect photo opportunities with a bunch of trains tied up along the main. That's just me.