Saturday, July 26, 2008

A Couple of "Matched Sets"

Welcome back, and thanks for stopping. Clear blue skies this morning tempted me and I gave in, heading to Staples for a couple of hours of fanning.

The rear end of a stopped coal train about half way down the yard got my interest up immediately as I drove into town. I soon found out that he was waiting for an empty train coming off the Brainerd Sub. With one loco up front I figured the empty would have a DPU on the rear, and took a chance it would be facing east into the sun. Turns out I was wrong, but I shot him as he passed the power on the loads as they waited near the depot for a green signal and a warrant.

This was just the first of many GE's that would make themselves known this morning.

Since the yard was empty of power, with only a string of mixed cars sitting, I decided I would try and catch the loads as they left Staples. I still think there is a shot to be had at the bridge on the east side of town, but this isn't it.

Not that I'm going to quit trying.

Just as quickly as things had started for me this morning, they stopped. I could hear the dispatcher talking to the Empire Builder as he tried to make up time on the run to St. Cloud (must have missed him in Staples by only a few minutes!) but there was nothing else happening. Finally, I heard a train clear his warrant in Wadena and I set up at the depot to wait for him. Dispatch didn't give him another warrant as he said the "Rice guys" were out and he needed them to clear something first. When he passed the detector at 151.6 it announced this train had 282 axles, so I expected to see a Z train. Sure enough, it was.

Turns out the power on this train was three Dash 9's all in H2 paint. The leader has a little optional paint on the nose as well.

And then I sat and waited. And waited. And then I decided to head for home. It was just plain and simple very quiet.

Just as I reached Verndale, I heard another MAC clear a warrant in Wadena, and I hightailed it to the turkey farm crossing on the west edge of town. With a minute to spare, I was set up and ready to watch him head down the hill to the Wing River bridge, one of the heavy grades in Wadena County. I expect BNSF to set up a pusher station in Wadena any day, with the locos resting on the old GN line between assignments. (Jim said, with tongue firmly planted in cheek). You can get an idea of what Minnesota Mountain railroading is like in this shot.

With that task accomplished, I headed for Wadena again, and made it all the way to Oink Joint Road before a headlight spurred me to make a U-turn and rush back to the place I had just been. Here came the matched set of the day, four new GE's heading up the most haggard mix of grain hoppers this side of the wrecking yard.

Now I don't think I have made any secret of my preference for EMD power on the point of trains, but this was one of the prettiest sights I have seen all summer. The power, at least. The train would shame the cheapest railroad CEO in the land with its appearance.

Having bagged two eastbounds in a span of 10 minutes, I felt safe heading home. Once again, before I even made it to Oink Joint, here comes another headlight, right on the blocks of the GE. By this time I am wondering if my lawn will ever get mowed. I decided to try something I have been thinking about for quite a while-there was a center pivot right up against the tracks near the Wing River and I set up to shoot the train as it passed, hoping to get a rainbow in the shot as well. You can see by the result I still need to work on this concept as well.

All in all, a productive outing. For once, I didn't peer down the track looking for another train when I headed home, the grass needed cutting and I was the one who was going to do it. I was thankful for the chance to catch some trains and two of them had unusual matched sets of power. Remember, even a bad day of trainwatching beats a good day of almost anything else!

Jim, out.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Quick Range Roundup

Honey, I'm HOME!!! After having left Monday evening for the range (had business in Virginia this week) I made it home Thursday evening. I don't have the plethora of shots I would have liked to have captured but maybe one or two of these examples will be of interest.

Since I didn't have a good place to stay in Virginia I commuted to Grand Rapids two days, and on the return trip Tuesday I decided to pull in at the Kelly Lake sign since a track crosses 169 there and I know that I have heard it mentioned frequently on the Orerail list. As I drove in to the hamlet, I notice a blinking yellow signal on the south leg of the wye, and though it might indicate traffic. I didn't see or hear anything, though, and I found my way to the small yard. Their were a bunch of BNSF covered hoppers in the yard, along with this set of power waiting for someone to fire it up and head somewhere.

I need to learn more about BNSF operations on "da range" as there are tracks leading every which way and, of course, the out of service line from the Keewatin area to Grand Rapids, where empty well cars are being stored. This seems like a terrible shame, as there has obviously been a lot of money invested in this line, especially the trestles and bridges, and there is no traffic. From a railfan perspective, it is one of the most photogenic areas I frequent and it would be great to get some pictures of trains crossing the trestles alongside Highway 169.

Wednesday evening I decdied to lay over in Virginia proper and spent some time snooping around the former DMIR trackage in that area. I was thrilled to get a shot of a loaded Minorca train headed south at the intersection of CR 7 and CR 107, just north of Iron Junction. I guessed he would head toward Two Harbors and it proved to be a lucky guess. The first photo shows one of the rare maroon (I think only two are left) SD40-3's leading this train, along with an IC unit and a repainted tunnel motor.

And here he is, backlit, acting as a mobile mosquito repeller. This unit seems to have some exhaust issues.

As you can probably tell from that photo, clouds were rapidly closing in. As your intrepid correspondent, though, I knew that I had to keep looking 4 trains, and luckily I heard a loaded Minntac train call for permission to leave the plant. Dispatch told him he would have to wait for an empty that was passing Fayal, so I high-tailed it to Wolf and shot the empty behind three CN painted units, including a pair of tunnel motors, at that location.

I didn't know if there was an easy way to catch him again, and I floundered around on back roads in the Mt. Iron area until he reached the plant. By that time the clouds were really heavy and I packed it in.

As I left Virginia on Thursday, a northbound CN train looked like it was preparing to pull out of the Virginia yard, so I pulled over and shot him from the 169 overpass. The light was bad, but here is the result.

Hopes of catching any other action on the drive home Thursday proved to be futile until I reached the Staples Sub. As I passed through the namesake town I spotted a westbound drifting by the yard. I was able to overtake him fairly easily and managed to photograph the train twice between Staples and Wadena. Here is the shot at the Wadena crossovers, a very short (178 axle) merchandise train with lots of power and, guess what, a CN unit in the consist.

So let's take stock-a little over a train a day, got some cascade green in a new location, and every train but that one included a CN painted unit in the consist. The highlight of the trip was no doubt catching one of the few remaining maroon DMIR units leading a train. Next week I will be back in that area, and hopefully the weather and the trains will play well with each other and I will have some time to spectate.

Jim, out.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Saturday/Sunday Evening Special

Well, the better half and myself ventured out on both Saturday and Sunday evening for a quick investigation of area rail traffic. Results were slim both nights, with light traffic and clouds to battle on Saturday.

Saturday we made the run to Staples and caught a mixed freight train as he rolled into Staples. Mrs. L4T was quite upset with the BNSF that they are letting engines that look like this out on the rails. She had nothing good to say about the paint job on this "peachy" Dash 9. I tend to agree with her.

Their was another merchandise train right behind this one, with better looking power. We ran all the way back to Wadena to catch this one as he rounded the curve heading towards Bluffton. I continue to gravitate back to this location-it's one of my favorite spots and gives good angles morning and evening. This time, though, a cloud stuck its nose in at just the wrong time.

As we headed back into town, a glimpse to the west revealed a headlight charging up the hill. I came to a quick stop at the Otter Tail County Road 75 crossing, jumped out of the vehicle, and grabbed a quick photo of a pair of EMD's working hard to lift coal loads out of the Leaf River Plain. This train was mostly BNSF cars with a few leasers thrown in, and it did have another EMD pushing on the rear.

That was it for Saturday, but it would be a traffic jam compared to Sunday evening. I missed a COLX empty between New York Mills and Wadena, and he was making good time so I didn't try to chase him. The leader was and ACe, and just 6 months ago that would have set off my fanning instincts, but I guess that just shows how common this power is getting.

I staked out the Bluffton curve for about 20 minutes before I spotted a headlight westbound, and caught this lash up of wide-noses charging down the hill with a mixed freight train. He was really moving.

And that's all I have for now. My schedule this week calls for me to spend a few days on the range, so with any luck I will have some CN action to share by the weekend.

Jim, still looking.

Catching Up

While I'm sure no one has missed my lack of recent posting, I have been a bit negligent in adding any current information to this blog. Mainly, I haven't had time to spend trackside to generate anything interesting to post.

However, over the period of a few days, my travels and the time I have been able to get out have resulted in a few photos to share. Only a few of these were shot on dedicated railfan outings. Just as many were captured while out and about for other reasons. Sometimes, I think, these are the most enjoyable shots for the photographer. Not because of quality or anything unique, but because they seem like a bonus. When you head out on a mission to railfan, the expectation is that you will come home with train pictures, but when you are just looking for trains during your daily routine, anything you get is a pleasant surprise.

OK, enough with the philosophy lecture. Let's get to the trains.

The evening of July 7 called for an outing in our new Escape. Since we had been favoring Staples side of Wadena, Mrs. L4T and myself decided to head west for some sightseeing. Just before we reached New York Mills I overtook a merchandise train and jumped to the south side of the tracks for this shot:

The spartan cab look is less common all the time on the Staples Sub. There is also a story behind this photo, as this was taken about 20 seconds after the clutch linkage on our brand new 2008 Escape with 400 miles on it self-destructed. We made it home that night with no clutch, and I will never be able to look at this picture without that memory popping into my mind.

Luckily, I was able to get the clutch hooked back up well enough to return the unit to the dealer in Baxter for repairs the following evening. Mrs. L4T followed me in the other Escape and we headed back to Wadena together. The bright spot in the return trip was the opportunity to catch an ACe in good light west of Staples.

The vehicle was repaired on Friday, and we ran over to Baxter to pick it up. On the way home I heard the dispatcher talking to a westbound as they entered Staples and I was able to get a shot at the infamous Oink Joint Road crossing just outside Wadena. It was a real color show, with four units up front, all in different paint.

This photo was taken within about a half hour of a strong thunderstorm passing through the area,the remnants of the storm are barely visible in the sky to the east.

My lone dedicated outing in this group was on the morning of Saturday the 12th. I ran over to Staples for about an hour and a half first thing in the morning and managed to catch a few trains. There were a bunch of loaded coal trains stacked up in the yard, with another coming into town just after I arrived. Here's the power on one of the parked trains.

A brand new SD70ACe leads another coal train into the yard.

A "Z" train passed through on Main 1-I caught him from in front of the depot.

Then came coal loads powered by SD70MAC's in a 1x1 configuration. I still don't understand how BNSF decides to assign power to trains-sometimes there are four units up front on coal loads, sometimes 1 front and 1 back, and just about any combination in between is possible as well.

And isn't it the duty of all rail photographers to record the infrastructure of the railroads as well? A shot taken on the Staples depot platform:

Work found me in southwest Minnesota Thursday and Friday with no trains anywhere near, but on my way home I encountered a Rail Grinder waiting to head west in Staples.

That's it for now. I have a few shots from Saturday evening's jaunt I will post soon. Until then, I will be looking 4 trains.


Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Independence Day

I present you the completion of my backwards-blogged weekend with a short post describing my Independence Day observations. Since I had been warned earlier that BNSF was operating a reduced schedule for the holiday I was expecting less traffic than normal, but my experiences from one year earlier still had me holding out hope for some traffic on this beautiful summer dawn.

After leaving home, the wait was short before some traffic showed. I found an eastbound almost as soon as I arrived at the crossing in Wadena, and decided that since this is the only time of the year when the sun gets around far enough to shoot an eastbound through the legs of the Verndale station sign I might as well take advantage of it. Here is the result.

I continued on to Staples, and since the theme for the day started out as station signs, I decided to work in the Dower Lake sign in a shot as well. I'm not as happy with this one but I was in a hurry-this train didn't cut me any slack.

Trains were certainly scarce, and the Staples yard was vacant with the exception of a string of grain cars and what seem to the permanent residents of this yard, a Sno-dozer and a couple of "vintage" natural gas fuel tenders, which I think are reminders of a past energy crisis. I have been meaning to take these photos for over a year, and now I can finally sleep nights knowing I have recorded these images to disc before this equipment disappears.

Since I was on a mission to record vintage equipment, I decided to take a look at the caboose on the east side of town. It seems to be sporting a fresh coat of paint.

And with that, I returned home.

A trip out in the evening with Mrs. L4T led to one more intermodal train, this time a westbound I captured near Perham.

Happy 4th to the crews that had to work on the 4th, and I hope you made it home in time to shoot off some celebratory fireworks!


Monday, July 7, 2008

Say Hello to Jeff

Working backwards from my adventure of Sunday evening, I now present you my railroad related work from July 5th. Another beautiful central Minnesota morning lured me to Staples with the hope that the traffic slump of the 4th would be rectified.

I left home around 0645 and didn't get a shot until I arrived in Staples. A short GE powered merchandise train was entering the yard as I got to town, so I stopped and shot him passing under the signal bridge on the west end of the yard.

I wasn't too thrilled with the shot and I noticed this train was being led by an ES44AC, which seemed strange for a short merchandise. I noticed the trailing unit was a sister DC unit, which seemed even more unusual so I shot the two of them as they drifted into the yard to wait for a loaded coal train to enter the Brainerd Sub.

Since the coal train was laboring to get out of town, I decided I had plenty of time to run out to the east edge of town and shoot him. I got the lead unit on this 1x1 DPU as he approached the little bridge just east of Staples.

Looks like the makings of a GE Festival in Staples this AM. When I headed back into town to check what was in the yard, I had the chance to shoot the AC/DC train once more as he passed the depot, and here is the result.

I took advantage of a lull in the traffic to check out some trains that were sitting in the yard. A worm train behind GE power and a vehicle train and stack train, each behind SD40-2's waited for crews to continue east. I grabbed a couple of photos from various angles.

It's just hard for me to accept that the Dash 2's are getting so rare around here. It seems only yesterday that they were almost as common as the Dash 9's, and now I see more ACe's than I do 40's. Never thought I would see the day.

As I was running around town, I saw another vehicle pull into the Amtrak parking lot and just had the feeling it was another fan. I swung back through and sure enough he had a camera so I stopped. Turns out his name was Jeff, he was from the Rochester area, and had come up to Staples the night before on his way to a family gathering up north. He wanted to see the Staples Sub for himself and he got to see some action. I had heard KAW talking to a vehicle train inbound from Dilworth and they had some cars to set out in Staples. The train pulled up on Main Two, uncoupled about the front 25 cars, and ran east past the yard lead, then backed the entire cut into the yard. Had an interesting loco as the second unit in this double headed consist as well.

I couldn't quite place what was strange about it at first glance but I soon realized that even if it said SD40-2R on the frame, this was an SD45-2 body all the way. Something that is even scarcer than classic SD40-2's on the Staples.

While the power from the vehicle train was backing down Main Two again to couple up to what was left of their train, a "Zipper" came through town, having crossed over to Main One seconds earlier. I shot the two of them side-by-side, even though I was clouded out for a moment.

Jeff was hard at work recording the action as well. I told him when I heard the train on the radio it would probably have plenty of power, and thankfully the BNSF didn't choose to make an idiot of me this day.

I needed to leave about this time, and Jeff had duties to attend to as well. I wished him well and hope he enjoyed the time he spent on the Staples Sub on a pretty summer morning.

I anticipated this would be the end of my shots for the morning, but upon arriving at home the wife and I needed to run uptown to do some business. When we started for home my finely-honed railfan sense detected a train approaching from the west. Yes, I saw the headlight. We took a short detour so I could grab him as he passed through Wadena. Here was a formerly-rare ACe in charge of a DAPX train.

Plus, this coal train had in its consist the most photographed coal car in my collection, the infamous DAPX 550, with rotary couplers on each end.

I'm struggling with understanding what it means when I have started to memorize the car number on one of the thousands of coal cars that pass through Wadena on a regular basis. Oh well, one down, 4000 or so to go. What could be more fun?


Sunday, July 6, 2008

Stuck in Staples-or how a Horsehead led to my Demise

Hello again all. I have a collection of shots from the weekend that I will be sharing, but the first batch will be the most recent-a few shots from this very Sunday evening, along with a story of how I came to need a new pair of shoes.

It all started out innocently enough-as is the regular Sunday routine in our household, we headed out for a bite to eat before taking a ride to see if any trains were out and about. This particular Sunday evening was hot, and we were in our new ride, a 2008 Ford Escape, so the drive was as much a part of the entertainment as the meal or any trains we might come across.

After a Subway sandwich, we found a westbound Z train passing through Wadena. I briefly gave chase but it was clear I would have to travel all the way to Perham to catch him. Since we had a gas card to use up in Staples, I abandoned the chase and headed east. As we passed through Verndale I spotted another headlight and reversed course to get on the sunny side of this stack train:

7669 rang a bell for me, and when I got home and looked at my photos from July 4, sure enough this was the same unit as I caught entering Staples yard eastbound on Independence Day morning.

I soon heard the dispatcher chatting with an engine in Staples yard about permission to cross over, and SWA told the conductor they would need to wait until the westbound Z got through the yard. The second westbound Z train in about an hour! I "zipped" across the tracks at the detector and shot him across the pond at that crossing.

Gives you some idea of what the BNSF does with all those Dash 9's they have. Speaking of Dash 9's, the unit that had been waiting to cross over was another lone Dash 9, and it coupled up to a long string of grain cars, and must have headed west while I was later tied up.

Immediately after this shot, I headed east on 10 with the intention of waiting at the depot for a couple of more westbounds that were supposed to be on the way. I spotted a lone NS Dash 9 resting in the east end of the yard, though, and decided I needed a shot of this engine. It wasn't good enough to shoot from the highway, I wanted to cross the ditch. After testing the ditch bottom on one side, I decided it would easily support my prodigious weight. I was wrong. In one step I was in black, gumbo mud up to my knees. Each step I took I expected to find terra firma, and each time I failed. Luckily I managed to remain upright and not drop my camera, but I was goo up to the bottom of my shorts. Mrs. L4T was mortified and I could see she was calculating how to get me home without making a disaster of the interior of her new Escape. Luckily I didn't buy the roof rack or she would have lashed me to it. Anyway, since I was across the ditch, I decided to get the shot.

As I made my way down the right of way, trying to find a safe way to cross the ditch, I hoped that the weeds would knock the bigger chunks of mud off. I was a mess, and when I made it back to the Escape, I got out the blanket I always carry and covered the seat. Thank the Lord for rubber floor mats as well. We headed to the SuperAmerica, where I managed to clean up enough to head for home. I did my best to leave the restroom no worse than I found it but fear that I failed. Anyway, after transferring my blanket to the driver's seat, I took control again and headed for home.

And that would have been the end of the trains for the night, if not for a pipe train we overtook just as we arrived at Wadena. I begged for a chance to shoot him and Mrs. L4T was very obliging. We beat him to the crossing west of Bluffton where I shot this:

There were two CSX units on this train, so I stayed in the car and shot him out the window. I was done trusting these eastern railroad locomotives for the night.

And that's the story of why the next time you see me I will likely be wearing a new pair of shoes. Thanks for reading.


Saturday, July 5, 2008

A Chase on the Brainerd Sub

Greetings again from L4T headquarters here in Wadena. This past week found me scurrying about Northern Minnesota with barely a moment to stop and spend any time railfanning until Wednesday afternoon on my journey back to Wadena. I spent most of Tuesday up in the Bagley area with no opportunities to get trackside, then headed east for Grand Rapids to spend the night before continuing on to Virginia.

When I arrived in Virginia Wednesday morning I took a spin by the DWP yard to see if anything interesting was out and I came across a few of these "Mega Log Haulers". I grabbed a quick shot as this is something I have not seen before and who knows when I might see it again. As long as I was there I also photographed some of the conventional log cars that were in the train as well.

Upon completion of my meeting that day, we took lunch at the restaurant nest to the tracks in this area. I can't remember the name of it but it used to be called the Northern Lights. During lunch my companions took great delight in my phoaming as an empty Minorca limestone train passed behind a Maroon DMIR unit trailed by a noodle. I just didn't have time to get outside and limber up the camera but the image is seared in my mind!

I elected to swing by Iron Jct on my way back to Wadena, but no traffic was moving and I heard the dispatcher giving track and time to MOW people so I continued on toward home. About the time I reached Aitkin I heard a coal empty get a warrant to continue west all the way to Staples. He was about 20 miles behind me so I waited for him to show up between Aitkin and Deerwood. I shot him first at an S-curve, then in the cut as he approached Deerwood.

He was making about 48 mph as he called out signals approaching stations, and I thought I might be able to make it to the bridge in Brainerd in time for a shot. As I entered town, I saw the crossing gates begin to flash. Luckily I made all green lights, and pulled over on the street just east of the 210 bridge. A mad dash out onto the bridge got me there just as the SD70MAC rolled across the bridge. I fired off a magazine of shots and this is the one I liked the best:

Interesingly, there was no DPU on this train. I continued west and arrived at Motley just as he crossed the highway, and headed on home to Wadena without pestering this poor train anymore. There were no targets of opportunity in Staples and I made it home with no further stops.

Not a lot of action this week, but I did get a train in a couple of new (for me) locations, and that makes it a success!