Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Western Adventure

On Sunday, August 24, having missed out on a run to Staples for the weekend, and inspired by a post to the OMR list, I got the bug to head over to the western end of the Staples Sub for some photo ops. The sun was out and it was a beautiful day, so Mrs. L4T who is always up for a drive, said "why not?".

So it came to pass that around 3 PM we loaded up and headed west with a destination of somewhere around Lake Park sometime today. The sun was still pretty high in the sky and quite a ways south so I decided I would stake out the Frazee area for a little while as the s-curve gives you decent afternoon light for eastbounds. We waited for a train with no luck, and after about 45 minutes I decided to head to Detroit Lakes to get gas, since I had heard it was the cheapest location in the state at the time.

While we were gassing up at Holiday, an eastbound coal train cruised through DL with a 1x1 DPU consist. I knew I could beat him back to Frazee so we headed back to the s-curve. As I turned off Highway 10 I spotted an empty headed my way as well, and really moving. I wasn't able to get ahead of him for a shot. I did set up for the loads and got BNSF 9999 leading the train. The engineer gave a friendly toot on the horn as he passed.

I knew the DPU was pointed to the rear and quickly ran down to where the track curves toward the east so I could shoot him going away. The sun angle wasn't the greatest, but this was the first time I have seen an ES44DC used in coal service, especially as a DPU. They aren't unknown on grain trains, leading or DPU, but the coal trains are pretty much all GE AC units or some type of EMD. Obviously there is no rule that can't be broken. After all, BNSF has ACe's leading manifest trains as well.

Having captured that train, hunger pangs were starting so Mrs. L4T and I stopped at the Burger Time in DL and grabbed supper, eating as we continued west. I heard the dispatcher give a warrant to an eastbound and tell him there were two Z's headed west so I knew there would be some traffic into the sun this evening.

I set up first at the old wooden bridge just west of the Highway 32 overpass near Hawley. I'm new to this area so was just experimenting. Shortly after I arrived I saw a headlight to the west. Turned out to be another coal load, and he was working hard dragging the coal up the hill. This train had two units up front and one at the rear.

Quite a change from the trains that fly through Wadena at track speed. Here you could really feel the power that is needed to lift heavy trains up the grade.

Mrs. L4T encouraged me to work the curve under the Hwy 32 bridge into a photo. Soon the first Z train of the evening showed up.

With that I was off to Mt Muller, my destination for the evening. I knew another Z was on the way, and I heard him hit the detector at MP221. I had no idea how close I was cutting this, though, until I parked and started climbing the hill with a pop in one hand and lawn chair in the other. I heard a curious roar and suspected a train. Dropping my cargo, I sprint-waddled up the hill as I unlimbered the camera, only to be greeted with this:

I felt like the Navy SEAL who has to take a shot after a 3 mile dead run. I literally had less than 5 seconds to zoom, compose, and release the shutter. I was pretty happy with how it came out.

After taking a minute to gather myself and find my cargo, I took a seat at the top of the world and waited. The scanner was in the car, with the antenna, and soon my cell phone rang. Mrs. L4T reported that "someone was talking on the radio about Wadena and Richards Spur and stuff". When I asked if they mentioned Main 1 or 2 she responded that if I wanted that much detail maybe I should come down and listen myself. She did offer that she had hear Glyndon mentioned as well so I surmised an eastbound was getting a warrant. Sure enough, about 20 minutes later I heard a horn drifting across the landscape from the west. I got a shot of the power as it rounded the curve heading toward Lake Park. You need to click on this one to see the power.

As I watched the train recede into the distance, another headlite popped up right beside it. Another westbound! This one was a merchandise train with two Dash 9's up front, the lead one in H1 paint.

It was getting time to head for home, so we packed up and pointed the Escape east. I spotted a CP northbound as we entered DL and got permission for one more chase. After an interminable wait at the Hwy 10/Hwy 59 light, I scooted north and caught up to the slow moving freight just a few miles north of town. I tried to catch him at the slough where MN Chris once took a great reflection shot (can't find a link to it now), but the light was poor, so I settled for this instead. The CP train had a single GE for power.

All in all, a fun and rewarding afternoon and evening with a cooperative partner. The weather and scenery could not have been better. Thanks for listening to this long-winded story, and be sure to keep looking for trains.

Jim, out.

Slim Pickings in Southern MN

Duty called-and again, I answered. The week started out with some work at home on Monday, but I had to be deep in southwest Minnesota at 0830 on Tuesday AM so I left home after supper with the intent to go as far as possible that night and "tie up" for the evening.

My journey southward was train free until I reached Benson just after 8 PM. As I crossed the tracks a glance to the east revealed the smoke column of an accelerating train but no headlight-must be an eastbound. Since I have zero shots from this area a quick chase allowed me to overtake the local and grab what was supposed to be a glint shot in failing light. This train was led by a pair of EMD lease GP's with consecutive numbers.

I overnighted at Montevideo and when I left in the morning, just before 0700, road construction routed me along Hwy 212 for a short way. No trains, but I did notice that there is a small intermodal facility there-must be on the TCW. I didn't know about this before. No pictures, but I would dearly love to chase a train along the river someday. Another item for my bucket list.

My assigned tasks for the day completed, I headed for Windom, where I planned to spend the night. I travelled along Hwy 14, roughly paralleling the DME. I had seen a train pass by earlier in the day eastbound while I was working but figured it had a couple hour head start and was long gone. Imagine my surprise at finding it tied down on my arrival in Tracy. I initially hoped it was waiting for a meet but no luck as it was unoccupied. I grabbed a head on shot at the crossing east of town.

Just a few miles down the road, near the sight of the still under-construction Highwater Ethanol plant, I spotted a BNSF shuttle train being loaded at the Lamberton elevator. A pair of trackmobiles were handling the cars, one shuttling loads out to the edge of town while the other spotted empties under the loading chute. Here is the "shuttle" unit:

It was handling about 15 what I assume were loads as they were travelling away from the elevator, and working very hard doing it. Speed was not impressive to say the least.

The power for the shuttle was resting on the east edge of town, and I grabbed a couple of photos of the three unit set.

Obviously I was getting desperate for something to shoot, as this photo demonstrates.

On arrival at Windom I spent a little time trackside in hopes Uncle Pete would run something into the sun for me, but no dice. So I have exhausted my complete ration of Monday and Tuesday shots for your entertainment. Wish I had more to offer, but this is it.

Jim, out.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Discovering Northtown Yard

Wednesday, August 20 found me overnighting in the Metro and with time to kill in the evening I decided to do some urban exploration and try and figure out where the heck all the trains on the east end of the Staples Sub are travelling to and from. A look at a road map of the Cities and some common sense told me that I should head down along the east side of the river. A railroad yard has to be tough to miss, right?

Well, as it turned out, you shouldn't miss it, but you might have a bit harder time finding a way to photograph it. I found an overpass that carries the road across multiple yard tracks, and decided to head out on foot and try some photography.

I parked in a parking lot on the east side of the bridge and headed out on the bike path on the south side of the bridge. Sure enough, what looked like a local was resting in the yard waiting to go somewhere. My first photo attempt was of the power on the local, with the Minneapolis skyline in the background. As you can see it was a bit of a hazy, overcast day, but the big buildings seemed an attractive target to me.

A shot of the entire train from the sunny side had a "Malt One" elevator in the background.

There was a railroad overpass to the north of the bridge I was on that paralleled my route, and soon a CP train passed over it westbound. I thought of giving chase but quickly remembered the traffic I had battled through on the freeways to get here, and not knowing where I was going, decided against it. Instead, I drove around to the south for a bit, finding another overpass (visible in the shot just above) and walking out on it after parking on a side street. To my southeast, there was a big accumulation of containers, and three CP units shuffling back and forth for an unknown reason. I shot them off the bridge, with wires in the way.

With no other traffic evident, I decided to head north, and found ANOTHER overpass, and this time I knew I was at Northtown yard with hump and locomotive shops abuzz with activity. After parking in the General Mills (I think) lot on the east side of the bridge, I walked out on the pedestrian walkway and shot some photos. One of them again used the Minneapolis skyline as a backdrop, with a GP/slug combo front and center.

The tracks on the north side of the overpass held some old power along with a long string of boxcars. I used my olympian gymnastic skills to contort this old body into a position where I could get this shot of some old SD and SW units.

While these photos are far from a great representation of the goings-on at Northtown, it was fun to get to see the facility from the road, and to observe the many small details that make it a working yard. There was a string of cars being pushed over the hump, but not uncoupled, while I was watching. I don't know what the purpose of that was, but it made me wonder.

I'm sure there are better vantage points to view the yard from. If anyone has any suggestions about how best to fan the actions, email me or leave a note in the comments. Thanks for looking.

Jim, out.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Coal Cars-Part 4 The "Oddballs"

It's been way too long, but I haven't forgotten that I promised a part 4 to the Coal Car series, where I would show some of what I call the "oddballs", or cars that don't seem to fit anywhere else.

Most of these cars will run in a number of trains from what I have seen. They are most common in the BNSF Becker trains and the Midwest Energy trains bound for Superior, but I also see them in Wisconsin bound trains as well. I don't have a lot of details about them, except that they exist and you will see them if you are out fanning the area.

One of the more interesting cars I see is this style of bathtub gon. There are some DEEX and BN cars in this style as well, but I seem to see them more with odd reporting marks like this GEMX unit.

I don't know the purpose for the angled tub area-it can't be for clearance as the common cars don't have it. It is very noticeable in a train though.

This NCUX car sports another unusual tub area. These unusual tubs seem to have been overcome in the market by the convetional straight tub, but there are still a number of this style car in service.

Next up is a "conventional" hopper cars I shot passing through Staples one day. These are not something I normally see but they qualify as strange coal carriers so I thought it belonged in this post. Also in this train were similar cars with the reporting marks GCCX and GIEX. The occasional presence of cars of this type in merchandise trains tells me that someone, somewhere, is still receiving coal by the carload. Any hints where these cars are headed?

I think this might have been a flood reroute train, but these cars showed up for a few weeks earlier this summer. Anyone have a destination for this train?

Something that has become almost common the last couple of months are these DLRX cars sprinkled in among the regular cars. I can't recall seeing them before this spring and now they are almost a daily occurence.

And the most common "oddball" cars, if that makes any sense at all, are the FURX and CRIX cars, which seem to be remarked from something else in most cases. There must be money to be made in shuffling cars, as the reporting marks are often fresh when nothing else is.

I can't believe I almost forgot another very common reporting mark, CEFX, as shown here.

These last three are very common in the area. FURX, CRIX, and CEFX are all leasing companies that own rail equipment among other assets.

That's it for now.
Jim, out.

Hazy Staples Morning (and one Afternoon shot)

Work took me south on Wednesday morning, offering the chance to pass through Staples just after sunrise. With a high humidity haze in the air, I was wondering if there would be any photo opportunities as I passed through town.

Sure enough, I spotted a couple of headlights as I passed the Dower Lake station sign. There were a number of coal trains parked in the yard, and a couple of them had units pointed west, away from the sun. Turned out they were EMD DPU's, waiting on the rear of loads for the word to head east. The high humidity created hazy conditions so I jumped out and crossed the ditch for a backlit shot.

With all the trains in the yard, I figured there might be some power up front and swung around to the south side of the tracks to take a look. There sure was power lined up! I shot four side by side loaded coal trains, all with EMD AC units on the point. I was wishing that I had a little more time to wait for better light, but duty called.

Nothing else gave me a chance at a photo on the way down. I was in the Metro overnight, and spent some time snooping around Northtown yard, as detailed in another post. On the return trip the following day, action was fast and furious after I got past St. Cloud, but I needed to get home and only had a chance to photograph a single train, which I chose because of an unusual motive power set. This merchandise train was behind and SD70ACe, SD70MAC, and an NS GE. The EMD AC units are almost always on coal in this area, so I thought I should record this unusual instance.

The train is shown here rounding the curve just east of the Highway 10 overpass at Lincoln. The WFAX coal loads are waiting for a parade of at least three westbounds before they can continue their eastward journey on this single-track portion of the Staples Sub.

That's all for now. Till next time-

Jim, out.

Ian in Staples

As you probably already know from Ian's post, he and I met up for the first time in Staples on Sunday August 17. I am always excited by the prospect of meeting a fellow railfan in person, and this was no different. Mrs. L4T finds it humorous that I get worked up about the chance to get together with other railfans, but as always concerning this hobby, she is unfailingly gracious about it.

Having decided to get together abour 0700 at the Staples depot, I left Wadena with a few minutes to spare, and soon met a westbound grain train behind four GE's. Hoping this was a good omen, I continued on to Staples and found another grain train with similar power passing through the yard just as I got into town. I stopped for a quick backlit shot.

I beat Ian to the depot by a few minutes, but as he has already described, he brought a train with him from the east. Before we could even get acquainted we were both shooting photos of the westbound coal empty he had chased from Baxter as it passed by an eastbound Z train very near the depot. Here's my take on this meet-the unit on the right is the DPU for the coal empty, as you can tell from the FRED strapped onto the coupler.

The next train we caught was a Becker empty headed back to the mines for a reload. I took advantage of this train to satisfy one of my personal quirks-when I have the chance, I try and get a shot of other people fanning. Here's Ian just after he shot the power on this westbound train.

That proved to be the last action of the day for me, as trains were a little scarce this Sunday morning. As I'm prone to do when train action is sporadic, I pointed my camera toward other "targets of opportunity" during the slack time. The pigeons that are slowly making the Staples depot one of the top coops in the state proved to be just such a target this day.

Staples pigeons always look healthy-they must prosper on a diet of spilled grain around the yard and main. Photos don't do the colorful plumage on the birds justice. They still are a poor stand-in for trains, though.

As I needed to get back to Wadena, I bid Ian farewell and told him I expected traffic to pick up once I left, but I guess I was wrong. Anyway, even with fewer trains than we would have liked, it was still an enjoyable time and I hope to have a chance to get together again soon.

Thanks for getting together, Ian.

Jim, out.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

2 Hours Along the Staples Sub

I made the customary Saturday morning trek to Staples today and was greatly rewarded for the effort. BNSF showed no signs of any slowdown this morning as train action through Staples was fast and furious. With a bunch of photos to share, let's get right to the action.

The scanner and signals were eerily quiet as I left Wadena a little before 0700, with no sign of train action in any direction. I had heard an eastbound pass through town before I left, but figured I had no chance of catching it. So you can imagine my surprise when, just after leaving Aldrich, I spotted the tail end of what looked like a Z train. At the speed I was closing the train had to be stopped and sure enough I passed him before Dower Lake and pulled into the nearest crossing for a shot. Before I got in position the crossing signals started to sing their train song for another Z train, this one a westbound. I shot him backlit and waited for him to pass so I could get the stopped train.

Just a note-this picture was stamped 0712 AM in the camera. My first shot of the day. Here is the tail end of the meet with the stopped train. The employee getting on had just given the westbound a good roll-by.

The stopped Z was anxious to get underway, and the dispatcher told them they would have to wait for one more westbound. Might as well get a shot of that train as it comes through town, even though it will be backlit. Turned out to be a worm train. Here he is passing another string of BNSF grain cars in the Staples yard.

OK, now it's time to cut the Z loose. He gets crossed over to Main 2 for the run to Philbrook. I know I've spent way too much time shooting trains coming through the curves at the depot, what can I try that is new? I decided to head east of town and see what he looked like across the little lake between the Brainerd and Staples Subdivisions. There wasn't much wind, so I kind of like how it turned out.

By this time I can hear the dispatcher has that inflection in her voice that says "What the heck am I going to do with all these trains?". Not so nice for her, but I don't mind. And here comes a coal load, BNSF cars staying on the Staples Sub. Probably a Becker train.

I had heard him clear a warrant at Wadena, along with another MAC. One of them has to be for Superior, no? Why, yes. Here comes a DEEX train with a pair of Grinsteins on the point, and he just gets a warrant on the Brainerd as he rolls by the depot. I shot him out east of town.

Time stamp on that one was 0816, traffic is pretty good this morning! 8 minutes later another eastbound rolls through town. Here is a study of conventional horse versus iron horse. The gates were going down as the buggy crossed the tracks.

Here is another one, this time featuring the iron horse instead.

By this time I am almost frazzled from trying to keep track of the action. Next train up was another westbound grain train, this time with a single unit leading. Since I suspected a DPU, I waited for the shot and found that there were a pair of Dash 9's pushing. I needed to get home anyway, so why not chase him and get another different shot? Off I went to Wadena, and grabbed him going away as he rounded the curve near Bluffton.

Figuring I was done for the morning, I started for my truck, when I heard the contrasting noise of two different horns. I waited a couple of minutes and sure enough, I could hear something approaching from the west. I got my final shot of the morning at 0911.

Stats for the morning: 1 hour 59 minutes between first shot and last shot, 8 trains photographed, 1 very delicious breakfast sausage in a bun and 1 20 ounce Diet Coke from the Staples Express consumed. A great start to a fine weekend!

Jim, out.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Southern Minnesota Swing

Many of the pictures I would like to share with you this time are in my mind. I just completed a swing through the southern part of the state that had me hanging around in TCW land for a couple of days, took me through the heart of DM&E country, across the Uncle Pete (twice), and provided an evening along Lake Pepin. Great trainwatching opportunties. However, did I mention that any train I saw was preceded by a cloud that seemed to travel along with it, that I had a bad back, and that road construction season is in full swing here in Minnesota. Oh by the way, my back was acting up as well. And the *$%&# clouds just wouldn't leave me alone whenever a train was anywhere nearby.

Even with all of this to deal with, your intrepid correspondent still managed to grab a few photos that, given the lack of competition this week, have been judged worthy of the electrons spent to post them. Interestingly, all of the shots from this week, spanning four railroads, two great river valleys, and two states, were shot within a span of about 5 hours. I sucked it up and gave it the old college try on Wednesday evening, plotting a course that would take me through New Ulm, Mankato, Faribault, Lake City, Wabasha, Bay City, WI, and Red Wing, to maximize opportunties. I spotted 6 trains on the move, a few engines at rest, and one bald eagle. Now that I have spent sufficient time whining, on to the photos.

The Hanska Farmers Elevator in New Ulm provided my first opportunity, with ex SOO GP9's 123 and 124 at rest as I passed by. I swung in a grabbed some "unique" angles with the hope that the overcast skies would be less obvious. The first one was meant to show off the consecutive numbers on these units.

A second shot shows off the roof mounted air tanks with the Eagle Roller Mill Company power plant in the background.

Someone needs to make a model of this building. It seems like the ideal prototype for a layout set anytime from the 1920's on. Just a neat looking building with a sign that shows the owners were proud to claim it.

Next up was a quick stop in Mankato. I need some help identifying this contraption which was sitting where I have previously photographed a Pro Rail switcher. Any ideas what this is called?

I apoligize for the poor angle, my spine was protesting any further movement to try and take a better photo, especially in the poor light present.

Next up in this march of mediocre photos is a shot of the CP along the Mississippi River south of Lake City. While a lot of the line was a bit tough to see, in this location it opened up nicely for a shot from the Highway. I was in no condition to go bushwacking, so I set up here for a few minutes and was rewarded with a CP stack train southbound behind a SOO SD60.

There are some GREAT photo opportunties in this area, and I plan on returning when I can. Both sides of the river have nice locations, and they are a huge change from the prairie around Wadena. The next shot I have to offer up is from Bay City, WI, marking the second week in a row that I have shot train pix out of state. Wow, a world traveller.

It wouldn't have made the grade except for being out of state, but I said earlier the pickings were pretty thin this week. At the time that train showed up I had been hoping for a southbound coming round this bend. An ACe roaring out of the gloom would have been cool.

And that's all I have to offer for this week. My next stop was at the Kwik-Trip in Red Wing, where I enjoyed a Polish off the roller grill for supper and headed for my motel. I have to say, that store has a fighting chance to make my future Top 6 list of Minnesota Convenience Stores. But that is for another day.

Jim, out.