Sunday, March 29, 2009

C4's on the Move

Having read numerous railfan reports of BNSF's new A1A-A1A configured ES44C4 locomotives criss-crossing the area over the last few days, I've been anxiously awaiting my first sighting. Tonight, that dream was fulfilled when Mrs. L4T and myself headed for the Staples Dairy Queen for supper.

Just east of Verndale I spotted the rear end of what appeared to be a stopped intermodal train, and as the power came into view, I immediately noticed the consecutively-numbered units. I let out a yelp that no doubt made Mrs L4T suspect that I had, finally, made it all the way around the bend, and made a u-turn at the next opportunity. When I reached the crossing where they were waiting, I jumped out and started snapping photos.

The conductor was on the ground, perhaps checking fuel levels, as I shot this my first photos. I decided to head around to the dark side to get a detail shot of the truck, including the unit designation for posterity:

I headed east for a DQ treat, but didn't make it to Staples before meeting a westbound, so once again it was off to the races. I caught this train at the same crossing, while the new locos were still paused.

While waiting for this train to clear the crossing, the eastbound started pulling, and so I decided to try and catch him in a spot where I could get all three units. Since he was heading away from the sun, it is a going away shot.

I don't know why they were stopped, but I suspect there was a train in front of them that was slowing them down. I heard the dispatcher talking to an eastbound CSX about going into emergency, and the C4's crossed from Main 2 to Main 1 in Staples, I suspect to run around that train.

So, my first C4's are in the bag. They don't LOOK a lot different from all the other GEVO's running around, but we all know that they ARE different. I posted to the OMR list from the DQ in Staples that they were through Staples at 1800, one of the few times I have ever posted from my BlackBerry.

Thanks to all the fans who have been keeping the railfan community aware of the movements of this new power. Your efforts are appreciated.

Jim, out

The End of the Line

No, not the end of the line for the L4T dynasty, not yet anyway. I'm talking about the rail line that heads south from Crookston, down through the rich farm country of the Red River Valley. This once-proud GN line from Barnesville to Crookston now struggles for life, its north end nothing more than a spur serving the first town south of Crookston.

Beltrami fancies itself quite the metropolis, advertising the "Beltrami Mall" downtown. Passing through town, though, makes it clear that the grain elevator vies for the title of Beltrami's Industrial powerhouse. And even at that, I have never seen more than a forlorn gathering of hoppers on the stub that ends just south of town.

You can imagine my surprise, when passing through yesterday, of spotting Minnesota Northern's SW-8 909 sunning itself just south of the elevator crossing. This called for a u-turn in downtown Beltrami (greatly amusing Mrs. L4T and the heir to the throne, who were both along on this jaunt), and a couple of quick roster shots, even though the sun was in not-quite-optimal position.

A sighting like this is always a welcome surprise. Having decided to take the scenic route back to Wadena, I was greatly rewarded with this opportunity and my gratitude made the cruise south through the "black desert" go by more quickly.

The frequent small trestles across drainage ditches on the abandoned section of the line made it easy to imagine light steam engines dancing across the prairie, stopping at the small towns for water, as they gathered wooden boxcars from the numerous elevators that dot the landscape. It's enough to make one pine for the olden days.

Jim, out

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Buffalo Ridge

A long, long, time ago (sorry, Don McLean)...I saw a photo that has stuck in my mind ever since.

Where was I? Oh yes, Buffalo Ridge. Anyway, Mike Vandenberg posted a photo a year and half ago that captured my imagination and was one of those special photos that makes you want to go and see that place! This picture proved to be the inspiration that led me to take a right on Highway 23 leaving US 14 this afternoon, rather than follow 14 east in the hopes of catching something on the DME. Seeing a southbound (is that really westbound per timetable?) train on BNSF's Marshall Sub just as I approached 23 didn't hurt, either. Even though it was a disgustingly overcast, gray day, I just had to chase this train to the place where the windmills sprout. And I am glad I did, not so much for the photos (the light absolutely sucked), but for the chance to see some stunning scenery when compared to much of Minnesota.

This manifest train stopped for a meet with a northbound local at Ruthton, and the wait was short. I could see why all the windmills were here as my door was nearly snapped off when I opened it to get a shot of the local. After the manifest started rolling, I decided to head south to see what kind of scenery was waiting.

Turns out there is some wonderful rolling country between Ruthton and Holland, MN. I got a couple of shots that I managed to squeeze something out of. I was shooting at ISO 400 and don't have anything but Picasa to edit them with on this computer, but I wanted to share them to give you an idea of what you're missing if you don't check this area out.

The windmills are awesome, and provide a unique backdrop for the trains passing through the area. The hills are also neat:

There are also some wide open profiles just begging to be photographed when the sun comes out.

So, this post has multiple purposes: first, to thank Mike for raising my interest in the area, second, to encourage the rest of you to check it out when you get time, and last but not least, to let me share with all my 7 faithful readers my excitement in seeing a train pass through this unique geographic area of Minnesota. The photos I have posted in no way do justice to the scenery in the area.

I also found it interesting that the engines on this manifest were ES44AC's-some of BNSF's newest AC traction motor coal haulers, units that I very seldom see on anything other than unit coal trains on the Staples Sub.

I can't wait to get back to the area when the sun is out and I have a few free hours to wait trackside for a train. Hopefully I can come up with some shots that are somewhat comparable to the stunning work Mike V. has done in this area. Thanks again Mike, for pointing me in the right direction!

Jim, out.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Friday the 13th Part II-Delay of the Empire Builder

Yesterday I talked about looking forward to midnight and the end of Friday the 13th for a change in my luck. And while my luck seems to have taken a turn for the better, there is a group of Amtrak passengers and employees who no doubt have yet to see a change.

I learned this morning that today's #8, the eastbound Builder, was looking at a significant delay. With sunny skies, I had already floated the idea of a railfan outing with Mrs. L4T, having proposed a trip to Detroit Lakes to catch BNSF traffic as it passed through and with luck hook up with a CP eastbound and chase him through hill and dale south of DL. The reaction was positive and such an outing was pencilled in on the L4T activity calendar. The news about the late Amtrak called for a slight change in plans. Given what we knew, it looked like we would be able to catch him in nice light at the Lake Park S-curve, so off we went.

Traffic was light on the trip over, with the scanner quiet and only one train spotted, an eastbound near Audubon that I chose to pass up so I wouldn't miss the Builder. BNSF 7545 got a warrant at Hawley and I suspected it might be the Builder, but alas, it was not to be. Instead this turned out to be a huge manifest train (530 axles) with 5 mismatched units up front. The leader was an ES44DC, followed by an SD75M warbonnet, some kind of cascade green GP, a 6000 series ES44AC, and a blue leaser geep. I was ready and waiting for him at Lake Park.

And I never even noticed this oversize or heavy load right behind the power until I got home and took a look at the photos.

At this point everything was quiet on the western front. A decision was made to head for Hawley, for some reason, and just as we arrived there I heard a westbound clear up a warrant from Wadena to Richards Spur. I headed to the curve coming into town, where I shot this warbonnet in so-so light.

With a hope of finding a better angle given the position of the sun, I investigated the other side of the tracks. It affords a magnificent view of the elevator, and should permit working a train into the shot as well. BNSF delivered with a second westbound, this one a coal empty with a GE leading. I'm predominately a tele shooter but I broke out the kit lens at 28mm for this shot.

I've no idea what train this was or where it was coming from. These cars are unfamiliar to me, and there were a bunch of old steel BN and Santa Fe hoppers mixed into the train as well. This hopper car was built 01/08, so someone somewhere is still buying steel bottom dumps.

Just before 2:00 I heard something that sounded like Amtrak clearing a warrant. I figured they would be along shortly and headed back to Lake Park with the hope of good light. And good light it was, at that time. I spotted another photographer on the bridge in Lake Park, and stopped to consult. Turns out it was a couple who were supposed to be on the train but had given up due to the lateness, which would have caused missed connections. They decided instead to take advantage of the rare daylight passage through the area. They had news relating to the cause of the delay, involving stopping to set off drunks, hitting a car west of Minot, and waiting for a St. Cloud to crew to be cabbed to Hillsboro after another crew died on hours. Indeed, it was a Friday the 13th sequel. After learning the train had yet to leave Fargo, they opted to head to Manitoba Junction for photo ops.

A radio conversation between SWA and the crew of the Amtrak confirmed that they were indeed being led by a pumpkin C44, due to a grade crossing accident west of Minot. Shortly after that I heard the train signal its approach at the crossings west of Lake Park. I shot him as he approached:

A couple of times in the curves,

and once more after a mad dash to Frazee which luckily involved hitting a grand total of ZERO red lights in Detroit Lakes. See, I told you my luck would change.

Then we chased him all the way to Wadena, starting about a mile behind him leaving Frazee and just catching the power as we arrived at Wadena, thanks to a slow order near New York Mills. Even with a pumpkin up front he was stepping along nicely.

After that, back home and taking a look at the photos. Hope you enjoy them, and take the chances you are given to look for trains.


Friday, March 13, 2009

Friday the 13th....

Yes, I admit it. I am just a bit of a believer in the old legend that bad luck awaits on Fridays the 13th. After my experience today it might be proof of a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Today's schedule called for a trip to Lake Park for meetings during the day. I was lucky to have company for the drive over and back, someone to share my extensive knowledge (kidding!) of the Staples Sub with. Thanks for being a good listener as I expounded on the intricacies of railroading in west central Minnesota.

The day's first train was an eastbound coal load headed up by a GE. We were just west of Perham when I spotted the oncoming headlight and made for the nearest crossing so I could get on the sunny side of this train. My travelling companion got a good laugh as I tried to clamber to the top of a handy snowbank while the train approached. His only comment upon my return was that he was looking for a tarp to cover me up as it would have been impossible to pull me out if I hadn't freed myself.

You can see the entire train stretched out in that photo. Now if only that darned power line didn't clog up an entire stretch of the West Staples Sub.

As we passed through DL I heard BNSF 9330 getting a warrant from Richards Spur to Wadena at Hawley. Given the hard work coal trains do coming up out the valley, I thought there was a chance I would beat him to the Lake Park curve. As we came into town I headed straight there, and as I rounded my curve here came the train around the first of his. I grabbed a few shots as he approached, and I like this one the best.

I know the engines are backlit, but I like how I can see much of the train. I also liked how the timing was almost perfect. Very un-Friday the 13th like, but I would pay later, both literally and figuratively.

We finished with our business, which included me having the chance to share a few of my shots on Flickr (thanks to a kick-fanny unsecured wireless connection at the Lake Park Library) with the guys I was working with. I think they get a kick out of my fascination with trains. Time to head for home.

As we approached DL from the west, I heard the dispatcher rattling off warrants to eastbounds one after another. I figured I might have a chance at a fleet as they flew through the Frazee curves, with the sun in just about the right place. A quick stop in DL allowed the first train to pass us, and the second, the Wadena local, snuck by as well. I heard something with 40 axles pass the detector at MP 203 and made an educated guess to my passenger that we would be passing a short train, two engines and eight cars, somewhere between Frazee and Perham. Turns out the GP's on the local must have been loading very well today as we didn't catch him until we were east of Perham. By that time the sun was too far to the west to get a well lit shot.

After discharging my passenger, I overtook the local between New York Mills and Wadena, with the aim of catching him at the crossing where the 4 lane ends just west of Wadena. I made it but just got a grab shot of the lead engine. Nothing at all special.

But I knew there was still an eastbound out there. I had heard him get a warrant, and this was my chance to try a new thing. I had spotted a fresh angle near the above crossing a few days earlier, and wanted to try it out. When I headed up the gravel road and turned around, I spotted a westbound approaching fast, and grabbed a shot from my new vantage point. I'm not totally happy with this due to the trees in the foreground, but if I can get the sun and train in the proper place at the same time, I might be able to put something together here.

The eastbound was having FRED issues, and trying to ring up Fort Worth mechanical, which I chalked up to Friday the 13th. I decided to pull over and wait a few minutes for him, since he was less than 10 miles distant (I heard him pass the detector at 174.1). The county snowplow operator had done a bang-up job of winging back the plow bank, as I found when I pulled over to the edge of the road and promptly entered the ditch! A little rocking only served to get me more stuck, and I got out to examine my predicament. Oh, I was stuck all right. I called Mrs. L4T to bring a shovel from L4T world headquarters. After refelcting on my situation for a few more minutes, I decided a shovel was a futile effort and I also called a wrecker. Mrs. L4T beat the wrecker by less than 5 minutes, and I was still playing in the snow when my ticket out arrived. He hooked me up and had me back on the road in minutes. I only missed TWO trains due to the mishap, which momentarily stifled my desire to shoot photos.

However, as I got un-stuck, I heard the crew of the local tell the dispatcher they had tied down their power, locked the derail, and that their ride was there. Hmmmm, wonder where their power is? After paying the wrecker bill, I swung by Drywall Supply and sure enough, they had "yarded" their train and the GP's were purring south of the main.

With that, I headed for home. I don't know if I can blame my mishaps on Friday the 13th or not, but I like to think I can. At least that way I can pretend they will be behind me at midnight tonite. And even when there are roadblocks, remember, keep looking for trains.

Jim, out