Thursday, July 9, 2009

4449 on the March

As all of you are likely aware, today was a very special day on the Staples Subdivision of the BNSF. Today, the SP 4449, a vintage steam locomotive, travelled the length of the sub on its journey from Portland, Oregon to Owosso, Michigan.

Your humble correspondent has been a fan of railroads for almost my entire life, yet I had never had the opportunity to watch a mainline steam locomotive under power. I looked forward to this day for a long time, and begged and cajoled the people I work with to make it possible for me to be able to observe this trip. Thanks to all who accommodated me.

I went to bed last night with hopes for clear or at least partly cloudy skies in the morning. As soon as I woke up, a little before 6:00, a quick glance outside revealed that those wishes were not fulfilled. A low layer of thick clouds blanketed the area. Even so, the trip was on come rain or shine. I was out of the house before 0700 and off in search of Daylight.

I headed straight for Lake Park, encountering a few sprinkles on the way. As I approached Detroit Lakes, the skies lightened and some blue patches even showed up. I expected to encounter a crowd at the S curves but there was no one there when I arrived. Checking the twitter feed for the 4449, I found that they had indeed left Fargo "on the advertised". The feed also said they left in heavy rain, and the skies were beginning to darken in the west. These factors helped me decide to head back east in hopes of encountering the engine in fairer weather. My fear was that I would only get one chance at them due to speed, and I wanted to make it good.

I set up at the crossing west of Richards Spur, where the rails are well below Highway 10 and there is a curve a few hundred yards down the line that the train would round as they arrived. There was actually some sunshine when I arrived, but that didn't last long. The wait seemed to be forever-a lady showed up asking about the train, and just as we began to talk, the skies opened and a fairly hard rain began. I ran to retrieve my video camera (Canon S2, actually) and get everything in where it was dry.

In a few minutes more people arrived, with the news that the train had stopped just to the west. I knew there is a detector around MP 221 and the speculation was that they had been stopped due to a defect.

Soon enough, we saw the smoke and steam of the approaching engine, and I ran to the north side of the tracks to get ready. I shot video and a few still photos, including the one at the top of the post, as the train rounded the corner. My first exposure to live steam was certainly impressive.

As he passed I joined the flood of foamers chasing the train east. Detroit Lakes hasn't seen an invasion like that since the last WE fest. I was hoping for a stop in DL, but no luck. Having made it through town without too many delays, I went into chase mode myself as the speed limit changed back to 65 east of town. I spotted the train as he traversed the ridge on the west edge of Frazee. Knowing that he was in reach, I decided to shoot him again at a crossing between Frazee and Perham.

Next up seemed to be a pan attempt. As every crossing was occupied by a photographer or three, I just pulled off to the side of the road and shot this:

Far from perfect it is, but it has one thing going for it-it's my shot of a steam loco operating on the Staples Sub in 2009.

This angle of the engine slashing across farm country was my next attempt, as he crossed the old Highway 10 over pass between Perham and New York Mills. I probably don't need to confess my amateurish attempt at cleaning up the grey skies, but in the interest of full disclosure I admit having done it.

Mrs. L4T had an interest in seeing this train as well, so we had arranged for me to pick her up in Wadena for the run to Staples. I gained a bit of headway on the train approaching Wadena, and we had time to grab a shot as it passed a large group of fans at the Wadena depot.

And then it was off to Staples for a few shots at the service stop. I got an audio recording of SP 4449 clearing up his warrant from Richards Spur to Wadena as we drove. I'll have to post that sometime. My focus was on catching the scene, not just the engine, in Staples. Some samples:

The lone BNSF Police Officer had quiet a time keeping the fans off the tracks in the area, and I was disappointed with how a few people behaved as a stack train pulled up on Main 2. One thing I learned today was that the appearance of a steam locomotive makes most people get real excited, and a few people absolutely lose their heads.

Too soon it was time for the 4449 to leave. I got a couple of shots as the train pulled out of the station, along with a video clip (I've put a bunch of stills and a couple of video clips together and posted it on youtube). Good bye to the 4449 in Staples:

It was a great day. I was flabbergasted by the number of people out watching for the engine. There is a huge interest in an event like this, many times greater than I anticipated. I look forward to seeing it pass through the area on the return trip, and hope I can be trackside for it. If not, I know there will be a lot of fans out shooting and I can enjoy the photos.

THANKS to the Friends of the 4449, the train crew, the people who organized this trip, the BNSF, Amtrak, and anyone who had a hand in making this possible. It was GREATLY appreciated!!!

Hope you enjoy the photos and descriptions. Remember, always keep looking for trains.


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