Sunday, August 30, 2009

BNSF 9303 East-"You have a defect"

To continue from our last installment, Ian (Trainspotter USA) and I are now at the Highway 32 overpass near Hawley, with a loaded coal train headed toward Lake Park. Here's another shot from that location, just to set the stage.

We knew there was a westbound out there somewhere as well, from dispatcher chatter with a foreman who wanted track and time near Detroit Lakes. It sounded like he would have to wait about half an hour, so we had a decision to make. Given the overcast, the fact that we didn't know if there were any more eastbounders near, and wanting to have something to chase back east, we elected to turn around.

First stop was to be the S-curve at Lake Park. I was pretty confident that I would make it in time to catch this train come through, even though we waited a couple of minutes before giving chase. As we pulled up near the curves, though, there was no time to waste, as the train was working his way through. As a result, this is a less than perfectly composed grab shot:

Well, then, let's blast of for Frazee. I know we can beat him there. So off we went, arriving in good time with little traffic light delay in DL. We set up, with the skies clearing to the east but the sun still obscured. And waited. And waited. And waited some more. One time, when I wandered back to the Escape for a slurp of Diet Coke, I heard a reference to "", and waved Ian over. It turned out our target was stopped somewhere to the west with a hot bearing, and a lengthy discussion was taking place about what to do next.

After more back and forth, it was finally decided that the car would be safe to take to Perham and drop in a siding. Of course, the conductor still had to walk up to the head end and the train had to get started. The bright spot in all of this (literally) was that the delay had given the clouds time to break up. This train would finally be in the sun when he passed us. As the train passed the detector near MP 203, we picked up that the train had a defect on axle 285, right side, Main Track Two. The dispatcher confirmed that this was the same axle and they continued on.

Which didn't help me that much, as all the shots I have from that location are slightly out of focus. You'll have to wait for Ian to post some of his, along with the video. I have to say, this was a mighty freindly crew, and they gave us a short toot on the horn more than once when they passed us.

Ian shot some video at the curve west of Staples again, and the train began to slow as he approached town. We had no problem getting in position for some shots as he jockeyed around in town, blocking some crossings in the process, while setting out the BO car. Here he creeps past the Tuffy's dog food factory.

Since he had stopped in Perham, we had more photo ops as well. Ian chose more of a broadside as the train crossed the Otter Tail River, but I got him head on. Usually trains are moving fast here, but this one was slowing to a stop to pick up his conductor after clearing all the blocked crossings. I got a chance to tell the engineer "good luck on the rest of your trip" while he waited.

One last shot to share from my camera-this is shot near the Bluffton curve just west of Wadena. I think it's a unique perspective I've shared once before. I'm curious to see what Ian got here as well.

All in all, a great trip. The weather turned around for us, and we got a chance to closely study a coal train. The crew of the 9303 probably has us memorized, given the number of locations where we managed to shoot them. And thanks, Ian for the company.


Saturday, August 29, 2009

What Does SWA Stand For?

When you hear these letters, most of you probably think of an iconic, in-control-yet-laid-back, BNSF dispatcher. That's one of the things I think of, too. But in this case, the acronym has a different meaning.

Staples West Adventure.

On Saturday morning, August 29, two Staples Sub bloggers met up in the Subdivision's namesake town with the intent of heading west on a mission of discovery. I was joined by Ian Holmes, the infamous "Trainspotter USA", for a reprise of last year's outing. Ian came over to Staples from a weekend retreat near Deerwood. And even though he travelled about twice as far as I did this morning (heck, he runs further on some days than I drove to get to Staples), he still managed to beat me to the depot and was waiting when I pulled up about 7:20 AM. As luck would have it, an eastbound manifest had stopped to work the yard and he was taking in the action. The power for the train soon worked its way down the yard lead and backed up to the remaining train. While they pumped up the air, we walked east to get some shots in the morning sun. This is one of my first shots of the day, as a pair of Dash 9's (we saw only one GEVO all day, an AC leading coal empties) start their train east approaching the 6th Street crossing in Staples.

It was time to develop a strategy for the remainder of the trip. We soon settled on pushing west until we found a train, with an ultimate goal of making it to the Lake Park/Hawley area and working back east chasing a train. We were off.

Near the Oink Joint Road, just east of Wadena, we met a stack train. After a u-turn, we set up at the curve near Aldrich. Ian unlimbered his video camera and I grabbed a couple of still shots as the rounded the curve behind another pair of Dash 9's, this time led by an H1 but with the trailer in the warbonnet scheme. Per our plan, we let him go at this point and pushed on west.

We were between Perham and Frazee when we encountered an eastbound Z train. When we had passed through Perham, Ian had noticed the sweeping curve near the west exit to town and said it would make for a nice video location. So off we went, barely beating the train. I shot him twice, as he entered the curve, and then a dark side shot a bit later the better to document the two SD75's that were trailing the Dash 9 leading this train. It was nice to see EMD power on an intermodal train.

As you can see, we were beginning to fight the clouds that had unexpectedly built in by this time. Still, as adventurers, were persevered. Continuing west, we inspected the Frazee S-curve for photo opportunities, then passed through Detroit Lakes. As this was uncharted territory for Ian, I tried to point out spots I thought were likely photo locations. Ian has an eye for photography and pointed out places I had passed by dozens of times where good photos could be made.

After Audubon, we made it to Lake Park, and headed straight for the S-curve. Nothing was evident train-wise, so the next stop was Mt. Muller. A look at the ATCS told us there was an eastbound approaching Hawley. Ian had earlier heard a rail grinder was working in the Lincoln area, and we speculated that any eastbound at this time was likely a coal train bound for Superior. Coal loads would be working hard up the grade so we made a run to the Highway 32 overpass to shoot them from there. We made it with about 5 minutes to spare.

With that, we had accompished the first half of our mission, to reach the Lake Park/Hawley area. And, we had a train to chase back east. But this post is long enough for now. You'll have to wait for the story of the return trip. I've got a pair of ideas for what to call it-either "BNSF 9303 East" or "You Have a Defect". Check back tomorrow to find out.

Thanks for the good times and the companionship, Ian. I hope you enjoyed the day as much as me. I've said before that one of the things I most enjoy about this hobby is the contact with others who share your interest, and today just reinforced that.


Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Wadena Local Action

Tuesday evenings are famous throughout Wadena as the night of competing burger specials. Since we were three this week, with Granny L4T spending her last night for this visit, we decided to hit the Boondocks for the buck burger special, which now costs $1.25 (but I digress).

After finishing off our vittles, and being only a couple of blocks from the tracks, we swung by only to find headlights galore to the east. The local was working the Drywall Supply spur and a coal empty was headed back for another load. The local was hiding behind the equipment bungalow by the time I touched off this shot.

Since the local was at work, I headed down to watch him. He ran around his train on the spur, and backed out onto the main. Here comes the power, stepping lightly on 100 year old rail as it prepares to get on the "right" end of its train for the run back west.

Since the light was so nice, it seemed a waste to not run back uptown and get one more of the local as he departed for Dilworth. After a short wait, surprisingly, it was off to the west on Main 2. It's fairly unusual to see a train head west from Wadena wrong main, given the lack of CTC between Wadena and Richards Spur.

It was a nice little treat for the evening, and the crew was friendly. A family with three small kids came out to watch them switch, and the crew waved and tooted the horn for the excited young ones.

The burgers were good, too.


Monday, August 24, 2009

BNSF 4062 West

The clouds finally moved out Saturday afternoon. Granny L4T, who is visiting at our house this week, was given the choice between watching a Twins game in HD and accompanying Mrs. L4T and I out on a train hunting expedition. After a moment's thought, she chose the trains over the Twins. Smart lady.

ATCS said there was a westbound in Staples, and it passed Dower Lake as we left town. I stopped at the Verndale Sag, and after a few minutes wait and another look at the display, I developed the theory that the train was doing some switching. So, off we went to Staples.

This first shot is from the Dower Lake crossing, looking east as he pulls out of the yard and prepares to back up to couple onto the rear of his train.

Also in play was a second westbound, around Philbrook as we began to watch the switching operations where the 4062 was dropping a cut of grain cars in Staples. 4062 was working off Main 2 so I figured the second train would run by him on Main 1. Sure enough that is how it played out. Some more Dash 9's on a stacker:

At this time I was faced with chasing the stack train west, or waiting for the 4062 to head out. Since he had a matched set of H2's I decided on the 4062. The wait was no more than 10 minutes before he worked his way through the crossover and headed out of town. A third shot from the Dower Lake crossing:

Next stop: Verndale. I was losing sun pretty fast by this time, and the light stays pretty good on the east side of town. But as soon as I got to the tracks I noticed a westbound bearing down. What to do? I made a snap decision to stick it out, and shot the coal loads as they approached.

I wasn't sure if I would get another shot of the 4062, but managed to, by the skin of my teeth.

I figured I was done, but opportune green lights in Wadena left me not far behind the power on the manifest, so I headed for Bluffton. The sun angle offered a chance at a shot I haven't tried before. Not perfect, but something different.

Out of light and out of trains, we headed back to home base with good memories.


Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Range Report-Missing the Maroon

After work Monday evening, I managed to sneak in an hour or so of railfanning in the Virginia area. Whenever the opportunity presents itself, I head out to Iron Junction as that seems to be the most likely place to intercept a train without any inside info to direct you.

I hadn't even finished changing clthes when the strong west wind carried the sound of a locomotive horn across Silver Lake to my hotel. It was off to the races. I found the junction of CR 7 and CR 101 blocked by a southbound manifest. After it cleared, I raced to the Highway 37 overpass to shoot this train as he headed south. While there was a great sucker hole as I heard him approach, the sun snuggled in behind a cloud as soon as the train came into sight.

I haven't shot this location before, but I like it. It's a bit sidelit, but should get better later in the year. The old code line poles add to the shot.

This train was moving fairly slowly, and the sun was darting in and out, so the chase south began. This next shot is from Townline Road, south of Keenan Yard. The sun had peeked out again. Sidelit, but nice anyway. And, the second unit is a Draper! I like them, they remind me of the years I spent in Ranier watching the DWP and CN.

I left him off here, and headed back north. Wanting to catch something in good light, I investigated the line to Fayal, but found nothing. The RTC (Dispatcher in CN lingo, I guess) soon was talking to someone and 909 crept into the conversation. Knowing this was probably the BLE 909, I swung back to Iron Junction just in time to catch a northbound T-bird led by an ex-IC SD40-2. The 909 was trailing, so I don't know why I heard him mentioned on the radio.

By now the clouds were really starting to build in from the west, and I wanted something to eat. There was also work to do, so it was off to the hotel. It ended up being an entertaining little outing, but I think this is the first time I have been to Iron Junction and not seen a maroon unit. That seemed a little sad, and reminded me of the changes on other railroads. Another good reminder to shoot them while we can.


Monday, August 17, 2009

Lake Crystal

Last week found me down in the New Ulm area. Tuesday evening was hot but sunny so I decided to take a ride and see if I could find a train.

I headed over to Mankato in hopes of catching something DM&E had sent my way along the river bottom. There are some scenic locations on that line, but no luck this evening. In Mankato I found an IRSS switcher working, but he tied up just as I arrived and the light was against me getting any decent shots. So off I went, to check the southbound UP main.

As luck would have it a southbound manifest was waiting to leave, and within minutes I was chasing him out of town. I shot him in about 5 locations, as the 4 lane allowed me to keep pace with this rapidly moving train. I think the best shots were these, just west of Lake Crystal as he ran west-southwest in nice light.

There sure are a lot of tall structures down in that country. You would think they handled a lot of grain or something.

One thing I noticed was how ratty these early AC motors are starting to look up close. Rust gets all of us in the end, and locomotives are no exception.

I got one more shot as he passed the elevator in Madelia, but I wasn't real happy with it. Then it was off to New Ulm once again, for another evening in a hotel room. Kind of like tonight. I'm sitting in a hotel in Virginia, and if I find time, may post a couple of shots from former DMIR tracks that I got tonight. So at least you have something to wonder about, until I find time to post again.


Monday, August 10, 2009

Sunday Evening

Our traditional Sunday evening outing came with a twist this week. Mrs. L4T and I decided that a stop the Bullseye in Verndale was in order, and had supper there instead of Staples. Of course, the knowledge that no westbound trains showed up anywhere past Gregory played no part in this decision. I would never let something like "getting supper out of the way before the trains show up" enter into the logic about where to eat.

Anyway, while we enjoyed a pleasant meal, I got to watch an eastbound ballast train pass. That was the only traffic, and after supper it turned out a coal empty had the light to come off the Brainerd sub. Since the timing was so convenient, I decided a photo from the Dower Lake crossing was in order.

The next train was still on the other side of Lincoln, so we ventured down to Philbrook with the hope of catching him there and giving chase. We waited less than 10 minutes before this suspected Becker empty showed up.

As soon as the train passed we were off to the races. I was able to see his tail end pass the 6th Street crossing in Staples and so knew I would have no trouble beating him to the sag at Verndale. With a little time to set up, I climbed all the way up on the roof of the Escape to get this shot. I'm sure the train crew is still laughing, or wondering, about the crazy who was standing on the vehicle roof as the train passed.

Spotted a couple of more eastbounds, but no shots of them. It was a fine evening to spend some time looking for trains along the Staples Sub.


Friday, August 7, 2009

Catch and Release

Made the trek home from the Cities this afternoon under cloudy skies. Having been away from home (and Mrs. L4T) for four days, combined with the poor photo conditions, meant I wasn't about to stop and photograph any old Dash 9 that rolled down the pike.

I raced a stack train from the Lincoln Highway 10 overpass to Staples. The race turned out to be a draw, with both of us arriving in Staples at the same time. I caught up to the power just as he passed the Dower Lake station sign and noticed this train had a 6600 series ES44C4 leading. Well, no reason to not pull over and shoot one since it would hardly slow me down.

This first shot is of the lead unit as he traversed a bit of elevated trackage just east of Aldrich.

I like the C4's and was sure I had shot this one before. When I got home I looked, and sure enough, I got him on another weather-challenged day just this March, as he passed through Perham.

The weather was challenging in its own way today. This next shot gives an idea of the conditions as I neared Wadena. The tree behind the train is the signature "big tree" east of Verndale. It sticks out like a sore thumb, and I've always wished I could climb it and spend some time shooting trains as they pass by from an unusual angle.

I decided I was done with him for the day, and headed for home. The appearance of a headlight from the west caused one last quick stop as I shot an eastbound Dash 9 just before he met the A1A GE at the Wing River. I know it's no good, but I have started a new mission to collect images of as many of the Dash 9's leading as I can. Wish my hard drive luck as I gather them. I guess I was wrong, I will stop and shoot any old Dash 9 that crosses my path.

And that was that. The C4 fascination continues. Given the uniformity out on the rails these days (most of the time, anyway), out of the ordinary units really raise my interest and these locos are just the ticket. This one was paired up with a Dash 9, leading me to believe that BNSF has released them into the free-running loco pool. If true, they can show up anywhere and anytime. Another great reason to keep looking for trains.


Wednesday, August 5, 2009

High Bridge Update

I had a little free time this evening and so I made a mad dash over to the Boone area to check on the progress UP has made on the new Kate Shelley High Bridge. It looked to me like they are nearing completion. The track is in place on the bridge and the approaches have been laid on each side. I wasn't able to get a shot of the bridge from the west, just the approach area.

From the east, you can get into position for a long telephoto shot of the bridge deck, which of course results in poor quality. However, you can see that trains have been out on the deck dumping ballast.

Obviously, the existing bridge is on the left, or south. The new bridge is north of the existing alignment and it looks like trains will have to swing north to gain access to the new bridge.

Rumor has it that the existing bridge will be used for maintenance vehicles once the new bridge is in service. I suppose it is cheaper to use it than to attempt to dismantle it. You really have to see the area to appreciate how huge these bridges are. It is just jaw-dropping to think that the longest and highest double track railroad bridge in the country is in...Iowa? But supposedly, it is.

UP blessed me with a couple of trains while I was investigating the area. The best shot I got was of a westbound coal empty, just after he rounded the curve leaving the bridge behind. Looks like this one has had a wing clipped.

The only other decent shot I got was of a couple of GP's in the Boone yard as I left town. What the heck, they are yellow and that's a change.

Traffic was pretty good, as there were two other trains through the area while I was there. The Boone and Scenic Valley also has their headquarters in Boone, with some interesting vintage equipment. Quite a "railroady" area, with a couple of former CNW cabooses also on display in different parts of town. But, it could never replace the Staples Sub for me.

Maybe I will get a couple of more shots this week. Check back and see how my look for trains turns out.


Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Shows What I Know

After spending some time a couple of days ago putting together a post lamenting the lack of locomotive variety we now commonly see on the Staples Sub, it seems obvious in retrospect that fate would reach out and show me the error of my ways in drawing conclusions, and today that happened.

I spied the rear of a moving train as I approached Gregory. He was moving quite a bit slower than me, and I had no problem overtaking the power. What the heck-a rare GP40X (and it looked familiar to me), a pair of cascade green SD40-2's, and and H1 GP? Kind of blows my theory about old units on the main, I guess.

And not only that, but there was a westbound sitting on Main 1. Of course he was led by a GE wedgie, but that was the only new paint scheme to be found of a group of 8 engines, which between them sported 5 distinct paint schemes. The shot isn't much (actually, it kind of sucks) but you can't claim to get 5 different models of locos, from 2 different manufacturers, in 5 separate paint schemes in a single photo too often these days along the Staples. So I'm posting it.

I was so flummoxed by the first train I stopped again after I had passed him to grab another photo of the power just north of Royalton, with a touch better nose light and no billboards.

Well, that certainly had my attention. And since I seemed to have been issued a GP hunting license for the day, BNSF obliged me by setting up a couple of more targets of opportunity sitting on Main 2 at Becker, just after a stack train had run around them on Main 1. I figure this must be the returning St. Cloud local. Sure was a pretty GP leading with a shiny H3 paint job.

One more shot-a sneak peek at what I will try and fit in this week. Here's the DPU on a UP manifest I shot on my way to supper this evening. With any luck, I will get a chance to run out to the new Kate Shelley High Bridge tommorow after work.

A pretty good day of looking for trains while I drove 400 miles for work. I'm a lucky guy.


Sunday, August 2, 2009

A Look Back

One of the things I have learned as a railfan is to shoot what you see while you are trackside. You never know when it might disappear. The traffic downturn and resulting storage of older locomotives over the last several months serves as a potent reminder of this axiom.

I've been working to re-edit a number of photos in preparation for uploading them to my Flickr photostream. I got curious as to whether I had done any railfanning a year ago, so looked in the image folder for August 2, 2008. Sure enough, I had made a trip to Staples that day, and shot a photo that I highly doubt I will ever have a chance to repeat due to the consist of the manifest train.

What are the odds of seeing a mainline BNSF freight train powered by an SD40-2 in the H1 scheme, a rebuilt GP30, and a bluebonnet SD ever again? Such an occurence is unlikely at the very least. Yet at the time I shot this train, it never occured to me that the days of the SD40-2 on the mainline were limited. I knew that they were getting a bit long in the tooth, and new locos continued to be delivered that would someday replace them, but surely not so soon. Yet I was less than two months from seeing my last SD40-2 leading a mainline BNSF train, for some time at least, if not forever. I know they will never again be common out on the high iron.

The investigation of one year ago naturally evolved into what was going on two years ago. Surely I would see nothing from those shots that evoked a similar nostalgia? Well, I didn't have any shots from August 2, 2007, but I did from August 5, and so I took a look at them. This one is surely a scene that is very unlikely to ever be played out again along the Staples Sub. An Oakway SD60 and a bluebonnet Dash 2 teamed up with a GE pumpkin on this manifest as it crossed over from Main 2 to Main 1 in Wadena, headed west.

And stranger still, although I believe I have heard such a thing may still exist, an unpatched SD70MAC was in charge of an empty coal train as it passed through Verndale behind 4 units. I can still remember how I felt when I heard the dispatcher talking to "BN 9618" The consist included a pair of the cream and green MAC's, a leaser SD70 or 90, while the rarest unit given today's situation was the trailer, a "green giant" SD60M.

Sometimes it's good to look back. Not only do fond memories get reawakened, the lesson about enjoying what's out plying the rails today is reinforced. Just like fans of 25 years ago thought the SD40-2's and the C30-7's would never be displaced, we tend to expect that the Dash 9's, GEVO's, and ACe's that rule the road trains today will reign forever. They won't. And everyone who is out trackside, shooting another pumpkin as it treks across Minnesota, is recording something that someone, someday, will look back on fondly, with the comment, "Those were the days.".


Saturday, August 1, 2009

Birthday Outing

Seeing as how August 1st is the birthday of the patriarch of the L4T household, I pretty much got to decide what activities went on today. After a morning of cleaning up some photos from last summer and adding them to my Flickr photostream, I mowed the lawn and conferred with Mrs. L4T about where we should go tonight. She said it was totally up to me, and after a bit of though I decided we would head west. It's been a while since I got any shots in the Lake Park and Hawley area and I could see at least three westbounds should pass through in the late afternoon/early evening.

After a quick early supper at the KFC in DL it was off to Mt. Muller. I decide to shoot the first westbound here, and to try a wide angle shot. Turns out I went really wide, and I'm not overly thrilled with the results. I was trying to include as much of the train as possible but without some compression you can hardly see the back end anyway. Oh well, live and learn.

I figured the next train couldn't be too far behind. Turns out the wait was a little longer than I expected. I contemplated this shot from the Highway 32 bridge and the first wood bridge to the west. I have shot those locations a number of times, though, and I wanted to try something new for me. That led me to the second wood bridge west of 32. I shot a manifest right down the trench. Sadly, some high cirrus moved in for the period of time the train was within a reasonable distance, so the shot doesn't have any pop.

I suspected the third train was a coal empty that I had seen come off the Brainerd on ATCS earlier. I ran back to the Highway 32 bridge to shoot him. There are a lot of wires if you shoot from the bridge, so I made it a little ways down the embankment on the north side to avoid them. The result was a little different angle on this shot.

Now that one is likely a keeper. As you can see the clouds had quickly cleared out after the second train passed. The MAC isn't too rough looking and the rain we have had recently has kept things pretty green in that area. I was pretty pleased with this shot.

We decided to head for home, and sure enough, just as we passed the Burger King in DL another coal empty showed up. I just didn't have the gumption to give chase, even though the power was a nice pair of ACe's set up 1 x 1. He was rolling along pretty good and the stoplights were not doing me any favors. I figured I would not catch him until past Lake Park so let him go.

Mrs. L4T was great company as she always is on these railfan expeditions. I got a few looks at a gorgeous sunset in the rear view mirror as we made it to Wadena. All in all, a great outing. A little train traffic, some photo ops, pleasant company, and nice scenery. What more could you ask for on your birthday?