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.


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