Saturday, September 26, 2009

A Train a Day...

That's what I have from the last part of the week. No big railfan trips or ventures to exotic locales, just run of the mill pounding the pavement on Highway 10 and the resulting photos.

On Thursday, the short run to New York Mills and home a few hours later gave me the opportunity to grab a photo of coal loads as they headed east through Bluffton. A real tough sun angle didn't give me the chance for anything conventional, so I conjured up this broadside of a pair of Grinstein MACs as they approach their crossing of the Leaf River.

Momma always told me that if you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all. So, at least these motors are in matching paint...

The former GN line between Sauk Center and Wadena would have been fertile ground for my travels on Friday, when I headed to Eagle Bend. But with that line long gone, the chance of any rail action was non-existent. Or so I thought, as I headed uptown for a quick stop before going south. Another eastbound, this one a stacker, blew through town as I approached the crossing. A reconfigured plan had me chase him east to the Todd County Hwy 9 crossing, where I shot the photo below. Immediately after releasing the shutter on this mixed up pair of GE's, I was off for Eagle Bend, taking the "scenic route".

The sun has moved south to the point that shots in the Staples area are almost directly nose-lit in the morning, as the shot of the intermodal (above) shows.

And finally, on Saturday, Mrs. L4T and I were in Park Rapids for a family function. Again, the abandonement of the GN line through the area made the chance of seeing a train nil. But once again, as we arrived in Wadena, the BNSF delivered. As I sat at a red light at the junction of Highways 10 and 71, the crossing gates began to sing their sweet song. Quick thinking and optimism motivated me to make a quick right turn in hopes the train was headed west and into the sun. Luck was with me, and I passed the power on this coal empty as it went through Bluffton. A quick set up at Otter Tail CR 143 yielded this shot.

As many times as I have staked out a train here, I still like this spot. The sun just works here, and the curve adds some interest as you get a glimpse of the dark side of the train. There is not much traffic and a safe place to pull over and get the shot.

Thus ends this train a day post. Let not clouds, or work, or prior commitments, keep you from your appointed rounds of trainwatching. Remember the old saying: a train a day keeps keeps the railfan happy! Or, a train in the viewfinder is worth two on the ATCS display.


Tuesday, September 22, 2009

More Southern Minnesota Miscellanea

Given the luck I had had on the first day of this Southern Minnesota journey, I had high hopes for finding some action on the UP while I spent some time in the far southwest corner of the state. After work on Wednesday, I went for a little drive to the east along the UP main to see if I could find a train to chase.

Action was slow, and I made it to Butterfield without seeing any action. As I crossed the overpass there, I caught sight of set of UP power sitting on the spur that heads south out of town. I swung around to get a shot of this three unit set of AC motors.

These units were all dead, and I guessed they must be waiting for a crew to head somewhere to move a shuttle train. The landscape is dotted with huge grain elevators in this part of the state.

Continuing on east, I took the exit for St. James to see if I could catch a switcher at the elevator. I managed to see one a few years ago, and it would have been nice to get a better shot of it. Man, it's been almost 5 years since I shot that, seems like it was only a few months. Time flies.

Anyway, I wasn't able to locate the engine, but there was a set of UP GP's sitting near the depot, so I grabbed a shot of them.

That was all I was able to locate on Wednesday. Not a moving train to be seen. I did take a detour to the Odin cemetary on the way back to Windom, and visited my grandparent's graves.

The next morning I was off to Westbrook bright and early. Westbrook is in Murray County, one of the very few Minnesota counties that has no railroad service. That didn't stop me from pulling over for a photo on my way up there, though. The sun was starting to burn off the fog already.

Yes, I know. I do have a great job.

I headed for home right after lunch. My chosen route took me through Willmar. After a visit there a couple of weeks ago, I figured it was worth an extra half hour to swing by the yard. I found a string of GP units, with a lone SD40-2 mixed in, waiting in the yard. There were a couple of other trains near the depot but no real shots to be had.

Just as I was pulling out, the crossing gates announced the arrival of another train, this one from the west. The light didn't allow much of a shot, but the presence of a KCS unit and what I suspect is one of the final units ever painted in the warbonnet scheme motivated me to take this photo.

And that's the story of my most recent trip south. I managed to see a few trains, and some nice scenery as well. Hope you enjoy the story.


Monday, September 21, 2009

Tuesday Twosome (from Last Week)

Last week's travels took me to various locations in the southwest part of the state. Destinations included Fairfax, Round Lake, and Westbrook, which meant my path would pass through CP, TCW, UP, and BNSF territory. One of the challenges of this trip, however, is that most of these lines are predominantly east-west, while my travel is mostly north-south, which means catching trains on some of these lines is mostly a matter of chance.

I headed out of Wadena early Tuesday morning, and the first tracks encountered are the CP Paynesville Sub at the intersection of Highway 4 and Highway 55. I get the chance to follow the right of way for a couple of miles into Paynesville before heading south on Highway 4, so I always check for a train here. Tuesday morning was a foggy one, and sure enough, the fog had delayed me just enough to catch a westbound right where I met up with Highway 55. I scampered down into the wet grass to grab a couple of shots as the train approached.

The foggy mornings turned out to be a theme for the week, with the fog burning off to reveal clear skies every day.

I made it to Fairfax about 15 minutes before a TC&W GP20C headed into town from the east on the Minnesota Prairie Line. He had a long string of grain hoppers, I assume for the elevator in town. This backlit shot shows the train against a backdrop of the grain elevator.

I had never seen a TC&W loco in this paint scheme before, so I grabbed a broadside of it as it stopped to work a cut of the grain cars it brought into town. It's a nice looking unit, but not as attractive as the maroon units I have usually seen on this line.

That was it for Tuesday (I have to work too, after all). I was planning on staying in Windom that night, and had hopes of catching some UP action while I was in that area. You will see the results of that effort in a later post.


Saturday, September 19, 2009

Saturday CP Surprise

Picture this. Mrs. L4T is lounging in her chair, while I contemplate the opportunities presented by the BNSF on this day. I decide to check the ATCS display, in hopes of coming up with a plan for the afternoon and evening. In a matter of moments, a plan is born, and instantly goes from being nothing more than a wisp in my mind to a fully formed trip.

With that, we were off to new grounds. What sparked it all was a CP train showing up westbound out of Shoreham Yard on the ATCS. My brain calculated the distances involved, relative speeds, and spit out a conclusion, saying, "If you get your butt in gear, and traffic cooperates, you should just about see him clear the overpass at Paynesville as you pull onto Highway 55".

When inspiration of this level strikes, there is no time to waste. In less than 5 minutes, we had wiped the sleep from our eyes, found shoes, pop, magazines, and books to entertain us just in case this exquisitely formed plan didn't materialize, and we were off.

It didn't quite work out the way I had envisioned it in that moment of clarity.

Two hours later, we were sitting at a grade crossing west of Paynesville, waiting for the westbound that (we hoped) had been delayed in his transit of the CP. Mrs. L4T was deep in a Women's Day or Readers Digest, and I was studying my own text, when my head snapped up at the sound of a diesel horn. But wait, the horn was to the west, not the east. What is going on? Surely, no good can come from this. Yet, the intrepid railfan that I am, I broke out the trusty Pentax and struck out for a vantage point that would allow me a shot of whatever was coming that at least partially mitigated the backlit conditions we would suffer shooting an eastbound train.

As I drew a bead on the approaching train, you could have knocked me over with the veritable feather. My railfan network had completely neglected notifying me that some type of passenger special was traversing the CP Paynesville sub this gorgeous September afternoon.

The plan we had worked out every detail on-from where to eat, to what route to take back to Wadena, to when we would likely arrive home-went out the window with the sight of this train. In its place, a new plan emerged-chase this train. I know, it's not too detailed, and lacks the specifics of the old plan, but one sometimes must respond to changing conditions. This was one of those times. And we were off.

We shot him between Paynesville and Eden Valley, across a field.

We shot him at the overpass between Watkins and Kimball, coming at us, and...

Going away, with what I am guessing is about 150 years of railroad experience riding the observation platform. We shot him at other locations I will be uploading to my flickr page as well.

And then we let him go. At this time we were without a plan, drifting about central Minnesota, trying to decide the best way to proceed. I had a hunch there was still a westbound about, but the Staples Sub was calling as well. Without a firm idea of what was moving, (and my darn radio still doesn't work), I wrestled to come up with an idea. Finally, after a cold Diet Coke, I decided to work my way east a few more miles, and if we didn't encounter another train, we would cut north at Annandale and parallel the Staples Sub back home.

Only about a mile outside of Kimball, we both spotted what looked to a headlight, high up on a hill. Further investigation revealed the westbound I had been looking for, just starting out of a siding. Again, a new plan fell into place-this one involving another chase, in the opposite direction. I set out for the first location i would shoot, just west of Kimball:

As this train was only making about 40 mph, I had no difficulty leapfrogging him after each shot. I shot him in a number of locations along the highway, then entered farm country as he made the trek from Eden Valley to Paynesville.

There is some gorgeous scenery in this area, including a bridge that I didn't find until the power was over it. That would have been the shot of the day.

I was sitting in the Escape as I took this picture, out the passenger rear window. This bridge (this is not the same bridge I referred to earlier, that one is a railroad bridge across a stream) was very reminiscent of the wooden bridges east of Hawley. All in all a great stretch of railroad for photography. Bryant and Jer have a real jewel in this area.

I overtook the train again as we left Paynesville, and was able to shoot him as he rounded the curve near the intersection of Highways 4 and 55, here:

The chase continued all the way to Belgrade, where building clouds and hunger rumbles led us to break north for Sauk Center.

All in all, it was a very entertaining trip. The highlight seemed, at first glance, to be the unexpected passenger special, and it was fun to see, but beginning to learn this section of railroad and some of the photo locations it offers will provide the long term enjoyment. I can see more trips to "CP Country" in our future.


Friday, September 18, 2009

A Run to Staples

A glance at the weather, a quick discussion with Mrs. L4T, and a couple of trains on the way west were all the inspiration I needed to scamper over towards Staples after supper tonight.

I guessed that there might be a westbound switching when we left, and sure enough he was pulling a long cut of cars out of the yard shortly after we arrived. The locomotive stopped just short of the Dower Lake crossing and I shot the unusual consist-and SD75M in nice warbonnet paint leading a CP AC unit, with a Dash 9 pumpkin rounding out the power.

After a wait of a couple of minutes, the second westbound showed up on Main 1. I was a little concerned about getting blocked out, and I have shot the Dower Lake crossing quite a few times anyway, so we decided to head west for this train. I picked the last crossing before Aldrich as the tree line is well back from the tracks and the sun was getting very low in the sky.

Nice looking GEVO on the point of this mixed intermodal. Mostly stacks with a few trailers thrown in. The dispatcher treated him like a Z train, and he had the power as well, but the Z's I usually see have more trailers and less stacks. So I don't really know what this was.

I debated waiting for the manifest, but the sun was going away fast. We headed for Wadena, but met a loaded 1x1 coal train just west of Verndale. My attempt at getting a shot involving the setting sun and this train didn't pan out.

Another coal load and a Superior empty passed through Wadena before we made it back. So it was a busy evening on the Staples Sub.

I've got some photos to share from this week that I will try and get posted over the weekend. Just to keep your interest up, one is pretty unique for me.


Sunday, September 13, 2009

In the Middle of Minnesota

IF you have ever spent any amount of time cruising the highways and byways of west-central Minnesota, and you have a penchant for AM radio, you have probably heard the jingle for John Wiese Ford, "In the middle of Minnesota". Lord knows I have heard it many, many times.

That jingle played in my mind as I tried to think of a theme for this set of photos. Last week, I spent a couple of days in Bird Island and surrounding communities. Bird Island is strategically situated on the main line of the Twin Cities and Western Railroad. This former Milwaukee Road line slices through some of Minnesota's richest agricultural country. In addition to the staple corn and soybean fields, you will see edible beans, sugar beets, and sweet corn in abundance in this area.

On Thursday, luckily for me, the TCW decided to run a westbound through Bird Island just about the time I was set to leave for home. I got my first shot just as he tied onto 25 coal loads that had been stage at Bird Island and coupled them to the head of his train. As you can see in the photos, this was during the high sun part of the day.

I believe this coal is destined for the beet plant in Renville. Although not nearly the same scale as the Red River Valley beet industry, sugar beets are an important crop in this area as well.

One difference between the TCW and the Staples Sub is train speed. There is no problem chasing a train once you find it on this line. I was able to get in position for a number of shots as he worked his way west.

Here he is, approaching the Highway 71 crossing in Olivia. The train had stopped to allow a MOW crew to clear up before he passed through this area.

This final shot was from Highway 212 as the train approached the beet plant. Finding him traversing a bean field gives you at least a partial view of the entire locomotive.

I considered continuing west to Granite Falls, but instead headed back to Highway 71 and home.

Having never visited the yard in Willmar, I decided to drive through town to see what surprises it held. I saw one train-a coal empty waiting near the depot.

I also found the engine servicing area, and a set of CSX power that was being hostled just as I pulled up.

With one more railroad to cross on my journey home, I considered the odds of catching a CP train in Belgrade. I always check when I cross the overpass, but there is a detour in place now and traffic is rerouted west of town. Surprisingly, an eastbound was approaching as I crossed, so I grabbed a backlit shot, mainly to document the third leg of today's Central Minnesota trifecta.

Turned out this was an interesting trip home. It was nice to get the chance to see some railroad action on a trip through farm country. I was lucky to catch trains on all three of these lines, I doubt I will see that again for quite a while.


Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Fish in a Barrel

On Monday afternoon, I made a quick post as I headed out the door, and stuck in a screenshot from the Staples Sub ATCS display. A strange confluence of trains, weather, and time was coming together in rare fashion. On a day off, with nothing pressing to attend to, a fleet of 5 westbound trains was approaching Wadena just as the sun was beginning to work its way down into the western horizon. Suddenly, there WAS something pressing to attend to.

My first order of business was to get the Mrs. engaged. Since this involved a ride, and likely eating out, that was easy. Camera? Check. Phone? Check. Radio? No, that's still broken. Oh well, we can go without that. Our first stop was to fill with gas, then we headed east.

I pulled over at the Verndale sag, and I could see a headlight in the far eastern distance. This was working out just like they draw it up in the railfan playbook! My first shot was of an intermodal train as he came through the sag.

It was time to develop a strategy. With so many trains on the move, how best to handle them? I decided to head east a bit more, and see what the second train was. While I waited a bit longer at the crossing east of Verndale, it was still less than 10 minutes before the second train showed up. This one was COLX empties behind a GEVO and a pair of MAC's.

I decided to chase him west. By the time we reached Wadena, I was halfway to the front end. After we got out on Highway 10, I was able to overtake and grab a shot near the big woods east of Perham.

As long as we were headed west, I decided to shoot him once more before letting him go and poaching the next three westbounds. When Ian and I had been over west the weekend before, we thought the curves just west of Frazee looked pretty attractive, so I headed there. Even though I had been sailing along on the highway, I still had to run to get this, my last shot of the 5630 for the day.

It was about 5:00 by this time, and we decided to refuel our bodies for the chases to come. A quick stop at McDonalds in Detroit Lakes and we were again westbound. Right on cue, the third westbound of the afternoon came through Richards Spur and around the corner, where I was waiting to catch him passing a bit of sumac just beginning to signal fall is arriving.

So far, this journey had been going like clockwork. My idea was to continue working west, as the few clouds that had been dancing with the sun had by now disappeared. So it was off to the Highway 32 overpass, where I shot this same train, albeit with disappointing results. The sun was just too head on. Well, the cure for that is simple-move to the first wooden bridge to the west. I knew that all the trains were well past Wadena at this point, and ATCS revealed that an eastbound should soon show itself. I took up a position where I could handle whatever the BNSF would throw at me. You have to defend the high ground.

Before long, I spotted a headlight well to the west. Its slow rate of advance told me it was likely a coal train, working hard upgrade. Only a couple of minutes later, I spotted some motion to the east as well. I wasn't concerned as the sun was on my side-I knew I wouldn't get blocked out on the westbound. So, I just relaxed and enjoyed the show as the coal loads thundered under me.

The meet took place just as the coal train ducked under the Highway 32 overpass. I ran up along the tracks a ways to shoot the vehicle train in nice light.

I asked Mrs. L4T where she thought the nicest spot in the area was. She told me that the bridge south of town was attractive, and with one more westbound due I decided to run down there for a shot. The light was great as we pulled up, and the farmer's dog that chased us down was really friendly. Some days things just seem to go right.

I waited out on the bridge for about 15 minutes, then heard the train blowing for the crossings to the east. With some time to contemplate the shot, I almost went for something different but after seeing this one I am real happy with what I did.

I got real lucky with the light reflecting off the nose logos, and what are the odds the MAC in this consist would be repainted into the new scheme? I think I should have bought a lottery ticket yesterday too.

Stats for the day: First shot at 4:23 PM, last shot at 6:38 PM. Shot 6 trains, in a total of 8 locations, an average of a about a shot every 15 minutes. Saw one train that I did not shoot, an eastbound in DL. All in all, a great afternoon and evening. Got to eat my quarter pounder in peace, even with this level of action. I have to say that ATCS really worked like it is designed yesterday. It was great knowing that the trains were lined up out there.

I suspect it will be a while before I have another railfanning experience as lucky as yesterday, but I will always have the memories of "shooting fish in a barrel".


Tuesday, September 8, 2009

AC 6 Pack

Not too much to show today. The Mrs. and I went for a ride Sunday evening. I knew about two westbounds, and decided to head west and wait for them. First stop was CR 143 west of Bluffton, where after a fairly short wait, we got a glimpse of a headlight. Turned out to be an empty MERC train behind 5 AC units.

No doubt that was enough power for the train, but for good measure the power desk also had a DPU tacked on. A MAC filled out the six pack.

As the train passed, I grappled with the classic railfan conundrum-stay and shoot the next train, or chase this one? The unknown won out, and I decided to head a bit east to catch the second train in a different spot. Again, a wait of about 10 minutes produced results. A rail train, behind a sole Dash 9 in tatty warbonnet paint, meandered around the corner at Bluffton and approached the crossing. I grabbed a few shots as he approached.

As this train passed, I noticed his rail load was not CWR, but instead bolted stick rail. I got this shot that shows the bolted rail on the train. I have never noticed this before myself, but then I don't always look closely.

I actually had time to make it to Perham, go through the DQ drive-in, and get back trackside just as he approached. The shots were nothing special though.

ATCS showed a third train approaching, and we were in a race to get into position. I had decided to try and shoot him at the CR 75 crossing just outside Wadena, and everything was working just as planned until I reached the crossing to see the gates coming down and the train approaching. So, I missed that one by a few moments. I asked Mrs. L4T if it was worth chasing and she said it wasn't, "the engines looked the same as all the other ones". With that ruling, we headed home after another evening along the rails of the Staples Sub.


Monday, September 7, 2009

Steam in Rollag

Saturday I made the trek to Rollag with a friend for the Western Minnesota Steam Threshers Reunion. What an experience this turned out to be.

As you can see, this group is a firm believer in steam and had this 0-6-0 steamed up and hauling people all day. The cars that trail the 353 carry up to 500 people, and they were full much of the day. The engine puts on a great show.

WMSTR calls their railroad the "Railroad to Nowhere", as it has no connections to the outside world. There is a fair amount of rolling stock and MOW equipment on the site. I'm not sure how long the loop around the pond is, but it has to be over a mile. There are two stops for the train, and it serves a valuable purpose in helping people get from one part of the grounds to another.

The two shots above are taken near the east stop. The first one is a late afternoon shot as he is pulling away from a stop, and the second one is morning shot as the train approaches its stop.

And, it's not just a steam locomotive. There are a whole lot of steam tractors, along with some magnificent stationary steam engines. The vertical engine from the old Pabst brewery is three stories tall, and operates almost continually during the show. It's amazing to see, smell, feel, and hear these things in operation. Actually, by the end of the day, you can nearly taste them, too. The meatballs and ice cream and sweets kind of overpower the taste of the steamers, though.

The tractor above was one of my favorites, probably because of the similarity to a locomotive. The are all great, though, and when they have one hooked to the dyno to test horsepower you get not only a visual, but an audio show. The sharp crack of the exhaust of a steam engine under heavy load has to be experienced to be appreciated.

I posted these and a few more photos in a set on my photostream. If you are interested in old machinery, steam, gas engines (MASSIVE gas engines, up to 39,600 cubic inches-yes you are seeing that right), not to mention operating sawmills powered by steam, a steam powered flour mill, many threshing machines powered by horses, steam, or gas engine, other agricultural equipment, steam powered shovels and huge old caterpillars, Rollag on Labor Day weekend is the place to be. I know that I will be back in the future. It was wild.


Trains are Rolling

Mrs. L4T and I are off for some railfanning-as you can see on the attached graphic, we will be dealing with a "target-rich environment" this evening. Hope the weather holds!

Do You Click on Thumbnails?

I often wonder how many readers take the time to click on the thumbnail images in the posts on this blog in order to see the full size images. So, to satisfy my curiosty, please take a few seconds answering the following poll. If you want to see the results, you can click "view" link. I've set this up so that each individual can supposedly answer once each seven days, but I think that is iffy. So take the results with a grain of salt.

THANKS to everyone who makes a selection! I appreciate it.

To view the photos full size, I click on the thumbnails in the posts:
Almost always, who can see anything in the thumbnail?
Often. I like BNSF orange.
Once in a while, if you've seen one pumpkin, you've seen 'em all.
The thumbnails are links? Who knew?
Free polls from

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Fallen Flag Extravaganza

The past week found me in Two Harbors for a couple of nights. I occasionally get a chance to find my way into an unusual location, and this week was one of those times. During the day on Wednesday, I had occasion to visit the ore dock area in Two Harbors. I was lucky enough to find DMIR 211, which has to be one of the last remaining SD38's in maroon, busy shoving cars up onto the dock to be dumped. I took advantage by grabbing a photo out the window of the truck.

I didn't want to make a pest of myself by prowling the area for a better angle or location, so what you see is what I got. It was fun to see a maroon unit at work. There were a few other units sitting in the yard, but since they were all repainted tunnel motors or IC units, I didn't try any shots of them. It's good to see activity in Two Harbors. The locals told me they have never seen the stockpile area as bare as it was a few weeks ago.

I left for home Wednesday afternoon, with hopes of catching a coal empty to chase across the Brainerd Sub, but no luck. There was track work going on near McGregor which may account for the lack of trains. My luck turned in a hurry, though, as I drove into Brainerd and saw a headlight near the former NP shops. A quick right turn got me in position to catch the Brainerd local doing his street running up to the paper mill, a first for me. I was surprised that they move right along in the street, and no one seems to be the least bit affected. Cars get out of the way and continue down the street. I got a few shots as he approached, and this is likely the best in some tough lighting conditions.

Shot the GP pair, in Cascade Green and Bluebonnet, as they passed the cemetary as well. It seemed appropriate for the paint schemes.

So I saw three locos moving between Two Harbors and Staples, one maroon, one cascade green, and one in the Santa Fe blue and yellow. Quite a day in this age when we lament the "sameness" of things. The street running was frosting on the cake-another throwback to an earlier age of railroading. A great day to remember.


Saturday, September 5, 2009

Springfield Short

Thursday August 27 found me making my way through southwest Minnesota farm country. I zig-zagged my way through back country due to detours along Highway 60 in the area and finally reached the DME near the Harvestland elevator at Springfield.

Harvestland was loading a shuttle train, and I grabbed a shot from the road crossing east of the elevator.

This is the same location that I visited last year, when I was invited up into the cab and got a mini-tour of the loading facilities. Luckily, the engineer this day was again George, and I got a chance to visit with him while he waited for the scale to be checked under the car loader.

After a short visit, I had to move on, but just as I left, the New Ulm switch engine showed up headed back to New Ulm. It was a GP40 running long hood forward, bringing empty fertilizer cars back to New Ulm for pickup.

Not a busy day train-wise but a chance to see what to me was unusual action, and to renew an old acquaintance.