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.


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