Monday, October 12, 2009

Armour Yellow in the PRB

(Note: I've got enough photos from the PRB area for a couple of more posts. I will also probably write something about "if you go" that talks about the experience we had, and what I would find helpful when I visit again. Until then, hopefully this UP focused feature will entertain those of you who are kind enough to visit this blog.)

Wyoming's Powder River Basin is unlike anywhere else I have ever been. It's not just the extreme level of railroad activity, but also the remoteness, the wildlife, the barren landscape. When someone who has lived almost half his life in Minnesota's Koochiching and Lake of the Woods counties calls a place remote, you can pretty much take it to the bank that it's remote.

The photo above is taken at what is a metropolis by the standards of the PRB. Mrs. L4T and I were in Bill when I grabbed a shot of this UP train passing, one of the parade of trains out the south end of the Orin line. We had headed to Bill as it was the closest approximation to civilization in the last 70 or so miles. And it turned out to be quite civilized. Penny's Diner, on the east side of the highway across from the tracks, turned out to make a mean patty melt at a very reasonable price. I think they were surprised to see customers who actually wanted to pay money for their meal, though, as the clientele seemed strongly skewed toward railroaders laying over at the attached motel. It's doubtful that Bill is high on the list of many tourists...but for railfans, it's unmatched. In this shot, the same train as shown above is passing another UP set waiting in the yard to proceed south. The Bill water tower, which carries a UP shield, accents the shot.

Fed and refreshed, it's time to head north. This trip was as much about exploration and experiencing the area as it was about photography. I actually was bypassing photos by early afternoon, in order to learn as much about the lay of the land as possible. Here's one I had to grab, as it showed the expanse of the 4 main tracks that carry up to a hundred trains a day in and out of the area.

Just a bit further north, near Nacco Junction, I met another southbound and caught him as he rounded a curve.

My last train for this post was a load headed south from Coal Creek Junction. This train was just starting the assault on what looked to be a 1%+ grade and was working hard. I stood on the overpass shooting him as he approached, the motors up front thundering as they worked to lift the train slowly uphill.

After he passed under the overpass in a haze of heat and diesel exhaust, I shot him going away. The heat shimmer off the top of these engines was impressive.

This was one of my favorite moments of the day, as the brute power involved in railroading is something that draws me to it and makes me a railfan. The closest to this experience I have had in the past is standing on one of the bridges near Hawley as coal loads grind up out of the Red River Valley, but this train was moving much slower and gave the impression of more effort being expended.

Knowing there was an S curve just south of here, we decided to backtrack a bit and get a shot as he passed through the area. I parked in the wrong spot, as there was a herd of antelope just to the left of this image and I couldn't quite work them in. The frequency of trains in this area is demonstrated by the fact that (unlike me) the antelope barely looked up as the train passed them, finally having crested the hill and beginning to pick up speed.

I don't know if any of the crews that run trains in the area will ever read this, but if they do, THANKS! The way they were willing to give a friendly wave or a toot on the horn was really classy. Across the board, they were as friendly as any train crews I have encountered, if not more so. All in all it adds up to a great experience.

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