Saturday, October 31, 2009

Orange (and a touch of Green and Cream) in the PRB

A little Wyoming trivia: there are not a lot of trees in the Powder River Basin.

What the area lacks in trees, though, it makes up for with a pretty good assortment of BNSF locomotives and coal trains. The train pictured above is grinding north (railroad west) at Lawyer Road the morning of October 6, 2009. As you can see, the previous night's snow has not yet had a chance to melt. This is the first of many BNSF coal trains I will see on my day in the PRB.

So where to next? Mrs. L4T was pretty convinced that she would be more comfortable with an idea of where the nearest civilization was. The logical response was to find the city of Bill, Wyoming, well south on the Orin line. So that we did. But as we crossed the multi-tracked mainline on Wyoming State Highway 59 about 15 miles north of Bill, my keen eye spied a train stopped to the north. I pulled over and got out to grab a shot, and luckily, I had eaten well the previous evening or I may have been carried away by the wind. I managed to make my way to the overpass, where I was able to brace myself for this shot. It even turned out that a UP empty showed up to insert itself into the photo as well.

I know you can't tell from this extreme tele shot, but the orange unit facing you is the last thing I expected to see when I visited the coal fields. It's one of BNSF's 25 ES44C4 units, seen here on the point of a ballast train. See, when you get out and look for trains, you never know what kind of oddity you may find.

Continuing on to Bill, traffic was what I consider heavy. I grabbed a shot of BNSF loads rolling by UP loads headed south. BNSF has the advantage of being able to route loaded trains out either end of the area, while UP is limited to sending trains south. Once again the Bill water tower makes an appearance.

After lunch we were once again northbound, and at some point found ourselves hot on the trail of a BNSF northbound empty. In this shot the train is passing a stopped UP empty as it approaches Reno Junction, where a spur heads east to Black Thunder Mine and Jacobs Ranch Mine.

And here we have trains staged in the yard that sits alongside the spur to the two mines mentioned above.

Think about this for a minute. According to this site, Black Thunder has produced a billion tons of coal in 27 years. That's 1,000,000,000 tons. Current production rate is 91 million tons a year. At 15,000 tons per train, that equals 6000 trains a year, or 16 trains a day, from one coal mine.

My. That is a huge amount of coal.

Makes for a great place to take pictures of trains.

And one oddity (the first one was seeing an ES44C4 in the PRB) wasn't enough for the day. I waited for the DPU on another train in the hopes of getting a going away shot. While it turned out the engine was presenting its tail to the sun, it was interesting enough to shoot. This lonely C44-9W must have felt out of place in what seemed to me like an ocean of AC units. It was one of the only times I have ever seen a DC motor GE on a BNSF coal train.

I'm honestly embarrassed to admit that by late afternoon, I was just about railfanned out. It wasn't the gorgeous weather, or the lack or trees, or the physical exertion of getting in and out, and racing across ditches and fields to shoot trains. It was mental overload. Trying to read maps and signs, spot trains, listen to the scanner, and avoid antelope while taking pictures of dozens of trains wears a guy out. And so we retreated to our motel for a few minutes rest.

Refreshed, I headed east of Gillette to once again check out Donkey Creek Yard. I never did find Donkey Creek, but you can't miss the yard. Luckily, I was able to catch the DPU on a loaded eastbound as it passed the sign identifying the yard.

I shot my last train in the Powder River Basin proper in the same location as my first. This southbound empty had just negotiated Donkey Creek Junction on the way to a loading slot at one of the mines. It also seemed kind of symbolic to me that I had finally captured one of the my favorite locomotives (SD70MAC) in my favorite paint scheme (although someone had defaced it by removing the nose logo) doing just exactly what it was built to do-pulling a coal train in the Powder River Basin. I doubt that there are many success stories in railroading like this-a revolutionary locomotive, built to do a single job, and doing so successfully, over such a long time period. Congratulations, EMD and BN. You have done well. Thanks for the memories, and here's to many more.

Note: This is the 150th post I have made to Thanks to all the readers. I hope you find them a bit entertaining. They are fun for me to put together.


1 comment:

BB-Idaho said...

Really nice photos. Its like being there without the wind...