Monday, October 5, 2009

PRB First Impressions

Well. It seems like there are a few locations every railfan should get a chance to visit during his or her life. Tehachapi, Cajon Pass, Marias Pass, Horseshoe Curve, The "Funnel", and UP's Nebraska main all feature some combination of scenery and traffic that put them on the list in some way, shape, or form.

Then there is the Powder River Basin. I don't think it is famous for scenery, but the traffic level has to be almost unrivaled. Plus, the newest high-horsepower locomotives from BNSF and UP (along with other lines) are featured moving heavy coal trains to utilities across the country.

This week is my chance to visit PRB country. After visits to the Chief Joseph Scenic Highway, Yellowstone National Park, the Buffalo Bill Scenic Byway, and the Bighorn Scenic Byway, Mrs. L4T and I arrived in Gillette, Wyoming this afternoon to spend a couple of days chasing trains in the area. (Here are some of the scenery photos.)

After checking in to a hotel I set out to find Donkey Creek Junction. Within 10 minutes I had a COLX loaded train in sight. In another 5 minutes, I was in position to see three trains moving at once. Within half an hour I had spotted about a dozen coal trains. I knew in my mind traffic would likely be heavy but this caused me to overload a bit. I didn't even know where to point the camera. Thought I would share a couple of the cloudy, snowy shots with you.


This empty was staged on the line from Alliance, waiting for a couple of loads to leave the yard.

For this last shot, I ran down a muddy county road and got an empty headed south. I just missed the tail end of the load that was moving north.


Tomorrow, hopefully, the sun will come out. You can bet we will be out looking for trains regardless of the weather.

Jim

4 comments:

BB-Idaho said...

We were through the Powder River Basin a couple years back, but didn't see very many trains for some odd reason. As a UP modeler,
I enjoy busy spots like Green River, North Platte (that new Golden Spike Tower is great), Marysville and even Rochelle. In your area, I never miss the old
depot at Wadena, but now avoid standing on the bricks a couple feet from the BNSF coming by about
60 MPH!! I have been enjoying your photos and tales.

Jim said...

Thanks. I was impressed with the volume of trains we saw on the 6th, and as a UP fan you would have been happy to see about half of them were Armour Yellow.

BB-Idaho said...

Originally from Wisconsin, I drive back each year, then detour down to a daughter's place in Topeka.
My route is usually through the old NP territory, Billings, Bismark, etc. But I am considering
highway 2 next year, having heard the BNSF runs a lot of trains on the old GN and that highway parallels the railroad. Tis a bit longer..what do you think?

Jim said...

I'm not sure if you have been through Marias Pass. If you haven't had the chance to take Hwy 2 and travel that way it would be a no-brainer in my opinion. I would detour 500 miles to make that drive, no questions asked. It is the most beautiful piece of railroad I have ever seen, not that I have seen a lot of different lines.

We rode the Empire Builder from Staples to Whitefish last year. I have only travelled I-94/90 west to Laurel, but my opinion would be that 90 is more scenic that Highway 2. I saw a lot more trains along Highway 2, but I was riding the train, too. Highway 2 was in sight for most of the way. The 100 miles or so east of the mountains would be gourgeous-I really liked the Browning and Cut Bank area.

It's a long way no matter which route you take.