Sunday, November 8, 2009

Coal to Newcastle

Mrs. L4T and I piled into the Escape and pointed it east on I-90 early the morning of October 7. I had a rough plan in mind, which called for paralleling the Black Hills Sub as far as Newcastle before peeling away from the tracks to traverse the Spearfish Canyon Scenic Byway. Our target for the evening was somewhere in the Medora area.

We passed the WyoDak power plant as we headed east out of Gillette, and could see Donkey Creek Yard to the south. I was hoping for some action along the highway and the BNSF didn't disappoint. I caught a loaded eastbound before we even made it to Moorcroft. My first shot of the (very cloudy, again) day was of the power on a TXU train as he entered Moorcroft. Matching MACs!

We made a quick stop in Moorcroft and I figured the train would pass us by. There must be a grade up out of there, though, as he was grinding out of town as we left. The tracks curve away from the highway, but I knew I could get ahead of him and took a side road to the southwest a couple of miles out of town. I had to wait for the train to show up, and got him as he snaked up the hill. See if you can find the antelope in this shot.

With miles to go before we slept, working this train wasn't really an option. We were off again, and it wasn't long before another load showed its DPU. TXU again, this time the power was a matched set of GE's. I leapfrogged him to Upton, site of a small Black Hills Power generating plant. As the track curves back toward the highway here, I stopped to shoot him under very cloudy skies. But before the loads showed up, an empty from the southeast came bounding into view.

The loads behind the GE's showed up as the empties were passing by. Didn't leave much to work with but since I was there I pressed the shutter release on this.

Somewhere in this general area the land had gone from treeless prairie to, all of a sudden, pine trees. It was like there was a line, with grass on one side and trees on the other. I've no idea what caused such a drastic change.

Anyway, I once again sped past the loaded train in search of another shot. Some curves just outside Newcastle seemed promising, and I took a peek, but decided to head into town. In the meantime another empty showed up and I didn't even get a shot. I decided to stake out the loads where the track passes along the hill on the north edge of Newcastle. The sun was even playing games with me by this time.

The loads took more time to arrive than I expected, but finally showed up. I got a couple of shots as they passed through town, but even with nice scenery I couldn't make much of them. The sun wasn't helping, either, as you can see in the second shot.

And we had arrived at the end of our journey with the Black Hills Sub. Highway 85 beckoned us toward the Black Hills, and we headed north for what turned out to be a gorgeous drive. I'll be posting some of those shots on my photostream over the next few days.

That's it for my Powder River Basin adventure. I got one day of fantastic weather, a lot of trains, and a good feeling for what the area is like. I would love to go back someday, and would be able to use my time more efficiently now that I have an idea of what is what. If you ever have any questions about the area, I would be glad to offer any information I have. Just email me and I'll be in touch.


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