Saturday, February 28, 2009

Staples, where SD70's go to Rest

The last day of February 2009 (my goodness, is the year 1/6th gone already?) dawned clear and cold, with this week's fresh coat of snow bright and shiny. Seemed like as good a reason as any to try a little railfanning.

Since I wasn't sure what the traffic levels would be, and the sun is getting around far enough to make Staples a better photo location than in the dead of winter, I decided to head east and check out the Staples yard. As I arrived at Dower Lake, I could see three MAC's parked in the yard, 2 coupled together and 1 alone. There was also an ACe on the rear of a loaded coal train. The MAC's were in the orange scheme.

After taking a look at the east end of the yard, I decided to shoot the power there. Two loaded coal trains were side by side, with a third farther down in the yard. The first load had an ACe up front, trailed by a Grinstein MAC, and the second train had a pair of the cream and green units up front.

The scanner indicated an eastbound that had just cleared MP 203, near Frazee (the dispatcher had him rolling up his warrant for some reason) and with only a westbound that had passed earlier for traffic, I decided to try a shot of the power on the west end. Not wanting to cross the tracks I walked in from the south to shoot first the coupled pair of MAC's:

And then a unit I have shot before, the highest numbered loco in the BNSF fleet, 9999, taking a break along with a bunch of other MACs in the Staples yard:

Soon the eastbound cleared up his warrant at Wadena, and I decided to shoot him from the 6th Street crossing. Turns out it was a coal load for Superior with another pair of Exec painted MAC's up front, and one more pushing. That makes 11 various SD70 types in Staples at one time on this February morning.

I was pleasantly surprised when the "whale" car rolled by about a quarter of the way back in this train. This is the first time I have seen it live, although photos by Chris and Dave Schauer have certainly raised my interest.

Since the train had slowed way down passing through Staples, I had no problem getting to a spot where I could shoot the shady side of the car as well.

And I decided to run up a little further and grab another wedgie of the front end power near Motley.

All in all, it was a day for SD70 fans to rejoice. And just like any day railfanning, I came home with not only photos but memories as well.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Flickr Progress

DM&E 3833 in New Ulm
Originally uploaded by look4trains

I continue to add a few photos to my Flickr photostream on a not-quite-daily basis, including this DME shot from about a year ago.

One of the things that is slowing me down a little is the fact that in most cases, I am reprocessing the images before I post them. With the acquisition of a new camera recently, I decided I should take a look at my photo processing workflow. I have been shooting RAW + jpeg with the camera, and I thought I should try processing some RAW files. The converter that came with the camera sucked, to put it bluntly. I started snooping around on the net and found that Photoshop Elements v. 7 would probably open the Pentax PEF files that my camera produced, so I downloaded it to try it out. So far, I am very happy with the images I am getting out of the software. The RAW files open just fine, and my only gripe is that it seems to take a lot of computer horsepower. I guess that is to be expected given the output files from a 10 mp camera.

I will probably buy this program and start using it as my primary editing tool. Another benefit of using PSE 7 is that the exif data stays with the edited shot, as you can see on most of the recently-uploaded photos on my photostream. I like that it is there, along with the fact that it saves having to correct the date taken for every photo uploaded.

I still have about a year's worth of shots to add, and I plan on continuing to add a few at a time until I am caught up.


Friday, February 20, 2009

A Pair of ACes (or, Go West, Old Timer)

I can hardly call myself young man, given the condition I ended up in after clambering up the hill from the frozen surface of Acorn Lake to Highway 10. Wait a minute, let's get back to the beginning of this edition of the adventures of Mr. and Mrs. L4T.

February 15 dawned clear and sunny, tempting me to venture out with my new camera and see what traffic was about. After a hearty breakfast and church, the clear skies looked like they would hold out for at least a while longer, and the two of us climbed into the Escape and headed west.

As we approached the Hwy 71 crossing in Wadena, I found it was occupied by a westbound coal empty. Well, at least I will have one train to mess with this afternoon, although he was rolling along pretty good and would probably beat the sun as far as I was willing to go.

Heading out of Wadena, I finally managed to catch the head end and found that the power was a pair of 9100 series ACes, elephant style. Neat consist. The train would be pretty much side-lit as far as Hawley this early in the day, and it popped into my head that it might be time to try and catch him as he passed Acorn Lake just west of Frazee. So off I went, trying to get far enough ahead of him to have time for the climb down to the lake.

About halfway between Perham and Frazee, I spied an eastbound headlight, and was faced with stopping to try a shot on a fairly well-lit train (and possibly missing the ACe pair at the lake) or passing up the eastbound. I decided to risk the shot, and pulled over just to shoot this short vehicle train:

As soon as I shot him I was back on the road flying west. I parked along the guard rail above the lake and dove over the side. This is one steep hill. Luckily, the snow was hard enough that I didn't sink in too far and it gave good footing. I made it down to the lake surface with a few minutes to spare. Soon I heard the rumble of the approaching train and he rolled into view quickly. It's kind of a neat shot, but I had built this location up so much in my mind I couldn't help but be a little disappointed.

I still had some crazy fantasy about running up the hill and beating him to Hawley.

That notion went out the window about 1/8 of the way up Mt. Acorn. The same snow that had helped to ease my descent was making the trip back up wild. Half the time my steps would cause the snow to give way and lead to NO upward progress. And since I was in a hurry, I was going what for me is all out. By the time I was 2/3 of the way up, my lungs were burning, my legs were getting rubbery, and the spit was starting to spray out as I breathed. But I made it.

By that time, though, I had about given up hope of catching my pair of ACes again. I made a half hearted attempt at a chase, but I had to deal with stoplights in DL, which the train was immune to. Hearing the dispatcher giving a couple more eastbounds warrants was a slight consolation, even if they would be backlit.

I thought I had a chance at the first eastbound at Lake Park, and headed to the S curve. I beat him by quite a bit, and the sun got around on me in the 20 or 30 minutes I waited, which combined with my stupid choice to change to a short lens left me with no good shots of that train. It seems like a morning spot and I decided to head a little further west.

When I made it the Hawley area, nothing was stirring and I asked Mrs. L4T if she was interested in checking to see if anything was going on in Ulen. She is always up for a ride so said sure, but we made it only about a mile up Hwy 32 before I heard a westbound clear up his warrant from Wadena to Richards Spur, so Ulen would have to wait for another day. This train turned out to be a stacker behind an H1, and I had decided to try a shot from the Hwy 32 overpass. I got him in two locations, this one and a little closer in this view:

I really like this shot, although the focus is just a bit off on the view posted above. The one I linked is a bit sharper, I think. Very nice location.

Clouds were building in by this time. I knew there was still one eastbound out there, and in just a few minutes I heard another westbound pass Richards Spur. I camped out on the County Bridge just west of Hwy 32 in hopes of a meet. Turns out I was a bridge too far east. I shot the GE's on the eastbound as they approached, just after the westbound rolled out of sight.

For once, the clouds rolled in just as the traffic level slowed. I saw two more trains before we left the area. We had a Dairy Queen supper with the son & heir to the throne, who was up for a couple of double cheeseburgers.

All in all, a great day of fanning. I even managed to get my exercise and avoid a heart attack at the same time. Thanks for looking, and keep looking 4 trains!

Sunday, February 15, 2009

A Cold Afternoon at Iron Junction

Greetings, folks. This one is from the "should have posted it weeks ago" file that so often piles up.

My destination for the week of January 12 was the Hibbing/Virginia area, carrying hopes for some CN action. I stayed in Hibbing Monday evening, and a trip out to Kelly Lake revealed nothing of interest that afternoon. However, after completing my assignements in Hibbing on Tuesday, there was enough daylight remaining to visit the Iron Junction area.

The scanner tipped me off to a light engine move in the area. This three unit set was my first catch of the very cold afternoon:

Sounded like they were headed south to grab a loaded train, but I don't have any other details.

After waiting half an hour or so, I heard another move-this time they indicated they would be heading for Two Harbors, so I ran east and waited near Ramshaw. The shot was backlit real bad, but it was my first live experience with steaming pellets in below-zero weather, so I had to try and do something with it.

The last detector I had heard had said it was -9, and it felt every bit of that. The low for the night turned out to be around 25 below. That was a real cold week.

I was running out of light, but just on the off chance of another train I meandered back to Iron Junction. Sure enough, a CN southbound manifest made its way by, but by this time the light was gone, and I was getting cold. So that's all I have to share from my outing at Iron Junction.

I'll try and get some of my other miscellaneous shots from the last month or so up in the next couple of days. I also have some from another Hawley trip to post. Til then,

Jim, out

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Happy Valentine's Day

Yesterday I received a phone call informing me that my normal Saturday morning activity was cancelled. After I heard this, I told Mrs. L4T that I just might head out Saturday morning to do a little railfanning.

I fully expected the day to dawn cloudy, but to my surprise the sun revealed a clear sky as it peeked over the horizon. Following an exchange of Valentine's Day cards, I announced my intention to head over to Staples for a little photography and train watching this AM.

After finally getting my act together I was out the door around 8 AM. Within a minute I heard something trip the detector at MP 174 on Main 2. Knowing this was likely an eastbound, and the sun being directly in his face on the run from Wadena to almost Aldrich, I decided to head to the Todd County Road 9 crossing (that's the location where this shot was taken) to try and get whatever this train was coming out of the little forest that surrounds the tracks to the west of there. Here's the result of that effort:

That was my last chance at this train, as he wasted no time passing through Staples and I wasn't able to beat him to the 6th St. crossing.

I did hear him clear up his warrant and get a new one, after which the dispatcher told him that he would be meeting two trains in Lincoln. So I knew there would be some "against the sun" action later, at the very least.

While I was waiting for another train, I scooted around to the south side of the yard and snuck in a couple of shots of a loaded coal train behind a pair of ACe's. My, but they are getting common on coal in this area. I'd love to see one in some form of green paint. The heritage loco program is one thing I appreciate the UP having done, and it would be neat if the BNSF was able to do something similar. Anyway, here is the shot:

Next up I heard an eastbound clear up a warrant at Wadena. A quick glance at the signals in Staples showed green on Main 1 and red on Main 2. It never dawned on me that this was probably a coal load for the Brainerd Sub until the train showed up. I must be really out of practice! Turns out it was likely a Laskin train, given the consist of all BN steel bottom dump hoppers. The leader on this train was an ES44AC. I shot the train as passed the Staples depot. I didn't notice any activity around the depot that would lead me to believe it was getting a new roof soon, either.

Next up was the parade of westbounds. The first one was a merchandise train behind a warbonnet C44. No pictures of that one as it was badly backlit. Second out was an empty coal train. This one got the bad news that he would be waiting in Staples for an hour or two due to "some problems out in Jamestown". I never did hear what those problems were. I shot him as he passed the depot, where he gave me a series of short toots on the horn as he rolled by. The dispatcher did say he would keep him waiting on the main so at least they didn't have to throw switches and derails.

This was a DAPX train and there were a couple of unique items about it. First, I spotted my second-ever double rotary coupler DAPX car. I have long watched for DAPX 550, well now I know that DAPX 549 is also double ended. And here is the proof:

Second, 550 was the highest number I had ever seen in that car series, until today. There were a handful on brand new DAPX cars in this train, including this one:

At least 6 cars have been added to the fleet, as the highest number was 556.

After this train was stopped on the main, I swung around to try a backlit shot from the west end of the yard. There was a DPU on the loads I had shot earlier visible, along with the power for a coal empty that was parked south of the loads. Here is what I came up with:

Probably my favorite shot of the bunch. One thing I like about this photo is the angle on the yard ladder. I like to see the curve in the rail highlighted by the sun.

Since I didn't know of any more traffic coming, I headed for Wadena. About halfway home I heard the dispatcher giving a crossing warning malfunction to BNSF 608, the warbonnet I had seen earlier. He then repeated it for another train, which I suspected was an eastbound. I stopped in Wadena and waited for about 10 minutes, and sure enough I heard him pass the detector at 174.1. I decided to shoot him from the east end of town, in a location I have never tried before. I like the results of this shot as well:

That was it for Valentine's day morning. My scoresheet showed 5 moving trains and 2 parked trains, not bad for a couple hour's time on a Saturday morning. Hope you enjoy these. Until next time, that's it from Jim.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Changing Times on the Staples Sub

Given the variability in my workload, other obligations, and weather, I tend to railfan when I can, not always when I would like to. There are times when I will go for weeks with only a glance at the tracks to satisfy my curiosity.

This can cause me to not notice a change on the railroad until it darn near reaches out and slaps me. The most recent example I can think of is the disappearance of the once-common SD40-2 locomotive on trains travelling the Staples Sub. I made a post to the Outstate Minnesota Rail group observing that I hadn't seen many 40's recently and it came to light that they are either stored or being returned to the leasor, due to the economic downturn and the arrival of new power on the railroad.

Having been tied up for much of the fall with work issues, I had done very little fanning after we returned from our trip to Glacier in September. I decided to look back at the few photos I had shot to see when I had last photographed an SD40-2 on BNSF rails. Surprisingly (to me), it was while on vacation in Montana. The last 40 I shot on BNSF rails was BNSF 6994, which I caught as it passed through what Google maps calls "Badrock Canyon" just east of Columbia Falls, Montana. This is where the Flathead River, the railroad, and US Highway 2 all pass through a narrow valley.

At the time I had no inkling whatsoever that this would be my final mainline BNSF SD40-2 for, at best, quite a while. So the fact that Mrs. L4T and myself chased the train to Olney was purely coincidental, although now that the 40's are gone it seems only fitting that the last one I got to shoot deserved a chase.

We beat the train to Olney and I grabbed a going away shot, not for the historical value, but because the scenery was very un-Staples Sub like. I guess the fact it is going away is symbolic, isn't it?

Now I know that as that train curved out of sight on September 19, 2008, I had just released the shutter on the last BNSF SD40-2 I would see in mainline operation for what now looks to be a long time.

This all made me go back and take a look at some of my favorites SD40-2 shots. Here are a couple of them. The first one is a Z train approaching Lincoln in the fall of 2006:

Here's one passing through Wadena in a snow flurry:

I miss them and I hope we see the need to get them back on the high iron soon.