Friday, January 29, 2010

Just Like Old Times

An afternoon trip to Perham resulted in my most exciting photo opportunity so far this year. A headlight approaching from the west as I topped the overpass between New York Mills and Perham provided enough motivation to quickly pull over and slip on my winter boots. After a short trek through the snow I was in position to shoot an eastbound manifest train behind BNSF 8018, one of the former SD40-2's that is now plying the Staples Sub. But what made it really special was the collection of classics behind the lead unit-three more SD39-2's, and GP38-2 2284. The consist was set up BNSF 8018-BNSF 8012-BNSF 2284-BNSF 6821-BNSF 1777. I never, ever thought I would see a train powered by a consist like this again on the Staples Sub.

Just the sight of all those curved fuel tanks in a row sends chills down your spine. Or, maybe that was the weather?

These kinds of power sets were uncommon when I moved to the Wadena area more than 5 years ago, and at least to me, unheard of now. Of course I'm sure that some of the units were being moved, as the train certainly didn't seem long enough to require that amount of power, but it was exciting to see an all-EMD lashup once again plying the rails!

And if that wasn't enough of the EMD's, when I arrived in Perham the Wadena local was working with a pair of GP's. I got a shot out the window of the Escape as I crossed the tracks.

Westbounds were out in force on the way home, with an intermodal flying through Perham, a manifest with DPU near New York Mills, and the returning Wadena local just west of Bluffton. But I was chasing coal loads, and managed to get in front of them at Bluffton, for a backlit B&W shot.

So, all in all, a very cool afternoon, with two all-EMD powered trains totaling 7 units sighted, and in the sun, no less! Kind of gets the juices flowing for some more adventures out along the tracks.


Sunday, January 24, 2010

More C4

Last weekend Mrs. L4T and I had to make a quick run to Wal Mart here in Wadena for who knows what,I can't even remember. Any, she questioned my decision to fetch the camera for such a trip, but it turned out to be worthwhile.

The crossing gates on Jefferson Street/Highway 71 in Wadena dropped as we approached from the north, on our way home. I expected a chance to watch a train sail through town before we continued south. But when the lead unit turned out to be one of the ES44C4's it was time to "recalculate", as my GPS likes to tell me. Off we went.

I quickly pulled ahead of the train and crossed the tracks near Verndale for an admittedly crappy photo. However, I wasn't about to let the chance to bag a unit MN Chris had shot slip away. So this is my own attempt at the unique "banged up numberboard" loco he had shot a week or so earlier in Cass Lake.

That is all.

Haven't I Seen You Somewhere Before?

I shot the photo above on the afternoon of Labor Day, 2006, when BNSF MOW forces replaced the bridge over the Otter Tail River betwen Perham and New York Mills. I happened to look at it today, and the second unit in the consist rang a bell for me. So after a bit of searching, I learned that I had indeed seen and photographed BNSF 4080 at another time in another location. I caught it a little over two years later crossing the continental divide near East Glacier, Montana.

This got me curious about whether I had more of these "duplicate" locos in my image files. It seems like someone who spends a fair amount of time along the tracks must surely see the same locomotive pass by numerous times. However, when I started looking for these situations, they were much more rare (for me, at least) than I suspected. BNSF has a whole lot of locomotives, and they don't always use the same ones to lead trains. Since my photos are saved with filenames that incorporate the number of the lead unit, finding a match with locos I have shot trailing like the one above is purely a game of chance for me.

But I did find some matches. On April 5, 2008, I headed to New York Mills to try some shots on the curve there. One of the trains I got was a manifest led by BNSF 5383.

On another Minnesota spring day, the 5383 was westbound at the Verndale sag, earning its keep lugging a manifest train across the Staples Sub. This one was taken on May 23, 2009.

BNSF 5724 is another unit I have been lucky enough to catch leading trains in various locations, at different times. My first shot of this GE leading is from a frosty January morning in 2008.

March 14, 2009 found me in Hawley where the 5724 was leading coal empties west, with a MAC in exec paint trailing.

But my all time favorite unit to get duplicate shots of has to be SD70MAC BNSF 9999. I have shot this unit at least four separate times, all in Minnesota, but in different locations. My first shot is from August of 2008, coming out of Frazee with coal loads:

On a cold February morning in 2009, it was resting at the west end of the Staples yard, and I snuck up and took a picture.

Late June found me in Red Wing, prowling the CP River Sub. What to my wondering eyes should appear but an SD70MAC, pushing for all it was worth on the tail end of a COLX train? Why yes, it was the 9999, passing under a bridge in Wabasha.

And only a week or so later, I got her again, this time at the Verndale sag, and this time as a leader.

These coincedental sightings are one of the things about railfanning that appeal to me. Anyone else got a "favorite" loco that they just seem to come across over and over?


Saturday, January 23, 2010

Goin' Away in Lake Park

Thursday found me in Lake Park. I was tied up for the morning in a meeting just a block or so from the tracks and listened with an itchy shutter finger as trains passed through town.

After lunch, with work wrapped up, I headed out of town. A loaded coal train was passing under the road at the overpass right in the middle of town, so I decided to wait and see if the train had a DPU and if so, which way it was pointed. It was my lucky day as the GEVO pushing on this train was pointed away from the train. I grabbed a series of photos as he receded into the distance.

And that was it for the day. I could hear more traffic, and I know there were some trains around, but got no more photo opportunities fro the day. So this is all I've got to offer-a coal train goin' away in Lake Park.


Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Fanning the Frost

Today's adventure began with an early morning trip to Henning. Temperature and humidity had conspired to create a thick fog, and a side effect was heavy hoarfrost on every tree and fenceline that passed by. Of course I had to snap a couple of photos to try and capture the effect, knowing that it would be gone by the time I was returning home later this afternoon.

Turned out I knew no such thing. Strangely, the thick layer of frost stuck around all day and even with a slight wind, showed no signs of abanoning its grip. I detoured past Black's Grove Park, just west of Wadena, to see if the big pines in that area would be covered as well. But just as I turned, a check of the ATCS image showed a westbound train approaching Wadena, so I changed my plans and scooted down the road to the tracks. My first shot of the afternoon captured what I think was a short Z-NTWLAU behind a pair of GE's.

I decided that the frost made it worth chasing him down to try for another shot. The overcast was pretty heavy and made photography tough, but this is probably the best shot I got of the train, as he passes the "Big Woods" just east of Perham.

I headed back to Wadena after that. Crossing the tracks, a glance east revealed a pair of headlights pointed my way, so a detour was again in order. The train on Main 2 was the target, with an ex-Santa Fe GP unit leading. I believe, from what I could see, this was some kind of all boxcar train.

Driving down Colfax allowed this shot, of the second unit in the consist. Seems like the former SD40-2's are getting more common again as time passes. The reporting marks on all the cars I could see were MRS.

Since I was about out of light, I called it a day without investigating the train on Main 1. So that's all I've got for you today. Pray for sun on Thursday, when the schedule calls for a trip to Lake Park.


Friday, January 15, 2010

Frosty Friday Morning

Early Frida morning found me bound for Hawley in the fog. Although the forecast called for clearing skies, the same system that moved the clouds out allowed it to get cold enough for the moisture in the air to condense. Thus, the fog. And along with the fog came hoarfrost.

As I approached the Highway 10 overpass between New York Mills and Perham, a headlight was peering out of the gloom to the west. After quickly pulling over and a mad dash back to the bridge, I was able to shoot a manifest train as it approached.

I had been hoping to meet him bit further west, but no such luck.

I missed another eastbound in very nice morning light as I passed through Detroit Lakes. The skies were nicely cleared up but I was stuck on Highway 10 as a long stack train sailed under the Highway 34 overpass. I figured there was no chance to catch him without a lengthy chase, which I didn't have time for.

A stop at Menards for new sunglasses allowed a westbound time to catch up with me. He was passing by as I came out of the store, so off to the races it was. I managed to reel this train in just as he neared Boyer Lake. It was still fairly frosty at this point.

Decided to wait for him in Hawley, and a short wait it was. I spotted a road that heads south just east of the tracks and set up near the flange greaser south of the overpass for this. As you can see, the skies were in "code blue" condition by this time.

I headed for home after lunch, and once again encountered a train in DL. This time, a chase was feasible, and the chosen intercept site was Frazee. Sitting at the S-curve, I was surprised when a westbound crept up on me. It was backlit, but I shot the unusual power anyway.

The tail of that train and the head end power of the westbound were both visible momentarily as I waited for the shot below. While foreign power is far from rare on the Staples Sub, it's a bit out of the ordinary to catch two consecutive trains with no BNSF units in the consist. The CN and CSX units in the train above were complemented by a matched pair of NS GE's on this train.

I met one more Z train entering New York Mills, but with the track angling to the north he would have been in poor light by the time I caught him so continued the drive home. That was all the trains for today, but it was a good day. Trains, sunshine, and some frost make for a pleasant drive along the Staples Sub.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Highway 10 in the Sun

I'm behind. My last shots are from a trip to the Cities and back for meetings last Thursday afternoon and Friday gave me the chance to shoot a few train photos. For a change the sun was out and the trains were running. Only one shot from Thursday, a COLX train waiting patiently for a green signal just west of Becker.

So one the way home, a week ago, trains were once again fairly common on the Staples Sub. The first opportunity for a photo was near Rice, where I stumbled across a manifest train with a BNSF Dash 9 leading another GE wearing CSX paint and smoking up a storm.

Next stop, Little Falls. An eastbound local was waiting on the siding at the depot for a light to proceed toward St. Cloud. Power was a freshly painted GP38. This one was still shiny.

I polished off the day with westbound coal empties, illuminated by the setting sun. These were shot in the Randall and Cushing area.

And then it was time to head home. Thanks, BNSF, for entertaining me on my journey by running some trains.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

A Little Whimsy

This is kind of fun: a word cloud that shows the relative frequency of the use of various words on this blog.

I have seen these things in other locations and always wondered how much time they took to create. Turns out, less than a minute. After a search, I surfed my way over to the wordle website, entered the address of this blog and within a few seconds had my word cloud. After a couple of tweaks I was ready to post it here.

Things I noticed-since this blog is about "looking for trains", I guess it only fits that the biggest word in the cloud (most frequently used) is train. Staples is a big hitter as well, not just the town but the subdivision, I'm sure. West and time occur frequently (as in I don't have enough time to do as much railfanning as I would like). Mrs. L4T was glad she made an appearance as well. Railfanning and railfans also popped up.

I think this just searched the posts that were on the home page at the time I ran the application. Just a fun little distraction I thought I would post.


Sunday, January 3, 2010


According to weather reports from the Wadena Airport, Wadena's low temp yesterday morning was -35 degrees Fahrenheit. What better way to celebrate than a railfanning trip?

Of course, a running vehicle is a prerequisite to "trip", and on this morning such a luxury was not to be taken for granted. As a matter of fact, for the first time ever, the Escape needed a jump. And after that effort, nothing would interfere with our mission to meet up with a bunch of railfans from the south somewhere near Lake Park.

Pointing our ride west, we paralleled the Staples Sub on Highway 10. Eastbound trains resulted in quick photography stops at the overpass between New York Mills and Perham, and between Perham and Frazee. The second stop resulted in this photo, along with some video I need to get processed someday.

And then we were off again, in a race with a third eastbound that was just leaving Dilworth. We arrived at the Lake Park S curve with minutes to spare, finding the Black Silverado already on location. After a brief visit, the eastbound train was spotted and people piled out of every door to populate the right-of-way. This shot of the train also includes two of the on location fans. This train also started the habit of greeting those who were out braving the cold with a blast of the horn.

Another shot, this time just the train. Dash 9's numbers 7 and 8 for me on the day.

The knowledge of an imminent westbound motivated Mrs. L4T and I to head directly to Hawley. As we entered town, a stopped cut of cars on the overpass made me wonder what was going on. After a brief investigation, I learned that there are in fact three tracks on that overpass. The siding serving the elevator in Hawley runs south across the highway. Who knew? Not me.

By the time that mission was finished, we had been overtaken by the railfanning combo of Jeremiah, Bryant, and Mike V. Setting up shop near the curve where the tracks enter Hawley, we spread out. Mike V. was deployed as an advance scout, and as the other three of us visited while we waited for the oncoming train, I was able to convince his partners not to leave him to freeze in the cold.

After what seemed like an eternity in the cold, but was likely only a few minutes, we spotted the headlights to the east. Railfans began taking test shots, adjusting cameras, and getting into shooting locations, when the advance scout let out with a cry of "IT"S THE YELLOW ONE!!!!" We had lucked into the one of a kind ES44DC carrying a unique yellow "wedgie" paint scheme.

This unique unit was leading a loaded grain train from Concordia, Kansas to Seattle. It was a very cool unit to spot. Great to have an advance warning from the scout too. Thanks Mike!

And then it was off to the first wood bridge west of Highway 32. What better place to spend a below zero afternoon in January than on a remote wood bridge? Especially when BNSF is kind enought to run a couple of trains for your viewing pleasure.

This eastbound manifest was led by an SD70ACe-kind of unusual power for a manifest train. It also had one of the increasingly common DPU's on manifest trains-in this case it was some variety of GEVO.

And then a westbound. Bryant staked out a location well to the east of the bridge for this one, just out of this frame. I saw a good deal of adventure in my young companions on this day. They all were willing to trudge through the deep snow for that unique shot, something your humble correspondent was less than anxious to attempt on this frigid day. Heck, Jer did it dressed like he was playing softball on a September evening. On one warm up break in the Silverado, the question was asked if railfans are a subset of idiots or if idiots are a subset of railfans. Since we all could identify non-railfan idiots it seems the first hypothesis must be true, at least for that group of railfans that is willing to venture out when the temps are WAY below zero.

And then, the dropping sun was bringing the day to an end. Mrs. L4T was kind enough to snap a group photo as we all stood on the wooden bridge.

I posted a few more of the "people" photos I took at this page.

Turned out to be a great day. It's always fun to share some time with others who are interested in trains and the relationships you build along the tracks are nothing but fun. Thanks for memories, guys, and let's do it again soon.


Friday, January 1, 2010

Happy New Year's Morning

It was COLD this morning. Heck, it's still -8 as I write this, just after lunch. But the weather didn't stop me from getting trackside this morning.

With a couple of eastbounds on the move between Dilworth and Detroit Lakes, I headed west from Wadena with the rising sun just beginning to illuminate the landscape. My plan, such as it was, involved continuing west until I encountered a train, and then deciding what to do next at that time. The radio issued occasional hints of action but little of concrete value. As I passed by Perham, my first hard bit of evidence came in the form of the MP 203 detector warning me of a train on Main 2. Knowing that this almost had to be the first eastbound, I made a reverse move (u-turn) and staked out a location just to the east of Perham. After a very short wait I got my first train on 2010, at about 10 minutes after 9 AM on January 1. This H1 Dash 9 was leading a Z train. Somehow, the road number seemed to fit the date:

A glance at ATCS showed me that a westbound was due shortly, and I headed to New York Mills to contemplate whether there was a shot of the next eastbound to be had there as well. I heard the westbound pass the detector at MP 174, and shot a GEVO leading a manifest at the west crossing in Mills.

This manifest had a DPU, which it seems is becoming more common in the area. I got a shot of the Dash 9 pusher for history.

Right after this, the dispatcher (someone who I hadn't heard before) called the Z train asking for a roll-up. I figured this must mean the second eastbound (which I knew was behind BNSF 5488, as I heard them get a warrant earlier) was close. Turns out they were still at MP 201 so back to Perham it was. I set up again for video and still photos of what turned out to be a short grain train meandering through middle Minnesota.

Since he wasn't making much speed, and I was thinking about heading home, I decided to jump ahead of him for a couple of shots as he approached the CR 75 crossing just west of Wadena. Here's a series of three shots as this train climbs up the grade from the Leaf River crossing.

I kind of like the middle one.

And with that, I decided to return home, to warm up a cold foot caused by an influx of snow over my boot top. Mrs. L4T has asked whether she should plan anything for supper and I told here we would have to play it by ear tonight and tomorrow, as the weather looks conducive to heading west. Tonight's forecast low in Wadena is -27 so I think it's more likely I will have breakfast at home tomorrow.