Sunday, February 21, 2010

"Tending" to Business

On Saturday, as the Escape needed an oil change and Mills Ford had a service special going on, Mrs. L4T and myself decided to head over Brainerd way late morning. As is the norm, the camera came along for the ride.

I met a westbound train just east of Verndale, but the sun was behind it and I didn't attempt a shot. That turned out to be a good thing, as I was them able to shoot the eastbound I stumbled across just the other side of Bluffton. He was stopped when I first saw him but started pulling as I passed. I didn't have to wait long at CR 9.

Finally, a Dash 9 leader with a matching nose door.

Since I was on the south side of the tracks for this shot, I had to wait for the entire train to pass before proceeding. That gave me the chance to notice that one of the cars in the train was a BN fuel tender. I don't know if these things are still used in their tender role, but the car was definitely in a moving train.

After I got home, I did some research on the BN/BNSF fuel tenders. Turns out there is quite a lot of information about this project online.

I don't recall having seen one of these before myself. It seems this was a pretty well developed and long term program on various parts of the system. The tenders served with both SD40-2's and SD60M's out west. The highest number I have seen referred to was BNFT 47 so there were a fair number of these units developed. They seem to be conversions from old tank cars.

I thought it was interesting to catch one passing through Staples. Whether it is being used as a regular tank car now, transporting fuel for company use, or still serves as a fuel tender, it's something that makes looking for trains interesting.


Saturday, February 20, 2010

All Mixed Up

While many of you have been doing unbelievably cool things like chasing snowplows, or combing the Paynesville Sub in search of unique power, or roaming all over northwest Minnesota searching for windmill trains (and getting a top shot not only for the day but for the WEEK in the process), or building on massive modular layouts, I have stuck to the mundane hunt for trains on the Staples Sub. The trains are out there, but so are the endless parades of pumpkin-colored Dash 9's painted in the H2 scheme, with only an occasional warbonnet or H1 unit to break the monotony.

After so many, they all start to run together. So while I was processing a couple of shots from the last week, the following pictures jumped out and grabbed me. All of the shots below were taken within the past 7 days. What do you see that they all have in common?

If you said someone put the wrong nose door back on each one, you would have noticed the same thing as I did. I noticed a long time ago that the "BNSF" on the cigar bands of some of the Dash 9's is in a smaller font than others. Apparently the shop forces don't care, as they are more than willing to install mismatched doors on multiple units. If you take a close look at the middle photo, you can see that they are not even too concerned about the paint color. It looks like the door on the 4401 came off a warbonnet. So it's not only the AC covers on the fireman's side that are sometimes mismatched, it's the nose doors as well.

The top two were shot last Saturday, Feb. 13, and the bottom one I got this afternoon coming through Wadena. I also got a couple of shots earlier in the day before the overcast got so thick, one of which I found to be fairly interesting. I'm doing a little research to see if I can dig up any background before that post, which very well may show up tomorrow.

Thanks for looking, Jim

Friday, February 19, 2010

Mixing Business and Pleasure

Thursday afternoon required a work-related trip to Hawley. It was a pleasant prospect, since the sun was out and I knew at least a few trains were about.

I first spotted an eastbound as I was passing Acorn Lake, and did a u-turn to catch him east of Frazee. Imagine my surprise when a westbound behind a pair of warbonnets showed up just as the eastbound approached. This is as close as I came to a meet:

I shot him a couple more times as he approached me.

The weather was just about perfect, crystal clear skies and warm enough to stand trackside without a jacket while the train neared. Since I now had a target to shoot further west, I raced off with Mrs. L4T, who had decided to ride along and keep me company. Next stop was the big tree west of Audubon. This one was shot at 3:18 PM.

A thin line of overcast that had appeared on the western horizon soon had us socked in. In a matter of, literally, minutes, you couldn't see the sun. My next effort would be at the wooden bridge southwest of Hawley. Here we are, 24 minutes later and probably a dozen miles further west. The change in weather was simply stunning.

Believe it or not, it is the same train, and no, it wasn't delayed. That's just how dramatic the weather change was.

On the way home after my meeting, we again broke into clear skies near Audubon. After a stop at Perkins in DL for supper, the trip back to Wadena was uneventful. Mrs. L4T did remind me that soon the time change will make it practical to do some train chasing in the evenings. Something to look forward to as we make our way through the long part of the winter.


Sunday, February 14, 2010


OK, so for St. Valentine's Day, I had directed Mrs. L4T to make 6 PM reservations at Thumper Pond in Ottertail. No Dairy Queen in Staples with the Mrs. this year-nothing but the best for her. Plus, it was all part of a plan-head west for some railfan adventures, then intercept a CP eastbound at Detroit Lakes and chase it to Ottertail.

My plan almost worked, sort of. Well, at least the part where we head west for some railfanning. And the part where we eat at Ottertail at 6 PM.

Just like many railfan adventures, it started with such promise. The ATCS display and radio traffic indicated a number of westbounds on the Staples Sub. I also knew I would see at least one eastbound. And, that one eastbound turned out to be my BNSF "take" for the day. We were between Perham and Frazee when a Z train showed up and a hike through the snow yielded this shot:

First shot of a promising day on the West Staples Sub.

Just a few minutes before this train arrived, I had heard a CP 4451 east get a warrant leaving Richville or Dent or somewhere south of where we were. I figured it was too far down the line to chase so I passed on it. But while I was waiting for a second BNSF eastbound, who I had heard get a warrant to Wadena, another CP train chimed in. This time the warrant was from MP 219, just north of Detroit Lakes. Since I knew Jeramiah was out chasing a windmill train, our plan changed instantly and we were off for Vergas in hopes of catching the high/wide loads.

After searching for a location to shoot the train, I settled on a spot just northwest of Vergas, and the train appeared within a couple of minutes. My first look at the windmill bases being hauled by the CP:

I could hear him talking to someone regularly, and it sounded like they would have to slow down for Dent. On the way there, I stopped at a crossing and shot him again:

As soon as I was back in my vehicle, I heard the train report the presence of possible "terrorists" driving a light colored Ford Escape. This was in addition to the shady character who had been chasing them earlier, driving a "purple" pickup. Somehow, I didn't get the impression that the crew felt they were truly in danger, but I stopped and reassured the CP employee that was accompanying the train that I was not a terrorist. He seemed happy to know it, and just asked me to stay a safe distance from the train.

The train got a good roll-by in Dent, and I was already off for Richville, hoping for a good shot there. About this time the overcast that had rolled in really began to thicken up. However, since windmill trains are not everyday traffic, we pressed on. Here is the train at Richville, waiting to slowly pass the centerbeam flats on the siding.

After he got by these cars, the highball call was made and the train really started to move. I barely beat him to the crossing just north of Ottertail, and he made that time up and beat me to the crossing on the east edge of town. At this point it was a race to the Henning overpass, which I won by a nose as the train again slowed to pass through town. I got a personal greeting from the train crew as they approached the overpass. This shot doesn't show the big friendly wave, as my Pentax blew the focus on that one.

It was one of those days-I heard numerous trains pass by on the Staples Sub, and each time asked myself if this was worth missing a day with what seemed like pretty good traffic. The answer was yes. It was a lot of fun to catch something out of the ordinary.

Then we were done, and still had more than two hours to kill before supper at Thumper Pond. So we headed home, for a little post processing and a dry pair of shoes to wear to the restaurant. And that was my Valentine's Day.


Saturday, February 13, 2010

The Great Valentine's Eve Railfan Extravaganza

Today, unexpectedly to me, the sun came out.

Once I noticed this, the obvious course of action seemed to be to enlist Mrs. L4T in a special pre-Valentine's Day railfan extravaganza. It wasn't too hard to sell her on the idea.

Next up was deciding where to go. Since the gas light was on in the Escape, it seemed like Orton's in Wadena was a likely destination. When we crossed the tracks, the westbound that was showing on ATCS was joined by the headlight of an eastbound. I pumped gas for all I was worth, and raced east, just in time to catch coal loads appoaching the sag near Verndale.

There are a couple of interesting points to this photo. First, you can barely see the wonderful and delicate coat of frost on the trees that didn't survive long once the sun came out. Second, the nose lighting is not very good, part of the continuing struggle encountered when railfanning that section of the Staples Sub between Staples and Perham in the winter. It seems like the trains are sidelit morning, noon and night. The "shadow/highlight" tool sees some use in these shots. The next photo is another example.

Knowledge of a westbound led me to Bluffton. It turned out to be a fortunate stop, but not because the photo was worthwhile-indeed, I am not even going to post it here. But it does provide material for a post of its own in the near future. How's that for mystery?

Having heard that a Becker train would be meeting two westbounds at Philbrook, we sailed back toward Staples for some shots. One westbound was passing through town as we arrived, but two more were still showing so I parked at the east crossing, where I met another fan-sooline14 on youtube was shooting video. We chatted while waiting for a train. Soon enough this guy showed up:

And once again, the sidelighting was brutal. But the company was good, and another train was due, so we waited. Within 15 or 20 minutes, BNSF 4401 west peeked around the corner and I tried another shot. Since I got him again later, I won't bore you with that shot. However, I did notice this reefer just as it passed by, and although I'm not a fan of graffiti, this seemed so original I had to shoot it. This vandal at least knows what type of car he is painting.

The sun was plodding around to the west, and I knew the best chance for nose light on this train was back in Bluffton, so off we went. In another month or so this one will be fairly well lit in the afternoon, but it's still kind of tough right now.

During all this back and forth, we saw three or four other trains, so the Staples was busy on Valentine's Eve. I had originally considered heading west to the Lake Park area, but a cloud bank in that direction scared me off. It likely would have been OK but I didn't want to drive all the way over just to get clouded out. Hey, I've still got that to look forward to then, right?

Then it was home to tear down some wallpaper border in preparation for painting. No matter the railfanning to be done, one must still attend to domestic chores so you can look for trains with a clear conscience.

That's all, Jim

Friday, February 12, 2010

Cloudy and Crude

After driving 500 miles in northwest Minnesota over three days, and hardly seeing anything train-wise under skies so blue you almost cried, I could almost predict that traffic would be heavier today with a thick overcast blanketing the land.

Departing for Detroit Lakes near 11 AM, I made it less than 10 miles west before I encountered my first headlight. Having spotted it a good ways ahead, I was able to take advantage of a nearby crossing to shoot my first train of the day. This ES44AC was the lead unit on COLX loads. The DPU on this one was another ES44AC.

As soon as the crossing was clear I was once again westbound. Topping the overpass west of New York Mills, I sighted the tail end of a train and began making mental calculations of how long it would take me to get ahead of him for a shot. Turns out, since the train was stopped, not too long. Even though the light was failing, I was lured out of the comfort of the Escape by an EMD leader. You know, it feels good just to type the words "EMD" and "leader" together.

I made it to DL with no further interruptions, and spent some time celebrating the retirement of a former co-worker. He ought to be a railfan, living in Detroit Lakes and being retired. What a life that would be, but I just can't sell him on the finer things.

After lunch and a visit, it was time to head for home. Again BNSF favored me with traffic, the next train appearing between Frazee and Perham. This one was again GE-led, but it was an interesting train nonetheless. Oil cans.

Not being sure what the intended cargo was, I shot one of the placards and looked up the cargo for the 1267 number when I arrived home. Crude oil. Must be an empty returning to western ND to pick up another load of crude for a refinery in the south. This is the first time I have identified such a train myself. Here is one of the cars:

I met one more before arriving home, a westbound mixed freight just east of New York Mills. No time for anything other than a shot through the windshield which I will not torture you with. All in all, a nice day of railfanning.

Now, if only I could get the weather and the trains to cooperate with each other...


Thursday, February 11, 2010

Almost a Shutout

Monday found me bound for Hallock, which entails parlleling a good stretch of the Staples, Grand Forks, and Noyes Subdivisions of BNSF, along with around 60 miles of CP's Detroit Lakes Sub. It's a trip that should be a railfan extravaganza.

Unfortunately for me, this time, it wasn't. I managed to make it all the way to Kennedy, just a few miles shy of Hallock, before anything "railroady" caught my eye. Rumor had it that at tractor was being delivered to Kennedy by rail, and this time rumor turned into fact. Many of you have likely already seen that photo of a shiny new John Deere sitting on a flat car in the snow.

All evening Monday, all day Tuesday, and Wednesday morning I was never more than a block or two from the Noyes sub. Even though I could see the tracks from my window, "stealth" trains somehow slipped by in the dark of night Monday and Tuesday, I think, judging from the look of the grade crossings in town.

Headed south around lunchtime on Wednesday, I noticed that the shiny John Deere in Kennedy was now sitting on the loading ramp and the dual wheels that had been on the flatcar were also gone. But I pressed on. After stopping to show the flag in Stephen and Argyle, I pointed the Escape for home.

Again, the tracks were vacant, at least until Mahnomen, where I came upon a southbound CP freight sitting in the siding waiting for a meet. Since trains were rare as hen's teeth, I grabbed a shot.

I noticed some kind of logo on the side of the nose of the lead unit, and investigated to find that it was honoring the musical Mounties:

I thought my luck might change, but the train he was waiting for snuck by me near Waubun, where the track and the highway separate for a bit, and I just saw the end of it disappear. I had no enthusiasm to chase it.

The Staples Sub was even more vacant than the DL Sub, with nothing spotted between DL and Wadena. I made it home about 6:30, feeling like I had been nearly skunked. Wish me better luck next time.


Friday, February 5, 2010

Return of the SD75M

Way back on Tuesday, February 2, BNSF Jake posted a photo of a flock of BNSF SD75's on the move down the Staples Sub. The word on the web was that these engines were to be returned to service in various locations on the system. Sadly, my own trip down the Staples Sub that morning was much too early to get a look at this group of engines as they moved from Minot to Northtown. However, I did get a chance to spot the SD39-2 pair 8012-8018, (working?) behind a pair of SD70MAC's on an eastbound manifest early that morning. This train was stopped near Clear Lake when I shot it just before 9 AM Tuesday.

It's not a conventional or traditional power set, but hey, it's an all-EMD powered freight train. Can't kick about that in the year 2010.

Fast forward to today, or more specfically this afternoon as I returned home from a three day tour of Southeast Minnesota and the Twin Cities. Just west of Becker, a headlight lured me off the well traveled asphalt of Highway 10 for a shot of what turned out to be an eastbound manifest under the charge of two of the aforementioned SD75M's.

Although the overcast ruled out good photos, I simply had to shoot this pair of EMD's. I take it as nothing but a good sign that business is picking up if the railroad is re-activating units that had been mothballed for what seems like a year.

I also spotted a pair of eastbound manifests on my trip home, both led by assortments of Dash 9's in various H1, H2, and warbonnet paint. The last train I spotted was a COLX load just south of Randall. Sadly, they heavy overcast was enough to discourage me from further photography attempts.

Monday I leave for Hallock, so hopefully I will get something on that trip. Who knows, with any luck I may even stumble across that rumored CP windmill train that is supposed to headed this way.