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.



dorcheat said...

Hello Jim,

I greatly enjoyed the pics along the old Soo Line Noyes-Winnipeg branch. I have commented on your blog once before as the guy who grew up in DL on Holmes Street one block away from the now gone Soo Line Depot on appropriately named "Soo Avenue".

I was fortunate enough to have grandparents who lived in Dent, Minnesota next to Minnesota 108 and Ottertail County Road 35 in the red house on the hill. As a boy, I stayed for weeks at a time during the summers watching classic Soo Line locos during the 1970's through early 1990's. I well remember the F-7's and GP-9's of the 70s.

I have driven County Road 35 hundreds of times from near DL from off of US 59 through Vergas and Dent. Of course, one can roughly follow the rather rural Soo route as well.

Thank you so much for showing this old Soo Line route some love on Valentine's Day. I know trains are rare on this route, only some four to six per day at best on dark track with train warrants, but I appreciate the time and effort you and your wife expended while photographing some history.

For the readers, it is much tougher to shoot CP trains on this old Soo route than the very busy 50 to 60 trains per day on the old Northern Pacific Hi Line that is one of BNSF's major routes.

Indeed, these pictures are just about perfect, but it would have been very nice to see an old Soo Line SD-40, SD-60 or GP38-2 on the point of the windmill train.

Finally, I alerted the folks at the Soo Line Historical and Technical Society ( to the great pics. Keep looking for those $oo Line trains, Jim.

Jason Dennis said...

I am the conductor that was on that train that day. I was just playing around about the terrorist stuff. We are supposed to report suspicious activity. I just like to have fun at work when possible. I was hoping to show my kids of me waving at you at henning. Next time I guess. Today was the first time I looked at train pictures online. You guys do have some nice pictures. Next time I see that Ford Escape, I'll be sure to wave.
Jason Dennis

Jim said...


Thanks for the comments! It's a great feeling knowing people are reading and enjoying these posts.

Dorcheat, love hearing the stories of the Soo Line. I really need to spend more time on this piece of railroad as it is so scenic, especially in the DL area and a ways south.

Jason, it was neat hearing the crew doing their job in a professional way, yet still enjoying work. Please believe me when I say that the last thing I want to do is interfere with anyone's job. I know that railfans in general occasionally get (and sometimes deserve) a bad rap for their behavior. Hopefully I don't contribute to that, and the crews that work the CP in this area deserve a lot of respect. Sorry I didn't get a good shot of you approaching the Henning overpass-I would love to get another try someday.