Monday, April 26, 2010

Another Year Under the Belt

The time has come once again to look back over the year that was. Today, turns 2 years old.

Last year, I did a bit of a recap of my first year of train blogging. Web traffic is still nice, and it makes things worthwhile in a different way when the hit counter is spinning, but if I was doing this blog to generate traffic I would have quit long ago. Much more important than page views is staying in touch with people I have gotten to know through the hobby. That's what really lets me do, and why I am still posting two years after I started. In fact, looking back on what I wrote last year, this section is at least as applicable as it was then:

"Has this been worth doing? For me, the answer is a definite yes. For one thing, Mrs. L4T likes to read about her part in the look4trains fact-finding outings. It also has helped me to share information with other people who have similar interests. Railfanning in a small Minnesota town can be a solitary pursuit, but the internet has helped people with similar interests to make contact with each other, share information, and develop friendships. Hopefully this blog has contributed in some small way to that goal."

This site saw 72 posts in its first year, and over 120 posts in its second year. I don't know that I will maintain this level of posting, but it seems unlikely I will abandon this blog in the forseeable future. One of the unexpected pleasures resulting from the posting I have done is reading back over past railfan adventures and the memories the posts bring back for me. Whether it's the SP 4449 passing through the area, or simply the memory of another in a long line of BNSF coal trains rolling across the Staples Sub, or one of the occasional trips where railfans get together, thinking back on the experiences is a lot of fun. I guess I'll keep doing this blogging thing.


Sunday, April 25, 2010

New Toys!

Seeing the work Ian and the other modelers who had layouts at the St. Cloud show are doing jump started my modeling desire. A few weeks ago, while nosing around on ebay, I spotted something that I didn't even know existed. Once I saw it, there was no question I had to have it. Turns out that at one time, the BN "Aeroflo" bathtub gons were available in HO scale from LBF. I've always had a soft spot for this car, and so it passed that I became the owner of my first batch of coal tubs.

Fast forward to today, the third cloudy Sunday in a row. Seemed like a great time to head down to the basement and dig around on my unbelievably messy workbench, find the exacto knife, forceps, and plastic cement, and see what I could rustle up from a couple of those kits. Where are those couplers I bought three years ago, anyway? I picked one of the Aeroflo cars and one of the Coalporters (a special one, double rotary ends) to start with. Each one took about an hour to assemble, and when I was done I decided to take a couple of pictures.

After yesterday's show, my fleet of coal cars has reached about 20. Not quite a unit train, but far enough into the pursuit of one that it's no use trying to stop now. What a project I am beginning to envision-I'll need to expand the layout to run them. And they won't look right behind my motley collection of geeps-I can see some combination of MAC's and ACe's in my future as well. As a matter of fact, I think there is an auction for a Genesis MAC in H2 paint ending any minute...


Saturday, April 24, 2010

St. Cloud and Back

The trip to St. Cloud and back for the Granite City Train Show offered the chance for some more cloudy day railfanning. As we passed the west end of the Staples yard, a parked train caught my attention. A 6600 series GE was the leader on a manifest parked in the yard. U-turn time!

Oddly, the tracks were quiet the rest of the way down. After getting my fill of model railroading at the train show (and some quality shopping time for Mrs. L4T), we were once again northbound. And still the trains seemed to be hiding from us.

Finally, during a brief stop in Randall, I spotted an eastbound between Staples and Philbrook on ATCS. We headed straight for the old Highway 10 bridge near Lincoln and waited only about 10 minutes for what I suspect was a Becker load with a MAC leader. The leaves are starting to pop, giving us hope for some more scenic shots in the near future.

I still think whoever made the decision to peel off all the nose logos should be punished, but as a famous train blogger once said, "whaddaya gonna do?".

Shortly, a second eastbound popped up on the screen, and we decided to try and beat him to the Quicken Road crossing south of Philbrook. I've always wanted to shoot an eastbound here, and today was my (somewhat) lucky day-I got the eastbound, although it was under heavy overcast and in a light drizzle, none of which lessened the impact of seeing a train round the corner at speed.

These NS units are a particular favorite of Mrs. L4T for some reason. She says it's not the paint, but the name sounds neat-"Norfolk Southern"-and she maintains that the orange engines all look the same. You should have heard me try and explain why we needed to stop and shoot the C4 in Staples."But it looks just like all the rest" she said, as I tried to explain the concept of replacing 6 DC traction motors with 4 AC motors, and adding equipment that has the ability to raise the center axle on each truck to increase the weight on the driven axles. I gave up when her eyes glazed over in response to my explanation. Oh well, I'm lucky that she enjoys the ride.


An Artist's Work

Today Mrs. L4T and I made our way to St. Cloud for the spring edition of the Granite City Train Show. (Actually, she went for the shopping.) One of the inspirational highlights of this show is seeing what Ian has dreamed up to display. I do believe his depiction of Wingett's Recycling may be his most impressive work to date at the show, although the T scale layout he had last time was amazing if only for its size. Here are a few shots of Wingett's:

Here's a view from "behind the scenes"-trains enter and exit the layout from this hidden staging area. It really is a complete performance to watch the trackmobile or locomotive at work on this little layout.

Now after looking at those photos, consider the fact that the Wingett's layout was built in seven days.

Simply beautiful. And it's not just the appearance, the thing runs pretty well too, especially when I consider that he hauled it up from his house and set it up in a crowded hall.

And even with all that, Ian hasn't been neglecting the tiny T scale models he had at the last GCTS. If you can believe this, he has been SCRATCHBUILDING cars in T scale. Most of you are familiar with HO, and most probably know N scale model railroad equipment when you see it. I had seen photos of Z scale equipment, and thought there was no way it could be surpassed. I was wrong. Take a look at this undecorated gondola Ian has managed to knock together. Keep in mind the Soo Line boxcar is HO scale:

Here, Ian holds his creation in the palm of his hand. I can barely see this stuff, and he is cutting out and assembling parts to make it. Simply amazing. All I could do in response was ask him how he would make decals, and if the data would be legible under a scanning electron microscope!

Looking at his work, I can't decide whether I should be inspired or humbled. Talent like that is not something all of us were blessed with. But he must have inspired me, because I did add to my collection of BN/BNSF coal tubs at the show. Slowly but surely, I'm becoming my own little Empire Builder.

Thanks, Ian, for sharing your talent at this show. Many people truly enjoy it and I'm sure you are inspiring others in the pursuit of model railroading.


Sunday, April 18, 2010

I Fought the Clouds...and the Clouds Won

(A railfanning tale from Sunday, April 11)

The sun was out. Tiger seemed to be self-destructing over the first few holes of the final round of The Masters. A couple of train horns earlier in the day had gotten my railfanning juices flowing. Mrs. L4T was making signs like she wanted to go for a ride. There was a fresh set of batteries for the scanner in the closet. It was one of those days that just begged for a railfanning trip. We were off!

Every railfan needs a plan to start out with, otherwise how could you expect to see trains that jolt you into changing that plan? Mine involved a jaunt to Lincoln, where hopefully we would meet a westbound, get a photo in good light, and set off on a chase across a good portion of western Minnesota.

We made it to Philbrook. That was where some mystery train, which I had not noticed on the ATCS display, put in a surprise appearance. As I entered the tiny Burg, the crossing lights were flashing and the arms were down, followed mere seconds later by a trio of classic BNSF coal power charging toward the mines with an entire trainset of WPSX coal gons in tow. The chase was on.

First stop: Aldrich. No matter how many times I have seen this sight it still is exciting to be trackside as a coal train thunders by as part of its never-ending rotation between Wyoming and Wisconsin. Sunshine and picturesque clouds only add to the effect.

That was fun, let's do it again. This time, we'll try a shot from the overpass. Luckily enough, we catch a loaded coal train on the reverse leg of the cycle passing below us as we wait for our primary target to approach-and the DPU on this loaded train is facing backwards, offering up this image. You can see the empties in the distance, as they race to the west.

And then the empty train has arrived. The DPU in the previous photo is now only a point of light in the distance.

Waiting for the 8870 to arrive, we were joined by another railfan on the overpass. After a short introduction and converstation, we said our goodbyes and continued on west, with an ultimate destination of who knows where?

By this time, Mrs. L4T and I are ready to eat. But knowing that trains are around, we decide to grab some food McD's and stake out the DL depot. Just as I gobbled down the last of my chicken select, the first train of DL shows up from the west.

Minutes later, here comes a westbound Z, gliding up the grade to the depot. A quartet of GE's, including a CSX unit third out. Now the title of this post should be getting clearer to you. The clouds were moving in, and they were here to stay.

I contemplated a chase anyway, and actually did set out to the west, but the speed of the Z train combined with the clouds discouraged me. There was one saving grace, though, and that was a coal empty that had passed the detector at MP 203 not long before. I parked near the crossing west of Richards Spur and went for a walk down the ditch to grab this shot of the GE-led empty:

The combination of clouds and evening approaching was enough to point us for home. As we sped down Highway 10 a headlight appeared to the east. A race to the nearest crossing allowed me to shoot this from the window as I rolled to a stop:

That photo gives a hint to the MOW work for this summer. The precast crossings are scattered up and down the Staples Sub.

Arriving in Wadena, we spotted the day's last train. I shot him as he rolled through the plant in failing light.

That was our day. Even with some clouds, it was still good to get out trackside for a bit of an extended period. Looking forward to doing it again.


Saturday, April 10, 2010

West of Wadena

A trip to Perham last Friday morning (April 9) gave me the chance for a little incidental railfanning between Wadena and my destination. It's just barely over 20 miles, and travelling at freeway speed the trip is less than half an hour, but as I approached the overpass west of New York Mills I was lucky enough to spot an eastbound headlight. Turned out the train was a GEVO led bare table, headed who knows where at a good clip.

Morning light is just about perfect in that location this time of year. I also like seeing the Perham water tower in the distance, along with the large crane working at the site of the new Perham hospital. The little farmstead peeking through the trees is just a bonus.

On the way home after lunch, I chased a worm train out of Perham heading east. By this time the sun was pretty much gone for eastbounds but I caught him in New York Mills anyway. The train seemed to be slowing as he passed me, creating hope for another catch somewhere near Wadena.

However, I soon passed the train as it drifted to a stop just outside New York Mills. The plan of shooting him again near Bluffton was dashed.

It soon became clear why he was stopping-another train was stopped as well, just a couple of miles in front of him. This one turned out to be a unit DDG train. Throttling up just as I approached, he called for quick work, and I barely beat him to the CR 75 crossing just west of Wadena. Here the pair of Dash 9's have just made it to the top of the short grade out of the Leaf River valley, and are working at picking up speed as they approach Wadena.

And with that, another short railfan adventure on the Staples Sub was concluded. Three trains in less than an hour on a work-mandated journey are hard to beat. I'm a lucky guy.


Something Different

A touch of sunshine and the promise of some rail traffic was all it took to lure Mrs L4T and I out of the house for a bit last Thursday evening. So, once the dishes were done and put away, off we went.

Coal loads were heading east as we made it uptown. Not knowing if the DPU was oriented favorably, I decided to run east to set up for a shot. As I paced the train for a few miles, I noticed that this train had one of the most random mixtures of BN and BNSF coal gons I had ever seen. Every class of coal car that BNSF operates regularly on this line, and even a couple I rarely see, were present. Seemed like it would be worth shooting some video of this train. As a result my plan changed to catching the head end and getting on the south side to shoot the cars in good light.

But as often happens in railfanning, well intentioned plans are tossed to the wind as circumstances change. When I spotted a westbound empty coal train with four units, it became a higher priority after identifying the lead unit.

In all the time I have spent chasing trains on the Staples Sub, the number of sightings of Dash 9's as power on those train could be counted on one hand. Dash 9's and coal trains just don't seem to mix. In fact, the only photo I have that I can put my finger on showing DC motor GE's on coal was shot in Wyoming.

So this train was unique enough to tempt me back west, and I shot him at the Wing River sag. With this under my belt, we decided to meander back to Wadena. We nearly made it, too, but a loaded coal train interrupted us. And so it was back to the same spot, where I shot the leaders as they approached. This train also was a mixed bag of BN and BNSF cars, but not quite as unique as the earlier one. Here's the power.

And with that, we did make it home. Not a lot of action, but we saw three trains in less than an hour, and that beats anything on TV any day.


Thursday, April 8, 2010

Grind 'n Squirt

A look at the calendar for Monday April 5 told me to go to Hawley after lunch. Meetings were scheduled for afternoon and evening, but I fetched the camera along just because. Just west of Perham, something appeared in my vision far ahead on the tracks. I quickly overtook it and discovered Loram rail grinder RG319 hard at work on the curve between Perham and Frazee, rounding off the ball on Main 1.

Since the sun was not yet far enough west for a nicely lit shot, I ended up with these. The dry spring must have made the railroad very aware of fire danger, as the Loram crew was applying a liberal coat of water to the right-of-way as the grinder did its work.

Seems that only the curves were being ground, as the sparks had quit blying and the water was already slowing down when I got this shot of the tail end of the train.

Even with this level of fire protection, I suspect fires are possible in the ROW. The area between New York Mills and the overpass west of their has recently burned, and it seems rail grinding could be the cause. This isn't the first time I have seen a fire that may have been a result of rail grinding operations.

Since I wasn't able to head for home until well after dark, this turned out to be the only train of the day for me. Still, it was fun to see something out of the ordinary.


Thursday, April 1, 2010

A Place Called Alborn

On my way home from Virginia, I decided to celebrate April Fools Day by following St. Louis CR 7 south, paralleling Missabe trackage much of the way. But this time my chosen route turned west at Alborn.

Alborn is where the BNSF and ex-DMIR mains cross as they head south from the range. Being in a hurry, I didn't have any time to investigate the layout of the area. But I do know that wherever two main line railroads converge, your chances of seeing a train improve. My April Fools joke turned out to be this BNSF train sitting in a siding on former DMIR trackage:

So, I saw a train. But while I was scoping out that situation, what to my wondering ears should appear but the sound of a diesel horn to my south and west. A short jaunt over the BNSF main, and sure enough, here comes an empty pellet train screaming north. I barely had time for a backlit shot of the power on the train as it passed under someone's old overpass.

It would be nice to say I suspected there would be a DPU facing the correct way, but I was across the tracks from my vehicle and had to wait for the train to pass before I could think about leaving, so the DPU was more or less forced on me.

So, in a grand total of 5 minutes, I managed to shoot two trains. It was purely by chance, and a nice April Fools surprise for a weary traveller in northern Minnesota. Alborn is definitely a location worth checking out again.