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.


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