Monday, May 31, 2010

Staked Out in Staples

After an email from Ian a few days earlier, Saturday morning was arranged for a two railfan meetup at the Staples depot. Anytime something like this is planned, you hope for good weather and lots of trains. We got at least half of this combination right that Saturday AM.

I left Wadena sometime after 6:00 AM with clear skies above. Leaving the house I heard a train blowing for the crossing in Wadena. Turned out to be a westbound Z-I saw the tail end as I approached the Jefferson Street crossing. Peering after the train revealed the headlight of an eastbound, so I decided to shoot my first target while sitting across from the depot. Here, what I think was a Becker load passes in front of the Leaf River Ag fertilizer plant.

A chase to Staples seemed in order, and I hadn't even reached Verndale before meeting a coal empty-this train was also led by a faded MAC/ACe combo. I would see three trains with this power set in my first hour of the morning. My shot at getting the DPU of the empty and the leaders of the loads didn't quite work out, so next stop was CR 9 east of Aldrich-the same spot where Ian shot this train, later in the summer. As you can see the sun angle crosses the tracks for just a couple of months a year in this spot.

Off to Staples, where a westbound managed to stab us by just a few moments. Just the thing you don't like to see happen, but it means there is traffic moving I guess.

Anyway, after a short wait, ATCS showed another eastbound lined to cross over at Dower Lake and enter the Brainerd Sub. Most likely a MERC coal train, and sure enough it was. Here Ian stares it down with his dimunitive new camera, waiting for the slow moving train to get a bit closer.

And here's my shot of the second coal load, as he twists along the curve in Main 1. So kind of the railroad to put a curve here to add interest to photos.

My last train was a stacker lead by an H1 GE. This one was on Main 2 as he was staying on the Staples Sub (of course).

With my son home for the weekend, I needed to head home. I wished Ian luck and ran back to Wadena, never seeing another train although I expected one anytime.

Thanks, Ian, for the company and great conversation. This little encounter really whetted my appetite for Verndale Rail. Can't wait to see many of you there in a few weeks.


Tuesday, May 18, 2010


Late yesterday afternoon, I snuck into MN Chris country via back road for an evening meeting. Having arrived at a secret location a little over an hour before the start time, I decided to turn on the scanner and find a nice spot trackside to eat my orange and drink my diet coke.

I was shocked to hear 161.520 come to life as a defect detector at MP 70 point something (about 5 miles east of Bagley) announced the passing of what had to be a coal train, given the axle count. After waiting a matter of minutes, here he comes:

The water tank has always fascinated me. I would love to have seen GN steamers pull up for a drink "back in the day".

So on a day when I drove almost 200 miles and paralleled railroad tracks for none of it, I still managed to see a train. Keep the faith!


Saturday, May 15, 2010

"Check, Please."

That's what I said to the waitress at the Spot Cafe in Staples as a pair of warbonnet SD75's drifted west through town this evening. But let's back up just a bit and set the stage.

Mrs. L4T had managed to pry me away from a frenzy of benchwork building, as I strove to complete a mainline run around the half of my basement that has been taken over by model railroading. So it was that we headed to Staples around 4 PM to take nourishment and see if there were any sights to behold. A paucity of westbound trains motivated us to eat as soon as we arrived. We were entertained while we ate by a pair of eastbounds-the first one a manifest train headed up by a pair of SD75's and a third unit in a GP30 body, and the second one a stacker behind a couple of Dash 9's. We were finishing up supper as the stack train passed, and while it was rolling through Staples, the westbound showed up. As I said earlier, this 364 axle manifest train had a pair of warbonnets for power. We quickly got our check, paid, and made chase.

Building clouds were playing havoc with the sun from time to time, so with the chance to shoot the train during a sunny interval I quickly pulled over at the location of the detector at MP 151. Here's the shot:

I had been able to overtake the train due to his slow speed through Staples. By the time he passed the detector this had all changed, and it was a race to get ahead of him again. I finally passed the head end just outside Verndale, but once again fell behind passing through Wadena. The train didn't have to stop for a pair of red lights.

I had hoped to shoot him near Bluffton, but no joy on that. I didn't catch the power again until New York Mills, and decided to chase him to Perham and try a photo on the west bank of the Ottertail River.

I was again lucky with the sun, and we decided to call it a night. Back home it was, to spend a little more time thinking about the best way to build that tricky piece of corner benchwork. All for this time.


Friday, May 7, 2010

Springtime in Wadena (Part II)

Two months ago, it would seem that I announced the arrival of spring to the Staples Subdivision prematurely.

On my way home from this week's road trip, a westbound coal empty coordinated its arrival at the Wadena interlocking with my own arrival at the First Street crossing. What better time to capture the flavor of early May here in Wadena?

No, that's not plain old Pentax noise in the photo. It's honest to goodness snow, and when I pulled up at home just a few minutes after snapping this picture, it was barely beginning to stick to the grass and still falling. The weatherman doesn't seem to think we'll get MUCH snow. That's heartening thought, as we sit here contemplating Mom's Day.


Wednesday, May 5, 2010

It's Hard (but not Impossible) to Stop a Train

Toward the end of a long day, as I neared Austin, I encountered a northbound ICE manifest train picking its way along the 10 mph track between Blloming Prairied and Owatonna. Even though the clouds were thick, why not try a few photos? It's not like I had any pressing engagements this evening.

So after a u-turn and a run back up US 218 to Bixby, I fired off a couple of shots. These are the best I could do with the editing software on my work computer.

As I waited for the slow-moving train to approach a grade crossing, someone in an orange railroad vest drove up in a pickup. He asked me if I had reported a tree down on the tracks. I told him I hadn't, but there was another pickup a little ways further north parked near the tracks. The railroader thanked me and took off north.
After getting my shot I followed.

Amazingly, I found an open spot in the foliage just as the sun peeked through a crack in the cloud cover. It seemed as is fate would allow a nicely lit photo of this train after all. But just as his headlights appeared, the train speed went from 10 mph to zero mph. Now what?

Peering down the right-of-way, I thought maybe I could see something on the tracks. The rail in the pickup went racing down a gravel road, and since the train was stopped, I drove a little ways down the highway and pulled over. Sure enough, a good sized tree had blown down across the tracks. After asking the engineer and conductor if they minded me taking some pictures, and them telling me to go ahead, I shot a few. Here one of the crew members is snapping a photo of his own:

The crew was waiting patiently for help to arrive. Since darkness was rapidly approaching, I decided to move on, and thanked them for their cooperative attitudes. It was fun to talk with railroaders encountering something a bit out of the ordinary.

And that's my story of how it's hard, but not impossible, to stop a train.