Friday, June 25, 2010

A Train Photo for You

Life has been hectic in the L4T household. Mrs. L4T is busy preparing for her mom's 90th birthday bash this weekend, and I've had some work to do. Tomorrow I am off to help one of the victim's of Wadena's tornado move into a different home.

But tonight we had a few minutes to grab a sandwich at McDonald's and stop at the Depot for an evening meal. We weren't interrupted by any trains, but after a short ride we were heading home when I spotted an approaching headlight on Main 1. I decided to shoot a fast moving Z train entering town.

I've got some of the photos from Verndale processed, and am trying to find time to work on some more. Hopefully I'll have a few ready for the coming week, when I'll be in Northeast Minnesota, and some evening I can put together a post telling the tale of Verndale Rail 2010.

Until that time, take the photo posted above as evidence that I am still alive and kicking. All for now,


Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Verndale Rail 2010 Part 1-the Trains

Since last Thursday night the evening of June 17, life around L4T homebase has been hectic to say the least. Attending Verndale Rail 2010 was a welcome respite, but I haven't had time to more than look at the pictures until recently.

Since the best part of these outings is the time spent with other fans, I decided to focus first on the trains and leave the "human interest" type shots until I have a little more time to devote to them. So what I am sharing here are some of the train photos from that afternoon and evening. First up is a coal load that I caught as I left Wadena and decided to shoot at the Wing River sag, since the DPU was facing me. The sun was high and heat distortion was evident, but it's hard to pass by any opportunity for a train photo. I took the presence of a train as a good omen for the day, which I think it turned out to be.

Steve and Todd were both in Verndale when I arrived. We didn't have much time to make introductions before we were rudely interrupted by a westbound stack train led by-you guessed it-a set of GE's. Here's my shot of this train:

I believe this next train is the Laurel-bound intermodal that plies the Staples Sub. This short train would be the perfect prototype for a modeler who can't quite afford an intermodal fleet consisting of spine cars and well cars numbering in the dozens. (That would be me).

And here's another lovely scene for the model railroader-a pair of SD70MAC's in charge of an empty coal train that looks like it was put together by throwing every aluminum coal gon BN or BNSF ever owned into a bag and having a blindfolded person randomly select cars from the bag. I love these trains!

And finally, another coal load DPU, just like the photo I opened this post with. Only this time the pusher is a GE, and the loaded coal train is on Main One instead of Main Two, the dispatcher having crossed him over at Wadena. Since he's bound for the Brainerd Sub, the crossover had to happen relatively soon anyway.

Hopefully, I'll free up some time soon for the rest of the Verndale Rail shots I have. Until then, I've got a few more posts in the hopper that will hopefully help remind everyone I haven't completely been swallowed up into a black hole.


Monday, June 21, 2010

Wadena Aftermath

I'm certain that many readers of this blog are aware of the violent tornado that struck Wadena last Thursday evening, June 17. There has been extensive media coverage of the widespread destruction this storm caused. I thought I would take this chance to share a rail-related photo illustrating a small fraction of the destruction.

This shot of a covered hopper sitting on the spur serving what used to be the Leaf River Ag fertilizer plant is a good illustration of how things look in a substantial swath of the west side of town. I didn't get a shot of the car laying on its side, which it was after the tornado struck. BNSF's crack employees have the car upright and on the rails today.

The spur itself used to lead into an unloading shed that no longer exists. I think one of the walls of that shed is leaning against what remains of the fertilizer storage building. Also of interest is a large chunk of what used to be Wadena's community center in the picture. That's the silver blob at the right edge of the frame. Another large portion of the community center landed on the southeast corner of the high school, and a third good sized piece was found a couple of blocks further east.

I don't know what the co-op's plans for this facility are, but it was just completely replaced a year or two ago so I expect they will rebuild on site.

Wadena will never be the same. More than 200 homes were seriously damaged or destroyed, and many of the seriously damaged ones will be bulldozed. The west side of town along Highway 10 was littered with snowmobile trailers, school buses, and cement blocks.

But the most important outcome from the tornado was human. Although a number of people were transported to the emergency room as a result of injury, not one person in Wadena was killed. I thank the Lord that people were spared, and also that my own home was not among those damaged. Also, I appreciate the calls and emails from people who know I live in Wadena and expressed their concern, it meant a lot. Thank you!


Thursday, June 10, 2010

A Cure for the Aching Back

Since the train show in St. Cloud earlier this spring, my interest in modeling has been rekindled. What had been the beginnings of a small HO switching layout in my basement has seen significant expansion, to the point that I now have a continuous mainline run of about 120'. I enjoy this, since when I am down in the basement working on models, I now can have a train running continuously, and it passes above my workbench every three minutes or so. However, in order to have this continuous run, the tracks have to cross the doorway entering the room. I contemplated whether I should build a duckunder, some type of swinging gate, or a bridge to cross the doorway. A temporary duckunder convinced me that whatever solution was selected would have to allow me to enter the room in an upright position. Here's the doorway that needed crossing:

One of my personality traits is that I enjoy solving problems like this in the most economical way possible. In other words, I'm pretty cheap. I didn't want to have to buy a bunch of fancy hardware. However, at the same time, my cheapness convinced me that whatever method I used had better not let an expensive Genesis locomotive go crashing to the cement floor. With these thoughts in mind, I sat down and began pondering. The first thought was a lift up bridge. However, I kept seeing it come crashing down on my head in my mind. So how about a lift out section? That seemed simpler, but probably not practical for someone who can set down a camera and 30 seconds later swear that some basement troll must have grabbed it and taken the camera back to its lair. I needed something that I couldn't lose. The drop leaf style bridge came to mind. And so the basic design was chosen. I figured, in order to have a reliable bridge, I needed something substantial to fasten it to. An armload of 2x4's and some drywall screws provided a foundation on one end. The existing benchwork on the other side of the bridge was surprisingly stable. The hinged end would be on the side with the 2x4 framework, as shown here:

So far, things were going pretty well. But now came one of the harder parts of the design-how can I make sure that the tracks on the bridge line up perfectly with the tracks on the benchwork, every time? I had to stop and play with trains for a while to let that question turn over in my mind. Eventually, I came up with the idea of some type of wedge arrangement, where alignment in both the horizontal and vertical planes should be repeatable. I could try and describe how I did this, or I could just show you this picture:

The cam is removable, so you take it out, raise the bridge, then plug the dowel into a hole and twist the cam to lock the bridge in place. Reverse the procedure to lower the bridge. Store the cam in place, and you might not lose it. I haven't yet. I built the entire thing before installing the track, then with the bridge locked in position by the cam, installed the track. Then I used a cutoff wheel in a rotary tool to cut the track. Here are the joints on either end of the track:

I powered the tracks by soldering feeders to each rail and leaving enough slack so the wire flexes as the bridge is raised and lowered. Here is how the bridge looks when it's in the operating position:

The bridge "plank" is a piece of birch that is about an inch thick. It's very stable and so far I have seen no problems with alignment. It's on of the rare projects that worked out pretty well the first try. It is a little rough looking, and I still will add some type of electrical interconnection to prevent running a train into the canyon if the bridge is open, but I haven't found just the switch I want to use for that yet. Remembe, I'm cheap and want to get the feeling of getting a good deal on that switch.

Here's a short video of how it actually works.

Hope you enjoyed this little story!


Friday, June 4, 2010

Verndale Rail Teaser

But first, a cloudy morning backlit shot from my trip to Perham this morning:

I'd love to live on the farmstead where the old collapsed barn rests at the left edge of this photo.

After work today, here's the view that greeted me when I logged onto ATCS (click on the image, and take in the fleet of westbounds SWA had lined up):

That many westbounds that close together just cries out for a quick railfanning outing. Mrs. L4T was agreeable, so after a rushed supper it was off to the east. I had hoped to make it to Staples before meeting the first westbound and shoot BNSF 4444 east but no such luck. A COLX empty had us making a u-turn at CR 9. We shot back to the Wing River sag to shoot a Verndale Rail preview.

Knowing that we would see at least one or two more trains, it seemed appropriate to work from Verndale. The next train I shot at the east crossing, a location I have used probably a hundred times before.

Just after this train passed, an empty off the Brainerd Sub passed the detector at 151.6. Here's an attempt to make the location of the photo very evident.

And again, in short order the detector west of Staples announced the impending arrival of another westbound. This time Mrs. L4T suggested trying a shot near Bluffton, so off we were, to the Bluffton curve. This odd little train was led by a pair of SD70MAC's and consisted of some RRVW ballast cars, a couple of loaded coil steel cars with no covers, and a bunch of old ATSF and BN steel coal hoppers. Oh, how the mighty AC power has fallen.

The first shot of the evening, at the Wing River, was shot at 6:10 PM, while the final shot at the Bluffton curve was time stamped 6:54 PM. I guess trackwork is good for something, that being bunching up the trains. Not a bad 45 minutes of railfanning.

Hopefully this whets your appetite for some Staples Sub action at Verndale Rail 2010. I know I'm looking forward to it.


Thursday, June 3, 2010

Racing to Randall...and back, Part II

Thursday marked the third consecutive day that revolved around a trip to Randall. This time I was greeted by the horn of an eastbound as I walked out into the driveway, and the chase was on.

By the time I made Verndale I had built a small lead on the coal loads, which I managed to maintain passing through town. This let me try my first shot of the morning as the train passed one of my favorite big trees.

He was making good time, and that offered the opportunity to shoot him in Staples on Main 1, as the dispatcher crossed him over at Dower Lake. Here's the shot from a bit of a new angle, that I don't really like.

MOW crews anxious to go to work were quizzing the dispatcher as to when they could begin their 7 hour work window. The holdup was an FRA car passing east through the area. Nothing could start until this short train had made its way through. I was already at work in Randall when ATCS showed him approaching, and I convinced my co-workers this was an opportune time for a break. After a wait that couldn't have been more than 5 minutes, success.

Nothing on the way home, as the MOW crews were still hard at it. I did shoot a short video clip of a ballast cleaning machine as I left Randall, that I will try and upload to youtube in the near future.


Racing to Randall...and back

Yesterday morning (Wednesday) required a trip to Randall for work, which is always a good thing as it gives the opportunity for railfanning the Staples Sub. I met a coal empty coming out of the sun between Wadena and Staples, but my first photo op was in Staples where a loaded WPSX train was posed behind a pair of Grinstein green SD70MAC's.

The leader had the ugly bare nose, along with one of the odder patch jobs I have seen on one of these units.

Maintenance of Way forces had a 7 hour work window, which dried the flow of trains up to less than a trickle. There was no traffic through Randall for most of the day. There was a crew working on the east siding switch in Randall, though.

When I left for home, I could hear the dispatcher clearing up track and time from a number of crews. There were also a number of eastbound trains stacked up waiting for a chance to continue their journey. The first one I saw was waiting at Philbrook. Right behind him, at the 470th St crossing, I caught this under thickening overcast.

Remember the coal loads I shot in the yard that morning? Well, with the sun swung around to the west, I decided to grab a shot of the DPU as I passed through town. Here's evidence that it's still possible to find a train with three executive painted MAC's as its sole power in 2010, even if they are in a 2+1 DPU configuration.

And that's all the train photos for today. The good news for me is I still had one more day to make the commute to Randall. So, this story is to be continued...


Tuesday, June 1, 2010

A Philbrook Surprise

This morning, with a trip to Randall in the cards, I gassed up and turned on the scanner. Within a few minutes the dispatcher was busier than the proverbial one-armed paperhanger, issuing track and time to no fewer than three MOW crews on the east side of Staples. One of the crews involved an even 10 GPS ID's, whatever that is for. Another one sounded like a couple of pile drivers bound for the Philbrook area. Apparently the bridge over the Long Prairie River, just northwest of Philbrook, is being worked on.

From listening to the dispatcher I knew that there was only one train left, a westbound (travelling away from the sun) that had to be somewhere between Randall and me. As I poked my way along back roads, following the Staples Sub as much as possible, I finally reached Philbrook. A glance to the east revealed a headlight. I decided to stay and watch the train roll by, as the lighting was awful for the leaders.

When he showed up (at a reduced speed, he was going to Main 2 at Philbrook to make way for the pile drivers) it turned out to be a crude oil empty. Since every one of these trains I have seen to this time have had DPU's, I moved to take advantage if the rear engine was oriented properly. Here's the result:

Only one train, travelling the wrong way, but still, I thought, it's an interesting shot.

When I reached Randall, the MOW folks were setting up to do some heavy work on the switch east of downtown. They were still there when I left. I swung through Philbrook again, and could hear the banging of the pile drivers at work. Now, as I sit at home, I can hear multiple trains pass through Wadena after the backup caused by the work window. Since I have to head that way again tomorrow, I'm hoping for a little sunshine and some trains.