Sunday, October 31, 2010

3 Pairs

As we've suffered some might poor railfanning weather in the past 10 days or so, posting here at look4trains has been non-existent. The combination of clouds and work have left me with a desire to shoot some train photos so this afternoon Mrs. L4T and I checked out the ATCS, put fresh batteries in the scanner, and taking into account the late autumn sun angle, pointed the vehicle west.

With not a lot of traffic showing up on the computer I fell back on my normal plan-drive until you find a train, then decide what to do. We met an eastbound just past New York Mills, but the combination of an unnatractive consist and poor lighting led me to pass it up. Crossing fingers, we continue west. And the other side of Perham, I heard the dispatcher give a warrant to BNSF 8943 East. Maybe a coal train, and I can shoot him somewhere near Frazee where there may be at least a little nose light. First up: Acorn Lake, and a matched set of Halloween painted MAC's.

I've always wanted to shoot a train here when the water is dead calm. That would probably involve me getting up real early in the morning, and a train being there at the right time, but someday these things will come together.

As soon as he passed, we raced back east to try and beat him to the S curve. It was a losing race, by about 60 seconds. I stopped to shoot him just a bit east of the curve, shown here:

Since the track is still real close to north/south here, for a few miles, it seemed worth trying one more shot at the curve between Frazee and Perham. I beat the train this time, by 30 seconds or so.

Since we were already so far west, it seemed only right to sniff around Detroit Lakes for a bit. We may have just missed a CP train, as both signals near the Holiday Inn were yellow as we drove into town, then dropped to black as we passed them. A train at the diamond was the only explanation I was able to come up with, since there were no other BNSF trains nearby at this time.

After a stop at Menards to pick up some winter gloves and a drill bit for use on the model layout, we were greeted as we left the store by a coal empty passing through town. The DPU was a exec painted MAC, but I didn't get a look at the head end and learned there was an ACe up front only after he cleared his warrant. By this time I was hot on the trail of the train, with a goal of intercepting him in Hawley. I debated on the wooden bridge shot, but decided to get him entering town instead. Here's the first attempt:

And again as he passes, this time showing the matched power on the head end of this train.

On the way to Hawley we met a V-train, behind a pair of Dash 9's but those two were not matching-one each of the H1 and H2 paint schemes. But the matched units weren't done for the day. When I turned around in Hawley, there sat a rail train (stretched all the way across the highway bridge, which carries a siding as well as the two main tracks) behind a couple of green giants. The leader was a triclops, so even though the light was awful, I had to shoot this train since it fit into the theme that had developed. My third pair of the day:

With that in the bag, and light starting to fade, a stop at the Hawley DQ rounded out the trip west. By the time supper was finished, the light was pretty much gone. I did spot one more train on the way home: the Z train that Todd shot earlier in the day, this one sporting three matched Dash 9's on the point. A three of a kind seemed like a fitting end to the day of pairs.


Friday, October 22, 2010

The Scenic Route

I was nearing Karlstad early Thursday morning, when my beleaguered eye detected what appeared to be a headlight far to the north on the tangent CP track in that area. After crossing the tracks at the first available county road, a short wait allowed me to catch one of the CP's famous "one unit wonders":

Any of you who have had the opportunity to travel Highway 59, especially during this time of the year when the amber waves of grain have been harvested, the leaves have mostly fallen, yet the first flakes of snow have yet to hit the ground, probably figured out the title of this post was written somewhat in jest. Regardless of what anyone might try to convince you of, this is not a very scenic area. Pretty flat, with scrub forests mixed among fields, their isn't much to try and include to add interest to a photo. Maybe that's why we have trains-to give the photographer and rail enthusiast something to focus on while trekking through just this type of area.

It's not a photo to be celebrated, but then neither are many of the trains we see. It's part of America (and in this case Canada), part of the civilization and culture we live in. And that's enough to make it interesting and worth the hard drive space to me. It's a train, and while some are prettier than others, I like 'em all.


Thursday, October 21, 2010

Spaghetti Junction

There's a place on the north edge of Thief River Falls that I think of as spaghetti junction. How come? Because three different railroads (Canadian Pacific, Northern Plains, and Minnesota Northern) all converge in this one spot. I've never taken the time to figure what belongs to whom, but two tracks come in from the south and three emerge, two headed north and one with a more westerly tack.

I've got a long history of driving by this area. In the 80's when we lived in Baudette, occasional trips to Grand Forks took us down Highway 32. After the move to Wadena in 2004, job responsibilities encompassed Thief River Falls along with Roseau, Warroad, and Baudette, which led to trips past this area. And now, I sometimes stay in TRF while working in the Warren and Hallock areas. This gives me an excuse to drive by on my way to and from work.

That's what I did Tuesday evening, as I returned to TRF from Stephen. I spied a Minnesota Northern train tied down on the north edge of town and swung across a gravel road to get in position for a shot, shown here:

The MNN has quite an attractive paint scheme, and the evening sun lit it nicely. I was glad to be able to get a set of GP units back to back.

When I left for Hallock early this morning on Highway 59, I glanced across the field to see the train still sitting there. Since time was kind of tight I continued on north until encountering something else, which will be the topic of another post.


Monday, October 18, 2010

Warren Wonder

With work in extreme Northwest Minnesota this week, I started out Monday by making the Staples/DL/Noyes Sub trip that I am lucky enough to make a few times a year. However, this time the only action all the way up was evidence of a recent derailment in Mahnomen-trackwork must have been heavy as no trains were running.

All afternoon, nothing passed through Warren on the BNSF or the NPR. I resigned myself to a trainless Monday. Then, just as I was leaving town on my way to Thief River Falls for the evening, here it came.

Sure enough, a LOOOONNNGGG NPR train headed west, into the sun. Well, this calls for a u-turn. The train was travelling slowly enough that it was easy to get a couple of other shots west of town. I think I like this one the best.

This certainly seemed like a long train, so I decided to count the cars. I made it to about 80 when the count was interrupted with this sight:

Since I seriously doubt the NPR is using old chop-nosed GP9's as remote mid-train helpers, it seems likely this veteran is going somewhere, hopefully to work.

Once I regained my composure it turned out the train was about 142 cars, with one four axle locomotive dead in consist and four six-axles up front. What a pleasant way to end the day!


Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The Verndale Shot in October

I've always loved this photo by Christopher Muller. Why? Well, it's a beautiful shot-I especially like the way the sun catches the roofs of the autoracks on the downgrade, at the end of the train. But it also reminds me of the first edition of Verndale rail.

Last Friday Mrs. L4T and I went to Brainerd to get an oil change on the Escape. We were nearly home before meeting a train, at which point I promptly reversed course and sped back to Verndale. I ended up shooting from almost the same location as Chris was at when he got his shot. But now it's October, and the sun has swung quite a ways to the south, resulting in a more sidelit, less contrasty photo.

It's not much of a photo, really, but it did one thing for me. It reminded me of Verndale Rails, past and future, wherever they happen to be held. And that was a joyful thought, as I have great memories of those days and look forward to more in the future.

I suppose I learned that sometimes the intrinsic value in a photo isn't the pixels that are captured, but the memories that bubble to the surface as a result of shooting it. That's certainly the case with this picture.


Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Green Giants

I left for a trip to Wisconsin around noon today. Cloudy skies in Wadena didn't offer much railfanning hope for the trip, but of course the camera was handy anyway. A westbound near Aldrich and a couple of trains in the Staples yard didn't inspire me to stop, nor did the coal empty that was parked under the overpass at Lincoln.

Passing through Randall, I spotted the tail end of a southbound and got a look at the power about halfway to Darling. Bingo! I sped up to beat him to the station sign, where I unlimbered the camera, cloudy or not. And the result is:

The last few hundred miles of the trip offered very little of a railroad nature, with the exception of a couple of trains in south central Wisconsin spotted in the distance, moving the opposite way from me, just as the sun dipped below the horizon.

It was still a good day of railfanning, though.


Friday, October 8, 2010

Hittin' for Average

The baseball player who bats .300 is a very good batter. In order to acheive this level of success, that player will likely have to have some pretty good games, where his average for the game is well above the .300 line, to make up for the games when he has to face a Cy Young winner at the top of his game. There will be good days and bad days, days where going 3 for 4 or 4 for 5 will help bring up the average from the "oh fer" days.

Sometimes railfanning is like this. There are days that don't go so well, sometimes because you miss a fat pitch, and other times you are ready to nail it and you get clouded out or a train on the near track blocks the nicely lit shot you've worked to get in position for, sort of a line drive right at someone that is caught for an out.

All these things I was thinking on Thursday, as I drove from far southwest Minnesota back home to Wadena. There would be a few photo ops, as my route crossed the DME near Walnut Grove, paralleled a section of the BNSF Marshall Sub and crossed the TCW at Granite Falls, passed by Willmar, and crossed the Paynesville Sub of the CP at Belgrade. One thing about these north-south trips-the timing has to be perfect to catch trains at crossings. Thursday turned out to be one of those days that, if I was a hitter, would have generated comments about "how well he was seeing the ball".

My first "at bat", if you will, was crossing the DME. Sure enough, just as I approached the tracks, a headlight showed up to the east. I had just a moment to grab the camera and shoot the train headed by an assortment of 6 SD units as it slowly passed.

That consist was colorful enough to require a second attempt, and after finding a spot where the tracks passed an open field, I tried squeezing in the entire colorful assortment of units. I considered myself one for one at this point.

It wasn't long before I found myself following the Marshall Sub on Highway 23. Radio chatter indicated a couple of northbounds, which would be badly backlit. A quick investigation of possibilities in Granite Falls didn't offer much to work with, so I headed north again. My first "out" of the day came when I passed over the TCW near the Granite Falls ethanol plant, with nothing but tank cars and DDG hoppers in sight. Again, I headed northeast.

Finally I heard the dispatcher talking to a BNSF 1900 series going in the hole at Clara City. After a short drive, there is was. With sugar beets being piled like mad in the background, I pulled over for a shot.

I'll take that as a hit, making me 2 for 3 on the day. I wasn't able to resist the temptation of a trip through Willmar, where I picked up a bonus-this shot of a pair of GP's switching the north end of the yard.

Leaving Willmar, my last at bat for the day was the CP at Belgrade. There's not a lot of time spent here, so catching a train is a matter of very good luck. And just as I got to the east end of town, sure enough, another headlight, this time speeding out from under the overpass. A quick left turn, and I rolled down the passenger side window for this:

I'll count that as a single, and it brought my line for the day to 3 for 4. That's about as a good a day as I can expect with no time dedicated to railfanning, just taking what you are offered as you travel.

Certainly no extra base hits in this batch, but I was thankful for what I got. It made the trip seem shorter and provided a lot of entertainment. Sometimes it's fun to be a singles hitter.


Sunday, October 3, 2010

Close to Home

Railfan Craig from Thunder Bay was in the area this past weekend, and a phone call from him was enough motivation to spend early Sunday morning along the tracks right in Wadena. We were lucky enough to get 4 trains in that time, and three of them were headed into the rising sun. Here you go:

That second coal train was kind of nice, with decent morning light and a matched set of power. Could have been ACes instead of GEVOs though. A good railfan always finds something to whine about. I've got that part of the hobby pretty much down pat.

Mrs. L4T agreed to a brief evening outing on Sunday, and we headed to Staples after hearing that an H train was preparing to leave the yard. First, at the Dower Lake crossing:

And then after a short drive, a shot to try and catch the 5 unit set of power at the Bluffton crossing.

The time of year is coming when shots any further west of CR 143 get tough, as the nose light is going away. A sure sign of fall.

With work to do and time wasting, we headed home after stopping at Wadena's Original Fresh Freeze for a Sunday supper. The fleet of westbounds passed as the sun was setting with no one present to shoot them.


Like it Used to Be

No doubt, Staples yard has seen its share of SD40-2's over the years that venerable locomotive has been in existence. Only 5 years ago, they were very common on trains through this area, especially stack trains and vehicle trains. The arrival of new GE units and the drop in traffic during the economic downturn about killed them off.

Like a Phoenix, though, they have (barely) risen from the dead over the last few months. Although far from common, it's no longer a surprise to see one or two of the units on the Staples Sub. Such was the case Friday as I travelled home from the Cities.

Obviously the Heritage paint scheme on the rear unit plays havoc with my "like it used to be" theme, but still. Spartan cab EMD's, that's a nice sight regardless of whether or not they are green.

That shot also included a set of three Grinstein MAC's, just the way they were intended to look with the exception of the patches under the windows and the travesty of the missing nose logos.

Then, just as I was basking in the sight of all these EMD throwbacks, what had to appear but a manifest train behind a pair of GE's-Norfolk Southern, to boot! What a way to rain on a parade. I guess we just can't have nice things.

Since the first couple of shots were so badly backlit, there was no option but to creep to the edge of the woods and grab one last photo from a different angle. I'm sure there will be other chances to shoot a consist like this, but each day that passes makes it less likely. So if you find 'em, shoot 'em.


One happy railfan.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Fairfax, MN

On occasion job duties find me in Fairfax, MN, a town on the former M & St L east-west line. Such was the case Thursday. Whenever I'm there, I see the depot and think about how it must have looked to my Grandpa at times. He was a section hand and section foreman for the "Mained and Still Limping" and later the C&NW for 51 years, and during some of those years my dad has told me that Grandpa certainly passed by, and almost as certainly spent time in, the Fairfax depot. It still looks pretty spiffy:

This line, which I think is identified as the Minnesota Prairie Line, is operated by the Twin Cities and Western. One of the things I like about these short lines is the variety of grain cars they have bought at, seemingly, yard sales and auctions. You never know what you will see. The first car is a wonderful prototype for someone who really knows how to create that rusted look.

There must be some hoppers with the "PEAVEY" billboard lettering to serve as a starting point for this car.

I was lucky enough to be meeting with clients at the power plant in Fairfax, which is right next to the tracks. The people I work with never cease to be entertained when I leap up at the sound of a locomotive horn to rush outside and take a picture, only to return and take up where we left off.

The rest of my day, including a stop in New Ulm and a drive to the Twin Cities, turned out to be trainless, so you've seen all I have to offer from a Central Minnesota Thursday. But who knows what might have popped up during the trip home on Friday? Stay tuned for the next installment.

Friday, October 1, 2010

ACe's and MAC's, Oh My

Bright and early Wednesday morning I pointed the Escape east, destination Duluth. The weather looked promising, and an early start allowed time for photo stops if the opportunity presented, which it soon did.

Matched MAC's were muscling a coal load out of Staples onto the Brainerd Sub. First stop, just east of Staples:

The Hinckley dispatcher was busy with at least a couple of eastbound loads along with track inspectors, and the roll-ups helped me track the progress of the train as made its way through the fall foliage. I decided to use up my spare time waiting for a shot near Aitkin, where the clouds decided to thicken as the train approached. Drat.

After a meeting in Superior, and one more in Duluth, it was back on the road to Wadena. I had a random encounter with yet another load at Woodbury, where the leaders were backlit:

But the DPU looked a good bit prettier to my eye:

After that, things quieted down until I neared Pilager, where yet another loaded train was making its way east. Once again, a backlit shot of the leader.

That's all I have from my journey along the final leg of the "Coal Trail". Next time, a visit to Fairfax, where my Grandpa may have worked more than 75 years ago.