Friday, July 30, 2010

Sneak a Peek

One of the great things about living in Wadena is the proximity to the Staples Sub. That is especially true anytime you approach the tracks at a road crossing. There is always a good chance that peeking down the right-of-way will reveal some evidence of a nearby train-whether that evidence is a lit signal, a FRED blinking in the distance at night, the single headlight of a DPU pushing, or best of all, the triangular glow of an approaching train.

Since my Friday started out with a trip to Perham for work, I was anticipating a glance down the tracks as I approached the Jefferson Street crossing in Wadena. The sunshine that was dancing around looked to be short-lived with a cloud bank building in the west, so I figured a perfectly timed eastbound might be my only chance for a nicely lit shot today. Sure enough, fortune smiled on me as the crossing revealed the headlight of a train approaching from the west. Reminded me of the CP "one unit wonders" I read about so often from the railfans just to the south. This train was passing through the part of Wadena hardest hit by the June tornado. As you can see there is still a lot of work to do before Wadena returns to anything near normal.

In Perham, I came across an interesting sight. Seems that one of the BNSF's Aeroflo coal cars got tired and decided to give up the ghost. The first picture below shows how repair crews transferred the load to another similar car (notice what the load in the right car looks like). They then pulled in the side that was bowed out and secured it with a chain, as you can barely see in the second photo.

Finally, on the trip home, I again sneaked a peek down the tracks, this time as I crossed over the tracks on Highway 10. Since another train was approaching I decided to make a quick detour to the Hagerman Road crossing, where the gates were dropping as I arrived and this appeared outside the driver's window:

So that's the story of another day in the life of a Staples Sub railfan. It's a great place to live and to look for trains.


Sunday, July 25, 2010

There are Days

Days that make you consider throwing in the towel, buying a great big flash unit and a pinhole lens, and retreating to the basement to take train pictures. At least down there you have some control over the lighting.

Today was one of those days. And it all started out in Staples, on the way to the DQ. Sometimes, when we are out looking for trains, I mumble something that makes Mrs. L4T look at me with confusion in her eyes. Rolling past the west end of the yard, I spotted a pair of cascade green SD40-2's on the point of a freight on the north yard track. And while that was interesting in and of itself, I had just passed a loaded COLX train with a matched set of grinsteins up front and another shoving. So, my comment referred to some "EMD revival" going on in Staples.

I actually had to pull over and stop when I stumbled upon another pair of EMD's at the east end of the yard-this time SD75M's, although they weren't in matched paint. Of course, my frustration was with the extremely difficult lighting conditions in Staples on July evenings. Here's the best I could do with the MACs:

This is one case where having the sun sneak behind one of those clouds would have actually been helpful, but of course it wouldn't.

So after a DQ stop, with nothing showing ATCS, it was back to Wadena, with a brief stop to shoot the SD's at the west end of the yard. Somehow a GE snuck into the shot as well.

Note: the Woodland Container plant on the north side of the yard is being demolished. The work was well along when we went by tonight, and I suspect the tall chimney that is included in many shots in this area will soon be no more.

And then, just the EMD's, again in terrible backlight:

And soon we were home. I was looking at these photos, when all of a sudden a westbound showed out of Staples. Feeling a little frustrated, I rounded up the Mrs. once more and headed west. Our timing was almost perfect. Amazingly, as the westbound approached, an eastbound blew for the Bluffton crossing-a nice meet shot was in the making. However, those clouds that were so uncooperative earlier in the evening finally found the sun, fouling up my chance with this:

So, today was a tough railfanning day for me, not so much due to a lack of trains as to a very unfriendly sky. I guess the lesson is that no amount of trains and technology can make up for what Mother Nature can do. And another lesson-when you do get a nicely lit shot, be thankful, knowing all that could have gone wrong to spoil it.


Thursday, July 22, 2010

Verndale Rail 2010 Part 2-The Men (and Girl) of Verndale Rail

One definition of "tradition" is "a belief or story or a body of beliefs or stories relating to the past that are commonly accepted as historical though not verifiable".

Using that definition, Verndale Rail is not a tradition. Darn near every moment and activity can be verified as a result of the profusion of information gathered by participants.

What I'm saying is this: there are a lot of guys taking pictures of trains during this annual outing that has become a rite of the longest Saturday of the year in these parts. A few weeks ago I made my own meager offering of train pictures from the event. Today I want to focus on what really makes it special: the people that participate.

There was a tremendous mix of repeat offenders attenders and first timers at this year's event. While it is great fun to renew the camera wars with veterans of previous battles it's equally entertaining to draw in new recruits, especially when they can widen the battlefield not just with a brand, but with the ultimate offense, advocating for a camera that is NOT a DSLR with a lens the size of a 2 liter coke bottle. You know who you are.

Anyway, on to the men of Verndale Rail 2010. I've tried to include you all but no doubt missed one or two-for the full roster go to the class picture here-you even get to see the Verndale cop, who stopped for a burger in the afternoon. Oddly enough, given all the bluster about cameras, only one photographer in this photo was willing to endorse a camera brand.

These photos are in chronological order of when they were shot-and since Todd was one of the first arrivals (he beat me there), naturally, he got shot first, as he stared down a thouroughbred.

As more attendees showed up, and camera gear began to be unlimbered (I'm sure that some of these guys have to do stretching exercises before they zoom these lenses out for fear of pulled muscles), railfans admire one another's gear. I'm not positive, but I think I heard Drew whispering something along the lines of "nice lens" to Chris just as I shot this photo.

So anyway, most of my railfanning is a solo affair. I don't have the donut eating, Journey listening, Silverado driving companions that all of you do, so when there are other fans around, I tend to have to try and find a crack in the photo line to try and get the train in the shot, as here:

Another valuable lesson I learned this year was that trains can be spooky-not scary-spooky, but spooky like walleyes in a clear lake, or wise old wild turkeys on the lookout for hunters. After observing how to combat this trait, I understood how some of you get the great shots you do-you SNEAK UP on the trains, so as not to scare them! No wonder they go so fast around here, I'm always standing up and waving at them.

Obviously, without the limits film placed on photographers in the past, we are happy to click away at anything that may turn out OK. In fact, some of us (me) are so desperate that we will even take pictures of people taking pictures of other people. Sometimes a train will wander into the shot. The one shown here, though, was going very fast, since Mike has jumped up to wave and scared it.

There's a story behind the class photo I linked earlier. Since Chris brings all the food, and does most of the organizing, when it comes time to take this picture, he naturally gets to use his camera. (Most of the rest of the guys think this group would break their camera, anyway) The thing is, if he is going to use his camera and be in the photo, he needs to either (a) move faster than the speed of light, or (b) figure out how to use the self timer. For a few minutes this year, I suspected he might have decided to use option (a), since it seemed much easier and more attainable than option (b). But, given a little help from your friends, you can solve darn near anything. I still can't help but smile when I think of the Reverend saying "that was worse than my wedding pictures".

The long two year history of this event has allowed a pattern to develop-and one part of that is the obligatory trip west to shoot a train in the Wing River Sag. Since I live less than 10 miles from here, and shoot this location way too much, I decided to capture the crew as they saluted a passing train.

Even with ATCS and scanners running, it still takes a keen eye to spot the headlight that will initiate the "Hot Rail!" cry. Here's Mike, with an eye peeled for an eastbound. He likely just heard a train clear a warrant and knows something is up.

And then once the headlight is spotted, the photographers dig in, like a batter waiting for a Nolan Ryan fastball (or some pitcher for the Cardinals, if that's your taste). You can almost feel the tension build as the players anticipate what's coming:

Oops, here I've managed to slip in a train picture, sorry.

Given that the sun was setting, we were all packed up and ready to go, we had little hope for another shot, when here came the last train of the day. The Verndale cop has stopped to visit, and it's a chance to work his cruiser into the shot.

So, there you have my story of Verndale Rail 2010. I felt like it topped the inaugural edition. Once again, the highlight was time spent with people who have a common interest. The weather and the railroad both cooperated, and Chris did a great job with the food and organization. A few door prizes were awarded. On a scale of 1-10, I would rate it an 11.

Looking forward to next year,


Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Disaster Prevention

A while back, I made a post describing how I built a drop bridge to span the entry door to my layout room.

At the end of that post, I mentioned the need for some type of interlock to prevent running trains into the canyon while the bridge was down. After some searching for the right switch, I finally got around to working on that project. While the solution is rough looking, I'm very happy with how it performs. Here's a short video showing the interlock at work:

The wiring is very simple. What I did was cut a gap in each rail far enough back from the bridge to allow any loco to come to a stop before plunging to destruction when it reaches the unpowered track section. Then I ran a feeder wire from one leg of the powered track section to the switch. It's a normally open switch, so the lip on the bridge has to depress it to allow power to flow to the bridge and each approach section. The switched leg feeds power to both approach sections and the bridge through three separate feeders-all attached to the switched leg. The power reaches the far side of the bridge by way of a wire fastened to the door frame.

I know there are more elegant solutions, especially to powering the far side approach. I may investigate that in the future, but for now, I have made my layout a safer place for the trains that operate there. That's a good thing. And on top of everything else, it was inexpensive-leaving more money for coal gondolas!


Monday, July 19, 2010

My Workbench

Here is where I have been spending a bunch of my free time lately. This has cut into my time trackside and the post frequency at You can blame Ian for this, I do.

Some of you must be wondering "what in blazes is all that stuff anyway?" There sure is a pile of what Mrs. L4T is quick to call junk here. If you want to take a really close look at this disaster, the high resolution image is here.

Starting at the left, underneath the bench is the radio, computer, and UPS used for capturing the ATCS feed from Wadena and Dower Lake. The antenna is on the back of the house. Above that is one of my old surplus computers that is used to listen to streaming music, radio, or surf the internet when I have a question in the train room. Tucked away in there somewhere is a wireless router that my son configured to talk to the main wireless access point upstairs.

My model layout passes just above monitor height, and I posed a short freight for the photo. When I am downstairs working on something I usually have a train circling the room and can look up and watch it pass this point every few minutes.

There is a bunch of material and supplies hung underneath the layout. Things like various sized screws, extra tubes of superglue, and styrene and wire are hung wherever I can find a spot.

The bench itself is a mess of tools, parts for HO railcars, parts of HO railcars, paint, glues, glue guns, clamps, scales, brushes, weathering supplies, isopropyl alcohol (91%, of course!), wire nuts, suitcase connectors, solvaset, screws, nails, knives, toggle switches, tin snips, drill bits, and a hundred other little things that the model railroader needs to try and make progress.

Above the bench I've tacked up some railroad photos, including a promotional poster from GE that came in a magazine once, and a print from a collection of black and white photos my Grandpa took while he was snowplowing many years ago for the M & St. L. I see I also have a print from my first real railfan outing, back when I still lived in Ranier and had the chance to visit Iron Junction one morning. I was lucky enough to catch Minntac loads behind a tunnel motor and a pair of M's.

My most recent no-sale items from an ebay auction are perched atop the computer. At the extreme right edge of the photo is the hinged end of the bridge I built to cross the doorway into the room, with a switch now installed to kill the power on each side of the canyon when the bridge is down.

It's all topped off by a wrinkled copy of "Model Railroad Planning 1996" that I drug around in my truck for a couple of years and spent a few Saturday mornings reading as I waited for trains to show up in Staples.

That's my workbench. It's a great place to unwind and get away from the stress of the world. Hope you enjoyed this tour.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

A "Flurry" of Activity

There's a place in Wadena called the Fresh Freeze, as in "Wadena's original Fresh Freeze". They do ice cream better than the Dairy Queen. In place of the frozen treat that DQ calls a Blizzard, the Fresh Freeze offers something called a Flurry, and for a limited time they have a Kit-Kat Flurry available. It's a special treat, sort of like a little of the action BNSF sent our way this evening.

Mrs. L4T and I had a few errands to run in Brainerd this afternoon, and on the way home we debated where we should take sustenance this evening. We finally settled on Subway. When the time came to head uptown, I checked in on the ATCS display and noted a couple of westbounds holding in sidings on the single track section of the Staples Sub. Then at the last minute, another westbound showed up, between Wadena and Dower Lake. I may have been a bit rude as I tried to speed up the Mrs. in getting out to the car. She wondered what all the fuss was about, and I told her a train was on the way. Just as we neared the Jefferson Street crossing, the arms came down for an eastbound loaded DEEX train. I swung over to the west of the depot in case the DPU was facing the sun, and sure enough, it was:

You can see there were some young fans at the depot, watching trains pass from behind the fence.

As the DPU cleared the crossing, I checked for a headlight on Main One, and sure enough, here came the train. This one looks like empty oil cans headed back for a reload in western North Dakota. Young railfans were still on the lookout.

With no other westbounds showing for some time, we grabbed supper at Subway and ate in the shade at the depot. After that was done, the time for a Flurry had arrived, and I took ownership of a Kit-Kat special edition. I highly recommend this dish to any travelers passing through Wadena. It is hard on a diet, though.

With the westbounds getting closer, the time had arrived to pick a photo location. I decided to set up at the Bluffton curve, with the thought of chasing whatever showed up west. This plan was only partially successful, as a giant cloud decided to take residence between the sun and I just as the train arrived. But seeing as how the cloud was moving, and the train was an interesting 108 axle "Slot Machine", we decided to run him down for a shot at the overpass between Mills and Perham. Here you go:

By this time I could see the last westbound of the "flurry", such as it was, was passing though Staples, so maybe another chance at the Bluffton curve was in the offing. Sure enough, his headlight appeared just as I walked up to the crossing. The wait for this shot was less than a minute:

And then, once more as he passed me by in lovely light conditions:

So, all in all, a successful outing. We saw a train or two that we didn't shoot, along with the four shown here. Had a pleasant drive from Wadena almost to Perham and back, and a nice visit with Mrs. L4T. And to top it all off, the Flurry I got from the Fresh Freeze was as good a confection as I have enjoyed in the last couple of years. It was worth leaving my developing empire in the basement for this trip, that's for sure!


Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Calling all Ballcap Fans

The Wadena local on July 6 had some interesting power. While rebuilt GP30's are not uncommon on this train, this was the first time I have seen a pair of them-and as sole power on the train to boot.

With no time to wait for him to start his homeward journey, you'll have to live with this single poor photo as the only evidence that the 2010 BNSF still runs trains behind matched sets of GP30 carbodies.

I'm feeling the urge to visit ebay for a mate to the BN GP30 I have. It's one of the smoothest running engines I've ever seen, and one more copy, a little paint, and some decals, could duplicate this consist.


Shiny New Paint

Mrs. L4T and I had to make a trip to International Falls Monday July 5, returning home Tuesday. Having seen a number of shots of the "new" power now in service on the MD&W, I made my own pilgrimage to this Alco Mecca, but this time the target was other than one of the S2's that have made the railroad notable. Here's something called an "SW10".

It was interesing to see something different on the home rails, but sad in a way too. The Alcos and their wonderful green paint will never be the same now that a new model and a new shade are taking over.

Long live the MD&W.


Monday, July 12, 2010

Break a Leg...

and you just might see some interesting action around the railroad. Today, in Fosston:

After my meeting, I stopped by the loading location and talked to a couple of elevator employees. Seems railcar loading is back in style in Fosston after a hiatus of about 20 years, when trucks were all the rage. While we were talking, I noticed an oddity on a couple of 15 year old covered hoppers-check the car numbers on these two cars:

During the discussion, I asked how many cars they can load. The younger of the employees told me they would have no trouble loading the 14 empties in one 8 hour shift. Then he added that they "were doing it the hard way, with an auger. The leg is broke on the elevator.". The "leg" in this case is the vertical conveyer for grain, and the leg in question served the elevator on the left in this photo:

I learned that the left elevator had been built some years back, with the mission of enabling the elevator to load 26 car trains. This resulted in a savings to the farmers, as the rate on the 26 car cuts was better than the single car rate. However, the grain car shortage and Duluth's preference for trucks spelled the end for trains, at least temporarily. As you can see, they are back now.

While I was shooting the elevator, I heard the horn of a GE and a glance at the crossing caught the gates dropping. Within seconds the westbound manifest was blasting across the street behind a warbonnet and a pumpkin.

I've shot a number of elevator switch engines around Minnesota, but there is no such thing in Fosston-car movement duties are performed by the same kind of power that helps get the crop in the ground.

Here's a shot of the spout that would normally be loading cars, if the broken leg hadn't interfered. Seems one man's loss is another man's gain-and today, it was me that gained, getting a chance to see some interesting action along the ROW and a fruitful discussion with some "insiders".

I can certainly see an elevator such as this having a home on my model pike someday. Lots to like here, from interesting action, to a size very appropriate to a model railroad, the chance to run a variety of older grain cars, and use some of the fine tractor models available. I took a bunch of photos to reference for the day when I get to try my hand at building this facility.

All for today,


Sunday, July 11, 2010

Independence Day

Way behind, is what I am. The model railroad siren in my basement has been calling, and combined with a busy work schedule it leaves little time for railfanning these hot summer days, and even less time to spend on the internet.

However, last Sunday Mrs. L4T and I managed to sneak away for an evening of train hunting, and I want to share the results in this post. We had hoped to get a chance to eat at the Station House in Perham, but when we found it closed for the holiday our old standby Dairy Queen was an admirable stand in.

But the train photography from this evening centers on the Wadena area. After supper I decided to try and get a couple of shots in town, with the intent of catching BNSF trains rolling past some of the tornado damage. My first train of the day was passing what used to be the Express Central supply building when I shot this:

We headed back out Bluffton way to intercept an eastbound, shown here as he tops the hump just west of the crossing.

Just behind him, another eastbound, this on a stacker, rolled out of the sun. I wasn't really trying to stand in the exact same location, but it looks like I did.

ATCS told me of a westbound that was passing through Wadena as the eastbound stack train approached. I figured I would be very close to a meet, and sure enough the head ends passed each other just to my east. Here's the westbound, another stack train, as he approached the Bluffton crossing.

I saw and heard a train coming off the Brainerd Sub. I decided to shoot what I expected to be coal empties at the Bluffton curve. This is still one of my favorite spots in the area.

And finally back to Wadena to catch another eastbound passing what used to be Heartland Tire and the Credit Union building.

So all in all, we had some good train action in a relatively short time. It was good to get out of the basement for a couple of hours and take in the real trains instead of the little ones.