Monday, August 30, 2010

Something Interesting

A couple of weeks ago, I got a phone call from a reporter at the Wadena Pioneer Journal asking if I was willing to do an interview discussing railroading around Wadena. Since this seemed like it might possibly be fun, I decided to do it. I arranged to meet the reporter at the PJ office and on the appointed day did the best I could to answer her questions in "plain english", in the hopes that anyone who read the story that might come out of this would be able to understand what was being said.

Saturday the Wadena paper showed up in our mailbox and I glanced through it without finding any railroad story. It was a little disappointing, but no great loss. Then today, I spotted an extra section in the pile of ads titled the "Community Builder". After quickly paging through it, there was the story, including a couple of photos by yours truly. Not very good photos, but they are mine. Here's a copy of the article I grabbed, since I couldn't find it on the web. (Click on the image to open it in a new window and read the story.)

It's not much, but it is the first time I've gotten any railfanning message out to a wider audience than the handful of people who read this blog. It actually is kind of exciting to see a picture you took appear in print. I know a lot of you have had the experience already, but this is a first for me.

That's the story of Wadena's "Celebration of the Railroad", and my little contribution to it.


Sunday, August 29, 2010

Still More Staples Saturday Morning Action

Anyone who's wasted any amount of time following my railfanning antics knows that one of the regular helpings here are stories of Saturday morning trips to Staples. Here's another one.

After crawling out of bed bright and early with the sun just peeking over the horizon and informing Mrs. L4T of a pending trip to Staples, I was off. A gas stop at Holiday turned out to be a positive, as it allowed time for coal loads behind ACe BNSF 9148 time to catch me in Wadena. The shot passing the depot actually lacked a bit of light, but it was easy to get the same train again at the CR 9 crossing between Aldrich and Staples.

During the wait for this train, looking the other way down the track revealed another train, this one headed west. I couldn't resist shooting down the throat to catch the west end of the yard including the signal bridge.

That's a sight that will keep a railfan's heart pumping.

Entering town, yard traffic neccesitated a stop at the east ladders. A few trains were resting in the yard, with a loaded coal train making the preparations to head east. In fact, the dispatcher had the yarded coal train ahead of the eastbound just shown, which caused the 9148 to stop on main two. Soon a third coal load chimed in, and learned that along with the other two he would have to wait for an empty due off the Brainerd Sub about 0830. The dispatcher tucked him away between Aldrich and Verndale on Main 2.

Secure in the knowledge traffic was coming down the Brainerd, I ran to Motley to shoot him coming into town. All I have to show for it is this backlit shot, since the gamble that a DPU would be present didn't pay off.

So back to Staples it was, to watch the empty pass through town and the parade of eastbounds get started. Here's a shot that shows the first load pulling down the yard lead while the second waits on Main 2, and the tail end of the empty skedaddles out of town on Main 1.

And with that your reporter also decided to skedaddle. Duty called, and all.

But just as I was about to abandon the tracks, a glance west at the Wadena crossing revealed a headlight. This time it was a manifest train, with an AC GEVO on the point. I wasn't able to resist a couple of shots as he passed through town. Made for a great end to an entertaining morning.

So that's the latest installment of the tale of Saturday morning railfanning in Staples, MN.


Friday, August 27, 2010

More River

Many of you have had the experience of travelling down a highway that parallels a railroad right-of-way, keeping one eye peeled for oncoming rail traffic at all times. That's what I was doing Tuesday evening, as I took the scenic route from Red Wing to Austin. That means I drove a good length of Highway 61 along the Mississippi River.

I was just south of Lake City, not even to Maple Springs, where I had hoped to stop and set for a spell, when a glimpse of what looked to be headlight caused me to dump the air in my vehicle and pull over to the side of the road. Grabbing the camera and crossing the highway, I barely had time to shoot this:

Just ten more minutes, and I would have caught him in nice light sweeping around the curve at Maple Springs. Oh well, no sense waiting for a train there now. On I went.

I missed the headlight on a train I met at Lock and Dam 5. The only indication of that train was the cars flying by me in the opposite direction. Since the stretch of highway was 4 lane a u-turn and chase allowed me to overtake the train near Minneiska for a couple of shots as the power rounded a curve. It's pretty down there, but I sure wish the CP would cut brush instead of spraying it.

That jumbled up mess of power reminded me of something I saw in New Ulm a couple of weeks ago-a four unit set of power with no two painted the same. Seems these lashups are spending time on the mother railroad as well.

I got one more mixed-up consist in Minnesota City. More lease units, this time waiting in a siding for yet another westbound to pass.

With miles to go before I slept, I angled off for Austin here and travlled though some gorgeous scenery in the Rollingstone area. No trains there, though. So that's it for this short installment of


Thursday, August 26, 2010

The River

Monday evening offered the opportunity to overnight in Red Wing, which is always conducive to railfanning. The CP's River Sub and the St. Croix Sub of the BNSF parallel each other along opposite sides of the mighty Mississippi. With such an opportunity, who can stay in the hotel room and pick away at the computer? Work can wait, now it's time to railfan.

So I headed south on the Minnesota side, intending to get a shot of a CP train and then hopefully do the same across the river with a BNSF train. The wait wasn't long before the sound of a locomotive horn drifted up the valley from the southeast-this train was headed in the proper direction. I've shot from this crossing before, and since it is so close to town I decided it was a good place to catch a train again. The train turned out to be what the Paynesville Sub crew refer to as a "one unit wonder", and that one unit was an old CP SD40-2 with the remnants of a multi-mark.

It likely was an empty ethanol train, but after thinking about it, I suppose those tanks could be empty crude oil cars too. I didn't get a car number and never thought to look at a placard.

Having successfully completed the first half of the project, next up was Wisconsin. I've driven through the area once before, and wasn't aware of a lot of good shooting locations. In fact, Bay City was the best bet that was in range, so I decided to wait there for whatever Mr. Buffet would send my way.

The first action was announced by a detector at MP 391 (I think). After looking at the milepost on the crossing, this had to be an eastbound. Even though it was backlit, I tried a shot, without success. I shortly got another chance as a second eastbound came through, and this one was a little better. The most interesting part, though, was the engine number-BNSF 1060, the very same unit I shot sitting by the prison in St. Cloud that morning. I had engaged in a couple of hundred mile chase without even knowing it. The second unit in the morning consist had been removed, presumably at Northtown.

After waiting a bit longer, with one eye on the sun and the other on the tracks, I was about to give up hope when I heard a horn from the east. That's what I was waiting for. I tried to figure out how best to compose what I hoped would be a nicely lit shot, as the area was turning pretty golden in the setting sun. I feel like it turned out pretty nicely.

That final shot marked the successful completion of my evening's mission, and so it was back to the hotel. There was still some work waiting for me, but I sat down at the computer with a smile on my face, knowing that my evening along the river had been a success. All in all, a good day at work and a good day along the tracks before and after work.


Parked Trains on the Staples Sub

So this week, a Monday morning business trip to Southeast Minnesota began with a trip down the Staples Sub. With the trusty Pentax nestled in the passenger seat, I was ready for whatever quick opportunities the BNSF might be willing to throw my way. It turned out the wait wasn't long for the first shot, as a loaded coal train sailed through Wadena as I left town.

I passed the head end before reaching Verndale, and planned to shoot the eastbound at the big tree just east of there. However, the detector at MP 151 had announced a westbound, meaning there was a chance of getting blocked out by the train on Main 1. As the respective trains approached my location, I speculated on whether or not I would get a shot. Turns out rear end of the short Z train cleared out of the way just in time to catch the power on the coal train passing the tree:

And with that, I was done shooting moving trains for the morning. However, that didn't mean there was a shortage of targets for my camera. The first shot of standing trains was in Staples, where a pair of ACe's rested on loaded coal trains, waiting for their turn to head east.

There was also a grain train sitting on Main 2, waiting for someone to clear somewhere before resuming his journey. I didn't get a photo of that one.

With no action between Staples and St. Cloud, I started to wonder what was up. And then, passing the penitentiary, there was a train, waiting patiently on Main 2. I've always wanted to shoot a photo in this spot, and swung off the road to get this shot:

I couldn't help but think about Johnny Cash's "Folsom Prison Blues".

And then, just "a little further down the line", another train popped up, again waiting for permission to continue his eastbound journey. This time the power was an H2 Dash 9, trailed by an EMD product, the second unit dressed in the black paint scheme of the Norfolk Southern.

This BNSF/NS pattern was repeated on the train waiting at Clear Lake. For the third time in about 13 miles, I swung off Highway 10 for a shot of a stopped train. This time both engines were GE products.

Somewhere in here I met a westbound train, but got no photos. I was off to try and catch still another waiting train, after hearing the dispatcher talking to yet another ACe. Here we find the fourth stopped train in a relatively short stretch of track. I suspect this was a Becker coal train but don't know that for sure. This was shot from the Potato Farm Crossing.

Just east of Becker, I cut off for Monticello to get on I-94, so no more trains were spotted that morning. However, I did spend the evening in Red Wing, and got some time to fan both sides of the river. My next post will likely include shots of the CP and BNSF in that area.

All for now.


Sunday, August 22, 2010

London Staples Fog

Over the past couple of years, I've had the opportunity to get together with Ian Holmes for Staples-based railfan outings. Ian already mentioned on the OMR mailing list that the morning dawned a bit foggy. I'll second that.

But I've encountered the fog a number of times while chasing trains in the area, and I was quite confident that the skies would be clearing shortly, with the chance that we might get some great shots of a BNSF eastbound breaking out of a fog bank into sparkling sun. I told Ian as much, predicting that we would see blue skies "any time now". All morning long I predicted that, and guess what? All morning long I was shooting photos like this one.

That train was galloping through the gloom between New York Mills and Bluffton sometime around mid-morning. Even if the skies weren't cooperating, the railroad was, as we encountered a number of eastbound trains that would have been nicely lit had the skies only cleared.

Here's another example of what we were dealing with. This time, we see a coal train approaching the Bluffton curve behind mixed power. I lik the way the tree shows up in this shot.

Actually, we did manage to break out of the fog for a while. With a plan of heading west until we found a train worth chasing, clearer skies finally revealed themselves just west of Perham, where we caught this manifest train behind a motley group of power.

Ian and I agreed that the train above wasn't really worth a chase, and the dispatcher had issued a couple of more warrants, so we knew there were more eastbounds about. Next up was a coal train, this one behind an ACe. We met him at Frazee, and I was mere seconds too late to get to the sunny side of the train.

Anyway, the power on this train led us to conclude that this, indeed, was the eastbound we would chase. The sky was doing funny things as we paced the train toward Wadena. Cloud and fog banks were coming and going, one minute it was in sun, the next you could hardly see it. Strange. We rolled the dice and set up on the Highway 10 overpass, crossing our fingers for some light, and I managed to get this as the train approached. It seemed like the train passed in and out of the sun at least three times as it approached us.

Of course, the trusty Escape was making much better time than the loaded coal train, which happened to be bound for the Columbia station on the Mississippi and so was staying on the Staples Sub. With most of the fog burned off, it seemed like a good time to shoot the power on a number of trains in the Staples yard as we passed through town. Here's the result of that effort.

Lots of coal power in the yard on this Saturday morning.

A fabulous plan of shooting a fleet of eastbounds in the Philbrook and Quicken Road area promptly fell apart as the dispatcher decided to turn Main 2 into a parking lot and run some westbounds. The good part of this was that it gave me a chance to drop Ian in Staples and allow him to get back out there for the delayed trains, while I needed to head for home due to prior family commitments. Ian got the shot I've been anticipating for quite a while. Looks like just as good a spot as I had been hoping for.

It was a great railfanning outing. It's always fun to spend time with Ian. He knows his fog, what with being from Great Britian and all. His comparison of what we saw Saturday with what they see on the island nation drove home what "London Fog" must actually be like. Thanks for the company, Ian. It was great fun as usual and I'm looking forward to doing it again.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Sunday in (all-of-a-sudden) EMD Land

A couple of westbound trains mixed in with Sunday afternoon's lovely cooler weather and the sun peeking out from between clouds created the perfect environment for a trip to the Staples DQ to treat Mrs. L4T to supper. We tried timing the trip to get the food between trains, and were somewhat successful.

The first westbound was passing through Staples as we left Wadena, which seemed to create an opportunity at the Verndale sag. I shot him a number of times but the sun was positioned so that the glare off the windshield was atrocious until the locomotive got pretty close, so here's my image of a lone execu-MAC bringing a "Slot Machine" out of the Wing River dip.

The radio revealed that a loaded coal train had just taken the Brainerd Sub, and a manifest was passing though town staying on the Staples Sub as we arrived. I didn't get a chance to see the power, but a few minutes later I heard BNSF 8184 call the signal approaching Philbrook. Drat!

By this time we needed to hit the DQ drive thru so we would be fortified when the second westbound arrived in Staples. Then, just as we were ordering, I heard BNSF 6821 clearing up at Wadena. Interesting.

So we went back to the depot with our chow to see who would get their first-the westbound or the SD40-2. Turns out the old-timer won the race by a hair, with the meet happening within spitting distance of the depot. First shot is the pair of 40's approaching the depot, then the meet between that pair and a stack train led by an SD75I.

The 8300 was leading yet another EMD product, this one some variety of spartan cab SD wearing a black paint scheme. Let's hope that the eventual mega-merger won't result in us shooting black across the country on a regular basis.

Since we had to be home by 7, a chase back west seemed in order. I beat the stacker to the Dower Lake crossing and shot him just as a sucker hole passed over. The shot 10 seconds earlier is dark, but this time fate smiled on me.

Fate was on my side in more ways than one, since a loaded coal train was working at blocking my shot at the westbound, but again, I was on the winning side. I needed only to turn around to shoot yet another meet.

Since we were headed for home, and in the process once again got ahead of the stack train, seemed only right to shoot him once more. Sadly, I wasn't as lucky with the lighting this time. The high haze combined with my poor timing on the shadow from the abandoned grain elevator did a number on this shot.

And even then we weren't done. A scratchy detector call just outside Wadena suggested another eastbound, and sure enough he came into view just as the stack train passed. Now, since I had to be home at 7, and I still hadn't stopped at the Fresh Freeze, there is no photo of this train. A man has to have his priorities in order, you know. I will tell you this-I waited long enough to see that this coal train was led by an ACe, making for the fourth different EMD model in some type of BN or BNSF paint we had spotted during this short outing. Add that to the radio call from the SD60M and the Staples Sub was thick with various 6 axle EMD's this night. Outstanding!


Saturday, August 14, 2010

The Long-Lost Staples Saturday Morning

In the past, fairly frequent reports of Saturday morning sojurns to Staples have been a "staple". However, this year it seems there have been other priorities which have limited Saturday morning activities. Last night it sounded like the weather might be agreeable for such a trip so before drifting off to sleep Mrs. L4T was informed that I just may crawl out of bed early and head east.

Sure enough, the morning dawned clear and bright, and the relentless humidity had eased. What better way to celebrate the improving weather than to go out and document the action along a section of railroad? And so the previous evenings warning was made good. Sort of like Gilligan, I set out on a three hour tour.

I was out the door before 7:00, and crossing the tracks on Jefferson Street a headlight to the west gave indication of a train headed into the sun. The power was an exciting sight and seemed worthy of a bunch of photos in a number of locations-there is even some video to be shared later. Here's what got me so fired up early in the morning:

5 engines (and four of them EMD's) in 5 different paint schemes. Not something you see everyday along this stretch of track. Heck, let's leapfrog up to Staples and shoot him as he approaches the depot, too:

That's not exactly the shot I had in mind driving over, but then I didn't know the yard would be a parking lot this morning either. Notice that CN unit poking his nose out? That's one of the SD70-2's I spotted yesterday, on my way over to Perham. Must have had a quick turnaround somewhere!

While I was waiting at the depot, a guy showed up to clean up the grounds and inside. He was part of the depot committee for Staples, and after visiting with him for a few minutes I learned that the Staples depot is in good shape financially and should be seeing continuing improvements in the future. With the new roof, they can concentrate on other needs knowing the structure is protected. Sounded like good news.

Here's an interesting tidbit-there is a jigsaw puzzle on a baggage cart in the waiting area, and every day he disassembles part of the completed puzzle-maybe a hundred pieces or so. He told me that every morning when he stops back, it's been completed again. While I was wondering if ghosts were responsible, he mentioned that waiting passengers seem to enjoy having something to pass the time. All this interesting converstation caused me to miss an eastbound stack train, but since it was behind a pair of H2 GE's I wasn't too upset. Better things were coming.

The next train was a coal empty off the Brainerd Sub. Ho-hum, another peach MAC. Nothing to see here. But wait, turns out it was the same train I shot on my way home Thursday, when a loaded coal train posed in the Staples yard against a dramatic sky. Here's todays shot:

And then, the treat of the day. ATCS tipped me off to a westbound, which I was trying to figure out how to handle given the fact he would be coming out of the sun. I decided to try and catch the train coming up from the south by shooting him from near where the Brainerd Sub switch is. I figured a "down the throat" shot might have at least some nose light. So that's what I did. Imagine my surprise when I zoomed out as far as I could and saw this approaching:

And it wasn't just one of the Green Giants, but a pair:

(Note: I forgot to tell you that the coal empty had a Grinstien pusher, which made for BNSF paint scheme #6 for the day, so the appearance of the 60M's pushed my paint scheme count to 7, in just over an hour.)

Anyway, the appearance of the 60M's definitely called for a chase. Racking my brain for a way to get a decently-lit shot, I somehow settled on trying a few pans. I shot this set in about 4 locations between Staples and the Highway 10 overpass, and I think this is the one that turned out the best:

After a call to Mrs. L4T to let her know I was going to wait at Perham for a couple of eastbounds, it was back to work. Just after filling with gas, a grain train with a foreign unit second out closed in on me. I got him just east of the overpass:

...and then once more, this time as the GE's on the front worked to lift the train out of the Leaf River Plain:

This train had a long string of brand new covered hoppers in the middle of it and I had to grab a few photos for historical reference. Here's one:

I was about ready to call it a day, but the detector at MP 174.1 announced the arrival of another eastbound. Who can resist the attraction of one more train? Not me. This time, the canadian visitor was from the other road, and was also familiar, being part of the CN power set I had shot yesterday on the coal empty.

And that was it for my Saturday morning outing. I was more than pleased, with the 7 paint schemes, 5 trains, and nice weather as entertainment. Time between first shot and last shot-3 hours 7 minutes. For those of you who convinced yourselves to read the whole thing, thanks! If only every trip trackside could be like this.


Friday the 13th, Under the Overcast

After my trip to Virginia, I had one last little jaunt for the week. I needed to pick something up in Perham and bring it back to Wadena. So Friday morning, I was off under a leaden sky. I still brought the camera with, because who knows what you might see?

With no ATCS on the track between Detroit Lakes and Wadena, I was at the mercy of the BNSF as far as trains. The track and the highway separate so Highway 10 can loop around the north side of New York Mills, and darned if I didn't spot a stack train headed east as I neared the tracks on the west side of town. The light was funky, and I wanted to try a shot, so a quick u-turn put me in hot pursuit of the eastbound. I caught up with him before reaching Bluffton, and got this shot.

Now there is one complication to this that I haven't yet mentioned. While I was running this train down, I met a standard coal empty east of Mills, in one of the spots where it's hard to see the power. I got a glimpse of the GEVO leader, and passed him up. But as he passed I swore I saw a CN unit in the consist, and it seemed to be too far back to be the second or third unit. I filed this under "interesting things I see along the tracks" and continued my pursuit of the stack train.

After resuming the trek to Perham, I caught up with the MAC that was pushing on the coal empty. I whipped the Escape to try and run down the lead units, and sure enough something was strange, although I couldn't tell exactly what. Since it was Friday the 13th I sailed past Perham on the bypass and caught the headend on the other side of town. After a couple more miles, I was able to get to the north side of the tracks for a shot.

Of course I had the wide lens on, and you can't see what I wanted to show, so I grabbed a going away of the rear 3 units in this consist-a CN GEVO and a pair of SD70-2's. Now that's odd-unusual-strange or whatever you want to call it.

I know these are terrible shots, but I had to post them as there is a "to be continued" element to this post that requires me to include the story of the CN locos. You'll have to wait for the next report to hear the rest of the story...


Stormy Skies

Greetings railfans: the long drought of posts at is ending, at least for a while. The last couple of weeks have given me the chance to experience what back pain is really like, and one thing I've learned is that I'm not a fan of a sore back. That pain has prevented me from spending much time railfanning or doing much of anything but what is absolutely required at work. However, I have managed to shoot some photos out the car window and want to share a couple of those today.

Last Tuesday required the trek to Virginia, and I shot a couple of cloudy train pictures on the way over. While I spent three days on the range, the sore back referred to earlier overcame any desire to railfan, and the clouds managed to tamp down that tiny remaining flicker of desire. So no CN shots from this trip.

Thursday was a decent day in Virginia, but Mrs. L4T had informed me that the same was not true in Wadena. The trip home was mostly rain free until reaching Brainerd, where the skies started to become threatening and the windshield wipers started seeing intermittent use. The closer I got to home, the darker it got. My mind was mulling the possibility of a photo capturing the look, and when I got to Staples a coal train in the yard called out to be included in the shot.

That's an approximation of what it actually looked like late Thursday afternoon. It's the best I can do with what I had to work with.

Anyway, the gloom continued as I drove the last few miles to Wadena. A couple of tiny blue spots offered hope for some sunlight but it was vain hope. Arriving at the grade crossing on 1st Street East, the signal was lit for an eastbound and I stepped out of the Escape to shoot him as he passed. Here's the result:

That's my take from the drive home. I may try and post the cloudy shots from Tuesday, or maybe not. Anyway, hopefully this lets you know I am still alive and kicking, and with any luck this back will heal and I'll be at full strength again.