Thursday, January 20, 2011

Flashback Post #2-September 4, 2006

(Note: Having lacked the time to get out trackside for the past few days, I thought I would feed the "need to blog" by digging back into the archives from before existed. The following describes an exciting early railfanning experience, and features one of my personal favorite photos.)

The Labor Day holiday in 2006 found me with a free afternoon for railfanning. I was new to the hobby at the time, and still remember the excitement of setting out on a trip with a mission. That day, the mission was to capture some action along the west end of the Staples Sub.

Seems I can also remember the faint flicker of uncertainty that coursed through my body when I came upon a westbound stack train parked just east of the Highway 10 overpass. The train was sitting on Main 1, and after shooting him from the Hagerman Road crossing, my westward journey continued.

I kept as close an eye as I could on the tracks while passing Perham on Highway 10. The complete absence of moving trains only served to reinforce the uncertainty I had noticed earlier. Still, the logical course was to press on, and so I did.

Being familiar with the "lay of the land" from frequent trips between Wadena and Detroit Lakes, I spied an unusual level of activity along Highway 10 from quite a distance. "What", I wondered, "could be going on along the BNSF Right of Way on a Labor Day Monday?"

That questions was quickly answered by the sizable BNSF work crew that was toiling at replacing what used to be a bridge over the Ottertail River between Perham and Frazee. At least a couple of years earlier, before my move to Wadena, the railroad had installed three large box culverts to carry the river flow under the tracks, and dumped hundreds of yards of fill on the culverts in a first step to eliminate a steel bridge. After letting the fill settle for a couple of freeze/thaw cycles, it seems that Labor Day was chosen to complete the replacement. A major work blitz had already removed the steel bridge, dumped fill to bring the area up to grade, laid two new tracks across the area, lined, ballasted, and tamped the tracks, and was now in the process of checking things out to allow traffic to cross the newly filled area. I stopped and spent some time watching a large crew work feverishly to get the busy Staples Sub back into service.

The photo above captures more than half of the equipment and manpower that was present.

This picture brings back fond memories. The silver Ranger pickup on the shoulder was my trusty railfan ride for many miles, going back to my days in Ranier. It would continue to serve a couple of more years after this photo was shot, eventually succumbing to age, rust, and the need for more reliable wheels that arose with a job change. But on this day, the railfan and the Ranger worked as one, capturing photos far and wide.

One final photo of the scene was evidence that a BNSF hi-rail truck is able to handle 5 loaded ballast cars. There were ballast cars for each track present, the set shown here behind the hi-rail and the set for the other main powered by a rail crane. No locomotives were involved in the reconstruction of this river crossing.

Of course, even after the work was done, the tracks needed to be clear before trains could start moving. If memory serves, for Main 1 that meant the hi-rail and its train needed to retreat to Perham and take a siding. This half hour or so journey seemed to take forever. Soon enough, though, they were clear, and the backlog of trains was ready to roll.

For some reason, I decided to shoot the first westbound across the new fill. The train crossed at a restricted speed of 10 mph under the watchful eye of BNSF personnel. Once it was completely across, it slowly began to pick up speed. I can't remember how quickly it was moving as I shot the photo below. I do know that at the time, I didn't even notice that the second westbound was right behind it, and the headlight it visible in this shot.

That's always been one of my favorite photos. It has a combination of things going for it-reminding me of the day I stumbled across the Ottertail River bridge work, catching two westbounds in a single frame, and simply being a quality photo. I still think it's one of the sharper photos I've had a chance to shoot, even now, some 17,000 exposures later.

With trains lined up, I quickly moved a bit further west to grab another set of Dash 9's crossing the bridge on the east side of Frazee.

And I wasn't done yet. I managed to get a couple of eastbounds at the Frazee curve, and then, on my way home, another headlight popped up in the distance. Pulling off at the nearest crossing, an execu-MAC with a morphodite number board led coal empties west. At the last minute I spotted a rising moon and tried to catch that in the shot as well.

And that brought a great day of railfanning to an end. What had started out with such trepidation turned into a memorable experience, one that I'm glad to be able to share with you after all these years.

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