Monday, May 30, 2011

Blue and Yellow

Last week entailed a trip to Austin, which means a chance to parallel the ICE from Owatonna to my destination and with luck, catch some blue and yellow power leading a train. It's happened in the past, although admittedly not regularly, but often enough to keep hope alive.

The trip down Wednesday afternoon and evening will keep the hope alive for a few more trips, as this train was posed for me as I neared Blooming Prairie:

As I said in the flickr post that night, it seemed like passing on this opportunity would have been plain rude. Besides, any chance to show MN Chris what a blue and yellow unit looks like needs to be capitalized upon. You don't have to drive all the way to Iowa to not see these engines. Heck, I was inspired enough to dig into my bag for the short lens to grab yet another shot.

The only problem with Wednesday evening was the cloud cover, and that was gone on Thursday. After work, it seemed like the perfect time to try my luck yet again, so it was off to the tracks and a hoped-for appointment with more of the classic EMD power. However, it was not to be. The railfanning wasn't an entire loss, though, as the sun gave me a chance to get my first well-lit shot of the former Milwaukee Road depot in Austin. At least I think that's the railroad this served:

What an attractive, and modelable, depot that is. It's almost enough to inspire one to take up passenger modeling, so a train could stop on it's regular schedule to drop and pick up HO scale passengers. Maybe someday?

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

More Fertilizer Plant

It just goes on and on. My fertilizer plant construction project, that is.

I've documented some of the earlier work on this project in previous posts, along with some photos on flickr. One thing I'm kind of proud about is that I have kept at this, working through problems that creep up rather than pitching the entire works in the trash.

Last night I applied some paint to the tower and set everything that's been assembled to this point on the layout for a photo shoot.

Surprisingly to me, it looks almost presentable. Obviously there is still work to do, for example install motors at the top of the legs, and build conveyers to carry the material to the base of the legs, along with a spout into the top of the tower. And that's not even counting the work of creating a scene where it will actually blend in. I get more inspired to carry on the closer it gets to completion, though.

Work will continue in fits and starts, as time allows. This isn't the kind of project you can complete in a hotel room, and when I'm home there is more to do than create a 1/87th replica of an imaginary fertilizer plant. Someday, though, I'll be able to sit back and say "I built that".

Sunday, May 22, 2011


A week ago tomorrow a trip to Bagley and Fosston was on the agenda. With a meeting in Bagley scheduled for the evening, I didn't leave Wadena until approaching noon. As it turned out this allowed me to catch the local as he worked in town. The trip north was delayed just a few minutes as I captured a few images of the train, led by a pair of blue GP's and with a caboose of all things bringing up the rear. With so little time to spare these are the best I can offer of that outing:

The interplay of the Wadena local and the "Local Cars" sign caught my eye and I had to try and work the sign into a shot.

In the image above, the power is picking up a boxcar spotted at the loading dock in Wadena. The only thing I've ever seen loaded here are beans in giant bags, so I assume that's the lading here as well, but that could very well be mistaken. These boxcars have been more frequent as of late, with MDW, CSX, and BNSF reporting marks all making an appearance.

After shooting the local it was off to the Grand Forks Sub, where I figured on little if any traffic as MN Chris was reporting the presence of a welding crew along the line. A text from Jer reported that westbound was headed up the CP's DL Sub, but I didn't expect to get that far west. Things changed when I finished up in Fosston around 3:45. With no need to get to Bagley until 6:00, I was westbound with Erskine as a goal. Chris was out and about by this time, reporting a BNSF eastbound in addition to the CP train. Erskine seemed the place to be, and I waited for one of the trains to arrive. Chris planned to run over to meet me, but the CP train beat him there and I called him to report the fast moving freight. His detour north left me with only the BNSF train to wait for, so I set up on the Highway 59 bridge for a backlit shot. A short wait yielded this black and white effort:

Since I needed to get to Bagley, I chased the train back east and got a broadside of him near Fosston, shown here.

That was it for train photos, but I was still to be entertained by the tale of Chris's misadventures chasing down the CP westbound. He had travelled the "world's worst road, fit only for giant tired-fertilizer equipment", criss-crossed northwest Minnesota, and encountered a 200 man CP track gang just north of Thief River Falls. The story loses most of its effect in the retelling, but suffice it to say the call I made on the way home was long on entertainment value.

That's the story of my potpurii of a railfanning day. The sun was high and time was limited, but I still managed to shoot a couple of trains.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

The Never-Ending Scratchbuild

Way back when (over a month ago, actually) the project of building some kind of rail-served fertilizer plant began. With a number of fits and starts, it continues to this very day.

That first building, while acceptable, left a lot to be desired after it was done. I didn't like the way it was layed out, the style of the building (it looked old to me), and the roof had an ugly seam. There was a lot of good that came from it as well, though, including the learning process of building with styrene. I decided a fresh start was in order, so that's what I did, start over. After a few weeks of spare time, I had come up with this:

While still far from perfect, I was much happier with this effort. It seemed to have the feel of a more modern structure, and allowed me to visualize how the product moved through the building. This evolved into the next problem, where will all this fertilizer go so I can haul some more in by rail? I needed a credible way to empty the building as well. And that's where this post came into play. What I needed was a fertilizer blending tower, and a way to get product into it. This called for a second bucket elevator, or leg.

A second Pikestuff leg was waiting to be assembled and installed at the tower, but for some reason I decided to scratch up a leg instead. Newer bucket elevators sometimes have two separate columns attached by braces every few feet. This seemed like an easy project, given the proper sizes of styrene and some plastic cement.

It is relatively easy (for the most part) and one thing I really enjoy about building this is how it caused me to study these facilities closely while driving around the state. The variations are endless. Nearly anything one can dream up likely has a prototype somewhere. That put my mind at ease while freelancing the equipment.

Now that the project may be recognizable, I decided to share a couple of photos. There's still a great deal of work to be done. One of the things I'm trying to accomplish with this project is to use as few factory parts as possible. In the photos below, all you see is Plastruct or Evergreen styrene and for-sale signs, with the single exception of the platform and rail on the elevator leg. The railing around the top of the blender tower is scratchbuilt. I expect to use another of these platforms (they are leftovers from the other elevator leg, the one feeding the warehouse) at the top of the leg, and the ladders will be either Pikestuff or Central Valley. I have the CV ladders but building the cages around them from scratch is driving me nuts so I may use the part from the Pikestuff kit in the end.

I've reached a point where a decision is called for-if the head of the elevator leg is to be painted a contrasing color (thinking about blue), it needs to happen before any more parts are installed. Not sure yet where I'm going with that, but something will happen today.

This project encompasses a bunch of "mosts" for me-most difficult, most fun, most time consuming, and hopefully in the end most rewarding. My goal is to end up with a model I can be proud of, and know that for the most part it is the product of my head and hands. It's certainly made me think about how to build things and given me new respect for the folks who design kits and write the instructions.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Summertime at the Sag

Summertime, and the shootin' is good, at the Wing River sag. Mrs. L4T suggested a ride, and after a check of ATCS I agreed. We headed east, and I pulled off just outside Verndale, spotting a headlight approaching as we crossed the tracks. Here it comes:

A preview of Verndale Rail 2011.

When we got back to town, I had to stop by Drywall Supply to shoot a couple of the 8 tanks of magnesium chloride the Wadena local had delivered for transloading. Talking to a truck driver earlier in the day I learned that this product will be used on gravel roads in the Park Rapids area to keep dust down. The modeler in me really liked the rust on this one:

And the other white car was decorated by taggers.

This is the first time I have seen this take place in Wadena. Hopefully the local has found some new business that is sustainable. According to the driver I visited with he will have them all unloaded this week. That's a good number of trips to Park Rapids.

I'm a Sucker...

...for ES44C4's. So when I spotted this one sitting at the east end of Staples yard nearly two weeks ago, I couldn't help but make a u-turn and take a picture.

And I'm glad I did, since I didn't have any record of it. With the addition on the 6617 I have caught 16 or 18 of the 25 (?) units on the Staples Sub. I'll keep looking.

Monday, May 9, 2011

The Back Way

Saturday Mrs. L4t and I set out for Grand Forks to see our son. Rather than the typical trip west to Fargo and then flying up I-29, I convince the Mrs. that a short cut through Erskine was the way to go this day. I don't know what I missed as a result, but here is a short report on what I did in fact catch on National Train Day.

Just south of Waubun, we encountered our first CP train. This eastbound had a GE leader and white SOO SD as the second unit. I shot him at max tele to capture the hump:

The heat distortion is already setting in, so I got him again as he approached:

My assumption that this was all the CP action for the day proved correct. The next line encountered was the BNSF Grand Forks Sub, which we started to follow at Erskine. The line curves away from the highway in a few spots so we were lucky to spot a headlight in the distance as we approached Fisher. Mrs. L4T confirmed that it was a train and I found a crossing. I thought this was a Noyes train but on further reflection it almost had to have been headed to Superior. That's if all the old open hoppers were limestone cars, anyway.

We made a couple of passes by the yard in Grand Forks over the weekend but even with a healthy collection of GP's near the shop I didn't get any shots. Someday when I have more time I'll try and find a place to shoot them from.

We followed the Hillsboro Sub home and met one westbound fertilizer train, all CSX covered hoppers with three CSX GE's leading. Again, no shots as home was calling out strongly. I do suspect seeing the exact same train returning empty this evening near Wadena, which would have been a very fast turnaround.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Thursday's Train

After spending Monday through Wedensday in Austin and Owatonna, I was back on the road Thursday afternoon, with a stop in Randall and subsequent trip to the Cities for a Friday meeting in order. As usual the camera was in the car.

Just a couple of miles west of Staples, I encountered this thing, which is likely one of the reasons for the abundance of MOW personnel and the corresponding lack of trains during weekdays along the Staples Sub. Anyone know what it is?

I was just getting ready to leave Randall when I heard a horn, and the train flew through town eastbound as I left. Seemed like a good candidate for a chase, especially with a gorgeous H1 Dash 9 on the point and a pair of CP units rounding out the consist. I caught the head end just as it passed under the overpass at Little Falls, and was well ahead of the train by Gregory. After a stop at the Rice Holiday, the train had caught up and I played cat and mouse with him until turning off to intercept it approaching Sartell, just west of the paper mill. I was lucky enough to get him in a sucker hole:

I already had seen one interesting piece of rolling stock in this train, so decided to grab a shot of a 12-axle depressed center flat towards the rear of the long train. Here's a shot:

That was the end of my railfanning for the day. I decided to cut through St. Cloud and leave the Staples Sub. It wasn't a "big number" day, but I did get a sunny shot of a nice looking loco and some unusual power, so it was fun.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

More Modeling

Here's an eye catching structure that seems made for an HO scale layout:

And so I set out to build such a thing. It's part of a recent burst of fertilizer equipment related scratchbuilding. This time, I hope to get it closer than the first try at a warehouse. So far, here's what's been accomplished:

With a couple of the Rix Products grain elevator legs on hand, hopefully the required materials are available to complete the job. One lesson from setting out to build something, however, is this-I'm not the best planner in the world. There always seems to be that one last item that is missing, requiring either a trip to a hobby shop (a hundred miles or more, in my case), a visit to an online pusher, or figuring out a different way to do what needs to be done. So far the options are used in about equal parts, but the last one is by far the most fun, although also the most time consuming. I could usually order the little widget I need, wait by the door for FedEx, and still save time compared to fabricating. Oh well, no one told me it was easy.