Saturday, July 30, 2011

The Long-Lost Staples Saturday Morning

A couple or three years ago, it was a common thing for me to head over to Staples on Saturday mornings to grab some kind of breakfast sandwich, see if the Staples or Brainerd Sub had anything much going on, and check out the yard and depot. Somehow I've gotten out of that habit. Today seemed like a good day to do it again, if only for old times sake. Cloudy skies nearly cancelled the trip, but when Mrs. L4T looked out and said the sun was shining I flew into action. After a stop at Holiday for vittles, it was off to the races.

My first train was this eastbound, holding at the Dower Lake station sign on Main 2. With the crossing blocked, it sounded like they were in a hurry to move, but the dispatcher told them to be patient. I got a shot anyway, to record the power:

A westbound was waiting as well, this one just before the switch for the Brainerd Sub. Since no attractive photo angles were in play, and the yard looked to have some interesting stuff, I passed right by. However, when I was shooting some of the yard trains they started to pull and I got this backlit shot under the clouds as they passed the depot.

When the sun peeked out, I managed to grab a shot of the trains in the yard. Here you can see a trio of Dash 9 led eastbounds waiting to head for Northtown and destinations beyond. Gotta love that H1 paint!

After that I swung over to the Depot, where renovation is still underway. A conversation with a caretaker clued me in that the ticket agent's room will soon house the Staples Chamber of Commerce. They are making progress.

I was waiting for the eastbound I had shot earlier to come by, and finally he did. The dispatcher had crossed him over to Main One at Dower Lake and he passed the depot on the near track, under stormy skies that the Mrs. informed me were producing rain in Wadena almost from the time I left.

After that, with ATCS showing nothing and rain approaching Staples, it was off for Wadena, where I set to work on a custom built grain bin that may some day approach completion.

And We Complain About FADED Paint

Shot this bad boy coming west through Staples this morning. Can't see the reporting marks in this shot but "PRLX" was stenciled below the cab window. Makes you look at peach MAC's in a whole new light.

Monday, July 25, 2011

The Dryer Post, Part Deux

It's been over a week since the first Dryer Post, and I felt like an update was in order. Lord knows Mrs. L4T has listened to me argue with the minature pieces of plastic sign this thing is partially constructed of enough. Maybe she deserves me sharing it with my blog audience.

Work has continued in fits and spurts, including such tings as fabricating a new roof to replace the one that was featured in the first post, building a walkway just like the real thing has, and painting. Oh, painting. Last night I grabbed a handful of spray cans, some masking tape, and a bucket of courage, and headed outside. When I came back in, I had something that looked like this:

Notice that you only see one side. The pewter colored paint that is intended to simulate the screens had some adhesion issues in one spot. Seeing as how it's nearly impossible to match the paint after the fact I just spun the thing around so the peel doesn't show. It's not an acceptable remedy but it does let me post a photo showing what I'm trying to acheive.

Ladders and safety cages are still on the schedule, but compete for time with many other projects. Someday soon I hope to be able to add this to the grain elevator complex. Wish me luck!

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Hot Shots

It's been mighty hot around these parts, and even though the intense heat has broken, it still is pretty warm. Nothing like last weekend and the first part of this week, though, when dawn found temps near 80 degrees with dewpoints to match. Tuesday morning, for example, as I headed down Highway 10 to the Cities for a meeting, an eastbound in the siding at Randall called out to be photographed. I got this shot from the car window, with the storm that had hit Wadena and Perham earlier in the background.

A couple of other photo attempts were thwarted when the camera lens fogged up just as soon as I stepped out of the car. No efforts at clearing it were successful, so I just gave up. With the AC running inside, the camera was actually below the dew point outside and would be a dripping mess moments after stepping outside.

The day did offer one more photo op, though. On the way home, I was able to wait for a westbound in Aldrich. This is a dark photo, and once again I had just wiped off the camera lens before shooting it.

That's all the pix from Tuesday. Hopefully we won't see dew points in the high 70's and low 80's again, well, ever.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Almost a (1997) Calendar Shot

If not for the crappy light, the foreground clutter, the locomotive re-numbering, the fact the leader is wearing the absolutely most classic paint scheme of all time, and the second unit is pointing the wrong way, this photo could have been considered for a first-edition BNSF company calendar. When was the last time you saw a trio of shiny H1 SD40-2's?

Mrs. L4T and I were out for an evening drive, with nowhere to go and expecting little if any traffic due to the derailment in Fridley. Enjoying my Rolo McFlurry (snack size!) as we cruised west on Highway 10, it seemed like a nice evening to just relax. Even the sight of an eastbound behind a pair of H1 Dash 9's and a warbonnet wasn't enough to motivate yours truly into a simple U-turn. For some reason I just kept heading west on Highway 10, speculating with the Mrs. about where the train we just saw would spend the evening. I explained to her the intricacies of traffic routing, and how even sending them east to Superior wouldn't open the way to Northtown yard. I think she was listening, but can't say for sure. It was clear that she was watching, though, when she informed me of another train. Sure enough, we had stumbled upon the set shown above. This was enough to motivate me to make a U-turn, and step on it. The EMD's were making good time as I barely caught them near Bluffton for the shot above.

All four units were leaning into the train as they climbed out of the Leaf River plain. Smoke belched from the exhausts, and the train slowed just enough to let me catch him for one more going away shot on the west side of Wadena.

As they lifted the entire train up the grade, the locomotives rapidly brought the speed back up and they were almost clear of the grade crossing in Wadena when we turned to go home.

Another lesson in why you never quit looking. Sometimes the real treats show up at the most unexpected time.

The Dryer Post

A couple of days ago in a post about progress on an HO scale grain elevator, the need for a grain dryer was mentioned. West Central Minnesota Grain is proud to announce that the grain elevator construction project is underway.

First a couple of photos of the style of dryer they have in mind-the tower dryer, which is becoming so common at elevators and large farms throughout the corn belt. They come in a variety of sizes, including huge, like the one in this photo:

And huger, like this one, which shows some of its innards in a cut-away:

But they aren't all ginourmous. Some are just pretty big, like the one we have selected for our location. It'll stand some 65' tall and has a diameter of about 14'. The basic structure is complete, as shown in this in-progress photo, taken today.

There are still a lot of construction problems to solve. Since this elevator exists in 1/87th scale and never actually dries grain, we have the advantage of using flammable materials during construction. For example, the roof and hopper bottom are cardstock. The vision also calls for some For Rent signs which will be used to fabricate the extensive walkways required around this style dryer. The decision on how to provide ladders and safety cages is still open, with some arguing that factory built components are the way to go while a few purists hold out for scratching the whole works.

Whatever is decided, perhaps the biggest challenge will be replicating the appearance of the vast expanse of perforated metal that makes up the great majority of the dryer's exterior. Since it's extremely impractical to drill thousands .07" holes reduced to 1/87th scale, it's hoped that a creative paint job can help simulate the appearance of the real dryer. A couple of cans of gray primer, a small spray can of "pewter", and some aluminum paint are the tools in the arsenal for this job. Time will tell if it's effective. If you never hear another word about the dryer, you can assume it wasn't.

Since time is under the control of the layout owner, there's no need to rush to finish this thing. Harvest can wait until the dryer is ready in my magical world.

Friday, July 15, 2011


Actually, I saw a few pushers today. Most of them were what we have come to think of as conventional pushers, or Distributed Power Units. These are the locomotives on the rear (at least in this area) of the train, which are controlled by the engineer up front. This coal train, which was photographed going east through the Verndale sag, had a pretty nice looking MAC pushing. Since the tail end unit was facing the wrong way I only shot the head end power.

After a stop north of Eagle Bend, the journey continued on toward Randall. Since it was lunchtime, a detour down old Highway 10 near Lincoln was possible, and another train popped up, this time what looked like oil cans. I missed the head end, but got the "pusher"-a fairly new GEVO. This was an absolute snap shot as I lumbered up the hill just as the loco disappeared around the corner.

And now on to what I hinted about on Facebook earlier today-a "manned helper", something that should be unheard of on the Staples Sub in this day and age. It seems like those tie cars must be getting loaded pretty heavy, though, as this train showed up passing under the old Highway 10 bridge:

Yes, there is a second hi-rail on the rear, and it's manned-as a matter of fact the two guys in it gave me a funny look as I shot them passing by. Here's a going away shot after they passed under me:

It can't be that they needed the power, as I've seen these trucks move 10 cars on their own. Maybe by tieing everything together they can travel as one "train" and get to where they are going faster, I don't know. Whatever the reason, it was one of those things that really gets your attention. An oddity.

And when I got back to Wadena, sure enough, Chris, I looked down the tracks as I crossed to go home and saw a headlight. It seemed a waste not to try and shoot him, even though the light was terrible. More crude oil tanks. With three units up front this one had no DPU. You can almost smell the creosote boiling off those ties in this shot.

And then it was home, and back to work. I sure wish I could get caught up. For now, I'm thankful for seeing some trains, and the manned helper of July 2011.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Rainy Day Layout Shots

Here's something I've learned.

The people who have layouts that are featured in the model railroad press, are really, really good modelers. Every time I try taking a picture of my sorry excuse of a model railroad it just drives home how far I have to go to consider my meager offerings presentable.

But for some reason even that doesn't stop me. Model railroading is unusual for me in that even though I know what I'm doing is sub-par, I can't help but enjoy it. That's different than a lot of other activities I have tried, and maybe it's because this is so much fun even when you're not an expert.

That's quite a lead in for just a couple of photos, but here's the first:

Another lesson from this corner of the layout is how one thing leads to another. This all started, believe it or not, because of the fertilizer plant I cobbled up some time ago. It needed a home on the railroad, and just to the right of this corner seemed like the perfect spot. There was already a switch that could feed the fertilizer plant spur, but the benchwork would have to be extended a few inches to accomodate the track.

Since this extension would make it kind of tough to reach the rear of the layout, it seemed only proper to do some scenery while it was still relatively accessible. First, I installed and painted the backdrop (which turned out to be too short, as the photos clearly show). Then some landforms and ground cover, a road, and the grain elevator that was planned for the corner, where a siding had already been laid.

And the grain elevator project took on a life of its own. My poor fertilizer plant languishes on some blue foam as it waits patiently for a home to be established. The grain elevator project just goes on, and on. Last weekend I built the three silos and headhouse that increased the storage capacity just enough to justify rail service. Since this model is set in the present day, you can't load covered hoppers without some sort of fall protection for the guys opening and closing the lids, so that's under construction. There's a desparate need for some kind of spout to fill the cars from. And it's a sorry elevator that doesn't have some kind of high capacity grain dryer on site, so I have to figure out what style dryer this one will have, where it will sit, and how the wet grain is stored and fed into the dryer. Heck, I've got more ideas than I do space!

Here's another angle of the complex as it sits tonight.

With near hundred degree temps and high sun in the forecast, hopefully this weekend will allow some more progress on West Central Grain and Seed.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Sampling some Switchers

Maybe it's just me, but it seems like any railfan who wakes up in Thief River Falls, looks out the window to see sunshine, and has a half hour to spare should be obligated to take a swing by the CP yard to see what else is up and about.

So that's what I did this morning. After shooting some pictures of the Farmer's Coop concrete grain elevator (one of my new obsessions) I tracked this down sitting what I think is south of the roundhouse.

It was the beginning of a long day, a day that would interestingly enough involve the sightings of a number of switch engines. The CP engine above was the first, but after reaching Crookston sometime after lunch a little exploration revealed a couple of others. The Minnesota Northern engine is hidden behind this little gem, and there didn't seem to be a way to get a shot that included them both. The heat distortion is really getting to be a problem when combined with the high sun.

Since the day seemed to be developing a switch engine theme, and the trip up offered a look at the unit that lives in Callaway, a return route through Ulen seemed fitting. This engine is hard to get from a good angle AND in good light. I finally got a little better light today, although it was high sun, but the angle was awful. Too much "elevator" stuff around.

While doing a little more snooping, I thought I spotted a crew van in Ulen, although there was no grain train present. This instantly alerted the railfan senses, and after heading south sure enough headlights were spotted leaving Hitterdall. This train is an easy chase, as I think the track is only 10 mph and they absolutely don't speed, so I shot him in a couple of spots between there and Ulen. Since this post is about switchers, though, I will save those for another day.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Border Country

After a drive home from the Twin Cities yesterday, this afternoon I was on the road once more, this time to visit my parents in International Falls. I'm supposed to help them move this weekend.

Trips back to the Falls always make me think about the all-Alco MDW that ruled the rails during my stay there. I took advantage of the visit to Borderland by making a quick stop near the MDW engine house before we went to supper. Luckily the railroad decided to pose one of their "new" locos next to the building. With thanks, I grabbed a couple of shots.

After getting back in the car, a moving train showed up coming from the area of the bridge. Here came one of the old Alcos, bringing some boxcars toward the yard. A short move and I was out again, hopeful of getting a shot of both units side by side. No such luck, though, as the train tied up north of the street crossing and the engineer headed inside. So this was all that was available of the Alco powered train:

Still, this seemed like fair luck, and so it was off to Ranier. Didn't really expect to see much, but after reaching the crossing this was sitting there:

It's a far cry from the lashups of SD40 types that were so common 15 years ago but still nothing to cry about.

I do have to say it was a productive 15 minute railfan outing in border country. If the weather cooperates maybe I can try again tomorrow before heading home. Need to get rested up for a trip up the Noyes Sub Monday.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

A Brainerd Sub Train

This morning found me bound for a meeting in Two Harbors. It was tempting to stop in Staples for a couple of shots of the yard full of trains sitting there, but luckily something told me to keep pressing on. Actually not so much luck as work obligations kept me on the move.

Whatever the reason, it turned out well as in a short time a loaded coal train came into sight. As he worked on getting up to track speed I easily overtook him and found a crossing that offered a view just west of Motley.

Well, that was pretty nice so I decided to do it again near Pillager. This time involved a short wait (maybe 5 minutes) but the opportunity to shoot the train as it rounded a curve. Just the kind of view I want to figure out how to model.

Luck was with me, as the ACe was leading instead of the GE. I like the ACe's better, just have a sweet spot for EMD's I guess.

That was the only train I saw all day. A couple of locos sitting at Rice's Point when I went through Duluth and the crossing gates dropped on the NSSR near the end of I-35 but no glimpse of a train. Drove all the way to the Cities after my meeting with no evidence of any action on the portion of the Hinckley Sub that was visible. Still, any day with a nicely lit EMD is a good day, isn't it?

Monday, July 4, 2011

Graining on It

While trying to find a permanent home for the fertilizer plant I recently have been working on, it became clear that a person needs to work from the back of the layout to the front if you want to keep from destroying any detail items toward the front edge of the layout. In other words, do the backdrop and any scenery work that is close before turning your attention to the nearer items.

And so, after getting a backdrop in place and blue, scenery and structures behind the track in this corner were the next order of business. I turned my attention to a first attempt at a road on Saturday. (One shoulder has now been installed, but no photos exist at this time.)

It gave me a chance to break out the static grass applicator and again it impressed with its performance. It's obvious I need some more variety in grass than 2 mm though, not many road ditches and highway right of ways are so well manicured. But, the machine is doing its part, now its up to the modeler to use it properly.

The two tracks visible in the photo are the main and the siding for a grain elevator. This is a curved siding, with a radius greater than 30", but it's the place where a grain elevator will fit. Over the last few weeks I've fooled with a building and this weekend worked up the enthusiasm to paint the main structure. Here's a look at what I came up with, so far.

Pay no attention to the PVC pipe next to the elevator, hopefully someday it will be the first of a number of silos that will serve as additional storage for West Central Minnesota Grain.

I did have one problem, though. How did the grain get delivered from the farm, and where did the office staff sit while they counted the kernels, wrote the checks, and bitched to the railroad about the availability of grain cars? Hopefully the latest addition provides a plausible answer to all these questions. Today I shoddily painted the unloading shed and office, built a foundation, and placed it all on the layout for an in-progress photo.

The more that gets done, the more there is to do, it seems. Next up are driveways and parking areas, painting the foundation a more realistic concrete color, installing the really cool HO steps I made for the office, building and finding a place for a grain dryer, and some type of spout from the elevator for loading covered hoppers. Oh, and the extra silos and associated conveyers and augers.

All this just to get to the point where I can install a spur for the fertilizer plant. This modeling is a never ending task!

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Against the Grain

This afternoon Mrs. L4T agreed to accompany me on a railfanning outing. Having done extensive analysis of traffic patterns via facebook posts, mailing list info, and reading chicken entrails, the conclusion was arrived at that the Paynesville Sub deserved our attention, and so it came to be that we set out for locations to the south at about 1500 hours.

Of course, first we had to go north for gas. After fueling up, I headed west on Highway 10 with the intent to intercept the DL Sub and follow it south. Luckily someone at the BNSF heard about my plan and took corrective action. We were less than a mile out of town when an eastbound behind 5(!) EMD spartan cabs made its appearance. All prior plans were scrapped, a u-turn was executed, and calculations regarding speed, sun angle, and time began to be made. So began our afternoon of fanning the east Staples Sub.

My first somewhat presentable shot of the train that coaxed me into staying on home rails was near Cushing. After blowing the Quiken Road shot, I was on a mission to at least get all 5 locos in one frame and that's about all you can say for this. Very neat consist, though.

SWA put him in the hole at Darling to let a stack train by, and then after he got rolling again told the crew they could stop and get a snack at Royalton if they wanted as Northtown had no where to put them. I finally heard them clear up at St. Cloud after taking more than 3 hours to cover the 90 some miles between Wadena and St. Cloud.

The exciting news was that during the chatter between trains and dispatcher, mention was made of a westbound! They have been scarce as hen's teeth due to the flooding in Minot but word was they should start showing up today. Sure enough, they did. After hearing one call a signal approaching Gregory, I decided to take a stand on the overpass just north of Little Falls. After a short wait, here he comes!

As there was a meet at Darling, it was no problem to get ahead of him. I was rolling along nicely when out of the corner of my eye I spyed what looked like a couple of railfans, so stopped to see what was going on. Sure enough, it was a famous railfan-here's Andy Cummings just after shooting the BNSF 7564.

I got the train next just south of Randall, at a curve I've pondered shooting many times before. I think there are some possibilities here.

Finally, here's a location I have shot once before, and it illustrates one of the things I really enjoy about the East Staples Sub-it's more than prairie.

And then another u-turn brought us south again, to chase the 7292. This shot is on a fill near Cushing. The tree on the right edge of the frame is my second favorite tree along the Staples Sub, after the giant just east of Verndale. It was also fun see a C4 in the consist.

Finally, the shot so many of us hoped for 8 days ago-a train headed west through the Verndale sag.

So on a day when things seemed to start out so wrong, they ended up being pretty right. It's good to see westbounds running "against the grain" as it were. Hopefully this is a sign that the people of Minot can begin the long and difficult process of getting their lives back to some semblance of normal. We need to pray for them.