Friday, September 30, 2011

A Picture is Worth Many Words

I've been terribly negligent about adding content to this blog recently, having been distracted with modeling, work, and actually getting out and chasing trains rather than writing about chasing trains. The photo below seemed like a great opportunity to try and make up for that.

The reason I picked this particular shot is because there is so much that is interesting to me. First off, the power on the northbound train, holding the main. Anytime you catch a warbonnet leader in decent paint is good. This particular time was better, as the GE was trailed by four interesting EMD's. The first three were interesting but not unusual, at least over the years. Oakways used to be common on the Staples Sub and I have lots of shots of them but not too many solid three unit sets.

The trailing unit is the most interesting, being my first sighting of a Dakota and Iowa Railroad engine.

I came across the northbound while following the DME from Tracy to Florence. A mile or so before reaching Highway 23, I spotted a train to the north and figured it to be on the DME. Lo and behold, after a little investigation it turned out to be this train on the Marshall Sub. The train was travelling directly away from the sun and there weren't any good options for well lit photos, but knowing he would meet a southbound in Marshall I chased all the way up there.

The local out of Willmar was also at the ADM plant in this shot, so there are actually three trains present. This created a bit of a dispatching challenge given that the northbound also had 25 cars to drop at the plant. As a result the local got a head start on its trip home, but I was more interested in the southbound and catching him in some decent light.

And so I headed south, looking for a chance to shoot the 7784. Here's the first one, where the tracks come back near the highway near Russell.

And finally, after he met an ethanol empty headed north, something a little different than the normal grade crossing wedgie.

I really enjoy the scenery in this area and need to keep trying different things to capture the look. Hopefully these pictures help to tell the story on a lovely part of the state.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011


It's been a couple of weeks since I was last down south, but I still have a few photos from the trip that haven't been posted. These particular ones were a great reminder of one of my most interesting railfanning experiences, and the chance to take a (short) cab ride.

Last time through Springfield, sure enough, Harvestland was loading a train. And just like every other time I've seen this, my friend George was running the Harvestland engine.

This is a huge facility. It's likely been mentioned before that they have storage capacity for around 10 complete shuttle trains, and can load such a train in less than 12 hours when everything goes right. Here's a shot of the shuttle power, which brings the train off the BNSF at Florence and across the former DME to Springfield. You can get an idea of the size of the elevator in the background.

Interestingly, although they load these unit trains, there is no loop, just a long siding. The complex also includes a fertilizer plant and Harvestland unloads both dry and liquid fertilizer at this location along with loading grain trains. It's a good rail customer.

In addition to the nicely painted GP, they also have a trackmobile, I assume for the fertilizer cars. A trackmobile wouldn't do much good when trying to get a shuttle loaded.

For that you need a hard-working locomotive, something as seen in the following picture. You can bet that George is at the throttle, waiting for her to load up and then the radio call from the control booth "That's good, George".

This is one of the countless activities on the railroad that will never get old for me. It's hard to picture passing this location and not stopping when something rail related is going on, and I hope I never have to.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Talk Like a Pirate Day


Yep, it was today. And lucky me, I got to spend it with a few scoundrels who had sailed in from up north. Mike, Craig, and Dave had rolled into town a couple of days earlier and brought their usual good luck when it came to catching trains. These guys are hard-core fans and when they come to town they are disappointed if they leave with a train count not in the triple digits.

So this morning I headed uptown (first day of vacation!) to look for the crew. They turned out to be over NYM way, but headed back to Wadena for breakfast. After taking sustenance at the Boondocks, ATCS told us to look for some trains so we set up at the depot. I'm not posting all the photos from the couple of hours I spent there but this is a sample of what they see.

First up is the DPU of a coal empty headed back for a reload. Just like you'll see in other shots, this train is being captured not only by still photo but also on video. The technology is also impressive in that these fellows have the speakers out on the truck, multiple scanners running, and ATCS fired up at all times.

Next we have an ACe-led coal load. I believe this was a COLX train, one of the first I have seen in quite a while in Wadena. The last one was actually the empty shown above. Before that I think it's been months since I have seen a COLX on the Staples Sub. Not that they weren't there, but I sure didn't see any.

We were lucky enough to catch the local coming into town. On this day he was pulling 8 tank cars, which I think were carrying fertilizer going by the placards, but I can't say for sure. None of them were for Wadena, but they had to run around their train down on the K line to head back to Dilworth. They also picked up an empty gon that was sitting on the Drywall Supply spur as a memento of their stop in Wadena.

While they were working, what looked for a while to be a grain train drifted through town, crossing over from two to one to avoid the local. It turned out to be a long manifest with all the mixed freight tacked on at the very end.

And here's a shot of the local as it passes the depot headed for home. That big BN logo on the nose of a green engine never fails to impress.

Actually it turns out I'm not the only one with a soft spot for the BN. Someone even went so far as to express his true feelings about the situation on a BNSF covered hopper, shown here. I especially like the little BN in a heart. True, that.

Thanks for the good times, guys, and I look forward to seeing you next year!

Monday, September 12, 2011


It's already been a couple of weeks since I was in the New Ulm area. There was a lot of traffice on the DME, but being tied up with work not many photography opportunities. After work on Tuesday of that week a stop near the depot revealed the power for the New Ulm switch job sitting at the depot.

Another train was approaching when I shot this but the light was so poor there was no chance to get a shot (I haven't mastered the zoom pan yet).

The next evening I was headed for Springfield, and approaching Sleepy Eye a headlight appeared, coming out of the sun. Here's the black and white backlit shot of the train, with the "prairie skyscrapers" of Sleepy Eye in the background.

Four SD40-2's in this day and age is fun, and since I promised some variety a few days ago, here's the end product:

I'm sure they all took different routes to get to the spot in 2011. There have to be a lot of stories of the trains these engines have hauled over the years.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

A Turkey of a Day

If a railfan were to tell you that he spent all of three hours along the track on a day when "code blue" was a great description of the sky, and when the sun was finally low enough in the sky to reduce the high sun issue, AND that he saw 10 trains during that less than three hour period, you would likely think he ought to have some passable photos to share.

Sadly enough, in the case of today, at least you would be wrong. As Exhibit 1, I offer up the most interesting "turkey" of a shot from today. At least it inspired some horn action from the crew of this stack train, in the hopes of not having to squeegee someone's future Thanksgiving dinner off the windshield of their ride.

Just another one of the eight-yes, that's correct, eight-eastbounds BNSF fleeted through Staples late this afternoon. Mrs. L4T and I had made a trip to Brainerd, and with no pressing need to get anywhere, we decided to take the long way home through Randall and follow the tracks back to Wadena. During an early supper at Kim's on Pacific in Randall (highly recommended), an eastbound Z was the leader of the pack. ATCS showed a couple more behind him, so we headed for the Lincoln bridge only to find the train had beat us there by about 30 seconds. Same story at Pulaski Road. Then we spotted a headlight from the Philbrook crossing, and after a short wait got a shot of the train passing the signal bridge.

The stack train in the first photo, a Becker coal load passing the depot in Staples, another stacker near Aldrich, and finally a manifest between Verndale and Wadena rounded out less than two hours with 8 eastbounds on the Staples Sub. Backlighting galore!

And it had all started out with at least a little promise. Passing through Staples on the way to Brainerd, this cried out to be photographed. Must be the switch engine Jake mentioned on the list a day or two ago, now sitting in a train in the Staples yard.

When we arrived in Brainerd, another headlight beckoned from east of the 371 crossing. I couldn't help but swing down that way and grab a shot. I thought the lighting was pretty poor but it turned out to be a gem compared to the remainder of the day.

So, I saw a whole bunch of trains, took a few rotten pictures, and drove a bunch of miles. Still, it didn't change my thinking that a bad day railfanning is better than a good day of just about anything else.

Friday, September 9, 2011

The Sucker Hole

We've all heard about the proverbial "sucker hole" from time to time. It's a railfan tradition, kind of the opposite of getting "mullered". Heck, I've even been lucky enough to experience a sucker hole or three over the last 5 or so years of railfan photography.

Here's a picture of one, from last Sunday when Mrs. L4T, the (not so) young son, and myself headed over to Brainerd. You'll love this first part-I was crossing the tracks in Wadena, and sure enough, saw a headlight approaching from the west. The sun wasn't all the way around yet, so a photo from Oink Joint Road seemed in order. This first one is a long distance attempt, only posted to share the situation with the sun as the train approached:

Nervous glances at the sky and the train ensued as he came nearer. Just as hope was to expire, the sun broke through for a bit, resulting in some light on the head of the train, as seen here:

Which was great. The thing that made this series of photos, though, was the return of the clouds, even before the engine reached the crossing. I kept shooting and got this, again under cloudy skies.

This seemed to be one of those rare times when some combination of finger crossing, prayer, and hope came together with the actual power to move clouds, for a minute at least. It doesn't get much better than that!

Sunday, September 4, 2011

The Rollag Trip

Every year, two specific Saturdays are blocked out in my calendar before any others. They have "priority", as it were. Those dates are the longest Saturday of the year, which is fast becoming the traditional weekend for Verndale Rail, and the Saturday before Labor Day, which has turned into the day of my annual visit to the Western Minnesota Steam Thresher's Reunion in Rollag. This past Saturday was the day of Rollag.

In the past I've taken my camera with, and even got some railroad shots on the grounds of the show. This year I left the camera in the car and enjoyed the show. Not only are the displays and equipment fantastic, I have the privlege of attending with a great group, which includes my son, and don't want to distract them with frequent requests to stop for a picture.

That doesn't mean there are no train pictures from the day, though. On the way home, we just missed a meet at the Frazee S curve, where the westbound was still passing as we approached. Another meet seemed possible at the Luce crossing when a headlight showed up. Being as how I was the driver I stopped at the crossing to shoot the train. It was a Superior coal empty.

The eastbound hadn't shown yet, but I decided to move on, but my companions encouraged me to wait a couple of minutes for another shot. At their urging I did. Here's the stack train with a pair of Dash 9's leading that would have been part of the Frazee meet had I been a couple of minutes earlier.

As you can tell by looking at the sky, I was lucky to catch him in the sun. That's all the train photos for that Saturday, but it was fun to be able to include a bit of railfanning in what was otherwise a super day of old time agriculture, sawmills, and delicious food all shared with good friends. Thanks for waiting, guys!