Saturday, October 29, 2011

Slow, Slow Progress

While half the railfans in the state seemed to be out chasing after some UP Heritage unit, I kept my priorities straight and headed for the basement on a beautiful fall day. Wait, maybe the paint fumes are getting to me?

Anyhow, today was a modeling day for little old me. The interminable trip around the layout working on scenery continues. The decision to create a little town near my grain elevator and fertilizer plant was inspired by Mrs. L4T, and it was a good idea. However, it seems like towns take a lot longer than a comparable area of country side. Scenery goes fast when you can blast it out with the grassinator.

Here's a photo that shows how far I have progressed. This shows the partially painted shell of a small-town convenience store, set where it will probably end up along the tracks. The parking lot will have a couple of modern looking gas pumps and a canopy, and there's already a sign under construction for the corner. The foundation for the post office can be seen on the left side of the photo.

A lot of the time has been spent trying to create some kind of semi-plausible public works infrastructure. This includes streets that approximate the width of the real thing, curb and gutter in some areas, and gradual rises up to the grade crossings. Darn near need a civil engineer to visualize how it should look when done. To celebrate getting as far as I have I decided to play with a train a bit.

Here's a coal empty sailing through my little village. Quick camera work caught the leader and cab of the second unit at the grade crossing. Still have lots of scenery work to do on the back side of the tracks, and blending in the fertilizer plant to the left side of town.

So besides programming the accel and decel on a couple of decoders, grilling burgers, mulching about half a gondola full of leaves, and taking a well-earned nap, that's all I got done today. Oh, there was this post too. That's it for today!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Central Intelligence Agency

The CIA is rumored to have its headquarters in Langley, Virginia, but I think there is a branch office somewhere near Alexandria, Minnesota since lots of really good intelligence comes out of that area.

For example last weekend I received word that a Z train with a pair of new GEVO's on point was headed west. With plenty of advance notice, I was able to keep one eye on ATCS and time my adventure almost perfectly. Given the sun angle it seemed like the best shot would be at Bluffton. Sure enough, just as reported, the train showed up with fresh paint leading. When the trucks and fuel tank are as silver as these were you know the power has to be just out of the factory.

I want to take this opportunity to say thanks for the heads-up, not just for this particular piece of information, but for a lot of different tips. They are greatly appreciated, please keep them coming.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Morning Coal, Afternoon 'Bonnets

A day trip to Lake Park always brings out the railfan in a person, and today was no different. By the time I made it to Detroit Lakes, the sun was peeking up over the horizon. When a westbound coal empty showed up, it seemed like just the chance to try to catch him with morning sun lighting up his flank.

Knowing there was a DPU on this train, I waited to get a shot of the end as it rounded the curve at Richards Spur. The DPU's sometimes have FRED hanging off the coupler, but luckily this one didn't. Some fans pet peeve seems to be open cab doors, but I'm more put off by a DPU facing the right way and nicely lit, but wearing a FRED.

There was no way I could get to the S-curves in Lake Park ahead of him, or even behind him, as the tail end of the train was just disappearing when I pulled up. So off to work it was, just a couple of blocks from the tracks and stewing as every train passed. You can be just about anywhere but on the bridge in Lake Park, and not see the train that is passing through town due to the cut. The railfan's frustration sure entertains those he is working with, though.

Soon enough it was time to head for home. Before even reaching Audubon, though, circumstances dictated a u-turn. A dandy looking warbonnet was leading a string of grain cars west, with a CSX EMD the other unit in the consist. This one was shot near my third favorite Staples Sub tree, just east of Boyer Lake.

CSX must have farmed out a lemon to BNSF in this case, as not long after this was shot, the 706 called the dispatcher to inform him they had lost the second unit. With the downhill run to Dilworth, they should have had no problem with power but maybe needed a bit more brake since the EMD's dynamics might have been AWOL as well.

Before reaching Richards Spur, another u-turn was needed. The target was another warbonnet-led train, this one looked to be a solid block of DDG cars. 97 of them to be exact, as the Lake Park detector later announced he had an even 400 axles. Here's the shot, just west of Audubon with the elevator in the background.

I missed one more coal empty just outside DL, and a pretty Z train with what looked like a matched set of four H2 Dash 9's on the point near Perham. That was the end of the rail action for the day, but what I saw was entertaining. Next week I will be over that way a couple more times, so may get a chance for more Staples Sub action.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Going and Coming

The Spud River Model Railroad Show and Swapmeet happened to fall on a lovely October Sunday (excepting the wind) this year. The combination of train traffic and sunny skies allowed a few of the attendees the opportunity to do some railfanning as part of the adventure, myself included. For a couple of reasons my theme turned out to be "Going and Coming", first of all, I guess, because you have to go somewhere before you can come home.

Another cause of the them was this first set of images. Traffic was light on the Staples Sub most of the way over, but just west of the first Frazee exit I glanced across Acorn Lake and spotted a most unusual sight-a pair of GP's, running west light engine. Seemed a worthy photography target.

After being foiled in Detroit Lakes by an evil brew of traffic and traffic lights, I wasn't able to get a respectable shot of the combo "going away" until the other side of Audubon. Here you go:

I was contemplating the chances of getting some nose light on the leader when the combination of sun angle and tracks through Hawley came together to allow this:

It's not everyday when you can get decent nose light on both ends of the power set in 15 minutes. Kind of a treat.

No other photos until we were coming home, when a check at Watts revealed no westbounds. But, before reaching Glyndon a vehicle train drifting down the hill called for a course reversal. Was it worth a u-turn?

That was it for photo opportunites for me, although I know that MN Chris and Darren were able to get a few more interesting sights. I'll be watching for their trip report as well. I'm also interested to see what a third list member got of a "unit" tank train we spotted heading east just before arriving at Fargo. You know who you are.

All for now.

Saturday, October 8, 2011


A couple of Christmas's ago Mrs. L4T surprised me with a wonderful Greg Garrett framed print showing a pair of MAC's bringing a loaded coal train through snowy western scenery. It was a fantastic gift, hangs in the living room where it can be admired on a regular basis.

It's hard to see but the leader of this train is EMD SD70MAC BNSF 9905. For many years these AC units have been among my favorites, but with more than 800 of them on the BNSF roster catching any specific unit is like finding a needle in a haystack. Ever since recieving this gift I've kept an eye out for the 9905, and last Monday I finally caught it rounding a curve between Lake Park and Audubon.

Now I have a photo of the same loco pictured in the print. Next up, finding the same engine leading in the snow, with another orange MAC trailing.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Now Departing for Randall, the Twin Cities, and Points East...

So today, after an early morning Holiday stop in Wadena, it was off for Randall again. ATCS showed the dispatcher had an eastbound lined from two to one in Wadena, and the thought that it might be Amtrak crossed my mind. Sure enough, within seconds of getting back in the vehicle, the scanner crackled with the Builder calling the approach signal to Wadena. Off to the races.

Instead of the depot shot that has been done so many times I figured on trying something out in the woods. One eye was on a pesky cloud approaching the Quicken Road crossing, as the sun played peek-a-boo. Sadly, it was hiding as the GE's roared around the corner at track speed, leaving nothing but a blur on the memory card. This is all there is to prove that I have indeed seen the Empire Builder pass the location.

At Philbrook, a manifest had been holding waiting for the passenger train to pass, and was quickly underway. With a few minutes to go before work started, I stood trackside waiting for the freight, which the people I was working with found wildly entertaining. No amount of coaxing was able to get anyone else with a camera out to shoot this train with me.

After wrapping up around 3 PM, I left for the Twin Cities, where my day will start early Thursday. Seemed like a great chance to grab some Northstar action, starting with this colorful consist at Big Lake.

I so wanted to shoot him passing through Elk River, but stuck in the left turn lane on Highway 10, I raged as TWO nicely lit trains passed with no chance for photos, including the Utah unit shown above. This had to be the longest red light I ever suffered through, missing the eastbound Northstar and a westbound freight shortly after, unable to do anything about it. Railfanning in the Metro is tough duty!

Figuring there had to be another commuter train headed out, staking out the location seemed the proper course of action. The wait was only 10 or 15 minutes before this beauty blew through town.

And then again, near Ramsey, I picked a nice spot to wait for the third Northstar of the day. Luckily, this time the left turn light allowed me to cross the westbound lanes of Highway 10 and the tracks before the train arrived, although the headlight was visible when crossing.

It's so strange to hear the detectors announcing the passage of trains with "total axles one six".

One more note on today. Around lunch, while eating at Kim's on Pacific in Randall, the trumpeting of an air horn announced the imminent arrival of an eastbound. Turned out to be the pair of SD40-2's that were on the container train in Staples the previous day, headed back toward Northtown light engine, and making good time. They were gone before I even had a chance to run for the camera.

And that was my day.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

A Randall Run

Here are a few shots from today's trip to Randall. Nothing special, but proof that the BNSF continues to run trains on the Staples Sub.

This first one is a bit of a throwback. The power on stack trains used to often be a pair of EMD's, and a look at this one sitting in Staples this morning had the look of one of those "vintage" consists. Heck, the lead 40 still carries its original road number. At least the GE's haven't taken over the 8000 slots yet.

Since the leaves were kind of pretty it seemed a trip through the back roads was in order. At the Quicken Road crossing a red signal foretold the approach of a westbound. It was backlit but the only chance to really include a bit of color in the shot.

The leader of that train seemed familiar, as did the first four cars in the consist. After checking the camera, sure enough, this was one of the coal trains I had caught loaded yesterday. Must have unloaded at Becker for the return trip.

Last, but not least, was an eastbound on the way home. Again, this one was backlit, and I won't bore you with the power. I was already back on the road when the end of the train rolled by, punctuated with this interesting sight:

I had to stop and get a photo of that UP autorack, obviously worse for the wear. Looks like it fell off someone's layout.

All for today, tomorrow I head back to Randall and on to the cities so may get a chance for some shots then as well.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Today's Coalies

A trip to Lake Park and back offered the opportunity to catch some Staples Sub traffic today and the BNSF held up their end of the bargain. Catching three trains, all coal loads, was a great bonus to an enjoyable day of work.

I left Wadena a bit before 8, and didn't make it to New York Mills before coming across this train. A u-turn and short trip back towards home resulted in this shot, taken in one of my favorite close-to-home railfanning locations. Long time readers probably have figured out my weakness for train photos with a farm silo in them, and this one doubles the pleasure.

The next train, my last of the morning, was captured near Boyer Lake. This one ground its way out of the woods, the uphill climb out of the Red River valley almost complete.

And finally, the lone train I shot on the way home. The shorter days and sun angles make the Frazee S curves useful in mid afternoon this time of year for eastbounds. Here's a shot of an eastbound, with good nose light, around 2:00 PM or later. The engineer of this train was a friendly sort, quick with a wave and a toot on the horn for the railfan out taking pictures. Thanks!

And that's it for my day!