Saturday, August 27, 2011

Creature of Habit

In the last almost 2000 days, a lot of things have changed, both in the railroad world and in my own little world. I have a new job, lots of new friends (some of them thanks to this very blog, which is also something new within that time), new interests, a new camera, ATCS and radio traffic, and new traditions (see Verndale Rail, Granite City, and Rollag as examples). The railroad world has seen changes as well. BNSF 7802 used to be an SD40-2, but now is a GEVO. The handsome nose logos are gone from the SD70MAC's. But not everything has changed.

On July 15, 2006, at 7:05 AM I shot this photo. It was one of my first two shots accepted to railpictures, and I still remember how exciting that was. The excitement of watching the train approach and "getting the shot" lives on.


This morning found me in the same location, waiting for another BNSF train led by a pair of engines wearing the H2 paint scheme. I was a bit over a month and 16 minutes later, but the location is still one of my favorites. I am a creature of habit.


I still chase trains too. This one seemed like a prime candidate, and so it was off to the races, next stop the east end of the Verndale sag, MP 160 on the Staples Sub.


And with four lane highway between Verndale and Staples, it was easy to beat the train to the depot for another shot. This Superior-bound coal train crossed over from Main 2 to Main 1 at Dower Lake, offering the chance to shoot him passing the depot on the near track. BNSF even was nice enough to pose another engine in the yard, peeking around the coal train.


I left him to continue his journey east in peace. After walking through the Staples depot to check out the book sale going on in conjunction with Railroad Days, it was time to head for home. The radio surprised me when BNSF 1113 called approaching Staples from the east. Even though the shot would be backlit, a trip to the Dower Lake crossing was in order. At least I captured an oddity. Take a look at the nose door on this Dash 9.


That H1 paint is just killer, so one more shot between Staples and Aldrich. Strange how these engines can look so good when the H2's whether GE or EMD, look so scruffy.


That's it for my short outing this morning. An hour and a half from start to finish, in some ways it was a repeat of so many other railfanning outings, yet every one has its own twists and turns, revealing something new if we are but willing to look and listen.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Like a Rocket Sled on Rails

BNSF has a heck of a fleet of General Electric C44-9W locomotives, many of them in some stage of visual deterioration. Burnt sides, faded paint, rust, if you can name it, you can find a Dash 9 that is suffering from it. Even given these cosmetic issues, this model locomotive still is a backbone of the railroad's motive power fleet. In fact it is unusual to see a manifest or intermodal train without at least one representative from the Dash 9 family in the consist.

Tonight, I suspect, was a good example of why. They move the freight. With ATCS showing a pair of westbounds, I snapped a towel at Mrs. L4T to get her moving and we headed uptown to hunt trains. This was one time when I didn't spot a headlight as I crossed the tracks, in fact, the gates were going down as we approached. Sure enough a Z train flashed across my field of view with a pair of Dash 9's spliced by an SD75. And they were hauling. As C. W. McCall once put it in the song "Convoy", they were moving "like a rocket sled on rails". It seemed like a challenge so I vowed to Mrs. L4T that I was going to catch them if it took all the way to Dilworth. For a moment I thought it might.

We finally caught the end of the train between Bluffton and New York Mills, and the head end west of Mills. I wanted to shoot him at the big woods near Perham, and barely made it in time. There was absolutely no wait for this shot:


And then he was gone.

Time for train number 2. I figured it was a coal empty as it came off the Brainerd. We played around near the overpass for a few minutes waiting then took up a photography position after the headlight came into view. Sure enough, the classic Superior coal empty with a pair of MAC's leading and an ACe pushing.


With no other westbounds showing near the area we made a stop at McDonalds for a smoothie then headed home, where I now sit composing this meager offering. Here's to the Dash 9!

Thursday, August 25, 2011

SD's and GP's and GE's, Oh My!

I contemplated calling this post something like "Where Warren Sends his Locos". Passing through Willmar Wednesday afternoon it seemed like someone with his authority, or at least Matt Rose, must have given a direct order for the BNSF to gather as much power as possible in that city.

For starters, a grain train and loaded DEEX coal train were both sitting front of the yard office. I shot them, with the DPU on the coal taking fuel, from the crossing near the power plant. There's even another SD peering around the nose of the GE.


After pulling ahead a few hundred feet the SD in the previous shot is revealed, along with a sister engine still in Cascade Green. Lot's of SD's around Willmar on this day.


There were a couple of more classics further up in the yard but no shots. Next stop was near the loco servicing area, where my first victim was this GP50, which must have misbehaved and been given a time out.


And another trio of GP's, including a pair of GP30 carbodies that show you can patch your former BN's darn near any way you want, was just a short walk down the boulevard.


And still another GP, this time a former Santa Fe unit, sunning itself on a lovely afternoon.


And just a block or so down the yard, more 6 axle power, this time a pair of Dash 9's leading one of the prettiest SD40-2's Willmar has ever seen.


Darn shame it was front coupled and backlit under high sun.


In all I believe I counted 17 units in Willmar, all of them sitting. Seems there were 3 MAC's (I only shot 1 of them), an NS GE that I didn't shoot, 3 BNSF Dash 9's, at least 5 SD40-2 rebuilds, and 5 GP's. The variety in paint schemes was equally diverse, and the only things missing were GEVO's, ACe's, and switchers.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

An EMD Festival

Imagine yourself in New Ulm, MN, at 5 PM on a HOT, what-used-to-be-sunny-but-is-rapidly-becoming-high-overcast Tuesday, with a hotel reservation in Springfield for the night. What would you do?

Might you swing by the depot before leaving town, to see if the former DME left some power parked facing the sun for you to photo? If so you would have the chance to shoot a pair of EMD's that look like this:


And as long as you're in town, why not stop at the Hanska Farmers Co-op elevator, down by the river, to see how the pair of former Soo Line GP's with torpedo tubes on the roof are parked today? With any luck, they too might be facing the sun.


If I encountered such a situation, I'd be sure to keep my eyes open on the off chance I catch a train running into the sun, or even because we may meet something. You might make it all the way to the hotel parking lot before hearing the horn on an eastbound, in which case a short chase would be in order. Isn't that 4 more EMD's bringing a long freight up the hill out of the Cottonwood River drainage, doubling the EMD count for the day while spotting nary a GE? And putting on a smoky show while doing it?


Finally, since the sun was still trying to peek through the overcast and the engine was pointing that direction, you might decide to stop at the huge Harvestland Elevator just east of Springfield to shoot one final EMD. That one might bring back some happy memories.


That's how my day went Tuesday. How about you?

Monday, August 22, 2011

DEEX Redux

I should probably just buy a prototype of the car so I can measure every nook and cranny, but instead the never ending effort to get the proportions just right on the DEEX coal gondola continues, through trial and error. Each new iteration reveals something that can be improved, pushing me on in my efforts.

Last night offered a few minutes to start on the most recent attempt, and I continued this morning before work and after work today. I've got it to the stage shown here:


A couple of things about this build-first, rather than use Evergreen strips for the ribs, I decided to try and cut pieces from my trusty signs-thus, the multi-colored ribs. However, this seems a necessary part of a real "scratchbuild" to me. Second, the prior attempt was better than the first, but still not really right. I detailed a couple of the problems on my Flickr page, but I also don't like the overall proportion. The car is the right overall height but sits too low to the ground. Watching these cars pass by in a train, the side sills are about the same height as coalporters, and the copy on the flickr page shows a car with the sides too close to the ground. I've tried to correct that in this version:


I wasn't thinking about illustrating that when I shot these photos, but you can get an idea of the concept from this shot. The lower sill on the unpainted car is about the same height as the lower sill on the BNSF car ahead of it, whereas the painted DEEX car shows the difference in side height.


Still got a fair amount of work to do before painting. The car needs underframe details, stirrups, couplers, and some clean up work on the bolsters to make sure it sits level. I also need to figure out how to add some weight.

This is a lot of work and fun, and it doesn't cost much. If there is a prototype out there that hasn't been manufactured, why not try knocking one out yourself? The only thing you have to lose is a For Sale sign and some time, while the upside is practically limitless. That's the kind of cost/benefit ratio we could use more of.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Sunday Evening

With ATCS quiet, Mrs. L4T and I decided to head down towards Ottertail for supper tonight. (If you're ever in the area, Elmer's BBQ on the south side of Ottertail Lake is awesome.) I had hoped to catch a CP train passing through the area but no luck on that front.

We decided to head for Perham and take the long way home, with some strange goings-on showing on the computer screen. Just as we reached New York Mills, we came across this thing, which I shot from the overpass after a u-turn and some backtracking.


I like to call it a "trucklomotive". My guess, and it is nothing more than a guess, is that the equipment is moving to the west end of the tie job so they can work in the normal direction of traffic. Time will tell, I "guess".

There was a red line on MT 2 just east of Wadena, so a look down the tracks when we crossed sure enough revealed a headlight. Another short detour resulted in this shot of what looked like a 1+1 coal empty:


And that was it for the evening.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Heading Home

The last couple of posts on this blog have hinted at a new customer on the BNSF Noyes Sub. Well, here's a look at what is under construction as we speak-something called Northstar Agri-Industries:


As the link explains, this new facility will have the capacity to process 345,000 tons of canola per year. Word on the street in the area says that the plant will be able to empty both 300,000 bushel bins every week when operating at full capacity. This is a big plant, which is currently keeping 150 construction workers busy and promises 50 permanent jobs for far-northwest Minnesota. All of which is nice, but the really important part of the story for this blog is the rail business that will be generated. I don't know the exact composition of the traffic but any plant that is spending the money to install a loop track has to anticipate significant volumes moving by rail.

This story actually begins on Monday, when my first indication of anything unusual in the area was the sighting of a pair of RJ Corman sidebooms passing through Argyle headed north. In fact, this was so unusual it necessitated a phone call to MN Chris, to see if there had been a derailment in the area. With no news of any such event, the mystery deepened. After a couple of hours, though, I received word that the equipment had turned into the canola plant construction site. Leaving for Hallock in mid-afternoon, I spotted a pre-built switch in a gondola sitting in the siding at Kennedy. Things started to come together. I bet they are going to install the switch for the canola plant!

Fast forward to Friday, when I again passed the site headed south, and sure enough the Corman cats and some BNSF equipment, including a couple of ballast cars, were on site. The location of the switch is way out in the middle of a field so it was impossible to get very close for a photo, but I got this:


Since I was stopped I decided to grab a shot of the construction site as well, shown here. The plant is well along and it will be exciting to see them roll into action. FYI, four wheel drive John Deere seen at the right edge of the frame is working on site prep for the loop track. Some of the loop already has a sub-grade of what looks like gravel installed, while the remainder is being graded. Finally I knew where all the ties I had seen stacked in Hallock were going. There is also a big stack of stick rail along the tracks in town, that has been there for a couple of months at least, which must also be canola-plant bound.


Since I'm going on about this plant, and managed to connect this stop to work, I'll share a photo of something other than a train. The pipelines that create my day job are usually buried, but the gas line serving this plant is under construction, and offered up a photo op during the stop. If you've ever wondered what butt fused 8" HDPE looks like, here's your answer. Someone's got some backhoe work ahead of them.


After lunch and an afternoon's work in Stephen, it was back on the road for Wadena. I believe I neglected to mention the unit train sitting on the loop at Argyle Monday, but it was still there with no power anywhere to be seen. I was wishing some GE's had shown up to take it east (south) along with me, but no such luck.

However, somewhere just south of Warren those GE's did show up. A pair of Dash 9's appeared, running light and headed toward Argyle. I've no way of knowing whether that was where they were going, but it seemed like the sensible destination to me. The crew noted a lone railfan with some bell and horn action as they passed by.


Being as how it is harvest season, and I've already deviated from the pure rail theme of this blog in this post, here's a second non-rail shot. Around Callaway a farmer was working at getting the wheat crop off and it was such a lovely scene it seemed like a photo was required. And who knows, the bounty of this field may well end up at the Callaway elevator and start toward its final destination on a CP train.


Finally, my scanner tipped me off to a Staples Sub westbound as I arrived in DL. The detector at MP 203 announced the imminent arrival of a train, so I decided to shoot him. Here, he's rolling into town, just across the highway from Lake Detroit and the Holiday Inn.


That's the story of my trip home from far NW MN. As is so common, the lack of train volume was balanced by interesting sightings. Always a great area to go and look for trains!

Nosing Around Noyes

Hallock, MN, Monday August 8-with work taking me to NW MN once again, I was on the lookout for train action while travelling from Wadena to Hallock. I was surprised by one eastbound CP near Mahnomen, but the clouds removed any incentive to try a shot. The only other rail action spotted on the way up was a lonely ballast regulator heading north out of Crookston. Photos were shot under high sun out of habit but not worth sharing.

After a short stop in Argyle, the trip to Hallock continued. It was after 4:00 before I was done and could head for my home base for the week in TRF. I did spot one interesting item in town before leaving. This photo, along with a pair of RJ Corman sideboom cats that passed through Argyle just after lunch, are clues to one of the subjects of my next post.


The journey to TRF began with the Escape pointed east on Highway 175. A couple of miles before reaching Highway 59, lo and behold, I spotted railcars moving northwest on the CP. A slight increase in speed wasn't enough to reach the intersection before the train had passed but it was visible up the road, and so a left turn was made in place of a right. The chase was on.

Nearly catching the train on the south side of Lancaster, he once again opened up a gap as I had to slow to pass through town. That gap quickly closed after leaving town, and this shot is from a spot near the NW MN metropolis of Orleans.


Having passed a detector, it seemed like a good idea to fire up the scanner and get an axle count on the train. Lo and behold, within a minute I heard BNSF 5471 calling the dispatcher for permission to leave Noyes. My fate was sealed. Off to Noyes it was, passing through the booming community of Humboldt, the turn-off to St. Vincent, and finally, the destination. There was no nose light on the power, and after a u-turn I shot something kind of "artsy"-some CP rolling stock, as seen looking under a tank car in the BNSF train.


Knowing the BNSF train would be travelling away from the sun for a bit, I decided to risk a turn north to once again intercept the CP westbound. Here he is, approaching the border as the train passes the rolling stock seen in the previous photo.


Then it was back on the horse to chase down the BNSF eastbound. Just south of Humboldt was the opportunity to get him passing front of a wheat field, and I took it:


Say, what's that strange looking car coupled directly behind the power? Why it looks like a four truck heavy load flat, earning its keep carrying something big and heavy.


By this time my back, which had been sore all weekend, was really starting to flare up. Setting a reverse course I headed for TRF once again, with about an hour and a half drive ahead of me. The scanner was still on and all of a sudden announce another CP train, and just a couple of minutes later I hoisted myself out of the car for this shot, which should have been better but wasn't since I was moving pretty slowly.


That was it until I reached Thief, where a plethora of maroon and gold units waited. I reached the hotel after a great evening of railfanning, with good luck on the train count, paint scheme, and variety fronts. Gotta love NW MN!

Thursday, August 18, 2011

A Flurry of Maroon and Gold

Having just arrived home from a four day tour of extreme northwest Minnesota, it seemed like I should share a few photos. More will come later.

Thief River Falls served as the base for this adventure and Monday evening I investigated the Dakota Junction area on the north end of town. The maroon and gold units were on display in force as I spotted three sitting in that area. First, the 1381 captured in what is likely the same spot as Brian shot it the previous day. I didn't put in as much work to get a good angle as my back was killing me.


Just to the north sat a short train with a pair of Minnesota Northern units on the north end and the ex-UP leaser on the south end. It looked like a tug of war but I decided this pair should win:


And finally a nicely painted lease unit that serves the grain elevator at the south edge of the Thief River Falls yard.


That's it for this installment, but look for big news of a sizable new customer on the Noyes Sub and shots of both CP and BNSF trains real close to the border in another post or two covering the trip.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

To Perham

Mrs. L4T and I were contemplating a place to take sustenance earlier today, and part of the research involved a look at ATCS. With a pair of westbounds showing, I proposed that we make Perham our ultimate destination, after a stop or two for photography. So we were off.

First stop was the Bluffton curve, where we waited impatiently for the train. Finally he was in the plant at Wadena, and I dismounted to await arrival. The horn for the Highway 75 crossing presaged the new gates at Black's Grove Road dropping, and then he swept around the corner and into my view:


In the meantime it looked like another train had joined the parade, coming off the Brainerd Sub. I decided to wait for another train at this location, and after a few minutes here he came. This time the train crept rather than swept around the corner, as he must have on the blocks of the first train. Doesn't take much of an excuse to grab a few frames of a 60M:


The sun had been buried behind a massive fluffy cloud not more than 10 seconds before the shutter was released for this shot. I was alternating glances between the sky and the tracks, wondering if there was a chance for a sucker hole, and sure enough a crack in the clouds allowed a bit of sunlight to illuminate this one.

With that we were off to Perham for a DQ stop. After quickly picking up our food (and a gigantic smoothie) it was back to the tracks. The rock train passed by us just as we reached the tracks, leaving me thinking that there was still a coal empty coming. Sure enough, after a couple of chicken strips and some fries, headlights popped up to the east. It was an EMD led coal empty from MERC:


I think Mr. Pentax's focusing system fell in love with the milepost on that shot.

That was it for our brief railfanning outing while grabbing supper. Tonight the BNSF treated us to some traffic and even a cascade green unit in good light. The food was good, the smoothie was better, and the SD60M was best!

DEEX, Again

Needing a break from the never ending grain elevator expansion (oh, I've got big plans, let me tell you), I grabbed the second scratchbuilt Thrall coal gon knocked together from bits and pieces, this time to see how it would look with a coat of paint and some decals. Here's the result:


There is still a fair amount of work left on this car. I am happy with how the underside looks from a distance, having added some hint of brake gear which is so visible on the prototype cars. It is EXTREMELY difficult for me to keep everything square, plumb, and properly spaced while doing things like installing the ribs and applying decals. What seems acceptable while you are doing it just jumps out at you like a rabid wolverine in photos.

Second, I made some horrendous mistakes building this car, things that make me wonder what was I thinking? I know better yet in the heat of the moment made building and painting errors that almost cry out to be mocked. Live and learn.

The main things left to do are find some more decals, things like the builder's logo, the data on rebuild or service dates (not sure what that thing is called, like a data plate or something), and find and install ladders and stirrups. I have some brake wheels so that shouldn't be too hard to cobble up. It is becoming apparent that a solid set of these (AMAZING link, thanks Ian!) is probably not in the cards for the forseeable future. It's either build coal cars 12 hours a day, 7 days a week for a year, or have a job and a life outside for sale signs. I'm leaning toward having a life.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Over and Over

This morning found me in Perham to conduct a morning training session. The folks I was working with had their own work to do, and were in a hurry to get done, so a relatively early trip back home was in order. Sometime between 9:30 and 10:00, while leaving the shop in Perham, I heard a horn. This called for an investigation.

I found the Wadena local sitting in Perham, pointed east. With a set of old grungy hoppers in tow, an imminent departure seemed likely, and sure enough they started to pull before I even got a shot. Traffic was wild on crazy days, and it seemed like the train would get well ahead of me, but as quickly as they started, they stopped, and uncoupled from the train on Main Two at the east edge of town. I reached the crossing in time to see them back into the trailing point spur, grab a few more of what I believe were tie cars, and run back up to the main, as seen here.


Just as all this was going on, a headlight appeared at the curve near the Ottertail River bridge. Although the light was awful for a westbound, the power was unique enough (for Perham at least) to warrant a shot. For the second day in a row CP GE's graced the lens of the Pentax.


With the crew putting the local back together, a quick trip a mile or so east found me at the bridge. Before I knew it, the GP's came flying down the hill and around the curve, surprising me so much I only got this shot showing the dark side.


Hopping back in the Escape I gave chase, finally getting a bit of breathing room east of New York Mills. Here comes the local once more, undulating across the swales of the Staples Sub.


I figured if I hurried I could get him once more as he rounded the Bluffton curve. Sure enough I was in place with a minute to spare. They still had these GP's wound up as the train climbed out of the Leaf River Plain.


It's always enjoyable seeing how the train works Wadena. To the best of my knowledge the only run-around that is available is down by Drywall Supply, and when I stopped to watch them work, I found that track occupied by a covered hopper being loaded with what I think is edible beans. This is again new business for Wadena to the best of my knowledge.


This raised the question of how the hogger would get his power on the proper end of the train. As they backed into the spur, it seemed that somehow the loading operation would be interrupted. Was I ever surprised when, after clearing his warrant, the dispatcher and conductor started talking about work they had to do in Staples! All of a sudden they headed up the spur, light power, and indicated they would be leaving as soon as everything was properly lined.

With that I was off, intending to grab a shot of the pair of geeps as they made their way east. It was a competitive chase, and I barely managed to get ahead of them on the west side of Verndale. In fact, this was shot out the car window as there was no chance to dismount.


Well, now you know the story of shooting the Wadena Local "over and over", plus what happens where Jer gives me free reign to shoot red GE's. Thanks for looking!