Thursday, January 26, 2012


With Northwest Minnesota work awaiting me Wednesday and Thursday, I set off after lunch Tuesday with a destination of Thief River Falls. The plan for the next couple of days was the Warren-Argyle-Stephen-Hallock area, and TRF is a good place to work out of when up in that part of the state.

Before even leaving town the tail end of an intermodal train was spotted, and after some thought I decided to shoot him at the Big Woods just east of Perham. After a very brief wait, the trio of Dash 9's appeared. The side-lighting is strong this time of year, but here's my best effort.

Then the story got a little more interesting. A CP westbound was fooling around in the Vergas area, and it sounded like a meet in Callaway was possible. My thought was to try and make it north of town soon enough to get the eastbound in the sun. After reaching DL and seeing nothing to the south, it seemed like the odds were I had made it. Sure enough, a foreman was on the radio with news that the weld they were making would take another half hour and the dispatcher might want to let the eastbound come to DL for the meet. But he didn't want to mess with changing the warrants. Fine by me. North I went, knowing that there was a train out there somewhere, coming toward me and the sun. Nothing but a long string of grain cars was visible at Callaway, so the trip north continued. Imagine the disappointment felt when the CP 2010 called the dispatcher to report problems with the spout at the Callaway elevator and ask if the meet could be moved south as they couldn't get out of the way. Somehow, a bandit had eluded me!

Since traffic is fairly light on the DL Sub, I pretty much gave up hope of seeing anything else. That's always a good way to be surprised, and it worked again, as I spotted the glow of a headlight between Bejou and Winger, and managed to get this shot in nice light.

That was the end of the trains for Tuesday. A text from Jer later that day confirmed that the local had a bandit leader and I had missed it!

Having felt fine when I left home, by night I was in the grips of a world-class head cold and was able to get very little sleep. I set out for work the next morning, and was able to keep going until after lunch, but then gave in and called off the trip. Homeward bound, with Dayquil, coughdrops, and decongestant powering me.

In somewhere near the same location as the previous day, I again spotted a headlight. This time it was a westbound, and this time the overcast was heavy. Being in no condition to do anything fancy, I drove across the tracks and shot him out the car window. Today, the bandit was trailing.

I spotted 4 westbounds on the Staples Sub between DL and Wadena, but the call of home was strong, I felt extremely crappy, and it was very overcast, so no photos. All I have to show for 400+ miles of driving is a trifecta of train photos.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Amtrak Under the Overcast

I was minding my own business in my happy place (the basement, working on installing turnout controls) right after lunch when Mrs. L4T came roaring down the stairs, hollering something about a phone call. When I answered, it was Bryant on the other end, bearing news of a very late Amtrak train he had just spotted rolling under the overpass near Dilworth. My schedule became adjusted.

After another hour or so of tinkering with tiny bits of wire the Mrs. and I hit the road, headed for downtown Wadena and hopefully an appointment with the Empire Builder. The phrase gets overused sometimes, but sure enough, when we crossed the tracks I spotted a headlight to the west. Racing to the east edge of town and pulling over, we were just in time to catch not the Builder, but a crude oil train headed down the Staples Sub.

Mrs. L4T commented that the train I just shot bore no resemblance to the Amtrak train I had promised. My response included a plea for a little patience, and we relocated to a spot closer to the crossover as I suspected the Builder would be going from Main Two to Main One at Wadena. That suspicion was soon confirmed by ATCS, and before long another headlight appeared to the west. This time it was the Amtrak train.

Since she had been so patient it only seemed right to reward the wife with a ride. We took off chasing the Builder, and paced him at about 73 mph between Wadena and Verndale, where he didn't have to slow down for the cop (who is our friend, by the way.)

I was able to maintain "track speed" longer than the train could as we approached Staples, and so managed to get across the tracks during his quick station stop. Here's the Empire Builder one more time, as he throttles up and pulls away from the Staples depot.

A big thanks to Bryant for his tip on this train. Without that I would likely have spent the entire afternoon in the basement, not to mention how much Mrs. L4T enjoyed the opportunity to get out trackside for a bit.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Killing Time

This afternoon I got the bug to tinker with an old blue box SW1000 I bought used a while back, just when I was getting back into model railroading. With the arrival of newer and fancier power, along with DCC, it had been relegated to a shelf spot. It was time to change that.

The materials were on hand-a decoder, the tools and material for installing it, and decals to patch the unit from BN to BNSF. After pulling off the shell, I cut off the original headlight assembly and tore out the electrical clips. I soldered in a DH123 decoder using the supplied harness, and installed an LED for the headlight.

While watching the Packers and Giants, I turned to the shell. (It's hard to solder in the living room.) The decals had some green trim film that was used to cover the old road number, logo, and road name. After these set up the "BNSF" initials and new road number were applied.

I tested out the chassis, and it ran. After the game I went down, installed the headlight in the shell, mounted the decoder in the shell with double sided tape, and slapped it all together. Wonder of wonders, it still ran! Here's what it looks like now:

It's got the distinctive blue box "coffee grinder" sound, for no additional money. I also haven't figured out what to do about a rear headlight yet, but suspect it will involve a tiny SMD LED. You can see it still needs MU hoses and cables, along with couplers and weathering. And I know the road number is for an SW1500, but it's what Microscale included on the decal sheet I had. It doesn't bother me.

While not finished, I am surprised that I was able to decide to do something after lunch on a Sunday, start on it, and have the darn thing running by 7:00 PM. Most of my projects take multiple times longer than I anticipate, this one went by many times faster than I had figured on. I guess that's a good sign!

Thursday, January 12, 2012

You Just Never Know

2012 has started out a lot like 2011 ended, from a railfanning perspective. Unlike Chris, I'm not going out and picking off four trains in a single day. In fact, four trains the entire year so far might be closer to the truth.

But that hasn't prevented taking advantage of the opportunities offered. Leaving for Owatonna early Tuesday it seemed a sure thing that the Staples Sub would offer up some traffic. Sure enough, it did-but they were all headed west, or in a spot that was hard to get to, or generally inconvenient in some way or another. Another letdown?

Sure seemed like as I cut across to Monticello and left the Staples Sub behind. I know where the traffic is, and a railfan sixth sense alerts me to nearby trains. So I just about left the highway as I cruised east on I-94 near Albertville when a glance out the passenger side window revealed a cascade green locomotive leading a short freight east-yes, that's right, into the sun under a code-blue sky. This calls for ACTION! Take the next exit south, race across the tracks and quickly pull over to the side of the road. Grab the camera and balance yourself on a guard rail post, for this:

I'm thining the Monticello local, with a pair of GP50's (the leader with a 5-man cab) leading a loaded centerbeam car and a Railbox. On jointed rail. Heck, yes!

On to Owatonna, and work. Luckily my clients finish up the day at 3:30, leaving a bit of daylight for an adventure in Waseca. An SD40-2 was sitting at the west end of the yard when I passed by, offering this image. My second green loco today.

Often there is a train sitting west of Waseca on the siding. I've only seen eastbounds there, but why not take a look anyway. It turned out to be worth the short drive, as tonight a westbound had taken up residence, sitting in the golden rays of a sun approaching the horizon, with no fewer than 7! SD40-2's on the head end. For anyone keeping score at home, that brings the day's total to 8.

So that was worth the trip. But. As I headed back to Waseca, the glow of a headlight and a pair of ditchlights appeared. More power. This time it was light engines, 3 SD40-2's with the two leaders being blue and yellow. U-turn time. I knew there was an ethanol train with no power at Janesville, so I speculated that was their destination. The train that they were passing surely had enough power already. I ran back to the west end of the ethanol plant siding, and waited. And waited, as the sun sank into the horizon. Finally the train appeared, and I took a couple of blurry shots as it approached. After slowing for the switch I finally got a better shot of these classics in the day's last rays of sun.

One more shot, as they nuzzled up to the buffer car. Shortly after this the conducter came out of the cab wearing, get this, (remember, it's January 10 in Minnesota) a t-shirt. The temp was falling from the 50+ degrees we had enjoyed but still didn't even require a sweatshirt.

All in all, a good day. A green engine in a new spot, and not to brag, 11 SD40-2's in half an hour. Nice.

Monday, January 2, 2012

New Year's Modeling

This morning I sat myself down in front of the computer to try and do something I've been contemplating for a long time. What I had in mind was figuring out a way to create and print some 53' intermodal containers. The idea came from sites like this one, where you can get a huge variety of images of 20' and 40' shipping containers that can be printed out folded to create passable HO scale models. I have a bunch of these and really like them, especially the price, but today's Z trains are chock full of 53 footers. How could I create such a thing?

Well, I took a 48' JB Hunt container I had, scanned it, and using the cut and paste tool in Elements "grew" each end about 2 1/2 feet. (Note to self: make sure to extend the ends, not the center. One of the principles of intermodal transport is that the frames remain on 40' centers. Don't ask why I am mentioning this.) I scanned each side, the top, and each end individually and after editing them pasted them all together to create this file:

After printing a few copies out, and cutting a piece of wood to the proper dimensions, I folded and glued one up. It worked fairly well. Next I just folded a couple more up, without the wood block, to compare. Here are the results:

They certainly aren't perfect, but with the factory made items bringing more than $8 each, I think they prove acceptable. With two more sets of spine cars on the way, I sure can't afford to fill everything up at nearly $10 a container. Now to figure out a way to manufacture 53' trailers.

While I was playing in the basement, I ran a train as well. Here's a photo to show off the work of Muller Locomotive Works. He installed the ditch lights on this unit, along with a sound decoder. I finally got the front handrails and couplers back on, and the unit is now in service on local trains. Kudos to Chris for his work on this unit!

So that's how I spend my leisure time today. It was great fun and for once, I actually have something to show for the time.