Friday, February 24, 2012

Shall We Chase a Train?

Friday was the end of what seemed like a long work week to me. The trip home from Two Harbors was staring me in the face after meeting with some folks Friday morning, and that's a long ways from Wadena.

After a stop at Carr's Hobbies in Duluth, where I scored 7 decorated 53' trailer kits for an average price of less than $6 each, it was back on the road. At least I had my great buy on intermodal equipment and satellite radio to keep me company. Highway 210 rolled on and on, when all of a sudden, wait, isn't that a westbound coal empty peeking through the trees? Why it sure is! It should be easy to catch him and take a photo. First one is somewhere east of Tamarack:

The empty was moving right along, but the Escape was moving faster so the next shot came from the overpass at McGregor. The train was a bit sidelit, but that makes for interesting shadows.

I tried it as a black and white as well, not sure which one I prefer.

After a NASCAR speed pit stop at the Holiday station it was back in the saddle. Things worked out nicely as the train and I both approached Aitkin at the same time. A few miles down the road a crossing offered the chance to get a bit better lighting on the nose, although the clouds had really moved in by this time. Went from code blue to overcast in less than half an hour.

After a stop at the Menards in Brainerd the trip home continued. Once again I caught the train, this time as he was entering the Staples Sub. The clouds and poor sun angle didn't offer much in the way of photo ops. A stop in Verndale to reserve the park shelter for VR2K12 was too much to resist, though, and I shot him one final time. That makes at least four locations where this GE powered coal empty was photographed. That's the way to chase a train.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Dash 9's STILL Excite Me

I've bashed GE's, or at least sung the praises of EMD power, many times on this blog. But if GE's were really a turn off I'd likely have to find a new place to railfan, as BNSF has a huge flock of them, seemingly dominated by H2 painted Dash 9's. Some are nice, some are peachy, some look like the National Guard has been doing flamethrower practice on their flanks. I still really like to see them all.

On the way home from New Ulm last Thursday ATCS revealed an eastbound that I might be able to catch near the paper mill in Sartell. Turned out to be good intelligence as the headlight was barely in sight on reaching the crossing. A short wait resulted in this.

Three of 'em, with light on the nose, blasting toward St. Cloud with a baretable train.

I really like to look for trains.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

What Came First?

Many times I have read the advice to prospective layout builders-"prepare the room before you start building the layout." Confession-I have violated this rule, by what I have done and by what I have left undone. Hopefully this post will serve as an example to those who come after me, saving them the frustration of trying to do finishing work on the layout room AFTER having spent a good deal of time a-building.

It all starts out so (seemingly) harmelessly. You tell yourself "With all these cool models, I just have to get some track laid so they can be seen running." After all, that's the point. The thing that sets model railroading apart from many other hobbies is the dynamism-the fact that in addition to being cool to look at, the trains actually move on scale-size track. And so you knock together some benchwork, glue or nail down some track, hook up a set of wires, and shazaam, the trains are off and running.

At this point, you are past the point of no return. One thing leads to another, and before you realize it the layout has grown like a well-fertilized weed. More models are acquired, which requires expansion. One of the rules of model railroading is that the layout will grow to fill all available space.

Then you start to realize what still needs doing. In my case it was a ceiling, to rectify the dungeon-like atmosphere that the floor joists project. It's all dark, and dusty, requiring massive amounts of light and sifting a light coating of fine dust all over everything that no amount of sweeping and vacuuming can ever overcome. Next thing you know you are wheeling a cart through a Menards with a full load of ceiling tile and giant bundle of 1 x 2's along with things like screws and staples, and shortly thereafter this sight greets you when you walk into the train room.

With the investment made, the administrator of the household may begin to ask for anticipated completion dates for this latest project. In my case I use a scientific formula to determine this date, with inputs like how long I think it will take (multiply this by 3 to enter into the formula), how long can the completion date be pushed out without causing a confrontation (this value becomes easier to determine after 30+ years of marriage), and what my real work schedule looks like.

Then I make up a number, throw it out, and see how it is received. I tried 3 weeks in this case, for the first 5 cases of ceiling tile. The total project will take about 12 cases. After a reminder that neat workmanship that will NOT NEGATIVELY IMPACT RESALE VALUE is exptected, an acceptable date is negotiated.

It's usually right after this agreement is made that you remember how much will have to be done to actually complete the job, things like wiring to accomodate lighting and trim to make the job acceptable to non-modelers. Can't see any need for trim, myself, who would look at anything other than the trains anyway?

And so, having never installed ceiling tile before, you set out from one corner. Yes, I measured the room, and hopefully won't have to do any major trimming of the tiles, so up go the 1 x 2's, and immediately following that, the first few tiles. Here's how it looks just after starting.

With 15 tiles now installed, the work is underway. Heck, only 465 or so more to go. However, there seems to be a holdup, since now work has to turn to installing outlets for lighting, so the tile installation has come to a halt and the electrician's hat has come out.

Makes me tired just to think about it. Well, at least I might be rested up when I get home Friday and make some more progress over the weekend. I hope.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Some Blue and Yellow

One of the best parts of spending a few days in the southwest part of the state is getting the chance to catch some blue and yellow engines while they are still around. Having left for Westbrook Monday afternoon, here is a sampling of what I was able to shoot while travelling from town to town for work.

This first one has already been shared on Flickr. With a 6:00 PM appointment in Westbrook Monday evening, the L4T official chase Escape was meandering down a county road paralleling the DME near Tracy when the tail end of a train appeared. Putting on a burst of speed, I was able overtake the head end as it crossed Plum Creek near Laura Ingalls Wilder's former home town of Walnut Grove. Here is the shot after stepping across the road and cranking up the ISO on the Pentax.

After overnighting in Windom, it was back to Westbrook on Tuesday. I've mentioned before that there are no trains in Westbrook. However, the road to Marshall goes through Tracy, and there is always a chance of finding something on the east side of town. This cloudy Tuesday afternoon was one of those days when you get lucky, as four units were sitting with a short train and no crew.

The last unit in the consist was a four axle EMD, and even though it's front coupled it seemed like it was worth the electrons to shoot it.

After spending most of Wednesday just a few feet from the tracks in Tyler, and not seeing any trains, my aim on the trip to New Ulm was to stay as close to the tracks as possible. This resulted in a good helping of "county tar" along with some gravel, but didn't yield any blue and yellow locomotives. There are some scenic spots along that line, though.

I stayed in the Microtel Inn in New Ulm, and was serenaded by three trains after dark and before bed. Guess the DM&E knew I was out looking and held the trains til dark. The next morning on the way to a meeting, a pass by the depot found a pair of blue and yellow units switching. With no time to spare I had to take the best shot offered and this was it.

All in all a good week. Got to shoot the classic paint scheme three days out of four, and got a good look at a reasonable section of the railroad. Every trip down there makes it more evident why people are so drawn to the area.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

A Train Picture

It's not unusual for Mrs. L4T to suggest a trip to Brainerd on the weekend. It's also not unusual for me to agree, since you can see a railroad track from the highway for about 75% of the trip. This last Saturday fit the pattern.

Guess what-I didn't see a headlight as we crossed the tracks in Wadena, this time. No, instead, the crossing gates were down and the crossing was occupied by an eastbound coal train. The only thing I knew about the power was that a peachy MAC was pushing. Off we went, with a goal of catching him before the curve at Aldrich would put the kibosh to nose light. We barely made it, getting the shot from the last crossing before the curve, the one east of Verndale.

You can really see how the orange paint on these GE's fades in this photo-the leader is nice and shiny, and the trailing unit is already starting to show that icky peach color.

After the train passed we took off for Brainerd. I did a double take passing the Staples yard, as an entire train of what looked to be brand new crude oil cars was staged, but I decided to risk getting a photo on the way home when the light would be a little better. That turned out to be a bad decision as the train was gone on the return trip.

It's a meager offering this post, but that was the only train we saw on the way over and back. Sometimes that's the way it is.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012


Way back on a late January Sunday I get a text from Jer: "Got a fleet of Westbounds headed your way assuming you're home." After replying that I might have to check that out, he comes back with this gem: "I bet there's at least 10." Me: "WHAT????" Oh, he had it all figured out, with one each at Randall, Gregory, Little Falls, St. Cloud, and finally at MP 66. Then he threw in, for good measure I guess, "Might be three or so in TWC." Heck, he could have been dispatching the entire sub.

So now you have the background on how I happened to wind up in Bluffton for a few minutes that afternoon, just a-waiting for some trains to show up. I know this gets old but I saw the first headlight when I crossed the tracks in Wadena, and only had to wait 5 or 10 minutes at Bluffton for a string of tanks behind some fairly nice looking GE's.

I knew there was a train pretty close to his block, so I stuck around for one more. This time the power was not as nice, and the cars were a lot more varied.

The clouds moved in fast, so I gave up after these two. There was something extra fun about catching a train that a fellow railfan had given you a heads-up on, though.

As much as I like trains, real and pretend, and taking pictures of both kinds, the enjoyment is multiplied when people who share your interest can take any part in the outings. I've explained in the past that the people are what make Verndale Rail special for me. We only get one chance a year to do that, but there are lots of other chances to get out with another fan, or share information like Jer and a lot of other OMR members are so willing to do. While these might not be as exciting as the big show in June, they still add a huge amount of enjoyment to the hobby. So thanks to all of you who call, or email, or post, or text heads-up alerts on rail action in the area. We might not always be able to make use of the intelligence but the times we can make it all worth it.

Note: it's even fun when the news is that there will likely be no trains that day! Yes, you know who you are.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012


I spent the day in Westbrook, MN, where there are no trains. There is still a depot, but the rails have been gone for a long time. Luckily, the path from Westbrook to Marshall, where I'm spending the night, can be "adjusted" to parallel some tracks. That's my chosen route.

The sun was just peeking out from under a heavy cloud cover on my arrival at the BNSF/DME crossing near Florence. A westbound behind a set of blue and yellow units would have been beautifully lit for a period of about half an hour. Sadly, no such train arrived. Just as the time came to leave, however, a train horn jerked me upright and my head began to swivel trying to identify the source. Sure enough it was a BNSF eastbound coming right out of the setting sun.

After spending some time waiting, it seemed only right to try and shoot the train anyway. A nice S-curve just south of the bridge over the DME offered the opportunity of some glinty action, so out the Pentax came. After a (not very) patient wait the train rolled into sight and the clicking began. Once again, the lack of software probably does nothing to help this image but believe me, it was lovely in real life.

Made me think of my CP friends as the one unit wonder rolled by. He wasn't moving very fast, as a long string of DDG cars stretched out behind the train. I shot him in one other location, then the light was totally gone. That one will have to wait until I get home.

One other treat from today was the sighting of a short DME train with four units up front, parked east of Tracy. The leader was blue and yellow, and had six axles. The next two units were leasers, and bringing up the end of the power set was a DME GP40 in nice paint. Again, I'll have to give those shots a good dose of Elements before I can post them.

A good day, and tomorrow I'll get another chance to strike it rich along the Marshall Sub and DME as I travel from Marshall, to Tyler, and then back to New Ulm. Wish me luck!

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Frosty Morning

After yesterday's discussion of trains in the fog and frost, I figured the weather events were done for a while. Wrong again!

This morning I had a meeting at church, and when I walked out of the house I heard a train horn to the west. Since my church is close to the tracks, it seemed like no harm would be done by taking the long route just in case the train was eastbound. The gates were coming down as I approached the tracks, so after a full speed exit and barely coming to a stop I shot my first crude train of the day at the Highway 71 crossing. Tried to include a little of the frost that was hanging on everything including the front of the locomotive.

After finishing up at church, I needed to stop at Ben Franklin for some weathering supplies. I'm glad I did, since there was another eastbound tank train passing through town when I walked out the front door of the store. A quick phone call to Mrs. L4T to let her know my arrival home would be delayed was followed by hot pursuit towards Staples.

After overtaking the train just east of Verndale, a quick dash across the tracks yielded this:

As you can see the sun was out now, leaving me wondering how much longer any of this frost could hang on. I spun around to shoot the train going away as well, as much as anything to get a shot of my favorite Staples Sub tree sporting a glorious coat of white.

The frost was prettier than I was able to record, and not being able to get the train against the trees due to the position of the sun and highway was a little frustrating. My next big idea was to try a shot south of Staples, where the sun and frost just might play well together. Well, kind of I guess.

A pit stop at a Staples gas station extinguished the low fuel light, and I headed back for Wadena. Almost immediately BNSF 771 East cleared up a warrant, and it was back to work. This time from the Todd County Highway 9 crossing, for what turned out to be my favorite shot of the day.

Another tank train! Knowing how much he would wish he had been there, I immediately texted Chris with tall tales about the flood of oil trains headed into the bright sun amidst the frosty scenery. That was kind of mean of me.

When I got home, the frost was just starting to drop, creating mini snow flurries throughout the neighborhood. It was a scenic day, and thanks to the BNSF for cooperating and giving the chance to shoot some trains in these unusual conditions!

Friday, February 3, 2012

Frosty Days

Usually we associate the word "frost" with cold. The last couple of days have been sweatshirt weather in these parts, yet the frost has been about as glorious as it gets. I like shooting in the frost as it adds something rarely seen around here. It's even better if the sun comes out, as here, but it's even neat in the clouds. Yesterday and today fit into the latter category, even sneaking toward fog yesterday. For example, here's an intermodal I happened across shortly after leaving on a trip to the Cities Thursday afternoon. I also got a couple others on the trip, the first at Aldrich:

And the second one I managed to intercept at the old Highway 10 bridge near Lincoln. This train had a pair of GE's and a long string of freight cars stretched out behind.

I scored in the same location again today on the way home. This time it was Dairyland Power loads, headed down the Staples Sub behind a GE and a MAC, with yet another MAC shoving. This train has some frost on the MU hoses to go along with what was coating the trees.

I wish there was a better way to actually capture the beauty of these conditions but I just don't have the knack. It's fun to see though.