Monday, April 30, 2012

Operation Lifesaver in HO

Not sure about anyone else, but every once in a while a Model Railroader article gets my attention. Most recently, Pelle Soeberg penned a story about operating grade crossings. He's a great modeler, but the story told a lot about what you have to buy to do this. Given my legendary cheapness, it seemed like a challenge to me. And so it came that on a Sunday afternoon when my back felt like it had been bit by an alligator, the living room became a grade crossing signal assembly point for a day. The raw materials included two different types of coffee stirrers, the ever-present plastic sign material, a few scraps of Evergreen styrene, a hunk of wire, my imagination, and the internet for some photos. A few fits and starts and three hours later (the same amount of time as the Gilligan's Island boat ride was supposed to take), I had this.

That seemed like a fair start. I fiddled with it a bit more in the evening, and then tinkered around some more on coffee breaks today. Gotta give the paint time to dry you know. 

So after the darn thing was put together, I decided to let it do its work. Here the signal is protecting the grade crossing for a coal empty behind a shiny ACe. I'm the power for raising and lowering it, and the flashing lights await advice from the electronics wizard Chris Muller. 

I think it's slightly oversized. That can be fixed in production versions, though. Heck it will be an advantage as the scrap box will go further that way. 

And as long as I had the camera out and trains running it seemed only proper to shoot one more photo. If you have ever tried taking model photos you likely are aware of the depth of focus issue. This photo is stacked from 6 or 7 shots by Helicon Focus. Man that is same jaw dropping cool software. 

That's about all for this post. Hopefully my back improves, the sun comes out, trains run, and I catch something cool down south later this week. Minnesota Prairie Line, DME, and the Marshall Sub are all potential victims of my journey starting Wednesday.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Duty Calls

And I answer.

First off was a trip to Austin early Monday morning. Staples didn't have a whole bunch to offer other than the couple of sets of coal cars that seem to have taken up permanent residence and the occastional bare table train that is stored there. The only out of the ordinary thing I spotted that morning was a bare table with power intact-in this case a pair of AC units, overkill for the train it was tied up to.

Oddly enough, I encountered this very same train eastbound on Wednesday, during my trip home. They were sailing along between Randall and Darling going one way and I was sailing along going the other way. No photos that time.

Thursday morning it was off again, this time to Duluth. Now it seems to me that the DEEX trains have been a little less common lately. I've read where coal traffic is down for the railroads, not sure if that applies here or I'm just imagining it. Either way, the Brainerd Sub was quiet almost all the way to I-35. Eastbound loads caught me a bit off guard when I came upon them about with about 10 miles to go. The trusty Escape sprinted ahead in time for a shot at the last crossing available. And I'll tell you what-I was glad to get the shot. The trees, the MAC, the cars-it came out nice in my opinion.

Given the ACe's I got on a manifest train last weekend and the MAC and GEVO AC on the baretable above, I have to wonder if the AC units aren't starting to spread out if coal business is actually slowing. It's been a while since I saw an SD40-2 as well. Maybe it's time to get out and shoot the Dash 9's while they're still here, before they go the way of the 60's?

Here's a question for all of you. We know that crude oil trains were unkown in this area just a few short years ago. And it seems that 2 bay covered hoppers are becoming more and more common through the area, I'm guessing with sand for fracking and other drilling tasks. Nationwide, natural gas production is up and prices down, to the point that gas is displacing coal in some electrical generation service. Given all the above, are the changes a positive or a negative for the railroad industry? For the Staples Sub?

One thing about railroading, blink and things change. That goes for Staples, too, as overpass construction continues and will soon change the landscape there forever.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

It's That Time Again

Happy birthday to This is birthday number 4, and I think post number 377.

So what happened over the last 12 months? Some events that I remember:

-Outside Red Wing, on a hot summer evening
-My Ebro introduction
-One of many photos that were made following a heads up from Jer
-Entertainment, courtesy of the Wadena Local crew
-The day I got a lash of 7 '40's facing the sun
-Due to the lack of snow, we had to settle for frost
-The day we explored the jungle-also known as the day of VR2K11. The entire day was awesome, even without westbounds. Can't wait for the bigger and better VR2K12, less than two months away now!

One thing I noticed in going through the posts-there are a lot more on modeling than ever before. Modeling is becoming a more important part of my life, and that has led to a reduction in railfanning. I'm not sure if this is good or bad (it's expensive!) but I enjoy it. Railfanning has been and will continue to be a big part of my life, but that section of the Staples Sub between Staples and Perham is getting worn out for me, unless the train, the company, or the weather/light are out of the ordinary.

According to Google Analytics, this blog has entertained more than 50,000 page views. My hope is that those visitors have enjoyed reading it at least a fraction as much as I have enjoyed sharing it. If they did, they have had a blast. I'm betting I will be writing another one of these in a year.

Thanks to everyone who visits this blog.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Granite City in the Rain

Saturday was the annual great train event known as the Granite City Train Show. While it's always fun to go and browse around for bargains, the last few times I have gone it seems that seeing what Ian has cooked up has been the highlight of the day. Yesterday was no different.

Before we get to that, though, a few very poorly lit train photos. These are all of the same train, and none would have been shot but for a few oddities that jumped out at me. Mrs. L4T and I passed this train just after it met a westbound at Darling. It was moving slow and something about the lone auto rack caught my eye, so I pulled off at Little Falls. The first oddity I shot was the head end power, complete with an illuminated headlight on the second unit, facing backwards. That seemed strange.

And then a couple of "loaded" centerbeams. Oddly enough Chris had just pointed out a super sale at MB Klein on these cars, and now I have a different load. Might have to pick a couple up.

And then, the sight that first interested me. Another busted up auto rack. I shot one near Staples last fall and just like I described it that time, looks like a car that fell off the layout.

And then the final oddity of this train. It was rainy and cloudy, but the power was wild for a short manifest. Nice pair of ACe's. Finally got them south of Rice, where the track curves away from the highway.

The train show was packed. Parking was the worst it's been since I started attending. But it was worth it, as Ian and Lorrie were working the layout. He always has some neat idea for a small layout. And the thing is, he builds them. I think he gets more done than most people with a basement full of trains.

Here are a couple of poor shots of the front of the display. I think it's two feet wide, and Ian has figured out a way to actually have operational potential. It's wild. Locomotives are shuffling cars back and forth, and best of all he even figured out a scenario where he needs to use a Railbox car as an idler.

The show was the biggest I have ever seen. If the GCTS is any indication, model railroading is not dying-far from it, it's growing. And why not, it's fun.

I picked up a couple of things, including some 28' UPS trailers, and came home excited about modeling again. Back to the basement!

Squiggiling Through Staples

Wednesday afternoon was my annual trip to the Minnesota Office of Pipeline Safety spring conference. For, me it's kind of like Verndale Rail, just less fun, as I see a lot of people I know.

Anyway, you can't get there from here without going through Staples. And wonder of wonders, just west of there I overtook an honest-to-goodness worm train. Not one of those mostly worm trains with a few white cars mixed in to spoil the effect, but the genuine article. New cars and all. It was worth a delay arriving at the meeting to shoot him.
In the second shot, you can see a couple of the new, but different, cars, that were the only flaws until the very end where two of the older and dirtier red cars were the final revenue generators before the third Dash 9 pushing.
And that's all for now. Blogger has made some changes and I have no idea how this will come out.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Nine Nine Nine Nine

Thanks to Jer for the heads up:

On Saturday morning, early, he texted me that the BNSF 9999 was stopped somewhere near Bluffton. Since I was still sucking on my morning coffee, the response wasn't timely. However, after a cup or two, curiosity got the best of me, and an ATCS check showed an eastbound just entering the plant. Off I went, and sure enough the famous (at least in my mind) BNSF 9999 was sitting west of the west crossing in Wadena. He stopped exactly where the pile driver parked on the house track would shade his pilot.

There is something about a loco numbered 9999. This is the fourth time I've captured this engine, once in Frazee, once in Staples, and as a DPU on a River Sub COLX train. Keep those tips coming, Jer.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Some Easter Sightings

Mr. L4T Jr. was home for the weekend. He has not been infected with the railfanning bug, which is likely a good thing for me as his presence will occasionally inspire me to do something a little different. However, he is also willing to humor me on occassion, such as when a matched set of NS GE's happen by with a loaded tank train. Easter Sunday afternoon revealed just such a sight, which was captured initially crossing the bridge that is being worked on in Bluffton.

The backlighting is strong in this one, and the next one, which is not much further down the line due to the slow order that is delaying every train through the area. Once more from the Highway 75 crossing.

After he headed back to Grand Forks Mrs. L4T suggested we go for a short ride. I agreed, but told her we needed to check ATCS to see if any train traffic was likely. Sure enough a westbound was approaching Wadena, and we encountered it at the crossing upon heading uptown. I decided to try shooting it just west of the overpass, and here's the result.

I liked the outcome of that one, although I should have waited a bit for the train to get closer to the silos before tripping the shutter. Live and learn.

After swinging through Perham, we headed for home. Once more a westbound was showing, this time in Staples. I figured I had just enough time to grab a smoothie at McDonalds and get back west of town for a shot. What a prediction-the headlight was showing as I once more pulled over on Highway 75! A short wait in the gale-force winds, and a COLX empty marched by, slowing for the bridge.

They're only GE's, and the paint is a bit faded, but a matched set is a matched set. As the GEVO's arrive and coal traffic seems to fall a bit, matched power is getting more rare. The MACs that used to be strictly coal power are still found on coal trains, but they are also showing up on manifests, grain trains, and crude oil trains.

The railroad seemed busy this weekend, although I didn't get much chance for photos. I hear another train passing through town as I write this. Life is good.

Working in the Evening

I'm sure everyone who take a minute to read what is posted here has a "real life", the thing that gets in the way of just doing what you think is fun 24/7. Once in a while this real life can get in the way of what we might prefer to be doing, which is exactly what has happened to me recently. Go here, go there, do this, do that. All of a sudden you take a breath and realize that days have passed since you have had much time to concentrate on "fun".

But the flame still flickers, even though a strong wind tries to blow it out. Case in point: on Tuesday an evening meeting called me to Perham. With the days getting longer and the sun angle improving the hope of a train photo existed. Sure enough, a baretable train was passing through town as I headed up Jefferson. This night luck was with me as I beat the power to the Bluffton curve.

Under normal situations, the chase to catch the head end would have taken almost to Perham, but a slow order due to bridge work in Bluffton allowed me to catch the train as it snuck around the corner and entered the Leaf River plain.

Once the tail end of the train cleared the bridge, the hogger was back on the throttle and I was back in a photography position, this time near Perham's "Big Woods". The train was making up for lost time as he flew by me with a long string of empty well cars.

And that was it. After a meeting at the Cactus, where the 250 or so attendees were reminded of the importance of calling before they dig, it was back home for another late arrival. Someday I have to learn how to schedule.