Monday, July 30, 2012

Learning Superior

If you don't know where you are going, you have a few options. One of the most commonly used (by me at least) is to keep blundering on in hopes of getting somewhere. You can also use things like GPS or maps. Advice from a trusted friend is always useful. The most valuable solution, though, is an experienced guide. That's what I lucked into last Wednesday when Dan Mackey was kind enough to give me a grand tour of Twin Ports railfanning locations. I know this wasn't all-inclusive, I don't think you could do that in a full day around here, but it was a great introduction. And there were even trains!

After a quick stop at McDonalds (take out), Dan soon knew exactly where to wait for this trifecta of EMD's as it brought a cut of cars from Duluth up a grade into the Superior yard. The GP's weren't able to get the job done themselves so the SD was placed in helper service as the long transfer made the loop toward the yard.

These 8 axle flat cars made up a good portion of the train with what looked like wind generators aboard. Must have been one of the reasons so much tractive effort was needed. Dan managed to get elevation to shoot this train.

Now for a brief OMR tidbit. On the previous Sunday, when I was on the way back to Superior from Staples, a train of DME and ICE hoppers was making its way onto the Brainerd Sub at Staples. Knowing how excited Chis Muller would be, I called him with a live report. When I mentioned 4 bay DME hoppers he asked what kind, so this photo is intended to provide that info.

We now resume our Twin Ports discussion. Dan had a good idea of what was going on from the radio chatter. Being a novice in the area, when I asked him where 15.9 was, he gave me a funny look and said something like "a mile from 14.9". Then we were off for places like Saunders, and Boylston, where I think I shot this after running the hundred yard dash in as good a time as I can muster due to my wandering off and not observing where the qualified guide set up. Note to self: "PAY ATTENTION!"

And the hits just kept on coming. The Benzene bridge, MP 15.9, where a coal load and coal empty met, and yet another bridge south of town, which Dan was kind enough to drive down to. By this time I didn't even know what color locomotives might show up. As we pulled up to this location Dan asked if I saw a headlight coming. Sure enough, the CN delivered a train just in the knick of time.

And it just went on. Grassy Point Draw, Mikes Yard. The pair of Rice's Point yards, and all the trackage down in the port area, where a CP job was working. A ship loading at one of the massive elevators in Superior. The action never stopped.

I want to say thanks to Dan for the great tour. I'm looking forward to learning the area, and getting to know more of the fans around here.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Never Again

No, I haven't done something I regret. In fact quite the opposite, in looking back over some old photos I find things I'm thankful to have taken the chance to do when I had the opportunity. You can probably guess from the tagline on the photos I somehow ended up tonight and wound up nostalgic.

The changes I have seen in my few years as a serious railfan are truly amazing. I can remember when a GE Dash 9, while not a surprise, was a refreshing change of pace on the Staples Sub. The SD40-2's I expected to dominate the railroad forever are pretty much no more, with the exception of transfer, yard, and short distance service. Not so long ago, this was a fairly common site on one of my Saturday morning trips to Staples (which are pretty much history as well!)

At the very least, these road numbers have been usurped by GE's, along with a place on the hot trains operated by the railroad.

In some cases it's more than just the railroad itself that has changed. Wadena is a prime case, where the former feed and seed plant that made for a nice photo backdrop is no longer. Many's the time that I waited for a train to show up so I could try and work the mill into the photo. Those were pre-ATCS and in some cases pre-scanner days as well. It all worked on this day:

The idea that there would come a day when catching a pair of green 40's on a V train would pass never crossed my mind when I tripped the shutter.

A lot of the change is in motive power. Of course the SD40 series dates back to the 60's and 70's, older than many of the fans out chasing them (not me, though). Everything has it's day in the sun, and those engines day was longer than most. However just being newer is no guarantee of a long career. Here's a string of power that stopped to rest in Wadena one day a few years ago. Of the nine units shown, only the MAC is still doing what it was intended to do that day. I believe the SD60's and 60M, along with the warbonnet, are going, going, gone from BNSF. Not sure what happened to the maroon leaser, and the 40's on the tail end might be sporting numbers borrowed from a former SD9 or somesuch and a horsepower downgrade.

Here's one more that will likely never be repeated. This has always been a favorite of mine, not because of the quality, but because I remember how lucky I was to get the chance. While on a trip to Cloquet, with little time to spare, the train showed up at just the right time. This trio of EMD's will likely never polish the rails of the Brainerd Sub again.

A look back sure can reveal a lot of changes, even over not so many years.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Odd Power on the 8

Thanks to an early morning heads up by Steven Welch and a text from Jer I had advance notice of yet another late Empire Builder headed back to Chicago. These have been getting pretty routine so I may have passed on it but both alerts included information of an unusual lead engine for this area. With that I decided to head out.
Rather than drive all the way to Staples, I decided to try and get him just west of Wadena as the tracks climb out of the Leaf River Plain. I heard the detector at MP 174 announce the pending arrival of the train just before I reached my chosen location. The wait for a train was very short.

The photos above and below were shot as the train raced up the hill. It was kind of fun seeing something unusual, especially on the ever-consistent Builder.

My last shot is intended to be a better view of the Dash 8 leader and an opportunity to compare it to the Genesis unit trailing. One thing I noticed when processing this shot was the fuel tank. To my eye it's shaped like the tank on an EMD rather than the "slab sided" tanks most GE's sport.

And with that it was back home. Thanks again for the heads up guys!

Thursday, July 12, 2012


It's about the people.

Folks came from far and near. Much food was consumed. For the first time, many (real) train horns were blown. And some not so real ones, provided by yours truly. Videos were watched. Trains sailed by, in both directions this year. Even tank trains, for those who enjoy such things. It was, for the first time, an international event. Attendance records were set. Door prizes were awarded. A group photo was made. In what is becoming a tradition, a few extra dollars were raised for a good cause. Stories were told. Old memories were exchanged.

All that was great, but far and away the best part was the people, young, old, and in between.
Here's one of the oddities of this year's Verndale Rail. Since Mrs. L4T and myself were preparing for an upcoming move, I used the morning to make a couple of trips to the transfer site north of Wadena. I crossed the tracks 4 times that morning, and three of those times, sure enough, I saw a headlight. Each of those three time the locomotive shining the headlight was attached to a crude oil train. I was quick to share my good fortune, resulting in protests that surely that was the day's ration of such trains. Somehow, Mr. Buffet's railroad managed to scare up one more, to the delight of one of the younger fans in attendance.

And, I suppose, to me.
The horn guys were there for the first annual Verndale Horn Honk, which I would rate as a re"sound"ing success. They were good enough to provide hearing protection to all who desired it. By the time they were done that was everyone. That's quite a selection of horns.
Each train that passed by was greeted by a flock of railfans. The crews in the area must look forward to this day just about as much as those who attend. With a foam cushion like that you could land a jet wheels-up in Verndale with no damage.
My favorite photo of the day includes a train but it's a tiny one. Here a group of hardcore modelers assemble one of the day's door prizes. Honestly I haven't seen this much concentration on the task at hand since the year Chris tried to learn his camera's self timer during the group photo.
If you are interested in the fate of that trainset you'll have to check with Bryant.

Chris found it in himself to play with the sign out by the highway. Don't worry, he put it back the way it was after he was done.
And finally, as has become habit, we got one final train as the sun was setting. Except this year everything was twice as good, so instead of one we got two!
And that's my story of VR2K12. I, along with a lot of other people, want to thank Chris Muller for all his hard work. Also, thanks to everyone who attended. Like the first line of the post says, it's the people who make it special.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

A (Partial) Cure for Homesickness

Let me set the scene. It's a lonely evening in Superior. As I sat here missing Mrs. L4T, it seemed like an opportune time to head out and try and take a train picture. I headed down Belknap, hoping to shoot the BNSF 1111 which I had seen earlier from the overpass. Sadly it was gone, and even more sadly I had no idea where I was going and immediately realized I was on the way to Minnesota with no way to get off the road.

Turned out to be a good thing, as a CN train had just reached the dock. I was trying to figure out a way to get a shot of the engines as they ran around the train. By the time I figured out how to get where I wanted to be it was too late. Option B seemed to involve trying a shot from the parking lot of the new school. I got a string of loads ready for the ore dock, part of the MERC coal pile, and some Enbridge tanks all in the same shot.
And then the engines backed down onto the train, offering the chance at another shot. The three leaders were all 6000 series EMD's, which is where the cure for homesickness comes in. Seeing those engines brought back some real old memories.
Here's one of those memories. I don't have the exact date but this one goes back to my Ranier days, at least 9 years ago and probably at least 10. I remember lots of the snoots coming through town when I lived up there.
It's kind of like they showed up in town to remind of old times. Thanks, CN.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Independence Day

The fourth of July always brings to mind a day 5 years ago now when I shot this photo. Oddly it's not the only Independence Day shot I remember. This one from 2009, and this 2008 shot from Verndale are both products of the fourth as well. Last year I must have been in the basement working on the now-defunct West Central Minnesota Railroad.

All of which is a long introduction to this morning. For some unknown reason I checked the status of the eastbound Empire Builder, and sure enough it was late. In fact it should be in Staples at about the time that would allow me to attempt to duplicate the 2007 shot linked above. And so I was off. I decided to wait for the train at Wadena, where the dispatcher had him lined to cross over from Main 2 to Main 1. Consider that shot accomplished.

Then it was off to the races. Amtrak was making great time, and even risking a speeding ticket wasn't enough to keep pace. By the time I reached Aldrich he had built up a fair lead, but I knew (or hoped) that I could stop faster than the train, and would make up time as they approached the station. Sure enough, the head end passed the station about the same time as I did. There was only one fly in the ointment, though-for some reason the dome car was at the end of the consist, so the conductor decided to stop with the final car of the train at the platform. As a result the power was blocking the crossing east of the depot. Here's the shot I was able to come up with, which I didn't like near as much as the one from 5 years ago.

Finally, in that shot, there was a coal train waiting to cross over and take the Brainerd Sub. This year the situation was reversed, with an empty waiting to get onto the Staples after Amtrak cleared. I decided to shoot him, and after getting home and looking at the photo, was glad I did. Strange, strange power on this coal empty. Been a long while since I caught a coal train with DC power, much less a GEVO. In fact this may be one of a kind for me, certainly worth the "oddity" tag.

With that, it was off for home to work on the house. Now, after mowing, painting, and trimming hedges, I've squeezed out a moment to post to this long-neglected blog. More is coming, when time allows, including my report of the greatest railfanning day of the year, VR2K12. All for now.