Faced with the prospect of a return to work following a 10 day hiatus over the Christmas holiday, a railfanning trip seemed in order. After casting a trained eye on the weather forecast a couple of days ago, Dan Mackey had contacted me with the idea of heading out on Sunday morning to hunt for some loads of steaming pellets under code blue skies. Who could turn down such an offer? Certainly not me. And so it came to pass that I found myself in the passenger seat of a 4 wheel drive Ford headed north on roads that looked to have been treated by a Zamboni as the sun rose this morning.
Before long a phone call from Scott Carney indicated that our party was about to get bigger. First things first, though, a southbound behind a CN SD40-2 was calling our name and fell under the spell of our lenses at the S-curve near Kelsey. I was disappointed that this wasn't a pellet train, but Dan encouraged me to hold out hope.
Next stop was supposed to be the gas station at the junction of 7 and 37, but that was interrupted by the sound of a train somewhere close. After fits, starts, and u-turns, we managed to pin down this taconite train bound for Two Harbors. It was cold on the range, and the ice fog combined with steam from the pellets to obscure all but the power as they pounded the diamond at Ramshaw.
That train was hardly moving when it passed us, due (we surmised) to some unknown speed restriction related to the cold. Surely there was time for a stop at the Lucky Seven in Biwabik, before heading on to catch the train in dandy light.
Except....there wasn't. As we approached the overpass after a quick pause, the train flew under the road, much to the chagrin of a truckload of fans. Time to regroup and carry on, or as the Brits say, "Keep Calm and Rail Fan". We headed back to Iron Junction.
Where we found a gaggle of trains. A manifest with an SD70 leader was waiting there, behind another manifest led by the squeaky clean GEVO shown below.
The train in the photo above had no crew. After a short wait, a northbound led by yet another shiny GEVO passed by. The paint is so fresh it still reflects the other engine.
We headed south and stumbled across a T Bird that was just finishing the unloading process at U Tac. Power for this train was a pair of Dash 8's, with the 15 year anniversary graphics on their flanks. Mr. Carney grew quite excited at the sight of these former CNW units.
After talking him off the ledge, we managed to make it to Alborn and witness a meet between the 2847 (the shiny southbound we had shot earlier with no crew) and limestone loads for the range. Needing to get home, we elected try one more shot south of there, and picked a crossing north of Bear Trap. The blue sky in these last two shots doesn't convey how cold it was by this time. The wind had picked up and a couple minutes outside was literally uncomfortable. But we GTS.
'Twas a great day, with lots of excellent memories. Thanks, men, for the tour. Let's do it again on another clear, cold winter day when the ghost of the DMIR is busy once more.