Sunday, December 29, 2013

The Range on a Frosty Sunday

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.
Next up was the EMD led train that had been waiting at Iron Junction. I got this one passing the crewless train at Keenan Road.
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. 

Saturday, December 14, 2013


I got up early this morning, and after drinking a pot of coffee with Mrs. L4T headed east for Superior through the gloom and flurries of a Twin Ports December morning. My destination was the Mackey basement, where the mission I had accepted involved helping Dan with some of the staging benchwork on his massive HO layout. Coffee was consumed, plywood was butchered, jokes were told, and in the end even a little work was completed.

Dan takes a different approach to layout building than I have in the past. As you can see in the photo below, he is committed to ensuring things are plumb, level, and square, not to mention well built and intended to stay that way. 

I think I have accumulated a lot of BNSF coal gondolas. Actually I probably do have one of the larger fleets that I am aware of of those particular cars. Amazingly, I think Dan has more woodworking clamps than I do coal gons. There are clamps everywhere you look. He clamps things up and down, side to side, back and forth, and I think if you cut yourself working on the layout he could likely clamp that shut too. The only thing he has failed at clamping that I know about is my mouth shut. If it's not expressing one crazy idea or another, it's likely eating fresh baked corn bread. Thanks Dan!

I just had to take a picture of the joint shown below. I used to do woodworking as a hobby and would have been pleased with such a joint in a piece of "fine" furniture. But this is in model railroad benchwork, and in a place where very few if any people besides Dan and I will ever see. Once the staging is completed you will likely have to crawl under the layout with a creeper and flashlight to see it. 

It was the impressiveness of this joint, I think, that caused me to blurt out something on the order of "Dan! That's amazing! I have used CARDBOARD for benchwork construction in the past!" Dan might have thought I was crazy, or making this up, or gone 'round the bend, but I soon had him convinced that this was absolutely the truth. On my old layout, I repurposed the cardboard corner protectors used for shipping heavy objects for legs. They worked really well, too. Didn't look near as nice as what you see above, but still...

The craftsmanship and scale of what Dan is building never ceases to amaze me. It's a lot of fun to have even a tiny role in building this empire and participating in operating sessions will be even more fun. Thanks for including me in what you are doing, Dan!

Saturday, December 7, 2013

"I'm an Idiot"

I know that there are people who would agree with the post title, or at least say it's true about me sometimes. And they would likely be right, but that's not where the quote came from today. But more about that later. 

This week's big snowstorm went on without me. In Michigan for work, I dreamed dreams of shooting trains in the snow. Dan Mackey even texted me to find out if I was willing to venture into the teeth of the blizzard with him when work got out early one day. When I told him I was out of town he mentioned heading out over the weekend to take in the fresh blanket of white and predicted code blue skies. Sounded like a winner to me, so Friday evening I texted him and finally, with Scott Carney's assistance, was able to goad him into heading out. So after a hearty breakfast at Big Daddy's we headed to Superior to meet Scott, where we promptly came to the conclusion that the confluence of sun, snow, Saturday, and free time led every area railroad to take the day off. 

After some fancy driving, fancier planning, and world class scanner interpretation, we found ourselves in the path of a CN stacker climbing Steelton Hill. With poor sun angles for a wedgie, we settled on this broadside as the train climbed out of the St. Louis River valley. 

FYI-there is a lot of snow out there. Feet and feet of it, as a matter of fact. And the temperature was in deficit territory, likely double digits at the time this was shot. The clothes required combined with the snow depth and a short jog darn near gave me a heart attack.

With a set of GE's in the bag, we were alerted to traffic on the Hinckley when a detector announced the arrival of something with 500 plus axles approaching Boyleston. Turned out to be an all rail empty headed for Allouez. Oddly, when I looked at ATCS, the train was lined into 28th Street while we headed east for the intercept. Shortly after I announced this to the gang, the train crew piped up and asked the dispatcher if they weren't supposed to be headed to Allouez. His response has to be an all time great, "I'm an Idiot". Sure enough he had them lined wrong. 

The delay gave us a chance to hike in and get this as he crossed Sawyer Creek. Lots of nice creaking and groaning as the power crossed the trestle. 

I widened up a whole bunch to get him once more. Gotta say there is still something special about them MAC's to me.

After that we headed back to town, and Dan headed home for a day of domestic chores. Scott agreed to give me a lift home, and on the way over the bridge we decided to stop and check on the paper mill switch, which luckily enough was just coming out of the plant while we watched. Sort of like crossing the tracks and seeing a headlight. It's a bonus BNSF shot.

Really was good to get back out and do some semi-serious railfanning. Weather was spectacular, there were a few trains, and best of all, the company was great. Thanks, guys, lets do it again soon!