A Busy Morning on the BNSF

Saturday, January 19

Iowa's been pretty much without any winter this year, and I miss it. Overnight we'd had maybe 1/2 inch or so and it was still coming down lightly Saturday morning. I decided to try for some snow pictures today, so after checking on the Zephyr (on time), I was out of town and headed for the nearest mainline by 6:30. It was 22 degrees and still snowing a bit when I reached Osceola.

I hung around the depot, taking a few more shots as the sky gradually lightened. The station attendants arrived around 7:30 and started getting the place ready for Amtrak customers.

Just before 8:00 Kansas City desk dispatcher S.L.Y. started calling his trains for location. It sounded like there would be several westbounds coming soon, and it wasn't long before the detector on Main 1 announced the first one. They came through at 8:09 in a great cloud of blowing snow with BNSF 8839 and 8920 in the lead, trailing a set of empty BN and BNSF tub gondolas.

I'd heard SLY also talking to BNSF 8976 and 9951. They weren't far behind. 8976 came around the corner and by the depot at 8:28, with BN 9678 and a block of autoracks followed by DEEX/DETX empties. The combined train added to 508 axles this morning.

By now, track inspector Earl Hamilton had gotten a warrant to follow Amtrak out of Creston and SLY had said that he had a couple of loads on duty for 9:00 and 9:20. At 8:33, engineer Bill Greenly called Pat to say that the passenger train was by Murray. Pat discussed the state of the platform with the conductor, assuring him that it was in pretty good shape this morning. Shortly before Amtrak's arrival the detector announced another westbound.

Knowing that the Zephyr might be passed by a westbound while in the station, I stayed on the north side of the tracks for pictures. The California Zephyr came into sight at 8:41 and slowed to a near stop a little early before pulling on down to spot the coaches in front of the depot. In the train today:

AMTK 135, 61 and 150
Baggage 1269
Transition Sleeper 39022
Coaches 34098, 34010 and 31539
Sightseer Lounge 33037
Diner 38035
Sleepers 32031 and 32021
Lots of freight - no details on this due to a passing coal empty
The westbound train had apparently heard Amtrak arriving and approached the station very slowly with its light dimmed. When Amtrak highballed so did the coal empty, it's headlights reflecting off the sides of the passenger cars. The empty had BNSF 9951, BN 9243 and BNSF 9487 pulling a set of CWEX cars.

Amtrak reported its stop to the dispatcher as ":43 and :46". I crossed over to the south side of the mains to find engineer Rich Fertig who, after dead-heading west and taking a Lincoln to Ottumwa and back turn at the throttle, had returned to Osceola this morning on No. 6. Rich and I repaired to McD's for some breakfast. While we were eating, two more empties came through. I caught a shot of the first, at 9:05, from the restaurant parking lot - BNSF 9475 and 8834 with IPWX cars. Counting the second "missed" train, that was five in a little over an hour.

Rich and I were walking back to our cars when the detector for Main 1 went off again. I headed across the street to the South Ridge Road crossing. Inspector Hamilton rolled by eastbound just before the next train. This turned out to be BNSF 9743 and 8955 with AEPX cars. They went around the curve at the west end of town at 9:37. That was westbound number six.

I went back to the depot and parked on the north side to monitor the scanner and see what would come up next. Apparently Mr. Hamilton had stopped to give something his attention and came by the depot about a quarter 'til ten. In just a few minutes the detector on Main 1 transmitted its announcement of, "No defects...", "Total axles, four seven two..." and I walked to the south side of the tracks for another coal empty, WFAX cars pulled by BN 9611 and BNSF 9484. That was eight trains (counting Amtrak) in less than two hours - pretty good luck for a Saturday morning.

I next set out to work my way over to Creston, intercepting whatever I could along the way. I figured that the trains SLY had mentioned earlier, called out of Creston at 9:00 and 9:20, should be getting over this way pretty soon. I drove out west of Osceola to a short section of old Hwy. 34 and waited at the 205th Avenue grade crossing. The stream of westbounds meeting the trains I awaited was generating lots of "Okay on..." messages between crews, so could tell something was coming.

There was now a relatively warm south breeze and the overnight dusting of snow was beginning to sublimate into fog. My first eastbound after Amtrak showed up at 10:30. They split the signals and came around the broad curve with BN 9546 and BNSF 9727 pulling DTCX tub gons. I'd heard this crew report a bad order toilet a bit earlier.

I moved west to the 190th intersection to await the next eastbound, another coal load that I'd heard report out of Creston at 10:12.  On the point of the UCEX hoppers were BNSF 9443 (a BNSF "patch job") and BN 9565.  I intercepted this one at about 10:45.

Between Thayer and Afton there's a location known as Talmage Hill. Talmage was a station location where the Chicago and Great Western once passed under the Chicago Burlington and Quincy. The C&GW right of way is still visible from an overpass on Hwy. 34. The BNSF crosses through this area on a fill and bridge. East of the bridge there's a gravel road crossing and a detector (MP 378.8), and west a wooden bridge passing over the tracks.

I decided to wait at the detector for the next eastbound, which I heard report out of Creston at 11:43. They came into sight coming downhill on the far side of the bridge just after noon. By this time the temperature was just below the freezing point (the detector west of Creston said "Thur, Tee, Two Degrees") and it was getting pretty hazy. I took several shots as the train approached and passed the detector. On the head end were BN 9477 and BNSF 9764, trailing FSTX cars.

The long line of empties that I'd seen earlier in the morning were gradually getting into Creston after waiting for fresh crews and room on Main 1. 9951 cleared its warrant at 11:23 and reported a 9:45 arrival time. For 9611 the figures were 12:12 and 10:23.

I went back north to the highway and drove on toward Creston. As I was on the bridge over the tracks just east of town I heard an eastbound report out of town, so I took the gravel north to "Bullock's Crossing" and intercepted another coal load. BN 9619 (with really bad horns) and BNSF 9779 came by at 12:22 with ESCX cars.

That brought the morning's "catch" to twelve trains in just over 4 hours. Unfortunately, that would be the last for quite a while today. I went on into Creston and found a parked UCEX load at the east end of the yard. There were three units on the train, EMD 9059, 9003 and BNSF 9219. The third unit was behind a long string of brown BNSF covered hoppers, but those were later moved and I came back for a shot of the wide-cab '60. I also took a picture of caboose 12526, parked near the UPS depot and showing a little smoke from the heater inside.

BNSF 2305 and 4232 were parked at the southeast corner of the yard and remained so while I was in town. The yard crew was on another set of engines and busied themselves pulling the BNSF hoppers to the west and crossing over to shove into the elevators north of the mainlines. They were using BNSF 2338, 4234 and 2823. After working the elevator, the crew came back for a nice bright set of pumpkins, BNSF 4848, 675 and 5367. These locos were crossed over to Main 1 and set out near the yard office for fueling.

The only activity on the radio's dispatcher channels concerned ground relay problems that 9477 was having over east of Osceola. It sounded like they were going to have to be pushed up Whitebreast and possibly again at Albia unless they could borrow an engine somewhere. However, the dispatcher seemed to have nothing coming toward them this afternoon. I started back toward home at 2:30 and got all the way to Indianola without hearing a thing from a detector, dispatcher, or even an EOT device. It was one of those times when you hit the weather channel button every now and then just to make sure the scanner's functioning. At home, I did hear 9477 getting a warrant at Halpin around 5:45 - that works out to about 12 mph from Talmage at noon.

That's It!