Snow At Last!


February 2

It's been a long, dry and warm winter in Iowa but we finally had a few inches of snow this last week.  I didn't get a chance to take pictures during the storm but Saturday morning was inviting, clear and 20 degrees.  I was on the road by 7:15 and headed for one of my favorite spots, a wooden overpass on the road to Stephen's' Forest near Lucas.  I'd already checked on Amtrak, which was pretty close to on time today, and as I drove south I learned from the scanner that I had at least one westbound on the way over from Albia.

An eastbound had reported signal problems over near Melrose and dispatcher S.L.Y. said that he'd given Amtrak a warrant just up to the crossover at MP 333.10, in case it became necessary to cross them over to the north track.  As I was waiting in the Jeep near the bridge, about 8:00, the phone rang.  It was Amtrak engineer Rich Fertig:

Hey DT, where are you this morning?
I'm at the Stephen's Forest bridge by Lucas.  What's up?
I've got some business cars on the back this morning, want me to slow down for pictures?
It sounds like you may have to cross over at Chariton, there's signal trouble over around 320.
Okay, thanks for the heads up!
Just after I hung up I heard the Russell detector report 476 axles on Main 1.  Ten minutes later another westbound, this one with 528 axles, tripped the detector.  At 8:25 I could hear the first of these two trains coming through Lucas.  It turned out to be a UCEX empty pulled by two units, frost-covered BNSF 9858 and EMD 9004.

By this time the BNSF maintenance forces had determined that there was a broken rail on the eastbound main at MP 320.7, and the powers that be had decided that the Zephyr would be crossing over to Main 1.  I rang Rich back and let him know and said that I'd be moving up to the east end of Chariton for pictures of the passenger train.

The second westbound arrived at 8:39 with numerous locos, a block of autoracks and a set of GEAX coal cars.  On the point was BNSF 9880, which I'd heard getting a warrant at Maxon around 7:45, followed by 9598, 8610, 9595, 9433, 9555 and 9687.

As soon as they were under the bridge I hustled back to Hwy. 34 and buzzed into Chariton to await No. 6.  On the way up Whitebreast Hill I heard the Osceola detector announce 74 axles on Main 2, so I knew Rich was out of the station and on his way over.  Unlike the bottom of the hill, up here around Chariton it was very foggy this morning.  All was quiet when I got to the crossover switches, but in a few minutes Roadmaster Casey Turnbull came driving up in his highrailer, parked and started walking through the snow over to the west switch.

Rich brought the passenger train through town and rolled slowly up to the switch at ten after nine, stopping just under the Hwy. 34 overpass.  Casey returned to his vehicle, drove east a short distance, parked again and tromped through the drifts to the east switch.  The Roadmaster crossed back to the south side of the tracks and we all waited while a required delay of five minutes passed after the switch was thrown.

About 9:18 they were on the move again and bringing the train over onto the north track.  I snapped a good picture of engineer Fertig as the locos came by.  In the train today:

AMTK 183, 58 and 204
Baggage 1754
Transition Sleeper 39038
Coaches 34008, 34074 and 31509
Sightseer Lounge 33002
Diner 38042
Sleepers 32043 and 32054
One boxcar and one reefer
BNSF 67 Donner Pass
BNSF 66 Cajon Pass
BNSF 3 Red River
BNSF 32 William B. Strong
No roadrailers today - wouldn't want to spoil the view from that theater car!
Amtrak reported a 12 minute delay associated with the crossover move.  After the California Zephyr was out of town, I made a quick pit stop at Casey's and headed for Russell to catch some westbounds that I'd heard at Albia earlier.

In Russell, I tried to be a good train-watching citizen and park well off the traveled portion of the roadway.  However, the road was narrow and the ditch turned out to be rather deep.  Fortunately, God gave us cell phones as well as Jeeps.  While I waited for Hamilton's Towing to come out from Chariton, I took pictures.

At 10:11, the first of two more empties arrived with a set of OGSX cars towed by BNSF 9970 and 9967.  The Russell detector counted 516 axles on this one - probably a DP train when it was loaded.  Another empty came by just as I was visiting with the tow truck driver.  This train was led by a CSX unit numbered 720, followed by BNSF 9747, 9559, something colorful labeled TFM 2320, and others I didn't catch.  The cars were PSTX and ESCX, and the train numbered 528 axles.

I moved on east to Melrose to see if I could find the broken rail.  Just west of town the troops were gathering to make the repair.  The right-of-way parallels a gravel road, so I parked in front of the BNSF welder's truck and asked if it were okay to go take a picture.  The break was in a weld in the south rail of Main 2, and right at the signals at MP 320.69.  I visited with the maintenance of way people, who were very curious about what I'd been able to hear on the radio, "Do you have the MoRAS channel in that?", and what I could hear at home.  Pretty soon the new piece of rail showed up and they had to go to work.

At Albia I stopped to pick up some lunch and then drove out to Old Maxon to wait on railroad traffic.  By noon it was up above freezing and still nice and sunny - a very pleasant day to be out trackside.  I listened as the dispatcher worked out which trains would be crossing over to avoid the the broken rail.  By about 12:30 the track was back together again and it sounded like only one coal load had used Main 1.  Several eastbound trains were on the way.  I'd heard the dispatcher talking to 9784, 9922, 2805 and 8889.

9784, a distributed power AEPX load with 130 cars, crested Albia Hill at 12:48.  Bringing up the rear was BNSF 9856.  There was a break in the traffic after 9784.  The next train through Maxon was the Ottumwa local, westbound at 1:37.  This train, A.K.A. 463, was to leave the lead two units, 9691 and 9429, on the west passing track.  They were warranted as BN 2708 and also had BNSF 2309 and BNSF 1411, followed by three ballast cars and one tank.

I knew by this time that 9922 was getting pretty close since I could hear them coming up the hill.  This was another DP train, 127 OGSX cars with BNSF 9922 in front and 9870 trailing.  They came through just five minutes after the local, took the crossover at Maxon and headed for the ISU plant at Chillicothe.

Close behind was a "bare table" train with BNSF 7805 and BN 9239.  The long string of piggy-back flats rolled down to the signals at Maxon and waited for the track to open to the east.  I'd heard the dispatcher talking to a Des Moines - Quincy train, so I went into town and down to the west end of Albia Yard to see what I might find there.  The M-DMOWQM held back out of town while the local got in the clear on the Des Moines branch to wait for another westbound, the GALLIN.

I moved down near the signals where the Des Moines branch meets the westbound and got shots of each of the local's units, 2708, 2309 and 1411 while we all waited for the GALLIN.  This long-haul manifest split the signals just before 3:00.  On the point were BNSF 4713 and BNSF 6881.  After the GALLIN cleared, the local was sent back toward home, out of Maxon on Main 1.

By now I was getting nervous about missing the next eastbound, so I drove back out to Maxon.  At 3:13, BNSF 8889 came up the hill (Hey, it's the red-flag engineer - hadn't seen that in a long time!)  8889 led a DP train of BNSF cars with 8812 shoving on the rear.

At 3:45 I heard what was likely to be another coal load, 9491, out of Melrose and looking for a warrant on the Ottumwa sub.  While I waited, the Des Moines train switched some fuel oil from Williams Pipeline into the north pass.  At 4:08 BNSF 9491 and 9470 (both "patched" to BNSF) came up the hill and brought a set of new-looking MBKX hoppers by.  From the radio I could tell that two more were on the way, 8856 and 9777.

I stuck around long enough to see the Des Moines - Quincy train leave and then figured I'd better start back toward home.  Power on the DMOWQM was BNSF 2778, BNSF 157 (no longer hustling intermodals across Missouri) and BNSF 8044.  They were out of Maxon at 4:15.

On the way home, I stopped at the bottom of Whitebreast hill, near the crossovers at Shannon, to await a westbound that I'd heard on the Russell detector.  They came into sight at 5:14, a FURX empty with a long set of engines, including BNSF 8856, 9729, ????, 9227 and 9886.  After getting one more shot of them heading toward the sunset, I got back in the car just in time to see some alternative transportation going by on the south shoulder of Hwy. 34.

That's It!