Creston After the Storm

February 10

Iowa was hit Thursday and Friday with a serious round of ice and snow.  Virtually everything was closed down on Friday, even I-80 and I-35 were impassable for a time.  Byron and I had talked about the possibility of some train-watching this weekend, but decided to wait until Saturday morning to see how things looked.  Saturday arrived clear, calm and cold.  Even though the roads were iin poor condition with a solid undercoat of ice, a clear day is not to be ignored!  I called Byron around 7:00 and we decided to try meet in Creston, provided we could both get there.

On the radio, the BNSF dispatcher was trying to get a crew relieved at Chariton.  They climbed aboard another train for a ride to Creston, leaving the van that had been called out to fetch them waiting for a couple of hours wondering where they were.  The driver was not happy after negotiating the icy roads.  I'd also checked the Amtrak web site and learned that the Zephyr was 1:20 down, which would put it into Creston around 10:00.

I got out of icy Indianola about 7:50.  It was eight below down in the South River valley, a beautiful clear morning, with lots of promise for some great images.  I drove down Hwy. 69 toward Osecola.  The highway had been plowed, but it still had a thick coating of ice on top of the paving, so it was rather slow-going.  I was able to keep tabs on a couple of trains by radio conversations and detector broadcasts.  I heard the first of a couple of westbounds at 8:08, and then another, with 512 axles, at 8:26.  I caught up to the latter, a coal empty, just outside of Osceola.

On the west side of town, I heard "Okay on the..." messages exchanged and knew there was an eastbound that would be here soon.  I decided to let the westbound go and turned off to the north to follow a section of old Hwy. 34 that parallels the BNSF mains.  I stopped along the road and waited for the train to appear.  The peak experience in trrain-chasing is that "Train!" moment - when the headlights appear in the distance.  This particular train turned out to be a distributed power AEPX coal load with two units.  On the front was BNSF 8869.  I watched the head end of the train round the curve and roar toward town, then stood in the snow storm kicked up by the passing cars and awaited the arrival of the second engine.  The remotely-controlled locomotive on the rear of the train was BNSF 8934.  The train was by me at about 8:50.

Old Highway 34 had been plowed, so I decided to follow it for the few miles before it joined the newer, relocated US. 34.  The trip, in spite of the bad road conditions, was going well.  You know how it is on ice; no sudden moves, as long as you and your vehicle want to go in the same direction everything's fine.  Just a short distance from where the highways join again, I came up to the top of a hill and found that the road had not been plowed!  (I saw this section from the west end later in the day and observed that they had plowed in from that end also, but had left about 100 yards of drift uncleared.)  There was no way to stop on the ice, so I just went for it - throttled up and bounced along.  I made about 10 car-lengths and bogged down.

Byron and I had traded mobile phone numbers earlier, so I tried to call but just got "...all circuits are busy..." messages.  I called his wife Tammy instead and told her of my situation and asked her to call until she got through and to let Byron know that I'd be delayed.  Then I bundled up and walked back toward a farm at the bottom of the hill where I'd seen someone working on my way by.  A sweet old gentleman, Hubert Price, was trying to get a battery charger hooked up to the golf cart he used to get around the place.  He very kindly put me on his John Deere and we went out on the road and yanked the Jeep back out of the drifts.

I'd stuck the Jeep just before 9:00.  By the time I was back out of the snow and on the ice again it was twenty 'til ten.  I assumed that by now not only had the empty I was following gotten well away, but that I probably wouldn't make it to Creston in time to see Amtrak.  However, as it turned out, the weather had been slowing everything down, not just train-watchers.  Byron rang me up while I was in tow, and had let me know what to expect.  Amtrak was having to throw a switch by hand out by Villisca, and probably wouldn't make Creston until 11:00 or so.

I got to Creston just after 10:00.  I could see the empty I followed out of Osceola still waiting to get into the yard.  Switches were full of ice and every move of a train today required the attention of the track maintenance people.  At the east end of the yard there was a CWEX coal load (It looked like a "Unit Snow Train", Byron said.) with one rear-facing unit, BN 9451.  Apparently some power had been borrowed off the point.  On the south side of the yard sat two BNSF GeePs, 2350 and 2125.  Brooms were in short supply in the yard today, but the crew of 2350 had located an extra.  At the west end a freight train, probably the one that had picked up the crew at Chariton, was just pulling down and stopping.  On the head end were BNSF 2362, BN 8072, BNSF 2936 and EMDX 747.  Also in the yard, BNSF 2307 and caboose BN 12526.

I found Byron by the old depot and we took up a position in the Jeep at the west end of the yard.  From the radio we learned that the DENGAL was sitting at MP 408.9 to be passed by Amtrak and that the empty I'd seen at the east end had been waiting at Bullock's crossing since 9:10.  Number 6 came into town at 11:08.  In the California Zephyr today:

AMTK 1 and 27
Baggage 1253
Transition Sleeper 39019
Sleepers 32037 and 32053
Diner 38030
Sightseer Lounge 33020
Coaches 31538, 34024 and 34006
Material 1459
Boxcar 71079
Two Roadrailers
We drove to the east end to see if we could catch the passenger train on the way out of town.  They reported their stop as ":10 and :12".  We did get to the underpass in time and got another picture and a wave, "Hi Rich!"

Amtrak met the waiting coal empty just outside of town and it finally rolled in at 11:17, having waited over 2 hours.  On the point of the DEEX cars were LMSX 720 and BNSF 9847.  The 9847 was down to just 200 gallons of fuel, so it got a drink from a truck after stopping just east of Creston's AmShack.

We went back to the west end of the yard for the next train, an AEPX load that came in at 11:46.  We'd heard the detector at 398 announce this train as having 532 axles, and it was a another DP train, with BNSF 8800 in the lead.  As it rolled toward a stop and crew change at the east end, Track Inspector Butch Vanderpool and a welder waited to flag a switch and do some welding on the frog.  The rear unit on this train was BNSF 9818.  Initially, they stopped with this loco on the switch, but they pulled down to clear so that the welding could begin.  They crew was changed out and they pulled again at 12:15.

Throughout the yard, work was continuing to thaw and clean out the switches, which were ice-packed from Thursday night's freezing rain.

Byron and I saw the LMSX 720 empty leave at 12:13 and made a run to McDonalds.  When we got back at 12:45, another empty was rolling out of town.  This was a set of DETX hoppers pulled by BN 9578, BN 9671 and BNSF 9771.  This train reported that they'd arrived east of the yard at 10:25 and had gotten in for a crew change at 12:25.  The above 8800 train reported out at 12:25.

We sat at the west end and waited while the welder continued his work on Main 2.  At 1:30 we heard that the DENGAL was on the move and was by Cromwell.  They stopped for a crew change at the signal bridge west of New York Avenue at 1:50.  They were on the move again almost immediately.  The power on this train was BNSF 5484, SF 890 and BNSF 4235.

I watched them round the curve and pass the old Creston depot before Byron and I headed out to the east end of the yard to catch the next westbounder.  This turned out to be a manifest, the GALLIN, led by BN 7821, BNSF 4822 and BNSF 4849.  They arrived at 2:35.  They were asked to stop short of the middle crossover, by the "sand box", because the maintenance people were trying to clean out the crossover switches so that the elevator tracks could be worked later in the day.

We moved to the west end again for a load, inbound at 2:45.  This train had GEAX tub gons, pulled by BNSF 9775 and BN 9573.  They made a quick crew change and moved on.  Meanwhile, the GALLIN waited in the background on Main 1 for the switch-cleaning work.  At 3:05 the GALLIN was released and pulled by the old depot, making room for the next westbound, a "vehicle" train, waiting outside the yard since 2:50.

We caught another inbound coal load at 3:55, UCEX hoppers with BN 9632, 9479 and BNSF 9771 (Hey, didn't we just see this loco going the other way?).  They changed crews without delay and were out at ten after.

The dispatcher on the west side of Creston was beginning to get worried about eastbounds that were short on time and "encouraged" the vehicle train to get moving.  They finally rolled down to get their EOT battery checked around 4:30.  Too late, the signal at 395 was taken from them and they would have to wait to go on west.  Power on this train was BNSF 9998 and BN 9479.  The detector reported them at 130 axles - mostly autoracks with some miscellaneous freight on the rear.

Byron and I went out to the east end for one more train before heading for our respective homes.  This was another empty, MPWX hoppers pulled by BN 9680 and 9675.  I got a nice shot of them coming in the yard at 4:45.

The shadows were starting to get pretty long by this point.  The temperature had climbed to only 13 degrees, but it had been pretty comfortable with no wind and lots of sunshine.  I started back toward Osceola around 5:00.  I knew there was another empty waiting at Bullock's crossing, so I drove down the gravel, but found that it had not been plowed past the first farmstead.  I decided not to take a chance on getting stuck again and returned to Hwy 34.  From the bridge, I could see that the waiting train had OGSX cars.

At Osceola I made a couple of laps around the depot and then pulled into a Casey's for a pit stop.  Just as I was getting out of the Jeep I heard the detector east of town announce a westbound, so I hurried back over to the depot for another "Train!" moment.  At 5:45 I watched a DTCX empty come through behind BN 9514 and (BNSF 97??).  The sun was already down, but I took a couple of shots as they sped away from the depot.

That's It!