So Many Trains...

Des Moines, Osceola, Chariton and Osceola

Saturday, February 16



Another warm winter day was forecast for Iowa.  I called Amtrak's 800-number and determined that the Zephyr would be a little over three hours late today, which worked out well for my Saturday's To-Do list.  I wanted to get to Des Moines to see if I could get some pictures of the new remote-control equipment in use at Short Line Yard.  I'd also recently heard by email from Wes Carr, a BNSF dispatcher who would be starting on the Kansas City sub this afternoon, and I wanted to get some pictures of "his" trains.  Along with other portions of the BNSF, the "Kansas City" desk handles the Track Warrant Control territory between Creston and the beginning of CTC at Albia (Halpin).

I started for Des Moines at 7:25, it was clear and 38 degrees, with a strong northwest breeze.  At Short Line a number of warning signs have been placed at entrances to the yard and near some grade crossings.  There were two sets of the new remote control equipment in the yard today, but neither was in use.  I'd passed through this area on Friday evening and seen one set coming in from West Des Moines with a short drag (presumably not under remote control).  That set, with control unit UP Y101, was in the "pocket" southeast of the yard office.  Another set was over on one of the fuel tracks, UP Y102, coupled to UP Y1324 and this unusual loco (a CANX "kit-bash", I.D.'d for me by Allan Hunt).  Y101 and Y102 appear to be SW-type slugs with an array of lights, horns and assorted antennae on brackets atop the hoods.

Questions:  If they pull a long cut out the west end of the yard with one of these setups, do the horns sound automatically at East 18th Street?  How is the stop at the NS handled?  Is there a camera on this thing so the operator can tell where it is?

I noticed some more new signage, indicating the beginning of the Trenton and Mason City subdivisions, placed just north of the junction.  Job 1 wasn't using the remote this morning, but instead had UP 401 and 1073.  While I waited on a grain train stopped up at Hull Avenue Yard to get some headlight repairs and come south, railfan Scott Reid from Fort Dodge came by.  He and a friend were on a shopping trip in Des Moines today, which naturally included checking out the railroads.

The grainer came through the junction just after 9:00.  On the point were UP 9072, 2211, 2247 and 9288.  After crossing the diamond they called the Trenton dispatcher and received a warrant all the way to Allerton (CP U365).  Although another southbound, the SSDM, was on its way into the yard, I decided not to wait.  On the way out of town I did stop to get a shot of BNSF 2291, working the west end of the NS's Glake Yard.

On the way back down toward home I listened for activity on the BNSF, since I knew I'd be heading that way soon.  On the radio it was Saturday morning business as usual, with Kanas City sub. dispatcher S.L.Y. chiding Ottumwa desk man K.R.S. (a.k.a. "The Kid") on the air. Meanwhile, over on the UP's Trenton Sub., the grain train had rung up mechanical support, as they were having electrical problems with 2247 and could not get it restarted.



I left town again around 10:30 and headed for Osceola to intercept the eastbound California Zephyr, now expected a bit before noon.  By this time, southern Iowa had reached 47 degrees and it was nice and sunny, though a bit cool out in the wind.

There were no passengers waiting today.  The station attendant, Pat Greene, said that she had no one getting aboard, but was expecting nine to get off.  The train arrived right at noon.  Engineer Bill Greenley had an American Flag fluttering by the side window of the lead unit, AMTK 85.  In the consist:

AMTK 85, 203 and 169
Baggage 1735
Transition Sleeper 39032
Sleepers 32006 and 32029
Diner 38068
Sightseer Lounge 33000
Coaches 31527, 34004 and 34082
Six boxcars and ten roadrailers
They made a fairly quick stop to drop the passengers, reporting their times to the dispatcher as 12:03 and 12:06.  Pat told me that the conductor was making one of his last runs before transferring to Denver.

After the Zephyr was out of the station, I started toward Chariton, but in about 10 minutes I heard Amtrak meet a train and exchange "High Ball!" messages, so I went back to the tracks and waited northeast of town at Eisenhower Road for the westbound.  This train, at 12:30, turned out to be a set of 124 empty FURX tub gons pulled by BNSF 9960 and BN 9708.

I use a microcassette to take notes while driving and taking pictures, and a few weeks ago I managed to fumble the one I'd been using onto the bricks behind the Osceola depot.  It continued to function for the rest of that day's excursion, but pooped out shortly after.  This gave me an excuse to go shopping for a new one.  This would be the third I've had since starting VTWI (I'm on my fourth digital camera but not because I've been dropping them).  This time I decided to try a new system and got a voice-activated recorder along with a headset designed for computer use.  The headset has separate earphone and microphone plugs and my plan was to work out an arrangement where I can have the scanner and the tape recorder all hooked up to the headset, leaving my hands free to operate the camera.  We'll see - there are a few wrinkles yet to work out.

Anyway, once at Chariton I stopped to pick up some lunch at a Hardees that I knew to be "slow" rather than fast food.  I hate to miss things on the railroad radio (I mean, just to eat?   First things first, right?  Railfanning is serious business!), so I turned on the recorder and left it beside the scanner while I was in the restaurant.  Why not take the scanner in with me?  Because without the antenna on top of the Jeep, you can't hear the warrants being read over at Albia!  This worked great - when I got back I had a recording of BNSF 9900 west receiving a warrant at 13:06.

I took my Regular Roast Beef to the west end of the Chariton yard (Curtis Ave.) and waited for more trains.  9900 came through at 2:00 with an old MAC in very fresh paint and DTCX cars.  On the way over from Osceola I'd heard the dispatcher say that he had "three called, none out" (of Creston).  By this time I figured they'd be getting over this way, and sure enough, I heard 9900 talking to one just after it left town.  Before long the distinct sounds of distributed power telemetry were buzzing from the scanner.

To get better light for eastbounds, I relocated to the Linden Ave. grade crossing, near the end of a short section of track in town where the rails run more or less north-south.  At 2:36 a coal load poked its nose into the "ess" curve with AEPX and CEFX cars.  This DP train had BNSF 9825 on the head end and 8886 shoving behind.  In a few minutes the Russell detector reported a westbound as well as the just passed 532-axle DP load.  The westbound arrived just before 3:00 with BNSF 9428, BN 9580 and a string of silver and orange IPWX coal gondolas.

Shortly before the last train I'd heard Wes Carr (WSC) take over the KC desk and give a warrant to 9965 west.  Wes has a web site - Southwest Shorts - check it out sometime.  In less than ten minutes the gates were going down for another eastbound, BN 9571 and 9964 with ESCX and PSTX cars.  This one totaled 484 axles when they passed the Russell detector.

I moved back to Curtis Avenue to catch the next empty coming by the yard, BNSF 9965 and 9418 with CEFX hoppers.  They were still rolling by at 3:40 when I spotted the headlight of an eastbound meeting them at the crest of the hill west of the yard.  The two trains passed and I watched the eastbound, CEFX and UCEX hoppers with BNSF 9407 and BN 9481, come past at 3:45.

From warrants, detector announcements and other radio traffic I knew I had some more trains coming.  I moved to the next grade crossing to the west, the "Hy Vee" crossing next to the Lucas County Home Cemetery.  I'd heard a conversation on the radio between "Frank" and "Don" a few minutes earlier and wondered if I might see engineer Don Lipsky today.  At 4:13 he came by with BNSF 8869, 8828 and a long string of AEPX empties - probably DP when it was eastbound.  Don tried to get a picture but didn't fire soon enough - eventually you'll see one taken of yours truly from the cab.  I like this spot out west of Chariton because it's one of the few places along this line where you can see the entire train.  The head end will be about to start down Whitebreast hill when the rear comes by the grade crossing, even with a 130 car train like Don had today.

I considered trying to beat them to the bottom of the hill, but the traffic was heavy on Hwy. 34 and I got stuck behind a pickup load of firewood apparently under a 50 mph speed restriction.  I saw the rear of the AEPX cars going through Shannon about the time I got there.  I knew of one more westbound coming that I'd heard Wes give a warrant at 3:37.  I waited for this one at the bottom of the separated grades and saw the headlight at 4:35.  This was nice new set of PSTX cars, less than two months old, pulled by EMD 9043 and CSX 385.



After the PSTX train was by, I headed back up to Indianola for "Prairie Home Companion" and some supper.  On the drive, I heard Don's train hit the Osceola detector at 4:46.  Around ten 'til eight I was on the road again and driving down to Osceola for No. 5.  A coal load was coming through town just as I got there at 8:24.  BN 9561 and 9683 were leading 115 DTCX cars.  I learned later that this train stalled on Albia Hill and was to be helped by the power off a following freight, the DENGAL.

My friend Rich Fertig was here to relieve Bill Greenley who'd brought the late #6 over this morning.  The California Zephyr arrived about 9:30 with this consist:

AMTK 195, 185 and 159
Baggage 1185
Transition Sleeper 32019
Coaches 34046, 34049 and 31511
Sightseer Lounge 33019
Diner 38039
Sleepers 32056 and 32103 "Ohio"
Ten boxcars and two roadrailers
After the headend crew changed out Rich pulled the train down for the first spot.  With help from conductor "Doc" Livingston the coach passengers were taken care of and a second spot was made for the sleepers.  They were soon away, reporting their times as ":31 and :40".

About the time I was ready to depart I heard horns to the west and the sound of GE's accelerating.  At 9:46 a westbound manifest, the DENGAL, came through with BNSF 4738 and 4905.  Back in the Jeep again, I heard Rich give an "Okay..." to another train, so I hung around and caught another eastbound freight, this one with BNSF 2968, 2981 and a long block of empty autoracks.

I'd backed up and started for the exit from the north parking lot when the detector went off for Main 1.  This time it was a coal empty led by BN 9587 with a red scarf on the handrail.  I finally got onto the highway and was a few minutes north of Osceola when the Main 1 detector came on again - so many trains, so little time!

That's It!