Galesburg Excursion

Saturday, February 23



Byron came over on Friday night and stayed over so we could get an early start Saturday morning on a round trip along the BNSF to Galesburg, Illinois.  We had a pretty good-looking forecast and it was 40 degrees and clear, with a strong south breeze when we left Indianola around 6:00.  We drove pretty much straight to Ottumwa without hearing much activity on the BNSF radio.  At 7:30 the IMRL dispatcher was giving warrants to a couple of trains that had met at Blakesburg, the eastbound led by a UP unit.

About the same time we heard a detector on the BNSF east of Ottumwa, so we went straight for the BNSF/IMRL diamonds, arriving around 7:40.  The BNSF train got the green light first and came through at 7:45.  This was a DTCX coal empty with BNSF 8927 and BN 9650 on the west end.  I noticed a spot on Main 2 just east of the crossing where water and mud had been "pumping".  Looks like coal dust doesn't make very good ballast.

The IMRL train, a UP-powered intermodal, made a quick crew change and started for the diamonds at 8:00.  The stacker had UP 4241 and 9541 on the point.  The BNSF dispatcher (R.J.M. this morning) couldn't get a proper indication on his screen for the derail at the bottom of Rutledge hill, so the UP train had to stop, hand-operate the switch and be talked by the signal.  While they were stopped beside me I noticed some interesting stenciling on the big loco's truck frame.

Byron had a short conversation with the IMRL conductor before he was back aboard.  The IMRL's ownership is apparently about to change and the conductor commented to Byron, "Anytime you work for the IMRL, it's a roll of the dice."  In my tenure as an Iowa Train Watcher, this road's been MILW, SOO, CP, IMRL and now maybe ICE?

We made a quick trip through the BNSF yard where we saw the power from the local, BNSF 2960, 2836 and 2981.  It was pretty quiet otherwise, the only thing moving was a shade swaying in the wind in a broken window of the yard office.  On the radio, we heard BNSF 2910 getting a warrant to come out of the Burlington yard and head for Mt. Pleasant.  We got back on Hwy. 34 and continued eastward.

Just outside of Fairfield we heard a detector on Main 1, so we went north on a paved road (H33) that crossed over the rails and then looped back west to a wooden bridge over the mainlines at Ironwood Avenue.  Our train, a CEFX empty, arrived at 9:07 with BNSF 8869, 8828 and 6713.  Byron and I watched the train as it turned under the Hwy. 34 overpass and then drove on into Fairfield.

Just at the east edge of town we heard the same detector announce a westbound, so we went back and found the D St. grade crossing to wait on another train.  At 9:24, SF 807 and BNSF 6812 arrived and split the signals with a set of GEAX cars.

Byron and I went on down the road, intercepting 2910 as it dealt with turnout problems while trying to turn in Mt. Pleasant.  With the help of another detector, we caught a grain train at 10:40 just west of the shops in West Burlington, at Washington Road.  This had some interesting power, a set of Locomotive Leasing Partners units, 2806, 2804 and 2808.  One of the old EMD locos was "chuffing" pretty loudly, but no smoke, no problem.

We stopped at West Burlington to have another look at the dead lines south of the main shop building.  By the time we got down the hill to the depot and yard, the temperature had reached 50 degrees, but it still felt rather cool out in the wind.  BNSF 2910, returning from its run to Mt. Pleasant, came down the hill and back into the yard at 11:10.  We knew from the radio that there was a "Kemper Train" waiting on the Quincy line.  They showed up at 11:34 with BNSF 9808, 9531, 9583 and pulled a set of CEFX cars by the yard and up Burlington hill.

A local fan (Ron ?) pulled up in his van and joined us on the hill southwest of the yard.  He had lots of information to share (not atypical of foamers like us...)  Among the tidbits offered was the location of a pedestrian walkway over the mains at the west end of the shops.  We decided to be sure to check that out on our way home today.  While we listened, 2910 pulled a self-propelled tie-train out of the yard and repositioned it.

Our next stop was just southwest of Galesburg in the tiny community of Cameron.  This is the location of the flyover where the double tracks of the Santa Fe and the Burlington once crossed.  Today, this merged railroad has a large "mixmaster" junction just east of the town.  We stopped at the grade crossing in Cameron to intercept a westbound freight on the old BN route.  On the head end were BNSF 4864 and 8013.  They were by us and under the SF line at 12:26 - looks like there might have been a wide load placed just behind the power.

We got to the depot in Galesburg just before 1:00.  An eastbound freight train was just pulling out of the yard behind SF 871 and BNSF 6398.  6398 has misplaced a number board somewhere.  Byron and I hung out across the tracks from the depot under the Railroad Days billboard created by Ron Hatch and had lunch while keeping an eye on traffic.  During the Railroad Days event we would have been chased off of this spot, but there were no "Cops and Railfans" games being played this afternoon.

Other traffic in front of the depot:
1:11 - Freight from the north, BNSF 7333, 7313 and BN 7015
1:28 - Yard job switching, BNSF 6324 (not a "dash-2", Byron pointed out)
1:29 - Westbound grain, BNSF 1059, SF 654, SF 831
1:42 - Autoracks ahead of NOKL coal gons, BNSF 9478, 9495, 8881, 9564 and 9689

A little over an hour and a half down, the eastbound California Zephyr came in at 2:08 with AMTK 199 in the lead.  (Sorry, no consist this time.)  Byron and I watched the stop from the south side and then went over to the depot for a pit stop and to wait for the Chief, also running a bit late today.

A group of men who'd gotten off the passenger train were posing for a picture at the west end of the depot and discussing who would be going over to the hobby shop across the street.  I surmised that some railfans were out for a ride on the Zephyr today.  I'd just stepped through the door when I spotted one of Iowa's most notorious railfans and passenger train advocates, Lance Erickson.

I raised a hand to quiet Byron who was behind and talking to me, and tried to move as quietly as possible to the restroom door.  Lance was holding forth (naturally) and hadn't seen me as we came through the doors.  I had the Men's Room door open a few degrees when I heard "Well, Dick Tinder!"  I turned to look, pretending not to know who it was and said, "Hi Lance".

L:  "What are you doing over in this state?"
D:  "Just taking train pictures..."
L:  "Good, this is a state that supports passenger trains!"
D:  "I'm glad to hear that, Lance.  S'cuse me for a minute."

When I came back out, Lance was talking to three persons, two of whom were apparently with him, part of a group of fans that were riding over and back on the Zephyr Saturday.  The third person was an older woman who was waiting for train and apparently riding all the way to the west coast, then to China where she would ride also.  She started to ask me about taking pictures of trains, but Lance interrupted.

L:  "This man is a pro-fession-al train photographer!  Very well known in Iowa"
Woman:  "Oh, you do this all the time?"
D:  "No, it's just a hobby.  Actually, I've never sold a picture in my life."
L:  "Oh, is THAT what defines 'PROFESSIONAL'?" (wiggling his fingers in the air like quotation marks)?
D:  "Generally, yes."
D:  (to woman)  "You're going to China and will ride trains there?  I was in China in '93 and did a little train-riding too."
Woman: (drawing a breath and opening her mouth - but interrupted)
L:  "I just got back from riding to New York, and I went to 'Milepost Zero'.  They call it, 'Ground Zero', but it's really Milepost Zero because there was a depot there first and they  -tore-  -that-  -down-  to build the trade centers!  In fact there's a part of train still there under the rubble...", etc. etc.

Having been in "conversation" with Lance before, I thought it best to just convey my sympathies to the woman and excuse myself to go take pictures.  Back on the platform, the first traffic was a westbound light power move of BNSF 4398 and 4602.  Next up, at 2:30, was a westbound freight with interesting power, NS 8346, BNSF 1531, and two CN covered wagons, 5457 and 5551.  I'd earlier noticed a new piece of sculpture east of the depot and went over to check it out.  The stela was dedicated to railroaders who've died in the line of duty.

Lance and two others from the group who'd arrived on the Zephyr came outside to the platform. Knowing that the Chief's arrival would soon provide an exit, I went over to Lance and gave him an opener:

D:  "Did you see Dana this morning in Osceola?"
L:  "No I didn't.  Was he there?"
D:  "That's what I heard - not riding the train, just to railfan, I guess."
L:  "Oh, he NEVER rides Amtrak.  It's a policy he's stated to me many times.  He only rides when it's free.  Did you know he got a cab ride?  He's got lots of pictures - brought them to the Ames railfan meet."
L:  (to this other guy with him)  "Dick's a huge Rock Island fan."
OG:  "When you're cut do you bleed lots of different colors?"
D:  "That's a good one."
OG:  "Do you know about Christine?"
D:  "I have some slides of it."  (a profoundly ugly repowered Alco passenger engine)
OG: "Do you know how she got her name?"
D:  "I don't recall, but I'll bet you can tell me..."
OG:  "Christine Jorgensen, the sex change operation..."
D:  "Oh, yeah.  Sorry, here's the Chief, gotta run now."

The eastbound Southwest Chief arrived at 2:54 (scheduled time 12:29).  In addition to the above group of fans, another gentleman was video taping this afternoon.  In No. 4 today:

AMTK 157, 182 (the "Gov. Tommy B. Thompson"), 51 and 86
Baggage 1160
Transition Sleeper 39021
Sleepers 32031 and 32021
Diner 38043
Sightseer Lounge 33005
Coaches 31525 and 34086
One box, Material 1555, nine more boxes and a heap of roadrailers
The passenger train didn't linger and was on its way again just before 3:00.

Byron and I headed out to the Thirlwell Road overpass, crossing the large BNSF yard and engine service facility southwest of town.  We got a few pictures from the bridge, but it was so windy that it was hard to keep one's camera lined up on anything.  Byron wanted the number off of a certain MAC and couldn't quite read it through the viewfinder with his telephoto.  My digital's got an automagic anti-shake thing built in, so if your subject is stationary, you're all set.  We read the number off the camera's LCD display once we were back in the Jeep.

Byron's gone through the pages of Virtual Train Watching in Iowa and cataloged all the BN, BNSF and EMD (Oakway) locos in the 8800's, 8900's, 9000's, 9200's, 9400's, ... , 9900's referenced on my web site.  The total at this date is around 760 engines.  I also have a list his mom made of Rock Island power that we spotted as we traveled back in the 1960's and 70's.

By 3:30 we were on our way back toward home.  We stopped for a while in Cameron and waited for a detector or something to tip us off that a train was coming, but our impatience got the better of us and we eventually left without taking a shot.  We managed to just miss a couple on the way over to Burlington, but did catch a westbound at the top of the hill at 4:30.  This was a DP DEEX/CEFX load with 8960 in the lead.  They were on the brakes pretty hard to make the speed limit as they passed me.  8950 brought up the rear as the train snaked slowly away from me on the curves of Burlington Hill.

In West Burlington we checked out the pedestrian bridge that Ron had described.  It's accessible from the parking lot of a Catholic Church (which was in use, since this was a Saturday night), a short walk from the back of the lot.  From the bridge I got a few shots of the locos behind the shop and several others parked south of the building, including SF 117, BN 9481 and BNSF 8255.  I also got a different angle on the GE dead line.  This bridge would be a pretty good spot to get shots of mainline traffic, too - provided you don't end up getting chased off the property, of course.  (The snout of the Olympus 2100 fits chain link nicely.)

Byron and I stopped in Mt. Pleasant for supper and contacted an Amtrak fan acquaintance of mine named John Elliott.  He and a friend met us at the station for a short visit and we had one train come through while we were stopped, a CEFX empty behind BNSF 9732 and BN 9509, at 6:04.  Obviously determined to get to Creston ahead of Amtrak No. 5, we later heard them clearing up at Maxon at 7:26.

It was basically straight home after Mt. Pleasant.  The IMRL had a cluster hit the yard just as we went through Ottumwa.  A BN coal train with 9239 in the lead was just pulling in, an eastbound KCS-powered freight was waiting west of Airline Road to come in, and IMRL 212 was just arriving up at Rutledge and ready to come down the hill.  We cruised along and listened to the traffic on the radio - Amtrak hit Maxon at 8:44 and reported a five-minute delay.  We thought we might be closing on 9732 for a while, but we heard them on the Osceola detector (identifying the train by the axle count) just after we turned north from Lucas toward Indianola.

That's It!