Chariton and Albia

Saturday, February 23


I managed to get a day "off" from shoveling snow and other duties around the house this weekend.  The forecast looked pretty good, so I took off for the BNSF mains at 6:20 A.M. on Saturday.  The Jeep thermometer registered 6 above under a nice, clear sky.  There was light fog as I drove south through Melcher and past Williamson.  No activity on the UP "Spine", though I heard one getting a warrant at Des Moines to come from Beech to Williamson.

On the BNSF, westbounds were getting warrants from the ICE crossing to go to MP 334 (Chariton).  The new "Creston" dispatching desk starts at the ICE and goes west to Creston, the changeover point having been moved from the CTC at Albia to Ottumwa.  I miss KRS, but his influence was evident this morning as Creston dispatcher TLH came on the radio, discussing crews dying on the law, to say, "...well I suppose that's MY fault.", and, "We'd better wait and see what HE wants to do."

It was much foggier in Chariton than out in the country.  I got this shot of the Chariton helpers, BNSF 6209 and 9959, around 7:15.  Assigning helpers to Chariton is another relatively new change in operations on the BNSF.  At 7:40 I got my first "catch", a BNSF coal load led by BNSF 5830 and 9660.  Trailing in DP was BNSF 8944.  This train registered 534 axles on the Russell detector.  These pictures, as well as several trains to follow, were shot at the Auburn St. grade crossing, just east of what was once the Chariton passenger depot.

Another load came up Whitebreast less than 10 minutes behind, WPSX hoppers with BNSF 5861 and 5974 on the point and BNSF 5608 bringing up the rear.  This day was off to a good start, and within 10 minutes I had another eastbound.  Surprisingly, it wasn't another coal load, but a unit train of empty autorack cars.  On the point were BNSF 7677 and 5240.  Just 260 axles on the detector, which also reported the temperature now at 1 degree.

While these trains were passing, a track rider and some other personnel were trying to get the Chariton crossover switches working.  Around 8:30 they took a break and the track rider set off so that westbounds, now waiting east of town, could proceed.  First up, however, was another eastbound, the Amtrak California Zephyr, at 9:25 with AMTK 99 and 164 leading.  Just 44 axles in the passenger train consist.

In fairly quick succession, we now had two empties.  I took up a position in a bank parking lot on top of one of Iowa's ubiquitous snow piles and, at 9:36, got a PNJX tub train with BNSF 9972, 8895 and 9676.  I note that the older MACs are now being tagged with the BNSF "swoosh" when they are renumbered from BN.   Close behind was a set of CEFX and NCUX tub gons with freshly painted BNSF 9133, BNSF 9463 (no swoosh) leading and BNSF 9354 behind.  The detector reported the equivalent of 135 cars on this one.  Just 10:00, and six in the bag - a good morning!

There was nothing else in the vicinity as far as I could tell from the radio, so I decided to head over to Albia.  I had learned that there were a couple of loads just leaving Creston, and that the DENGAL was called for 13:15.  I got to "Old Maxon" around 11:00, and found that someone had knocked down the crossbuck.  In the south passing track, there appeared to be a complete eastbound freight train, with power on the east end, BNSF 9595 (no swoosh) and BNSF 5619.  There appeared to be a huge collection of diesel fuel tank cars, stuffed in every available spot at Maxon.

With nothing on the mains, I went into town and found the Albia helpers, BNSF 9806 and 9709 (swoosh!) idling in front of the yard office.  I also checked out the Appenoose County yard, where there were a couple of empty 16-wheel flatcars.  The Relco plant had nothing sitting out near the road, but had a very long line of used UP locos waiting refurbishment north of the plant.

Eventually, I heard an eastbound clearing up at Halpin, and headed back out toward Maxon.  At 11:35, I caught one coming up the hill.  Led by BNSF 8965 and 9509 (no swoosh), this 538 axle PSTX train had BNSF 9880 shoving on the rear.  That last telephoto image shows the final crest (not the steepest part of the climb, however) of Albia hill well.

It was more than an hour, pretty close to 1:00, before another train arrived at Maxon.  This was a short (116 car) CEFX load with two units in the lead, BNSF 8885 and BNSF 9877.  By now, the detector east of Maxon was reporting "...temperature, thir, tee, two degrees".

For most of the rest of my stay at Maxon, the only activity was the "helper" crew shoving long strings of oil tanks around.  I understood from the radio that they would eventually be assembling a train, connected with the cars and engines already in the south passing track.

I found time to complete the Saturday NYT crossword and to get in a little nap as well.  No trains, but I could tell from the radio that the DENGAL was very slowly making its way toward me.  Around 2:30 I gave up and decided to try to intercept it.  I drove first to Melrose, listened for a while and decided to move on west to Russell, using the gravel roads.  By now the roads had pretty well thawed, so I did the four-wheel drive thing and got the Jeep pretty well coated with mud.

I waited in Russell for a time, still no sign of the DENGAL.  I decided to move toward Chariton, but stay by the rails.  Just west of Russell, a farmer came out with a battery-powered radio control plane and put on a little show while I watched and took pictures.  We had a nice visit and I learned that he'd just gotten the skis that were the plane's landing gear.  He took off and landed several times, showing great skill in controlling the airplane.

As I was pulling away from the air show, I heard the DENGAL stopping just east of Chariton because they'd been spotted dragging a chain from a car near the end of their train.  A track rider volunteered to walk up from the rear to the problem, around 20 cars in a 7500' train.  I drove over to the head end, stopped at "455 Road", at about 3:34.  On the point were BNSF 1019, which looked like it might have gotten a little warm at some time, and BNSF 5681.  As I drove north toward home, I could hear westbound crews stopping to await their relief at Halpin.

That's It!