Indianola had received about an inch of snow overnight, and the roads varied between sloppy and icy as Jan and I drove east on Highway 92. We ducked under the UP "Spine Line" at Beech and then turned south toward Melcher and Chariton. On the radio, we began picking up on a discussion of reversing Amtrak today, since a couple of coal trains were having trouble making it up the hills at Albia and at Chariton.
We neither saw nor heard any trains on the UP, but as we were entering Chariton, we could see a coal load just leaving the east end of the city. We took off paralleling the train on Highway 34, and decided we probably had enough of a lead to beat him to Russell. We got parked by the tracks just in time. At 9:00, BN 5051, 5122 and 5579 came by with a mixed collection of coal gons.
We drove back north to the highway and then went on east toward Albia. On the way, we learned that a load had stalled on the hill at Albia and that the power from the train we'd just seen would have to push them on up the hill. However, by this time, both east and westbound traffic would be waiting until Amtrak No. 6 was back on the eastbound main at Maxon.
By the time we made it out to Maxon, the stalled load had been shoved up the hill and the head end was east out of our sight - I believe the lead unit was BN 9496. We drove over to the old depot area to await the California Zephyr. We found some power idling there, BN 2979 and 2872, and a caboose, BN 12523, nearby.
The Zephyr came up the "north way" and took a flashing yellow over red signal at 10:23 - pretty close to on time today. In the lead were GEnesis units 10, 98 and 82. Trailing the power were two baggage cars, nine bilevels and two more material/express cars on the rear.
After Amtrak was by us, I took the time to get a couple of pictures of an old coal loading dock just north of the Albia yard area. This structure had a hinged, counter-weighted ramp that could be lowered onto the side of a hopper car. At the base of the structure were two large pulleys, perhaps for pulling railroad cars under the dock.
At this point in the morning, traffic really started moving through Albia. The first train was a westbound coal empty that had been waiting at Maxon for Amtrak to get back on the eastbound. They got a warrant and came past us at west end of the Albia yard at 10:37. On the point were BN 9674 and 9595, with IOPX hoppers trailing.
We drove to old Maxon where we encountered the next westbound at 10:44, another coal empty with BN 7833 and 5072, and JE hoppers.
After that train, the 5051 caught up to us again. They arrived at old Maxon at 10:48. They were barely out of sight when another westbound load appeared. On the head end were BNSF 9770 and BN 9456. The cars were brand new (2-98) JAIX hoppers.
Throughout the morning, we'd been hearing about a grain train coming south out of Des Moines, the 6805 East. This train had run into trouble with the hill at Knoxville (the mixture of rain, snow and ice had caused problems for several trains this morning), but was now getting close to Albia. After some discussion with the dispatcher, it was decided that they would wait on two more eastbounds that were already on the way up the hill between Halpin and Maxon.
The first train to arrive was a manifest pulled by SF 5181 and 5048. They passed our observation point at old Maxon at 11:08. At 11:26, the next eastbound came up the hill behind them with BN 9496 and 9452 in charge of DEEX, BN, GCCX, and other stray coal loads. The 9496 appeared to have had a recent pilot repair, or perhaps just an encounter with a truckload of white paint.
By this time, the Des Moines grain train was pulling down on track 1, ready to cross over onto the eastbound main. They had SF 6372, SF 2376, BN 6805 and BN 1883, and about 50 ADM covered hoppers.
We decided that we needed to get moving toward Ottumwa, where I was supposed to meet Harry Grossman, but we stayed for one more train, another coal empty. It got to old Maxon at 11:47 with BN 9599 and 9554. This train had empty BN tub gons.
When we arrived in Ottumwa, we took a quick look in the IMRL yard, spotting NREX 2029 (black ex-IC) and IMRL 368. We didn't hang around, but went right over to the Quincy Mall, since it was time to meet Harry.
The mall was packed with people and model trains. The Quincy Society of Model Engineers was there with a small modular HO layout and a beautiful model of the turning span bridge at Hannibal, MO.
The large HO modular layout of the Great River Railway Club was set up in the center of the mall. This club, from Burlington, IA, includes some real-life railroaders, like BNSF dispatcher "KRS", Keven Schelen. This layout was a big hit with adults and kids at the show.
Elsewhere in the Quincy mall were plenty of vendors with tempting bargains, as well as other operating layouts for the kids to enjoy. I found an undecorated P2K E7 that I just couldn't pass up at Country Depot's "Last Show".
After breaking up this conversation between Kevin and Harry, Harry and I traded information that I needed for the Galesburg Railroad Days 1998 web site, and Jan and I were on our way to do some more (prototype) train watching.
Back in the IMRL yard, several trains were waiting to get moving, and the dispatcher was not happy with the delays. The BN coal load with 5051 on it had pulled into the yard before we arrived in Ottumwa, and was still (2:30 pm) not on its way. Two manifests had also arrived, one eastbound and one westbound. The eastbound (train 112) was stuck because the rear end of the westbound fouled a switch at the east end of the yard, preventing some power from being added.
This eastbound train had a passenger car, CP Rail 65, tucked in right behind the power. The westbound was awaiting a warrant, and finally got underway at 2:55 with IMRL 355 and 204. While we waited for this train to pull west, a railfan who was taking videos and stills of trains in the area came over and introduced himself. This gentleman, Ron Hirsch, turned out to be a BNSF employee at the engine shop in West Burlington, and was in Ottumwa with the Great River Railway Club outfit.
Back in the IMRL yard, 112's train got a new lead unit and finally made a run for the hill at 3:17. On the point were IMRL 370, MRL 365, IMRL 309, NREX 2029 and IMRL 606. After they departed, IMRL 378 and MRL 360 were added to the head end of the BN coal train units.
It was getting late in the afternoon, and we decided not to wait for the coal train to double up the hill to Rutledge, so we got back onto 34 and headed west. We saw one more train from the highway on the way home, a coal load just at the east end of Chariton at 4:30, with BN 9480 and a second MAC we didn't identify on the point.