Along the BNSF
March 7, 1998

On the first Saturday of Simpson's spring break, Jan and I were going to travel to Smithshire, Illinois to meet my youngest son's future in-laws. We'd decided to leave early and do some train-watching along the way, of course.

Our first stop, just at 8:00, was at the north end of the recently-lengthened siding on the UP Spine Line at Williamson. A southbound grain train with CNW 6862, SP 7763 and CST 7718 was just ready to pass the north siding signal and hold the main for a meet with a northbound. The SP unit on the grain train was marked "Pine Bluff". Before long, the northbound manifest came by us with CNW 8657 and UP 9445 on the head end. The dispatcher had to talk them by the signal at the north end of the siding. When I looked at these pictures later, I noticed that the camera flash had picked up some of the light rain that was coming down at the time.

We drove down to Chariton and then turned east onto Highway 34, which we would follow almost all the way to Smithshire. Shortly, we heard a westbound get a warrant at Maxon, and thought that we might be able to catch it at Halpin. We got to the signals at the west end of the CTC just in time. At 8:50, BN 5121 and 5045 brought a string of empty BNSF hoppers by us - some with brown ends and some with green.

We checked out the yard area in Albia and found three units there - SF 2554, SF 2113 and BN 2317. We would see these units again, much later in the day, working train 446.

In Ottumwa, a couple of BN SD-70 MACs were in the process of tripling a coal load of MARX cars up the hill to Rutledge from the IMRL yard. We managed to be on the wrong side of the river from them twice and finally gave up and drove on to the east. We saw a westbound empty at 11:00 near Lockridge.

We'd been running ahead of No. 6 on our way across the state, with the train gradually closing the gap behind us. We decided to stop in Mount Pleasant and see today's eastbound California Zephyr. They arrived at 11:39, with AMTK 35, 63 and 71, and the following cars:

Material cars 1400 and 1559
Baggage 1268 - stenciled in one corner with a blue swordfish and "Hialeah, Fla"
Translation Sleeper 39046
Sleeping Car 32083 - "Iowa"
Sleeping Car 32066
Dining Car 38020
Sightseer Lounge 33012
Coach 31538 - "Smoking"
Coach 34024
Coach 34036
Coach 34016
Material 1466
Boxcar 70015
Express 1710
The front of the lead unit had a pretty good coat of ice on it, even though we were just experiencing a little light rain now and then. They were away at 11:43.

We continued eastward toward our 1:30 rendezvous with my son in Smithshire. We stopped to get a picture of another empty just outside of New London at 11:58, BN 9589 and 9566 pulling JE hoppers. In Burlington, we got some sandwiches and had lunch down by the depot. At 1:00, an eastbound local arrived and pulled into the yard with two cars, behind SF 2801.

We arrived in Smithshire almost exactly on time, and found the gates down on the old Santa Fe mains. However, there were no trains in sight. Our hosts' home was just a couple of miles north of the tracks, and while we visited, I could hear intermodals racing back and forth through the tiny farm community. (Torture!) We eventually were back on the road and headed home, but it was already starting to get dark.

Back on Highway 34 in Iowa again, we started intercepting BNSF traffic. I got ahead of a westbound (447, I think) as we left Burlington and stopped to take a picture at 5:17 just east of Danville. This train had 8 cars and was pulled by BN 2303 and SF 2103. A few minutes later, on the other sided of Danville, we intercepted a matched set of "pumpkins", BNSF 1058 and 1059, with a manifest.

The rest of the evening's train-watching was in the dark, so I didn't get any more pictures. Here are some of the trains we saw on the way home:

5:45 - East of Mt Pleasant, EB Coal load, two green ones and an Oakway.
7:14 - IMRL yard in Ottumwa, EB BN 9650 and 9703, ECXX coal loads
Same - EB IMRL 200, RL 8918, MRL 7547 (ex SP), NREX 2026 (ex IC), grain train
7:45 - Maxon, BN 2317, SF 2113, SF 2554, switching syrup tanks
Same - EB LMX 8567, BN 2122 switching (train 492)
8:22 - Maxon, WB Zephyr (No. 5) with AMTK 10 and two other GEnesis units takes the south hill.
8:47 - Halpin, EB BN 6828, SF 7425, manifest.

Bonus Section:

Rev. Robert Drenton of Sioux Center, Iowa sent me a few prints from train-watching in his corner of the state. Here they are:

SD-90 MACs in the Sioux City yard on a taconite train - December '97.
BNSF 9855 in Heritage II paint on a grain train near Hull.
SF 8133 "Kodachrome" at LeMars - December, '97.
BNSF 791 and 790 in primer near Sioux Center - November, '97.
That's It!