Fort Madison and Quincy

March 13 and 14


Wednesday, March 13

I got out of Indianola at 6:45 a.m. and headed south on Hwy. 65 for the BNSF mainlines.  The weather report looked pretty good, particularly to the southeast.  My plan was to follow the line over to Burlington and then to go down to Fort Madison, where I had a reservation at the Kingsley Inn.  The Kingsley's an old downtown hotel that's been converted into a very ornate B&B.  The main attraction for yours truly was its location just west of the Mississippi River bridge and right beside both the "K" line and the old Santa Fe mains.  My room was in a third floor corner with a side window view of the bridge.

Almost as soon as I left town I started picking up radio transmissions between a train and "Fort Worth Mechanical".  Apparently there was a distributed power coal load somewhere nearby that had lost control communication between the head (8869) and rear (9825) units, resulting in the shut down of the rear unit.  A following load (9626) had cut off its power and come up "tight against" the dead loco.  A third (9515) load waited clear of MP 354.  The second crew had gotten the unit restarted and efforts were underway to reestablish telemetry.  However, in spite of instructions from Fort Worth, there'd not yet been any success by the time I reached the Hwy. 34 bridge over the rails at Lucas.

(In what follows I have in some cases paraphrased the on-air remarks.)

On top of the communication problem, the crew was also finding that the rear unit would not load when the throttle was opened.  I wasn't yet sure where they were, but I turned east at Lucas and kept listening to the radio.  As the Fort Worth expert stepped them through the DP communications procedure one more time, I heard a concerned voice say, "...the brake pipe's bleeding down!"  The reply was that a "penalty" brake application was normal during the process.  "Well we're on a pretty bad hill here...", brought an answer from Fort Worth that they probably shouldn't try to "unlink" the locomotives on a hill.  I now knew that the train had stopped on Whitebreast Hill.

Just in case you're not familiar with the basics of train brakes, the short story is that in order to apply the brakes, you must lower the pressure in the train line.  Obviously, if it's zero, it can't be lowered.  Further, raising the pressure will release the brakes.  If it's zero, you can only raise it!  Interesting problem when you're parked on a hill, huh?

I turned back north at the airport, parked the Jeep east of the overpass, took my scanner and camera and climbed down into the cut where Main 2 comes up the hill.  It was just after 7:30.  8869 wasn't in sight, but it wasn't far away.  When it was quiet on the overpass, I could hear the unit idling down around the corner west of me.  After determining that trying to unlink and relink on the hill wasn't a good plan, the crews started working on isolating the rear units as conventional power and using them as helpers to take the train up to where the communications problem could be worked on safely.  There was a lot of conversation, including remarks like, "I don't feel comfortable sitting here with all the air bled off and no emergency brake.", and, "If this thing starts down the hill with no air, I'm out of here!".

Checks were made that the rear units would "load" before the train line angle cock between 9825 and 9626 was to be opened.  The crewman opening the angle cock did so from the walkway so that he didn't have to stand between the units, just in case they moved.  When all was in readiness, the word was passed from the head end, "I got no Freddy, so when you see the air start to come up back there, put those babies in channel 8!"  At 7:57 the rear crew reported, "Brake pipe's coming up...  We got 16 pounds... She's loading, three working... Forty pounds... We're moving your way at about a half mile an hour!"

8869 nosed around the corner at 8:00 and came slowly by me.  In about eight minutes the AEPX load had passed and the three rear locos showed up, BNSF 9825, the failed DP unit, followed by the power off the following train, BN 9626 and 9530.  Before I continued on east, I stopped at the "HyVee" crossing where the train had stopped so that they could continue their attempts to relink the DP system.

By this time Kansas City desk dispatcher J.A.W., not the world's most patient man, was again quizzing the crew on 8869 about their situation, "But what is the likelihood that you're actually gonna get it going??"  Before long, they'd been given a new warrant so that they could get their train between the crossovers at Russell and Chariton, and a "dogcatch" crew had been started their way from Galesburg.  The plan was to bring the following loads around 8896, but so much time had been spent on this project that Amtrak #6 was now in the picture, and would have to be routed on Main 1 around all of them first.

I drove on toward Albia while continuing to listen to the Ft. Worth end of the conversations.  They were still trying to reestablish the DP communications all the way over, but it sounded like they may have gotten things moving again around 9:15.  At Albia, JAW told a westbound to, "Put your feet up, it'll be at least 12:30."  I dropped south on the gravel to catch them parked at Halpin, OGSX cars with 9984 and 9751.

Y'know, this DP thing with all its intricate menus and byzantine procedures reminds me of Microsoft products.  A Ph.D. colleague here in the computer science department decided to install XP Pro on one of his office machines the other day, and after three days, with help from a couple of experienced people from I.S., he gave up!   Fortunately he's on sabbatical this semester and productivity's not much of an issue.  Is MS involved in programming these locos?

As I was leaving Albia I heard another westbound (9454) told that he was "second out" at Halpin.  Before I was out of radio range there were two in the CTC between Maxon and Halpin and two more waiting east of Maxon.  Counting the three loads over at Chariton, that was seven trains.  It got worse before getting better.  By mid afternoon I heard the Ottumwa sub. dispatcher say to someone, "...they all died at Chariton.  By the time they turn them loose there'll be 10 or 12 back-to-back."  A BNSF engineer commented to me a couple of days later that this one train falling down on Whitebreast had turned into a "...real horror show...", and "We just love DP."

 But I digress...  My next stop was Ottumwa, where I found lots of KCS units in the IMRL yard.  A set of three, 743, 683 and 652, was at the west end of the yard and two more were just about to head up Rutledge hill with a grain emtpy when I got there.  I also saw a DEEX coal empty (9869) going through on the BNSF as I was crossing the Des Moines river into town.  A few BNSF people were at work at the IMRL/BNSF interchange when I stopped at the diamonds.  At 9:52, KCS 699 and 729 came across the BNSF and started up the hill.  The KCS units have horns that sound a lot like Amtrak engines.  This train was to drop off one of its units at the top of Rutledge hill before continuing on to the east.

There were three green things in the Ottumwa Yard, BNSF 1537, 1418 and 1537.  Around 10:00, dispatcher K.R.S. was calling several westbounds to see what they were clear of, and the detector at MP 271 was going off at the same time.  I heard him talk to 9561, 9423 and 9621.  The detector had announced a 536 axle train, so I went to Iowa Avenue to wait for one.  This train, at 10:13, was a set of AEPX/OVEX cars with four units, 9893, 8824, 8821 and 9586.  K.R.S. informed them that they would be "...holding at Maxon."  I tried to catch the next one on Agency Hill, but arrived at the rail fan parking spot just as they came by at 10:22 with the dynamics roaring.  On the point were 9561, 9406 and 9555.  They had a block of auto racks leading their empty COMX coal cars.

I was successful at intercepting the next two.  I caught "patched" 9423 at the Old Agency Road overpass at 10:32, but it was a close one - just hit the four-way flashers and bailed out in the middle of the bridge.  Their second unit was repainted 9479 and they had GEAX tub gondolas.  I got the next one at a county road crossing west of Batavia, MP 267.9, at 10:47.  Extra-grimey BN 9621 was in the lead, followed by 9696 and a mixed set of WFAX hoppers.

As I neared Burlington I heard K.R.S. give a warrant to the GALLIN, engine 5449, at 11:49.  I got some lunch and headed for South Street, at the east end of the yard where the "K" line connects and the mains turn onto the Mississippi bridge.  I decided to hang out there and wait until No. 6 caught up to me before heading on down the river to Fort Madison.

At 12:50 the GALLIN swung off the bridge and under the signals at South St.  On the point were BNSF 5449, 5279, 4727 and 2221.  It was about 20 minutes before I could hear the Zephyr coming down Burlington Hill.  They made a very brief one-spot at the depot and rolled again about 1:25.  In the eastbound California Zephyr today:

AMTK 135, 84 and 191
Baggage 1204
Sleeper 32060
Coaches 34016, 34026 and 34047
Sightseer Lounge 33006
Diner 38022
Sleepers 32027 and 32029
Three boxcars and six Roadrailers
After seeing No. 6 out of the depot and onto the bridge, I headed across the river and into Illinois.  The temperature had climbed to 62 degrees and we were under a very light overcast this afternoon.  As I headed down Carman Road toward the SF mains, I heard the detector at MP 199.8 count "seven one" axles on the Zephyr.  Huh?  As I recall this one's been wrong before.  I count at least 74, and the Roadrailers often have an extra leading bogie one or two units from the rear, which would make 76.

Carman Road takes one directly to Lomax and from there south you're right beside the Santa Fe mains.  I met one eastbound stacker on my way down to Niota where the tracks turn onto the SF Mississippi bridge.  Niota's a great spot to watch trains, with plenty of intermodal and manifest traffic.  The curve leading onto the bridge has a nice rail fan parking area.  You're at milepost 231 and there are detectors within scanner range in both directions, MP 226 to the east and MP 241 over on the Iowa side.  In addition, all trains call the bridge operator as they approach, so there's no excuse to miss anything that approaches.

My first train at Niota arrived at 2:08.  This was an eastbound manifest behind badly faded BNSF 4490, NS 9018 and 9323, and BNSF 8231.  During the short break before the next train, I called Amtrak to see if the Southwest Chief might be running late today.  No luck, they were close to on time this morning.  Next up, at 2:16, was a westbound piggybacker with BNSF 5271, 9288, 4636 and 8281.

At 2:30 things really got interesting, with trains coming from both directions at once.  As an eastbound "bare table" crossed the bridge, a stacker approached from the east.  The stack train came around the curve first (Good - since Main 1's the far track here!) with peeling ATSF 572, BNSF 8636 and 8616.  In just a minute, the eastbound came around the corner beside the well cars with BN 9218.

I wanted to go down to Keokuk and return before checking into the Kingsley, so I started across the bridge beside the stack train.  Motorists climb a steep grade coming onto the bridge and then make a little jog so that they are driving above the railroad.  There's no toll to go into Iowa, only to leave.  On the other side of the bridge, the roadway again jogs to one side and then drops back down to ground level.

I made a quick stop at the old SF depot at 2:50 and went up on the pedestrian walkway to catch an eastbound pig train.   When I first reached the top of the stairs, I had to step over a very young couple lying on the walk doing some pretty serious making out.  My picture-taking presence and the nice loud train talk from the scanner soon sent them elsewhere.  The piggybacker had  ATSF 543, EMD 808 and BNSF 114.  I stayed up on the walkway long enough to watch them cross the bridge and head into Niota.

I next drove on through Ft. Madison and headed south to Keokuk, keeping as close to the river as I could and arriving at the Keokuk Junction Railway office about 3:45.  Across the yard, near the old CB&Q depot, I found a bright orange switcher, KJRY 405.  I continued west on the river side of the yard on what appeared to be a public road.  At the next grade crossing, I saw some ex-BN GP-20's lettered for PREX and an ex-CNW loco doing some switching.  Pioneer Rail had a couple of other locos stored on their turntable, and a heavyweight observation car, KJRY 1, parked just to the west.  Note the interesting spelling of "Keokuck".

I rolled on to the west and found myself confronted with a guard who informed me that I was on private property and who said, "...someone should have stopped you at the other gate", and "There won't be any pictures taken in here!"  Well, I'm sorry, but there wasn't any "other gate", sir, I drove in here from a public park on the river side.  That news didn't seem to register - a "failure to 'commun-cate'", I guess.  I was expecting to have to turn around at this gate, but I was informed that I should continue through it so that I'd be back on a public road.  Whatever!

I started back north toward Ft. Madison.  At 4:04 I heard the Kansas City dispatcher give 9717 a warrant from MP 194 to "restricted limits Burlington".  A quick check of some mileposts along the river drive revealed that I was well behind this northbound (east for warrants) train.  They were already going through Ft. Madison.

When I got back to town I checked into the Kingsley and found that my Master Card wasn't functioning.  I used a debit card for my checking account instead and after moving some stuff into the room I went out to get a sandwich and explore.  I tried the card again at a gas station - no good.  I began to wonder if there was any connection between this and a telemarketing "survey" call I'd gotten the other day asking to speak to Jan Tinder.  I'd informed them that she was deceased and they'd (very politely) asked for the date of her death.  After I got home, I called MBNA and learned that that call had indeed shut down the account.  For two years I've used my card (generously!), the bills on the account have continued to come to Jan and I've just paid them.  I figured they didn't care if they billed Fred Flintstone as long as someone promptly sent them a check.  Wrong - they don't like billing dead people!  I guess their telemarketers can "survey" me next time.

I checked on the Southwest Chief, it wasn't expected until after 8:30 this evening.  I decided to just camp out at the AmShack/Yardoffice and see what appeared.  A local that I'd heard working west of the yard earlier was just returning and heading for the office when I arrived.  They'd been using BNSF 2538 and caboose ATSF 999772, which were now parked beyond the levee behind the office.  Nothing came through while there was still any light available (of course), but I got some shots of the yard office and this interesting rendering of the bridge.

At 6:23 a westbound piggyback train came in for a crew change.  On the point were BNSF 4623, 4992 and ATSF 626.  They had a high green on the signal at the far end of the yard and rolled again in just four minutes.  These last few shots were without flash at shutter speeds of 1/3 and 1/2 second, handheld, using the camera's automagic image stabilization as well as computer-chosen focus, ISO, aperture, etc.  Point and Shoot, in other words.

Eastbound stack trains came through without stopping at 6:45 and 7:00.  The first had 4491 with 4566 and the second ATSF 130, BNSF 5318 and 4863.  At 7:35 there was another westbound with at crew change.  This one had BNSF 4870, ATSF 906 and 618, and took off again at 7:40.  There seemed to be a pretty steady parade of vans in and out while I was there.  The Amtrak people arrived well ahead of their train and the conductor helped passengers who were waiting, getting them hat checks, but no longer checking baggage since Amtrak's recent service cutbacks.

The westbound Southwest Chief arrived at 8:41.  Freight traffic continued on the mainlines while No. 3 made its stop.  In the train tonight:

AMTK 142, 124, 198 and 45
Baggage 1257
Transition Sleeper 39036
Sleepers 32110 (Tennessee) and 32118 (Wyoming)
Diner 38005
Sightseer Lounge 33040
Coaches 31537, 34133, and 34057
Two ExpressTrak cars, 6 boxcars and 9 Roadrailers
The Chief has retained the Transition Sleeper and Smoking Coach.  I've noticed these missing from the Zephyr lately, with a regular sleeping car replacing the special-purpose crew car and smoking stops provided instead of the coach with smokers' lounge.

I stuck around after the passenger train left for a couple of more trains.  At 8:47 an eastbound stacker stopped for a crew change.  On the point, ATSF 882, 660 and BNSF 8710.  Before they were clear of the station, a westbound high-balled the station with a unit train of articulated auto racks.  With the exception of one KCS set, the entire train was BNSF cars.  Power for the auto train was BNSF 4710, 4470 and 5340.

I left for the Kingsley at about 9:00, giving up my parking spot near the depot to a pickup with the Illinois plate "Run 8".  Back in the room I downloaded pictures and charged the camera batteries.  There was plenty of traffic to listen to and occasionally check on out the window on the SF mains, and just after ten I saw the M-DMOWQM going south on the "K" line.


Thursday, March 14

Just before 6:00 there were two trains outside my window, a stacker westbound on the SF line and a WFAX coal load with BNSF 9721 and 9442 on the Keokuk rail.  By 6:30, J.A.W. was on the radio discussing warrants with the coal train.  I could hear only the dispatcher's side of the conversation: "She gave you just to 156?...Was there something else out there that you know about?...Could you determine if there was any activity in her head at all?"  This man reminds me of a high school buddy who paraphrased a well-known proverb attributed to Ben Franklin, "Surly to bed, surly to rise."

My quarters at the Kingsley were known as the "Potowonok" room.  A side window from this third floor room offered a great view of the two BNSF lines through Ft. Madison and the bridge over the Mississippi.  Here's an image taken from the room of a westbound intermodal around 6:45 a.m. Thursday.  The bridge is just barely visible through the fog.  The "K" Line is the single track in the foreground and the steam loco is a static display in a riverside park.  The picture's taken through the glass and there are three panes, a full sheet covering the inside of the window frame and two more "normal" outside windows.  You can't open the windows and the outer panes needed cleaning pretty badly.  Even with dirty windows, this is a great location for a rail fan (with tax, $93, in case you were wondering).

Breakfast at the Kingsley's in a common second floor dining room.  An entree is served after you seat yourself, and today's breakfast fare was "Strawberry Cheesecake French Toast", served with a dollop of whipped cream and a liberal sprinkling of powdered sugar.  Good presentation, but mighty rich compared to my regular eye-opener, reading the Des Moines Register over a bowl of Grape Nuts and a glass of orange juice.  There were six other customers in the dining room with me at 7:15, all males, and most apparently business travelers, not vacationers.  Several required some coaxing from our hostess to try the prepared breakfast.  There were bagels, pastries and Raisin Bran (in a pretty bowl, of course - not a box in sight) on the buffet, so no one went hungry.

After breakfast I picked up a mug of coffee and went back to the Amtrak depot to see what I could catch.  I'd heard a westbound calling the bridge operator and got out on the platform to wait for it to come by the paper plant, which was adding quite a bit of steam to the fog this morning.  It seemed pretty cold out in the wet breeze this morning.  The train arrived at 8:01, a short stacker pulled by BNSF 4490 (only).  To get an idea of the degree of moisture in the air, compare the scene to this picture, taken on March 14 of 2001.  The engine number seemed familiar and when I checked my notes, I found 4490 had been eastbound at Niota yesterday.

I got back in the Jeep just in time to hear J.A.W. giving a warrant to a train, 8926 West, leaving Burlington, complete at 8:10.  Here was something I could chase down the Keokuk line.  I started south, consulting my DeLorme atlas and exploring places where I could drive near the tracks.  I stopped south of Montrose, in what would have been a great photo location on a sunnier day, and waited.  Barge traffic nearby on the Mississippi provided a distraction from the crossword puzzle.  I heard them leave Ft. Madison at 8:48 and Montrose at 9:27 (moving much more slowly than I expected).

The train's triangle of headlights came around a point of land north of me at 9:34.  The day was brightening gradually, but they were still deep in the fog that hung near the river.  I took another shot or two as the train got closer.  Behind the lead unit, BNSF 8926, they had BN 9529 and a set of BNSF hoppers.

I followed them down the river and then went down into Keokuk to catch them as they stopped under the old bridge south of the electric plant.  They copied a warrant and we were off down the line, headed for Missouri.  The train caught up to me as I was wasting some time trying to find a road near the rails leaving Alexandria, so  I just hit the highway and ran south as fast as I could.  I pulled over in Canton, not certain if the train had passed or not.  I wanted to check out the Canton Ferry to see if it were still in operation and it was just leaving dock for Illinois as I arrived.

After what seemed like a long enough time for the train to have reached me, I started on south.  Not far out of town I heard them on the radio saying, "8926 approaching Canton, track speed".  Knowing that I was again ahead of the train, I pulled over in the little river town of La Grange to wait on them.  The sky was clearing nicely and at 11:00 it was up to 65 degrees.  I watched another tow go up river and then at 11:05 caught 8926 again as it came by the La Grange Foundry and continued down river.

I made a quick stop at a Casey's in La Grange and then took off after 8926.  I rolled into West Quincy at 11:36 and could see the coal train coming toward me on the north side of a viaduct.  I got a shot or two of some power, including 2162, 2107, 2269 and strangely stenciled 2931 at the West Quincy yard and then went up over the viaduct to intercept 8926 just as they pulled to a stop at the yard office.

At this point I was anticipating a long drive home, so I dragged out the maps and started making a plan for my return to Indianola.  I'd hoped to intercept the WQMDMO, with an 11:30 call, as it headed north, but J.A.W.'s comments to maintenance-of-way people about its delayed departure convinced me that I shouldn't wait.

I plotted a more-or-less diagonal course for Ottumwa and started northward.  I grabbed a some takeout in the northeast Missouri town of Kahoka and then drove a little farther to the northwest and had my lunch in Medill.  Medill was chosen because like Ft. Madison, it's on the old Santa Fe mains.

Medill turned out to be inside the limits of a Form B this afternoon and traffic was being routed through on Main 2.  My first train there was a westbound manifest at 1:40, with BNSF 1031 and ATSF 838.  As soon as they were back over on Main 1 at the west end, headlights appeared and a stack train was sent east behind BNSF 1115, CN 2442 and NS 9420.  As soon as they cleared I started out toward Iowa again.

I turned north at at Luray, where the main street seemed almost like a ghost town, filled with decaying storefronts.  It would have made great photographic subject matter.  So many pictures, so little time!  Speaking of pictures, over break I finally got around to backing up some of mine onto CD-ROM's.  Years 1999, 2000 and 2001 filled eight of them - over 12,000 images.

It's a short hop, about 15 miles on Road K, from Luray to the Iowa border.  My trail went through Keosaqua and then to Eldon, where I stopped to get some pictures.  The Rock Island depot there is under reconstruction.  Eldon was the crossing place of the Rock Island's Golden State route and the Keokuk-Des Moines, "KD" line.  There was once a yard over on the the south side of the Des Moines River, and I went over there and drove back in a farm field to find a couple of remnants of the facility.

I made one more picture stop on the way home.  This was in Ottumwa, where I noticed that the fence around the old freight office had fallen apart, allowing me to finally get a decent image of what remains of the structure.  By now the temperature in southern Iowa was nearly 80, so I just cruised with the AC on arriving back in Indianola at 5:15.

That's It!