"Spring" Break Trip to Fort Madison

March 14 and 15


The week of March 12 to 16 was Simpson's Spring Break this year.  I'd done some planning for a train-watching excursion by browsing Chris Hash's web site listing hotels and motels near the tracks.  From the Iowa listings, I decided to investigate the Kingsley Inn in Fort Madison.  A phone call there confirmed the review on Hash's site - this place had rooms with a direct view of the old Santa Fe mainlines, right downtown by the old depot!  I made a reservation for Monday night of break.  By the preceding Sunday, Iowa was under a winter storm watch, so I called back and moved my reservation to Wednesday.

Wednesday, March 14

The forecast Monday/Tuesday storm didn't materialize and by Wednesday we had another dire prediction.  I didn't have time left to further postpone, however, so early Wednesday morning I hit the road, planning to follow the BNSF mains across to Burlington and then go down river to Fort Madison.  It was overcast and 34 degrees.  I'd heard the Osceola detector for Main 2 about ten after six and figured that I could catch that one somewhere along the way.

As I came over the hill west of Chariton on Hwy. 34, I could see coal cars rolling above the old 34 underpass in town.  I passed over the train on the bypass and decided to take a chance on beating it to Russell, just 2 miles south of the highway.  I got there in time and caught BNSF 9984 and BN 9606 at Highland Street just after 7:00.  I was to see this train again several times on my trip along the BNSF today.

My next stop was Ottumwa.  I decided to pass on my usual favorite, Old Maxon, since I knew it would be a real mud-bog this morning.  A UP stacker was just starting out of the IMRL yard as I arrived at 7:55.  I waited (a bit impatiently, yeah) for the light at Quincy and got there just as the head end crossed the road.  On the point were UP 7508 and SP 8324, a faded old tunnel motor.  I went over to the depot and caught 9984 again as it came by the passenger sheds at 8:20.  Before leaving town, I got a shot of the restored steam loco displayed behind the depot.

Between Ottumwa and Fairfield it started raining in earnest.  Approaching Fairfield, I heard a detector for Main 1, so I drove north into town and parked near the tracks on 9th Street.  At 9:03 a manifest with a block of automobiles in front came through behind BNSF 5453 and 6398.  I noticed a BN engine parked on the north side of the tracks and drove around to get a shot of it.  I also took a picture of a brick building that appeared to have been at one time a freight house.  I was about ready to move on eastward when I heard the detector again, announcing a westbound with 500 axles.  This time it was a DTCX coal emty with lots of power, BNSF 8818, BN 9403, BN 9613 and BNSF 9917.  They blasted through town at 9:15.

I stopped next at the depot in Mount Pleasant and waited for a westbound that I'd heard earlier leaving Burlington.  They arrived at 10:10, just about the same time that 9984 caught up to me again.  The westbound manifest, mostly syrup tanks, had BNSF 2263 and EMD 789.  Their train was fairly short and passed before the head end of the coal load reached the depot.  Before I managed to get away from Mount Pleasant and continue my trip, I got to spend a few minutes watching a house being moved.

I paid a short visit to the West Burlington Shops area around 11:00, just missing a grain empty going by as I was driving in near the long line of old GE locos stored there.  A number of newer units were parked to the north, including BN 9263, 9400, 9405, 9437, 9447 and 9491, and BNSF 8201, 8207, 8218 and 8229.

I arrived downtown at about 11:15.  Just upriver from the BNSF yard and depot, I encountered Burlington Jct. 701 shoving a cut of cars to the north.  BNSF 3177 had apparently had a fire and was sitting in the northeast corner of the yard.  The left side of the loco showed little damage.  One of the older SD-70 MAC's, 9423, was parked on a pocket track south of the depot.  I decided to get a picture of the display loco here in Burlington, too.  I called 1-800-USA-RAIL to check on No. 6, and was told that the were 1:20 late today.  Since it wasn't raining, and in fact had cleared off some, I decided to hang out and watch traffic at least until the Zephyr came through.

The first train to come through was a UCEX empty that started across the river about 11:45.  I followed its progress from a spot up on the hill on Main Street.  The train, with BN 9552, 9448, 9422 and BNSF 8891, came around the corner where the Quincy line connects and rolled slowly down past the yard and Amtrak depot.  The 9422 was to be set out at the shops at the top of Burlington Hill.

The next train was a coal load, DTCX tub gons, with BN 9650 and 9474.  They crossed Main Street at 12:10.  In 20 minutes, the next westbound appeared, CWEX cars pulled by BN 9504 and BNSF 9730.  After they headed up the hill, the MAC in the pocket track went south onto the Quincy line, pulled back through the crossover onto Main 1, and then backed into the yard to couple onto the burned 3177.

At 1:06, we had another coal load, surely the last train ahead of Amtrak - which would be coming through on Main 1 to get around the coal traffic.  This train had BN/BNSF cars and distributed power, BNSF 8868 on the point and 8896 in the rear.  I moved over to the station area to await the Zephyr.  On one of the tracks nearest the mains, a crew was replacing a wheel set on a coal hopper.

Amtrak, scheduled for noon at Burlington, showed up at 1:35.  In the eastbound Zephyr today:

AMTK 95 and 53
Baggage 1223
Transition Sleeper 39005
Sleepers 32046 and 32102 (South Dakota)
Diner 38004
Sightseer Lounge 33014
Coaches 31509, 34018 and 34016
Material 1431, one boxcar and one roadrailer
As soon as the passenger train was loaded up and crossed the river, the bridge was turned to accomodate some water traffic.  I headed south for Fort Madison.  On the way through Crapo Park, I heard a detector report the Zephyr at, "57 axles".  Hmmm...  I don't think so.

I got to Fort Madison just after 2:00 and headed out to the Amshack and yard office area.  An eastbound manifest was stopped in front of the office, had cut off its power and was going to set out a unit.  They had BNSF 4653, SF 897 and BN 6821.  The 6821 was going to be added to a collection of units behind the office, BNSF 7305,  6482 and BN 9210.  A short train was also parked behind the office, with Santa Fe caboose 999772 and BNSF 2641.  I got a picture of the old SF engine house as 6821 was dropped.

Before checking into my room, I went into the old depot area and waited on the pedestrian bridge for 4653 to come from the yard office and head for the bridge.  They were by at 3:06.  The pedestrian bridge, just west of the depot-museum, provides a good spot for photos of passing BNSF trains.

My train-watching lodging was near the park where a Santa Fe steam loco's on display.  The Kingsley Inn building is just to the left of the tender in the previous picture.  The room I was in was 205, in front on the second floor, with a set of three windows.  The view from inside overlooked the Quincy line (nearest track), the old Santa Fe mains, a park and the Mississippi River.  The room decor is very ornate and beautifully done, undoubtedly pretty impressive to one who appreciates such things.  I found that I could watch stackers roll by while lying in bed, which meant more to me than the other features.

The rooms on the front come with earplugs just in case you're not a hardcore railfan.  A full breakfast, served by very solicitous staff, is included as well as a complementary Des Moines Register.  The only drawback I can imagine is that the room is on the north side of the tracks - this wasn't a problem this tiime since it was cloudy during my visit.  I recommend the place highly.  I'll return, but maybe try out one of the third-floor rooms, which are a bit cheaper ($95 vs. $115), have only a single dormer window and are without a spa.

After checking in and unloading some of my gear, I went back out to the Amshack/Yard Office area.  The first train to arrive was a westbound piggyback with BNSF 775, 4373 and 1015.  They pulled down for a crew change as an eastbound approached at 4:23.  The eastbound train, an intermodal, had BNSF 580 and LMX 8585 for power.  They made a very fast crew change and rolled again at 4:27.

An intermodal pulled east out of the yard and passed behind the yard office at 5:40.  On the point were SSW 9648, UP 9081 and UP 9777.  Detour?

Next up, at 5:45, was an eastbound stacker with BNSF 4706, SF 825 and BNSF 4873.  This train had to pick up power, BN 9210 and BNSF 7305, from behind the depot before leaving.  I took off and got some supper and returned to the depot around 6:30.  It was raining in earnest by this time.  4706 was just getting back on its train and a westbound, with BNSF 4455, SF 749, BNSF 4353 and 4313, was stopped on the nearer main.  The westbound pulled just before 7:00 and 4706 finally got moving just after.  In the shelter of the broad eaves of the Amshack I could stand just a few feet away from the locos.  It was great watching the rainwater steaming back up off the radiators and feeling the building vibrate against my back with the rhythm of the prime movers.  I experimented with camera settings, taking some long exposures under the orange and green lamps illuminating the platform.

At 7:27 the Southwest Chief arrived behind AMTK 125, 124, 2 and 30.  The consist:
Baggage 1736
Coach Baggage 31005
Coaches 34131 and 31531 (Smoking)
Sightseer Lounge 33032
Diner 38065
Sleepers 32047, 32059 and 32060
Box 71171, Material 1532, Boxes 71158 and 71091, Material 1418 and Seven Roadrailers
The Chief stopped short for the baggage to be worked and then pulled down.  The train stood in the rain for a few minutes as passengers made their way into the shelter of the Superliners.  They were on the move again at 7:35.

After the passenger train left, I headed back to the Kingsley to watch trains from the windows of my room.  I saw two westbounds in rapid succession after Amtrak, a stacker and an automobile train.  Around 9:50 a train came by eastbound on the Quincy line, probably the WQMDMO.  The Santa Fe mains have a grade crossing just east of the inn, so I was awakened a number of times as a steady stream of intermodal traffic passed in the night.

Thursday, March 15

Forecasts called for rain on Thursday followed by heavy snow in southeast Iowa on Friday morning, so I decided to head for home fairly early in the day.  It was overcast and starting to rain at 6:45 when I tried to get a shot of a passing eastbound piggyback train with SF 920, BNSF 4974 and 4390.  We gradually got more light and I panned the camera for the next one at 6:56, BNSF 1089, ? and 7339 and an Amtrak unit, 85, on a manifest.  I had the inn's breakfast (quiche, of course...) with a gentleman from Arizona, got a last picture from the room window (westbound pigs behind BNSF 5395, 4624, SF 577 and BNSF 5431) and headed out in the rain.  Just before I left town for Burlington at 7:45, a CN automobile train came by westbound with CN 5672 and 5697.

It poured on the way north, with quite a bit of wind thrown in, but had let up somewhat by the time I got to Burlington.  Dispatcher KRS was talking to a westbound, BNSF 2348, at Connett.  They were to drop their train and run up the hill to the shops to pick up another engine.  At 8:11, I caught a stack train coming down the hill behind BNSF 4562 and SF 690.  This is a rare catch for me along this line, since the intermodals generally pass my part of the state in darkness.

I heard KRS talking to another eastbound that was out of Danville, so I drove on up the hill and stopped in West Burlington at the Washington Road crossing to wait for it.  This train arrived at 8:32 with some unusual power, FURX 3013, BN 8072 and 8083, and "Locomotive Partners" (didn't catch the reporting marks) 2809.

I stopped in Fairfield to have a look at the cabooses and other miscellaneous railcars for sale from Anderson Steel Flange.  They have a few of these MoPac cabooses and a large collection of Soo Line ones.  I saw MoPac 13758, -866 and - 896, and Soo 10, 19, 27, 33, 59, 61, and 87.  There were others.  You can check out the prices at this URL.

I got to Ottumwa around 10:00 and decided to intercept the Zephyr there.  I drove over to the yard, where I found 463's power, BNSF 2118 and 2423.  A couple of MAC's serving as helpers on Agency Hill, BN 9448 and BNSF 9720, were in the pocket track on the north side of the mainlines.  A coal load, 9433 East, had come close to stalling on the hill as I was coming into town and a grain load was to follow on Main 2.  KRS decided to run Amtrak around both trains by moving it over to Main 1 at Maxon.

The grain train got to the depot at 10:25 with BNSF 8289, 7154, 5426 and 5413.  The consist was entirely brown BNSF covered hoppers.  The rain was getting to be worrisome to the railroad by now, and arrangements were made to have the tracks inspected at areas where high water might be expected.  The Zephyr's headlights cut through the gloom right at 11:00, just 15 minutes off schedule.  In today's No. 6:

AMTK 13 and 70
Baggage 1194
Transition Sleeper 39030
Coaches 34082, 34092 and 31502
Sightseer Lounge 33012
Diner 38010
Sleepers 32067 and 32037
Material Cars 1446 and 1439, four boxcars and one roadrailer
Amtrak pulled out, reporting its times as ":01 and :10".

I got some lunch and parked over by the yard, hoping to see 463 leave for the Cargill Spur.  The helper crew rearranged the two engines and then tied them up at the west end of the yard.

I listened to the forecast on my scanner and decided I'd better keep moving if I hoped to beat the snowstorm to Indianola, so I moved on west to Albia.  Most trains were using helpers on the south hill at Albia today, and could hear the dispatcher talking to a stalled one (8886 East) and arranging to get the helpers on it as I drove over from Ottumwa.  By the time I arrived, a coal load had started up, with helpers.

I parked at the "Double Crossing", also known as the "Packing House Crossing" and waited.  The rain was being driven by a very strong northeast wind, so there were certain angles at which you could park and shoot pictures through the windshield or even out of an open window, provided it was on the west side of the car.

I got the load at 1:20 through the windshield.  In front of the DTCX cars were BN 9568 and 9570.  The helpers, EMD 9092 and 9058, followed about 4 minutes later.  After the helpers were across the grade crossings, they informed the head end and the train was stopped so they could cut off and run back down the hill.

On the radio, the Kansas City desk dispatcher was talking to the GALLIN, whose crew was a bit short on time.  This was the train I'd heard picking up an engine over in Burlington, 2348 East.  The KC dispatcher thought the crew would have enough time to make Creston, but he was overruled by "the kid" and did a falsetto impersonation, "They won't make it!" on the radio.

A Blacks' van with a relief crew was sent to follow the train west of Albia.  The first choice for a crew change point, Halpin, was already flooded out, so a decision was made to use at Melrose instead.  I drove to Melrose and waited.  In a few minutes I was joined by the crew van.  It was around 2:00 and the rain was starting to change over to snow.

The first train to come through, at 2:12, was an eastbound behind BN 9605 and 9701 with ESCX cars.  I got the image of them through an open window on the "lee" side of the Jeep.   I moved over to the south side of the tracks.  The GALLIN arrived at 2:45 and the crew change was accomplished.  After some delays caused by radio problems, they pulled out a little after 3:00.  The other units on the train were EMDX 807 and BNSF 7330.  The crew'd been told that there were problems with the 7330 (kicking the ground relay).  The train started very slowly and took more than 10 minutes to clear the Tralee St. crossing.

I waited at Melrose for another train that I knew was behind the GALLIN.  As it turned out, there was another westbound nearby, too.  At 3:20, the two trains met in front of me.  The westbound, moving very slowly on the GALLIN's signals, had BN 9899, 9?57 and NORX cars.  The westbound had distributed power on its AEPX cars with BNSF 9875 in front and (I think) 9777 in back.

Back up on Hwy 34, it was beginning to look quite wintery and the temperature had now dropped to just below freezing.  On the radio, the GALLIN crew called in to report that they'd stalled before reaching Russell, with only one working unit, the 2348.

The coal empty behind suggested to the dispatcher (new, after a shift change) that they couple onto the back of the GALLIN, forward their EOT number to 2348 and "double head" into Creston.  The dispatcher said he'd need to consult with the "rules and safety people about that".  As I headed north toward home, I heard Ft. Worth Mechanical come on the radio at 3:50 and start discussing what might be done to the 7330 to "get some amps out of it".

At home, just before 5:00, the 9699 was told to tie down its train and shove the GALLIN to Creston.  The dispatcher was stuck with single track between Halpin and Russell for the evening.

Here's a picture taken Friday morning in Indianola around 7:00 a.m. as I tried to get out of the house.  The snow hadn't stopped yet - we ended up with over 10".

That's It for Spring Break '01!