Spring Break 2003

March 14, 15 and 16


Friday, March 14

Susan Murphy and I set out early Friday to do some train watching and to visit Kalona, an Amish community in eastern Iowa.  We had a rather foggy morning, but with a forecast for a warm and clearing day.  On the way south from Indianola on Hwy. 65 we heard the Osceola report a 498-axle train on Main 2, just after 7:00 a.m.  We drove to Chariton to wait for them and any other traffic that might be coming in the other direction.

The eastbound, a DENGAL, called the dispatcher from the bottom of Whitebreast Hill to report that one of their units had "blown", spraying oil all over itself and the three units trailing.  They were still underway however and came into the "ess" curves in Chariton at 7:50.  Power for the manifest was led by BNSF 4164, followed by CSX 8321, CSX 7680 (the dead unit), BN 3630, BNSF 6216 and BNSF 6202.  We didn't observe the "oil all over" the trailing units, it must have been on the north side of the train.

We headed on east on Hwy. 34, turning south into Melrose to intercept a westbound coal empty that arrived there at 8:52.  This train had BNSF 9759 and 8846 on the head end, trailing pink and silver OGSX cars from the power plant at Chillicothe.

We pressed our luck a bit on the next westbound and caught them on the north hill at Albia, but without a spot for a very good picture.  BNSF 8891 and 9726 were followed by a set of EGSX tub gondolas and passed us at 9:15.

Our next stop was Ottumwa.  We'd heard Amtrak No. 6 report leaving Osceola at 10:02, around an hour and fifteen minutes behind schedule, and we planned to see the passenger train at the Ottumwa depot.  We drove through the Ottumwa yard where BNSF 1538, BNSF 3149 and EMDX 756 waited to go out in the afternoon on the Ottumwa local.  A quick trip through the IC&E yard found freshly-painted IC&E 4202 at work.

We returned to the Amtrak depot for a restroom break.  I heard a familiar Irish tenor voice as I walked down the hallway and found BNSF Ottumwa desk dispatcher Kevin Schelen talking with a railroader.  Kevin was in Ottumwa for the Quincy Mall train meet to be held on Saturday and Sunday.  At this news Susan and I decided to rearrange our plans a little bit so that we could be back in Ottumwa for the meet on Saturday morning.

The Zephyr had been routed on Main 1 out of Albia and went back over to the normally eastbound Main 2 at the crossover just west of the IC&E diamonds.  Their headlight appeared through the haze at 11:40.  The California Zephyr was led by AMTK 133 and 84 today, with the following consist:

Baggage 1717
Transition Sleeper 39046
Sleepers 32023 and 32055
Diner 38001
Sightseer Lounge 33019
Coaches 34005, 35010 and 34056
Two boxcars, two XpressTrak cars, three more boxcars and six roadrailers
The passenger train rolled again at 11:51.  After they'd left the depot and topped Agency Hill, I heard a detector report them at 86 axles.

Susan and I went on east, making our last train-watching stop of the day in Fairfield where we waited at Court St. for a westbound.  There'd been some work on a nearby crossover and I heard on the radio that a welder had been called out to work on one of the switches today because the "frog won't make it through the weekend".  The train arrived at 12:42 with BNSF 9814 and 9820 on the point.  In the consist that followed 9814 and 9820 up the grade into town were WFCX and BN cars.


Saturday, March 15

Susan and I were on the road early again Saturday and headed for the train show in Ottumwa.  We'd heard an eastbound get a warrant from Maxon and went first to the depot watch as this train jogged south to come past the old passenger sheds.  They arrived at 9:38, a distributed power AEPX load with BNSF 8820 on the point and the remote control unit, BNSF 8831, bringing up the rear.  By the time I took this last shot, you could hear the rear unit shoving hard as they ran for Agency Hill.

We got to the Quincy Mall on the southwest side of town just at 10:00.  BNSF dispatcher KRS was already holding forth in front of the modular HO layout of the Great River Railway Club.  I got several shots of the layout, including this gas station, mill and Great River Northern GeeP.  Kevin's Rock Island Rocket passenger train was circling the layout and is seen here passing under an improbable wooden bridge.

At one corner of the mall there was a collection of G "scale" equipment running that youngsters found fascinating.  I've become interested in garden railroading and plan to start a layout this summer, so I had a conversation about these trains with the gentleman that brought them to the mall.  He had some cars on display that he said he planned to sell, but he wasn't yet ready to part with the snowplow I wanted.

Susan and I were headed for Keokuk to visit a friend of hers, so we went on east on Hwy 34 and then turned south to go to Eldon and have lunch there.  On the way through I got a shot of the newly-refurbished Rock Island depot that will be serving as a museum.  Eldon was once a junction of two Rock Island routes, the "K-D" (Keokuk, Des Moines) route and the Golden State line from from Allerton to Davenport.  The K-D's pretty much gone today, but portions of the Golden State route are still in use as part of the IC&E.

Once in Keokuk, Susan and her friend went to practice the duet they were to sing on Sunday morning and I explored the Burlington, Keokuk Junction, and Pioneer Rail territory down near the Mississippi.  I found a number of PREX locos around, including PREX 3023, 2054, 2053, 2050 and 2018.  I also spotted ex-CNW 4307 and several heavyweight passenger cars in various stages of being rebuilt.  Nearby were PREX 2047 and 2057, BNSF 2166, and SF 3048.  Before meeting "the girls" again, I spent a few minutes checking out the old BN depot, currently abandoned.

Quarters for the evening was the River's Edge B&B on Grand Ave., a large home with a great view of the river, dam, powerplant and lock entrance.  As a bonus the BNSF's "K-Line" (lower left in this picture looking across the river into Illinois) passed just below along the water's edge.  The room was set up with a sofa right in front of the windows where you could watch eagles or just take in the lights and sounds of trains passing in the night on the K-Line.  We noted a half dozen trains overnight, mostly coal loads and empties.


Sunday, March 16

Before church we were treated to a gorgeous sunrise over the river, assorted birds and eagles floating down river on the ice and roosting in a tree nearby.  One of the first tows to go north left the lock around 8:45.

After church we headed north, making a stop at the Amtrak station in Fort Madison where a stacker waited on a piggyback train.  The westbound pig train, with ATSF 635, BNSF 1122 and BNSF 4199, made a quick crew change at 1:45 and was away, as were we.

We didn't make any more train-watching stops until we were well to the west.  From the Hwy. 34 overpass west of Albia we saw a set of BN empties go under us and I figured we could easily get ahead of them on the way over.  Susan and I took a brief detour off the highway so that I could show her the farmsteads where a couple of my relatives had lived, and the train caught up to us.  We were right beside the train again on the overpass going into Chariton.

We'd learned from the radio that we had an eastbound coming toward us and had heard it talking to the dispatcher at Osceola.  I knew I could beat the westbound through Chariton and down the hill to Shannon, but the approaching train would be a close call.  Susan checked the signals just east of Shannon as we came by and they were not yet lit.

Once again I pressed our luck a bit and we got to the overpass leading into Stephens Forest just as the eastbounder's headlights showed.  After a sprint to the bridge, I caught some shots as the distributed power OGSX load with BNSF 9877 in front came around the corner, passed under the bridge and rolled on toward Whitebreast Hill.  The rear unit, BNSF 9847, appeared a couple of minutes later and was gone before the westbound we'd been pacing arrived.

The westbound, BN tub gondolas behind three units, BN 9638, BNSF 97?0 and BNSF 4138, showed up just three minutes later.  It was 5:00 in the afternoon and the sun was right in our eyes as the train went under the bridge and split the signals on their way through the lowlands north of Stephens Forest.

That's It!


In Other News...

Some of you readers have been following my adventures for several years and know that I was made a widower in January of 2000 when Jan (Nelson) Tinder died after a three-year bout with breast cancer.  The Susan whose name shows up these days in my narratives is Susan (Hodgson) Murphy.  Susan grew up on a farm near Pleasantville, Iowa, and is a Simpson College alumna.  She teaches English as a Second Language in the Des Moines school district and for DMACC.

Susan and I have known each other since the mid-80's.  She was mother to a student of mine and we were both active at the same church.  Susan at that time was a fourth grade teacher in the Indianola school system.  She divorced around 10 years ago and moved from Indianola to Keokuk where she taught for a few years before starting a roundabout series of moves that brought her back to central Iowa.

Two years ago Susan decided to build a new home for herself on the family land and moved to Carlisle while the project was underway.  She visited our church in Indianola a couple of times last spring and I learned then about her project, but didn't know that she was doing this entirely on her own.  I did not see her at all over the summer, but at the beginning of the church's "program year" in September she reappeared, visiting some old friends at church.

I made it a point to visit with her after the service and she told me that she'd now moved into her new place and that I should see it sometime.  I replied, "How about this afternoon?"  I've since learned that she was a bit surprised at how forward I was, but we arranged for her to call me after she was back at home with instructions on how to reach the new house.  Late in the afternoon I went to visit Susan.  We spent several hours catching up and had our first proper "date" the following weekend.  I'll skip the many stories between and cut to the happy beginning.  She and I are, as of March 8, engaged, and plan to marry this summer.