Albia and Ottumwa Meets

Steve and Joel

Saturday, March 30

In a couple of recent email exchanges I'd arranged to meet some rail fans on Saturday.  Oklahoman Steve Emmons was going to be visiting relatives in Oskaloosa and he and I arranged to meet at Maxon.  Steve and I have gotten together before on one of his trips to Iowa.  After the date with Steve was set, I got into a conversation with a young man named Joel Vander Molen from Pella.  Joel's an I.T. student in Des Moines and had offered to help with some of the web pages I try to maintain.  He and his dad Lowell are both rail fans.  We decided to get together by meeting at the Ottumwa depot late Saturday morning.

I left Indianola around 6:15, hoping to catch some BNSF traffic before meeting Steve at 9:00 in Albia.  It was partly cloudy and 39 degrees this morning.  I heard a westbound getting a warrant at Albia at 6:20, and figured I could easily intercept that one, maybe even make it over to Chariton before the train did.  The timing worked out well, and I was just getting into Chariton when I heard them on the Russell detector at 6:53.  The train came past the Chariton depot at 7:00.  This was a ESCX/PSTX empty with five automobile racks cut in ahead of the coal cars.  On the point were BN 9530 and BNSF 9909.

After the train was by, I put in a call to Amtrak to check on No. 6.  They were just eight minutes down at last report, so my 9:00 appointment with Steve should work out about right.  I took off eastbound on Hwy. 34 again and had just passed the Melrose turnoff when I heard another westbound clearing up at Maxon at 7:40.  I hurried over to Halpin, the west end of the CTC, to see if I could beat them to the bottom of Albia Hill.  I made it there with a couple of minutes to spare and got into position on the sunny side of the rails for pictures of the train.  Leading a set of empty UCEX hoppers were BNSF 9445 and 8988.  After the coal cars had passed I crossed back over the rails to the Jeep and headed on up into Albia.

Just before making a short stop at Casey's I heard Ottumwa sub. dispatcher KRS say, "Through on One at Ottumwa", so I knew there was at least one more westbound coming.  They were probably by now coming down Agency Hill into town, about 25 miles away.  At the Albia yard, a couple of strings of new-looking insulated CO2 tank cars had been set out.  Later in the morning, Steve and I saw a tractor-trailer rig loading from one of the cars.

I went out to Old Maxon where I was to meet Steve.  The BNSF had quite a few sticks of "patch" rail set out, marked with pairs of bright green paint stripes.  Between the stripes the rail was marked with "UT HTT" and a date.  The railroad started testing this sort of rail before putting it into service after the pile-up of No. 5 near Nodaway, IA, a little over a year ago.  The accident investigators have concluded that a defective patch rail broke underneath that train, causing the derailment.

At 8:30 the detector east of Maxon announced the next westbound, with 488 axles.  This was another coal empty, DTCX cars pulled by BN 9404 and BN 9664.

Steve arrived just before 9:00, and after we had a chance to visit for a minute I put in another call to 1-800-USA-RAIL.  The Zephyr was now supposed to arrive in Ottumwa on time, which meant that we could expect to see it around 9:45.  We heard the passenger train clear a warrant on with the KC dispatcher at 9:41 and the train then appeared at the top of the hill at 9:49.

I decided to try to get a video clip of the Zephyr today.  I haven't used this feature of my camera very much, and when I hit the button the first time to start the recording, I thought I'd not gotten it going, so I hit it again.  The second press of the button stopped the (very brief) recording and I had to wait for it to be downloaded to the memory card before restarting it.  The second start was with the train right in our faces, but I did get the whole thing recorded.  If you care to see it, here's the 9 Meg .MOV file.  In the California Zephyr today:
(I don't have most of the car numbers because the video's rather low resolution.)

AMTK 173, 165, 47
Baggage Car 1762
Crew? Sleeping Car (the Transition Sleeper cars seem to be missing these days)
Two Sleeping Cars
Dining Car
Coach Cafe (No Sightseer Lounge??)
Coaches 315--, 34--- and 34---
Six Box Cars
Eight Roadrailers, divided into sets of seven and one, making one extra bogie.
The missing Sightseer Lounge car makes me wonder about the level of service on the train.  I think a "Coach Cafe" is just a snack bar thing below regular coach seating.  Station services have already been downgraded considerably on this route and now it looks as though things are rapidly deteriorating aboard the train as well.  A sad situation.  After seeing what passes for a California Zephyr pass, Steve and I headed for Ottumwa.  The detector at MP 298 reported 92 axles for the passenger train - correct.

When Steve and I got to Ottumwa we went to the depot but didn't see anything of Joel and his dad yet, so we had a quick look around at the yard and the IMRL diamond.  When we returned, we found the Vander Molens parked and waiting for us.  After some introductions we started discussing what we'd heard on the scanner.  It sounded like a westbound on the IMRL was just clearing up a warrant at Rutledge, so we decided to head down to the diamond.  We arrived just a couple of minutes too late and just saw containers going by.

Since the train would be stopping for a crew change, I suggested we drive over to the other side of the river and down to the west end of the IMRL yard to catch the stacker leaving town.  Joel and his dad followed in their van and away we went.  As Steve and I were passing the yard we could see that the head end of the westbound was stopped at the yard office, so we weren't too late to catch them.  However, just to the west on Hwy. 34 we saw an eastbound UP stack train pulling toward us!

I made a U-turn and we gestured to the Vander Molens as we met them on the way back down the highway.  They turned, too and we drove into the yard at 11:15 with the van just behind us and managed to catch both the west and east trains as they made their crew changes.  The eastbound train was powered by UP 4571, 6252 and 3464.  Only one IMRL unit was around, 604.  The westbound train was led by UP 4623, 9268, 4523 and 5668.  While we observed the whole thing, the trains pulled together for quick crew changes and then both started moving on in each direction.  However, the westbound held the main, so the eastbound could only pull down to the end of the yard lead and wait.

This gave us time to caravan back to the north side of the Des Moines River and get into position northeast of the diamonds to catch 4571's train coming to the BNSF crossing at 11:30.  I decided to try for another video and got 4571 crossing very slowly over the BNSF rails (7 Meg .MOV file) and starting up the hill.

Steve and I had heard an eastbound on the BNSF get a warrant at 10:50 when they were just out of Russell and we figured they might be on the way over by now.  At 11:55 this train, loaded UCEX hoppers, came around the corner west of the IMRL crossover with the dynamic brake fans roaring.  On the point were BNSF 9446 and 9837.

After this train, the Vander Molens took off and Steve and I went to pick up some lunch.  We went back to the diamonds to wait on more traffic and at 12:45 caught yet another UP stack train coming west on the IMRL.  Power for the intermodal was UP 6352, 2281 and 4380.

We changed positions after lunch, moving to the south side of the BNSF rails.  At 1:30 we had trains coming in both directions and were faced with one of those double-track dilemmas.  We decided the eastbound would get there first, so we walked over to the north side of the rails for pictures.  The eastbound train was a ballast job with BNSF 2913 and 2822 in front and "Dump Train" equipment cut in the middle of two sets of cars.  Going west at the same time was a UCEX empty powered by BNSF 9424 and 9568.

Our next train was another coal load, this one BNSF cars with distributed power.  They hit the IMRL diamonds at 1:44 with BNSF 9758 on the front and BNSF 9745 behind.  We knew from the detector at 271 that another westbound was fairly close.  This showed up at 2:00 and turned out to be the Galesburg-Lincoln merchandise train, with BNSF 9922 and BN 8042.

Steve and I started back west from Ottumwa and almost immediately heard a train preparing to leave the power plant at Chillicothe.  We decided to see if we could make it over there in time to get some pictures.  On the radio, the train was given permission to open the "ISU Switch" and take off before we even got to Chillicothe, so we thought we probably wouldn't get there in time.  As it turned out, there was plenty of time.  We rolled up at 2:25 to find the train waiting while the switch was thrown.  After moving their gear from the Black's van to the engines (BNSF 9735 and 9894), the crew started trying to put together a working EOT from those they had on the head end and in the van.

Meanwhile, the Ottumwa local (463) arrived and pulled alongside the coal empty.  Steve and I had spotted the local's power earlier in the day at the Ottumwa yard, BNSF 2963, 2722 and 1537.  Brakeperson Carla dropped off the local and got involved in the EOT work, as she was going to be hanging Freddy on the back of the OGSX train after they cleared the switch.  Around 2:45 a working battery and rear-end device was assembled and the coal train brought its long string of cars out onto Main 1.

Once the coal empty was out of the power plant and clear of the switch, Carla hung the EOT device and made the air test.  While this was done, another crew member from the local walked forward to close the derail and the switch.  As soon as the coal train was moving again, the local pulled up to pick up its crew members and then followed slowly west behind the OGSX empties.  The whole affair was over and both trains were moving by 3:00.

Steve and I drove north and west from the plant, crossed the Cargill Spur and took gravel roads back to Maxon where we watched the OGSX train go through before splitting up.  I made a quick pit stop at Casey's and started toward home.  Just out of Albia I heard a train arrive from Des Moines with BNSF 6879.  Steve said later that he got some pictures of it.

I caught up and passed 9735 as they went through Russell.  I decided to get another picture or two of them in Chariton and when I stopped in town about 4:00, I could hear horns from an eastbound.  The eastbounder turned out to be a track work machine, "DC-4", all set for some barbecuing on the back porch of their caboose.  After the machinery met 9735 on the curve, we both headed on west.  I stopped for one more intercept at the bottom of Whitebreast Hill and caught them at 4:16 as they came to the signals just east of Shannon.

That's It!