To Albia via the Spine Line
April 11, 1998


It was a warm and breezy Spring morning in central Iowa, perfect for some train-chasing. There'd been a light shower, but the sky was clearing as we packed the Jeep. We'd heard about a meet at Beech that we could probably catch, so we drove east out of Indianola and pulled up to the one grade crossing in the tiny community at 8:00. UP 3565, SP 8276 and UP 3052 already had their northbound grain empty in the siding and were waiting. On the radio, we heard the Short Line yardmaster discussing air problems with the southbound and talking about setting out a car at Avon. We decided not to wait.

We listened to the radio traffic from the KC line dispatcher on the way south toward Chariton and figured we'd be there just in time for a couple of trains. We went out to the west end of town and waited. An eastbound AEPX coal load appeared first, at 8:55, with EMD 9021, 9060, and SF 8164. In just ten minutes an empty came by the same location, with BN, BNSF and AEPX cars behind BN 5101 and 5117.

We noticed that the BNSF has now taught its central Iowa detectors to count axles. No speed or temperature yet, however.

In the north yard at Chariton there was a ribbon rail train, with caboose 12266 and engines BNSF 2467 and SF 1572.

We'd heard earlier that Amtrak was about 20 minutes late today, and wondered about the traffic that was ahead of it on the railroad, since the BNSF normally clears the eastbound about an hour ahead of No. 6. Sure enough, they were soon crossing eastbound trains over onto the westbound track to get out of the CZ's path. A switch tender was on hand this morning and, at the east end of Chariton the next coal load crossed over around 10:00. This train had more AEPX cars and was pulled by BN 9431 and 9515.

As soon as the 9431 cleared and rolled away on the westbound main, the switch tender lined the crossover back and jumped in his pickup to race westward down the hill to Shannon. There, another coal load was backing through the crossovers onto the westbound, while Amtrak slowed for restricting signals on the eastbound main. They cleared and the switches were lined for the main by about 10:20.

The California Zephyr had units 32, 57 and 29 on the point today, and PV, Sherriff's Railcar Cripple Creek, bringing up the rear. They were on their way up the hill toward Chariton at 10:22.

The switch tender drove to the end of the waiting coal load to pick up the conductor and then came back to take care of the crossover as they pulled back over onto the eastbound to tackle Whitebreast Hill at 10:30. This train turned out to be DEEX gons with BN 9499 and 9605 in charge.

Since they seemed to be off to a pretty slow start up the hill, I decided to get in position on the "Airport Road" bridge for a shot of two SD-70 MACs and 10,000 tons of coal. I could hear the locos for six full minutes before they finally crawled into sight and ground past me as I stood at the base of one of the highway bridge supports. The conductor leaned out the window and pointed his camera at me as they passed under the bridge. Send me an email when your pictures are ready, Buck!

I climbed back up to the highway and we drove into Chariton - getting ahead of the coal load once again. I took their picture one more time on the high fill in the south side of town. It turned out not to be the last time we'd see their train today, however.

We drove east toward Albia, listening to the Russell (MP 328.0) detector announce 9499's passing at 11:16. At 11:25, the 9431, that we'd watch cross over at Chariton at 10:00, cleared its warrant and started up the hill from Halpin. After we arrived at Albia, we went out to Old Maxon in time to catch the 9431 again at 11:50.

Track work east of Maxon was keeping the traffic down to one lane this afternoon, so things started moving very slowly. The 9431 was let go on the westbound to the crossover at Ottumwa at 12:00. The 9499 came up behind them, but was told that they'd be waiting for 3 westbounds. The rear end of their train blocked a busy county road crossing between us and Albia (for 2 hours), and their cars blocked the view of the westbound, so we took the 10-mile detour to get back into town. I wonder what fire insurance costs out here?

We took our lunches to the old depot area and waited on the promised westbounds. However, the first was a local with switching to do at Maxon, so little real traffic materialized until after 2:00. The local, with BN 2802 and SF 2810, came on into town with a crane and a few other cars at 2:15.

We figured the other two waiting trains would come through pretty quickly, but the first, a coal empty, actually stopped to pick up five freight cars from the UP interchange and put them in front of its empty AEPX coal cars - very unusual. Train had EMD 9055 and 9027 on the point.

We drove on back to Maxon, having heard the 9499 finally get on the move again at 2:30. By this time, there was another eastbound waiting behind them, a manifest with BNSF 982 and cabless SF 337. This train pulled in front of us and stopped, so that we missed seeing another westbound at about 3:00. Peeking through the gaps between cars, we think we spotted BN 5112, 5505, 5594, BNSF 9811 and 9764 with CEFX empties.

We caught the next two westbounds, however. At 3:10 AEPX empties came through behind BN 9418 and some other MAC. We moved down to the Albia yard area, where I got pictures of the crane, ATSF X1475517, and tender 206980, before the next empty, IOPX hoppers with BN 9607 and 9611 came through at 3:35.

At this point we started working our way back toward home. We stopped in Chariton and, as we debated whether to go west or north, a northbound UP train came into town, so we decided to pace it along the Spine Line. Leaving Chariton at 5:00, we got ahead of the train and stopped to get pictures of it in:

Williamson at 5:07
Melcher at 5:25
Melcher again
Beech at 5:52
That's It!