IMRL and BNSF in Ottumwa

Saturday, April 13


My son Byron came over on Friday evening to join me in an excursion along the BNSF on Saturday.  We headed out of town just after 7:00 in a cool and foggy morning, just 37 degrees.  I'd called Amtrak's automated trace to check on the Zephyr and had been transferred to live operator because of a "service disruption".  Number Six was five and a half hours down today.  We started south toward the BNSF, but heard the UP Trenton sub. dispatcher talking to two southbound trains that were to meet one northbound at Beech, so we turned around and went east out of town instead.

By the time we reached Beech, at least one of the southbound trains had stopped well north of the siding and was not in sight from the grade crossing north of town.  We parked at the south end of the siding and waited for a while, but it was apparent from the radio that the northbounder was still well down the line.  We took some gravel roads south and managed to intercept the northbound train, an intermodal with UP 4863 on the point, just as it was coming through Melcher at 8:00.

I'd wanted to catch some of the UP traffic on the IMRL today, and we could hear warrants being given to several trains on that line.  We checked out Williamson and then drove down into Chariton before heading east on Hwy. 34 parallel to the BNSF.  We heard a meet on the IMRL at Moravia, and it sounded like there might be two eastbound trains coming toward Ottumwa.  Just outside of town, around 9:20, we came alongside an IMRL manifest, so we went into the Ottumwa yard to wait on their arrival.

We found engine 604 idling in the fog at the east end of the yard.  At 9:35 the IMRL eastbound arrived with IMRL units 353 and 8918.  While they were making their crew change, we decided to see if we could catch the following UP train out at the Hwy. 34 overpass west of town.  We were just a minute or two late and had to turn and race them back to the west end of the yard, where we got some pictures just before 10:00.  The stacker had UP 4217 and 9112 in charge.  They held up out at the west end while the manifest ahead added helper 604 for the climb up Rutledge Hill.

Byron and I had time to cross the Des Moines River and get to the BNSF/IMRL diamonds before the IMRL train came across the BNSF interlocking and charged up the hill.  We watched and listened as the train quickly lost lost its momentum.  By the time the rear end had cleared the highway crossing north of the diamonds we agreed that it was pretty obvious that they weren't going to make it.

We went up the hill on the west side of the tracks, ending up a few carlengths from the rear, and watched and listened to the radio while they tried to move the train.  On the radio, the dispatcher was informed that the second unit had spilled oil all over the rails.  I took a little video clip of the wheels just barely turning forward as they struggled to move the train.  We drove up the hill but couldn't find a spot where the head end was visible.  They let the consist roll a few carlengths back down the hill and tried again, but it was no use.

At 10:35, the stacker behind was called and informed that, "we'll need a shove".  Byron and I went around to the other side of the line and found a dead end road that reached the rear of the IMRL consist.  In a few minutes the UP intermodal came up the hill to the rescue.  As we watched, the UP conductor spotted us and went back inside to get his camera and get some railfan shots.  They coupled on at about 10:55 and we hurried up the hill to an overpass to watch both trains come underneath us.

Just before 11:00 the front of the combined trains came into sight on the hill and passed beneath our observation point on a one-lane wooden bridge.  I got another shot of 604 and watched as the head end rolled into the next curve east of the bridge.  The original plan was for the manifest to leave 604 in the siding at Rutledge, but the dispatcher gave them permission to take it east to the next one instead.

In a couple of minutes, the UP power arrived.  Both the engineer and conductor were keeping an eye on the train ahead as they came under the bridge and roared into the next curve.  We noticed a couple of passengers out on the "porches" of the well cars this morning.

While all of the above activity was taking place, we'd been monitoring the BNSF and had picked up information on several trains.  Ottumwa sub. dispatcher KRS had a Pleasant Hill grain train out of Des Moines at 8:20.  He'd also told maintenance of way people here that they would have to be "...off of my railroad by 10:45.  I've got traffic!", and we'd heard him give a warrant to an eastbound (9799) climbing Albia Hill at 10:42.  One other tidbit from the radio; the UP Trenton dispatcher came on to report that he was back in the Harriman bunker after, "a fire alarm mess up".

Byron and I paid a very brief visit to the Ottumwa yard, where the local, with BNSF 3032 and EMDX 756, were getting a train together.  We next went up to a spot beside old Hwy. 34 in east Ottumwa on Agency Hill for the first of several BNSF eastbounds.  The train appeared at 11:35 with BNSF 9799 on the front of a set of DEEX cars.  The signals on the hill are tagged with "G" for Grade, meaning that a red signal can be passed at restricted speed without stopping if necessary.  Bringing up the rear of the distributed power coal load was BNSF 9787.

We'd heard another eastbound clearing up at Albia at 11:29, so we figured we had time to pick up some lunch before going back to the diamonds in time for it.  This train, at 12:18, was another DP coal load, with BNSF 9832, a set of very dirty CEFX tub gondolas and BNSF 8806 bringing up the rear.  As you can see in the images, by this time of day the sun was beginning to warm the right of way.  While waiting on this train, we'd heard the Pleasant Hill grainer clear up at Albia just after noon.

The IMRL provided the next photo opportunities with a westbound UP intermodal that reached "Lawler East" at 12:30.  This train had UP 4367, CNW 8564, UP 4674 and UP 9063 up front.

Next up, right at noon, was the BNSF grain train with a gorgeous "warbonnet" on the point.  Powered by ATSF 636, BNSF 4586 and BNSF 4670, the train's consist was almost entirely brown BNSF covered hoppers.  For entertainment while BNSF trains passed in front of us, we could pretend we were at Yellowstone checking out the mud geysers.

A westbound IMRL manifest was waiting on the hill for the grain train to clear and came through at 1:04.  This train was powered by IMRL 204, 214 and the returning helper, IMRL 604.  At 1:20, the next BNSF train arrived, an AEPX coal load with badly-faded BNSF 9862 in front and 9802 holding down the rear end of the train.

I was due back in Indianola for a Relay for life event in the early evening, so Byron and I started making our way west, planning on intercepting the profoundly late Zephyr somewhere along the way.  As we drove, we heard 9520 East report themselves clear of the Ottumwa yard and heard the dispatcher say that No. 6 was out of Creston at 14:03.

We got to Old Maxon, the crest of Albia Hill around 2:45.  First thing to arrive, at 2:55, was another DP coal load, DEEX cars, with BNSF 9726 in front and 8861 behind.  They parked it to wait on the Zephyr to come around them on Main 1.  East of Maxon, the dispatcher halted an ISU empty and behind them the Ottumwa local, both also to wait on the passenger train.

We went over to the Albia yard to wait for Amtrak.  Parked on the north side of the main track was a set of machinery I'd seen passing through Chariton recently.  The middle unit of the DC-4 has a head (on the far side) and a pair of conveyors.  Behind was a ballast car and a caboose.  Here's the setup viewed from the rear, with the conveyor hanging out to one side.  In a couple of these pictures you can also see an old coal-loading ramp north of the siding.  I noticed that the BNSF has a new switch set out by Main 1 at the far west end of the yard.

The Zephyr, with AMTK 197 and 173, under the direction of engineer Bill Greenley, came up the hill at 3:25 p.m., pretty close to what I'd been told on the phone, 5 1/2 hours late.  At speed, there was no way to get the consist, of course.  In this picture of the trailing roadrailer, you can also spot caboose BN 12155, an ancient spreader that lives here year 'round, and CO2 tanks being unloaded to a semi at the right.

The day had warmed up nicely, it was now up to 65 degrees.  Byron and I went down Halpin, the west end of the CTC at Albia, to catch the ISU empty that had been waiting on Amtrak.  After reporting a delay of "14:25 to 15:30", they rolled down Albia Hill and came into sight at 3:49.  This train had BNSF units 9751 and 8878, followed by OGSX tubs.  We heard a detector report of 516 axles, so this was undoubtedly a DP train when eastbound.

On the way over to Chariton, Byron and I heard 9751 trading "Okay..." messages with two eastbounds, apparently led by BNSF 525 and BNSF 9588.  We stopped to catch the OGSX train again in Chariton at 4:20 and then led them down Whitebreast Hill for a last set of pictures at the Stephens Forest bridge.  They arrived here and split the signals at MP 344 at 4:34.

That's It!