Short Line Detours

April 21

Dennis Williams called Thursday and left a message about getting out for some train-watching on Saturday.  I returned the call and we arranged for  Paul Speer and Dennis to pick me up on Saturday morning.  Dennis insisted on driving this time, since I'd done so the last time we were out together back in March.  Dennis and Paul, former students of mine from my high school math teaching days, have a large HO model railroad based on the Rio Grande in Colorado and do quite a bit of railfanning together.  Paul is a freight car nut and quite an expert at telling you whose reporting marks those are, and in relating the history of cars.

Of course, this means that when we see a train, we have to see the whole train.  Dennis and Paul both keep their cameras ready and take pictures of freight cars as a train passes.  (I suppose someone has to do it...)  My inclination is to catch the head end and then make a positioning move to my next photo location, sometimes on the same train.  A friend has described me as a "locomotive man".

Anyway, Dennis had said on the phone that he was thinking about seeing the Art Train over in Newton and then moving on to some other location.  We both needed to be back in Indianola by 4:00 or so, since I was going to an open house at my son's art studio and then on to Simpson's Relay for Life event.  Dennis and his wife Kathy had both volunteered for some duties at Indianola's high school prom Saturday evening.

The boys rolled in at my place a little after 8:00.  I'd asked earlier if they were bringing a scanner, since the last time we were together they weren't using one.  Herein lies the difference between train-watching and train-chasing, I guess.  I chase.  In the driveway, Dennis put a mag-mount antenna on the roof of his GMC Envoy and, with Paul's help, wired in a first-generation programmable Regency table-top unit.  The thing wouldn't fire up for some reason, but I had my hand-held along, so I went back in the house and got a BNC adapter for the antenna's plug.  We were eventually northbound with Paul shotgun and yours truly in the back monitoring the RR communications.

About 8:30 I heard a train identifying itself as "IMRL 8925 West" clear a warrant  at "East Des Moines" with the IAIS dispatcher.  I informed my crew that we might want to head for Short Line Yard to see this train, detouring because of flooding along the Mississippi.  Detours are always newsworthy and a good "catch" for railfans.  From the radio we also learned that there would be other traffic through the junction before the detour departed.

We took up a position in a parking lot just east of the northeast leg of the wye at Short Line - good angles can be tough to find up here on a sunny morning, and we had a beauty of a day.  The DMPR poked its nose around the corner at about 8:40 and held for a signal.  They got far enough to start the lights on Dean Avenue and a guy in a 70-ish Cutlass gunned it over the rails without stopping.  Unfortunately, there was a cop right behind him, so the sound of the Olds's vacuum secondaries opening was followed immediately by a siren.

The first move across Short Line Junction was a southbound grain load at 8:45.  This train had six units, UP 7148, 6560, 2903, 5714, 3661 and 4544.  I decided to play along and take some freight car pictures myself today.  Here's an old ROCK hopper in the grain train.

As soon as the grainer cleared, the DMPR got the CP UO74 signal and headed north at 8:50.  On the point, UP 2997, 3503, 2976 and 253.  Here's another freight car shot, a ROCK boxcar.  Dennis pointed out that our traffic violator apparently was in some additional difficulty, since both cars were now pulled off to the north of Dean Avenue and the subject was being frisked - more than's usually called for on a traffic stop.

We were joined at this point by prominent Iowa railfan Dave Kroeger, who'd also heard the IMRL detour arrive and interrupted his breakfast to come down to Short Line and check it out.  Dave and Allan Hunt publish a monthly newsletter for Iowa railfans.  It's cheap and a must-read.  Highly recommended.  You can subscribe and/or contribute news by contacting Dave ( or Allan (

Switching the west end of the yard this morning (Job 1, I believe) were UP 396 and CNW 1307.  One more note about the grade-crossing runner in case the law is listening:  The subject walked east with a handful of paperwork until he was about a block from the car.  He then turned, sprinted back to the auto, jumped in and drove north on the dirt to Walnut, where he was last seen westbound.

I and three other railfan geniuses managed to convince ourselves that the IMRL detour would be going south, so we all took up a position east of the rails on Market Street.  This turned out to be a very bad move.  Before the detour took off, we had some power brought out on the southeast leg to turn.  These units were UP 3394, (here crossing the NS diamond) 3450, 435 3034 and 2986.  We were to see all of these again later on a couple of trains dispatched out of Des Moines.  As the turning units waited for a signal, we could see the IMRL detour moving west in the yard.  They went north!  The chase was on.

I shut the back window of the Envoy and jumped in.  Dennis opened the window back up and carefully put away his camera.  I said, "Just follow Dave."  We seemed to catch all of the red lights and to fall in behind the distracted cell-phone talkers.  (Ever notice how these people just sit and look at empty intersections?)  Dave passed a slow vehicle on East 18th and was soon out of sight.  We paralleled the head end of the detour for a few blocks and crossed to the east side using the University Avenue underpass.  Dennis turned onto Delaware and it looked like we might have a chance to beat the train to Hull Avenue.

However, between Easton and Guthrie we could hear the engines winding up.  They got a signal, the pilot awoke from his nap, I don't know, something happened and they were really pouring it on.  We saw Dave's truck as we passed Hull Ave., but by then the head end was past us again.  We got across Euclid and decided to go for the NE 22nd crossing.  We knew the detour had to pull Swanwood Hill and that would slow them somewhat.  Dennis got his foot into it and we made it just as the power came over the crest of the hill at 9:50 and barreled toward us.  On the point were IMRL 8925, 353, 210, 223, CEFX 7106 and IMRL 257.  I congratulated Dennis on a good catch.  On the radio somewhat later I heard this train get a warrant to go on north at Chicago Junction.

We drove back down toward Short Line, checking out Hull Yard on the way.  On the radio I heard a northbound clear a warrant at CP U064 as they reached Carlisle at 10:17.  The yardmaster called this train, the MKSDM, a few minutes later with yarding instructions.  Just after 10:30 we picked up the detector between Hartford and Carlisle with another northbound train, just 220 axles long.  We drove down to the BN crossing to see these two come in.  The KSDM arrived at 10:40 and had to wait at the BN for a couple of minutes for the interlocking signal to clear.  Shortly, UP 5670 and SP 8503 were on the move again and headed across Maury Street.

The second northbound came off the Des Moines River bridge at 11:00.  This turned out to be a stack train, and although it is a UP train on UP rails, was probably technically a detour off the IMRL since the UP runs a couple of stackers a day on that line and they're rare on the Spine.

(As I type this, an email message from Allan Hunt has just popped up: Two westbounds have detoured on the IAIS from Davenport to Des Moines since last night.  111B-20 ran west during the night, and another train, IMRL 354 west, just departed Iowa City at 0950 with a warrant to Victor.  Maybe I'll head back up to Short Line after lunch today, though there should be a few more days of the detouring and the weather really stinks this morning.)

The stack train stopped at the BN and waited there for about an hour while making a crew change.  On the point were UP 4258 and a CNW unit we didn't manage to identify.

Dennis, Paul and I went back to our early morning location to catch the MSSDM, arriving at 11:44.  Doing the chores today on this 122 car manifest, UP 180, SP 5111, UP 116 and UP 2987.

We decided to get some lunch and make a pit stop at this point.  Traffic on the east side was a real mess because of the Mayor's Bike Ride for Trails.  We were stuck in a long line of cars on the East 14th viaduct when I spotted the stacker going north at 12:09.  We took our burgers back to Short Line and kept an eye and ear on things during lunchtime.  They were doubling together a train at the west end of the yard and at 12:45 we caught them backing across the diamond with UP 435, 3034 and 2986.  These were units we'd seen turning earlier, just before the IMRL train got away from us.

Just before 1:00 we caught a southbound coming out of the yard at Market Street.  On the point, UP 3450 and 3394.  Paul says those are cotton pickers.  Here's another Rock Island freight car image.  We knew that there was an Iowa Interstate train waiting to go through the yard, so we moved on over to the East 18th Street crossing next.  There we found IAIS 466, 495 and 627 stopped just short of the grade crossing.  They got their signal and were on the move at 1:17.

Just to the southwest the Norfolk Southern (using BNSF equipment) was trying to do some switching, but found that they had one car too many to fit on the tail of their wye.  The cars were pulled back out and shoved into the yard by Market Street.  Ex-Santa Fe, BNSF 2642 pulled out to East 18th and posed in the sunlight for this nice 3/4 shot.

We'd heard another grain load reach town and knew that they had a new crew and were waiting at Hull Avenue.  Around 2:00 we drove up and had a look.  I also caught the ADM switcher out in the sunlight.  It usually hides when I'm around.

Back at Short Line Junction at 2:30 we caught the grain load coming through behind UP 4222, 5000, 9491 and 3382.  As soon as they cleared the junction it was time to turn the power from this morning's MKSDM. UP 5670 and SP 8503 backed down the "Spine", rolled north across the IAIS diamond and then took the northeast leg back into the yard.

Speaking of the IAIS diamond, it might be time for a little maintenance.  Then again, it might be too late for a "little" maintenance.

By 3:30, both the UP and the IAIS had trains at hand.  The UP was dispatching a northbound (DMSS), and the IAIS east and westbound trains had met at Colfax and the westbound was now coming through Short Line Yard.  I started thinking about composing an image with both trains in it.  For months I've been shooting around this dead branch at Short Line.  It was a nice warm, dry day and I had a cheering section at hand, so I walked a short distance up the IAIS right of way and, with Paul and Dennis egging me on, disposed of the ugly thing.  Say, do they make rechargable chain saws?

Here's the pair of trains as the UP northbounder started to pull and the IAIS train appears from a yard track.  The UP train had locos 2986, 3034 and 435 that we'd seen turning earlier.  They reached the mainline switch at 3:30.  The IAIS westbound was powered by units 103, 603 and 481.  I stayed south of the diamond (and kept a safe distance) as the two trains rolled through the junction.  The IAIS westbound cleared at 3:37 while the UP train was still not completely out of the yard.

That's It!