Our first train of the day, at 8:15, was a coal load behind EMD 9057, BN 5105 and EMD 9090. They had 120 gondolas, with mixed reporting marks - DETX, DEEX, GCCX, GEAX, COAX, etc.
Inside the depot, J.R. Green's message board said that today's No. 6 would be here at 3:00 p.m. We decided not to wait!
We stayed in Osceola for two more trains, both westbound coal empties. The first came at 8:45, with BNSF 9782, BN 9525 and BNSF 5143 - mixed hoppers, including BN, GBRX, JE, and UP. The next arrived just 10 minutes behind, with BNSF 9647 and BN 9448. The 9647 has an interesting paint scheme, a combination of the Santa Fe "war bonnet" and the BN executive colors.
We'd heard of more eastbounds out of Creston, and also of some westbound traffic over around Russell. We decided to move eastward along the line and intercept the westbounds as we traveled toward Ottumwa. Our next stop was at Lucas to catch a westbound merchandise train. On the point were SF 7422, NS 6078 and BN 6912 (got a little too much sun in the lens on that one). They were by us and headed under the Hwy. 65 overpass at 9:25. It appeared that they might have a wide load in their consist. About 3/4 of the way back in the train, they had a short covered hopper leaking great clouds of gray powder (cement?). Every westbounder we saw the rest of the day would be leaving a wake of this stuff.
We moved just a short way east, to the bottom of Whitebreast Hill, for two more westbound trains, both coal empties. The first, at 9:40 was a set of NOCX cars behind BN 5103 and BN 9225. We'd heard them stop at Albia to pick up fuel oil tanks to take to Lincoln. Less than 15 minutes behind came CEPX gondolas pulled by BN 9706 and BN 9400. The big MAC's had their train right on the taillights of the 5103.
Jan checked off the warrants we'd heard, "That's all the westbounds for a while." We drove to Albia, stopping to check things over at Halpin before heading into town. At the yard we found some serious power, BN 9494 and BNSF 9882, sitting west of the office with some company cars, including caboose 10165. These may have been helpers while work was underway on the south hill last week. These locos were to have an interesting afternoon, first being picked up and taken west, then swapped for power on an eastbound at Osceola.
A carload of posts for pilings was parked on the north side of the yard. Also in the yard were BN 1508 and 2333, coupled to a single bulkhead flat.
We drove out to Maxon and heard the detector announce another westbound on the way. We got there just in time (10:55) to catch BN 9462 and BNSF 9809, with a set of OGSX "Coalveyor" cars. Another railfan was present, who turned out to be a retired railroader from Blakesburg. While we visited, the above coal empty came to a stop and the power cut off. They then ran to the yard and, after having a bad time with a switch, picked up the two SD's to take west. The early MAC paint jobs are really starting to fade. I suppose they'll soon be orange and green or some other equally odd combination.
We continued on our way to Ottumwa, arriving just in time to hear an eastbound IMRL train leaving Rutledge, at the top of the hill. The IMRL yard was nearly empty, save for a couple of cuts of tank cars, and one hastily-lettered NREX unit, ex-IC 2025.
We stopped for our picnic lunch in the north corner of the IMRL/BNSF diamond, a place called Lawler on the IMRL signs. Another railfan was hanging out there, and I struck up a conversation and was told that we'd just missed an eastbound on the IMRL, and that he was hoping to catch the UP stacker, just as we were. He was from Bonaparte, and seemed to be a pretty serious railfan - Kodachrome, long lens, motor drive, etc. He and I visited for about an hour while getting slides and images (respectively) of BN traffic.
The first train after lunch was an eastbound that had been trailing us across the KC and Ottumwa subdivisions most of the morning. This was a coal load, mostly BN and BNSF cars, pulled by BN 9622 and BN 9710. Just in case you're looking for a good train-watching spot, I took this shot from our picnic site - the track in the foreground is the IMRL.
I went down to the south side of the BNSF tracks for the next train, a coal load with a great variety of reporting marks. They rolled up to the IMRL connection at 1:15, behind BN 9557 and 9450. Heat waves were already rising from the right of way on this nice warm spring afternoon. The 9557 had a red scarf tied on the front handrail - something we've seen a number of times before along this line.
Our Bonaparte acquaintance was about to give up and head home when I heard, "That load looks okay on this side", on the scanner, so he was persuaded to stay for one more train. At 1:35, we watched BN 9537 and BNSF 9954 hit the diamond with a string of empty UCEX hoppers. The whiteness on the westbound rails is the cement (or whatever) that we'd seen pouring out of a car earlier in the day.
After our man from Bonaparte departed, we went over to the Ottumwa Museum and Amtrak depot to see about the Zephyr. They've apparently started some sort of landscaping project in front of the depot, filling in the areas where there were once rails. The fill's not been spread, however, and presents a very strange appearance. We learned from the depot attendant that No. 6 was expected between 5:00 and 5:15.
The scanner alerted us to another westbound, and we went east to Union Street to get an image. This is the location of the old Rock Island freight depot, now little more than a front wall, surrounded by a high fence. The train turned out to be yet another coal empty, FSTX hoppers, behind BNSF 9993 and BN 9458. Very Orange, indeed. They came through town at 2:00 p.m.
We'd expected that the next IMRL train would be the UP stacker, but train 112 came into the yard first, and departed around 3:20. We went back to the diamond and took up a position on the new levee to see IMRL engines 352 and 393 come charging out across the BNSF mains and attack Rutledge Hill.
We had quite a long wait for the next train. The BNSF pretty much shut down the railroad in anticipation of Amtrak's passage. A few loads were staged west of the Halpin crossovers at the bottom of Albia hill, empties east of the same. The shiny train was then reversed out of Osceola and put back on the righthand track within the CTC between Halpin and Maxon. BNSF has recently completed signaling the mains for both directions, so reversed trains can move a little faster than they used to.
Through the afternoon, we listened to traffic stack up on the BNSF, and to the IMRL switching, but no word from the UP stacker.
The California Zephyr finally reached the Ottumwa depot and glided to a stop at 5:18, over six hours down. HyVee Catering waited with the passengers, Amtrak having ordered 175 hamburgers to go. The relief engineer handed up the orders to the conductor, who'd come forward to the first baggage car. There's just one soul in the cab on the CZ these days - if you're riding, pray that this person is alert and healthy! The engineer was brought to the depot in the luxurious Days Inn limo. After dumping the garbage and signing the ticket for the burgers, they were rolling again at 5:23. In the train today:
We returned to the diamond, Jan having finally heard something about the UP train on the radio. They were in and out of the IMRL yard quickly, and came across the BNSF just before 6:00. UP 7516 and 7554, elephant-style, led the train, primarily K-Line containers, up the hill toward Rutledge.
The BNSF had a westbound waiting, rolling very slowly through downtown Ottumwa. Within 5 minutes, ATSF 3701 and BN 2293 brought a merchandise train over the crossing. Just west of the IMRL connection, they met a coal load with the power we'd seen at Albia this morning - BN 9494 and BNSF 9882. We wondered how the engines had made it back to the east, but later heard on the scanner the story of an engine swap at Osceola.
We started back west toward home, even though we could tell it was going to be an evening of fairly heavy traffic in Ottumwa. Another eastbound IMRL train was fairly close behind the stacker, and a meet with train 111 was being discussed on the radio. From the EOT transmissions on the scanner, I'd say we just missed the eastbound as we were leaving town. We returned to Albia and got some fast food for supper. 3701 had arrived at Maxon and was doing some switching.
After eating, we went down to Halpin to await an eastbound that we'd heard get a warrant at Melrose. At 7:25, BN 9713 and 9521 came by the signals with BN and BNSF coal gons. We waited a little longer and saw 3701 one more time, at 7:40, as they came down the hill and headed on for Creston. The first car in their train was now steel for Johnson Machine Works in Chariton. This car had been set out for repair at Maxon, and a long discussion of its destination and routing went on between "Field Support" and the crew. To avoid the possibility of delaying westbound Amtrak No. 5, they decided to take it through Chariton to Creston and bring it back east again on another train.
Nineteen trains - a good catch for a Saturday!