Saturday Morning at Albia

Assorted April Stops

Des Moines Model Railroad Meet - Saturday, April 22

I started for Des Moines fairly early, hoping to catch some traffic at Short Line Yard on my way to the meet.  This was a very quiet morning on the UP, but I did see NS "Job X" on its way to gather some covered hoppers at the elevator.  They crossed the Spine Line around 7:30.

The meet this year moved to Meredith Middle School in northwest Des Moines.  It's definitely a better venue than we've had lately, with plenty of room for vendors, the silent auction, etc.  I checked out a presentation on meat packing by one of my former high school students, Doug Harding.  Doug will do this presentation again at the RITS national meet in Cedar Falls this year.  I also got a few shots at the model contest, a boxcab motor, CB&Q 317, Belt RR 605 and a speeder shed.  There were quite a few entries, and some very fine model work.

In the school's gym, the vendors were set up for the "swap meet".  Des Moines' NTrak club had a modular layout going.  A few more of these would give the meet greater appeal to the general public, but it still seemed to be very well attended this year.  The N scale layout included a module by Drew Cannon with some "proof of concept" temporary structures.

Central Iowa Garden Railroad Society Meeting - Sunday, April 23

Susan and I went to the home of Ron Mash and Janet Moser near Minburn for this month's CIGRS meet.  These folks have been remodeling their home and have a garden railroad with several small ponds just outside the house.  Their layout shows a great deal of the creative approach to railroading that one finds within the work done by club members.

A Saturday Excursion to the BNSF - May 6

I got away early on a cool and clear Saturday morning and headed south toward Chariton.  The Jeep's thermometer read 33 degrees in the valleys.  As I approached Chariton, I heard a couple of eastbounds getting warrants to go onto the Ottumwa subdivision at Albia, and what sounded like another pair working their way up Whitebreast Hill.  By the time I reached the rails, just after 6:00, the first of these was rolling by in front of me.  I decided to try to get ahead of them and try for an interception in Melrose.

I set up on the north side of the BNSF line at the Tralee St. crossing.  It was early enough that the sun was just getting down into the valley where the tiny community lies, and the light was still on the north side of the rails.  At 6:20 the first of the two coal loads arrived.  I'd heard the Russell detector count this one at 480 axles.  Leading the distributed power set of UCEX hoppers was BN 9792.  They rolled off into the fog approaching the CTC at Halpin and were followed by BNSF 5656 on the rear.

The second train was only a few minutes behind, the detector announced them at 6:25, with 542 axles - a fairly long load.  I'd read on an Iowa rail list that there were some longer coal loads being run now.  There've also been some incidents of "buckled" cars, but I don't know if that's related.  The train came through Melrose at 6:35, with BNSF 5840 and 9872 on the point and BN 9811 behind.  The 131 car consist, mixed BN/BNSF hoppers, was slowing for an approach signal as it came through town.

I left Melrose and headed on east to Albia on Hwy. 34.  At 6:55 I heard the detector east of Maxon report a westbound 514 axle train.  I decided hurry through town and try to catch this one at the west end of the yard on Main 1.  As it turned out, I needn't have rushed.  This train, the GALLIN, had stopped out at old Maxon and cut off some power in order to come into town, pick up the helper units parked there, and drop off a unit headed to Des Moines for a grain train.

The GALLIN crew left their lead unit east of town (I believe) and came in with a pair of GE's and an ex-SP tunnel motor.  They picked up the helpers, BNSF 8244 and 8901, (and initially the plow, which was quickly returned) and jockeyed the NREX 9328 into position on the run-around track.  While the switching was going on, I had a nice visit with the conductor, John Campbell.  They then took their original two units, BNSF 4778 and 4459, and followed the helpers back east to get their train.

By the scanner, I knew that one eastbound, BNSF 9903, had come up the hill while all this was going on, and I also heard the DMOWQM report itself out of Des Moines at 8:25.  Westbounds were starting to line up east of Maxon behind the GALLIN, so I decided to head out to old Maxon to wait on traffic.  I called "Julie" and learned that the California Zephyr was expected in Ottumwa just before 1:00.

It took the GALLIN, a "7500 foot train", quite a while to pump the brake line back up, but they finally were moving again around 9:00.  Shortly, one of the waiting westbounds rolled by, MPWX hoppers with BNSF 9964 and 9545.  I knew from the radio that a load was working its way up the hill and this train, BN tub gondolas with BNSF 9941 leading and a new GE unit, BNSF 5774 in the rear, came by at 9:15.

The MPWX train had stopped to pick up fuel oil tank cars and was on the move again about 10:15.  At 10:25 the next empty arrived, CEFX tubs with BNSF 8868 in front and BNSF 9858 on the rear end.  This train had registered 528 axles on the detector.  The Main 1 detector came on again with 528 axles and, fifteen minutes behind the CEFX empty, I had another with BNSF 8894 and BN 9662.

At this point, I was aware from the scanner that I had trains coming very soon from both directions, so it was time to play the "Which side?" game.  I decided that the load coming up the hill was going to beat the empty by a minute or two, so I went to the north side of the rails in hope of catching both of them, even though the light might not be the best.  The load did indeed win, arriving at 10:50 with BNSF 9963 and 9408, and COLX tub gondolas.  Next was the westbound, the camera clock shows two minutes between head end shots, a distributed power train with BNSF 9666 leading, BN cars, and BNSF 9649 behind.

The COLX load ran into some signal trouble east of Maxon and caused the detector to complain, "train too slow".  At 11:12 the next eastbound, the DENGAL, came up the hill with BNSF 4362, 4734 and 8637.  They stopped for a minute, but managed to keep moving on approach signals.  I was getting concerned about what dispatcher KRS was going to do with the Zephyr, since I knew there was another eastbound coming up the hill behind the DENGAL.  I didn't want to get caught on the south side of the mains with the CZ coming around traffic on Main 1, so I decided to drive back to the first grade crossing west of Maxon.

Bad move - the head end of the next train beat me to the crossing, and it turned out to be a piggyback train, an uncommon sight along here.  Another "buff", at the Des Moines meet (above), had told me about seeing one of these in Creston a while back.  I had to settle for a couple of windshield shots - BNSF 6370 and 7339 led the short (292 axle) all-pig train.  They stopped and waited for a signal at Maxon, but soon were on the move.  Kevin had decided that everyone would line up at the ICE crossover for the passenger train today.

The Zephyr came up the hill on Main 2 at 12:17.  AMTK 134 and 91 pulled a short consist with no freight on the rear.  Engineer Ogundipe read their warrant to the conductor (apparently copied from the dispatcher earlier) at Maxon and they were on their way to Ottumwa after crossing over to Main 1.

I got some lunch and returned to Maxon in time to catch the Des Moines train, who estimated their Burlington arrival for 3:00.  This manifest was led by BNSF 579, 924 and 4223.  The detector counted 326 axles on the DMOWQM today.

I waited around for about an hour with no traffic and then started back to the west.  I missed an eastbound, BNSF 8922, that I heard changing warrants as I was leaving town, but managed to catch one load in Melrose and a couple in Chariton on the way home.  The first, at 2:30 in Melrose, was a CEFX train with BNSF 9904 and 8883.  In Chariton at 3:15 I heard "We're on top, bring 'em on" and at the west end of the Chariton yard around 3:20, intercepted BNSF 9883 with a set of PNJX "NRG" cars and low-emissions BNSF 5953 on the rear.  The last train of the day came through the same spot at 3:35, BNSF 5813 with a mix of older hoppers, including some black BN ones.  The rear end of the consist was handled by BNSF 8839.

That's It!