The Call of the Air Horns

Three Short Trips to the BNSF


Osceola - Saturday, May 5

After a week of rainy weather, central Iowa was still cloudy but beginning to clear up a bit on Friday evening.  After supper I decided to run down to Osceola for Amtrak and whatever might come through ahead of it.  The days are getting longer, though not long enough to catch the Zephyr without a flash, so I came prepared for some night shots.

The first train through was a CWEX empty at 7:45.  On the point were BNSF 4986 and BN 9603.  For years there's been nothing but EMD power on the coal trains through here, but General Electric units have been showing up lately.  From the radio I heard this train and another meet west of town.  This eastbounder came around the corner west of the depot just five mintues later and turned out to be a manifest pulled by BNSF 2741 and BNSF 2327.  The lead unit apparently had no headlight, just ditch lights.  As you can tell by the blurred picture (1/50 sec. exposure), the daylight was fading fast.  That was to be the last train before No. 5 appeared a couple of hours later.  I hit Casey's across the street for more coffee and a snack and worked on a crossword puzzle.

Before long, Tom Cottrell, an acquaintance who works in track maintenance for the BNSF, appeared.  Tom's first words were, "I wouldn't park there if I was you..."  He was only half kidding, referring to the placement of the Jeep next to a mudhole in the right-of-way just east of the highway crossing on Main 2.  Tom and I conversed for awhile about the current tie project and the sorry state of the tracks these days.  I told him that I'd checked out rough track in Melrose a week ago and replied that, yes, I had seen where the wheels were hitting the angle bars at the stub track switch.  In fact, I'd taken a picture of it.

It was 9:55, forty minutes behind the new schedule, before the Zephyr arrived.  They had an interesting consist tonight:

AMTK 66 and 14
Material Car 1401
Baggage Car 1242
Some older, single-level coaches: 54011, 54013, and 54579
A CalTrain bilievel commuter car: 3903
Transition Sleeper 39030
Sleeping Cars 32037 and 32036
Dining Car 38024
Sightseer Lounge 33005
Coaches 31590, 34092 and 34039
Boxcars 7109, 71111, 71174 and 71195
Material Car 1541
A Triple Crown Roadrailer
Apparently Amtrak's latest paint scheme is now being applied to some older power.  The coaches ahead of the transition sleeper were illuminated, but looked unoccupied.  They made a quick stop and were on their way again in just a couple of minutes.


Osceola and Chariton - Sunday May 6

Sunday still looked a bit rainy, with a good cloud cover in our part of the state.  After church, neighbor Joan Overton and I decided to go out for lunch .  I headed south to make a train-watching trip out of it as well.  We got to Osceola just a few minutes ahead of a coal empty.  On the head end were BN 9484 and 9524.  This train had FSTX hoppers and was by the Osceola depot at 1:26.  We had only a short wait of 20 minutes for another train, a BN coal load with distributed power.  BNSF 9852 was on the front and BNSF 8952 was behind.  I'm not certain why 9852's headlight was dimmed - it was on as the train approached, but went off just before the train passed us.

I told Joan that from traffic on the radio it sounded like there'd be another train in a few minutes.  While we waited, she fell into conversation with a man working on the high-rail gear of the BNSF trucks nearby.  He turned out to be a contractor from Casper, Wyoming, who maintains this gear for the railroad in a number of states.  After the 9852 left, Track Inspector Earl Hamilton put his truck on Main 2, pulled clear of the Osceola mud hole and let the above contractor measure the truck's clearance.  Earl headed east out of town just as the next train pulled into sight at 2:09.  BN 9497 and BNSF 9805 let this coal empty, a set of Norfolk Southern "TOP GON" cars.  These appeared to be hoppers converted to rotary dumping.

At this point we decided to drive on over to Chariton.  We managed to overtake a CWEX coal load somewhere along the way and caught it coming through the "ess" curves in Chariton at 2:45.  This train had BN 9550 and 9562 on the point.  About 20 minutes later the DP load we'd seen in Osceola crested Whitebreast Hill and we saw it a second time as it crossed Curtis Avenue at the west end of the Chariton yard.  This time the headlights were on.


Shannon and Chariton - Monday, May 7

Monday came up blue and beautiful - I couldn't resist the call of the air horns and returned to the BNSF mains after lunch.  From the radio I was aware that they were using only Main 2 east of the crossovers at Shannon (Lucas) in order to accomodate tie replacement work.  It was nearly 2:00 before I got to Lucas.  On the drive down I'd heard a couple of westbounds, BNSF 4989 and BN 9200, given warrants to run left-handed to Shannon and was pretty sure I could be there in time to see them go back over onto Main 1.  When I arrived, I found what I believe was an undercutter parked on Main 2 just west of the grade crossing in Lucas.

I parked facing east on the south side of the tracks at a gravel road crossing just east of Shannon.  There's a company road beside the rails and then a little grass before it slopes away into the ditch.  I parked on the grass, well away from the rail and just off the gravel road.  Two switchtenders were on hand at Shannon, and before long one of them drove his black Cadillac over and told me that, "There's a train coming on that track pretty soon.  You're not in a very good spot."

(Really, there's a train coming?  Startling news!  Actually, I thought  I was in a great spot - facing rail traffic with the sun behind me - perfect for pictures.)  I pulled the Jeep forward and parked on the gravel road. (VTWI fans will note that this is a new Jeep - I traded.  The new Jeep looks pretty much like the old one.  Be sure to come over and visit when you spot this vehicle trackside, but please skip the parking instructions.)

Mr. Switchtender, stopped straddling both mains in the middle of the grade crossing, held his radio out the window and informed 4989 that they were ready for the train to cross over to Main 1.  He then drove back to the crossovers and I walked back to where I'd been parked to get my pictures.  What turned out to be a manifest, with BNSF 4989, BN 7244 and BNSF 4995, got to the bottom of the hill at 1:13.

I knew that another westbound was following closely behind but I didn't want to bother Mr. Switchtender again, so I crossed behind 4989's train, parked well away to the northwest of Shannon and used a telephoto lens on the camera.  The second train showed up at 2:33 with a set of empty DEEX gondolas.  On the front, BN 9200, 9256 and EMD (formerly referred to as "Oakway" in warrants) 9073.

After this train cleared the crossovers, both switchtenders took off for other parts.  I heard the dispatcher start setting up eastbound traffic, including the undercutter.  There were several trains waiting west of Shannon but the light would not be good for eastbounds down here, so I decided to go into Chariton and catch the parade from a spot in town where the tracks curve to the southeast.  On the way, I drove up the airport road to have a look back down the hill where the tie work was underway on Main 1.  The undercutter, referred to as "PA 300" in a warrant, moved faster than I expected, but I caught it  just before 3:00 going by at the HyVee warehouse crossing west of town.

I parked near the Roland Avenue crossing for three trains:

3:27 - DEEX load, DP, with (faded) BNSF 9853 and BNSF 9981.  124 cars.
3:47 - AEPX load, DP, with BNSF 9952 and BNSF 9780130 Cars - beautiful sky today in Iowa!
4:19 - DEEX load, BN 9537 and 9522.  119 cars.
That's It!