Helpers at Albia
May 19


Wednesday was a bright and clear day in Iowa, one of few that we've had lately. It didn't take too much persuading to get Jan to leave a couple of phone messages and join me in some train-chasing. We got out of town around 9:30, just in time to avoid my being called to a meeting in Hillman Hall.

We've been trying to catch helpers being used at Albia, and had run down there once before this season only to arrive just as a pile driver broke down, opening the "south hill" so that the helpers were not needed. Today's trip was successful. I started eastward out of town, but we heard Amtrak around Osceola discussing crossing over to Main 1 at Chariton, so we started south through Milo and Lacona in hopes of intercepting the passenger train. We got to the east side of Chariton just as the rear of No. 6 was clearing the crossover at MP 333.10. We continued east on Hwy. 34, keeping track of the train's location as they entered a Form B near Melrose.

We pulled up to the highway bridge at 10:25 and walked out to the middle of the bridge just in time to get a quick picture of the passenger train, with GEnesis unit 85 on the point. I walked over to the north side to get another shot as they started up the hill on the steeper grade, taken by passenger trains here for years when Albia was a stop on the line.

I love the thrill of the chase - getting there just in time! A dispatcher would call it a "good meet".

We went on up to Albia yard just in time to see the helpers, BN 5097 and EMD 9094, heading down the hill to bring up a coal load. It took quite a while for them to return. Power on the local parked in the yard was a nice matched set of Santa Fe GeePs, 2324 and 2959. We also found the out-of-order piston from the pile driver that had kept us from seeing the pushers in use a few days back.

The load, with EMD 9085, BN 9244 and BN 5090, ground slowly up to the top of the grade and entered the yard at 11:35. The trucks of the units were shaking and rattling as they strained to get their JE loads onto the level track, and 9244 would periodically belch a large cloud of smoke.

With about half the train past us I saw a passenger, riding on top of the coal, pop up and have a quick look around. He spotted a signal maintainer and ducked right back down. I watched and waited for an opportunity to get his picture, but he stayed out of sight. Before we went back down the hill we stopped and let the signalman know that the train had a rider. Later in the day we heard quite a bit of talk between the dispatcher and the train about the people aboard (apparently more than one - spotted by MoW people) and just how they would meet the authorities. Eventually, they decided to haul them all the way to Galesburg.

The helpers arrived, were cut off, and then headed right back down the hill for the next load at 12:09. We did the same.

At Halpin, the next load, with BN 9621 and 9684, was waiting on Main 2. The helper power arrived, got a warrant to go west of the CTC, and ran back to clear the crossovers. The load came across from Main 2 to 1, stopped clear of the crossover signal, and the helpers were talked past the red signal to come back east.

They pulled up to where I was taking pictures and invited me aboard for a look at a high-mileage SD cab. Very nice fellows, but, well...young! I guess my mileage is starting to show, too! Jan thought I'd gotten a ride to the top of the hill and moved over to the driver's seat of the Jeep, but we managed to flag her down before I was left out in the middle of nowhere with a digital camera and a thumb. The "boys" pulled down and coupled up behind the CEPX cars, and we all headed for the yard again.

The load arrived at the top of the hill at 12:50, much faster than the previous one. The helpers soon followed, and were cut off just east of the signals for the Des Moines branch. The dispatcher then sent them back down the hill to get in the clear on Main 2 for westbound traffic.

The westbound, which came into the yard at 1:30, turned out to be a JE coal load with plenty of power. On the head end were eight units: BN 9740, BNSF 9941, BN 9671, UP 7016, BNSF 9885, BNSF 9920, BN 9218 and BN 7251. (The Oly's buffer fills after 5 shots)

We went out to Old Maxon next, since it sounded like the UP Syrup Turn might be in town. Sure enough, CNW 4634 and UP 1694 were shoving tank cars around on the interchange track. We'd earlier spotted an end loader doing a submarine impression over by the BNSF mains east of old Maxon and I walked back in for a closer look. It was pretty well buried in the mud. They'd managed to knock over one of the signal poles, so while I was there I took advantage of the opportunity to augment my insulator collection.

We drove back down toward Halpin on a gravel road that's between the mains and located the pile driver at work on Main 2 (normally eastbound) around MP 307.

We started back in the general direction of home, stopping in Melrose in hopes of intercepting another eastbound. A work train, with BN 1413 and a few ballast cars, was parked on the eastbound main. We'd heard talk on the radio lately of the "Guzzler" and wondered just what it was. It turned out to be a huge vacuum cleaner used to suck up muddy ballast. Just after we arrived, the machine rolled up from the east and got off the rails in order to dump its load of dirt and rocks. The truck was marked for Hulcher, a company that does derailment cleanups in these parts.

With the Guzzler out of the way, the ballast train proceded eastward to replace the missing rock. In just a few minutes, a reversed eastbound coal load called for permission to enter the Form B protecting the work on Main 2. This train came into Melrose at 3:15 with BN 9488, BNSF 9867 and new-looking (3-99 build date) AEPX gondolas.

We got back on Hwy. 34 and drove to Chariton, where we saw the DENGAL come up Whitebreast Hill and park just west of town to await some westbound traffic before crossing over between Chariton and Halpin. On the point were BNSF 6799, 8046 and SF 7420.

That's It!