Train Watching Watching in Iowa

Friday, May 24

For several weeks Byron and I have been trying to find a day with decent weather in which to get together with Steve Holmes and Kirk Hayden and produce some video tape of railfans in action.  Steve and Kirk are producing a series of programs on the subject, hopefully to be sold to cable channels and public television stations.  We'd made a date to meet Friday morning in Ottumwa so that Steve and Kirk could do some train-watching watching.

Byron came over on Thursday, and in the evening we went down to Osceola to see the Zephyr and whatever else we could catch.  We got two freights just after we arrived around 8:15.  The first was eastbound and led by BNSF 2923.  Just east of the depot they met a westbound with BNSF 559 (Thanks to Chris Guss for the correction on the number!) on the point.  I was experimenting with the flash and got some "interesting" shots of the two trains.

No. 5, the California Zephyr, arrived at 9:35 and made a quick stop.  Cut in behind the boxcars were two private cars, Golden Moon and Imperial Leaf.  The Leaf's platform was occupied by some well-dressed gentlemen enjoying a close-up view of the Roadrailers trailing behind them.

On Friday morning we hit the road at 7:00.  We had a clear morning with the temperature just under 50 degrees.  Showers were forecast for late in the day into Saturday, but it looked like we'd be able to get some tape recorded first today.  I called to check on the eastbound Zephyr and learned that it was about three hours down this morning.

Byron and I had lineups supplied by a friendly BNSF engineer, and of course monitored the radio on the way down to Hwy. 34.  It looked like we would be running behind a coal load (BNSF 9820) but would be able to intercept an empty near Chariton.  I pulled off and stopped at a gravel road crossing just east of town and we intercepted BNSF 8968 and 8989 with 126 OGSX tub gons at 7:50.  This train was probably from the electric plant near Chillicothe, and did not appear on our lineup.

We communicated with Steve and Kirk by cell phone, arranged to meet them at the Ottumwa depot and got together about 8:45.  After a short conference on what they'd be trying to photograph and what information we had about trains in the neighborhood, I set about taking some pictures.  The first thing through was westbound track inspector Junior Grade in his highrailer.

At 8:57, the headlights of the 9820 that we'd passed near Albia on the way over popped up at the IMRL diamond.  I moved over to the south track to watch them come through the passenger station.  This turned out to be a set of BNSF and FSTX hoppers with distributed power, 9820 in front and 9844 shoving on the rear.

By this time we knew that a UP stack train was about to come down Rutledge Hill so, with Steve and Kirk trailing, we drove over and staked out the IMRL/BNSF diamonds.  At 10:04 the intermodal came across the highway to Lawler East, the location of a power derail that protects the BNSF from runaways on the hill.  On the point of the stacker were ex-CNW UP 9771, UP 9762, 4220 and 2909.

After the stack train was across the diamonds, we held a conference with our videographers.  They'd wanted to get some action, in particular a, "chase".  I decided that this intermodal would provide the train chase today and that our objective would be to photograph it at Foster Bridges, between Blakesburg and Moravia on the IMRL line.  9771's relief crew was already on duty and I figured they would not stop for long in the IMRL yard.  We loaded Kirk and his camera into the back seat of the Jeep and headed back across the river and west on Hwy. 34.

I drove down into Blakesburg and, with Byron reading the deLorme atlas under video scrutiny, we headed out on the gravel parallel to the IMRL line.  On the radio it sounded like we had a comfortable lead on the stacker, but I put the Jeep in 4 WD and wasted no time until we were positioned south of one of the bridges and all set to get a perfect picture.

As it turned out we needn't have hurried, but doing so at least served for effect.  9771 had to stop and get through a Form B where some tie work was underway and even then had a 10 mph slow order to pass. Kirk and Steve strategized while we waited. 9771 finally made it to the bridge at 10:53.

After completing our "chase", Byron and I staged several arrivals at the scene for Kirk to tape.  Then it was back into Ottumwa for lunch, Kirk's treat.  On the way into town we spotted a BNSF coal load, Muscatine Power and Water hoppers with BNSF 9432 and 9463, at the west end of the IMRL yard.  By now it was getting close enough to the expected arrival of No. 6 that I wanted to be near the Ottumwa depot.  While we waited on the train, Kirk got some more pictures, including me getting out my camera, putting away the camera, and setting the scanner antenna on the top of the Jeep.  Each of these activities had to be repeated several times.

At 1:45 (scheduled for 10:33), the Zephyr came across the IMRL diamond and pulled up for its stop at the Ottumwa depot.  Ottumwa is the "away" terminal for Amtrak engineers, and today Leroy Lucas was relieved by engineer Eric Ogundipe, who'd been on the platform awaiting the train's arrival.  In the consist today:

AMTK 137, 42 and 122
Baggage 1242
Transition Sleeper 39006
Coaches 34065, 34135 and 31591
Sightseer Lounge 33007
Dining Car 38055
Sleeping Cars 32088 and 32026
Coach 34090
Sleeping Car 32078
Nine Boxcars and five Roadrailers, for a total of 104 axles.
Engineer Ogundipe (oh-GUN-duh-pay) boarded and, with tape being made as well as still images, they were underway at 1:57.  As soon as the train was out of the station, Kirk turned his camera to get some crossing gate footage.

We moved to the IMRL diamond again to await traffic.  A large pile of ties had been set out southeast of the rail crossings, and there appeared to be some spots nearby in need of attention.  At 2:40 the local left Ottumwa yard with a long block of corn syrup tankers headed for the Cargill plant at Eddyville.  On the point were BNSF 2910 (note the brakeperson avoiding the camera), 2609 and 2810.  After they were across the interlocking plant, the IMRL ran an eastbound freight up the hill behind CEFX (obviously ex-BNSF) 7095 and 7106.

We took a short break and managed to miss an empty coming through on the BNSF, but got back to Lawler in time to see the first half of the MPWX load charge Rutledge hill.  BNSF 9463 and 9432 were assisted in their efforts by IMRL 611 shoving the rear of the cut.  Byron got a picture of 9463 back in March of '98 when it was side-swiped in a collision at the east end of Creston yard.

By this time Steve and Kirk had had enough and were ready to start back toward Cedar Rapids.  Knowing that we'd at least see the coal train power come down for a second cut, Byron and I stayed at the IMRL/BNSF crossing.  Before the light power was allowed to cross, we saw two more BNSF westbounds.  At 3:45 an AEPX empty came through town with BNSF 8871 and 9913.  They were followed just a few minutes later by a freight (probably GALLIN - planned departure was 12:30) with BNSF 6882 and BN 6323.

As soon as the freight cleared, the coal train power and pusher, now coupled together, came back down after the rest of the MPWX train.  As you can see in the last image, the rain clouds had started to move in from the southeast.

Byron and I hit the road to see if we could chase down the 6882.  We passed them as we went around Chariton on the Hwy. 34 bypass and made one more stop, at 5:30, to get pictures of the train as it went under the wooden bridge at Stephens Forest.

That's It!