Kansas City Here We Come

Sunday, May 26

A couple of weeks back I got a mysterious email message from Urbandale railfan Dave Kroeger:
From: DCKJRK@aol.com
Date: Thu, 16 May 2002 00:08:24 EDT
Subject: May 26
To: tinder@storm.simpson.edu

You available that Sunday? If so, I have something to ask you. But only if you have nothing planned. Thanks!


Naturally, I was curious and figured I'd better say I was available regardless, just to find out what Dave had up his sleeve.  As it turned out, he was planning a railfan round trip to Kansas City that day.  Dave also recruited Russ Lyon from Washington, IA, and we made a plan to meet early Sunday at the Osceola depot for the trip south.

I rolled out of Indianola under a full moon at 0445.  It looked like we were going to have a cool and clear day, perfect for travel and train pictures.  Russ was already at the depot when I got another shot of the moon in Osceola at 5:15.  Before long Dave arrived and we loaded into his pickup for the run down I-35.

Our first stop was northeast of KC at Birmingham Junction, a four-diamond crossing of the IMRL/UP and NS.  We hung around there for what seemed like a long time listening to train whistles elsewhere in the city and waiting for some traffic, but finally gave up and moved on.  Having been skunked at Birmingham, we next went for a sure thing and headed for Santa Fe Junction, a railroad "mixmaster" intersection in the river bottoms just south of Kemper Arena.  At my direction, we took the scenic route through industries and rail yards between.  Sunday morning's perfect for such tours of the wrong side of the rails, there's little traffic and the indigenous fauna are sleeping off their Saturday night.

We got to the junction around 9:00.  There were already a number of fans in attendance.  As Dave and I were visiting we were approached by a guy with a long lens and an SUV from Texas.  He walked over to me and said "I think I might know you..."  It turned out to be Wes Carr, BNSF dispatcher, whom I've corresponded with in email a number of times, but never met in person.  Wes was in KC with his family for a wedding and had happened, through a complicated set of circumstances, to be at the junction at the same time we were.  Wes has a great web site that you should browse soon.

For the next three hours we just wandered around the place taking pictures.  Here's a nearly complete list of the traffic through Santa Fe Junction Sunday morning (Credit Dave and Russ for a few of the unit numbers):

8:55 EB Freight, BNSF 5262, 6919 and 4487 - Intermodal WB out of sight behind this one
9:20 EB UP Freight, UP 4152, CSX 7522, UP 8508 - Check out this apprentice railfanWes and Dave, also.
9:39 WB Freight, BNSF 7837, 6763, 904, 6350, 4793, 6713 and 7868
9:48 EB Stacker on High Line, UP 4895, 9416
9:49 WB Transfer, BNSF 4265 and 4270 with aircraft parts - Trains over and under
10:17 WB Freight, BNSF 4972 and NS 8708
10:22 EB Coal, CNW 8818 and SP 220
10:36 EB Southwest Chief, - Occluded by EB NS 9354 with autoracks - Youngster waves, Russ watches trains
10:41 WB Freight on High Line, UP 6200 (fresh flag), 2803 and 4308 - Going onto bridge
Poster Child for Remote Control Operation HZGX 169 (DIC in above freight) -Sister 170
10:48 EB Herzog Ballast, BNSF 2528, 7018 and BN 1376
10:59 EB Triple Crown Roadrailer, ATSF 892 and BN 1511
11:23 WB Piggyback, BNSF 5311, 4715, 8277 and 5450 - Hard to get shots on the SF line
11:28 WB Autoracks, UP 4892 and 3975 - Turning onto the bridge
11:48 WB Autoracks on High Line, NS 9211 and 9323 - Going onto the bridge

Around 9:30 one of the local fans, ranting about a flag unit nearby at a roundhouse, "...perfect light and you can smell the paint!!!", persuaded Russ to accompany him.  Dave and I followed in the pickup but lost them and just had to return to the junction and hope that Russ hadn't been abducted.  The unit, UP 6200, came over the High Line later anyway.  The locals seemed reluctant to step on company property, but at least one fan drove to a spot near the tower, left his friends in the car, walked in and set up his tripod and camcorder near the Santa Fe mains.

Russ and I walked south under the High Line to get a few of the pictures, including this one of the double-level bridge.  Later in the day we would visit a bridge that received an award for its beauty.  Maybe there wasn't much competition in KC...  This appears at one time to have been a lift bridge, but it now looks like the mechanisms have been detached from the span?

At this point we loaded up and did a short drive-around.  I suggested that we take lunch "railfan alfresco", so we found a McDonalds just north of a yard overpass and ordered take-out.  Russ, apparently a great bargain hunter, exclaimed in line that, "Double cheeseburgers are on sale!"  He got four and started on the first one at the counter while Dave and I were waiting on our order.  The second was gone before we were out of the lot.  I got distracted navigating and missed the rest.

Russ wanted to go into Kansas and Dave suggested Holliday, where the Topeka line joins the other Santa Fe mains.  On the way out we ran into a detour and eventually settled on Morris, a little closer in, for our picnic.  Another fan showed up while we were tailgating our burgers and fries from the back of Dave's pickup.

At 1:00, the piggyback train with BNSF 5311 in the lead that we'd seen at the junction around 11:30 left Argentine and rolled by our lunch room at Morris.  Another intermodal, eastbound, had been waiting on the elevated south track and crossed over to race into the yard as soon as the pigs cleared.  This train was pulled by ATSF 872 and BNSF 4424, 8736 and 5261.  After lunch we went on west to Holliday and at 1:37 saw a westbound intermodal with UP 4720, 9033 and whatever CNW 8570's been patched to, that was really flying low.  Got quite a BuffBuzz from that one!  We returned to the west end of Argentine Yard and walked out onto the 55th Street overpass to have a look at the hump yard operation.  The hump power was interesting this afternoon, BN 6270 and a seriously homely slug, BN 6295.

After this we decided to head for the Truman drawbridge.  However, my navigating skills took us a bit off course and we got another look at the yards first.  We got to the bridge area just before 3:00.  Dave whipped out his IMRL Employee Timetable and dialed up bridge operator Joe Roma on his cell phone.  Before long, we had an invitation to come on up for a look at the bridge controls.  As we were driving in, northbound M-NLDM was coming by a parked westbound.  The northbound included a few brightly-painted USAX boxcars with that "retro look" stenciled military lettering.  The parked auto train's power was IMRL 221, 222, 604 and CEFX 3048.

As soon as the NLDM cleared the bridge, the 400' center span began its 33' climb to clear an approaching barge.  We'd gotten lucky and would get to see the lift mechanism in operation.  Dave and Russ walked ahead of me to the stairway leading up to the third floor control room.  In the last picture you can see how the counterweight blocks the opening at the end of the fixed rails.

We were welcomed into the control room and shown some of the equipment.  The bridge operator is also a dispatcher, controlling a section of CTC (enlargement) that begins south of the bridge and continues up to Polo, MO, where the UP and IMRL lines separate.  Birmingham Junction, where we started this morning, is on this screen but controlled by the Norfolk Southern.  Joe opened the windows wide so that we could get some good shots of the the tow coming through and proceeding down river.  I also took a shot through the window of the counterweight on the far side of the lift span.

Another eastbound train was nearby, so it was time to lower the bridge again.  The electric motors that power the bridge are controlled with an eight-position rotating lever, and the bridge position reads out on a large clock-like indicator dial.  Here are complete instructions for operating the lift (enlargement).  We decided to go back down and get pictures of the train and then return to visit with Joe a little longer.  I stopped for a picture of the recently cleaned and polished bridge plaques, placed in 1945 and marking the naming of the bridge and the award it received.  Note that the original lines using the bridge were the Milwaukee and the Rock Island, now operated by IMRL and UP respectively.

Our eastbound was 232's train, powered by IMRL 205 and two ex-BN FURX units, 7222 and 8094.  They came through the bridge and passed the parked auto train at 3:30.  On the way back up to the control room I stopped to get a picture of the joint between the lift section and the fixed part of the rails.  A straight frog lifts the wheels from the rail so that the open joint below is not beaten out of shape by the passing trains.

Once we were back upstairs, Joe treated us to what I would call the "pre 9/11" tour, showing us the electrical gear (including an incinerating toilet), computers and digital communications equipment in the two floors below the control room.  We were also invited to see the lift motors housed above the center of the lift span.  We all climbed the stairs, but only Russ and I followed Joe out onto the catwalk.  From the bridge plan that Dave took home, I figure we were about 70' above the Missouri River.

The motor room contains two large electric motors and a transmission to turn a drive shaft (picture looks southwest) going both directions out to the ends of the bridge.  There is also an emergency engine that can be started and used to operate the lift span if the electricity is out.  Just the thought of going out on the walkway on some dark and stormy night when the power was off made me shudder!  On the way back I stopped for a picture of the east counterweight and one of the sets of cables that connect the lift span to it.

Joe's dispatching board clued us in to several of trains approaching the north side of the bridge.  The first, a stack train off of the IMRL line, got to the bridge at 4:30.  On the head end were UP 4177, 9120, 9822 and 2284.  Russ and I watched the train cross the bridge from the west side while Dave visited with a couple of fans across the tracks from us.  After the stacker cleared up, we decided to go back up to Birmingham Junction for the next one.

This time we had much better luck at Birmingham than we'd enjoyed in the morning.  The first traffic, just after 5:00, was a very short eastbound NS stack train powered by NS 8820 and 6094.  The two units crossed the diamonds and then poured on the fuel.  We had a surprise next when some light power appeared on the Claycomo spur, CR 8424, NS 9251 and NS 8732.  These locos pulled west and then backed across the diamond at 5:16.  I took advantage of the opportunity to shoot each one again, with better light.  A westbound UP stack train was now cleared and came through the cut in the levee and around the corner under the home signal bridge.  Motive power this time was UP 4378, 4925 (yet another flag unit today) and CSX 725.

It was now about 5:30, so we went and bought Dave some gas and got supper before driving back up I-35 to Osceola.  We arrived around 8:30, just in time to catch Amtrak engineer Rich Fertig who was dog-catching on No. 5 tonight.  We stayed around until the Zephyr passed through and then Dave and I headed to our respective homes, leaving Russ to overnight in Osceola and railfan some more on Monday.

On the way back up Hwy. 69 I stopped to put a bookend image on this excursion, moonrise over Clarke County.

That's It!