Eastern Iowa Tour
Overnight in a Caboose
May 24-26


Monday, May 24

Iowa's weather finally cleared on Monday morning, so Jan and I decided to get away for some train-chasing for a few days. I made a couple of calls and got us reservations for Monday night in Clinton and Tuesday night in Montpelier. We took off and headed north right after lunch.

As we came around the southeast corner of the new Hwy 65 bypass, we could see covered hoppers rolling north through the crossing in Avon. I stopped at the bridge over the "Spine Line" just in time to get a picture of UP 5574 and 4317 bringing empty grain cars to Short Line. Jan and I regard such early intercepts as this to be an omen, and this trip was obviously off to a good start!

Our next stop, just before 2:00, was the west end of Ames yard, where a westbound way freight with UP 2977 and CNW 6914 was pulling in. About ten minutes later, a grain empty came by the yard on its way to the Jewel Sub. at Ames. This train was powered by UP 5618 and 3639. We moved on eastward, meeting a westbound coal empty in Colo at 2:30.

We stopped in Marshalltown to look around. Transglobal now has the old CNW shop in operation, with a number of locos in various stages of repair inside. In the yard we spotted UP 5963, 5447, 3081, 5959, 1734 and CNW 4706. The usual lineup of broken-down CNW units rested southwest of the yard, including 4142 just west of the shop. A well-worn switcher, SP 2751, was parked north of the old shop.

We waited at the east end of the Marshalltown yard for two trains. The first, a manifest behind CNW 8501 and UP 5843, came westbound at 3:17. The next arrived ten minutes later and was a coal empty, EDGX hoppers, with UP 6757 and SP 338.

Just east of Chelsea, at 4:06, we met a way freight behind CNW 4705.

I stopped in Belle Plaine to get a picture of the old CNW depot building. As I was walking back to the Jeep, the gates went down, so I returned for a picture of UP 3020 and 9207 westbound with covered hoppers at 4:15. We stopped next in Fairfax to check out a parked coal load with UP 6669 and CNW 8569. Judging from the large collection of "No Parking" signs (with arrows, yet) east of the highway overpass, Fairfax citizens do not welcome visits by railfans. We briefly transgressed to get the above image.

Just east of Beverly Yard in Cedar Rapids, a pair of trains, 8103 East and 3017 West, were working with the UP Special Agent to get some passengers off of 3017. We drove on through Cedar Rapids on Hwy. 30, stopping for a short time so that Jan could get a picture of a string of CRandIC units, 111, 110, 112 and 114, at the grain-processing plant south of the highway.

At 5:40 we met a piggyback train with two UP units near Lisbon. I stopped at MP 42 to take a picture of some NORX cars remaining from a derailment (wind?) just west of Lowden. We intercepted another westbound, a manifest, at Calamus at 6:20. On the point were UP 5969 and 6115.

We checked into the Super 8 in Clinton. This motel had been recommended to me as a good train-watching spot (Thanks, Byron!), and I'd asked for a room overlooking the trains when I called for the reservation. The clerk seemed to know just what we were looking for and put us in a third floor room with a view of the UP yard just west of the yard office. From this vantage point we could also see the IMRL line as it angled away to the south.

It was well past our usual supper time, but we decided to use the remaining daylight on train-watching. I drove over to the UP engine house first, since we'd spotted (using binoculars) an unusual unit there. This turned out to be a switcher marked CANAC 1349. UP 6679 was also parked near the engine house, along with UP 1744, 1711 and CNW 4177. A westbound stopped for a crew change about this time (7:00) with clean and bright UP 7170 and 7169. Behind the UP yard office in the elevator yard, an old GeeP marked 8016 was being repaired.

We drove down by the river park area and found IMRL 113 parked there. At about 7:30, we heard a westbound UP train call UP 3034, the "East Clinton Grain Train", and tell them that they might as well stop, since they had three cars on the ground. We decided to see if we could find the derailment.

The regular Hwy. 30 bridge is closed for repairs, so we had to drive north a distance before crossing the Mississippi River. On a lucky hunch, I turned back south at the first stoplight and fell in behind a new, but basic, Cherokee with a short whip antenna on the roof. Jan and I both guessed that this was someone from the UP who knew where we wanted to go. Sure enough, pretty soon he turned into a field and we bounced along right behind him to the derailment. The train had been pulling out of the south end of a yard and had torn up the lead and a short portion of UP's Main 1. Main 2 remained open, and an eastbound train of autoracks passed as we got our pictures and retreated.

We went back to the west side of the river and started investigating the turning span of the bridge and watching trains cross the river. Late into the evening we listened on the UP channels to phone calls and conversations related to the derailment, including the calling of Hulcher Services to help with the cleanup.

Tuesday, May 25

Just before 6:30 Tuesday morning I saw a UP stack train heading west on the IMRL. Unfortunately, I was in the middle of a trip down and up the motel stairs and didn't have the camera! Unlike the UP trains that passed the motel buried in the middle of the yard, the train on the IMRL line was fully visible. We got some breakfast and went for a drive to see a few more trains in Clinton before heading on up the river. We found IMRL 113 again, this time switching with cars on both ends near 5th Street. At 7:40 a westbound manifest came past the same location behind UP 8204 and 6828. We drove over to the derailment site and found Hulcher's equipment on the flatbeds and everything cleaned up.

Back at the UP yard office we watched eastbound UP 5989, 6074, 9407 and 6086 at 8:50 with containers make a crew change and pull. Then it was back to the bridge area for a walk and more containers eastbound at 9:30, coal empties at 9:35, and so forth. Jan commented, "It's a good thing we don't live here, we wouldn't get anything done!"

After a brief planning session, we decided to make a loop up through Sabula and Savanna, then over along the BNSF to Rochelle, and back to Clinton before heading down the river toward Montpelier.

Things were quiet on the Iowa side, but I stopped in Sabula to take a picture of a captive caboose, MILW 992194, beside the IMRL line. In Savanna we got two more pieces of no-longer rolling stock, caboose MILW 991933 and passenger car, "City of Savanna", MILW 541.

We drove down to the diamond where the IMRL and BNSF lines cross and found another railfan parked there. He was sitting in an SUV with the Ohio license plate, "EL RS3". I stopped and grabbed a business card and went over to say hello, but before I could say anything at all, I was greeted with, "You parked right in my way!". I turned and walked back to the Jeep and backed out of his line of sight and into a position that he directed by pointing for us. I try to be your basic polite and friendly railfan. Hey, if I'm ever in your way, just say so!

I walked south and took a picture of some IMRL personnel working on the interlocking signal system. We could tell from the radio that a BN train was coming from the north (the west, on the RR). I'm not sure if "EL" had a radio, since he seemed to come out to line up his camera at the last instant. Perhaps that was why line of sight from his driver's seat up the BN line was so critical. At 11:13, a BN intermodal train, behind BN 3163 and 7164, came down through town and rattled over the diamond.

While we'd been waiting on the BN, the IMRL was doing some switching of train 232 east of the junction with IMRL 209 and 393. Since 393 appeared to be dead in consist and, according to the crew on the radio, 209 wasn't feeling too well today either, they were to get a unit from a train over on the Iowa side of the river before moving on. Before this engine move could take place, at 12:20 another BN intermodal came through, this time westbound with BN 6779, UP 3135 and BN 7873. Finally, the IMRL engine move was made and IMRL 200 hit the diamond on the way to rescue 232's train.

At this point, we started east toward Rochelle, working our way along the BNSF line through all the small towns and monitoring the radio. I stopped in Milledgeville to get a picture of a railroad mural on a building beside the tracks. The BNSF was having major signal problems all along the line into Savanna, and trains were having to stop and get permission to flag by signals. We encountered a train slowing for such a signal problem at East Carter at 1:45. This was a westbound manifest with BNSF 4792 and 1055 on the point. We caught another westbound, a piggyback train, at Stratford at 2:30. On the head end were BN 7030 and 7922.

Just before reaching Oregon, we spotted a westbound train working an elevator. We stopped for a picture of the interesting Oregon depot and of a caboose, BN 12516, hiding in the weeds south of the yard. Just after passing through Flag (Flagg? We saw it both ways on maps and signs.) Center we saw a train headed out of Rochelle, so we went back and got a picture as they came through at 3:25. This was more piggybacks, pulled by BNSF 4819, 1123 and 1052.

The log showed that there'd already been a couple of visitors to the Railfan Park on the 25th, and one guy was sitting in his vehicle when when we arrived. I noticed that a robin had taken residence on top of the radio box, and had some babies in the nest already. At 4:00, a UP train came by with a westbound manifest. On the point were UP 2971, 5948 and CNW 6877. Since we had a pretty good way to go before getting to our stay for the evening, we moved on, following the UP line back toward Clinton.

We encountered an eastbound at Morrison at 4:55. This train was another manifest, with CNW 8707 and UP 5020 in charge.

From the scanner it was apparent that there was quite a bit of westbound traffic waiting to get into Clinton, with trains parked at the "Frog Pond" and other spots east of the river. We saw a coal empty, with UP 8222, UP 3456, SP 122 and SP 182 parked at 5:45. Just a couple of minutes later, an eastbound load, NORX gons, came by with UP 8008 and other units we didn't get.

We crossed the river and headed south toward the quad cities, listening to the radio for IMRL and IAIS activity. The east entrance to Nahant yard was blocked by high water, but, after a false start or two, I found the west route in. We got to the yard just in time to see two trains. 99's train had just pulled in with IMRL 218 and 370. Just after 7:00, 112 arrived behind IMRL 225 and 210. As usual, there were quite a few units near the roundhouse - among them: 359, 216, 203, 112, 101, 119, 2025 and 2030.

Our next railroad encounter was a couple of old SOO units switching near Linwood at 7:20. IMRL 120 and 122 were moving west in the middle of a long string of short covered hoppers. Just to the west, Sperry Rail Service 143 was parked for the night.

We reached our destination for Tuesday around 8:00. Jan and I spent the night in Rock Island 17028, a steel extended-vision caboose. This cab is captive in the back yard of Bob and Carol Varner in Montpelier, Iowa, and serves as a bed and breakfast. The Varner's home is a former RI depot and all of this sits just across Highway 22 from the IMRL line - approximately MP 206. I put a mag-mount whip on the roof and we could hear all the IMRL activity from Nahant and Muscatine as well as lots of IAIS and BNSF radio.

The caboose is insulated and paneled and has running water, electric heat (two area controls) and air conditioning. There is a double bed in the long end, along with a shower on one side and lavatory on the other. Two 3/4 beds are built into the cupola. There is a full kitchen and dinette in the short end with range, sink, refrigerator and microwave. The unit is also equipped with a TV and VCR, and the Varners have provided a scrapbook showing the moving and refurbishing of the caboose.

The Varners are wonderful, friendly hosts and let you take over the caboose. Your breakfast is pre-prepared and in the fridge when you arrive. Jan and I found there to be enough for supper and breakfast - a bargain at $55. You can reach the Varners at 319-381-3652. This B & B has normally been available year-round, but the Varners will be on an extended vacation next winter.

Wednesday, May 26

After a leisurely breakfast in the caboose, including a beggar at the door that we invited to join us, we planned our trip down the river to Fort Madison. In Muscatine, at 9:20, we came upon IMRL 106 waiting to do some switching. Just a short distance on down the highway, but still in Muscatine, a BNSF coal load was being backed toward the power plant at Fruitland. The coal train was powered by BNSF 9913 and BN 9672, and had MPWX hoppers.

Our next stop was Burlington. We considered waiting for Amtrak No. 6 to arrive, but eventually decided to go on south instead. Before leaving, we caught a couple of trains and spotted this loco, just marked "22" east of the depot. BN 7150 and 2305 were in the yard at Burlington. At 11:00, a coal empty came across the river and headed up the hill with BN 9520 and 7235. The CEFX cars were very clean and showed a build date of 5-99. Just a few minutes behind the empty came a manifest with BNSF 4391 and BN 7075. After this train, we drove on down river to Fort Madison.

At Fort Madison, the BNSF track maintenance personnel were working on the approach to the bridge. We went straight to the Amtrak depot, hoping to catch the Chief today. We were in luck, since it was running late. Two large groups of schoolchildren were waiting to board and ride to Galesburg today. The train arrived at 12:20 and managed a fairly short stop in spite of the large number of passengers. In the train today:

GEnesis units 17, 97, 90 and 53
Baggage 1167
Transition Sleeper 19035
Coaches 34088, 34072, 31532 (Smoking)
Sightseer Lounge 33027
Diner 38050
Sleeping Cars 32041 and 32071
Boxcars 71131, 72088, 71114, 71198, 71029, 71108 and 71139
Material 1517 and 1569 (not in order)
Roadrailer 410024
While we were waiting on Amtrak, a coal empty came north on the BN line behind us. Just in back of the depot we spotted BNSF 2243, a fuel tank and SF caboose 999772.

We got some lunch and headed for the old Santa Fe depot to eat and watch trains. Discussion on the radio between bridge operator "Jan" and the MoW people was lively, "I had no idea you could get than many things past my derail..." I climbed the pedestrian bridge for the next train, which, according to the bridge operator, had to wait because "You've been boated" The right of way is fenced in the area of the old depot, but the overpass provides a good view of passing trains. At 1:10 an eastbound container train came through with BNSF 4742, BN 8110, BNSF 8272 and SF 855.

On the other side of the pedestrian bridge (away from the river), I got a picture of the BN depot (for lease) and the caboose on display near the Santa Fe depot. On the way back, I took a shot of the flange oiler on the SF tracks just west of the depot. In a few minutes, another eastbound train came through. We drove down nearer the bridge for this one, a piggyback train with SF 159 and150, BNSF 3197 and 8260, and SF 143. They were on the lower deck of the bridge at 1:26.

Back at the Amtrak depot at about 1:40 we caught a westbound piggyback train behind BNSF 4912, SF 5107 (marked "MKM" under the number), BNSF 8276, 8250 and 8713. While they were making a crew change, an eastbound pulled up with one unit, LMX 8548, and a long string of empty piggyback flats. At the same time, another train slipped by us on the BN line, covered hoppers with LMX 8529 and BN 7848.

Our next move was west to the town of Donnellson, where we checked out a restored depot. I inquired of a gentleman there about a tourist railroad nearby and he gave us excellent directions, back to the east, north toward Franklin and then back east on the first road. After a couple of miles on gravel, Jan said she'd spotted rails in the woods south of the road, and we were there. This operation, which features a restored Rock Island critter and a few pieces of rolling stock, is called "Minerville" and is on the property of Miner Manufacturing. Miner had a welcome sign out for railfans, so we didn't linger.

Out of Donnellson we went north to Mount Pleasant, reaching the depot there just in time to see a coal load come through at 3:20. On the point were BN 9244, EMD 9085 and KCS 6627. The train pulled FSTX hoppers.

Along Highway 34 we met a couple of other eastbounds, a manifest just west of Fairfield at 4:05 and another coal load passing through Ottumwa at 4:25. In the IMRL yard in Ottumwa we saw some of the units we'd seen at Nahant on Tuesday, 359, 203 and 216, on a westbound train.

We stopped in Chariton for two trains. The first was a coal empty that we'd seen the marker of as we were leaving Albia. It was by the Chariton depot at 5:30, with BNSF 8832, 8834, 9991 and BN 9630. They'd stopped to pick up fuel cars at Maxon and had a great variety of reporting marks on their coal cars. At the west end of the yard at Chariton, we intercepted a manifest at 5:45. This train was pulled by ATSF 3701, BNSF 2177 and SF 5062 (another "MKM" engine).

We had a great trip - wonderful weather and lots of trains!

That's It!