BNSF Twice

June 14 and June 16

Thursday, June 14

My neighbor and buddy Joan Overton had suggested that we go out for breakfast this week and she'd already selected the restaurant, in Chariton.  Joan's theory is that the more pickup trucks you see parked there in the morning, the better the breakfast.  We may have located a counterexample.  The crowd was primarily retired farmer types, and Joan and I were definitely the center of attention when we walked in.  When we started to seat ourselves, one helpful soul gestured with his egg sandwich and said, "You order over there."  My breakfast was okay, but this wasn't a place I'd visit again nor recommend to others.

Thursday was cloudy and rain threatened, but we decided to drive around and see if we could find any trains or other interesting stuff.  The showers were moving east, so we decided to head west along Hwy. 34.  From a warrant I heard read on the scanner, I knew that there was an eastbound out of Creston, so I pulled off in Thayer and we waited on the old overpass for them to come through.  The train came in at 9:30, a UCEX coal load behind BN 9510 and 9650.  After they were under the overpass and headed up the hill east of town, we drove on to Creston.

At the east end of the Creston yard we found a CWEX load parked with BN 9666 and 9589.  At the west end there were a couple of empties, BN 9402 and BNSF 9426 with UCEX cars, and BN 9540 and BNSF 9763 with fuel tankers cut in ahead of DTCX cars.  9426 is the second elderly SD-70 MAC I've spotted that's been relettered from BN to BNSF.  Also idling at the west end of the yard were BNSF 2190 and 2642.  Cars were being switched over on the south side of the yard by BNSF 1487 and 2780.

The California Zephyr arrived at 10:20  They had one passenger boarding and four employees dead-heading.  In Amtrak No. 6 today:

AMTK 167 and 169
Baggage 1721
Coaches 34053, 34010, 34004 (Coach Cafe) and 31591
Sightseer Lounge 33024
Diner 38023
Sleepers 32032, 32015 and 32063
Box 71030, Material 1511, and Boxes 71190, -141 -191 and -005
One Roadrailer bringing up the rear
The train stopped short so that warrants could be handed up to the engineer.  The single passenger was flagged down as she started down the ballast, not realizing that the train would be pulling down for a second spot.  This sort of thing's a routine problem at Creston where there's no Amtrak attendant and the BNSF people studiously ignore Amtrak fares.  The train then made a third stop to drop a sleeping car patron.  After a couple of minutes they concluded that there was no one getting off, so the train rolled on east again at 10:26.

We stayed around Creston for one more train, a coal load that came in at 11:00.  This one had GEAX cars and was powered by BN 9484 and 9614.

We stopped by Thayer again on the way back east.  Joan wanted to check out an antique store and I got a shot of a hi-rail rig with a trailer being used to pick up old ties.  We continued east, making a stop in Chariton at Piper's Grocery and Candy (more antiques, actually).

We next drove out to Russell and caught two westbounds at a crossing just west of the Russell detector (MP 328).  The first, at 1:40, was a manifest, from the timing, probably the GALLIN.  On the point was an interesting collection of units, BNSF 5405, BN 5077, BN 9217, BNSF 104 and BN 9438.  The second train at Russell was just ten minutes behind the manifest.  This was a long DEEX empty (142 cars) behind BNSF 8955 and 9964.

That turned out to be our last train of the day.  We drove on over to Albia for lunch, but had no luck finding any rail traffic.  On the way back toward home from Albia we ran into very heavy rains - just what southern Iowa did not need!

Saturday, June 16

Friday and Saturday were clear and bright, so Saturday morning I decided to try the BNSF again.  I left Indianola around 7:15.  It was 66 degrees with a beautiful clear sky and I set the camera for daylight (6500K).  The "skip" was in on the VHF radio band, and I found that the scanner was picking up railroads from all over the midwest.  On the way down Hwy. 65 I heard the UP at Omaha and the BNSF yard at Lincoln, NE!

Dispatcher SLY on the Kansas City desk had a student today, and they'd already gotten four westbounds past me before I got to the junction of 65 and 34.  I could hear a ballast train getting ready to leave Chariton, but it sounded like there was plenty of other traffic out and running and that I was not going to run into a maintenance curfew or anything of that sort this morning.  Just before 8:00 I heard a 532-axle train on Main 2 (normally eastbound) at Osceola, and shortly after that a westbound got a warrant over at Halpin to come to Chariton and wait on the ballast people.

I drove over to one of my favorite photo locations, the bridge leading into Stephens Forest to wait for the eastbound I'd heard on the Osceola detector.  The train reached the curve and headed under the bridge at 8:18.  This was an AEPX load with BNSF 8957 in front and BNSF 9925 pushing.  I decided to see what was going on in Chariton and catch 8957 again at the top of Whitebreast Hill.

The DP load made pretty good time on the hill and reappeared at the Chariton yard area at 8:40.  The ballast train, with caboose BN 10781, was sitting on Main 1 waiting to back through the crossovers onto 2 and work west out of town.  I watched the load come by the depot and roll into the "S" curve that takes the BNSF through Chariton.   In just a couple of minutes the rear unit appeared and trailed its train around the bend.

By this time there were two westbounds waiting outside Chariton for the ballast train to get out of their way.  The second of these, upon getting a restrictive signal, started badgering the student dispatcher, prompting SLY to come on the radio and "clarify" the situation for them.  I headed for the west end of the yard to see if I could catch the ballast train as it left town.  On the way, I stopped for a picture of an engine sitting on the south yard tracks, BNSF 2133.

The ballast train, a Herzog contract operation, backed through the trailing-point crossover near the depot onto Main 2 and then started slowly west just as the first of the two waiting westbounds came through town to pass them.  This was a CWEX empty with BN 9589 and 9666.  Joan and I had seen this train Thursday, loaded and parked in the Creston yard.  The coal empty passed between me and the ballast train and cleared just as the engines were over the grade crossing at the west end of the yard.

The Herzog train is an interesting setup.  There is a generator and radio receiver in the middle of the train and each car has four doors operated by electric motors.  The operator walks beside the train and can control the doors with a hand-held transmitter.  The individual doors are designated by the operator in hexadecimal, so one sees doors designated with numbers like "0E" (14 decimal).  This train had 52 cars or 208 ballast doors.  In hex, two digits could be used to address up to 256 doors.  This base would provide a ready solution for those railroads like the UP that have run out of locomotive number space in four digits (the infamous 10K problem).  In hex, they'd be able to designate 65, 536 locos!

The ballast train started dumping west of the grade crossing, blocking it for a time.  I could see the feet of someone jogging in place on the opposite side of the train as most of those waiting at the grade crossing in cars turned around and sought a different route.  About 9:30 the next westbound, with the impatient, would-be dispatcher aboard, showed its headlight.  This prompted the jogger to run to the end of the ballast train and go around the caboose before he ended up waiting on both trains.  This second train was another coal empty, AEPX cars with BNSF 8833 and BNSF 8898.

I'd checked on the Zephyr before I left and the Amtrak web site reported them one hour and thirteen minutes late.  From the radio I now learned that they were expected at Osceola at 10:15 and that they would take the crossover east of Osceola onto Main 1 to bypass the work on Main 2.  I drove out to the next grade crossing, by the HyVee warehouse, to see if I could get some pictures of the three units on the ballast train.  They pulled across the road at 9:43, providing me with a good view of all the engines, BNSF 2748, 4230 and 2779.  (We're in that brief period in the early summer when you can shoot from the north side out here in the morning.)  The man with the remote control for the car doors walked in the middle of Main 1 - which reminded me of something I'd heard repeated on the radio earlier in the morning, "Dustin, if you happen to see a train coming, be sure to let us know!"

I decided to go to Albia for Amtrak.  On the way over, I heard them getting a warrant at Osceola at 10:40.  They'd apparently experienced some delay by being stopped between Creston and Osceola by the detector near Thayer.  At the top of Albia Hill, I considered briefly taking the Level B road to New Maxon, where Amtrak would stop for a warrant, but discretion would be the better part of valor today.

I did find something very interesting at Maxon.  The BNSF had parked an entire set of coal gondolas (BN green/white ones) on the UP connection.  Most were east of a gravel road crossing between the Old and New Maxons, but six were parked near Old Maxon.  All had red "Shur-Lok" covers on them.

I had a long wait for the CZ, which came up the hill on Main 1 today with new GEnesis units 154 and 164.  They were by me at 11:47, made a quick stop to get a warrant from dispatcher KRS, and continued eastward.  The detector just east of Maxon reported an axle count of 82 on the Zephyr.

Traffic was beginning to show up east of Albia, and Track Inspector Earl Hamilton, who'd gone east ahead of Amtrak, was informed by KRS that he would be waiting at Ottumwa for "six westbounds" before he could return.  The first train arrived at Maxon at 12:13.  This was a set of UCEX hoppers powered by BN 9690, 9703 and EMD 9094.  The next train was fairly close behind, but I decided to go to the Albia yard for it.  At the yard I found helper power parked west of the yard office BNSF 9922 and 9977.  (Nice Iowa day for train pictures!)

At 12:30 westbound BN 9714 and 9463 reached the west end of the yard (D Street) with what at first appeared to be a manifest.  However, it was just a short block of auto racks with a PSTX and ESCX coal empty behind.  I recall a few months ago that BNSF started running short trains of nothing but auto racks, sometimes with some manifest freight on the rear.  Someone must have figured out that all those revenue-free westbound coal empties could handle this work very nicely.  I saw two such combination trains on this day.

The next train to come through on Main 1, at 1:13, was a UCEX empty behind BN 9629 and BNSF 9869.  I caught them coming by the signals controlling the Des Moines branch at the east end of Albia yard.  It sounded like there were more trains right behind, so I hurried back to Old Maxon for the next and spotted it coming around the corner at 1:22.  This was a CWEX empty with BN 9208, BNSF 9968 and BNSF 8800 on the point.

Just 20 minutes later the GALLIN arrived.  On the head end were BNSF 4477 and BNSF 4574.  4477 was so badly faded that you could hardly tell the difference between the orange body and the yellow of the Santa Fe "cigar band" logo.  They rolled to a stop with the last car just west of me and made a pick-up of 7 cars at the Albia yard.

At 2:26 the BNSF brought another "auto-coal" train through.  This one had BN 9577 and 9469 leading, a block of a dozen or so loaded auto racks and a GEAX unit empty.  Track Inspector Hamilton had been allowed to follow this train and came by me in his orange hi-rail truck at 2:35.

The next train in, at 2:53, was the local, "463".  They'd switched the Cargill plant at Eddyville and been allowed to back out of the spur and come west to Maxon.  I watched them come by Maxon and then followed them into town for more pictures of their power, BNSF 2130, 2291 and 2444.  They used the Des Moines branch to run around their train for the return trip.

I knew of one more westbound waiting east of Maxon, BNSF 8903, and I'd not yet heard anything on eastbound traffic except that there were a couple of trains called out of Creston just after noon.  Rather than waiting on the local to get out of the road for 8903, I decided to head back west and catch them somewhere along the line later in the afternoon.

I drove all the way back to Hwy. 65 without encountering any eastbounds.  9577 with its automobile-coal combo train was parked east of Chariton by the "Bad Boys" crossing (I heard it called this earlier in the day).  From the radio, it sounded like trains would be queuing up on either side of the ballast work, at Osceola on the west and Shannon on the east.  The plan was for the ballast train to cross back over to Main 1 at Osceola and be put away for the night on the north spur track.  After some discussion about how much time the crew had left before "dying on the law", the GALLIN was let through ahead of the Herzog ballast job.

I made a quick pit stop in Chariton and went down the hill to the crossovers at Shannon where a little rain shower was in progress.  The rails had been lying in the sun all afternoon and were hot enough to quickly evaporate the rain.   By now, 9577 had come through Chariton and was waiting at the bottom of Whitebreast Hill.

The ballast train crossed over and eastbound traffic began coming toward me from Osceola.  The first train to appear, at 5:12, was an IPWX load with BN 9516 and BNSF 9927.  They were running hard for the hill as they charged by 9577.  The 9516 was followed about 10 minutes later by another load.  This one had GE power, BNSF 4673, 723 and 5415, much less common than the BNSF's SD-70 MAC fleet on coal trains.  They took their UCEX hoppers up the hill, leaving 9577 still waiting for a warrant to go on to Creston.

Eventually, the Herzog train cleared up at Osceola.  9577 was given a warrant to from Shannon to Creston and started westward again at 5:36.  8903, that I'd ignored at Maxon, was waiting right behind and followed at 5:46.  This was a BNSF empty powered by BNSF 8903 and 9832.  Just as they cleared Shannon, the next eastbound arrived.  This was a distributed power AEPX coal load with BNSF 8945 in front and 8942 pushing on the rear.

I knew from the radio that more eastbounds were headed my way, but it also looked like more rain was on the way, so I decided it was time to head home.

That's It!