We drove south to Hwy. 34 and found a coal empty going under the highway bridge when we reached Lucas. I turned west and out-paced the train on the way over to Osceola. Byron and I stopped near the hotbox detector east of town and waited a few minutes for the train, which appeared just after 8:00. On the point of the PSTX/FSTX tubs were BNSF 8214 and BN 9636. The detector reported the train length as 488 axles.
From the scanner we knew that we had trains coming toward us from both directions. A load was out of Creston and a westbound had received a warrant from the Kansas City Desk dispatcher at Halpin. We decided to drive back to the east and try to intercept the westbound at Chariton. We heard the Russell detector report 528 axles at 8:28 and were in position at the Hy Vee crossing (changed on the signal box recently to "215 Avenue") when the train rolled over the knoll west of town at 8:36. This set of UCEX hoppers was running DP, with BNSF 8940 in front. BNSF 8850 trailed as the head end started down Whitebreast Hill. We noted that some of the BNSF detectors, (Russell at MP 328.0, for example) have added a temperature report.
After catching 8940 we jumped back on Hwy. 34 and drove on east, all the way to Ottumwa. About 9:45 we heard BNSF 4753 West clearing up at the Cargill Spur. We would later see this power bring a train back through Ottumwa. In town, Main 2 was occupied with a tie gang, and the resulting congestion on the railroad had Ottumwa Sub. dispatcher Kevin "Kid" Schelen in high dudgeon. At 10:15 a coal load came through on Main 1, BNSF 9470 and BN 9589 with DTCX cars.
Eastbound traffic was being crossed back to Main 2 near the Ottumwa Yard before it started up Agency Hill. Byron and I drove out to an overpass east of town on Old Agency Road to catch 9740 again. From first appearance at 10:32, the loaded coal train and its two units took seven minutes to reach the signals and pass under us.
After the head end of the load disappeared around the corner we drove back into town to see the next train and watch it come through the crossover switches. Just after 11:00, BNSF 9912 and 5610 (in very fresh paint) brought their FSTX tub gondolas around the tie gang and over onto Main 2. In a few minutes, the switch tender was lining the crossover for another eastbound, the LINGAL manifest. This train had a BN lead unit, 7825, still in green and black. Trailing were BNSF 7047, ex-SF BNSF 6457, and a pair of dead NREX units, 2040 and 2033.
As the tie gang worked in front of us, another eastbound came through. This was a cattle feed unit train from the Cargill plant, powered by BNSF 992, 1004, 4614 and 4753, the latter unit leading when we heard the power go west earlier.
Byron and I got lunch and parked under a viaduct south of the rails. The tie gang provided a very fine show with various pieces of equipment, such as a magnetic spike collector and tie puller. Removed ties were manipulated by a tie handler after men had gone through setting tie plates aside. Before long, we had a visit from the tie gang forelady, who told us we were making her men "nervous". She said she'd seen us drive away when she approached earlier. After I introduced us, she wondered how it was that we already knew her name. When that mystery was explained, she wondered, "...how is it that you have a radio?", etc.
After dealing with the somewhat paranoid tie gang boss, we headed down to the diamonds to the west where the ICE and BNSF intersect. We'd heard an ICE train coming down Rutledge Hill toward the derail protecting the crossing of the two lines. They rolled to a stop at 1:30, just short of a grade crossing, to wait for the Ottumwa Desk dispatcher to let them move across the Des Moines River and into their yard.
Today however, that move wouldn't happen for quite a long time due to a Form B in effect through the diamonds, and the BNSF maintenance gang's work following the tie crew. The ICE train, with ICE 6418, FURX 7264, ICE 209 and ICE 4206 on the head end, was still trying to get into their yard as Byron and I drove home four hours later!
It had become a fairly warm afternoon in southeast Iowa. Byron and I decided to head over to Albia to wait for the Zephyr and catch whatever other trains came through the CTC. We knew that there was traffic coming from both directions, and had earlier heard dispatcher KRS making arrangements for the switch tender to be at Chariton to bring Amtrak over onto Main 1 and around a couple of coal loads.
About 2:00, KRS surprised us by calling two waiting coal loads into the CTC, sending one to the top of the hill and the second in just far enough to clear at the bottom. We went to Halpin to watch both come by. The first, UCEX/NCUX cars led by BN 9716, passed Halpin at 2:28. Bringing up the rear of the distributed power train was BNSF 9773. The second train followed into the CTC at restricted speed at 3:12. This was an OGSX load, destined for the power plant at the ISU switch, with BNSF 9853 leading the cars and badly faded 9958 behind.
Byron and I headed back into Albia to watch Main 1 for Amtrak. While on the move we apparently missed one westbound (9595) that got to Maxon a little after 2:00, and was given the signal to go down the hill. We knew from the radio that another westbound was waiting behind it. We found helper power, BNSF 5228 and 4838, parked at the west end of Albia yard on top of a caboose and spreader.
Routed somehow from Chariton to Halpin, Amtrak No. 6 ended up waiting at the bottom of the hill to come up Main 1. KRS's relief was stuck with trains in the CTC, and had to hold the passenger train while a manifest came down, itself delayed by a 10 mph slow order on the hill. The freight train came through the Albia yard area at 3:50, with ATSF 631, BNSF 4478 and BN 9557 leading the cars down Albia Hill.
The California Zephyr, with engineer Denise at the throttle, finally reached the top of the hill at 4:30. Three units protected the passenger train's schedule (as if!), AMTK 74, 60 and 195. After the Zephyr was by, we drove on over to Chariton and stopped for a break at a convenience store. As we got back into the Jeep, I heard air horns, and we drove to the nearest grade crossing to catch another DP coal load at 5:20. On the head end of the UCEX hoppers was BNSF 8968, and on the rear, 9855. A few minutes later the Russell detector reported 532 axles and, "eight six degrees".
We then went north out of Chariton and made a visit to Susan's acreage near Pleasantville so that Byron could get a look at the current state of the garden RR construction.