The Challenger Returns

June 18 and 19


Tuesday, June 18

UP 3985 was to leave Chicago and run west to Marshalltown on Tuesday, scheduled to arrive at 5:30.  Early in the afternoon I headed northeast toward the UP mainlines.  It was a warm afternoon in Iowa, 85 degrees when I left town.  I decided to have a look at an overpass just east of the community of Quarry as a possible photo location.  There was very little parking near the bridge and I decided to find a different spot to get images of 3985.  However, I did catch a Loram rail grinder at Quarry working east at 3:20.  The grinder, RG 310, was working on Main 1, throwing sparks and clouds of smoke and steam as it went.  On the rear platform, a man watched for hot spots in the ties and doused them with a fire hose.  From the radio I learned that the grinder was going to tie up for the afternoon after reaching Le Grand.

I drove a gravel road back toward the railroad's crossovers at East Marshall.  There were already a number of fans waiting along the road for the steamer to come through.  I decided to have a quick look around in Marshalltown where preparations for the crowd were already underway.  A half-dozen police officers, in cars and golf carts, were having a conference on railroad property west of the UP's communications tower.

I decided to stake out a location where I knew I'd see the engine come in and where I'd have good light for pictures.  I drove out to the east end of the yard and parked south of the rails at 12th Avenue.  The UP's published schedule for the Challenger had listed its stopping point as "Twelfth Street", which is west of the yard.  I figured that if this were correct, I'd catch the train on the way into town and then move west later.

Mainline traffic continued and I got pictures of a few trains coming through while waiting.  A NORX coal load with UP 6581, 8000 and 8039 stopped just short of 12th and, since the rail grinder wasn't out of the way yet, the crew went to a local convenience store for groceries.  They rolled on east around 3:50, and were met by a WEPX empty with UP 7311 and 6804.

By this time several other fans and some UP personnel had arrived and positioned themselves near the grade crossing.  Railroad radio reports of the special train's location put it within 40 miles or so of Marshalltown.  At 4:15 a Marshalltown police car with two officers arrived and stopped to visit with each vehicle and person.  The pickup across the street from me left immediately after their conversation with the cops.

I was standing outside the Jeep when they pulled up and said, "We're supposed to tell you folks that you can see the train up close after it stops by going down to the depot."  I said that I didn't know where that was and was told that it was "...across from Stone's restaurant."  I asked if they meant on the north side of the tracks and was assured that this was where the train would stop.  I knew there was no way the railroad would park the train on the mainline or on the north side of the yard where people would be trying to cross the mains to see it.

I asked if I would have to move my vehicle and was told that because I was parked on private, non-railroad property I would not have to move. I asked if it would be okay to walk over to the east side of 12th Avenue and was told to just stay on the grass and off of railroad property.  I thanked the two apparently well-meaning but misinformed officers and indicated that I'd prefer to wait out here.  Unfortunately, a fairly large group of people believed what the police told them and ended up waiting on the wrong side of the yard.

We had one more revenue train at 4:20, NCUX coal cars pulled by UP 6619 and SP 349.  After this train was by, I heard the dispatcher say that traffic would be held until after the steam train was parked and the crowds were away from the crossings.  At 4:30 a crew van arrived and UP personnel started watching over the crossing.  Shortly, two police cruisers blocked 12th Avenue on each side of the grade crossing.

On our side of the rails (the sunny side) the engine was first spotted at 5:00 by a youngster as it came slowly down the old M&St.L line to go into the yard.  3985 came toward the grade crossing very slowly, giving all the fans plenty of photo-ops as they came by us.  After they were across 12th Ave., I fired up the Jeep, now pretty well surrounded by other cars, and threaded my way down the sidewalk to the south. until I could find an opening to get out onto the street.  I turned and went back to the west and grabbed a spot on the grass just southeast of the 3rd Avenue viaduct.

Police were on hand to direct traffic and the east lane of the viaduct had been blocked off to handle shuttle buses.  A crowd was already gathering near the yard office, where a set of steps had been set up to allow people to view the cab.  The steamer had to make a short stop at the east end of the yard and then be "walked over" some locations of the yard tracks.  They'd been instructed on the radio to avoid stopping anywhere for any length of time, apparently a crowd control measure.  It took about 20 minutes, but they finally reached the switch onto the old shop track.  Plenty of personnel were on hand to keep visitors back as the big loco  inched westward toward the steps.  They stopped short, with someone on the radio saying that they would use hand signals to finish positioning the cab at the steps.

The viaduct provided a great location for photos, especially if you had a through-the-lens viewfinder and a camera that fits chain link fencing.  If you look closely at the right of the previous image, you'll see Mr. Steve Lee, director of the historic steam program for the UP.  Steve signaled from the ground as the Challenger was positioned by the steps before walking over toward the crowd.

Fire hoses were brought out to fill the water tenders and lubrication tasks started immediately.  I got a couple of more shots of the loco (Yeah, I know - that one's got just a little bit of fence in it...compare this shot to the previous one for a zoom lens demonstration.) from the north side before walking back down off the viaduct.

I was in Marshalltown and it was supper time, so...Taylor's Maid Rites, of course!  I took my sandwich and shake to a spot on the north side of the mains in the shade of the Center Street viaduct and parked just before 6:00.  I noticed several carloads of people parked here and went over to ask if they were by any chance waiting for the steam engine.  Yes, they'd been told by the police to come here.  I gave them the bad news and explained where the steamer was parked.  While I was eating, a cop came by in a golf cart - I thought for a minute that I was going to get chased off UP property or something, but no, he just wanted to tell me where the engine (actually) was.  Thank you, officer.

I stayed near the rails on the way west and intercepted an eastbound manifest with UP 9668 and 5689 just west of Lamoille at 6:10.  Figuring that the UP might have some traffic to run now that the special was parked, I decided to wait for a while out in the country and see what might show up.  At  6:45 I got a stacker with UP 8510 and 8529.  They rolled up the hill and into the curve toward State Center.  The rear half of the train was a bare table of well cars.

I followed, not really expecting to catch them, but I heard someone nearby on the radio say, "...we'll be meeting one at Clear Creek, Joe."  It sounded like if I were lucky, I'd get three trains there.  I passed the stacker just west of State Center and got to Clear Creek as they slowed for the signals at the crossover.  The eastbound on Main 2 that they were to meet was coming through Colo.  It was just before 7:00 when 8510 stopped to wait for the approaching train to take the crossover in front of them.

The eastbound train was a CWEX coal load with UP 8146 and 7354 on the point.  It took just about 10 minutes for them to switch their train over to Main 1 and clear the crossovers.  The signal for 8510 was up immediately and they were away.  The following westbound that they'd talked to on the radio was an automobile train with UP 4482 and 4067.  They came through just a few minutes after 8510.

By this time, several other railfans had arrived at Clear Creek.  There was a fellow who'd followed 3985 out from Chicago and who intended to chase it again on Wednesday, and two men in a mini van, one a Canadian and the other from Iowa City.  All had plans to stay in Nevada, and I drew a map of Devil's Hollow for the Chicagoan.  The Colo detector let us know that another eastbound was coming, UP 7555 and 7527 with a manifest, by Clear Creek at 7:30.


Wednesday, June 19

C&NW fanatic Mike Endres and I had made plans to chase the steamer on Wednesday.  Mike came over early, arriving at my place at 5:50, and we loaded up and took off for Marshalltown.  Rather than trying to do any train-watching along the way, we just took the diagonal route out of Des Moines and went straight for Marshalltown.

Quite a few fans and a some others were already out when Mike and I parked and went up on the 3rd Avenue viaduct to see the steamer just after 7:00 a.m.  We'd been watching lightning and some ominous-looking clouds to the north, and there were some interesting formations over our heads.  After getting a few shots of the engine through the fence, we took the stairs down under the viaduct.  With far fewer people around than last evening, there were some good opportunities to get pictures of the loco from ground level.  Railroad artist Stewart Buck was there (Actually, I've run into Stew all four days that I've been out looking at 3985 - we've got to stop meeting like this!) with his tripod, lining up on the front of the engine.

Mike wandered off to the north of the engine and was promptly chased back under the viaduct.  The Union Pacific had posted nearby this sign stating just three of the many things for which they were not responsible.  Stew, concerned about the lack of illumination this morning, asked Mike and me about the ISO of our cameras.  He then commented that "digital is forgiving".  Yeah, there has to be some reason why a doofus like I can get nice pictures like these, even with no tripod and very little light!  Before Mike and I headed out to West Marshall, I got a couple of shots of 3985's headlight and one of Stew checking out the cab.

Just for your information, in case there are any photographers listening, these shots are all hand-held with the camera's "anti-shake" engaged, the equivalent ISO was 400, and the shutter speeds varied from 1/10 to 1/30 of a second at f2.8.  If you'd like to see the larger, less compressed originals, send me an email.

We drove next out to the overpass near West Marshall and waited until the train came through just before 8:30.  I shot a couple of long telephotos of 3985 as it came to the crossovers and then switched over to video.  Here's a very short (770K) .MOV of the train approaching the bridge.

After West Marshall, we drove straight for Hwy. 30 and hurried west to try and get the train at Nevada.  We very soon caught up with a Marshall County Sheriff patrol car and had to follow until we reached the Story County line and the police car turned off.  We went over the "Spine Line" and then looped back to the overpass just south of Kansas City Junction.  Quite a few fans, including Mr. Buck, were on the bridge waiting for the special train to come around the curve.  I shot video (4.6 Meg .MOV)  on the north side (the audio track has been removed because there nothing but wind noise on it) of the bridge and then switched over for a couple of still images of the engine starting around the curve on the "Nevada sub".  They were under us right at 9:00.

Along with a number of others, we next headed for the Devil's Hollow east of Nevada.  I'd say the majority must have gone around town, we went through and still managed to be in place on the old highway bridge along with a large congregation of buffs (that's the guy from Chicago just left of Stew).  The train was very slow coming around onto the Spine Line, but finally came into sight and reached the north end of the Nevada siding about 9:25.

3985 came into the curve where the former Rock Island route turns north and proceeded under us, with lots of smoke, waves and a whistle, too.  Some of us hurried to the north side for more shots as they went under the C&NW (now UP, of course) mains and headed for the Twin Cities.

UP 3985 will return from the north on the Rock Island's "Short Line" on Saturday, staying overnight in Des Moines, and then will run south to Kansas City on Sunday morning.  For now,

That's It!