Chasing MILW 261 (Unsuccessfully)

Monday, June 26


An email message on Sunday alerted me to a positioning move for MILW 261 and its train from Kanas City to Muscatine the next day.  261 was scheduled to depart KC at 7:00 a.m., so I figured it would be a fairly easy "catch" late morning or early afternoon in Ottumwa.  I had an obligation at the college at 5:00 p.m., but the drive back here from Ottumwa takes only about an hour and a half.

On Hwy. 34 east of Chariton I heard the IMRL dispatcher giving a warrant to a westbound UP train at Loredo at 8:20 - no mention of the "steam train".  I also knew from the scanner that I was trailing the DENGAL and that Amtrak No. 6 was on time today.  I caught up to the DENGAL at Albia and passed them on the way to Ottumwa.  I got to downtown Ottumwa around 9:30, just in time to catch a westbound empty at McLain Street.  On the point were BNSF 9950 and 9780, pulling AEPX tub gons.

They met today's DENGAL just to the west of the IMRL diamond.  I caught this train, with BNSF 7305, 2184 and BN 7056, at the Green St. grade crossing at 9:43. The DENGAL had been required to go slowly over the Des Moines River bridge on account of a heavy car.  They also had some high/wide loads on the head end of the train.  The bridge foreman reported that their project was pretty well shut down for now because of flooding in the area.

On the radio, I heard that Amtrak was at Halpin at 9:50, so I went to the depot to look around and wait for them.  There was quite a bit of water standing south of the tracks by the depot.  A fresh head-end crew was waiting on the Zephyr this morning. No. 6 pulled in, running left-handed today, and stopped at 10:37.  In the train today:

ATK 59 and 48
Baggage 1714
Transition Sleeper 39019
Coaches 34000, 34091 and 31537
Sightseer Lounge 33030
Diner 38046
Sleepers 32044, 32069 and 32041
Material Car 1402
Express 1733
4 Roadrailers
I noticed that the front of unit 59 was pretty well bashed in.  The inbound crew left the train and the fresh one arrived to take over the head end.  For some reason (students?) ATK had two persons in the cab today.  I persuaded an attractive outbound crew member to stop and wave for a picture.

After Amtrak left town, things got really quiet on both railroads for quite a while.  I meandered over to the IMRL yard where 609 was doing the switching today.  After that, I went back to the north side of the river.  I drove in from the east side of the diamond at Lawler, backed the Jeep up to the sun (it was starting to clear off, finally), did a little college "homework" and then worked the crossword while I waited for traffic.  After lunch time, I was joined by another fan who happened to be an Amtrak officer out of Chicago.  He was on the General Code committee and we had an interesting discussion of dispatching and recent rule changes.  Goodbye, "Flag protection not required against following trains in the same block.", and just when the BNSF was getting around to signalling both mains for both directions anyway!

At 1:20 the IMRL brought a freight down the hill.  This was train 111 with IMRL 378 and 205 for power.  Pretty much as soon as they cleared up in the yard, an eastbounder came out to tackle Rutledge Hill.  This was train 112 and it had three units, IMRL 367, 363 and 355.  They were by us at 2:05.  My Amtrak acquaintance took off to see if he could catch them at the top of the hill and I headed over to the IMRL yard.  There was still no mention of 261 on the radio.

I found two more "foamers" from Illinois at the west end of the yard.  They said that some others had left a short time ago to try to catch 261 at Foster Bridges, between Blakesburg and Moravia.  No one seemed to have heard where the train was or when it might reach Ottumwa.  I heard from these two that the BNSF had had their annual Railroad Days Pileup, this year on the Chillicothe line.  At 2:35, 111 was given a warrant  and came out of the yard to go west as far as Moravia.  My two railfans decided to chase 111 out of town.

I'd run out of time and needed to start back toward home.  While running west on 34, I heard 111 given another warrant, this time to go on to Seymour.  No "after arrival" or "take siding".  I figured it was going to be hours before 261 got up here at this rate.  What I didn't know was that I would have had time to make my appointment in Indianola and get back to Ottumwa before the train arrived!!

Fortunately for our viewers, some friends have lent me pictures of 261 and her train.  The first set came from Bob Drenten and were taken at Sioux Center when the train passed through there on June 13.  Here are some of Bob's pictures of 261:

Taking the siding north of town
Another in the siding
At the grade crossing at the west (south geographically) end of the siding
Observation car "Cedar Rapids"
Coming by the Farmers' Coop Society elevator
Another fan/friend, Steve Craven, sent me some shots of 261 as it went north along the Mississippi on Tuesday.  Here's one of his pictures taken in the town of Bellevue, where the rails pass right down the street through the center of town.

Many thanks to the above railfans for sending me pictures of the train I missed!

That's It!