Byron and I started out from Indianola at 6:30 Thursday morning to visit Galesburg, Illinois and see the preparations for this weekend's Galesburg Railroad Days. We followed the BNSF across southern Iowa, taking highway 34 most of the way from Chariton and back.
Our first stop was in Ottumwa to see what the IMRL was doing today. IMRL units 8918 and 8905 were switching at the far end of the old MILW yard on the south side of the Des Moines river. An eastbound was ready to leave, and was just waiting on the BNSF dispatcher to let them use the diamond. We drove over to the crossing to watch the train leave. On the point were IMRL 393, 223 and 220. From the conversation on the radio, it sounded like the crew didn't have far to go before they would be relieved. They were headed up the hill to Rutledge at 8:25.
We drove along eastward and made our next stop in West Burlington when I spotted some of the BNSF executive cars by the old shop area. A collection of fluted Santa Fe and BN cars, including a full-length dome, was stopped, headed east, with BNSF 9771 on the head end. We figured this equipment might be headed the same place we were.
We heard about a number of trains on the radio that we did not see, since we were trying to get down the road as quickly as we could. We arrived at Cameron Jct., where the BN and SF tracks connect just west of Galesburg around 11:30. Waiting to come around one of the wyes and enter the yard was a short stack train with UP 2631 and 3610 on the point. They came by CP 1699 at 11:30.
We drove on into Galesburg and approached the large BNSF yard, where we found a sign pointing out that this was "BN'S PRIVATE ROAD". I figured railfans were not an exception, and we stuck to public property for our picture-taking. We did find an excellent observation point by taking a new viaduct over the yard. From it, we could see MILW 261 and the Nebraska Zephyr waiting to be moved down to the Seminary Street area for Railroad Days. The viaduct has generous "shoulders", delineated by white lines. Today, these shoulders were populated with numerous railfans watching as vintage equipment and brand-new BNSF "pumpkins" shuffled about below.
We got some lunch and went to the BN Amtrak depot to picnic. Tents were being set up, and a couple of passenger cars were already in place by the depot. One, Lehigh Valley 353, the "Black Diamond", was having a window replaced.
After lunch, we stopped at a hobby shop to get some RR Days posters and then headed back out to Cameron to train-watch. On our way, we went back by the yard again and drove down onto a road paralleling the east side, where we saw UP 3265, 6046 and CNW 8024 bring a freight train by. Just as we were turning onto the road to Cameron, the eastbound Amtrak Southwest Chief came into town.
Out at the Cameron area, we saw quite a few trains in just a few minutes:
Byron and I started back toward home, stopping in Burlington, where the BNSF had somewhat of a mess developing on Burlington Hill, the grade westbound up from the Mississippi River. A coal empty had developed brake control problems in two trailing units and had stopped at the top of the hill. Behind them on the hill was the Des Moines train, 447, and sitting at the bottom of the hill by the depot was another westbound with BN 1506 and LMX 8554 on the point. Also waiting to go west behind a couple of MACs (9612 +??) was a coal empty, parked at the end of the "K Line".
The train at the top of the hill was getting all sorts of expert advice on its brake problem, but ultimately, it was necessary to disable the brakes on the units and "bury" them in the train. Meanwhile, dispatcher "TAG" had started 1506 up the hill to clear a crossover so that an eastbound could get by and cross the river. This train, with OWY 9049, KCS 756 and BN 5549 had FSTX tub gons full of coal, and came by the K-Line connection at 3:55.
We drove on up to the top of the hill and waited while the offending units were set out and then placed behind five coal cars. Things started moving westward again around 4:45. After stopping for supper in Mt. Pleasant, we motored on over to Ottumwa before stopping to get a look at one of the trains following us. 447, behind BN 2770, BN 6352 and SF 2322, got to the depot in Ottumwa at about 7:00. A BN coal load waited at the crossover west of the IMRL diamond, while another load, of IPSX cars, that had earlier entered the IMRL yard had discovered that one unit was bad and that they were not going to be able to take their train up the hill.
The dispatcher commented that he had "about a half dozen crews in various places running out of time". The train that had the brake problems at Burlington would "die on the law" at 8:30 and was to be relieved at Chariton. They were routed over onto the eastbound at Halpin to get out of Amtrak's way.
We caught up to them at 8:00, just as they stopped east of Chariton. The working power remaining on the head end consisted of BN 5083 and OWY 9018. Buried five cars into the train were SD-70 MACs, BN 9676 and 9508. While I walked back to get a picture of the MACs, Byron got a close look at a very high-mileage GE. The van that was to take the crew back to Galesburg was just leaving Creston, so there was time for Dairy Queens all around before we left for Indianola.