Ottumwa Excursion with Mike Endres

Wednesday, July 3

Indianola railfan Mike Endres and I got together for an excursion on Wednesday.  Both of us needed to be back in town by 5:00.  Iowa's still enjoying somewhat of a hot and humid (but without rain) spell of weather and it was 75 degrees when we left town at 7:30.  Before we returned it would reach 93.  I decided to head for the BNSF and IMRL lines, and to show Mike the IMRL's "Foster" bridges between Blakesburg and Moravia.  Mike usually hangs out around the UP, since he's always hoping to catch ex-C&NW units.  As it turned out, we managed to catch one today.

I'd checked on the eastbound California Zephyr and learned that they were running over three hours late today.  I drove east out of Indianola so that Mike and I could check on the UP while working our way southeast.  We went through Beech and then turned south through Melcher to Chariton.  We heard nothing from the UP, but by 8:25 we knew from the scanner that we had traffic coming from both directions toward us on the BNSF:  9415 East was by MP 352 and 9543 West was at Albia setting out at engine.

We decided to go to Melrose and wait there for the two trains.  The westbound, a CWEX coal empty, came out of the early morning haze toward us at 8:55 behind a single unit, BN 9543.  They'd left their second unit at Albia to be used in helper service today.  At 9:12 BNSF 9416 and 9491 came through town with DEEX/DETX coal gondolas.

By now we'd heard that an undercutter was in use on the south hill at Albia, and that the coal load was going to have to be pushed up the steeper grade on Main 1 today.  We drove over to the west end of the CTC at Halpin, where the load was just pulling up at 9:30 to wait for the helper power.  We parked, crossed the mainlines and waited on the sunny side of the tracks while the load pulled slowly forward, stopping with the head end right at MP 310.

In 15 minutes the helpers, EMD 9078 and BN 9580, came down the hill on Main 1.  They'd obtained a warrant from the Kansas City dispatcher for enough track west of the CTC to get in the clear so that the coal load could cross over from two to one in front of them.  9416 got a signal into the CTC and made its move toward the crossover switches at 9:45.

Once the load had gone through the crossover and pulled down to a stop on Main 1, the helpers were "talked by" the red signals so that they could reach the rear of the train.  At this point, Mike and I took off for the top of the hill at the west end of the Albia yard.

The train, now with two units on the point and two behind, came into sight at 10:14.  We watched 9416 and 9491 crest the grade at full throttle and come into Albia Yard.  We waited for about five minutes for the helpers to follow.  The train then braked to a stop and the helpers were cut off, ready to run back down the hill and assist another coal load.

Mike and I made a quick pit stop at Casey's and then headed south out of Albia.  Along the way we heard an IMRL westbound getting a warrant out of Moravia, but I figured that they would be gone by the time we got there.  Just in case, I drove up on the Hwy. 5 overpass for a look.  The Appenoose County railroad had highrail trucks on both sides of the IMRL and a grain train was slowly crossing the Appenoose County diamond at 10:45.  I turned around and parked, and we got out to get some pictures of the train.

The lead unit was IMRL 222, followed by 358 and 367.  IMRL 367 was an ex-C&NW unit, so the day was not a total loss for Mike!  We watched as the units pulled the grain load off to the southwest.  Mike wanted to chase them, but I wanted to show him the bridges and still make it back to Ottumwa in time for Amtrak.

Mike and I then toured the gravel roads between Moravia and Blakesburg.  After seeing Foster Bridges, Mike agreed that they would make a great photo location and thought out loud about bringing some of the ISU club members down here sometime.

Just north of Blakesburg the Jeephone rang.  It was engineer Rich Fertig, letting me know that the Zephyr was out of Creston at 11:12.  I said we'd be at the depot when the passenger train got to Ottumwa.  I got on Hwy. 34 and headed for Ottumwa while Mike got in a little nap - he'd worked until 1:00 a.m. at the Indianola HyVee this morning.

As I drove I listened to the Ottumwa sub. dispatcher working out how she was going to get No. 6 through traffic this morning.  She had eastbound and westbound trains out in front of the Zephyr and was planning to move her westbound over to Main 2 at the ISU crossover near Chillicothe once the eastbound cleared, leaving the passenger train to run left-handed to Ottumwa.  (It's 1:30 p.m. on the 5th as I type this.  Today's No. 6 is passing three loads, one at the top and two at the bottom of Albia hill, and two empties are waiting on it east of Ottumwa.)

Figuring that we had enough time to catch the tie-up at ISU before running into Ottumwa, I turned north just short of town and took the ridge road back northwest to Chillicothe.  We stopped on the overpass southwest of the coal generating plant at 11:45.  A train was unloading in the plant, with one of its units, BNSF 8814, parked at the end of the plant spur.  The westbound train showed up just after we got there and stopped short of ISU switch.  On the point were BNSF 8253 and BN 9568, trailing DTCX cars.  Before long, a switch tender arrived in a private vehicle and went to wait for the westbound in 8253's air-conditioned cab.

Mike and I tried to be patient in the 90+ weather, but there was no shade and the eastbound seemed to be making little progress in our direction.  I'd figured that we should wait no later than 12:30 to be sure that we'd beat the passenger train to Ottumwa.  At 12:20 we'd not yet seen the eastbound, so we gave up and headed for Ottumwa, grateful to be back in the A.C. for a while.  Not long after we got to the depot we heard Rich calling for a warrant at Maxon.  The dispatcher put him off for a minute - her eastbound had cleared, but 8253 wasn't quite done with Main 1 at ISU.  After they cleared their warrant the passenger train got its paper to come ahead on the north rail to the IMRL crossover.

At Ottumwa, we found an interesting project underway - brush was being cleared from an abandoned rail line that goes into the water plant south of the depot.  Two fares waited on the platform at Ottumwa, one a young woman who decided to work on her tan while she waited.  At 1:09 I spotted the passenger train approaching the IMRL crossover.  In the meantime, our sunbather had moved on to toenail painting, not noticing that her ride was approaching, approximately a mile from the depot.

The Zephyr was powered this morning by AMTK 61, 155 and 121.  The train made a fairly long stop while passengers got off and trash was first unloaded and then loaded back onto the train - a little misunderstanding about what services are still supported here, I guess.  While Mike went up front for a picture of the lead unit I got pictures of  outbound engineer Wally Pomrenke (according to Rich, a.k.a. "The Chief") as he came forward to meet Engineer Fertig for a short conference.

Right before Amtrak departed a westbound started through the station.  This train had autoracks right behind the power, CSX 7841 and CEFX 3125, and trailed a set of empty GEAX tub gondolas.  As soon as the westbound was by we had another train, the coal load that we'd waited for but missed at ISU.  This was a distributed power AEPX load with BNSF 8853 in front and BNSF 8894 in back.

Mike and I had a brief conversation with Rich and his girlfriend Amy before we went to get some lunch and then start back west toward home.  Back on Hwy. 34 again at 2:30, we heard BNSF 8913 West clearing up at Maxon.  Though we were behind them, I figured we could get by them on the way over to Chariton.  As we crossed the tracks coming into Chariton we could see the headlights to the east, so I hurried to a crossing at the west end of the Chariton yard.  We'd also picked up some dispatcher transmissions that clued us in on an eastbound, BNSF 5481, over near Osceola.  This was followed by what we figured must be the 8913 on the Russell detector.

The train we'd seen coming into town wasn't the one we'd heard clearing, 8913.  It was the CSX auto/coal empty combo again.  At 3:05 we saw CSX 7841 and CEFX 3125 pass again.  As this train was passing we heard the eastbound on the detector at Osceola.  It was one of those decision points - stay here or try for both trains on down the line somewhere.  I decided to go for the Stephen's Forest overpass near MP 344, just west of Lucas.  We made it down Whitebreast Hill right on the taillight of the CSX train and were in position for our pictures with a few minutes to spare.

At 3:29 the eastbound train, a manifest, came around the corner behind BNSF 5481 and 4379.  Interestingly, the consist was sprinkled here and there with loaded coal cars.  We had less than 10 minutes to wait for the westbound, a CEFX empty pulled by BNSF 8913 and 9845.  After watching them come under the bridge and split the signals, we headed north up Hwy. 65 toward Indianola.  As I reviewed my audio tape and notes, it looked like there might have been another westbound close behind.  There was a transmission from the Russell detector of 516 axles on Main 1 at 3:18 - I think we could have waited a few minutes and seen another westbound - dang!

A Few Pictures from Saturday, June 29

Simpson art professor Dave Richmond invited me to join him on a trip to Muscatine Saturday.  We tried to follow the rails along the way but didn't have very good luck catching any train traffic.  During a short stop in Ottumwa around 10:30, we did catch a coal empty with BNSF 8889 and 9726.

While Dave went to the opening of a show at a gallery in Muscatine, I drove over to the IMRL's Nahant yard, arriving at 2:15.  I was surprised at the number of locos on the property this afternoon.  In one long line of ex-BN power there were these FURX units:  7782, 8114, 8103, 7940, 8098, 72??, ????, 8115, 7933, 7218, 7210, 7236, 7215, 8095, 7934, 8092, 7260, 7929, 7926, 7278 and 7081.  Near the roundhouse there was CEFX 3034 and a good supply of IMRL power: 374, 208, 354, 601, 384, 123, 611, 102, 200, 613, 265, 105, 139, 213, 378, 216, 211 and 364.  I also saw IMRL 136 and 126 on a switch job west of Nahant, and 118, 124 and 125 parked near the depot in Muscatine.

That's It!