We came into Chariton around 8:30, just in time to see a coal load pass in front of us through one of the many grade crossings that the BNSF's closed recently. I heard the train measure 534 axles on the Russell detector as we were outpacing it on Hwy. 34. We decided to try to catch them in Melrose, and got there in time to cross the tracks with the headlights a good distance to the west. The BNSF coal hoppers were led by BNSF 9711 and 9542, with BNSF 5687 running DP behind.
As soon as the train had passed we made one quick stop so Gary could get a shot of the BN caboose set out in a Melrose park, and then hightailed it for Halpin to see if we could intercept 9711 again. They were already passing the signals at the beginning of the CTC when we arrived at 9:10, so we just waved as they went by. As soon as we parked, it was evident that they were meeting a westbound. I barely had time to get focus as BNSF 6213 bore down on us with a string of empty UCEX hoppers, breaking a path through the coal dust blowing off of the load on Main 2 as it ran for the hill. Bringing up the rear of our second train of the day was BNSF 5685.
Gary and I next drove out to Maxon, not arriving soon enough to beat 9711, but in time for the next coal load, which got to the top of Albia Hill at 10:00. This was a set of WFAX hoppers with BNSF 8828 and 9871 on the point.
It didn't sound like there was any traffic coming for a while, so we drove through the Albia yard area where the helper power, BNSF 8872 and BN 9526, were parked. Then, just by way of showing the sights, I followed the tracks out of Albia and drove out to "Old" Halpin, on a dirt (fairly dry but badly rutted) road north of Hwy. 34. We waited there until the next load came through at 11:20. As with 9711, the coal was blowing out of the cars, FURX and BN tubs this time. BNSF 5953 and 9532 led the cloud through Old Halpin, with BN 9632 behind.
We went back up the hill ahead of another coal load which arrived at Maxon at 12:10. This was another set of WFAX hoppers with BNSF 8832 and 9848 running elephant style. This train and the previous eastbound were stopped by the detector at MP 298, which first announced that they "have a defect", followed after a long delay by flagging the 2nd through the 5th locomotive axles as overheated, and ending with the phrase, "too many faults". Apparently this message required the entire train be inspected, so the two trains pulled ahead, clear of the CTC at Maxon.
I'm not sure what the dispatcher's plan was, but Amtrak was by now on its way up the hill on Main 2 and there were two empties out of Ottumwa yet to enter the CTC on Main 1. The two loads stopped by the detector blocked Main 2 east of the crossovers at Maxon, not that they would have beaten the Zephyr to Ottumwa in any case. The Zephyr came by us, led by AMTK 181 and 38, at 12:30. After rolling out to the end of the CTC, they would be delayed for about 1/2 hour waiting for the westbounds to pass so that they could use Main 1 to get to Ottumwa. After empties had cleared their warrants, the passenger train was given a warrant to the ICE crossover, prompting an on-air remark that "Maybe they should move the station out to the ICE crossover."
The first empty passed us at Old Maxon at 12:40; a set of new (May '07) BNSF tub gondolas led by BNSF 6223 and 9439. The second came by at 12:55, a mixed set of RWSX and HYWX hoppers with BNSF 5667 and 5694 in front and BNSF 5812 running DP behind.
Before leaving Albia, I swung by the RELCO locomotive shop, where we found a "CRandIC" loco, CIC 122, in fresh paint and parked on the south wye track near the entrance.
We drove back to Chariton and managed to intercept two more trains there by waiting at the Curtis Ave. crossing at the west end of the Chariton yard. At 2:40 we caught a PSTX/FSTX load pulled by BNSF 9974 and 9772. They were followed closely by a single unit, BNSF 5043, and a short intermodal train 10 minutes behind with a mix of containers and piggyback trailers.
I started back north toward Gary's destination, but as we went over the mainlines west of Chariton, we spotted another load coming up Whitebreast Hill. I drove back to the "HyVee" crossing for one more train, MPWX hoppers behind BNSF 9344 and 9915.