I called Aaron at about 7:30 on Thursday to see what his plan was for the day. He thought it might be a good train-chasing opportunity, too, so we packed our gear and headed for the BNSF. We monitored the radio while driving east on Hwy. 34. There was very little traffic in the vicinity, but trains were moving toward us from both directions. I'd checked the Amtrak web site and determined that No. 6 would be fairly late, not out of Creston until after lunchtime.
We figured that if we were at Maxon around 11:00, we'd catch several trains. We reached Albia with plenty of time to spare and so we drove on over for a look at the electric plant near Chilicothe and at the new spur being built up to the Cargill syrup plant. Bundles of ties had been laid out beside the newly-graded right-of-way.
We returned to Old Maxon and waited for a load to come up the hill. I took some pictures of the eastbound main just past the end of the concrete ties. The rails here really take a beating from the coal trains.
Our first train of the day (we ended up getting 11 in 4 hours) arrived at 11:18. This was a distributed power BN coal load with BNSF 8915 on the point and BNSF 9980 in back. We knew there was a westbound nearby, so we shot from the north side of the double track. It's so annoying to have one get by you on the other side of a moving train! I've noticed that the rear unit on DP trains seems always to be working pretty hard. I think that's an impression left because one can hear the rear loco's prime mover much better than head end units that are covered by the noise of their cars going by.
As it turned out, we had plenty of time to get back to the south side of the tracks for the westbound. They arrived at 11:31 with BN 9505 and 9564, trailing GEAX gondolas. Another coal empty followed just 15 minutes later with BNSF 8979 and 9909, and a collection of DEEX, GCCX and BN tub gons.
By now we'd heard another load giving and getting warrants at Halpin. It arrived at the top of the hill at 12:02 with BN 9627 and 9508, and NCUX cars.
The next two trains were coming at us from both directions again. We knew from talk between them that another load was following 9627 and we'd also learned of a westbound getting pretty close. We bet on them meeting in front of us with a slight edge to the eastbounder, so it was back to the north side of the tracks again. This turned out to be a very good call, since this time we would have missed the westbound had we stayed on the south side.
At 12:27 the coal load arrived behind BN 9590 and 9588. This was another "mixed" train, with MPWX, UCEX, ACCX and BNSF cars. Before they cleared the area a westbound manifest came through with an interesting mix of power, ATSF 632, BNSF 4770, IMRL 357 and EMD 9034.
At this point we were pretty certain that we'd seen the last eastbound ahead of Amtrak, so I suggested that we start back west and get some lunch in Chariton. As we passed over the tracks on Hwy 34 near Halpin, we could see the rear end of the above manifest. They weren't making very rapid progress because of a 10 mph slow order. Before long we heard them in conversation with the dispatcher asking if it would be okay to make a short stop in Melrose, so we drove down to meet them and get some pictures of their locos.
The train rolled slowly into Melrose, stopped and was tied down with the lead unit's handbrake at 1:05. The engineer and conductor headed for "Aunt Jack's" while we looked over the engines. ATSF 632's lettering and warbonnet had an interesting mix of shades of red, and the conductor's side of the nose looked quite orange compared to the rest. BNSF 4770 was orange, of course. I&M Rail Link 357 and Oakway (EMD) 9034 completed the consist.
Aaron and I cruised around Melrose for a couple of minutes considering where it might be best to intercept Amtrak. We decided to just stay at Melrose rather than have them get by us. The manifest started moving again and crossed Tralee Street at 1:25. They were followed closely by Track Inspector Sculley in his high-railer.
In just a couple of minutes we heard the Zephyr's approach announced by the Russell detector (MP 328); "main two", "total axles six eight". We gave them five minutes and then lined up for what we knew would be a very brief photo-op. They raced by us with AMTK 59 leading three units today, at 1:36. Melrose is at the base of a little southern Iowa valley. Here's how the Zephyr sounded at track speed blasting through town (328K .au file). Listen carefully right after the horns and you'll hear the click of the camera's mirror as the first of the above two images was taken.
Aaron and I drove over to Chariton, got some sandwiches and parked by the tracks. The first eastbound let go after Amtrak arrived at the Roland Ave. crossing at 2:23. A couple of now-elderly MAC's, 9676 and 9437, were in charge of IPWX cars. After lunch, we made a stop at Piper's to get some home-made candy for dessert.
I'd always wanted to get some pictures of trains on the Hwy. 14 overpass. Aaron and I went down there to have a look and found a nice spot on the south side with a picnic table where we could hang out and await trains. We knew that we had traffic coming from both directions, but a couple of the trains had warrants short of the bridge. The first train to arrive was an eastbound manifest, a DENGAL-type train, with BNSF 4818, NS 9233, BN 7874 and BNSF 740 on the point. They came by us at 2:58. Aaron went for a dramatic angle looking across the bridge at the passing cars.
Instead of waiting for the other trains, we went looking for them. A westbound had a warrant to MP 333, and was waiting just east of town. This was a JE hopper train with BNSF 8970 and 8808. As we headed back into town on Russell Boulevard, we crossed over the Spine Line on a wooden bridge. Seconds later, a UP southbounder went through - bad timing!
The other train that we'd heard about on the radio was an eastbound warranted to MP 336, right in front of the Chariton depot. We got over there just as they were starting to roll again and the gates were coming down at Auburn Street. More old MAC's, BN 9412 and BNSF 9756, came by us at 3:22. They were pulling UNTX hoppers that looked rather like they'd picked up at a garage sale or something.
We decided that we'd better head back for home since Grandma Tinder was getting the clan together this evening and we didn't want to be late for supper!