Ottumwa for the Sturgis Special

Monday, August 13



My plans to see this train as it went west on Saturday, August 4, fell through when the train became far behind schedule and eventually made its crew change in Ottumwa around 2:30 in the morning instead of 4:45 the previous afternoon.  The return trip through Iowa from New Castle, WY, went better and they were just a few minutes behind their 9:18 a.m. scheduled stop in Ottumwa on Monday.

I left Indianola at 6:30.  It was a fairly cool morning, 62 degrees, but the humidity was returning and you could see a haze in the air as the sun rose.  Just after 7:00 I heard the Russell detector report a train on Main 1.  Foreman Dude Rogers called in to report the train by his location and was given a warrant for a mile of right of way just east of the detector on the same track.  I decided to try to intercept the westbounder at the "Hy Vee" crossing at the west edge of Chariton.  The train popped out of the foliage at 7:15, an AEPX empty behind BNSF 9843 and BN 9715.

I went on through Chariton but drove south off of Hwy. 34 into Russell to see what sort of work was being done there.  Detour signs directed traffic to the east as you entered town and the Hwy. 97 grade crossing in Russell was being repaired.  Rail traffic would be using only Main 2 today between Halpin and Chariton.

I continued on toward Ottumwa.  At Albia I took a little side trip up the Des Moines branch to check out a Sperry Rail Service track inspection outfit.  I caught up with them at the Sheahan siding.  Leading was SRS 829, followed by a company suburban (referred to on the air as their "chase vehicle") in the same industrial yellow color.  Bringing up the rear was a BNSF high-rail pickup, keeping an inventory of defects and radioing in slow orders.

While north of Albia I learned from the scanner that ATSF 631 was at the Cargill Spur, opening the switch and starting toward Ottumwa.  By 8:45, Kansas City desk dispatcher "JAW" had told someone that he had a couple of loads that already had been given warrants out of Creston.

I got to the depot in Ottumwa at 9:00, just in time to intercept the train from the Cargill plant at the west end of the platform.  This train, with ATSF 631 and BNSF 5366, was a unit train of BN coal cars, tub gondolas, but with red fabric "Shur-Lok" covers.  I'd first spotted these cars parked at Maxon on the UP Eddyville line back in June.  This morning they were obviously loaded with something and I heard the dispatcher refer to the train as a "grain train".

I went in the depot and inquired about the first and second Amtrak trains today.  The agent told me that the first train, the special, would be in "about a quarter 'til ten".  I killed the time taking miscellaneous pictures and listening to the scanner.  At 9:20 I heard the motorcycle special at Albia and a few minutes later they called on a Form B west of town, MP 280.5 to 284.2.

The special train arrived at 9:48 with an interesting mix of equipment that's not normally seen in this part of the country.  The consist included Amfleet, Viewliner and heritage cars.  A few passengers were up and around, and more than one seemed to be eying this photographer suspiciously.  Tacked on the rear, behind the freight cars used to transport the motorcycles, was the private car Caritas with the exterior in a flashy Art Deco scheme.  A couple of riders were enjoying the Iowa morning on the observation platform.

The train spent about five minutes in Ottumwa for a crew change and to drop off trash and pick up some supplies.  I had time to walk forward and get images of the equipment as the train left town.  The consist:

AMTK 127 and 40
Amfleet 28001 (Atlanta Club) and 25041
Heritage Diner 8554
Viewliners 62040 (Summer View) and 62020 (Moonlight View)
Heritage Dorm-Lounge 2503
Material Cars 1454 and 1422
Box Cars 71029 and 70028
Caritas (Amtrak 800045)
I'm not certain if the Caritas passengers were part of the biker crowd or not.  Isolated by the freight cars, they must not have been taking meals and such with the rest, and stops for the train were few and far between.  I didn't see anyone leave or board Caritas during the Ottumwa stop.

As soon as the special was moving, a coal empty on Main 1 came through the depot.  This train had FSTX cars and was pulled by BNSF 9717 and BNSF 8912.  Another empty, UCEX hoppers, was waiting close behind and I caught it at 10:10 at Vine Street near the BNSF yard.  On the point were BN 9671 and BN 9699.

Close behind the two coal empties, the dispatcher sent the Ottumwa Local off to Albia with light power, BNSF 2718 and BNSF 1499.  This crew came on duty at 6:00 a.m. and were to go do some switching, put together cars on the sidings at Maxon for Cargill, shove these cars up the Cargill Spur, and then dump some ballast on the spur.

It was getting close to 10:30 and it sounded like there wouldn't be much more traffic at Ottumwa until Amtrak No. 6 arrived.  I decided to go over to Albia to see the local work and to try to intercept the passenger train at Maxon.  On the way out of town, I stopped at the west end of the IMRL yard.  A WPFX coal load with BN 9562 and 9484 had earlier taken the connecting track at Lawler and was waiting to be taken up the hill to Rutledge.

I got to Maxon just before 11:00.  The local was just rolling through to go into Albia and do their switching.  Those BN coal cars with covers were parked all over the place - on the old UP connection and in both the eastbound and westbound passing tracks.

At 11:48 the Zephyr came through with AMTK 16, 147 and 71.  They had only one freight car on the back today, and they did not have to stop and copy a warrant at new Maxon.  The detector east of Maxon reported the train length at 60 axles.  I heard them later report a delay at the Form B near Ottumwa and the times for their station stop as ":22 and :25".

1499 returned from working at Albia around 12:15 with a number of the rag-top BN coal gons in tow.  I had a chance to talk to the engineer and he stated that the cars were being used to haul cattle feed in unit trains from the Cargill plant at Eddyville to a destination in Texas.  Just imagine, somewhere there's a rotary cattle feed dumper!  In addition to the cars already trailing, the local was to pick up all the empties in the east siding and then run to the Cargill Spur and shove them north into the plant.

At 12:45 a DTCX coal load came up the hill with BN 9474 and BNSF 9961.  Another was behind them, and after it cleared up at Halpin, two empties that had been sitting at the bottom of the hill, plus the work train off the Des Moines branch (BN 2701), were given warrants to use Main 2 to go to Chariton.  The second load was a 130-car, distributed power AEPX train with BNSF 9723 in front and BNSF 9998 in back.  They cleared old Maxon at 1:30.

The Ottumwa Local left the rear of its train on Main 1 and backed through the crossover at Maxon to pick up the cars from the east siding.  I'd noticed that a long string of the same cars had been shoved well to the north on the UP connection (the shot looks south from the H-27 overpass), and I asked one of the crew about the status of the UP line.  He said that he'd been told that Cargill had purchased the line from UP.

The local pulled the feed gons back through the crossover onto Main 1 and doubled them back to the rest of their train.  They worked on an air test while waiting to use the north track to run to the Cargill Spur.  An empty was approaching Maxon on the same track and a track inspector had been given permission to come up the hill behind them, so they weren't going anywhere for a few minutes. The empty arrived at 2:50 and was crossed over to go down the south hill.  Leading a set of UCEX hoppers were BNSF 8974 and 8924.

I decided that I might try to follow the local back to the Cargill connection, but I found old Hwy. 34 blocked by the UCEX cars - this train had stopped part way down the hill for some reason.  I went west and south through Albia to see if I could locate the head end, and found them back on the move again a few minutes later.  I never did hear anything about what had brought them to a stop.

I went back to Chariton and turned off of 34 just in time to see the work train engine (BN 2701) on the Hwy. 14 bridge, shoving two ballast loads east out of town on Main 1.  I went to the west end of the Chariton yard to wait for 8974 and fell into conversation with welder Mike Fowler who was waiting to put his high-rail rig onto the south track and to go to work on a switch frog.  Fowler said that seeing the Jeep and someone with a camera trackside tended to make them nervous.  I told him I had heard some discussion of my vehicle when I was over at Maxon.  Mike said someone might suspect me of being the "Weed Weasel".  Maybe I should get a Toyota or something...

It was 4:30 before the UCEX empty got to Chariton and started crossing back over to Main 1.  I got some more shots of 8974 and 8924 as the train went by us at the west end of the yard.  After it was in the clear on Main 2, the welders got a warrant and set on the track.

By this time there were two more loads waiting west of Chariton to use Main 2.  Just west of the Hy Vee crossing, at the top of Whitebreast Hill, BNSF 8980 led a set of pink and silver OGSX cars.  They'd been told by the dispatcher that they might have a couple of hours before the welders were off, but around 5:15 Fowler cleared his warrant and the trains started moving again.

The second coal load was still parked at Lucas when I came by there just after 5:00 on my way home.  On the point were BNSF 9764 and BN 9619.

That's It!