I left Indianola at 6:30 and drove south toward Hwy. 34. On the way, I learned from radio conversations that four coal loads were out of Creston with the last one, 9547, out at 6:35. At 6:48 I heard the first one clearing up at Halpin and figured that I could probably catch the others before getting to Ottumwa. Just after turning onto 34 at Lucas, I saw the rear end of a CWEX load moving slowly up Whitebreast Hill.
I passed the CWEX train before it got to Chariton and at 7:20 heard a distributed power load with 532 axles on the Russell detector, just as I passed the small town's highway turnoff. Closer to Albia, I could hear discussion on the Ottumwa sub. channel of three units being set out by a westbound. They changed their lead unit from BNSF 4697 to BNSF 9731.
I decided to see if I could make it to the yard, but their PSTX cars were already rolling down the hill when I got there at 7:30. They stopped to do an air test while I got pictures of the units they'd set out: BNSF 4697, BN 9530 and ATSF 682. 4697 had quite a bit of paint damage from a fire in the engine compartment. There was a ballast train in the yard with BNSF 2795 and caboose 12155.
There was another westbound waiting on 9731 and I drove out to old Maxon to catch them, figuring that the three loads behind me would eventually show up there as well. An empty coal train, with BN 9575, 9685 and MPWX hoppers went through just as I arrived.
I went to the double crossing (also known as the "Packing House" crossing) to wait on the first of the three eastbounds I knew about. The first, a DP train with BNSF 9766 on the point, had called the dispatcher earlier to report that their rear unit had dropped some of it's share of the work in a slow order on Whitebreast. The following train, with BN 9610, was instructed to wait to see if they made it up the south hill at Albia. At 8:12 they called the dispatcher to say that they had stalled.
I'd agreed to meet Scott at 9:00, so I figured I'd better move on to Ottumwa and not wait for 9766 to be rescued. As I drove over to Ottumwa, I listened while dispatcher KRS called for engineer Pendleton of the helper crew that was coming on duty at Albia. Eventually, it was decided to have 9610's power shove the DP train up the hill and to then add the ATSF unit I'd seen at Albia yard to the head end of the train.
At Ottumwa I went to the depot parking lot and called "Julie" to see how No. 6 was doing. She reported them 3:23 late, with the last report "at 8:04 between Hastings and Lincoln". That would put them in Ottumwa not before 2:00 p.m.
Scott showed up just after 9:00 and we went over to check out the BNSF yard. There were three units, BNSF 4233, which I'd heard report out of Agency City at 8:00, CR 5350 and repainted GP-60 B unit BNSF 331. We drove around, checking out a couple of other spots in Ottumwa, and then headed for the ISU crossover near Chillicothe. We heard 9766 getting a warrant at Maxon at 10:10, and intercepted the train at 10:23. Behind the leader, ATSF 682 had been cut in behind the lead unit on the AEPX load. The train passed under us and the failing rear unit turned out to be BNSF 9974.
We decided to move on west to County Line road (T61) for the next of the three trains. This was the CWEX train that I'd seen just after 7:00 at Lucas. They came by the Cargill Spur at 11:11 with BN 9610 and 9673. Scott and I hurried south on County Line and then took old Hwy. 34 (now H35) west into Albia. Just 15 minutes after seeing 9610's marker we pulled up at the packing house crossing.
The gates were going down and we met BN 9546 (red flag on handrail) and BNSF 8254 grinding slowly up the south hill with UCEX hoppers. We drove on out to the northeast end of town to meet 9546 again. Scott made video as the train came to the last grade crossing before Old Maxon and crested the ruling eastbound grade on the Ottumwa subdivision at 11:30.
We knew that there were some westbound trains coming so we drove down to the west end of the CTC at Halpin to set up our cameras. One of the two trains was picking up a unit (BN 9530 that had been dropped off by another westbound earlier). With Main 1 occupied, the dispatcher sent another train down the south hill. They arrived at 12:22, stopped their train and dropped the headlight. In a few minutes they got a signal and moved toward us. The train came through the crossover over onto Main 1 to start the last leg of their run to Creston. This empty had four units, BNSF 8971, 9900, 9857 and 9920, trailing GEAX tubs.
Scott and I picked up some lunch and then went to look for the westbound that was adding a unit. We found them at a siding on the westbound track between Maxon and the Des Moines branch signals. We waited for a few minutes as they got their air test completed and, at 1:15, headed west on into Albia and down the hill. This train was a NCUX empty, powered by BN 9564, 9670 and 9530.
We'd earlier heard that No. 6 was out of Creston at 12:20, so we drove up to Old Maxon and finally got around to eating our lunches while we waited for the passenger train. Earlier in the day there'd been a Form B in effect on the south hill, and it had been annulled. However, no one had bothered to tell the Zephyr's engineer and fireman, so they sat at the bottom of the hill for a few minutes trying to reach Foreman Judge and obtain clearance. Eventually they were informed and started up the hill.
The Zephyr appeared at 2:20, crested the hill and came by our location north of both mains at Old Maxon. After the train passed, I knew that they'd be stopping to copy a warrant, so I decided to see if we could catch them on the paving (H27) going into Avery.
After the warrant was copied, we heard the dispatcher ask the engineer if he were going to "take a break". An affirmative answer told us that we would have time to get into Avery and to a broad curve with two grade crossings. Scott set up the video camera outside the curve and I braced myself against a whistle sign on the inside. The Zephyr came by us at track speed - I was glad I had the signpost to hang onto!