Iowa's been locked in a nasty, hot and humid weather pattern, often overcast or foggy, for the last couple of weeks. A brief period of sunshine right after church convinced me that I should try my luck trackside on Sunday afternoon. Unfortunately, the sun didn't reappear! I decided to head down to Osceola and then work my way over to Albia, and I ended up making a complete round trip today. As I drove down from Indianola I heard one westbound on the detector east of Osceola at 11:45 - 484 axles, probably a coal empty. Shortly, I heard them get a warrant just west of town and learned that the train I missed was the 9586 West. The dispatcher then called BN 9202 West, which reported itself clear of MP 334 (Chariton).
I didn't have to wait long for a train after arriving at the Osceola depot. The detector came on at 12:33, announcing a 410 axle westbounder, which turned out to be a manifest with BN 9202 and LMX 8506 in charge.
(For the camera-curious, the picture of 9202 above has been reduced to about 40% of original size, slightly cropped to 640 x 480 pixels, lightened and sharpened a bit and given additional JPEG compression beyond that applied by the camera's "HQ" mode (8 to 1). It was taken in "Program Mode", which is automatic everything, at 1/500 sec, f7.8, 28 mm, ISO 100, "Soft" picture quality, and came out of the camera as a 500K file. 28 mm is full zoom, equivalent to about 110 mm on a 35 mm camera. Here's the raw image in case you care to see it or maybe play with it yourself. Okay, I won't bother you with camera stuff again.) (For now.)
In about five minutes, I heard an exchange of "Looks okay on this side.." messages and assumed that I would soon have an eastbound train. It showed up at 12:50, a DTCX coal load behind BNSF 9803 and BN 9630. The detector reported 492 axles for this one. I decided to follow them back to the east and see if I could catch them again in Chariton. Between Woodburn and Lucas I heard another "Okay..." message, and figured that I probably missed one.
At Chariton, I parked in a public lot by the Braden Avenue crossing, just north of the tracks. One cloudy day advantage - you can get decent images from either side of the tracks! In a few minutes, one of those "who will get here first" double-track situations developed. I heard the Russell detector (MP 328) announce a fairly short westbound train but also knew that 9803 couldn't be too far west of me, even with the hard pull up Whitebreast hill. As it turned out, the coal load got there first, but by less than a minute. The camera data shows images taken of both trains at 1:42. The load's head end was just rolling off into the haze around the "ess" curve in Chariton when the westbound arrived. This was something I'd not seen before down here on the BNSF, a unit coil steel train of (uncovered) BN and BNSF cars. They had BNSF 4464, SF 601 and BNSF 1086 on the point and the detector reported them at 266 axles.
I hit the highway again and paced 9803 on over to Albia, arriving about 2:15. It had stayed fairly cloudy and was only up to 80 degrees (with a dew point to match). I drove out to Old Maxon to wait on traffic. There was a pretty good east breeze, so it wasn't too bad just sitting outdoors in the car. A couple of weeks ago I picked up an outdoor speaker, PA trumpet-style, from the sale/closeout pile at Radio Shack for $10. I fixed up a magnetic mount, long cable and headphone plug, and can now wander around outside the Jeep and still hear the scanner. It's not the sort of thing you'd want to subject waiting Amtrak passengers to, but at a place like Maxon it works great now that I don't have my friend along to monitor the radio for me.
I'd picked Maxon as an objective for the afternoon because I wanted to check out "my" new rail there. Here's the deal: A few weeks back Aaron and I were at Old Maxon and I took a picture of the railhead on Main 2, commenting that the coal loads were really hard on the track here. A BNSF engineer, Don Lipsky, picked up the picture from my site and sent it off to a Division Super., who replied to Don that they would be out to replace the rail. When I arrived on Sunday afternoon, the old rail was in the scrap heap and the ditch and new pieces had been welded in place. Cool!
9803 had been working up the south hill and reappeared at 2:36. On the radio I heard a westbound leaving Ottumwa at 2:45. This train, a MAXX coal empty, had come out of the IMRL yard after being brought over from Fruitland on the Mississippi River near Muscatine. They reached Maxon at 3:24 behind BN 9456 and 9562. By this time another load had cleared up at Halpin and obtained a warrant from dispatcher "WSC" for the Ottumwa sub. It crested the south hill at 3:35, a collection of UCEX, BNSF and ACCX bathtub gons with BN 9479 and BNSF 9776 on the point.
I left Maxon and drove back to the west, stopping by the tracks in Chariton long enough to consume a small Blizzard before continuing to Osceola. While waiting for traffic at Osceola, I encountered Dick Roemer, retired Des Moines police officer, railfan and modeler. Dick had been to a G-scale group meeting in Corydon and came by the Osceola depot on his way home. He shared some pictures of his impressive outdoor layout and carried on for a while about his collection of multi-kilobuck, brass, large-scale locos.
I excused myself from Dick's monologue a couple of times to get pictures of passing trains. The first was a CWEX load pulled by BNSF 9775 and 8804. They were by the depot at 6:03. I couldn't hear the scanner from my position next to Dick's Caddy, but fortunately we were warned by the horns of an approaching westbounder around 6:15. This train turned out to be a DTCX empty behind BN 9614 and 9401. Dick took some video of this one.
As you can see in the pictures, it was getting pretty dark for a summer evening at 6:30. The haze, a combination of smoke from wildfires in the west and Iowa's high humidity, together with thick cloud cover, had brought us to the point were the number board lighting on 9614 was visible. "Program Mode" was now opening the aperture all the way and holding the shutter for 1/160 second. Dick decided to pay a visit to Osceola's new casino and I headed back north for home.