Fall Break '04

Thursday, October 21


I took advantage of the only free day I had during Simpson's Fall Break to do some train chasing.  The weather wasn't too great, but there was plenty of railroad traffic to check out.  I left the acreage around 6:20 under a light drizzle.  The Jeep's thermometer showed 54 degrees.  I started south, planning to head for Albia, but on the scanner heard a UP train taking the siding at Beech and decided to go over there first.  At 6:40 I could see the headlight coming toward me.  The train rolled to a slow stop short of the town's single grade crossing.  I would return here on my way home to conclude a 12-hour, 18-train excursion.

I drove south along the UP through Melcher/Dallas and paused briefly at Williamson to check the siding before going on to Chariton.  On the way down, I listened to the Kansas City and Ottumwa desk dispatchers talking to their trains.  9734 West and 9410 West were already by Osceola and Chariton respectively.  At 7:00, 9554 West cleared a warrant on the Ottumwa sub., came down the hill and, at 7:11 got the "paper" from the KC desk to continue to Creston.

Kevin "Kid" Schelen was on the Ottumwa desk today and was busy talking to the crew of a ballast train, referred to by "KRS" at times as the "Georgetown" train and also as the "U" train.  This train was at Maxon and they were discussing where and when it would be dumping.  For the time being it was to be stashed in one of the Maxon sidings, since "...you weren't supposed to be working this early."  They also found that the ballast train's trailing unit, 1650, was out of "gas".

At 7:23 I heard the Russell detector (MP 328.0) announce a westbound with 210 axles.  This train came through the "ess" curves in Chariton at 7:30, a manifest with BNSF 4558 and 8608 on the point.  The next westbound was right behind, registering 488 axles on the detector and coming through Chariton at 7:48.  BN 9554 and 9579 were leading a set of PSTX tub gons.

I'd planned to move on east along the line, but at 8:02 I heard another westbound (9870 West) getting a warrant at Halpin and also heard KRS talking to UP 5606 West, which was apparently getting close to Maxon.  I put in a call to "Julie" to see how the Zephyr was doing and learned that it was expected at Osceola at 9:38, about an hour and a half down from the timetable.

I decided to stay at Chariton for two more, plus whatever eastbounds might appear.  I caught the first of these westbounders at 8:36 at Curtis Ave., the west end of Chariton yard.  Leading the DP AEPX empty was SD-70MAC BNSF 9870, and bringing up the rear was BNSF 8957.  Note the dip in the eastbound rails and, just visible to the left, a large ballast washout.  At 8:55 the Russell detector came on again, this time with a 480 axle count.  I moved to the Hwy. 14 overpass in Chariton for this train, which had UP power, 5606 and 5853, trailing NORX gondolas with a June '04 build date.

Kevin had two more westbounds, 9857 and 8883, queued up between Ottumwa and Halpin and had notified the ballast train, by now occupying Main 2, that it was "...imperative, I say imperative, you be off the track by 10:00".  I decided to make a run for Albia but on the highway I heard the first train giving and getting its warrants, so I went to the west end of the CTC at Halpin and stayed there for both trains.

At 9:44 the first of two empties appeared.  This was a DP train with a set of NCUX tubs.  BNSF 9857 led and BNSF 9877 trailed.  The second train arrived at 9:55 with DEEX/DETX cars pulled by BNSF 8883 and UP 8090.

Just after 10:00 I learned that a coal load was going to come up to Maxon and would follow Amtrak out of the CTC, so I jumped back on Hwy. 34 and drove to Ottumwa.  At the west end of the ICE yard a westbound manifest had stopped for a crew change.  On the point were ICE 6448 and 6440.

I drove to the Ottumwa depot and went inside for a "pit stop", leaving the recorder on while I was away from the scanner.  When I returned, I found that the Ottumwa dispatcher had answered a 9-1-1 call regarding two crossing gates having been knocked down in Fairfield.  I also heard that it would be after 2:00 before there would be another eastbound out of Creston.  At 10:40 the coal load ahead of Amtrak cleared up at Halpin, and the CZ cleared about 10 minutes later.  At 11:08 5047 West was by MP 253 (about 25 miles to the east) and at 11:11 Amtrak was copying its warrant at Maxon.

Amtrak's headlights came into sight at 11:30.  The Zephyr pulled down to the Ottumwa platforms and stopped for about 10 minutes.  The engineer called the dispatcher to report cattle on the right of way, and the outbound engineer had a look at the front of the loco before boarding.  In the train today:

AMTK 66 and 71
Baggage 1246
Sleepers 32060, 32048 and 32022
Diner 38024
Sightseer Lounge 33000
Coach 34033
Coach-Baggage (Smoker) 31042
Coach 31000

They rolled again at 11:42.  Just 44 axles now that there's no longer any mail or freight on the rear of Amtrak trains.  This also opens up the line of sight to the rear and someone was taking advantage of the vestibule view as the train pulled out.

The coal load passed by the passenger train was close behind.  I caught them west of the depot at 11:55, CEFX/DTCX cars behind BN 9573 and UP 6552.  They headed through the depot and out of town behind the CZ.

Next in line to go east was light power out of the Ottumwa yard, running to Lockridge to make a pickup and return later in the afternoon.  As yet un-patched BN 1520 and a very tired-looking ex-SF engine, 528 headed out of town at 12:04.  As the locos approached the Iowa Avenue crossing, this vehicle drove around the gates.  

By this time more westbounds were approaching, so I waited on the platform for the first one, with 113 GCCX/CEFX cars.  They arrived at 12:37 behind BNSF 5047 and 4045.  From radio conversations I knew the next wasn't too far behind, but I also knew that there wouldn't be any more eastbound traffic for quite a while, so I headed back toward Albia.  I got to "Old Maxon" in time to see the previous train go by a second time, at 1:17.

In less than 15 minutes another empty came into the CTC.  This was a distributed power train with UCEX cars, led by BN 9727 and trailing BNSF 5720.  The 5720 had a peculiar exhaust sound, kind of "fluffy", and I wondered if it had a mechanical problem.  When I was back home later going through the pictures and tape, I recalled seeing something about "GEVO" units in Model Railroader magazine and checked the number.  Sure enough, this was a low emissions loco with a 12 cylinder, 4400 HP prime mover, designated ES44AC by General Electric and AC4400CW by BNSF.  Primary spotting feature is an extra-long radiator.

Before leaving Maxon I had a look at the ballast train, which was tying down for the day in the siding off of Main 2.  This was a symmetrical set of cars with conveyor belts running to the center where the ballast was unloaded.  The ballast train had three units, BNSF 2427, 6120 (an old SD with add-on AC) and 1650, which had been out of fuel at the beginning of the work day.  On the way out of Albia I stopped at the yard to get some pictures of the helper power, BNSF 9963 and BN 9694, parked west of the depot.

Things seemed to have quieted down on the BNSF for the time being, so I decided to head back up the UP line out of Chariton to see if I could catch anything on the way home.  I heard the Trenton sub. dispatcher talking to a train coming up from Allerton and at 2:45 heard the UP detector at Chariton announce a train with 190 axles.  I went to Williamson and caught them at 3:05 as they pulled up to the south switch and into the siding.  Leading a set of empty flatcars was UP 4964.  The decks of the cars were littered with what looked to me like bracing for loads of pipe.

The dispatcher told 4964's crew that they would be in the siding for "at least one, possibly more" trains.  At about the same time I could hear on the radio another northbound, 7508, pulling into Beech and giving up their warrant, so I drove on up the line.  The northbound in advance of 4964 was still in the siding awaiting opposing traffic when I arrived at 3:48.  With some new ties and ballast, this piece of track's looking much better than it did this summer.

I checked the one and only grade crossing in town and found that the train in the siding had it blocked.  From the time they cleared their warrant to their eventual departure, two and a half hours would pass.  I guess if no one calls to complain, they can get away with that?  I went to the first grade crossing north of Beech and waited on southbound traffic.  At 4:15 UP 8545 hit the detector near Hartford (423 axles??) and then got warrants to go from Beech to Williamson and beyond.  The train poked its nose through the piles of removed ties at 4:35.  8545 was followed by ugly sister 8504.  I watched them clear the end of the CTC at CPU 053 and returned to the Jeep to see what might move next.

Almost an hour later another southbound rolled over the innumerate Hartford detector, which this time counted 401 axles.  Though I watched both of these trains pass, I didn't see anything with an odd number of axles!  The train appeared at 5:27.  In charge of this unit train of covered hoppers were UP 7272, 6717 and 6017.

It took about 20 minutes for the Trenton subdivision dispatcher to remember that he had something waiting at Beech.  At 5:50 the waiting northbound got out of the siding and started for Des Moines.  In the lead were UP 7508 and 4458.

That's It!