Marshalltown Excursion

Dennis Williams Remembered

Saturday, October 27


Regular readers will remember that I took a trip to northwest Colorado last summer to 'fan the D&RGW Craig line with two other Indianola railroad buffs, Paul Speer and Dennis Williams.  The three of us had a wonderful time together chasing trains between Craig and Bond.  Here's a link to that excursion if you care to look at it again.  I've been out on a few other shorter trips with one or both of these guys, visiting the usual rail fan haunts in south central Iowa.  Here are a few of those trips:

Des Moines
Paul and Dennis regularly traveled together to rail fan, and they also constructed the "Rio Grande Pacific", a model of the Rio Grande of the 1970's around Bond and Dotsero, done in HO scale in Dennis's basement.

Tuesday evening, October 23, Dennis suffered a heart attack at home.  He had the benefit of prompt CPR, but his heart had stopped and had to be shocked back to pumping by an ambulance crew.  He was transported to a hospital in Des Moines and lay in a coma until Friday night when he died.  He was 48 years old.

Dennis and his wife Kathy are both former students of mine from my high school math teaching days.  Here they are at Kathy's senior prom in 1973, one of the years I served as a class sponsor.  Dennis is also survived by his parents, son Kelley studying at Iowa State, and a daughter Leah who is a senior at Indianola High School.   I remember Dennis as one of those cheerful and constructive souls that you're always pleased to see and to talk to.  We're all going to miss him very much.

Saturday, October 27

I headed north out of Indianola about 7:20.  It was a nice sunny fall morning in central Iowa with the temperature at just 22 degrees.  On the Hwy. 65 bypass, I caught up to a van with the plate "MP ACRR", and a frame with that said "I'm a rail fan".  I turned off at the Vandalia exit and headed for Short Line Yard.  The radioed been very quiet this morning and there wasn't much moving at the yard yet.  I did take a few shots of the sun rising over the yard before moving on up to Hull Avenue.  There wasn't much going on there either, but the ADM plant switcher was working on a cut of covered hoppers.

I jumped onto the freeway to take I-35 north.  About 8:20 I heard a grain empty, apparently at Ames Yard, talking to the UP Branch dispatcher, "ADG", about going north out of Ames.  I could see the train's headlight to the east when I turned off the interstate at Ames and went into town to wait for them.  They came through Ames at 8:42 with UP 3045, 2835 and 5962.  I stuck around until their taillight went around the corner and then went over near the power plant to wait on a couple of other trains that I'd hear the mainline dispatcher discussing.

The city of Ames has installed some interesting grade crossing protection systems.  Several of the crossings in the business area of town are equipped with synthesized horns directed right at the rubber-tired traffic.  Trains are not required to use locomotives' horns as long as they can see these flashing X signs indicating that the local warning system is operative.  The speaker for the warning horn is just below the on the same pole.  Although the horns are quite loud when you're at the crossing, they're very hard to hear anywhere else, so without the warning of the loco's horn, a fan has to be on the alert.  I was surprised at how quietly 3045 (above) arrived.

From the radio I learned that the "Salt Lake" train would be coming eastbound on Main 2 and that a westbound would be waiting on them at the crossovers near M.P. 187.  I could see this second train pull up and turn off its headlight from my vantage point north of the mains at the east end of downtown Ames.  The eastbound intermodal appeared at 9:25, with UP 4304 and 9731.  They hustled by the power plant and went through the crossover onto Main 1.

The waiting westbound started toward town immediately after the Z train cleared and came by me at 9:34.  On the point were UP 4194 and 4473.

I drove over to Ames yard next, where there appeared to be ribbon rail and ballast trains parked.  Near the east end of the yard, at the driving range road, I found two ex-SP (SSW) units, 7866 and 7788.  Each of these had been "patched" to Union Pacific with red, reflective UP lettering.

My next stop was at a grade crossing just east of "Devil's Hollow", where a westbound coal hopper train had been stopped by the Colo detector.  Inspection of the train revealed "sticky brakes" as the dispatcher put it, and they started moving again at 10:18.  On the head end were UP 7008, SP 267 and UP 7164.  The train was made up of miscellaneous old company hoppers, UP, MoPAC, CNW, DRGW, etc.

About this time I was hearing the M-DMDM getting ready to leave Marshalltown.  I figured I would be able to intercept it somewhere along the line.  I drove on by Colo and State Center, and then turned off of old 30 and went to the south side of Lamoille to wait for them.  The train arrived at 11:06, with a matched pair of units, back-to-back, in order, UP 3033 and 3034.  My compliments to the "chef" on presentation.  I don't recall catching a train at this location before - it's a pretty good spot, with a long view of the train to the west.

Once into Marshalltown I went clear to the east end of the yard to check out a hopper train that was getting ready to pull out of Powerville.  I caught one image of them from the area near the go-cart track as they were just ready to come onto Main 1 and then went back west to the grade crossing at the end of the yard.  The east end was being worked by UP 394, SP 7945 and and ex-CNW patch unit that I didn't get.

The Powerville empty came along at 11:35, with UP 9739 and 6771 and LNTX and IESX hoppers.  They would pull down and block a grade crossing west of the yard for a few minutes before getting a crew and rolling on west at 11:55.

I drove in from the west end of the Transglobal shop area to see what they might be working on these days.  In addition to the usual CNW  hulks standing west of the shop, there were a couple of interesting items; a hood, numbered 1500, from a road I didn't recognize, and remains of an Amtrak switcher numbered 743.

Around on the north side of the shop the UP had three units in the service area, 670, 3023 and 5959.

At this point I decided to pick up the official Virtual Train Watching in Iowa lunch from Taylor's, one (or two) with pickle and mustard, and a chocolate shake.  I was just getting back trackside at 12:10 when an eastbound stack train came through behind UP 4366 and HLCX 6068.  Close to 1:00 there was a westbound intermodal with UP 4378, 9037 and 9799.

After lunch I did a little more exploring.  The former CNW depot has been demolished.  The UP's erected a new yard office south of the yard, apparently based upon a Plasticville® prototype.  This structure will no doubt be the subject of future preservation efforts, perhaps to house a museum of Marshalltown railroad artifacts.  Okay - maybe not.  Marshalltown UP forces have also put up a new sign at the entrance to the yard office.  Here's a hint - the legs don't necessarily have to be the same length...

Before starting back I caught UP 397 and ex-CNW patch 403 doing some switching at the east end of the yard.

I stopped west of West Marshall and waited for two trains.  The first, at 1:58, was a westbound stack train with UP 9705 and 9849.  A coal load was right around the corner and came into sight at 2:07.  This was pulled by UP 7295 and 7051, and consisted of older company hoppers - reminders of Dennis on this particular day.

I drove back west to Nevada and stopped there for three trains.  The first was the M-PRDM at 2:50 with CNW 6847 and UP 5946.  The second, an eastbound manifest showed up immediately after behind UP 4058, 4312 and 6178.  This train had some wrecked Amtrak equipment along. Transition Sleeper 39025 was on its wheels but had obviously had a fire.  Behind it were flatcars carrying Baggage Car 1188 and two wrecked and burned P42's, reputed to be 143 and 149.

From the radio I learned that the M-SSDM was east of town on the Spine Line and was to follow the PRDM down toward Des Moines.  I caught them approaching Chicago Junction at 3:08.  On the point were UP 2981 and 2961.  I then took Hwy. 30 over to I-35 and hustled south to Des Moines, arriving at Short Line Yard just in time to see the PRDM starting into the yard.  Another fan was parked at the junction and we visited until the 2981 and 2961 appeared with the SSDM at 3:45 and rolled around the northeast leg of the wye into the yard.

That's It!