After a long, dry spell of too little train-watching, Jan and I found a Saturday to get away from Indianola and get trackside. The weather cooperated, and we had a bright and (relatively) warm morning for late November. We'd had an ear on the scanner since early in the morning and knew that the UP Spine line was fairly busy this morning.
We left home around 8:00 a.m., and headed directly east to Beech, where the UP has a siding. There was nothing there, but we knew from the radio that the next siding to the south, Williamson, was busy with several southbounds meeting a northbound. We found one of the southbounds, a coal load of CWEX cars, sitting out in the country between Melcher and Williamson, waiting its turn to meet the northbound. On the head end were UP 8029 and SP 218. Signal trouble at the south end of Williamson was delaying things.
By the time we arrived at Williamson (8:44), a couple of the southbounds were already by. Several crews (three, it appeared) were taking their grips and alighting from the northbound merchandise train. There was some discussion on the radio between the crew(s) and a Cimmaron van coming from Des Moines to pick them up. I couldn't tell if there were a relief crew coming or not. The northbound's power consisted of SP 8239, SP 8005, SP 8020 and UP 491.
We turned our attention to the BNSF's radio and went east out of Chariton toward Albia, parallel to their double-track mainline. We'd heard a few trains get and clear warrants this morning, but it sounded like the only thing interceptable was a westbound with Illinois Central power. I drove to Halpin, the west end of the CTC at Albia, and we waited for the train to come down the hill. It finally arrived at 9:56, with IC 6137 and 6006 in charge of a solid block of BNSF grain hoppers, all painted alike and numbered in the 471000's and 472000's. This train rolled slowly up to the west interlocked crossover signals to wait for Amtrak No. 6, which was running reversed on the westbound main this morning.
We drove into Albia and out to the northeast end of town to wait at Maxon for Amtrak and whatever westbound traffic there might be. It took Amtrak quite a while to arrive, even though it had sounded on the radio like they were not too far off schedule. We learned later that they'd followed a freight (the "DENGAL") on the westbound main out of Osceola and had waited for it to cross over at Shannon (Lucas, IA) to get out of their way. On the radio this morning, dispatcher "KRS" was referring to himself as "DS-44", mixed with occasional returns to "Ottumwa Sub Dispatcher".
Amtrak No. 6 finally crested the hill and raced by us at 11:22, about an hour down. On the point were GEnesis units 48 and 39, and one baggage car. These were followed by eight bi-level Superliner cars, three boxcars, a "deadhead" Superliner sleeper, and a trailing baggage car. A bundle of used ties provided a convenient perch for taking pictures.
With Amtrak out of the way, we knew we'd have some freight and coal traffic soon. The IC-powered train had an "after the arrival" warrant on Amtrak and proceded westward from Halpin. The "DENGAL" was trailing Amtrak on the westbound and started toward us up the Albia hill on track two. From the east, a coal empty that had unloaded at the power plant near Chillicothe arrived at New Maxon at 11:44. This block of OGSX gons was pulled by EMD (formerly Oakway) 9057, BNSF 9793 and BN 9684. While we waited on the DENGAL, we heard the Oakway's engineer get on the horns continuously for a minute or two. On the radio, they made a call to report that they'd chased a mule down the hill on the right of way. Eventually, it got out of their way without being hit by the train.
The UP'd been switching in Albia, and headed north up their branch line with 20 cars, mostly corn syrup empties, at 11:48. On the point: SP 7774 and UP 2359. With a southwest breeze, we could hear the DENGAL grinding up the hill for what seemed like an eternity. They finally made New Maxon at 11:54 behind BN 6815, EMD 1768 and BNSF 8734. They crossed over to run reversed toward Ottumwa, making way for trackwork on the eastbound main. The detector just east of Maxon reported an axle count of "five seven zero". Nice long train!
We got some lunch and then did a little exploring. In the yard at Albia, we found BN 2173 and SF 2839 with a few cars sitting in front of the company office. The railroad has the new bridge over Highway 5 in place, but the road's not been opened to traffic below it yet. Incredibly, the IDOT did not four-lane this when they had a chance. The bridge permitted an improvement in track alignment to remove a dogleg just east of the junction with the Appenoose County (formerly a crossing with the Wabash/NW/NS).
We drove out of Albia on back roads, passing through what remains of the communities of Avery, Frederick and Dudley, and staying as close to the mains as the roads permitted. We knew that another westbound was approaching and we stopped to get a picture of it at 1:17 at the county line road, T61. This was a set of empty JE hoppers behind BN 9489 and Heritage II BNSF 9893.
We passed through Chillicothe and then stayed south of the Des Moines River on the way into Ottumwa. At the IMRL yard around 1:45, we found a BNSF coal load, GCCX cars, with the power, BN 9221, EMD 6042 and BN 5526 still on the west end. Later in the day, we would see this power stall on Rutledge Hill.
We spent most of the rest of the afternoon running back and forth between the IMRL yard and the BNSF/IMRL diamond at "Lawler", trying to catch as much of the traffic as we could. At 2:00, a work train headed west through downtown Ottumwa with BN 2366 on the west end of a set of tie equipment called the "Slot Machine". At 2:15, we were back at the west end of the IMRL yard to catch an eastbound (262, I think) as it arrived. This train had IMRL 8936, 606 and 607 on the point. The 607 had met with some mechanical difficulties and appeared to be dead (but still bleeding) in consist.
Back at the diamond at 2:30, we caught an empty JE coal train with BN 9648 and BNSF 9909. This one was followed about a half hour later by CEPX, WFAX and GSNX gons behind EMD 9044, 9026 and BN 5013.
At 3:20, another eastbound IMRL merchandise train arrived at the yard, this one behind IMRL 359, 205 and 703.
We returned to the diamond for a light power move at 3:30. IMRL 8940 and 357 came down the hill, rolled through the power derail just north of the diamond and went into the yard to do helper service for eastbound traffic.
The BNSF's turn in the interlocking was next, at 3:50. They ran a westbound merchandise train behind BN 8138, HLCX 6070 and cabless BN 4038, followed by the return of the now eastbound Slot Machine at 4:00.
The IMRL was given the diamond next, to bring 112's train up the hill. They put together an interesting collection of power for the job, including units 8936, 606, 607, 359, 205 and 703. Unfortunately, the 607 was spewing a trail of oil behind, leaving the hill too greasy for the next move.
At 4:18 the first cut of the GCCX coal load, headed for the Fruitland generating plant along the Mississippi River, came by us and charged up Rutledge Hill. They managed to get the rear end across the highway, but stalled with it just a few carlengths beyond. They called to report that there was too much oil on the rail for them to make the hill. We hurried up the hill to a wooden bridge just in time to catch the offending unit, along with 606 and 8936, rolling back down the hill to try to pull the first half of the coal load up to Rutledge. From radio traffic that we heard later, it was apparently quite a while before all the waiting trains were up the hill this evening.
Back in Ottumwa, the BNSF ran an eastbound coal load at 4:54, with BNSF 9783 and 9836. We knew from the radio that there were several more eastbounds on the way. We'd heard BNSF 9867 East, BN 7104 East and BN 5107 East getting warrants to come our way. However, it was time for us to start toward home, so we headed out onto Highway 34 again. We'd only gone as far as the Monroe County line when the temptation to intercept another train got the best of us, and we drove north on T61 to catch an AEPX load with 9867 and 9638 at 5:37.
At Albia, we returned to Old Maxon, where another railfan couple were watching the trains roll. We stayed long enough to see two loads come up the hill, at 6:05, BN 5107, 8033 and 9219 with PRBX cars and at 6:28, BN 6774, 7806 and 7269 with BNSF hoppers.
We got sandwiches in Chariton and watched a westbound intermodal come through at 7:28 behind BN 8084, 4114, 4080, 4077 and SF 5?96.
We decided to make a full day of it and catch No. 5 at Osceola, so we passed up the Highway 65 turnoff and continued westbound. A few miles out of Osceola we heard the detector at go off for both tracks at almost the same time. We knew the north track was probably the intermodal we were trailing, but the south would be a new train to add to today's list, so we went south on the first gravel road, passed over the westbound main and stopped at an overpass on the eastbound. In a couple of minutes, at just about 8:00, we saw another coal load go by in the dark.
As we got to the square in Osceola, we could see the gates go down and a couple of executive-painted MACs raced through town with a set of ALMX loads. We got to the depot about ten after eight, just as the rear end was passing by. We had a long wait for the next train, but on the radio could hear eastbound traffic stacking up at Creston. At 9:14 another load came through, this one with BNSF 9891 and BN 9411 towing CWEX cars.
Amtrak No. 5 was pretty close to on time this evening, rolling to its first stop at the Osceola depot at 9:21. In the train tonight:
Jan puts little stars in her notes next to the trains we saw (as opposed to those only heard about on the radio - these she records as "missed"). Her list shows 31 sightings in just short of 13 hours today - pretty good train-chasing!
Here are a few pictures from the Kate Shelly model railroad meet near Boone, Iowa, on November 7: