In Search of the Last C&NW F7

Wednesday, November 27

Central Iowa railfan and C&NW fanatic Mike Endres had contacted me a few weeks ago about an excursion to southeast Iowa in search of one of the last C&NW F-units still in original paint.  Since Simpson had three days off for Thanksgiving, I agreed to chauffeur Mike and a couple of his friends from the Iowa State U. Railroad Club on this quest.

Mike and Chad Crawford arrived at my place just before 6:00 and we started south from Indianola, planning to follow Hwy. 34 across to Burlington and to then go down river through Fort Madison to Keokuk.  The route was planned to maximize the train-watching opportunities, of course!  We were to pick up another Iowa State'r, Lee Koehler, along the way in Mt. Pleasant.

It was a chilly morning in Iowa, the Jeep's thermometer read only 8 degrees as we drove down Hwy. 65.  By 6:50 we had located a couple of trains from dispatcher conversations and the railroad's defect detectors.  BNSF 1101 East was doing some switching at Maxon as we paced BN 9624 passing the Russell detector.  We knew also of the DENGAL, picking up power at Maxon and on the detector at MP 398 at 7:02, followed by BNSF 9509 on Albia Hill.

We reached Ottumwa just in time to see the DENGAL rolling through town while we crossed the Des Moines River.  After a quick pit stop we went to the BNSF/ICE diamond to await traffic.  Our first train of the day arrived at 7:43, BNSF 9509 and BN 9636 with loaded ESCX and PSTX tub gondolas.  After watching this train pass, we made a quick run by the Ottumwa Yard where we spotted BNSF 2271 and 2529.

I suggested we go to an overpass on Agency Hill for 9624's train and whatever else we might encounter.  We got to the bridge in time to see the rear end of 9509 East move slowly  beneath us and go around a corner east of the road.  Just a few minutes later we were caught a bit off guard by a westbound manifest with ex-Santa Fe power, BNSF 4216, 223? and 2201.  This short train made it down the hill and out of sight before 9624's headlight came in sight (note the shadows of the three 'buffs).

9624 took quite a while climbing the hill.  My first picture of it was taken at 8:27 and it was almost 10 minutes before the entire train was visible and the locos, BN 9624 and BN 9420, came under the bridge and headed into the curve.

We were getting a little behind schedule at this point, having agreed to meet Lee at 9:00.  We drove on east on 34, spotting a grain empty led by BNSF 6829 just east of Agency.  After picking up Lee, our next stop was in West Burlington at the west end of the locomotive shops.

From an employee pedestrian bridge, we got some pictures of the locos behind the shop, including this interesting SD with hooded air intakes.  Along the south side of the shop building, next to the main lines, there were long lines of retired GE units.  At 10:00 a CEPX empty came up Burlington Hill and under the walkway.  On the point were BNSF 9559, with a coat of frost on its nose, and trailing unit BNSF 9877.

We drove on down the hill, just missing another empty with AEPX cars.  We stopped at the east end of Burlington Yard where the mainlines head onto the Mississippi River bridge and waited for 9924 to catch up to us.  They arrived and took the sharp turn under the signal bridge and out over the river at 10:36.

The four of us moved on down the river and stopped for pictures next in Fort Madison.  The timing of our trip worked out well and we were at the Amtrak depot in time to catch the eastbound Southwest Chief, which made its stop at 11:50.  The passenger train had a fairly long consist today, 128 axles:

AMTK 132, 204, 66 and 91
Baggage 1730
Transition Sleeper 39006
Sleepers 32038 and 32043
Diner 38058
Sightseer Lounge 33022
Coaches 31502, 34080 and 34069
2 Boxcars
Material Car 1409
5 More Boxcars
16 Roadrailers
No. 4 made a six minute stop and was quickly on its way again.

We knew that there were a couple of other trains in the vicinity and decided to try out an overpass, the 35th St. bridge, near the west end of the Santa Fe yard.  From this location we caught two trains, a westbound manifest at 12:15 with some interesting power, BNSF 6906, 2440 and 1701, the latter a cabless GM unit.  Fifteen minutes later we had another westbound with "interesting" power, an automobile train behind Union Pacific units, UP 4783 "Flag and Flare", 4005 and 4491.

The boys and got lunch in Keokuk and then spent quite a bit of time driving around trying to locate the C&NW unit.  It was nowhere to be seen at the Pioneer Rail facility, so we stopped at the Keokuk Jct. office and Mike inquired.  He was told that the engine was over on the Illinois side of the river where it had been moved to keep it out of the water during last spring's flooding.  Mike's informant said it was "in the woods", but with his directions we were able to spot it from the gravel road going south toward Warsaw.

We drove back to a grade crossing north of the unit and used a private driveway to reach the fading F unit.  Here are some shots of what was once No. 400, now renumbered 40, power for the Chicago and North Western's "Executive" train:

Loco Right
Logo Right
Nose Right
Rear Right
Rear Left
Nose Left
The engine was part of a long string of stored cars, apparently shoved now this abandoned line until the rear derailed and tipped over.  One other loco was in the line, directly south of the C&NW unit was SSW 3809.

Our mission accomplished, we began retracing our route back home.  At Fort Madison we decided to cross the river and see if we could catch anything at Niota before the light was gone, but didn't have any luck there.  We were a bit impatient at Pontoosuc and just missed an intermodal racing for the bridge.  We left the old Santa Fe route and took Carman Road north from Lomax, getting back to the Iowa side at Burlington around sunset.

In the Burlington Yard what appeared to be a Des Moines to West Quincy train was parked awaiting a chance to head south down the "K Line".  On the point were BNSF 3159, 3025, 8634 and NS 5138.  We went over to the depot to catch a WFAX coal load stopping for a crew change at 5:05.  On the point were BNSF 999 and KCS 2042.  The inbound engineer braked the heavy train down to a near stop on the hill and then opened the throttle to stretch it to the waiting outbound crew.  They were very soon rolling again.

Amtrak No. 5, the westbound California Zephyr was on its way toward us from Illinois, but we decided to travel west ahead of it and stop in Ottumwa.  The Zephyr arrived at 7:34, swapping out Engineer Don Novak for Leroy Lucas.  Amtrak pulled out at 7:41, with an 80 axle train:

AMTK 59, 186 and 126
Baggage 1702
Transition Sleeper 39012
Coaches 34054 and 34041
Coach-Baggage 31000
Sightseer Lounge 33048
Diner 38018
Sleepers 32045 and 32068
1 XpressTrak
3 Boxcars
Material Car 1428
5 Roadrailers
Before leaving Ottumwa, we watched a UCEX/ACCX coal load come through at 7:50 behind Amtrak.  On the point were KCS 2041 and BNSF 8254.

Mike has posted some pictures from this excursion at his Iowa State site.  Check them out!


Running Extra

Saturday, November 16


Driving back from her home to mine late on Saturday morning, my friend Susan Murphy and I decided to check the overpass at the south end of the Beech siding.  The signal for northbound traffic was red, so I headed north on the gravel toward Beech's one and only grade crossing.  We didn't quite get there in time and saw the head end of the southbound grain train already by, so I turned and drove back to the overpass for this shot.  On the point of the train were UP 9724, FURX 3002, UP 9024 and HLCX 6502.


That afternoon, while working outdoors at Susan's place, I heard the horns of an eastbound on the BNSF's (NS's) Des Moines-Albia branch.  I grabbed the camera and managed to get to the grade crossing at the northwest end of Pleasantville just as a short manifest came rattling into town.  This train came into P'ville at about 4:15 and was pulled by BN 2917 and BNSF 6319.

Saturday, November 23


Again on the following Saturday I answered the call of the airhorns and intercepted a five-car freight on its way to Albia.  This time (2:22 in the afternoon) BN 2917 was again leading, but was trailed by BNSF 8075 and 6875.

That's It!