December 18, 1998

On Friday morning I went to the office to finish up the semester's grading. I'd gotten all but the last of the marks recorded on the sheets to go to the Registrar's office when Jan called. "It looks like from the weather report that this will be the last decent day before Christmas." We'd been enjoying unusually warm weather in Iowa this season, and had a forecast of fortyfive degrees with increasing clouds in the afternoon. "J.P. Cottrell's riding track westbound and Amtrak's supposed to be about an hour late.", she went on. "I haven't heard any other traffic, but the KC dispatcher's up to warrant eightforty something already."

I can take a hint. I passed out a couple of Christmas gifts, a B- here and an A there, and hustled over to the Registrar to turn in the sheets. Once home, I got the big antenna out of the garage, set it up on the roof of the Jeep and loaded up the laptop and the cameras. Soon we were headed west out of town on highway 92. Just a few miles out of town, we got stuck behind a line of traffic moving only 40 mph. I kept watching the clock and doing the arithmetic. 9:50 came and passed. We heard Amtrak get a warrant out of Creston at 9:54. Thirty miles to go - we were not going to make it.

Once headed south on R45 we made good time. We knew from warrants of a westbound that we'd catch for sure, but it seemed unlikely that we'd beat the Zephyr to Osceola. We picked up old highway 69 just north of town and hurried to the depot. As I turned into the parking north of the depot, the lights were starting to flash on the highway crossing. Jan pointed out another railfan, just south of the grade crossing, who'd already raised his camera. I sprinted to the platform just in time to get my shot.

The third unit was something different, so I trotted a block east to get around the head end for another look. Cal-Train 914, the "Atherton" trailed GEnesis units 87 and 18. In the remainder of No. 6 today:

Baggage Car 1167
Transition Sleeper 39037
Sleepers 32042, 32105, and 38065
Sightseer Lounge 33022
Coaches 31508 (Smoking), 34030, and 34065
Baggage Cars 1569 and 1713
I was surprised to not see any boxcars today, and at the relatively short consist for the holiday season. They reported their times to the dispatcher as 10:23 and 10:25.

As soon as Amtrak was out of town, the welders took over Main 2 to work on one of the crossover frogs. By the time I got back to the Jeep, the westbound we'd heard of earlier was talking to someone with a Form B off to the east of us. This train, of AEPX empties with BN 9236, EMD 9086 and BN 7236 on the point, made the depot at 10:45.

We heard BN 7281 East get a warrant out of Creston at 10:52, so we decided to go westward toward them and try for an intercept along the way. As we pulled into Thayer, about 18 miles east of Creston, we heard "Okay on..." messages exchanged between the 9236 and 7281, and soon heard the detector at MP 378.8 announce our train. This turned out to be AEPX loads, behind BN 7281, 7220 and EMD 9077. They arrived in Thayer at 11:22. The 7281 had a red flag tied on the front handrail.

We drove on into Creston to find another eastbounder, a merchandise train, with its head end sitting well out to the east. The inbound crew was awaiting the arrival of the crew van. On this train were BNSF 1008, and BN units 6806 and cabless 4082. Two other eastbound trains were parked in the yard, DEEX coal with BN 7230, EMD 6043 and EMD 9081, and grain hoppers with EMD 9059, BN 4041 and BN 9220.

At the west end of the yard, we found engines BNSF 8725 and SF 328. Another railfan was wandering around in the yard, taking numerous pictures of these locos.

At 11:58, BN 9236 and its empties were on their way again. They pulled west and stopped long enough to have their EOT straightened up and strapped in place. I'd noticed that it was sitting sideways when they went through Osceola - problem with rotating couplers, I suppose.

Also at the west end of the yard, we found a collection of Black's vans - apparently quite a few crews are being hauled back and forth between Creston and Galesburg - these vans were marked "Beardstown, Illinois". In addition to these four, we saw two others running around town during the day.

We got some takeout lunch and returned to the west end of the yard. At 12:57, a coal load arrived, more AEPX cars, behind BNSF 9752 and BN 9521. They made a 1/2 hour stop for a crew change at the east end of the yard and were on their way again at 1:30.

The old depot in Creston is getting a facelift, with a number of new windows being installed and all of the window frames receiving a fresh coat of green paint.

At the same time that the 9752 was pulling, another westbounder arrived and stopped at the depot. No crew was available, so it was tied down and would wait until after 3:30 to move on. This was a coal empty, of BNSF cars, with BNSF 9978 and BN 9474 on the point. Another train, having stopped at "Bullock's crossing" at 1:20, waited behind this one to get into the yard.

While we waited for more trains to come through, we watched some switching. The power we'd seen at the east end of the yard earlier (EMD 9059, BN 4041 and BN 9220) was brought to the west end and used to put together a grain train on tracks four and eight.

We finally decided to head back toward Osceola, but first stopped out in the country to have a look at the train waiting to get in. It was another coal empty, with BNSF 9946, and BN 9681 and 7925. We heard later on the radio that they managed to make it into the yard about an hour before their 12 hours ran out.

We knew that we had a westbound heading toward us, and heard it trip the Osceola detector, so we turned in at Murray and waited. This train turned out to be a merchandise train, the GALLIN, and had BN 6824 and BNSF 6392 in charge.

We drove from Osceola on east to Chariton without hearing from any other trains. There we waited for one last coal load to come up the hill and through town at 5:12. This turned out to be CWEX gons behind BN 5016, EMD 9032 and BN 9241 (we certainly saw our share of SD-60Ms today!). I took a picture of it in the dark, even though I knew it wouldn't turn out very well - maybe Santa will bring me a new digital camera!

Merry Christmas!