Our own Christmas festivities were scheduled for the weekend, so Jan and I had considered doing some train-chasing on Friday. Predictably, the scanner was very quiet on Christmas morning. Around 9:00 I called 1-800-USA-RAIL and waited patiently for someone to come on the line. I asked about No. 6 and was told that it was an hour and fortysix minutes late out of Omaha. By ten, we'd still not heard anything from the radio, but we decided to head for Osceola to at least see the Zephyr.
We rolled into Osceola at 10:30. The parking lot at the depot was fairly full, and a half-dozen people were waiting inside. J.R. Green had marked the train for 10:10 on his bulletin board. After my call, I figured it for around 11:00. However, on the way down we'd still not yet heard it leave Creston.
Just as I was about to go back out of the depot, Pat Green popped out of her office in a Santa Claus suit and invited me to have some cookies from the tray they'd set out for patrons. We talked for a minute about the train, and she said she expected it a little after 11:00. On the scanner at home on Thursday, I'd heard discussion of a relief crew for Amtrak, and when I asked Pat about yesterday eastbound, she said it didn't arrive until midnight! I hope she and J.R. get extra pay for Christmas Eve duty like that.
I went back to the Jeep to wait and listen to the radio. At 10:54, we heard the passenger train get a warrant out of Creston. We also learned that we'd apparently missed an eastbound (BNSF 9961) earlier in the morning, since dispatcher, "SLY", was discussing how they were going to get Amtrak around them. He and "KRS" were doing the duties on the KC and Ottumwa subs on Christmas morning. Since the plan seemed to be to cross them over to Main 1 at Halpin, we figured the train must be an intermodal, "Z train". Coal, grain and Amtrak were the only other things supposed to be running today, and only a relatively light train could go eastward on track one between Halpin and Maxon.
Amtrak came into town two hours down, with "Santa" on the platform to greet it. They made a stop for Pat to exchange presents and talk to some of the crew, and then pulled down for the rest of the passengers. They were away again at 11:27. In the train today:
While we waited, we heard a second eastbound, the 5551, get a warrant out of Creston at 12:10. At 12:18, a coal load arrived in Osceola behind BNSF 9845 and BN 9473. Behind the two units were 116 JE hoppers. We decided to stay ahead of the eastbound traffic and got onto Hwy. 34 and headed for Chariton. We saw the tailend of 9845's train going around the corner and down the hill toward Woodburn as we crossed the highway overpass east of Osceola.
I stopped at Shannon to get another shot of 9845. They made the crossovers there at 12:42 and then started the climb up Whitebreast hill into Chariton. Let's see, MP 360 to MP 342 in 24 minutes - 45 mph exactly. They won't bring 11,000 tons of coal up the hill and through town at that speed. We drove on and set up to meet them again at the east end of Chariton at MP 333. They came by us for the third time at 13:04. Nine miles in 22 minutes - 24.5 mph. When I got back in the Jeep, I heard the end of some comment about "...pictures" on the radio.
We'd still heard no westbounds, but knew that we had another eastbound coming. I decided to try to catch them down at Shannon and then head back home to finish getting ready for the weekend's company. Part way down the hill on the highway, I spotted 5551's headlight coming into Lucas.
We went to the bottom of the hill, but were too late to catch them at the grade crossing east of Shannon, so I turned around we and drove back into Chariton. We caught them at a grade crossing at 1:43. This coal train, of mixed UCEX, JAIX and ACCX cars had BN 5551, EMD 9005 and BN 7104 on the point.
We decided to head home. On the way north, we heard the Osceola detector announce another eastbound at 2:00. Just before midnight on Christmas day, I heard warrant number 335 given on the Ottumwa sub (they start at 300 each day) - a very quiet day on the BNSF!