Byron and Tammy came over for a visit on Monday evening. Tammy'd offered to keep Jan company so that Byron and I could have a day of train-watching during our respective Christmas breaks. It was great to have Byron's company for a day and to get a chance to move at my own speed for a while. (Thanks, Tammy!!)
Byron and I headed east out of Indianola on Tuesday morning before 8:00, keeping an ear on the scanner. I'd checked on the Amtrak web site to see how No. 6 was doing today, and they had it listed at 14 minutes down. We heard the dispatchers on the Kansas City and Ottumwa subs making plans to hold a coal load so that a freight could pass it at Albia. "Can you make the north hill at Albia?", asked dispatcher "KRS". "Yeah, we've got four good motors!", was the reply. Although these trains were running roughly parallel to us 30 miles to the south, Byron and I decided to head for Albia and try to intercept them at Maxon.
When we got to Albia I drove out toward Maxon, but we found the route blocked. The load was rolling to a stop with its rear cars blocking a gravel crossing west of Old Maxon. We back-tracked and started north to get to the head end of the train. However, as we crossed the westbound main, we could see the headlights of the freight coming up the hill through Albia. We stopped there to wait for them. It was 8:55. The manifest was pulled by BN 6821, 8084, 5579 and SF 340, the latter a cabless GP-60, according to Byron.
After meeting the freight, we headed north, east and up over the UP overpass. We then highballed back south on a "Level B" road toward New Maxon. We arrived just after 6821's train cleared the crossovers. The coal load was waiting for a signal before following them eastward. Just as they started moving, around 9:15, we heard horns to the east. A coal empty was headed our way, and it was going to be a close call whether we'd see it before the load was in the way.
The empty arrived behind BNSF 9757 and BN 9404 just as the load, with BNSF 9738 and BN 9632 came in front of us. 9738's train had CEPX cars, but I didn't catch the reporting marks on the empty. Parked on the eastbound siding between old and new Maxon we saw three Progress Rail Service GeeP's, PRSX 1001, 1005 and 1002.
After catching this activity at Maxon we decided to go on over to Ottumwa. We got to the IMRL yard there just before 10:00. A couple of coal trains were in the yard, one empty (apparently) of UNTX cars and a load behind it. Around on the north side we found one BN MAC, 9564, and MRL 370, IMRL 224 and 393.
We drove over to the BN depot to check on Amtrak and use the facilities. We were told that No. 6 would be in "around 11:00". The station parking area was overflowing and cars were parked on the lawn and in the driveways. At about 10:10, the BNSF sent a light engine, BN 2136, westbound to pick up a car at Albia and take it to Chariton. On the radio, someone told the crew that they would not find the car there.
Other radio conversation centered around a loco with a "locked axle" that was to be set out. Dispatcher "KRS" and a train crew debated where to put the engine, since the people who were to work on it were not there yet. KRS referred several times to BN 8059, but I believe the unit in question was 8057.
We drove over to the yard around 10:50 to see what all the excitement was about. One MAC, BN 9497, was sitting by the scrapyard on the north side, protected by a derail. BNSF 4945 and 3182 were used to shove BN 8057 in on top of it. After starting to set the engine out on the north side, it was decided to bring it back to the south. We saw SF 2934 in the yard as well.
Since it was near time for the California Zephyr to arrive, we went back and waited southeast of the depot. No. 6 rolled in and stopped at 11:04 with a fairly short train:
As soon as Amtrak was out of the way, the freight that had set out the bad order engine continued west from the Ottumwa yard. Two units remained on the train, BNSF 4945 and 3182.
At this point we hit a BN Lull (not that it had been that busy to start with). We got some Burger King lunch (recall notices were posted since a child had managed to suffocate on their Pokeman packaging) and parked by the IMRL diamond. Around noon we drove back over to the BN yard where 2934 was busy knocking cars around. Except for the "ahead two cars to a joint", "going in", and so forth, it was very quiet on the BNSF radio.
Fortunately the IMRL stepped in with some activity. Westbound train 111 arrived at Rutledge, so Byron and I drove up there to find - nothing. They'd been told that they would have to wait for 45 minutes or so before getting into the yard, so we wondered if they'd just stopped somewhere out to the east. We went back to the diamond and found that they had come down and stopped on the hill.
The lead unit, CEFX 3034, was interesting - a GP-38-3, Byron pointed out. Trailing were IMRL 200, 231 and 230. They had to wait for welders that were working on the diamond (as I recall, this thing was being welded the last time we were here, too).
111 was finally given the signal to go into the yard. The crew had apparently placed a torpedo on the rails in front of the engine (Just in case their train started slip down the hill?). Their move was announced with a loud report and cloud of smoke. On the uphill side, the BN diamond (Lawler) is protected with a switch that will derail anything that rolls down against the signal. 111 came across the highway and headed for the BN crossing and their yard at 1:10.
UP stackers were approaching from both directions and were to meet at the siding at Rutledge, so we went back up to the top of the hill to wait. The eastbound came up and went into the siding just before 2:00. On the head end were UP 9547 and 5651. From the radio we could tell that the westbound was still a good distance out.
Although it had been an unusually warm afternoon for mid-winter in Iowa, there was a strong north breeze. The sky was starting to cloud over, making it uncomfortably cold outside the Jeep. After checking the IMRL yard again Byron and I started back in the general direction of home, thinking that we might intercept some BNSF traffic along the way. About halfway between Ottumwa and Albia on Hwy. 34, we caught some radio traffic concerning a coal load that was to go into the power plant near Chillicothe. I went north and then back east a bit on gravel to get to the plant. By this time it had clouded over completely and I find that my audio notes on the cassette are barely readable above the wind noise.
We parked on a freshly-graded shoulder south of the overpass and the power plant. A Black's Van was already waiting to pick up the crew, having been called for 2:30. It was apparent from the radio that we were going to see at least two, possibly three, trains before the one for the plant showed up. Just at 3:00, the approach-lit signal for the westbound came on. Shortly, an AEPX empty came under the bridge behind BNSF 9876 and 9931. The engineer gave us some friendly toots on the whistle and they rolled west past the power plant crossovers.
At ten after three a load showed up, but not the one for the ISU plant. This train had CEPX cars and was pulled by BNSF 9890 and 9736. We were treated to some more whistle acknowledgements by this hogger. By now, every trip out of the Jeep onto the bridge to get pictures was another opportunity to freeze your you-know-what or get run over by a passing truck. Adding to the discouragement, the camera kept complaining that there wasn't enough light whenever I tried to zoom in on something.
On the phone, Jan said it was still clear at home and had been all day. Hmm... Maybe we should have gone to Creston. By now, however, we were determined to wait on the ISU load. I'd barely warmed my fingers from the last train when the signal lit up again. This time it was for an AEPX empty with a nice set of green things, BN 8165, 7280 and 8030.
At 3:40 the IPWX load came around the corner west of us and stopped short of the ISU crossover. The conductor lined the crossover and then walked on east to get the switch leading off of the westbound main into the plant. BNSF 8808 followed him through the crossover and under the overpass. We watched as the train looped back around to the north behind the plant. This was a DP train with BNSF 8835 bringing up the rear.
Byron and I headed north and west on a newly-paved road leaving the plant, took "County Line" road north to Eddyville and then went on up to Oskaloosa. I made a quick visit to the Rock Island depot there, which is under reconstruction. I'd heard that they now had a caboose. This turned out to be Southern X555, parked northeast of the depot.