Christmas Break to Creston

Wednesday, December 26

With Susan ten time zones away visiting her daughter, Princess (the cat) and I have been "batching" it.  Wednesday's forecast looked pretty good for taking train pictures, so I made sure the kitty's bowl was full and took off in the dark for a day trackside.  It was 17 degrees with a little fog at 6:30.  I started south toward Chariton, listening to the UP's Trenton sub dispatcher talking to several northbounds.  It sounded like there were two at Williamson and a third coming up behind.

I stopped at Melcher across the tracks from the former Rock Island depot location and waited in the pre-dawn for a train to arrive.  At 7:13 I heard "Highball Rusty", as the first of three left Williamson.  It appeared south of town and came through Melcher at 7:25.  This freight train had UP 4018 and ex-SP, UP 2718 on the point.  The detector, visible in the previous "appeared" shot, reported 428 axles and a speed of 42 MPH for this train.

As warrants were being given to them on the air, I decided to work south and try to intercept the next two trains.  I got the first of these at a gravel road crossing south of Melcher at 7:33.  This train was a unit grain empty with UP 6042 and NS 6697 in charge.  The Melcher detector counted 352 axles and 28 MPH on this one.

Unlike other parts of the UP "Spine" line, a few of the wooden bridges built for the Rock Island survive to carry local traffic down here.  I was headed for the second bridge south of town when I saw the third train's head end pass under it ahead of me.  I reversed course and made it back to another bridge in time to pictures of the train (definitely today's "calendar shot"!)  This freight was led by UP 9406 and 4234.  I'm not sure what was up with 9406's markers, they looked pretty weird.  I watched them roll away into the early morning haze before heading south to Chariton.  On the way down I heard the Melcher detector one more time, 368 axles and 28 MPH.

I called "Julie" to see how the Zephyr was doing today and learned that it was expected at Osceola at 9:50, not quite two hours late.  Things were quiet in Chariton when I first arrived, but at about 8:30 I was surprised by a coal load going over the Hwy. 14 overpass.  I jumped on Hwy. 34 and chased it out to Russell, getting it from the north side of the rails at 8:38.  This was a DP COEH unit train with BNSF 9876 leading and 9688 behind.  After it trailed off into the fog, I noticed that Main 1 displayed a yellow signal, probably indicating an approaching westbound.

Sure enough, in a couple of minutes I heard "Okay's" exchanged between the two trains and at 8:48 I caught the westbounder at 280th Ave., just west of town.  This UCEX empty had BNSF 9817 on the point and 9959 on the tail.  The Russell detector, MP 328, counted 524 axles, or 128 cars on this one.  I would end up seeing this train again a couple of times during today's excursion.

It was now close to 9:00 and I decided to go west in order to be in Osceola for the passenger train.  I paced 9817 out of town and down Whitebreast Hill.  The gates were just going down at 9:12 as I drove past the crossovers at Shannon.  Staying within 5 MPH of the limit, I made it to Osceola well ahead of the empty and was in position at the east end of the platform as 9817 reappeared and crossed Hwy. 69.  BNSF 9599 followed in a couple of minutes.  I noticed on the radio today that trains, when reporting location to the dispatcher, now use the phrase "...conductor and engineer agree that..."

I was pretty sure I'd heard No. 6 report out of Creston at 9:30 and I stayed at the far end of the platform to await its arrival.  A couple of people were wandering around on the platform in front of the station today, apparently undeterred by either of the attendants.  Very unusual!  The Zephyr came around the corner west of the station at 9:54.  Engineer Denise came in a bit fast today and the head end of the train, the crew dorm and a sleeper ended up past the platform.  A couple of first-class fares ended up dragging their suitcases along the ballast.  Considering the large number of automobiles in the parking lot, the stop was a fairly short one, with a report to the dispatcher of ":59 and :02".  In the eastbound California Zephyr today:
AMTK 96 and 166
Sleepers 39046 (Crew car), 32058 and 32021
Diner 38057
Sightseer Lounge 33046
Coaches 34063, 34099 and 34055 (didn't see a "Smoker" today...)
One "Satellite Controlled" Reefer, AMTK 74084
I visited with station attendant Pat Greene after the train rolled away, discussing our respective family holidays.  Pat said that she and J.R. hosted all of their family for Thanksgiving, feeding 52 persons with, "two turkeys and a ham"!  Back in the depot, some passengers thought they'd left a camcorder aboard.  Pat called the train and asked that they search for it, but the fares shortly discovered the device was still in their luggage.

I made a quick "pit stop" in Osceola and then continued west toward Creston.  I heard eastbound BN 9660 report out of there at 10:25 and started figuring out where I would intercept them on the way over.  From other conversation on the radio, it sounded like things were rather congested and westbounds were waiting to get into town this morning.  Approaching Thayer on Hwy. 34, I was passed by a white SUV with a light bar, marked "BNSF POLICE".  The emergency lights weren't on, but the vehicle was being driven as if they were, and it quickly disappeared ahead of me.

I decided to go to a gravel road crossing on the east side of the Talmage Hill area, where there's a detector at MP 378.8.  After a short wait, at 10:40, the seventh train of the day arrived.  This was a FSTX/PSTX load with two units on the head end, BN 9660 and BNSF 8868.  The detector's report was 484 axles and "three five degrees".

I encountered 9817 again, stopped at Afton waiting to go to into Creston.  I figured there must be trains ahead of them, but didn't see any before reaching the east end of the yard just after 11:00.  There, BNSF 4804 and BNSF 9456 sat on a yard track with an ESCX load.  A westbound NCUX empty was on the next yard track to the south with BNSF 9443 and NS 6604.  Neither of these trains moved while I was in town, although there seemed to be some activity around the latter locomotives.  The yard job today was using BNSF 2795 and later would make use of some "spare" power from a grain train, BNSF 6319 and 4407.

At 11:17 I got images of a GEAX/CEFX empty crossing New York Ave. behind BNSF 5193 and 8213.  5193 was instructed by "Barb", the Omaha line dispatcher, to go to "the end of the double track and wait for two".  In a few minutes one of these two arrived, NCUX/UCEX hoppers with distributed power, BN 9610 first and BN 9674 shoving on the rear of the train.  It's and obvious effort for the diesels to bring a coal load up into Creston.  Years ago, the CB&Q's division point was moved here, to the "crest" of the grade, so that early steam locomotives didn't have to go uphill when leaving town.

Just after 12:00 the yard crew, now aboard BNSF 6319, had a long pull to make out of the west end and I knew that another eastbound was about to arrive, so I moved to the north (shady) side of the rails.  The inbound train turned out to be a distributed power AEPX load with BN 9621 leading.  I was fortunate to have changed sides, because before they were in the yard, about 12:20, a westbound with UP 7502 and BNSF 4151 pulling PSTX/FSTX tub gondolas started west.  I just barely got a picture of the rear of the AEPX train, BN 9680, before the view was eclipsed by the power on the westbound.  The UP-led train had earlier reported their arrival as 9:10 and had finally cleared up for a crew change at 11:35.

At this point I got some takeout and returned to the New York Ave. crossing.  The first train by, at 12:45, was a familiar one, BNSF 9817 and 9959., first seen at Russell this morning just before 9:00.  The yard job now got permission from Barb to come out the west end, line themselves across Main 2 onto Main 1, and go back to the east to work industries north of the yard.  To facilitate their return, she put the westbound signal on "fleet".  They came out with six covered hoppers and three AGP tank cars.

At this point things really quieted down, apparently the well-known (among Iowa buffs) BNSF "lull" that usually hits just after lunch time.  I parked southwest of the yard, worked the crossword and listened to the radio.  At 1:45, the yard job returned with eight covered hoppers.  A little after 2:00, I began to get impatient and decided to follow the AEPX load out of town.  I know from experience that responding to this impatience is generally a mistake, but I seem to never learn.

Along Hwy. 34 between Thayer and Murray, at 2:25, I heard "Okay's", indicating that I'd missed a westbound.  I intercepted the eastbound again just west of Osceola at 2:30 and watched it take the curve leading to the Interstate bridge.  Between Osceola and Lucas I missed at least one, probably two more westbounds, just spotting the rear of one as I pulled into the Stephens Forest road for two last pictures of the coal load, winding up for the climb up Whitebreast Hill at 3:00.

That's It!