Around the Block


April showers (with some ice in them) were falling when Jan and I decided to skip church and to go around the block this morning. Going "around the block" (train-watching) is a trip east out of Indianola past Beech, where the UP Spine Line crosses over highway 92, then south through Melcher and past Williamson to Chariton, where the BNSF mains pass over the Spine Line. The last two legs of the block are west on highway 34 at Chariton along the BNSF to Osceola, and then back north to home.

We knew from the scanner at home that the UP had sent a couple of trains south out of Des Moines, and one of them, a coal load, was crossing the overpass at Beech when we went under it at 8:30. We went on down to Melcher and waited for it to get some pictures. At 9:02, UP 9027, CNW 6927, UP 3340, and UP 3951 reached the Melcher depot and crossed over the detector, causing the synthesized voice to say, "CNW detector, milepost three nine point five, checking train". Ninetysix hoppers, including green and yellow CNWs, and plain boxcar red UPs, MPs, and C&EIs passed by us before the detector came back on the air to announce "...no defects". We'd hoped for a meet somewhere along the Spine, but the UP 9027 South was given a warrant all the way to Allerton just after crossing the detector.

We made a quick stop in Chariton, listening for any signs of BNSF traffic on the scanner. Byron and I had been down here a week ago and noticed that the spur into Johnson Machine Works at the west end of town had been refurbished with new ties and that three long gondolas had been set out on it. This week, Jan and I found one empty gon left on the spur, and one on the machine works property with a large steel fabrication sitting in it. Chariton was pretty quiet, and a call to 1-800-USA-RAIL revealed that the Zephyr was a couple of hours late out of Omaha, so we traveled on west toward Osceola.

At the Osceola depot, JR's sign board showed that Amtrak was expected at 10:55. I thought that was a little optimistic, but we waited around. We'd heard the dispatcher, "G.S.L." talking to a westbound in Chariton at 10:40, so we knew there'd probably be some traffic pretty soon. At 11:20, a westbound coal empty behind BN 5513, 5100 and 5507 came by the depot. This was a unit train of 115 orange and black IPWX coal gons. By this time, our April shower had turned into sleet and hail, driven by a strong east breeze. JR announced that it would be another hour before Amtrak arrived, so we went out for some fast food. Just after we left MacDonald's, we heard the Osceola detector again, so I pulled up to a crossing near the restaurant. At 11:53, BN 9626 and 9622 came by the crossing with another 115 car unit train of empty coal gons. This time the cars were yellow and aluminum UCEX.

We went back to the depot, ate our lunch and periodically went in to visit with JR and the passengers waiting inside. By this time, we'd heard the dispatcher talking to Amtrak at milepost 402, and knew that it would be pretty close to 1:00 before they made it to Osceola. There had been additional delays in western Iowa on top of the 2 hours down at Omaha. ATK 514 and 397 finally pulled up to the Osceola depot in a light hailstorm at 12:57. The engineer, whose windshield wiper wasn't working, stopped short and then pulled down for a quick, 4 minute stop to discharge and take on a few passengers.

The California Zephyr's cars this day:

At 1:01, they were back on the move eastward again. We said goodbye to JR and went back up the road to Indianola.

That's It!