Along the BNSF
November 16, 1996

Jan and I decided to do some train watching on a cloudy, warm and wet November Saturday. We drove east first, and followed the UP "Spine Line" south. At the Melcher depot, the CNW sign had been removed (by a railfan or the UP?), revealing a painted Rock Island one, still in excellent condition. We continued down to Chariton, but didn't see any UP/CNW trains today.

Just west of the BNSF depot in Chariton, new signals were being installed. Sitting nearby were several bright silver relay boxes, already marked with milepost locations in and near Chariton. We already knew from the scanner that an eastbound was working its way up the hill west of Chariton, and it appeared right at noon. On the point of this coal train were BN 9234, Oakway 9085 and BN 7076, trailing aluminum BN gondolas.

We got some lunch and parked a couple of blocks east of the depot. At 12:47, a coal empty, of CWEX and GCCX cars, came by behind MACs BN 9550 and 9536. Running right on the coal empty's signals was BN 2775, running as the Ottumwa local, with one flat car of I-beams for the machine works at the west end of Chariton. We drove back to the depot to catch another eastbound coal load at 1:20. This train was a solid block of IPSX hoppers headed by BN 5588, SF 8137, and BN 5542. We later found this train and its power in the CP yard in Ottumwa.

We waited by the Chariton depot just long enough to see the 2775 head back east, running as a light engine. As we drove on to the east from Chariton, we heard intermodal train 65 get a warrant at Albia, so we ducked south a short distance off of highway 34 into Melrose to catch it. 65 raced through this tiny Irish settlement at 2:10, with BN 3139, Electromotive 6502 and BN 7889 on the point.

At Albia, the UP "Syrup Turn" had arrived to meet the Ottumwa local at Maxon, the interchange and end of BNSF CTC just east of town. CNW 4603 and 4631 waited while BN 2775 pulled the interchange cars off, and then headed back up the branch toward Marshalltown. At 3:00, the Ottumwa local, behind BN 2775, was on its way eastward again, with 7 Cargill corn syrup tanks and one UP "We Will Deliver" covered hopper.

As we drove on eastward from Albia to Ottumwa, we were disappointed to hear several westbounds getting by us. We checked the CP yard, stopped for gas, watched the Ottumwa local come by the depot and then turned around headed back toward Albia. As things turned out, we got to see three of the trains that had "escaped". On the way west, we listened in as the BNSF dispatcher and the crew of westbound 161 discussed a developing problem. 161's crew would be out of time at 7:00 p.m., and would probably not be able to do their work along the way and make it to the division point at Creston on their hours.

After some discussion on the radio, the dispatcher decided to work a "three crew shuffle". Two coal empties were right behind, so 161's crew would take the first empty on west, the first empty's crew would take the second's place, and the second coal empty's crew would take 161 into Creston. This would get 161's crew in on time, and preserve the order of the calls at Creston. Since all three trains were entering the section of CTC around Albia, it was easy to do this without anyone having to walk a trainlength or hand-throw any switches.

161's train, behind BN 5004 and IC 6032, stopped on main 1 short of the east signals at Halpin, west end of the CTC, and waited while the two coal empties passed it using track 2. With about 2 1/2 hours remaining, 161's crew boarded the first empty, pulled by BN 9638, 9585, and 9470, and were on their way with JE hoppers in tow. In minutes, the next exchange was completed, and the second crew boarded their train of AEPX and OVEX empties behind BN 9534 and 9443. By 5:00, everyone, including 161, was rolling westward again.

We drove back over to Chariton and watched one of the coal empties go by again, waited for 161's train to pass, and then headed home.

Bonus Section
November 6 and 7, 1996

While on my way to and from Waterloo to visit my new grandson, I got in just a little train watching. On the way north, I went along the UP Spine line, and caught a short 23 car freight at Cambridge behind UP 6342 and 6026, plus three dead GPs, led by 4123. Along with SD 954, quite a few of these 4100/4200s are lined up at Marshalltown on the south side of the yard. I found these units there on November 6:

4203, 4113, 4110, 4198, 4200, 4152, 4170, 4186, 4136, 4153, 4142, 4559, 4182, 4150, 4165, 4161, 4145, and 4199.

On the way back home Nov. 7, I stopped at the spot where the UP mains pass over the Spine line (formerly CNW mains over the RI), to get a picture of a stack train. Just after turning south again, I caught a train headed for Boone coming around the curve at Chicago junction.

That's It!