A Meeting of the
Rock Island Technical Society


On Friday afternoon of the Labor Day weekend, Jan and I decided to head in the general direction of the annual meeting of the Rock Island Technical Society in Topeka, Kansas, and to do a little train-watching along the way (naturally). We got out of Indianola about 4:30, drove down to Osceola and then went west on highway 34, paralleling the BN. From the radio, it was evident that there was heavy traffic on the BN, and most of it was coal loads and empties. We ended up seeing more than a dozen BN trains that evening.

The first train we spotted was a coal load just west of Thayer, behind BN 5061 and a UP unit. Just before we reached Creston, we caught another coal load, but missed the engines. As we drove into Creston, we saw an eastbound mixed train behind BN 2322 and 6925 pull out at 5:40. 491's train was working in the yard, and headed west at 5:50, behind BN 2823 and EMD 792. Around 5:45, an engine (BN 2928) and caboose arrived from the west and tied up. Also, EMD 787 was standing dead on the stub in front of the old depot.

When we were driving in, we saw an empty waiting outside of Creston for traffic to clear. After 491 left, it pulled up to the depot, changed crews and was on its way. It was headed by SD70MACs 9613 and 9624, and was pulling new BN hoppers with a build date of 6-95. As it was to turn out, we were in SD70MAC heaven (Iowa!) and saw 12 of them between Creston and Pacific Junction.

At 6:00 a coal load of AEPX cars arrived behind BN 9615 and 9426, and pulled down to the east end of the yard to change crews. Within a few minutes, another empty, consisting of JE cars behind BN 9484 and 9545 rolled up for a crew change at the depot. It was followed at 6:30 by BN 9452 and 9442 with CEPX empties. This train's crew wasn't called until 7:00, so it was tied up briefly, and was on the move again at 7:01.

9452's brakeman lined the switches at the west end of the yard as they left, in preparation for the arrival of a load that was going to tie up in the yard. It came in at 7:15, pulled by CSX 7030 and 8038, and BN 7139. As it pulled down into the yard, another empty arrived behind Oakways 9082 and 9057. It made a brief stop for a crew change and had its string of new UCEX hoppers (Built 8-95) on the move west at 7:22.

There was really no indication that things were ever going to slow down in Creston, but we needed to get on down the road, so we proceeded west on highway 34. Along the way, we listened on the scanner to the progress of the westbounds that we'd seen at Creston, and tried to intercept a few more eastbounds. We caught one meet at Villisca, seeing eastbound BN 8101 and cabless 4016 with a mixed train. We tied up for the night in Glenwood, Iowa, just a few miles from the Missouri river.

After moving our things into the motel, we went to the Glenwood depot to await Amtrak 5/35. We had a brief and pleasant visit with a local police officer inquiring about our business, and saw Amtrak fly down the hill toward Pacific Junction at 11:05. I could only catch the number of the lead unit - 504. It was late, and we still had a long drive in the morning, so we went back to the motel. I set up the scanner beside the bed and let blips of EOT data wake me in the night to listen to the howl of SD70MACs dragging 10,000 tons of coal up from the river valley.

Saturday morning we could hear and see more trains moving up and down the grade by the depot. We took our breakfast to the depot, but had no luck, so we finished packing and went out to Pacific Junction. There, we found two coal empties waiting on a westbound mixed train coming up off of the St. Joseph line. At 8:00, BN 9499 and 9633 rolled their AEPX cars onto the swing nose frog of the high speed switch ending the two-track main. Behind, BN 9610 and 9416, with CEPX empties, waited for their signal. We considered waiting on Amtrak 6/36, but scanner conversations indicated that it would be about an hour and a half before it reached Pacific Junction. We knew that traffic would be parked for about an hour ahead of it, so we got onto I-29 and headed south. Along the way, we encountered a short mixed train on the St. Joseph line behind three units, an LMX, a silver SF cabless, and a BN cabless.

We cut over into Nebraska and went through Falls City, where there is a crossing of BN and UP lines, but we didn't catch any trains. Our plan was to angle southwest from there to Topeka, but a road closing sent us back to the east, and we didn't reach Topeka until nearly noon. The RITS meeting was in a motel on the south side of the city. I went in and completed a membership application and picked up name tags and some literature before we went to lunch across the street from the motel. After lunch, Jan and I went to the RITS meeting, first checking out the vendor area.

Except for the collections of Rock Island models and photographs, the goods offered were pretty typical of any train meet - lots of timetables, locks, badges, etc., along with an assortment of shirts and caps with railroad logos on them. We went upstairs and came in late to the first afternoon clinic. Here I learned what the "Technical" in RITS means. A group of men approximately my age were looking at slides of Rock Island freight cars, mostly taken in the 1960s. Shortly after we sat down and started watching the slides, someone pointed out that in the Rock Island herald on one car, the "k" was slightly shorter than on the others. That was sufficiently technical for me!

We excused ourselves from the RITS meeting and drove south from the motel to Forbes Field, where the annual Topeka Railroad Days festival was being held. This event is in its tenth year, and included particpation by UP, SF, BN, and the Midland Railway. Equipment displayed at the field included RI 652, NYC 8255 and several BN executive cars, BNA 24 Glacier View observation, BNA 23 Stampede Pass HEP car, BNA 10 Como, and BNA 26 Lake Superior.

On the grounds of the festival, one could visit displays by UP and SF that included items of current and historical interest. In the SF tent there was a working CTC board, assorted antique signal equipment, and various informational displays by shop and road personnel and their families. Operation Lifesaver had a tent in which their videos were being shown. Naturally, there was also a tent of vendors where one could purchase, among other things, a train order fastened to a piece of cardboard for $1.00.

We decided to check out the railroads in Topeka before starting for home, so we went back downtown and ducked down under the viaducts. A number of other rail buffs had the same idea, and were hanging out by the UP and SF tracks. We located the remains of the UP passenger depot and a yard nearby. In the yard, I spotted the perfect car for you UP modelers to put on your layout. Boxcars UP955556 and 955555 are labeled "MINIATURE TRAIN SERVICE"! In the UP yard, we saw engines 2252, 2281, 2245, and 2282. At the Santa Fe shop area, we spotted a number of engines: 5435, 9517, 8117, 8102, 2714, 2012, 2755, and 7401. Just south of the shop area sits the interesting Santa Fe depot, an Amtrak stop.

Our trip home took us through Leavenworth, where we visited with a semi-retired prison guard who was standing by the UP tracks with a video camera, waiting to catch UP E units on the head end of an excursion train. I'm pretty sure he'd missed them by hours, but we kept him company for a while before going up to Atchison. The old Santa Fe depot in Atchison has been restored and turned into a museum, and the grounds nearby are home to an interesting collection of equiment, including ATSF 811.

We crossed the river into Missouri and traveled north along the BN St. Joseph line. The BN had recently piled up a coal train just south of Rushville. The cars were black with light green ends, with reporting marks ?PSX. At the south end of St. Joseph we met a BN freight behind BN 3140, LMX 8503, and BN 3160. It had been a pretty long day, so we gave up on any more train watching and headed as directly as possible for home. We got back to Indianola about 11:30 Saturday night.

That's It!