Saturday, we had a full day of activities with our relatives planned, but I secured permission to do a little train-chasing early in the morning. Both a Madison County Zephyr and a football special, called the "Hawkeye Express" were scheduled for the Iowa Interstate this morning, and I hoped to catch them in Des Moines for some pictures. It was clear and cool, a beautiful early Fall morning, with pockets of fog hanging over the central Iowa farm ponds.
Just as I backed out of the driveway, at 6:55, I heard the MCZ call Short Line Yard and say that they were by Altoona and would soon want permission to come through. The yardmaster sent an arriving southbound UP train onto track 2 and gave the MCZ permission to come into the yard on track 4. In reponse to the yardmaster's questioning, they indicated that they were going to drop their passengers, do some switching and would be back, eastbound, about 9:30.
I went directly into downtown Des Moines and parked in front of the old Rock Island depot. Just north of the depot, on 4th street, the regular Saturday Farmers' Market was setting up. Except for a gentleman with a long, gray pony-tail digging through the dumpsters, the only other people around were two men in a green Pontiac, who seemed to be waiting for the train also. They both had crew-cuts, wore sunglasses, and seemed to be doing some sort of Secret Service impersonation - I'll call them Larry and Moe. Larry, the driver, had a walkie-talkie, and called the MCZ, identifying himself as "TR-101", or perhaps "PR-101", I couldn't really tell for sure. Larry and Moe got out of the car, walked to the ends of the depot, returned and had a conversation: "No bus?", "No bus."
Around 7:30, the "Zephyr" (It really should be "Rocket"!) pulled in with two units, refurbished SD-20s, 101 and 102 (formerly IAIS 2003 and 2005), looking very handsome in their fresh black, red and yellow paint jobs. Only 101 was running at this time. The rest of the train had power car IATR 1500, a nameless gray diner (800633), fluted stainless Tallahassee, and a blue and yellow car I'd not seen before, the Naiscoot River (2141).
I walked around from the sunny side of the train and went forward to find Larry, who thought the train was early, in conversation with the train personnel who assured him that the bus wasn't supposed to be there until between 8:00 and 8:30. I approached Moe, who was standing to the side and didn't appear to be occupied, and asked if the MCZ were going to turn in Des Moines today to become the football train. Moe looked at me as I spoke, but then turned away without a word. Fortunately, friendly Christopher Kyte of Uncommon Journeys appeared, and I was able to get my question answered. Christopher also told me that the IAIS had more passenger cars for the football train waiting west of the downtown area.
As the MCZ cars were pulled west into the clear in front of the depot, I went down to the old NS yard and found the additional passenger equipment. On the east end was another power car, labeled Seaboard System Gold 1210, followed by two bi-level commuter coaches, TDIX 1023 and 1016. Behind them was the Paul Revere, TDIX 3125. IAIS engine 625 was standing on to the west a short distance behind the passenger cars.
IAIS 101 and 102 soon appeared and coupled onto the cars. At 8:00, the generator was started in the power car, and they pulled east out of the Nesbit spur and then shoved west under the Fleur Drive viaduct and out of sight. I waited to see what the next move would be. Every so often, Larry and Moe would race back and forth between the depot and the remainder of the train in their Pontiac, or call on the radio to see how things were going. Before long, 102 was started, and the power came back light to pick up the MCZ cars at the depot. At 8:30, they started back to the west, crossing the old NS diamond, to put the train together.
While Larry harrassed them on the radio, "...we need you down here as soon as possible...", the Interstate crew ran around the MCZ and assembled the cars into the Hawkeye Express. They reappeared under Fleur Drive and headed back east to the depot at 9:08. In the lead, IAIS 102, followed by 101, the Seaboard power car, two bi-level coaches, Paul Revere, Naiscoot River, Tallahassee, diner, and the trailing power car.
Down at the depot, Cyclone and Hawkeye fans were being treated to a buffet and bar before boarding. The crowd waiting on the train pretty well filled the platform of the block-long depot. The Short Line yardmaster called to see how they were doing and found it necessary to take my name in vain ("...the Interstate's got things all dicked up..."), because they would miss their 9:30 forecast by few minutes. Things seemed to me to have gone pretty well, and the train was on its way to Iowa City at 9:40.
I was due in Maryville, Missouri, by noon, so I made a brief pit stop at a QT for coffee and a stale glazed donut, and headed the Probe southwest at a high rate of speed.
According to an article in today's Des Moines Sunday Register, the train, stocked with beer and brats, arrived 30 minutes before kickoff, "with no major hitches - except for running out of toilet paper and some import beers". ("No import beer?" "What shall we do?" - I guess being a football fan can be hard sometimes...) Train rides from Des Moines will be available to all Iowa Hawkeye home football games this year.