Great River Excursion
December 30 and 31, 1996


Monday, December 30

In order to properly celebrate with all sides of the family, Jan and I had an extended Christmas, lasting through the weekend. On Monday morning we helped the last of our relatives to pack and then treated ourselves to a couple of days of train-watching in eastern Iowa. We left Indianola around 11:00 and drove over to the UP "Spine" line before heading south. We found a southbound train, the BOKC with CNW 6926 on the point, in the siding at Beech awaiting two northbounds. Both of the NB train crews were running out of hours, and from radio conversations we knew that we were following the "Cimmaron" van with a relief crew south toward Williamson.

At Williamson, the northbound KSIT crew was just finishing tieing down their train in the siding and boarding the van as the second northbound, a grain train, pulled up to the road crossing. This train, running as the 3418 North, had all UP power - 3418, 127, 3246, and 3377. We stuck around until the grain train pulled out and then went south into Chariton and grabbed some lunch to eat beside the BNSF mains.

On the BNSF, things were getting tied up due to a westbound crew that was short on time, and some rail damage in the CTC section between Halpin and Maxon at Albia. A coal load had "fallen down" on the south hill, and due to a locomotive systems malfunction, had burned the rails. We drove on over to Albia, to the "packinghouse crossing", and found the BN maintenance people measuring for some replacement rail. There were six dents ground into the railhead, three on each side, right in the middle of a paved road crossing. The burns went down almost through the the head of the rail. On the air, the dispatcher discussed with train crews and MoW personnel how he would get a westbound that was short on time (161) around another (491) without being able to use the south line, which would be tied up for 4 or 5 hours while the burned rails were replaced.

We decided to drive on east to Ottumwa. There, we found the same coal load that had burned the rails at Albia stalled on the grade east of town. BN 9494, BNSF 9734 and SF 8126 couldn't pull the hill (without damaging the rails) and were going to require a shove. We went back down the hill to watch for the "helpers", power from a following train, that had stopped west of Ottumwa. At around 2:30, BN 5595, 7249 and 5563 coupled to the rear of the GCCX and CWEX gons and began shoving.

We raced ahead down highway 34 to the crest of the grade near Agency City to watch the head and rear end power come by at 2:50. Just east of Agency, they stopped, uncoupled and the rear end power headed back downhill to pick up their own train. Just after 9494 took off on its own power, a westbound coal empty went by with BN 9441, 9585, and one other green BN unit we couldn't see. As we headed on east across the state, we were alerted to traffic by the detector at Mt. Pleasant, and drove to the tracks just in time to catch another empty, of BN cars, behind OWY 9001 and BN 9216.

By the time we reached Burlington, on the Mississippi River, it was getting pretty dark. We'd had a cloudy and at times foggy day, and in Iowa at this time of year, the sun sets around 4:50. We located a motel room and went downtown to the old Burlington depot, which is currently under reconstruction. Several of the trains we'd either seen or heard about on the radio during the afternoon went by, including the 5595 "helper" and its coal train at 6:38. Another coal load followed closely at 7:00, with BN 5012, SF 8143 and SF 8125 and OBEX gondolas. BN 1407 idled in the yard and several RCR cars, marked so no one could miss them, were standing next to the westbound main.

While waiting for Amtrak to arrive, we went across the street from the depot to Phyl's "Home Cooking" diner for some takeout. Phyl's should be avoided by the calorie and cholesterol conscious, as she keeps a large bowl of (real) butter next to her grill and applies it generously to everything - including the 16 oz. steak that tops the menu. Not really caring too much about nutritional details myself, I had one of Phyl's cheeseburgers, which reminded me very much of how burgers from an open grill tasted when I was a teenager (Good!). Amtrak number 35, with 811 and 519 in charge, was running late and finally crossed the river and rolled up to the depot at 7:28, about 45 minutes down from its schedule. In tonight's train:

Material Cars 1453 and 1469
Baggage 1249
Transition Sleeper 39008
Sleeping Cars 32112 and 32023
Dining Car 38031
Sightseer Lounge 33040
Coach 34050
Coach Baggage 31004
Coaches 34033 and 34030
Sleeping Car 32117 "Wisconson"
After loading many and unloading a few passengers, they whistled off, began to move, but then stopped to let one more passenger off the train. They were rolling west up Burlington's "Snake Alley" by 7:33.

Tuesday, December 31

On Tuesday morning, we crossed over into Illinois and followed the Great River Road north just for the scenic drive (no trains), crossing back west into Iowa at Muscatine. There we picked up the CP (once Rock Island, soon to be...?) line and took highway 22 in order to follow it closely to Davenport. Near Montpelier, we found Rock Island caboose 17028 serving as "Varner's Caboose Bed and Breakfast". This is located directly across the highway from the CP main, and is something Jan and I decided we must try out in the near future. Varner's can be reached at 319-381-3652.

In the southeast corner of Davenport, we stopped at CP's Nahant yard. The area is readily accessible and we found lots of interesting pieces of equipment near the roadways. A couple of SOO cabooses, 132 and 97, were parked near the road. SOO engines 4599 and 4598 were idling on one of the turntable stub tracks, and ex-MILW SOO 2046 was parked in front of a roundhouse door. Just east of the roundhouse were a MILW flanger and plow X900246, apparently constructed from steam loco tenders. Also present at the west end of the yard were locos CP 6030 and HLCX 5029, and SOO crane 250123. Next to the crane was DRI caboose 102, with an interesting logo. SOO 4448 was doing the flat switching chores at the east end of the yard.

We followed the CP tracks along the riverfront, and encountered a BNSF work train, with EMD 748, as it came across the river and waited on the northeast leg of the wye. After several calls to the dispatcher, they were told to wait on a southbound CP train. We moved on to the northeast, stopping in Bettendorf at 11:30 to get images of the CP train grain train as it passed the riverfront casino area. On the point were SOO 6031, HATX 915, SOO 6004 and CP Rail 5820. This was during one of the few moments of sunshine in the entire trip.

We went north along highway 67 to Clinton, picked up some lunch, and went to the UP/CP depot and junction area downtown near the bridge over the Mississippi. The UP was very quiet today, and all we observed was light power. On the way into town, we saw CNW 8517 and UP 9259 switching grain hoppers. While parked at the old depot, we watched SOO 4414 switching, as well as Electromotive 813 and light power UP 2461 and CNW 6816. We left Clinton around 1:15, crossed over into Illinois again, and continued up the river.

We picked up the BNSF main and stopped in Thomson, to check out a depot museum there. On up the line at Savanna, we found a MILW caboose on private property, and nearby, MILW passenger car 541, the "City of Savanna", serving as a museum. Just as we crossed the bridge back into Sabula, Iowa, a BNSF freight passed under us on its way west. Back in Iowa, we followed route 52 north, staying within a mile or so of the CP tracks. We stopped in Belleview, which is notorious for having the CP rails in the middle of the street in its business district. The rails are in the street for quite a few blocks, and there has been conflict between residents and the railroad, since the 10 mph speed limit results in many minutes of horn-blowing as a train passes through the town.

We reached Dubuque and the CP yards there at 3:15 on New Year's Eve, finding only an old IC switcher, 8170, working at the south end of the yard. We nosed around in the old industrial and packing house area on the city's east side for a while, finding RE 1002 parked at the Harvest State Coop. Belleview has nothing on Dubuque when it comes to rails in the streets. There were many examples in the area, including switch throws under plates in the street.

We turned west and followed the IC along highway 20 and county roads, stopping in Waterloo for a short visit with some of our family. In the dark, we saw one more train just west of Manchester, an eastbound with four black IC units.

That's It!