The First of Ten

BNSF announced recently they would be releasing ten units specially decorated for the railroad’s 25th Anniversary. The first unit, ES44C4 number 6111 was released from Mid America in Kansas City last week and the first revenue train it was assigned to was a KCKTPL from Kansas City to Temple.

Normally this would have meant it would come south right through the Fort Worth area on the BNSF Red Rock and Fort Worth Subs, but for reasons still not clear to me that particular train went west from Kansas City on the Transcon to Amarillo. Next it went to Canyon and turned south to Lubbock on the Hereford Sub and then southeast over the Slaton and Lampasas Subs to Temple.

Watching this unfold on social media, I decided to try for an intercept on Sunday afternoon when the train passed through the area around Brownwood which is a little over 100 miles from the house. I could have gone west to Sweetwater to start a chase but that would mean driving 100 miles further and catching it during the high sun part of the day. My goal was to catch it when the sun was lower in the western sky on Sunday afternoon.

I checked the maps and sun calculators looking for tangents where the train would be heading more due south than southwest, because as the sun got lower in the northwestern sky the train would be totally back lit. All this worked out to indicate the Brownwood area would be my best bet with the least time and driving invested. After all there will eventually be ten of these locomotives running around.

I left home around 10:30 am to allow extra time to stop and photograph anything I encountered along the way. FWWR was quiet and I made it all the way to Brownwood before hearing the Texas Rock Crusher railroad switching on the radio. I first went by their offices and found three ex-Canadian SD40-3’s silently tied down on the quarry lead.

I drove by the west end of the BNSF yard and found their two GP38’s ready to head out with a long cut of cars. The sun raced to get behind a cloud for my first photo as the train pulled down to the switch to enter the industrial track heading to the southwest part of town.

My fortunes improved as the train headed southwest down the spur and the sun came back out.

I had intel that the KCKTPL had arrived in Sweetwater just before 1:00 pm and while I had hoped it would make a quick crew change and head my way, it did not leave until after 2:00 pm. This was pushing my sun timetable back by an hour so I decided to start heading west towards the train and pick my first spot based on the current light.

I found my most promising spot just west of the east switch at Cameron siding where the tracks angled to the south. I figured I had time so I explored a bit further and snapped this view of the old derelict Santa Fe depot.

As I got back into the SUV I heard the dispatcher call the 6111 East and give it a new track warrant to meet the first of three westbounds at Obregon between Santa Ana and Bangs. The train was about ten miles west of me at Silver Valley so I drove back to my spot and got ready. At 4:20 pm I recorded my first and what in retrospect was my best sequence of the trip. The second unit and the train itself were not all that photogenic so after this shot I concentrated on the 6111.

This is the photo I consider the best overall effort for the day. An hour earlier there would have been more direct sun on the nose but Lightroom took care of it to my satisfaction.

Here is a close up of the predecessor railroad decals applied to both sides of the unit.

The train was making perhaps 45 to 50 mph so I had no trouble getting ahead of it quickly. I took a few shots in Santa Anna where I ran into Danny Click and his two sons, but I did not like the results as the train was too backlit. I followed Danny to a crossing just west of Obregon where we could see the headlight of the westbound holding the main. I was able to get a few acceptable shots here as the 6111 slowed to take the siding.

Danny and I took advantage of the meet and jumped ahead to Bangs where I chose to take a more scenic shot.

While waiting for the train to arrive in Bangs, Danny had mentioned that I should catch it passing the Brownwood Depot. I thought that was an excellent suggestion and headed straight there after this photo was on the memory card. I really like how this shot turned out for the existing lighting conditions.

The 6111 East was going to meet two westbounds here, the first of which was an empty coal train coming into town as I took this photo. The KCKTPL pulled down into the siding and stopped in a spot that was hard to get to and very backlit. I decided to skip the second westbound here and go on to Zephyr for the third westbound in good light followed by my next somewhat backlit photo of the 6111. My final goal would to be to get the 6111 with broadside light in Goldthwaite where the tracks turned due south for a few miles.

That was my plan anyway, but one should always remember the railroad if anything is unpredictable and this turned out to be my last shot of 6111 for the day. In hindsight I should have stayed and worked up a shot of the empty coal train as I would have plenty of time to cool my heels at Zephyr. When I arrived I imagined the third westbound would roar through Zephyr at any moment, and I quickly took this photo of a now rare sign in this age.

I waited and listened, waited and listened, rinse and repeat. After about 45 minutes the third westbound appeared in the form of a windmill gearbox train that was making all of 20 mph as it passed me. At least the head on photo at milepost 336 was perfectly lit.

As it was now after 7:00pm and the sun would set in a little over an hour. I did the train speed math and figured after this dog covered the ten miles to Brownwood and the 6111 started rolling my way it would not reach Goldthwaite until after the usable light was gone.

Reviewing once again on the camera screen, I decided I was happy with my earlier photos and it was time to call it a day. While this was the first engine to be released, once again there will be ample future opportunities when there are ten of them out on the road. I headed for home and arrived a few minutes before 9:00 pm after a successful Sunday gamble.

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