Author Archives: Ken

Mail a Letter, Catch a Train

Yesterday on July 6th I was working at home when I happened to notice on social media that a westbound ZAILC train was coming into Fort Worth heading my way with a KCS unit leading and two Progress Rail Tier 4 SD70ACe’s trailing. I remembered I had a letter to mail so a quick trip to the Aledo post office was in order.

I stopped at the location of the old west end of the Iona siding and got ready. Soon the radio came alive with a westbound manifest train calling the signal into the east end of the siding. Now I had time to get to Aledo without missing my target train somewhere behind this manifest so I moved on to my normal parking spot next to the old Iona depot now in Aledo.

Soon the current situation became clear over the radio. The train in the siding was a MEWTU Houston to Tucson freight and Monday’s ZAILC, the “Laser” from Atlanta to Los Angeles was already out of Fort Worth coming up the main behind it. My target train was Sunday’s ZAILC and it was stopped at the west end of Davidson Yard for fuel ands to have a UP unit added to the point. I was less than thrilled with this development since I wanted the KCS leader, but I decided since I was already here with three trains on the way that I would wait it out.

At 2:34pm the UP 6595 leading Monday’s ZAILC rolled past me as the engineer transitioned into dynamic braking.

The radio now indicated the MEWTU was coming out of the siding to follow the “Z” train. UP 7043 came through Aledo at 2:50pm.

This was a very long train and as the rear end approached I could hear the whine of dynamic brakes. I framed up a shot with the west end of the old Iona depot and froze this image of SD70ACe 8909 heading downgrade with afternoon thunderstorms in the background.

I went down the street to the post office and mailed my letter before settling under a shade tree to wait. I considered giving up when I heard the train was having MU problems after adding the UP unit, but finally it left Fort Worth just before 3:30 with the problem resolved. I was in position for this sequence when the train came by at 3:49pm.

I would have been much happier with the KCS or either of the Tier 4 ACe’s leading but as the Rolling Stones song goes “You can’t always get what you want”.

Engineering Special Returns

I had a good day Monday, June 29th chasing the UP Engineering Special in the afternoon as it made its way from Kansas City to Fort Worth. On Tuesday it ran from Fort Worth to San Antonio and back to Taylor for the night, but I did not know what the plan was for July 1st. When I got up Wednesday morning the railfan network indicated the train was northbound out of Waco on its way to Wichita, Kansas.

I decided to catch it going through Fort Worth and quickly got dressed since it was rapidly approaching. I drove over to the south end of Wrenn Siding at Sycamore School Road where the only open shot I could find was on the south side of the crossing as the train rolled by at 8:03am.

Knowing the train would stop at Ney Yard for a crew change, I headed for the Terminal Road overpass in north Fort Worth to catch it leaving town on the Duncan Sub with the skyline in the background. I parked and waited on the overpass only to hear on the radio the special was blocked by another train at Tower 55. The wait was broken at 8:35am by a northbound empty coal train powered by three SD70ACe’s on the paralleling BNSF Fort Worth Sub.

I was now joined by fellow railfan Jadon Henderson, and at 8:59 we both captured views of a northbound BNSF autorack train.

We both heard on the radio that the northbound special was on the move at Tower 55 at 9:35am while a southbound BNSF autorack left Saginaw behind us. The open space on the right side of the train is for a new second main line.

Five minutes later the special rolled into view coming upgrade.

No vehicles were coming so I crossed over to the north side of the overpass for this going away view showing at least one person in the theater section of the inspection car “Idaho”.

After this Jadon and I parted company. Back at work at home, I became more aware from social media that the UP’s Southern Pacific heritage SD70ACe number 1996 was leading a manifest freight leaving McAlester, Oklahoma. The train was coming down the Choctaw Sub to Fort Worth on the way to Houston, and even though I already have multiple photos of this locomotive I could not resist seeing it again.

Other railfan friends were catching it from Denton on south so knowing its location I set up at a clear spot just south of the bridge over I820 in Haltom City. Once again I was joined by Jadon Henderson who had just missed a photo in Denton, and at 7:26pm we were rewarded with this perfectly lit sequence.

We heard on the radio that the train would encounter a slow order on its way south to Tower 55. Jadon and I took advantage of this and jumped ahead of it to where Ninth Street dead ends at the tracks. As the light started to wain at 7:46pm we caught these coming and going photos along with Eric Escobido who arrived at the last moment.

The 1996 had a green signal across Tower 55 and I also had a green signal to head home for dinner with two catches for the day.

Engineering Department Special

I cannot claim to be housebound and looking for an excuse to get out with recent business related road trips to Arizona and Kansas under my belt. However with the cancellation of the majority of railfan events this year, I decided to make a relatively short drive yesterday to get the best possible photos of a Union Pacific Engineering Department train.

Yesterday the nine-car passenger train drawn from UP’s heritage fleet ran from Kansas City to Fort Worth. A friend on the crew let me know the train would be leaving McAlester, OK around 2:00pm, so I decided to try for a first photo of it in the big open curve at the north end of the old Katy Ray Yard in Denison, Texas. Next considering the proximity to major highways, I tentatively decided to catch the train in Sadler, then Argyle and finally Fort Worth.

I figured to be safe I should be in position for the Denison photo no later than 4:30pm with the special expected around 5:00pm. I left home at 1:00pm and in the process of taking the Chisholm Trail Turnpike northbound I lucked into my first train of the day while passing over UP Davidson Yard. I saw a UP intermodal train westbound coming down main one and pulled over on the shoulder of the turnpike for this grab shot at 1:23pm in an otherwise hard to reach spot.

Taking this chance meeting as a good omen, I drove up I35 and then east on US 82 to Sherman where once again I was fortunate and caught this grab shot out the car window of BNSF GP50 3100 before it ducked out of sight in the yard.

Heading north into downtown Denison I drove by the old MKT offices and depot hoping to find any Texas & Northeastern locomotives, but only the static museum display was baking in the afternoon sun.

As it was now close to 3:30pm I decided to head over to the photo location and read some of the railroad magazines I had brought with me. At 4:15pm a Nathan K5LAA horn blowing for the crossing about 1/2 mile to the north caused me to jump but then leisurely move into position for this sequence of an SD70ACe pulling a special load just as a single cloud moved overhead.

I went back to my reading but that did not last for long as at 4:35pm a K5LAH horn preceded the arrival of a southbound manifest with a GEVO leading and no impairing cloud.

The timing of the special was impeccable as I heard the UP 8174’s horn at exactly 5:00pm and one minute later captured this view as planned.

As the lighting was perfect and the train pulling by slowly I decided to roster shoot the whole consist starting with GE ES44AH 8174.

Power car 2066 provides electricity to the rest of the train.

Sleeper car “Powder River”.

Business car “Feather River”.

Museum car “Western Star”.

Sleeper car “Lake Forest”. I had a room in this car on one business car trip many moons ago.

Crew Sleeper car “Little Rock”.

Dome Lounge car “Walter Dean.”

Dining car “”City of Denver”.

Track Inspection car “Idaho”.

And the going away view.

I got on nearby US 75 South and then turned west on US 82 West towards Gainesville. On the way up I had checked out Sadler where the UP Choctaw Sub goes under US 82 and could not find a desirable photo location; so now I skipped it on the way back in order to stay ahead of the train. My next planned location was the curve in downtown Argyle just south of Denton.

Knowing from experience if I used US 377 South from Whitesboro to Argyle that I would have no chance of staying ahead of the train, I opted to take US 82 to Gainesville and then south on I35 to the FM 407 exit for Argyle. This and skipping Sadler were good decisions as I arrived in Argyle only ten minutes ahead of the train. Afternoon thunderstorms to the west had started to obscure the sun as I framed up this view at 6:46pm with the old Missouri Pacific railroad section house (now a real estate business) in the background.

As I got back on I35 South the sun was now completely behind clouds, but since wherever they would park the train in Fort Worth was on my way home, I decided to stick with it. Coming into town I heard on the radio the plan was to park the train in the ex-Katy Ney Yard south of Tower 55. I parked on the east side of the Allen Avenue overpass where I met up with fellow railfan Jason Burke. I happily framed up this view with the Fort Worth skyline as the train curved into the yard lead.

Crossing over I took this looking down view of the Track Inspection car “Idaho”

One final view of the train coming to a stop for the night at 7:49pm.

With the chase done I was anxious to get home for a late supper, but then the sun started to separate itself from the thunderstorms in the west and mix with some Sahara sand. I pulled over next to the UP in Iona for these two trainless views to end the day.

Obviously supper was delayed even more but it was worth it.

Going South

I was able to finish my work in Kansas on Monday June 22nd so Tuesday the 23rd found me on the road back home. Instead of taking the Kansas Turnpike southwest to Wichita I headed south out of El Dorado, KS with the intention of getting back on I35 north of Ponca City, OK. It has been around 40 years since my last visit to Augusta, and the last time I witnessed the old Frisco depot here the tracks were still in use through town on their way to Wichita.

I knew there was a westbound BNSF stack train heading my way, and at first wanted to catch it passing the old Santa Fe depot in Augusta, but Maintenance of Way was working in that area. I settled for this photo where the Frisco once crossed the Santa Fe at grade right behind where I am standing.

On the southwest side of Augusta the BNSF Douglass Subdivision swings south off of the Emporia Sub and runs thirty miles down to Winfield, KS where it connects to the Arkansas City Sub. I parked on the side of US 77 on the approach to the Walnut River bridge, and after about twenty minutes I caught this loaded coal train from Wyoming to the OG&E Red Rock power plant as it enters the Douglass Sub.

Running down US 77 ahead of the train I drove into the Sub’s namesake town of Douglass and set up for this pleasant view of the train passing the station sign.

After capturing the two BNSF units up front I moved to the south end of town for this shot of the two DPU’s nose to nose.

A few miles south of Rock, I pulled over on the shoulder of US 77 for this cross country view looking west.

I overheard the dispatcher telling the southbound coal train they would have to wait at WN Junction in Winfield for a northbound “Z” train that was approaching Arkansas City and would take the Arkansas City Sub north to Newton before turning east to Emporia. When I arrived in Winfield I immediately encountered this South Kansas and Oklahoma GP38-3 that started life as a SP GP35 back in 1965 making it only ten years younger than I.

Satisfied at this point with my photos of the coal train, I checked out WN Junction and other spots in Winfield, but did not find anything that offered a good sun angle for the northbound “Z” train. Driving south towards Hackney, I found this location at milepost 253.1 where the track curved just right to put sun on the nose of the approaching northbound. Ten minutes later I caught this view of the train passing this approach signal for both Hackney behind the train and Winfield ahead of the train.

Arkansas City is only a shadow of the Santa Fe railroad town I knew forty years ago and I drove on through without stopping for any photos. The radio indicated the coal train would stop there for a crew change and that a “Z” train along with a grain train would be behind it. Crossing into Oklahoma, I stopped in the first town of Newkirk and composed this photo with the local elevator for my last photo of the coal train.

The next community to the south is the tiny town of Kildare, and I paused on the south side of town to photograph the “Z” train along with the grain train right behind it at milepost 282.

Both southbounds met a northbound at Ponca City so I went back north with the intention of getting a photo that included the old but still in use grain elevator.

With nothing else close by I now drove west towards Blackwell and I35. When I arrived in Blackwell I did not find any of the Blackwell Northern Gateway’s locomotives in town so they were obviously on a run somewhere north towards Wellington. I did find this old Santa Fe 2-6-2 and caboose along with the depot.

It was now 2:15pm, and with many miles to go I decided to make a big jump towards home. Getting back on I35 I did not exit again until reaching Davis on the north side of the Arbuckles where I fueled up and drove up to the depot museum with only seconds to spare before this southbound grain train rolled by at 4:57pm.

The southbound “Z” train from Willow Springs, IL to Alliance, TX I had caught earlier in Kildare was approaching Pauls Valley and my first inclination was to wait and compose a shot of it with a better view of the depot. The dispatcher blocked this idea by bringing this northbound empty grain train out of Dougherty and lining it into the siding at Davis to meet the “Z” train.

With the siding on the west side of the main here at Davis, the empty grain train obscured my view of the “Z” train as it also sewed up the town. I strategized that the “Z” train would have to take the siding itself at either Overbook or Marietta to meet northbound Amtrak 822 just leaving Fort Worth. Since only the north end of Overbrook siding is readily accessible, I decided to bet on Marietta for the meet and get a shot or two with the depot.

I arrived in Marietta around 6:45pm with the “Z” train passing Ardmore while Amtrak 822 was still south of Gainesville, TX. Before long, the dispatcher proved I had won the bet when he told the “Z” train to wait a few minutes before pulling all the way into Marietta siding. I took this view at 7:12pm just before they started to pull the rest of the way in and sew up the town.

Five minutes later Amtrak 822 sped by northbound on the main towards its final stop in Oklahoma City. In the first view I widened out to catch a bit of the town and the depot.

As the “Z” train started to pull, I took my last shot of the day recording the current state of the old Santa Fe depot, one of a dwindling number still standing today.

I pulled into the driveway at home around 90 minutes later right at sunset. I had made it a long day, but one that I was happy with the results.

Northbound to Kansas

On Sunday June 21st I left home in the rain on a business trip to Kansas. In the downpour I saw the aftermath of two accidents on the southbound side of I35 as I made my way north. The rain stopped shortly after I crossed the Red River and I decided to stop at Overbrook, Oklahoma on the BNSF to walk around a few minutes and catch Amtrak 821 running 50 minutes late due to the weather.

I was aware that a southbound BNSF merchandise train had the Norfolk Southern’s Interstate Railroad heritage unit in the engine consist. I found an open spot at the north end of Nowers Yard in Oklahoma City and only had to wait 15 minutes before the train came into view.

I will admit this is not one of my favorites, but I am glad to have caught it on my own camera for the first time. I headed on north and made my next rest stop at Perry, OK where the BNSF’s Red Rock and Avard Subs parallel each other through town. The only nearby train was northbound on the Red Rock Sub out of the sun, so I set up for this going-away photo with the old Santa Fe depot. The Avard Sub is barely visible on the left.

I planned on stopping in Blackwell, OK on the return trip as I wanted to visit the Blackwell Gateway Northern Railroad in South Haven, Kansas where they keep an ex-Chessie System SD18 for switching the local elevator. When I pulled up I saw an ex-Montana Rail Link, originally SP SD45R keeping company with the old SD18 riding on ALCO trucks. The now cloudless sky was quite a contrast to the driving rain earlier in the morning.

About ninety minutes later I reached my destination of El Dorado, Kansas. I drove past the old Missouri Pacific depot and found while the building was in good condition the UP rails out front were currently unused.

I picked up some take out food and dined in my motel room as I watched approaching storms out the window. A day of work on Monday awaited me and then I would head back home.

Three Westbounds Before Lunch

I had a few errands to run this morning, and when finished I decided to go home through Aledo and pick up a hamburger from the Aledo Diner to take home. As I pulled up to park opposite the cafe facing the UP Baird Sub the crossing gates started down so I reached back in and grabbed my camera. I looked both ways and saw a westbound train approaching. I later heard on the radio this was a MEWTU manifest from Houston to Tucson. Three units up front and one DPU on the rear.

I heard the dispatcher talking to someone further west that they would have to wait on their request as two westbound “Z” trains were on the way. I decided to delay lunch and moved to a spot under a shade tree by the old Iona depot behind the Aledo city offices. After a bit the ZAILC from Atlanta to Los Angeles showed up with three Norfolk Southern units.

The lead unit was an older DC traction motor GE model rebuilt into a new AC traction motor AC44C6M model.

The second “Z” train, a ZMNLA from Marion, AR (basically Memphis, TN) to Los Angeles ended up coming through about an hour later with three UP units.

A lucky locomotive number? I suppose that depends on your opinion.

One last view of the rear end passing our local detector at milepost 264. Note that it has also now become a weather station with the addition of a wind measurement sensor.

Now it was definitely time to order my cheeseburger and I picked it up just before the Diner closed at 2:00pm and headed home to enjoy it.

Amtrak 42 in Good Light

My wife and I did our weekly grocery shopping this morning, and after we got back home I checked all the sources to see if there was anything train-wise to take advantage of the abundant sunshine. I considered the FWWR, but then I came across the information that Amtrak train 22 with the veteran’s engine #42 leading had struck a car in San Marcos and was already three hours late when it started moving again.

As evidenced in yesterday’s post I was satisfied with my shots of #42 on Train 21 in Crowley. I had not considered catching it coming back north today as when Train 22 is on time in the early afternoon through this area it is extremely backlit; but now with the delay it would have good afternoon light for once. I decided to take advantage of this situation and catch both Amtrak Trains 21 and 22 around Rio Vista south of Cleburne.

I left the house about 10 minutes before Train 21 was due out of Fort Worth and was ready at the south end of Rio Vista when it raced through town at exactly 3:00pm with P42DC #61 doing the honors.

I drove three miles south to the crossing at the north end of a long sweeping curve and found a shady spot to park under a tree. That was a good thing as Train 22 just seemed to get later and later, but that also meant the sun angle here kept getting better and better. BNSF freight traffic was light this afternoon so it was not until 5:08pm that I caught a northbound autorack train with three units.

This northbound took the siding at Rio Vista while a southbound autorack train was waiting on the main. The southbound with two units rolled past me at 5:24pm.

This train went into the siding at Blum just two miles to the south as the dispatcher wanted to keep the very late Train 22 moving. At 6:20pm the train streamed past me at close to 70mph in perfect early evening light. If you look closely you can see the ditch light on the fireman’s side is broken from the vehicular collision in San Marcos.

With the mission accomplished of getting perfect light on Train 22 in an abnormal location while the train had a special locomotive leading to boot, it was time to head home for dinner!

Saturday Double Play

It is Saturday June 13th and it has been four months since my last blog entry. My wife and I are well and staying busy, so I decided it was time to start with the photos I took this afternoon and then work forwards from the last entry on February 12th.

Intelligence gathering this morning yielded two trains with interesting locomotives on the point. Two more interesting trains were in the area – one with a CP heritage unit and and another with the KCS 4859 employee safety locomotive – but both were buried in the engine consists ands therefore of less interest to me. I decided to go after a westbound UP “Z” train with a tier 4 Progress Rail SD70ACe #3071 and Amtrak train 21 with their Veteran’s locomotive P42DC #42.

The afternoon light would not yet be ideal for the westbound UP coming through my area first, so I opted to go the Benbrook, TX house track on the Baird Sub for a more broadside view. I arrived at 1:30pm and at 1:45pm the train passed by gaining speed for the climb up Iona Hill.

UP 3071 is still relatively clean in appearance and one of only a few of this model out on the road. While the train was still passing by, I jumped in the SUV and headed for a favorite spot in Crowley to catch Amtrak 21. I arrived in Crowley just a few minutes after Amtrak 22 passed by heading north, and subsequently the Fort Worth arrival of #22 delayed the 2:10pm departure of #21. I was ready along with two other local railfans as #21 blasted by at 2:58pm.

Veteran’s locomotive #42 looked nearly as good as it did the last time I photographed it on the Texas Eagle several years ago. It was also nice to see the train consist back at seven cars after seeing only five for the past few months of the COVID-19 situation. No other trains were near so I headed back home to cool off.

Inspection Train in the Rain

This dreary February 12th morning dawned both cold and rainy, but there was a special Union Pacific inspection train heading west on the Baird Sub so I decided to catch it in Aledo before lunch. While the special was changing crews the Baird Sub dispatcher ran a westbound ZMNLA (Marion, AR to Los Angeles) ahead of it out of Fort Worth.

Around thirty minutes later just before 11:00 am the UP inspection train led by SD70ACe #1111 pulling nine cars rolled through Aledo.

Since the train was just coming out of a 25 mph slow order I had time to get multiple photos.

The two small flat antennas behind the cab facing the rear are part of a wireless video system to send the picture from a front facing camera in the cab back to a TV monitor in the theater car Idaho bringing up the rear. You can see the pair of receiving antennas in the last photo.

The train was traveling at a pretty good clip when the Idaho came by.

If the weather had been better I would have considered chasing the train further west. As it was, I next went to the Aledo Cafe for a good lunch with a view of the tracks as two more westbound intermodals rolled by in the rain.

A Good Winter Day

I have neglected this blog and let nearly six months slip by without an entry. It was a busy fall with some of my work that I can share here and unfortunately a great deal I cannot share as it was done for paying clients. I will try to do better in 2020 and to start here is an adventure from a few days ago.

On Monday February 4th the weather forecast for here in Texas showed a possible snow accumulation northwest of the Metroplex. Not having taken any “trains dashing through the snow” photos since February of 2019, I decided this was probably my best chance for this year without a much longer trip somewhere to the north. Looking at the forecast snowfall versus active railroad tracks I decided on the Wichita Falls area.

So as to be at the potential epicenter of the action with minimal effort, I left home Tuesday afternoon and had an uneventful drive to Wichita Falls. It was raining when I went to bed and everything outside my window was white when I got up at 6:00 am Wednesday morning. There was an average of 4 to 6 inches of snow and slush on the ground when I dug out my Explorer and started west along the BNSF Red River Valley Sub just after official and invisible sunrise.

Not the foot of snow on the ground that I was hoping for, but at least it was snowing heavily several miles west of Iowa Park when I spotted an eastbound headlight in the gloom and had just enough time to find a good open spot for this view.

When I was processing these photos in Lightroom, for fun I also turned it into a black and white image.

The radio indicated this stack train would be going on into Wichita Falls where two westbound trains would depart after its arrival. I followed it back to Iowa Park where a M of W worker was cleaning out the switch at the west end of the siding.

I waited a while and then a westbound bare table with one unit pulled up to the west end of the siding. I drove a few hundred yards west to a nice open spot and before long a westbound “Z” train blasted up the main at track speed raising a plume of snow in its wake.

I drove back to the west end of the siding and as soon as the “Z” train was far enough ahead the bare table train moved out to follow.

The radio indicated my next train would be another “Z” train that was still 40 miles east of Wichita Falls. With time to kill I explored the immediate area for interesting angles and decided to move on west to Electra for new backgrounds. While advertised as the “pump jack capital of the world” I could not find a single working example with a good location near the tracks. So instead when the next “Z” train caught up to me I utilized the abandoned elevator as my prop for these color and black and white renditions.

Not sure what was coming next I stopped at the east end of downtown for this view looking west with the old Electra railroad sign.

Earlier on the radio I had heard that a westbound manifest train might be leaving Wichita Falls behind the second “Z” train and sure enough when I turned back towards the SUV I saw a headlight in the distance. Now when I said I did not find a working pump jack with a good angle to the tracks, I left out the fact there is a dormant unit on display just to the east of the old elevator. I headed over there and composed this scene with the BNSF 3875 West and the old elevator spur in the foreground.

With no indication of more trains in either direction for a few hours, I drove back to Wichita Falls where it was again snowing heavily as I recorded these two Wichita, Tillman & Jackson units idling away in solitude.

My next stop was the Wichita Falls Railroad Museum, understandably closed and quiet this day along with schools and city offices.

My final stop in town was at the BNSF yard where local power was also stationary with their engines idling away to keep from freezing up. From the look of the accumulated snow and ice none of the units had moved since the storm arrived the night before.

As it was now early afternoon, I decided to start back towards home and look for an open restaurant along the way. Highway 287 was wet but fairly clear with plenty of traffic. On the radio I heard that a westbound intermodal was leaving Fort Worth so I decided to find something to eat in Henrietta and let it come to me. The old style Dairy Queen was open and I enjoyed a burger and fries that brought back memories of past railfan trips. On the way out of town I stopped at this stuffed and mounted ex-BN caboose. The FW&D sub lettering on the cupola also brought back pleasant memories.

Driving on towards Fort Worth while wary of the oncoming train, I pulled over at the west end of the relatively new siding called Carter between Bowie and Bellevue just as the signals lit up red. At this point the snow and sleet depth was down to about an inch or less. Fifteen minutes later this intermodal flew past me racing cars on paralleling Highway 287.

Any signs of snow on the ground ended on the other side of Bowie and this turned out to be the last photo of what I consider to be a successful day of Texas snow photography in my book.