"What?" you're thinking, "I thought this was a California trip report - what on earth are we doing in Iowa?" Well, it just so happens that the Saturday before I had to be in California, one of my college roommates was getting married, and as such I was drafted as a groomsman. Guess it's payback for putting him in my wedding back in May...
Because of the highly compressed time frame (leave after work on Thursday, rehearsal dinner on Friday, wedding Saturday afternoon, and back in Colorado Springs by Sunday morning to catch my flight out), I didn't get a great deal of time for railfanning. Because I made Thursday night a long one, though (stopped in Grand Island, NE, about 0100h on Friday morning), I did have time to leasurely work my way between Omaha and Carroll, IA (my destination). I'd spent many weekends out along the ex-CNW main in college, and rather missed the long, straight stretches through fields that Iowa provides.
The morning started by jumping on I-80 from Grand Island over to Omaha - I'd railfanned the section along US 30 east of Grand Island several times, never with much luck. It wasn't as much an issue of trains, but rather the speeds at which they moved and the relative lack of warning you get while driving through here. In addition, I wanted to make it over to the Iowa Interstate shops before the sun got too high in the sky.
The Council Bluffs IAIS shops were more or less a bust for the day - there were only three units sitting around. IAIS 485 (in a not-quite done all-black scheme) and IAIS 481 (missing its main generator) were actually sitting near the shops, and one of the M420s was out switching cars around out in the yard. Unfortunately, due to how railcars were scattered in the yard, it was almost impossible to get a clear shot of the M420 - no matter, I had plenty already.
From there, it was a bit north to the CN (ex-IC/CC) yards. As expected, one lone CN geep (CN 4033) was switching cars around the yard (Photo #1), just as when I'd come through in May. Unfortunately, DRGW 144, which had sat behind the roundhouse at the G Avenue crossing was long gone, but there was a westbound UP manifest sitting a few hundred yards up the line. With a little patience, UP 3017 and the two other trailing SD40-2s pulled up and across G Ave., headed most certainly for either the yard or the bridge over into Omaha itself. Three things of note on this train: it was entirely SD40-2 powered, and the second one was a CNW unit with fairly intact paint. Finally, and probably most amazingly, all three units were ex-CNW! (Photo #2)
From there, it was up to Missouri Valley, IA. MV has changed a bit since I was last there - US 30 now crosses the mainline on a bridge, and the road that used to go across the west end of the yard has been truncated short of the crossing. Still, it was the end of double track territory headed west (until Fremont, NE), and also also a crew change point. Usually with a little waiting, I would find an eastbound ready to depart town, but not today. After eating lunch and even waiting a bit beyond that, I decided to give up and just head out along US 30, taking my chances with whatever showed up.
The first train didn't show until almost twenty miles down the road, just west of Woodbine and just in time for me to catch it at one of my favorite spots. About four miles west of Woodbine on US 30, there's an intersection with what I believe is called Parker Trail Road. If you take this to where it crosses the UP mains, and then turn right on to Perry Trail Road and follow it for about two miles, you'll come to a hill overlooking a sweeping curve in the UP double track. Just as I reached the hill, I saw headlights come around the bend in the distance, and within minutes he was in position for the shot (Photo #3) and then gone. Stackers don't waste much time out here, considering for the most part the track is only a few years old and in very good shape.
From here, it was on in to Carroll, IA. Other than this one stacker, and an empty coal train that got away from me, there wasn't any traffic on the line. Later in the evening, while sitting out in the park in Glidden, IA, I could hear quite a few passing, but by then it was long since dark and I had other things to attend to.
The drive back was just about as interesting. The wedding was done at 1500h on Saturday (11-Aug-2001), pictures were done by 1600h, and after the initial bit of the reception I was out of my tux and on the road by 1630h. After all, I had to be ready to fly out of Colorado Springs in less than 24 hours (it's an 11 hour trip, straight through, for reference, and I wanted a few hours at home before leaving). Just as on the eastward trip the day before, there was absolutely nothing for the first hour or so out of Carroll. Just short of Missouri Valley, I saw the tail end of an auto rack slowing, and as expected they stopped for a crew change east of the Ninth Street crossing. (Photo #4) I've always liked this shot for catching westbounds in the late evening, and it was good to get at least one more shot here (not that it's going away any time soon, at least to my knowledge, it's just that I don't get as many opportunities as I used to).
Leaving Missouri Valley for points west on US 30 (had reservations in Kearney, NE, for the night, and didn't feel the need to use I-80), I saw the tail end of a stack train just west of town. Passing over the river nearly pacing the power, I fell behind him again driving through Blair, NE. Given that you're almost equal to a train going into Blair, though, you'll more than beat him by the time US 30 rejoins the tracks near Kennard, NE. I'm not sure whether it's due to grade or just speed restrictions, but westbounds don't make very good time through this stretch - this one especially so, as it felt as if I waited forever at this grade crossing just east of Kennard (Photo #5).
With the sun rapidly falling towards a low cloud bank, I decided to try for one more shot before continuing the drive west. Near Arlington, NE, is a grade crossing just west of a bend in the line. I'd found it to be a good location several years earlier when chasing Alaska SD70Ms 4005 and 4006 west from Ames, IA, and it seemed a shot that should work now. After only beating him to the crossing by a minute or so, the resulting shot became Photo #6.
And so the day came to a close, without much traffic. Long after the sun itself had disappeared but the sky still glowed with the remnants of a sunset, I ran across a stopped grain train along the UP mainline west of Fremont, NE. I couldn't resist - the colors and such were just too good. Out of nearly 40 shots, Photo #7 was the one I felt worked out best under reasonably challenging conditions (for a handheld shot - no tripod available...). From there, it was full speed to Kearney for the night, and then back to Colorado Springs to begin the real trip.
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|All the images here are Copyright 2001 Nathan D. Holmes
Note this doesn't mean you can't use them - In fact, I encourage people to use and enjoy them.
I'm placing them under the same license as RailARC images.
All shots in this trip report were taken with a Canon EOS D30 with a Sigma 28-80mm F3.5-5.6 lens or a Tamron 28-300mm F3.5-6.3