Something strange, wonderful, and completely unexpected happened Monday - a set of three D&RGW SD40T-2s was put on the westbound MDVRO. I was stuck in a meeting Monday, and thus couldn't skip out on work to go after them. Wednesday morning, after being in meetings with sick people for two days, I felt pretty bad myself - splitting headache, sore throat, bit of a fever. Half an hour after arriving at work, I decided to call it a sick day and head home. Unfortunately, when I got home I looked at my email and a miracle had happened - the trio was being sent back to Denver on today's MRODV, and on the front, no less. After missing out on the trio of tunnel motors leading MDVRO on Monday, I was determined that this time I was going to go after them, come hell or high water (or illness, or fever, or... :) So, I loaded my lousy feeling corpse of a self into my truck, filled the tank, and off I went towards Grand Junction, armed with my camera, laptop, and a bottle of aspirin.
While it was perfectly blue when I left, a quick check of responses to the D&RGW list revealed clouds and drizzle on the other side of the range. Sure enough, shortly after passing Idaho Springs on I-70, the clear skies I'd enjoyed since the Springs ended, and the clouds began. Further up, I encountered a little rain and even a snowflake or two around the Eisenhower, but nothing significant. After three or so hours in the truck, I honestly was feeling quite a bit better. Not great, but better.
About 3 1/2 hours into the trip, I finally reached Dotsero - not much sign of trains, though. I rustled through my laptop bag and found the scanner. Turning it on, I immediately noticed quite a bit of MOW chatter and a dispatcher that seemed to be wondering how much longer "it" was going to take. Winding down though Glenwood Canyon, there was indeed MOW equipment everywhere. Unfortunately, from the north side of the interstate it was rather hard to tell exactly what they were doing, but it was very clear they were busy doing something.
Glenwood itself yielded the first train - Amtrak's eastbound #6, right on time at 1:02, waiting for the MOW crews to clear the Canyon so it could proceed. Standard three Genesis units on the front and boxcars on the back, sandwiching a dozen or so Superliners. Normally I would have stopped, but without any knowledge as to where MRODV might be at the moment, I decided to press on. The last trace I had on it was at Cisco, UT, at 1040h, and I feared it could already be leaving Grand Junction. My line of thinking was to meet it as far west as possible, so I had the maximum light left for the day and so I could use I-70 to follow it. Shortly after Glenwood, I met ZRODV with a pair of UP SD70s on the front (led by UP4029, I believe). Again, I decided to let it go in the interest of pursuing tunnel motors instead.
All the way to Grand Junction, the outlook was basically the same as through Glenwood - MOW crews everywhere, busily working away. The only other train on the whole line was lead east by UP 7199(?, that's what I heard on the scanner), but I must have passed it while I-70 and the line are visually separated west of Rifle. The first sign of traffic I saw was an SP-led unit coal pulling out of Palisade and heading west after the MOW crews had cleared. (Photo #1).
While waiting on the coal drag to finish, I had called Michael to have a trace run on 5361. Sure enough, they were still in Grand Junction and hadn't slipped past me somewhere on the run from Glenwood - this came as quite a relief. However, while putting gas in the truck, I heard DRGW3118 and DRGW3109 given permission to highball east with 16 cars of local traffic - 1 for Silt, the other 15 evidently for Gypsum. After some initial frustration at missing a pure D&RGW-powered local, I reminded myself that the real goal here was the three TMs sitting in the yard. (Photo #2)
Since I did have the scanner on, and there were several detectors east of GJ that were within range, I decided to wander around a bit on the way back, looking around for other interesting equipment and photographic opportunities for RailARC. What I was really hoping for was something coming off the North Fork - not for any special reason, just because I'd never seen a train on that trackage (except for years ago, when I saw a D&RGW GP in Delta while on vacation with my parents - I was probably 13 at the time). Driving under the US50 bridge, I spotted an eastbound BNSF manifest waiting with six GEs on the front. While it was moving, I was close enough to get one semi-interesting photo and a bunch of roster shots. (Photo #3)
Fate was starting to work out - the light was much, much better now with the clouds breaking, and the DS announced that MRODV would be lined in right behind the BNSF for the trip east. So, back to the east end of the yard to wait. Sure enough, a few minutes after the BNSF cleared, I saw one of the crewmen climb up onto 5361 and the set began moving forward, train and two NS units in two. I'm still not sure whether the NS SD70 and C44-9W were actually sharing the load with the TMs, but they did seem rather quiet whenever they went by. It's very possible they were just along for the ride, as the train seemed fairly short and well overpowered. (But I'm not an expert with how much HP it takes to get X number of cars over the Grande by any means.) My first real chance to photograph them without full zoom and a teleconverter was at the grade crossing just east of the yard - those darn gates just happened to come down right in front of me. Hate it when that happens and I have to get out and take pictures... :) (Photo #4)
The real problem with following any eastbound this time of day (it was now about 3:30ish) was that the lighting is horrible - everything is lit from almost directly behind. Makes for real problems in finding good photographic locations. Despite numerous attempts, the only place I found that showed any promise at all wasn't until I hit DeBeque. Even then, right as 5361 and friends approached, the sun broke out from behind a cloud and ruined everything. Not a single shot from that stop, locos or cars, worked out - they all were blurred or excessively contrasty. Ouch.
The next opportunity I found was Rifle. I stopped and parked beside one of the crossings, and waited for about ten minutes or so. Finally the three came out from under the Interstate bridge and this was the first decent shot since Grand Junction. Not great by any means, definitely more glare from the unit than I'd like, but usable. (Photo #5) Plus it was nice to notice when I got home that one of my other shots captured my Blazer with a Grande (Photo #6) If you want to talk about a hard trains/times/lighting conditions to railfan, this is definitely getting up there on the list, and it was getting a bit frustrating. After driving almost 420 miles already that day, I needed something to show when I got home!
Once at West Rifle, I noticed he started to take the siding, so I proceeded on down the line to hopefully photograph whatever was coming. I waited, and waited, and waited, but nothing every showed up, so I ventured back to West Rifle and found the three still fouling the switch. I took a few (nastily backlit) shots from a frontage road on the north side, and then noticed a small crossing to the city sewage facilities immediately in front of the power. I pulled in beside another vehicle (another railfan, this one from Silt. I never did catch his name, but he had evidently been talking to the crew for some time when I arrived.) (Photo #7) Since the crewmember and the other railfan were talking in the ditch, I assumed it wouldn't upset them if I approached the units, as long as I stayed safely in the ditch.
Some of the best shots of the whole trip were from this ditch experience, and the crewmen were truly quite friendly. (Photos #8,9,10) I wish I'd gotten a minute to actually strike up a conversation, but instead I just casually joined in listening to the already going one. Found out that they were waiting on a very late westbound Amtrak #5, and were holding here because there was a crossing further up they'd be fouling if they proceeded into the hole. About five minutes or so after I arrived, dispatch called to let them know Amtrak was passing Silt and they needed to clear the main. So, the conversation stopped, we railfans cleared out for safe ground, and 5361 slowly lead MRODV into Rifle.
So I waited. I figured why drive this far and give up before light fails completely. A few minutes later, Amtrak #5 shot past at track speed, headed west into the rapidly fading light. (Photo #11) Only seconds later, the sun dropped below a cloudbank and was gone. The trip home was much less exciting - more just long hours though the darkness. The only events of note were that, at 6:30, the local with 3109 and 3118 was still at Glenwood, and there was a deadhead power move working through Glenwood Canyon as I headed east. Despite the awkward lighting, the day went very well, and I felt much better than I did when I left - both physically and mentally.
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|Oh yes, one other thing
I should probably mention - all the images here are Copyright
2000 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 images were taken with an Olympus C-3000 camera, a beautiful piece of machinery.