Wednesday, 31 May 2017

31 May 2017

Wednesday 31 May 2017

This morning I woke earlier than intended - probably something to do with the traffic noise on the East Freeway. Did a bit of this and that and then the door to my room came crashing open. The cleaner wanted to know if I wanted the bed made and towels replaced - jeepers - it's only 8 in the morning !   I should still be sound asleep. Thank goodness I wasn't up to no good - she entered with no warning at all.

Had the usual hotel breakfast (waffle) and planned the day ahead. I needed a haircut real bad so when I came across a Barber, I promised I'd call in. Once again it was foggy, so no rush to get going. I saw three fender benders on the road today - one right in front of me - usual case, the guy in front of me didn't see the line of red brake lights in front of him - wham! Texting isn't illegal in some States - what I've seen on the road so far would make a Kiwi Cop cringe.

The plan was to find two hobby shops - Pappa Ben's and G&G.   Just across the street from Pappa Ben's was a Barber, and he did the most excellent job, including the use of a cut-throat razor to clean up my neck and a massage machine that was divine on my shoulder.

Pappa Ben's is a dedicated model train shop and if I was an N scaler, I'd be in heaven. Alas it was the same old story - if you haven't back ordered it, then we ain't got it in stock. I found some more 53' containers that would look pretty and a CSX box car - I didn't need it but it was cheap and made by Intermountain. Those in the know will understand.
The poor guy behind the counter was doing his best to be nice to two non-paying loud talking customers from New England (more like New Joisey) and they just wouldn't stop their discussion and let me pay for the stuff I wanted. One of the guys made me look like a super model and he had to walk sideways to get through the door. As soon as I looked at the door the owner interrupted them and happily took my money.

G&G was a lot friendlier atmosphere, and no stock once again. I got a few more 53' containers that made the pretty one's look even more prettier. Finally found some UMAX containers. I was looking for a particular loco in a particular colour scheme.

In my disgust, when I got back to the hotel room, I logged onto ebay, found what I'd been looking for all along and bought the darn thing - for goodness sake.

I was aware of a Union Pacific main line near where I was but I didn't have an address for a suitable grade crossing and I'd lost my bearings, so went to probably the best spot in town - Control Point Tower 87....and wouldn't ya know it, some cop has nicked the best parking spot under the overpass. That meant I had to stay out in the sun. I was tempted to sit in the car with it running so I could enjoy air conditioned comfort, but I was tough enough to deal with this - man it was hot.

First moving train seen today at Tower 87

Something unusual here - the grey paint on the running gear maybe.

The drive from the hobby shops to this location meant either taking the quick way using the freeways, or zig zagging across town. Because I had to go through downtown, I chose the long way so I could see the sights - bad move - all I saw was "Road Closed" and "Detour" signs.
Sally the SATNAV had an absolute fit and threatened to leave a cold dinner in the oven for when I got home if I refused to obey her instructions. By this time I'd got pretty confident at zipping around town and she spent most of the day saying "Re-calculating".

I captured a brief glimpse of the Metro light rail, took a look at how it was built into the street and realised that this system is brilliant. It's not slow either.

Control Point Tower 87, or just Tower 87 is where all (most of) the main lines through town meet, cross, diverge, what ever you want to call it and it forms a triangle where the UP are greedy and have two yards - Englewood and Settegast, plus an intermodal yard. These two yards are almost at 90 degrees to each other.

Englewood Yard loco tracks - this wasn't even half of it.

There is also run-through traffic from the KCS and BNSF, and from here you can watch hump yard operations at Englewood as the hump line is close enough to Liberty Road to see the action, however in my case, there were trains up the yazoo waiting to pass through or enter the yard so the view was blocked.

Trains up the yazoo - they were stacked up way out east, all waiting to come in, but other trains from Settegast were using the junction as a head shunt for switching. One of these trains had a huge consist on it and hardly any of the brake hoses were connected, so the engineer could only use the loco brake, which meant that when he wanted to stop the train, there was a bang along the couplers that was rather loud. Good stuff. So all the other trains had to wait for this beast to get out of the way.

An SD40-2 being used as switcher - proof of their reliability through the decades.

"Holy smoke it's a Dash 7" - no, it's something else. What I thought was a Dash 7 had some missing bits - a fuel tank and most likely it's prime mover as well, but the body shell had everything else in the right place - even an exhaust stack. The UP call these a CCRCL - or a Remote Control Sled. The remote operating gear is fitted to this unmanned unpowered loco and designed in a way so that any other loco that's connected to it, acts like a remote loco and responds accordingly. It was once a classic machine, but now it's a rusted hulk doing remote switching. Sad story really.

Because I was beside a yard, the train speeds were very slow - and when a BNSF oil can trundled by and turned into Settegast, I do remember yawning a few times - it was long.  Never mind, I made up for it by walking through some mud which required a lot of effort in the form of expletives to clean off my footwear.

BNSF "Oil Can" crude oil train.

Lunch at Subway - this would usually require no further explanation on my part as it's a simple affair to purchase from here - oh no, not today. The East Houston Subway in the Eastpark Shopping Center is the pits. I was the only customer there - there were three staff members. Pretty good ratio for a quick getaway I thought.
One staff member looked at me and started to empty the bread oven. Another staff member looked at me and decided to pick up the phone and take a phone order - OK, that's fair. The third staff member took a look at me and decided to wipe down all the tables - to the point where she got a person - who was eating - to stand up and lift up their food tray, so she could wipe underneath it. The poor guy who was rudely interrupted looked at me and I looked at him with the same look of exasperation. I stood there for 5 minutes waiting to be served.  Bread oven boy finally got around to getting me what I wanted and phone girl happily took my money - she got a 1 penny tip. Table wipe girl suddenly burst into life when a local she knew turned up.

The other night in Shreveport I bore witness to the same attitude - at Dominos. It was getting late and I decided to go for a pick up from a 24 hr establishment. I got out of the car, walked towards the door, pressed the night bell to be let in and the girl there, who was saving the world by texting on her phone, looked up, saw me, and went back to texting. Needless to say, I muttered something incomprehensible and drove off hangry.

One can't help feel that this display is motivated by something other than pure laziness.  Good luck making America great again, Donald. It's going to be an uphill battle.

Jeepers, I'm easily led astray tonight...I need to go home and buy a new bed.

It was getting to about 2:30 and the heat was hot, the, we won't do that again, and I decided to check out a grade crossing that looked good. It was good, and there was a large open space and a tree I could park under. It was on the UP main line and was only 10 minutes from the hotel - at freeway speeds.
I sat there till about 3:45 and absolutely nothing happened. I was confident that I didn't need to set up the gear as there were plenty of grade crossings and I'd easily hear the noise of an approaching train  to give me a heads up. Nothing nothing nothing. The only thing of mildly any interest was a guy trying to give away puppies.
That's it, time to go. As soon as I dove off a UP intermodal came cruising through, totally un-announced - dang, it's a quiet zone - no train horns. But I did manage to zip around and point the camera through the window to get a photo.

Home, shower and chill off in the aircon. Rain and thunderstorms expected tonight.

Tomorrow I head home, so everything will be packed up except the cameras. I'll probably do a wrap up when I get home as I still have all day tomorrow to look around. The flight doesn't leave until 10 pm, so me being me, I'll probably check in at around 5 pm and buy a book.

That'll do.

Tuesday, 30 May 2017

30 May 2017

Tuesday 30 May 2017

This morning I woke to a heavy blanket of fog hanging over Shreveport. Surprised I woke at all - the Union Pacific did a mighty fine job of waking me up last night - a blasting air horn at 3:30 am was an especially nice touch - thanks.
Not wanting to tackle the idiots on the highway in this dodgy weather condition, I stayed at the hotel for about an hour or so waiting for it to burn off, and spending all my time on the top floor of the car park (there's only 2 levels !) looking down on the KCS and UP tracks below. I was not disappointed, with a few trains running through on both tracks almost one after the other. The noise of the screaming flanges on the tight curve was a bit over the top.

There was a bit of down time though, and my attention was soon taken by an inquisitive jumping spider that had the most amazing colours - camera switched to close up object mode and tried to get a photo.

The four ginger kittens that kept me occupied last night were nowhere to be seen.

From the loco movements around here, it would appear that the KCS Shreveport yard has inherited a lot of the new (rebuilt) GP22ECO & GP32ECO engines - I've seen quite a few over the last day in their livery, looking un-weathered and shiny and new.

In the foggy morning mist, a consist lead by a GP32ECO passes below.

Same again (fog etc.) but this time it's a GP22ECO loco on the front.

Anyway, time to move on, and the first port of call is Nacogdoches where there is a small yard, a couple of switchers and an interesting old style depot. A UP manifest came barreling through and I barely had enough time to set up the video camera - couldn't get any stills. The temperature had already shot up to 27 degrees so I sought out a bit of shade and found it in the form of the shadow of a highway overpass that had nicely manicured grass and was in a good area, and I could sit in the car and stare at empty tracks all day. I had a bit of a snooze and after watching the switchers at work and finally park up, I moved on. Now, speaking of nice grass, I've soon learned that you don't sit on American lawns - the ants may be small, but they pack a fair punch when they nip.

The two switchers based at Nacogdoches.

I had a quick look at Lufkin, Burke and Diboll - nothing to be seen. It may be relevant to note that when Lloyd and I spent our first night at Houston on arrival, the hotel was adjacent to the very same line I was following now (Lufkin Subdivision), and during that afternoon, we saw no trains at all, in fact nothing until the next morning when they all came racing through, so seeing nothing now should be no surprise I guess.

By the time I got down to Livingstone, I was thinking "At this rate, I'll be catching up to the train I saw this morning...holy crap, there it is !!" Although I put that phrase in quote marks, I didn't actually say it out loud, as this would imply that I talk to myself when train chasing......ahem, cough cough.

My next port of call was the diamond at Cleveland and it was rapidly coming up - I beat the train there by about 5 minutes, and still forgot to take any photos. I was keen on staying there to see if any BNSF stuff came through on the other track, however the heat was hot, the ground was hard and the air was fill of no sounds of trains (America - horse with no name), it was 3:30 pm and I still had a long drive to get to Houston...although you wouldn't think so looking at a map. Watching the rail car bogies bounce and twist as they went over the diamond was of some concern - one bounce in the wrong direction and she would be all over, rover. Some of those tank cars have got some highly flammable / toxic stuff in them - it would make for some great footage !!

I went to the effort to get a frame grab from the video clip.

UP line crossing the BNSF at Cleveland TX.

I was in two minds whether or not to go straight to the hotel, or check out a model train shop in Spring, which was sort of on my way to the hotel, just a minor diversion.  Holy smoke, what a drive I had on I45 - lots of traffic, but most of it was behaving, and one of the ones that wasn't I found later on the side of the road being talked to by a cop - good job.

This is hilarious - I got to the shop at Spring, which from the outside looks huge, and it is. It's called Trains (brilliant concept idea with a lot of thought gone into that one) and it's run by a guy called Rice who sits at a computer behind an invisible desk, using MS Excel to process all his sales.
I walked in and I blurted out "Oh my God, are you packing up or something?"
You know those Hoarder programs on TV, well this is what you get when you cross that sort of person with a model train shop. Boxes and bins scattered everywhere, and the service counter has stacks and stacks of paperwork all around it (hence the invisible desk - it was buried), so that he is totally enclosed in - I really didn't figure out how he actually got out - I just assumed he slept there. He smelled nice though, so I guess he manages to bathe in there as well !
Well, Rice didn't like how I verbally mentioned the absolute shocking state of his business and tersely asked "Is there anything I can help you with?".
Asking for Athearn locos was not an appropriate answer for this guy - he wanted to know what scale, what colour scheme and what loco type - luckily I had an answer for him. He gave me a reply that I already knew the answer to (they're out of production), but I was hoping that by calling in, he may have had something lying around. But no. If I was looking for old Concor, Roundhouse and Blue Box Athearn kits, then he may have had what I wanted.
Near the front door of the shop sitting on top of various piles of magazines was a large cardboard box which had a lot of new stuff in it, and he said "Yes, you can look though that, it came in the other day" - I'm thinking, well how about putting this stuff on the shelves coozer!
I found some 53 foot containers (he closely inspected the product number of each package to ensure they were the same) and he gladly accepted my cash.
This was the most astounding place of business I've ever visited. It could be amazing, but it's a ramshackle collection of stuff scattered from you know where to breakfast.
Men that play with toy trains - nut jobs.

The next leg was to continue on the Houston motorway network and find the hotel. Thankfully Sally the silly SATNAV didn't let me down and I didn't take any wrong turns. The East Freeway must be old and hasn't been upgraded in the last 10 years.
It has a network of one-way streets either side of it so you can access the hotels etc. and once you click to how it all works, it's pretty easy to get around - you just have to watch for the idiots coming off the freeway from your left doing 65+ into your 45 mph zone.

I finally got in at about 5:30 pm and was knackered, but I was out of cash so had to go out again and go through another drive through ATM and get some more - too easy.

Dinner at a Mexican Restaurant (walking distance) and settling in for the night. Heavy clouds are building and Rice happily gave me a weather forecast, with the standard "If you don't like the weather in Houston, wait a minute!" line. Could be a thunderstorm on the cards. Speaking of which, a lot of places I drove through today had a lot of workers out trimming trees that had fallen, or in most cases, snapped clean in half. There were leaves and branches all over the road, with some of the houses also having tarps on their roofs, so it appears they've had a rough time of it here recently.

Very quiet in the car now, so during the long stretches when I don't need any info from the SATNAV, I turn the radio on. They've got both types of music - Country AND Western - yeah I know, old joke. Some of the radio DJs just love the sound of their own voices - thank goodness for the SCAN button.

The Hotelier is an Indian guy (from India) who asked me if I watched cricket (seeing my New Zealand ID) and I replied "Only when the black caps are winning - which is never!"  He thought that was marvelous! So he gave me an upstairs room that I had to lug my bags up to - sod.

Tomorrow I have a day to look around and find some clickety clacky things - thankfully the main junction I'm going to isn't very far away.


Monday, 29 May 2017

29 May 2017

Monday 29 May 2017 Memorial Day

Today I bade farewell to Lloyd and continued west on my own to Shreveport Louisiana, with a couple of programmed stops along the way.

The first stop had to be the info centre at Vicksburg. The railroad bridge here has to be photographed, which I did, with a train on it too !

I also took a cruise down the hill to have a look at the yard, took a few photos and continued onwards across the Mississippi river into Louisiana, where one of the first road signs I saw was a warning to be aware of bears. That took me by surprise, and further research has shown that Louisiana has lots of black bears. Interstate 20 is on the northern edge of one of the preserves and next thing I see a bear fussing around in a ditch beside the highway. Amazing. Being on an Interstate doing 70 mph, there was no chance of stopping and getting a photo.

I had a go at following the tracks by driving on US80, but they were hidden from view and soon gave up that idea.
The next stop was at Tallulah - I stopped long enough to enter in a new address and get the heck out of there. Anyone who puts 115VAC mains operated lighting decorations in the middle of a river is just asking for trouble.

Upon reaching Monroe, I cruised along Millhaven Rd to have a look at the KCS Yard and got off a couple of quick photos, but nothing amazing. There was a bit of switching going on but it was too awkward to stop and film it, so continued on to Gibsland.
Gibsland is one of those blink and you'll miss it towns, but it has it's own short line railroad, and an old depot that is begging for a match.

Another easy check in at Shreveport, followed by a rest and I was off exploring the sights. The last I knew, the street beside the hotel had a grade crossing, however this has now been closed off and is a dead end. But our friends at the Union Pacific still think it's necessary to blow the horn when they go across this unusable street - and guess what, my room is probably the closest room in the hotel to the grade crossing.

Looking forward to a disturbed sleep tonight - speaking of which, last night we had the most insane thunderstorm at Jackson. From about 9 pm to midnight, the bangs occurred about 20 seconds after the flashes, and the flashes happened about every 40 seconds. But from midnight onward, it was all on with the bangs occurring the same time as the flashes and the flashes happening every 12 seconds - it was intense. We had an excellent view from the 6th floor of the hotel. I'm unsure when it all ended as I finally fell asleep, with Lloyd having to smother his face with his pillow to block out the light show. It didn't help that the window didn't have a curtain that went all the way across.

My hotel at Shreveport had another surprise for me - they now have a car park building right beside the tracks which offers an excellent view from above.

So I locked that one in for later.
I then found the large railroad bridge that goes across the Red River and managed to film a KCS manifest led by three Geeps - (I'd actually arrived as a UP intermodal was passing over).

If I'd turned up just 5 minutes earlier...

Get off my tripod ya idiot !

Tail end charlie,

Upon coming back to the hotel, Sally had taken me beside the tracks and there parked on it was the KCS train sitting still. I remembered about a diamond further along in Bossier City so quickly re-programmed the SATNAV and turned up with plenty of time to get that train again as it was banging across the diamond.

By now the sun was getting low and it was time to head back to the hotel carpark. I'd checked out other places but they looked dodgy as so didn't feel inclined to hang around.

The view from the carpark top floor was ideal, but the trains just didn't come until I was just about to pack it in. I'll try first thing tomorrow morning before I leave. Of course now that it's dark, four trains have already rumbled through - typical.

Tomorrow I return to Houston Texas, with the end now well in sight.

Jeepers it's quiet...


Sunday, 28 May 2017

28 May 2017

Sunday 28 May 2017

I had to put this photo at the top so it would be the feature picture in my facebook post.

Today I managed to once again draw out a 3.5 hour drive to over 6 hours on the road and achieve hardly a thing. It's Sunday, it's a long weekend and we didn't expect a lot on the rails, but we did OK - more through good luck than good planning.

The objective was to drive from Birmingham AL to Jackson Mississippi, with programmed photo stops at Tuscaloosa and Meridian.

Tuscaloosa has a cool wooden trestle that's still in use by the Kansas City Southern, but we were not fortunate enough to see anything ply the rails, but we did see a couple barges go through underneath on the Black Warrior River. While there we heard train sounds and hung around for a bit, just in case, but nothing turned up.

Some old codger insisted on having his photo taken...

I then went to the diamonds where the NS and KCS meet and I just about popped a valve. I'd heard about these things before and had never seen one - this diamond set has raised flangeways on the KCS line. This means the NS has a complete unbroken rail whereas the KCS rolling stock has to ride up on their flanges on pieces of steel that lift them over the NS rails. Closer inspection revealed the damage this system is doing to the NS rails, and we could imagine the damage to the wheels. We weren't lucky enough to see anything go though - all was quiet on the Western Front.

We then relocated to the Amtrak stop, and while I was taking photos of an SD40-2, we heard train noises coming off the bridge. We raced back to the diamonds and saw lights in the distance - which eventually disappeared - it was a switch job and wasn't heading our way.
That's enough - we hit the road again.

We arrived at Meridian just as Norfolk Southern and Union Pacific trains were about to meet - a quick assessment of our situation followed by a rapidly acted upon plan saw me find a place and set up the camera just in time. The UP ended up stopping so we were able to relocate and I was able to get the UP train a second time.

The drive from Tuscaloosa to Meridian took 90 minutes and we still had another 90 minute drive ahead of us, so we didn't hang around long and hit the road again, doing one final mad dash on the most excellent highway ever to our hotel at Jackson.
Upon departing, Sally must have felt sorry for us, because on the way to the highway, she took us past the Meridian and Bigbee Railway Yard that had their loco storage right beside the road - and no fences! The M&B is one of the many short lines that has been bought by the Genesee & Wyoming Railroad. The locos are in G&W livery but the logo on the side is definitely M&B. Very cool See the first photo above.

Check-in at the Hampton Inn & Suites was a breeze - all the lady needed was my name and she handed over the keys. Everywhere else we've stayed they've wanted car rego, make, model, a form of ID, an electronic swipe of a credit card and paperwork to sign to say I won't smoke or have pets in the room, a dna sample, a packet of chocolate biscuits, a letter of credit from your mother, a bottle of Jim Beam and a box of doughnuts....and that just lets you park your car there !!   Oh well, when you pay for a budget holiday, that's what you get. Oh, I forgot to mention the sunken bathroom floor and cockroaches at Charlotte...another story.

We reluctantly left our wonderful hotel room and went looking for trains. The light was low and shinning directly perpendicular to the track, so although the sides of the subject were lit up, both ends weren't - not the best but it'll do.

We saw a switch job returning home, an Amtrak head south and a NS intermodal heading east. Good job, but I wanted more, and I knew where to find it.

 A quick drive found us on the KCS/NS line that heads west and a KCS coil train sitting idling just by a grade crossing.
A UP intermodal turned up and they reported a problem with a freight car on the KCS train which delayed it's departure. The conductor came over to us and gave us each a bottle of chilled water and hung around and chatted for a while - he didn't give us any good news about the area we were railfanning in, so as soon as the KCS coil train left, we high tailed it outa there.
Lloyd could have kept this guy occupied for hours asking about how they operate their trains and comparing their system to KiwiRail. Too dark for photos, but my video camera adjusted perfectly for the conditions.

A very stodgy meal for dinner and home just as it got dark.

Today was mostly fine and very warm. When we arrived at Jackson a large cloud was hanging over the city and surrounding areas and dropped a few spots, but once it moved on the temperature shot up and we hit 30 again.


This is where I bid farewell to Lloyd. Tomorrow he is being picked up by his son where he'll stay for another month, and I continue the journey alone.

I suppose I should say something about how Ronald Lloyd Cross has been a most excellent travelling companion and an absolute joy to be around every minute of the day, but if I did, the truth would eventually come out and I'd be branded a liar. Ha !
He is a well practiced practical kind of joker and has got me a couple of times with his attempts at humour for his own amusement - which usually involves the shower head and a stream of water going all over me and the bathroom floor.
He knows what bugs me and uses this information once again for his own amusement.

He is a powerhouse of knowledge when it comes to KiwiRail loco operations, and sadly, and to his utter dismay, I appeared to not give a penny. I was actually absorbing everything he said and have learned a lot. There, that should make him feel better.

Travelling alone will be a challenge as it's always good to have that extra set of eyes in an unfamiliar environment.

Tomorrow I continue west to Louisiana.

Ya'll come back now, ya hear?

Saturday, 27 May 2017

27 May 2017

Saturday 27 May 2017

Today we drove from Marietta GA to Birmingham Alabama, with photo stops at Bremen GA and Anniston AL.

We used I20 to get to Bremen, and then realised that in quite a few places, the tracks would come close to Hwy 78 so followed that instead of putting up with the crazy 70 mph traffic on I20. Good idea.

Nothing happened at Bremen, and a lot of the tracks there had freight cars parked up. We continued west and came across the town of Waco which had a feed distributor which had 5 empty tracks and an old switcher parked up. I took some photos and locked this location in the back of my head in case of trouble.

We continued on and found trouble - a Union Pacific (this is supposed to be Norfolk Southern tracks!!) intermodal with a whole lot of EMP domestic containers came rolling our way. A quick U turn, and back to Waco where I got the shot and photos.

I wasn't expecting to see these fellas, but I'll take what I can get.

Just along from Waco near Tallapoosa we stumbled across the Helton Howland Veterans Memorial Park - another 2 days and I guess this place would be busy, but today it was empty. On display were various military hardware items including a Huey and a couple of F105 Thunderchief aircraft...and some Army stuff with wheels and guns on them that Lloyd was fizzing over. Something about 'self propelled' and 'Howitzer' was bandied around - I wasn't listening. There's also an amphitheater, a lake for fishing and lots of picnic tables and the local Courthouse...I bet that threw you.

Guns 'n' planes 'n' stuff.

We continued on and as we passed under the tracks at Edwardsville, we both saw an NS loco sitting at a signal light. Another quick U turn and back a mile to find a grade crossing. We'd seen an Amtrak train earlier and made a quick assessment of the situation: the NS train was too long to fit in the passing loop so was holding on the main. The Amtrak then turned up and sat in the loop. The NS intermodal then used the main to cross with the Amtrak - simple. The NS train was horrendously long.

We continued on and saw nothing new until we finally got to Anniston, where we got talking to a girl called Jennifer...and saw a bit of NS action - two trains in fact - the same Amtrak was parked up at the station but by the time the NS autorack train passed through, this had gone. Never mind.

Once we got to Pell City, Sally the Pschodrama SATNAV, in her attempt to avoid highways was sending us on some crazy diversions, so I relented and got her to get me to Irondale by the quickest route possible. Irondale has a really good covered raised platform and tables and benches set right beside the NS main line - I mean this is so close you could just about lean out and touch the trains. The down side is that it's on the wrong side of the tracks for photography and it's at the end of the NS yard so trains entering and leaving are going really slow. By now the temperature had climbed to 29 degrees (it got to 30) and it felt a bit sticky humid, even though it wasn't - figure that out.

No sooner had we arrived than a NS manifest that was waiting to get into the yard was released and rolled by. There was a bit of a wait then an Amtrak flew through, then a NS manifest came out and stopped, followed by a switch job of what appeared to be recently repaired freight cars, that was being managed by a KCS loco. None of the freight cars; air hoses were connect so it was an easy guess that this was just a juggling maneuver.

For some reason the NS manifest reversed back into the yard and the KCS disappeared around the corner, so we high tailed it across the grade crossing while we still could and found home, checked in (busy busy busy) and went in search of more places before it got dark.

Lloyd with his hat on backwards blending in with the locals...just chillin' at Irondale.

That's as close as you'll get to NS trackside.

I surprised Lloyd by taking him to a BNSF Yard, but nothing happened and time was pressing, so I then went over to the CSX Yard and sat on the main line until nothing happened - in fact it started getting dark so it was time to go. Nothing seen on both account so drowned our sorrows at a place called Milos - probably the most Kiwi like burger joint you could ever come across - even the fries were just like the McKain wriggly fries - brilliant - shame about the 20 minute wait though.

Back home and catch some zzzzzs. Well Lloyd is already out to it and I'm still up composing this for all of about 5 people. The efforts I go to.

I've never been called "Baby" so many times in so few days - I'm thinking it's either a Waffle House thing or is just the way they talk down here in the southern states.

When I get home, ask me about the word 'thataway'.

Tomorrow we continue west and cross another State line.   The end is suddenly coming into view.


Friday, 26 May 2017

26 May 2016

Friday 26 May 2017

No matter which way you looked at it, today was going to be a big day on the road, and it was, but much bigger than anticipated. Luckily we awoke to a cloudless sky, which continued all day, so no rain to contend with.

The mission was to drive from Charlotte NC to Marietta GA. I had a choice, take the quick way and probably see some Norfolk Southern, or take the long way and probably see some CSX.

I opted for the long way, which had three natural legs to it. The first leg took us to Columbia South Carolina via Hwy 77 which was in really good shape and our average speed was 73 mph most of the way - the speed limit is 70. Here we visited Cayce Yard and saw a GP38-2 doing some switching. The light was all wrong, so video was not on the cards.  Photos were crap too.

The next leg took us to Augusta Georgia via Hwy 20 which was an abysmal mess - you'd never even know if you got a flat tyre as the road noise was way up there. Here we visited the CSX Augusta Yard on Arthern Road. Two AC units were being re-positioned (one being a CitiRail) and I had just enough time to shoot off some stills before disappearing.

The last leg took us all the way to Marietta via Hwy 20 which was in good nick again. Absolutely no scenery - all you could see was trees.

You drive for a hundred miles and this is all you can see...

This leg was a nasty 168 miles which should have taken about 2.5 hours. It took us about 4.5 hours. We hit traffic way south of Atlanta and we were varying from 50 to 20 mph on a 70 mph highway. I took a wrong turn, which turned out for the better as the rest of the highway was at a standstill, so ended up taking city streets all the way up to Marietta. It was slow going. Apparently it's like that on a Friday, and today is the start of Memorial Weekend, so that didn't help either.

We checked in, had dinner and decided to try and get at least one shot on video. I checked out a couple of places that were unsuitable but found an idea spot on Tower Street that I thought would be OK. The locals were friendly - being doped up does that to you ("You from Kentucky??) - and they advised that trains came through about every 15 minutes.  Yeah right...

The sun was setting fast, the mozzies were getting active and I was getting a bit worried about not getting anything on video today - then it happened - the blast of an airhorn behind us and a triple header CSX manifest came thundering through, obviously struggling with the massive load it was hauling. Lloyd was too busy grinning to bother counting the freight cars. 10 minutes later we heard another horn from in front and an intermodal did its thing soon after. Lloyd missed counting that one as well. He has one job to do and has successfully failed at it every time a train turns up.

Two trains in 30 minutes - by golly, the old stoned geezer was right !

By now the sun had gone down and the bitey things were driving me wild, so we found our way home to settle in.

Now, I was tempted to swing by the yards at Atlanta and take a look. However the overwhelming traffic problem soon convinced me to flag that idea. It was taking us an average of 15 minutes just to progress from one block to another. It was really insane.

Tomorrow we cross another State line as we continue our journey west.


PS - forgot to mention yesterday I saw a Coyote eating road kill near Charlotte - not bothered by the traffic at all.

Thursday, 25 May 2017

25 May 2017

Thursday 25 May 2017

After last nights heavy rain and thunder, we woke to breaking cloud and a mild breeze and slightly chilly which soon turned into solid cloud and a bit cool, but as the day progressed, the cloud broke up and it got pretty warm, especially when the sun pushed through.

I had a plan of attack today that involved doing a complete circuit of Charlotte and its surrounds that would encompass both CSX and the Norfolk Southern railroads.

Most of these locations were unknowns - Google Street View helps you find good locations, but it doesn't tell you what sort of area you are in safety wise and if there are any noise factors that would ruin a video soundtrack - traffic, industries, a whoopie cushion factory etc.  A couple of the places turned out to be no good, but we found a couple that were good to satisfactory.

First up is Old Dowd Road - this road has been realigned, so Sally the Psycho SATNAV had problems negotiating it - wanting me to drive over median barriers, through paddocks, airport fences etc. Not a good look.

Common sense prevailed and I found the location I was looking for - on the threshold of one of the runways at Charlotte International, on an old disused road that looks down onto the access tracks into the Norfolk Southern Intermodal Yard - that's located between the two runways at the airport. It seemed like a good idea at the time, however I couldn't see the NS main line, so we moved on.

We ended up at Mount Holly, where we caught the CSX doing some switching at multiple industries using a GP40/Slug combo. For those of you reading this and not caring about the trains, either skip the next paragraph or for some enlightenment, read on:

To save on fuel, railroads use older locos like GP38s, GP40s etc and rip out their prime mover - the big diesel engine. They also take out all the associated bits like alternators, radiators and the fans etc. that aren't needed, and install blanking plates where these bits were, and add ballast to bring the weight up to ensure the wheels don't slip. Electrical power to this loco to drive the traction motors is supplied by a GP40-2 that is semi-permanently connected to this loco and has a big as electrical cable connecting the two. This gives you just as much traction as two locos for half as much diesel. They are only ever used for doing local switch jobs to industries etc. and you won't see them in use hauling big trains out on the main line. As you would expect, these locos are pretty quiet.

The business end of GP40-2 / slug set, mother/mate set - call it what you will.

On with it then. The switch job was eating into our time and I'd taken enough photos and got plenty of footage so we moved on, ending up at the CSX Pinoca Yard. Google Street view says that Brookway Drive goes right up to the CSX office, however CSX have claimed all of Brookway Drive - as I was to find out later...

Ooops - we seem to have ventured too far into Pinoca Yard - a quick U turn and a quick photo, we're outa here.

On the side of the road in obvious CSX territory is a lovely sign - as per below, which is where we watched the arrival of a freight but realised that this place was more suited to afternoon shots, so moved on and decided to come back later.

Yes, the lights do flash.

From here I was starting to take notice of some of the cloud formations...nothing happened....yet.

We moved on and found that once again, the map data on the SATNAV didn't quite match what I was driving on, and she was slipping back into the habit of telling me to turn either way too early or too late, just as we drive past the road we were supposed to go on. The word 'Recalculating" is now a dirty word in our car.

We got lunch, got hounded by people (undesirables) claiming to be Vets begging for money, gassed up and moved on to the Amtrak Station. This is the first station we've come across where the platforms are locked off from the public until the train turns up - and for good reason. The platform is between two tracks that are the main lines through the Norfolk Southern Yard. Not a safe place to be.
We missed one train but saw two more - the city skyline was a pretty good backdrop.

We moved on to a Norfolk Southern grade crossing, and although the location was pretty good, we only saw two short switch jobs for the long time we were there...and it was starting to get hot.

Our hotel wasn't too far away so we returned briefly to freshen up and then went back to Pinoca Yard - and discovered the primary reason why Americans probably don't like trains. We got stuck at a grade crossing for near on 20 minutes - probably more. As more and more people got impatient and turned around, we got closer and closer to the crossing and had a good view of the action - even managed to get the odd photo. It had also started to rain so I was in no rush to get to the other side.
Finally the sun came out and it was my turn to either wait or turn right - I chose to turn right and got to the yard just as the train was starting to move back in.

It's bad enough waiting for a moving train, but a stationary one where the end is sitting right in front of you ????!!!

Filmed and photographed a couple of trains and found out by a friendly but serious CSX employee that we were actually trespassing - he was happy when I told him we would leave as soon as this annoying intermodal finally left - which it never did.  Another employee didn't give a toss that we were there and only wanted to know if I was photographing for a magazine. Happy guy, very care free.

Front end of a CSX coal drag.

Back end of a CSX coal drag.

I gave up due to impatience and poor light. Dinner at Waffle House (full as a bull) and home.

All in all, an OK day with about 10 shots taken on video. Lots of photos though.

Tomorrow we hit Georgia, via South Carolina. Big, big drive.