DM&E Trip - Lincoln, NE to Rapid City, SD...Via Denver
My current assignment as BNSF Valley Dispatcher brought to mind a trip I made nearly two years ago while I was stationed as Terminal Manager in Lincoln, Nebraska. Knowing that changes were ahead for the west-end of Canadian Pacific's former DM&E (Dakota, Minnesota, & Eastern) trackage, myself and friend Nick Huth decided to make a trip to South Dakota to photograph this railroad. The trek to the DM&E would cross paths with several BNSF lines on the Powder River Division which I now dispatch.
Nick would be traveling from New Orleans so we decided to rendezvous in Denver, Colorado for this Journey. I would be taking advantage of a three-day weekend by boarding Amtrak train No. 5, the Westbound California Zephyr, in Lincoln just before midnight on the night of Sunday, September 15, 2013.
I rode on the head-end with engineers Derek Lewsader and Brian Gordon from Lincoln to McCook. It was a great ride! The railroad community really is a small family. Six years earlier, while working as BNSF Manager of Passenger Operations I made a trip on Amtrak No. 5 from Chicago to Denver. Under the watchful eye of engineer Ben Barnes, the Young Derek Lewsader was student engineer on that particular trip which arrived in Denver on October 17, 2007. One of my favorite in-cab photos that I have taken was the below image of Derek reaching for the radio to talk to the Train Dispatcher at Commerce City outside Denver:
Back to this trip, at McCook, Nebraska I went back to the train where I was able to sleep in an available room in the crew dormitory car. Rest would be necessary for it was a long day and arrival at Denver would be soon! The Amtrak California Zephyr normally operates between Chicago, Illinois and Emeryville, California (Oakland), however today everyone would be de-training at Denver. Colorado had been particularly hard-hit with heavy rainfall and several washouts had the Union Pacific Moffat Line closed west of Denver. The BNSF Front Range Subdivision was also washed out. Continuing passengers would be "bus-bridged" across the affected section of the Rockies and put on another set of Amtrak equipment out of California that was turned around.
Downtown Denver was "under-renovation" which meant that we would not be using the famous Denver Union Station. The train terminated at a temporary station facility several blocks away, adjacent to Coors Field. Passenger not transferring to one of the waiting busses had to cross Delgany Street to access the temporary waiting room and station facilities. It was not the grandest entrance into Denver.
Train No. 5 arrived in Denver a little before Nick's flight from New Orleans so I had about an hour to kill. Luggage in tow, I headed up the street where there was an elevated intersection with 23rd Street. From here I was able to get a few shots of our train in the temporary depot. A fuel truck was on-hand to fuel the locomotives as well.
Temporary Amtrak Depot - Denver, Colorado
Still having a few minutes on my hands, I continued on the overpass to photograph some of the activity around the BNSF Denver diesel facility and yard. I am very fortunate to have made trips to Denver several times as a child and later before the BNSF merger. Denver was almost a magical place then, with the iconic Denver and Rio Grande Western Railroad calling attention to the spectacular Rocky Mountains just to the west and the Burlington Northern parading an impressive sea of Cascade Green locomotives through the Mile High City. These memories made standing here this morning feel very odd. I had been here before, but nothing seemed the same.
BNSF Diesel Facility - Denver, Colorado
A call from Nick advised he would be at the Amtrak depot with the rental car in a few minutes. I headed back down the bridge to begin the next leg of the journey. Our destination for this day would be Rapid City, South Dakota. The morning was overcast in Denver and the sky continued to darken as we drove northward toward Cheyenne, Wyoming. We could see some remnants of the recent flooding from the Interstate.
Both Nick and I have made several trips to Cheyenne in the past. Those trips were centered around railfanning the Union Pacific's busy main line. On this particular day we decided to bypass most of the normal attractions both because of the weather and because of the distance we had to travel. We did make a quick visit to the BNSF yard in Cheyenne where I was able to meet the new Trainmaster. Outside was a pair of SD40-2s idling between assignments. One of which, BNSF 1760, was still wearing its Santa Fe colors; though not as proudly as it once did.
North of Cheyenne we left I-25 and headed towards Torrington on Highway 85. Torrington is on the BNSF Valley Subdivision which is the gateway to Guernsey, WY and the bottom end of the famous Orin Line in the Powder River Basin. Little did I know at the time that I would soon be dispatching this territory...again! BNSF does not place a high priority on dispatcher road trips so they are few and far-between. Currently I own the first shift Valley desk which is my motivation for referencing the photos I took on this trip and penning this essay.
Our route, Highway 85, made a northwest turn at Torrington where it begins to parallel the BNSF Valley Subdivision towards Lingle, WY. The railroad is single track with a passing siding between Torrington and Lingle named "Texas". The next siding going westward is named "Grattan" and is closer to Fort Laramie.
BNSF Valley Subdivision - Lingle, Wyoming
We spent about an hour on the Valley Subdivision getting the shot. A light power move pulled into the siding at Texas to meet three eastbound trains. First up was an extra Guernsey, WY to Kansas City, KS manifest symbol H-GUEKCK4-16 led by C44-9W 4006. We set up by the small grain elevator in Lingle to get the shot. Next up was a loaded North Antelope Mine to Rush Tower, MO coal train C-NAMRTR1-38 led by ES44AC 6346. We chose a spot near Milepost 77 to shoot this train because there was a tree!
The final eastbound train was Antlope Mine to Iatan, MO (Sadler) coal train C-ATMSAI0-31 sporting plenty of power. Two Grinstein Green SD70MACs and a pair or ES44ACs led the train while a lone ES44AC was pushing on the rear. The first photo location was between the switches at Grattan. We paced this train for a bit and then shot it a second time at Milepost 74. Before departing Lingle for good we managed to get a going-away shot of the light power finally underway towards Guernsey.