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Range Action

When I was asked to be a host and tour guide for a friend from Minot for a trip to the Iron Range, I kinda dismissed the idea as I was thinking about the last couple of visits I had to the range. It was cloudy, dreary, and the power wasn't exactly my favorite to say the least. I don't want to pull the band-aid off too early, but I also remember basically being glared at by crews and having my (then) seven year old nephew ask why the crews were so grumpy. This trip was far different… there was a mix of everything for power, varrying weather from snow showers, to EOS, glorious sunshine, and twilight, all with a good blanket of snow. The crews were all friendly, exchanging waves every single time we saw a train, even the MoW crews on their self propelled carts waved one right after another.

After spending a few hours late into the overnight running trains at the Chris Muller's House of Train, it was a challenge to get out of Bemidji by 0600. After stopping to check out the M-SUPGFD that was just leaving Cass Lake as we passed through, we continued for our destination of the Iron Range. It is no surprised not a single thing was seen or heard along the Lakes Sub or western Casco Sub. We started hearing chirps on the radio around Bovey and thought we heard the Kelly Lake local. Sure enough, once we got to Kelly Lake was checked out what was going on and saw the power was an H1 SD40-2 and a blue bonnet GP40X. There wasn't anywhere to grab a shot, but based on their conversation with Hibbing Taconite, it sounded like they were making a run to Minntac. That certainly peaked my interest as I wanted to get a shot going through Hibbing. As we made a u-turn north of Kelly Lake, we busted through a frozen plow ridge of ice and snow. I made the comment, "Ouch, I hope we don't get a flat tire."

Steve and I were having some various conversation when my tire pressure monitor system started blinking. No problem as I've had a tire pressure sensor out for quite a while I never elected to fix. All I have to do is acknowledge it and ignore the small yellow light on the dash. I justified why I never fixed it, pointing out how pointless the tire monitor system is and that it has never helped me and only causes a distraction. About two miles later the light came on again and I went to clear it and I noticed it was a different tire sensor this time. I went through the screens and found the front right tire to display "25", then it changed to 24, 23, 22, 20, 19… "thumpa thumpa thumpa thumpa". "You've gotta be kidding me." Watch as it drops from 18, 17, 14, 12, 10, 7, 5, all the way down to nothing and the "thumpa thumpa thumpa" turned into a "thud thud thud". We found a place that was pretty convenient with a conrete apron to change the tire. That was a half hour ordeal we'll just skip, but it included lots of kicking, a jack falling out, and a donut being put on.

With three regular sized tires and one mini, we limped onward towards Iron Junction. Once we got to the Keenan area, I was still steaming on missing the BNSF running through Hibbing, passing the Griswold signals. The next thing we heard was a BNSF TexMex going from Fairlane to Keenan. We pulled off at Forbes as they were being talked through the north leg of the wye at Fairlane. They were talking about a new main and an old main. Not sure what they are doing, but there was a large track gang doing work. Imagine my surprise as the BNSF train approached and I could see a faint BN logo on the nose. Upon looking closer, it was Sharpie'd in with a marker.

After this we rolled north as I heard a train coming from the Iron Range Division, but wasn't sure where it was. We crossed the highway 7 grade crossing by Ramshaw and could see the headlight. We skidded to a stop and jumped out of the car. The falling snow was just enough to lighten the dreary conditions, and the fresh snow on the ground allowed for some nice bright white conditions.

We pushed the donut to the limits at a blistering 55mph on the way to Wolf. We managed to beat the train by a couple of minutes. We listened to someone barking orders on the scanner, and someone not quite understanding. As the headlight came closer we adjusted our cameras to a heavier snow. I shot to include the code line as the taconite empty rolled north.

The railroad was still pretty busy with a T-bird talking on the radio, but it sounded like they were in Keenan Yard and not moving. The problem with waiting to write a report is you lose some of the details, but we waited at Iron Junction for the next train to come. It was another IC SD40-2 leading a taconite load. There was some nice snow caked on the trees, combined with the falling snow, and steaming pellets made this shot.

We drove around Ramshaw and Iron Junction for a w hile during a lul in the action. We ended up staking out at Iron Junction again and eventually a Minorca load came around the corner. At the same time we could hear something coming from the south. I knew it was going to be close for a meet, but not as close as it was. I originally had the camera facing south, but at the last minute moved it to the north. Had I left the camera where it was, I could have had a perfect rolling meet in front of the camera, but instead I had a shot of the taconite train passing by about 15 seconds before the northbound manifest. By now the snow stopped and it was just overcast and pretty dark. My shots were less than pleasing so we'll just fast forward. A limestone train was the next one to pass, and we followed him down to Fairlane where he was meeting a northbound stack train. I only shot video as the clouds were just starting to break and was back lit. The next train we shot was the MRF rolling under the hwy 37 overpass. This was the first EOS we had for the day and it only got better.

After the MRF we went to Ramshaw where we were going to wait for the BLE trio. It took quite a while, and did a rendition of Gangnam Style, foamer style while waiting for a train. The CN ran one down the PEG and I got a little EOS as the EMD was getting ready to pound the diamond.

Eventually the BLE leader we heard was coming into Ramshaw. Not sure what the leader was, we weren't sure if it was the trio of BLE units that were running. Unfortunately it wasn't, but the fact the sun was out, fresh flocking of snow, and a clean leader it really didn't matter that much as the shot turned out to be the best of the day (so far)…

Based on radio chatter, they would be meeting a Minntac I/D and it was only a couple of minutes later and a death star came rolling around the corner.

By now things kinda stopped as several trains were waiting for the RTC to answer them to get their trains rolling again. For us, that gave us a leg up in the fact the Kelly Lake local was getting ready to head back to Kelly Lake from Keenan. As soon as we crossed the yard, the train was just leaving. By now the sun was hugging the horizon and getting to the point where I knew the sun would be down by the time we got to Hibbing, and had no idea how fast the train would travel to Hibbing. We scouted out different spots in Hibbing with the Griswolds being a must. We opted to get them at the crossing east of the depot due to higher vehicle traffic at the crossing on the west side. With the sun ducking below the horizon, the headlight was now visible. I adjusted my camera and shot as wide as I could. For being twilight, I was more than satisfied and quite pleased with my shot here. I already shared it, but if you missed it the first time… here it is again.

With a CF card full of pixels and some video on the camera, we called it a day and headed for Bemidji. With a stop at Zorbaz in Grand Rapids, we made it to the CMHT and ran trains for a few hours while processing a few photos. Maybe the crews just felt bad for us with our mini-tire, but they were all very friendly. Despite hearing a T-Bird on the radio, they were never seen. The action, along with the snow, relit a ROC flame in me. If the weather on the range has been like it has been in Bemidji, there probalby isn't much of any snow left. I can't wait for the next snowfall, and will be making a trip back.