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A Sunday of Surprises and Luck

dmir227's picture

The blue sky was plentiful upon awakening this morning in Duluth, but by the time we arrived at Proctor to see if DMIR 215/403 has arrived on the MRF things began to quickly cloud over. No sign of the MRF power but a pair of clean Missabe 400s were worth a shot. Notice the clouds starting to form fast.

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We then had a decision to make. The clouds appeared to be thickening to the north but with no 215/403 at Proctor conventional wisdom said they were probably at Keenan. So, clouds or no clouds, a chance to get the last two remaining maroon Missabe diesels together was too strong a draw plus I wanted to catch B&LE 909 and 903 that had been reported to be working together on the T-Birds.

A CN manifest (M-347?) followed us north and they had the golden warrant to MP 51, so no worries about missing the MRF or any southbound for that matter. When we arrived on Da Range we scouted out Fairlane and saw the B&LE duo just finishing up dumping their train. We then heard their loaded counterpart heading south from Largo. By now the clouds outnumbered blue patches by 4 to 1 but we took a chance at Keenan Road and caught the loads in sun (barely, but it made for a nice shot with dust flying off the cars).

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The T-Bird empties departed Fairlane just as the loads were arriving. We scouted out the Forbes crossing where a pair of fans were set up for the shot. Not sure is we would get any sun there we headed to the Highway 37 overpass where we could at least crop out some of the clouds with a looking-down vantage point. Wouldn't you know it, a sucker hole came literally out of the blue and cascaded sunlight on the clean 909 and her less-than-spotless sister 903. I didn't care that the shot was back-lit, I welcomed any sun given the heavy cloud cover we were dealing with.

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We followed him to Largo, forgoing a shot of a inbound Minntac I/D empty out of Two Harbors. No sun at Largo, so back we went to the road crossing east of Keenan to see what was around the yard. With my 400mm I could see a BNSF power set that had brought in a Tex-Mex empty and also an orange nose of what would turn out to be EJ&E 674. Ah, the MRF did indeed die at Keenan early this morning. There was no activity around so we went to Iron Junction and watched the Keenan Switch bring back a nice cut of empty clay cars from Minntac (GT 6221 and DM&IR 400) and also a BNSF all-rail (which promptly died at Keenan due to missing a brake shoe on one of the BNSF units that needed to be replaced at Minntac).

I figured CN might call a new crew for the MRF based on when the Keenan Switch would return with the clay empties. Sure enough, about 30 minutes after the 6221/400 set deposited their cars at Keenan a van from Proctor arrived and the 12:30 MRF crew climbed onboard the 674 and quickly added the Minntac hoppers, did an air test, and was headed out less than an hour after arrival.

I shot the departure at Keenan Road in light rain and with the strong wind today it felt more like an early April excursion. The 95% cloudy conditions didn't discourage me as the consist alone was rare and classic - EJ&E 664, DM&IR 215 (DIT with a blown air compressor coming back from TH as reported by Kent and snodigger) and DM&IR 403. WOW, just that morning I had lucked out with sun on the B&LE sisters and then the icing on the cake was this set. In the span of just a few hours I had shot units from the "Big Three" former U.S. Steel railroads without a single CN or IC invader to spoil the lash-ups. Who would have thought that possible in 2010?

But that wasn't all. The Railfan Gods were certainly looking down on me today as we followed the MRF south towards home. When we drove out of the rain near Fairlane I noticed a blue opening in the clouds near Norway Ridge Road south of the pellet plant. The tracks weren't in sun but the way the clouds were moving it had a chance of intersecting the mainline as 674 rolled past. In a pure stroke of good fortune the sun covered about a quarter mile of track as the MRF scooted south. He shoots, he scores!

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From there the next sun hole intercept would be around MP 51. Not bad, but the "full sun" sliver crossed the train just before it reached my preferred vantage point.

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Still had decent "essence of sun" as the train rolled past.

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Thick clouds all the way down towards Proctor. I stopped by Culver where Kevin Madsen had set up for a decent "cloudy bright" shot. From there we followed the train south and as we drove south of Coons it appeared that another opening in the clouds would intersect the tracks north of Munger, which would be perfect because you can still get a little nose light there on southbounds this time of year. Our luck held and the hole stayed open just long enough for the power to pass. It was close though as we didn't have sun eight cars back. As the train passed we paid appropriate homage to the RFGs for this one!

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Clouds all the way in to Proctor where I ended the chase and headed for home with a hungry son Gus. What a day and what luck with both the motive power seen and weather breaks. I don't think we will ever again see an MRF consist like the one we saw today.

Dave Schauer
Missabe Railroad Historical Society
Publications Chair
Duluth, MN