Rails & Trails Pages

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Railfanning Wisconsin Northern 11/27/10

A friend, Brian Sykes of Atlanta, GA, and formerly of Cameron was back home for Thanksgiving.  He wanted to railfan the shortline railroad Wisconsin Northern that runs between Chippewa Falls and Barron.  It was Saturday and no trains were running but we were able to see some industries it serves.

There's a new sand business in New Auburn that will be shipping out unit trains of 100 cars.  They fill the cars with frac (short for fracture) sand that is used in oil drilling.  The sand is sent to Texas.  The first train of 60 cars was sent last week and subsequent cars will be 100 in length.

At New Auburn we found sand piled for future shipments.

They load the sand with an endloader from the "road" between the sand and track.

Frac sand is VERY FINE and hard but feels very soft to the touch.  But these piles contain lots of rocks.  Apparently this sand will be filtered or strained, and dried, when it gets to Texas.

This is the loader they use to load the cars:

And this is the equipment they use(d) to clean out and level this area:

To the left of the sand piles is a large rectangular depression they have made.  I have no idea what it is for.  Any thoughts????

We don't know where they are getting the sand.  (But we MAY have found out).
We left New Auburn and went to Bloomer where I showed Brian the new WWT shipping point.  Again, being Saturday, nothing was happening.  We found 8 tank cars waiting to be filled.  Only 6 fit on this siding so 2 were stored at PMI Steel right next to this facility.  There may be cars inside the building also.

We left Bloomer to go to Norma, on the north side of Chippewa Falls where a gigantic sand shipping facility is being built.  But on the way, north of Eagleton, I noticed some big sand piles.  So we drove over there and we THINK we have found the frac sand pit.  Again, no action or people around, but there has been recently and there's a brand new gate here.  But there's not trucks around . . . . ???

At Norma, in the wye, we found this tank car with a pump beside it.  It is being unloaded and contains dust inhibitor they put on roads.

I have taken many pictures of the sprawling new sand plant so didn't take any this time.  We were more interested in the tracks they are going to put in.  They have started dumping ballast and have lots of ties piled ready to go.  Here's a shot of where they are going to tie into the existing track.  Looks like they will hook into the long passing track that goes down the hill and switches back into the main.

After driving around Chippewa Falls looking at other rail sites, it was getting dark so we headed home.  Couldn't be late--was going to the "Unstoppable" movie.  I highly recommend it.  A great day (and the Badgers and Gophers BOTH won!!)

Saturday, October 16, 2010

1000 Miles!

I set a goal to ride my bicycle 1000 miles this summer.  Then I had the second ankle surgery in May, and then all the poor weather early in the summer.  Speaking of weather, why is it that the wind is always blowing towards me when I'm riding??   I just had a thought--maybe it's because I'm riding so fast that the wind just FEELS like it's always in my face.  Don't snicker--I once got my bike up to 17 MPH.  It was going down a steep hill, with the wind behind me, and pedaling like crazy.  My average speed is just a little below that.  And the hills around Barron--how did God make them all at least 10 times as long uphill as downhill??  
Anyway, I rode 15 miles this afternoon which put me over 1000 miles. 
So, now I need a new goal for next summer.  What do you think?  How about . . . . . . . . 10,000 miles????


Monday, October 11, 2010

Boylston Trip

On Saturday, October 9th, 2010, Joe Lewis and I took a train ride from Minneapolis to Boylston (near Superior) and back.  We rode in the 261 group's Great Dome car--our favorite.  The trip was advertised as a fund-raiser for overhauling their steam engine #261.

We will be pulled by an Amtrak diesel.  Note the 'Hiawatha' decal that has been applied for this trip.  Hiawatha was the name given to the fast Milwaukee Road passenger trains.

As we walked to our rail car, we were invited to tour the engine house where 261 was being overhauled.

Looking at the backhead in the cab of this iron horse:

And into the firebox:

And into the smokebox at the front of the engine:

On the lower level we can look at the running gear and underneath the beast:

Here is the car we're riding in--the dome car, taken by a railfan.  We had full access to the observation car Cedar Rapids but we can see better from the Dome car.

Looking backwards in the dome.  An attendant told me he thought they had about 350 people on this train and the Sunday train from Minneapolis to LaCrescent would have roughly 450 people.

We pass through Northtown Yard.  The track we are on right now is used by the new Northstar commuter line from Minneapolis to Big Lake.

At Coon Creek we will split off onto the Hinckley sub.  This track was used by Amtrak back in the 1980s for passenger service but the service was dropped because of lack of ridership.  So, this is 'rare' trackage for riding although the 261 did run here last year also.  But last year the temperature was 29 degrees compared to today's 80 degrees and sunshine!!!!

At this point the blog is not allowing me to enter pictures correctly.  The following pix are described below.

There weren't many people watching our train in the Cities, but up the line, especially past Cambridge, there were lots of people watching this unusual passenger car run.  It must have been written up in some newspapers so people were aware of it:

This is what the bridge looks like:

The manager of the Premium Class cars was old friend John Strand of Chippewa Falls.  John used to belong to our Barron County Model Railroad Club and enjoys volunteering with the 261 group.

It is lunch time and Yours Truly and Joe Lewis are about to indulge:

Near Boylston we cross the Nemadji River:

Here is what the Nemadji Bridge looks like:

Our train turns on a 'wye' at Boylston, a little south of Superior.  There is no good place to turn a train in Superior or Duluth and it would take too much time to complete that trip in daylight--but it sure would have been fun!!  We are on the west leg of the wye.  We will back up on the track to the left, and then head back south on the track at the top of the picture:

Crossing the Nemadji River again:

We stopped at Askov.  A coach car had been dedicated to residents of this community and we stopped and picked them up on the way north and now let them off.  The 3 coaches in this picture were used last week in filming a new movie "Abduction."

Here we cross the Kettle River again:

Just north of the Twin Cities we pass the Bethel Independent Locomotive Services which overhauls and leases diesels:

We come back through the Northtown Yard with the Twin Cities in the distance:

Another GREAT Trip in a Dome Car.  Great weather, Great friends, Great memories . . .

Thanks for riding along!!

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Amery Bike Trail

There is a new bicycle trail just 30 miles from Barron called the Harvey Stower Trail.  It just opened in August of this year.  It has a crushed limestone surface and runs 14 miles from Amery to Dresser.  There was quite a controversy over whether this trail should be a biking/hiking trail or an ATV All-Purpose Trail and there were several heated meetings over this.


With temperatures forecast for the 70s, bright sunshine, and NO WIND, it was the perfect day to ride this trail.  This trail is on abandoned Soo Line trackage that was the mainline from the Twin Cities to Sault St. Marie, Michigan and ran through Barron also.  The Soo Line began in Barron County and this was part of its original trackage.  I have ridden the train from Almena to Barron to Ladysmith to Prentice and also from the Twin Cities (Shoreham) to Dresser.  With today's bike ride I would only need to do the Almena to Amery part to say I have experienced the line from the Twin Cities to Prentice.  The Almena to Amery part is an ATV Trail so now I need to find a 4-wheeler and ride that part.

The trail starts in Amery:

It was 10 AM with temperature about 50 degrees but it quickly warmed up and I shed my jacket.  Like most trails, the vegetation has really encroached on the paths, creating a tunnel effect.

There aren't any towns between Amery and Dresser but there are 3 little 'settlements.'  First is Deronda:


Here is Wanderoos.

In Wanderoos there is an abandoned building which looks like it might have been a lumber yard and served by the railroad:

Enjoy some scenery trackside:

Maybe I should have gone fishing on such a nice day--Nah--this is fun and one more thing checked off the 'bucket list.'

This is 'Nye' where there was a siding (I think) and there are some buildings behind the trees:

The roadbed now is probably better than when the tracks were pulled out.

For now, the trail ends about 1 mile east of Dresser.  There are active tracks extending west of Dresser.  I'm sure the plan is somehow to connect this trail with the Gandy Dancer Trail which runs from St. Croix Falls to Danbury but the tracks are in from Dresser to St. Croix Falls as it serves the Dresser Trap Rock facility.

Amery is known as the 'City Of Lakes' and as I pedal back into Amery, the roadbed passes between North Twin and South Twin Lakes.

I only met 2 pairs of other bike riders but that's probably expected late in the year on a week day.  I'm sure it will get a lot more use in the summer.

A Great Day--A Great Ride--Too Bad Cold Temps and Winter Are Around The Corner!!!