Saturday, September 23, 2017

Black Mesa & Lake Powell Railroad

While on a family vacation back in December of 1981, we stumbled across the Black Mesa and Lake Powell railroad in northern Arizona. Situated east of Lake Powell, the railroad moves coal from a mine loading facility near Kayenta to the Salt River Project Navajo Generating Station just outside of Page.

This is beautiful high desert country with plateaus and valleys, but be forewarned that chasing the BM&LP will not be easy. Public access is limited to a few public highway crossings, with most of the railroad being on private property or the Navajo Indian Reservation. However, there is few mile stretch where Highway 160 parallels the tracks southwest of Kayenta.

Train frequency is limited to a few trains a day, so it really becomes a matter of "being in the right place at the right time". That's what happened with us when we shot these early morning photos.

A few things to note about the railroad. It is totally electrified, using General Electric E60 locomotives for power. Besides the 6 original units built for the BM&LP, they also picked up another batch of E60's from Mexico.

The railroad itself is landlocked... meaning that it has no connections to other railroads. Given the remoteness of the railroad, it's understandable. It also means that any locomotives or cars need to be trucked in / out.

Finally, built in 1973, this was the first railroad built in the country to use 50,000 volt AC power.

One final site seeing note. Glen Canyon Dam is located just outside of Page, and is worth a stop. It is an impressive structure, and something that more than likely will never be built again in this country. Also, Lake Powell itself is immense and offers many recreational activities.

Our first photo is of a loaded train waiting for it's turn to leave the mine loading facility. We just happened to be in the right place at the right time, as the locomotives are well lit in the December early morning sunlight. Winter is a beautiful time of year in the high desert, with plenty of clear skies. However, it does get cold, and it does snow.

At the time when these photos were taken, the only locomotives on the railroad were the original six E60's from General Electric. The E60's from NdeM in Mexico won't arrive for another decade or so.

Here's another E60 photo, this time on an arriving empty train from Page. If you look at the prior photo, you'll notice a cab air conditioner on the lead unit, whereas this unit doesn't have one. Probably why it is a trailing unit. The high desert can be equally as hot in the summer, so I imagine the crew appreciates the air conditioning.

Here's one of the BM&LP hoppers. I believe this is one of the cars built by Ortner. I also believe gravity dump was used at that time for unloading. Besides the Ortner cars, BM&LP also used hoppers built by FMC,

Our final picture shows the loaded train at the mine loading facility. This is wide open country, and the train seems dwarfed by the sheer openness of the land.

Monday, July 3, 2017

Flat Car Repurposed

Back in 2015, I was exploring Eastern Iowa looking for remnants of the long abandoned Chicago Great Western Railway. According my research on Google Earth, there was a small trestle that looked to be within viewing distance of a county gravel road in Lamont, Iowa.

Having found the gravel road, I made my turn and noticed a "Bridge Out" sign next to the road. I figured I would follow the road until I either found the CGW trestle, or was stopped by a large gap in the road where a bridge once stood.

I didn't have any luck finding the CGW trestle, but I did come across "Road Closed" signs blocking the road, and ahead was an old single lane truss looking bridge that was in the process of being dismantled.

Since I was there, and I had camera in hand, I decided to record a few pictures of the old bridge before it was completely torn out. As I was taking a few detail shots of the bridge remains, I noticed what looked a couple of upside down flat cars laying in a ditch on the other side. While this peaked my interest, time was running short, and I needed to continue journey.

About a month later, with Iowa highway map in hand, I found myself on the other side of the now torn out bridge. Laying there in the ditch next to the gravel road were two 89 foot Trailer Train flat cars.

The flat cars had been stripped of all appliances. With good sunlight, I proceeded to take detail shots of the undersides.

After all, how often is a modeler presented with fully lit under frame shots. This was a first for me, being able to record bolster, cross member, and floor reinforcements.

As I was clicking away, it became more apparent that these Trailer Train discarded cars were going to be somehow incorporated into a replacement road bridge. Iowan's are known for practicality and metal working, so it seemed like a plausible possibility. Time would tell though.

As my time was drawing to a close, I wanted to record the reporting marks and car numbers, should a record of the car's dispositions be needed. Unfortunately, Spring had sprung in full force, and the native Iowa grasses and weeds were starting to shroud the car sides. But, there was enough showing that I could somewhat capture the car's identifying marks.

It's now 2 years later, and the "Bridge Out" sign next to gravel road has long since been removed. For about a year now, I've meant to stop and see the new road bridge, and more importantly see what became of those 89' flat cars.

As I had theorized 2 years prior, the flat cars were indeed used as a road deck for that replacement bridge. And much to my surprise, the bridge retained much of that flat car look, complete with reporting marks, car number, and even the Trailer Train logo.

Looking like something we modelers would do in scale, the bridge builders simply sliced and spliced the flat car decks together to form the bridge road deck. I've seen similar application of decommissioned flat cars being used as bridges, but the use was limited to private roads and railroad access roads. This is the first time that I've seen such a use on a rural county road though.

Once again, time was drawing to a close. As I drove out to the main road, I couldn't help but think that the last time Lamont saw a TOFC flat car was back in the early 70's just before the Chicago and North Western railroad suspended service on the former CGW line. It's ironic that some 40 years later, TOFC service (that's Tractor on Flat Car) returns to Lamont.