Midwest Railfan Trip Suggestions

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Dave is joking. Traffic in the Seattle area is horrible with three million people squeezed between Puget Sound and the Cascades.

I wasn't joking - I just can't write a decent sentence. lol I meant that I feel spoiled when I can go somewhere ELSE [like Omaha] and buzz around easily. :)

I thought of one more place. If you are interested in buying, or just looking at, any model train stuff, Spring Creek Models is in the small town of Deshler NE. It is about 15 miles west of Hebron Ne on HWY 136. Hebron is 12 mi north of the KS/NE border on HWY 81.
I can help you out a little when it comes to the NCRC. They have their loco shop in Grand Island real close to the BNSF overpass and UP yard office. They run the Ord Local Sunday-Friday, usually O/D at 0800. It just varies whether they run are running North to Ord or South to Grand Island. They also have a few shuttle trains that go to the ethanol plant at South Saunders or Cargill at Ord. They also run a Platte Valley Turn to Central City three times a week to the ethanol plant there and also set out any cars for the Stromsburg branch. Let me know if you would like any more information as I'll be glad to help!

- Joel
Hey thanks Joel! I'm hoping to at least get a glimpse or two of something moving on the NCRC and the Ord line looks fairly easy to follow. Looking at the Stromsburg branch, it seems like a pretty long line. I followed as far as David City then wasn't sure who owned what at that point. Any ideas? Looking at Google Earth it looked like a shuttle type train off the UP was heading down the line, having 3 big UP units and 3 NCRC units on the point.

Thanks again,

Fremont is way busier than Omaha on both the UP and BNSF

I would also mention that KC has way more action than anything in Iowa or Nebraska.
Thanks Brad. At one point I had a hotel room reserved for Fremont but I think the Grand Island/Council Bluffs nights will work out as well. I liked the idea of Fremont because I would of course be on the busiest part of the UP, but I'm looking forward to buzzing around Council Bluffs and Omaha a bit as well. The only bummer is that it sounds like the IAIS is just maybe a morning departure eastbound while I'm there, and the BNSF run out on the ex-MILW branch would be returning on Saturday (my hotel room looks right out on that track in Council Bluffs but I'll be checked out in the morning).

I'm staying in Independence my first night so hopefully Wednesday morning I can fit in some West Bottoms/Knoche Yard action. I haven't had much time to really research good spots to go in KC and I'll have 2-3 hours in the morning to drive around - always wanted to spend some time in KC but it won't be much this trip.

I'm really looking forward to the trip, even if it passes by fast. I'm so burnt out with work that these comments you guys have shared really give me something to look forward to.

Thanks again!

Total sidenote but I am always looking at little hole-in-the-wall places to get a bite while out and about. My rule of sorts it that while I'm on my Railfanpalooza's that I can't eat anywhere that I could eat at home (in Seattle). I do make an exception for Starbucks ONLY because I can't stand getting espresso somewhere no knowing if I'll like it (Starbucks is hit and miss but I know what I like so I give them a pass while on vacation).

In Des Moines I'm going to try Tacopocolypse which was on Diners Drive Ins and Dives. Sounds interesting. I'd like to hit up some food trucks or other interesting places if anyone has any suggestions. I don't want to spend a lot and won't be looking for the "best steakhouse" or that sort of thing. I do like little places where someone is just trying to make a living versus a chain, though I might visit a Steak & Shake (there's one in Independence, for example).

Anyhow, open to suggestions with food as well.

Ok, thanks!

And actually, Brad, I visited your photography website and noticed Localmotive Food Truck. Would you recommend a visit to them?

Hey thanks Joel! I'm hoping to at least get a glimpse or two of something moving on the NCRC and the Ord line looks fairly easy to follow. Looking at the Stromsburg branch, it seems like a pretty long line. I followed as far as David City then wasn't sure who owned what at that point. Any ideas? Looking at Google Earth it looked like a shuttle type train off the UP was heading down the line, having 3 big UP units and 3 NCRC units on the point.

Thanks again,


No problem! The Stromsburg Sub is 63 miles long, at David City the North/South line you would have seen is the BNSF Bellwood Sub which is a branch from Seward to Columbus. Nebraska Central has trackage rights over the BNSF to Columbus and brings in what they call the ADM Turn into ADM in Columbus from the elevators along the line M-F nights. Unfortunately it's getting too late in the year to chase it with much light. Other than that the main traffic is shuttle trains to Polk/Stromsburg, Shelby, Yanka, and Brainard. They also have a local that handles the "Palmer cars" from the BNSF to Central City. They used to deliver the cars to Palmer on the former BN branch out of Central City, but discontinued service in March 2012 due to poor track conditions, so now the cars are spotted in Central City and the products are trucked to Palmer. I have a Nebraska Central thread started in the Midwest Subforum if you would like to see some of my pictures around the system. If you will have access to the forum during your trip I'll be able help if needed.

Dave, it looks like the Nebraska guys have your work cut out for you. Just have fun there is a lot of cool stuff to see around here. Our mountains are just a lot lower and our water features are mostly under ground. Tom
And actually, Brad, I visited your photography website and noticed Localmotive Food Truck. Would you recommend a visit to them?

They are really good if you can find them. They are always in Downtown Omaha from 10pm to 2am. They usually move around during the day. They have a website and facebook account that usually has their lunch schedule on it. They are known for their rounders, but my favorite thing there is the B.E.L.T. Its a BLT with a Fried Egg on it. Awesome Bacon too, really thick.

I saw the Tacopocolypse on DDD too, it looked awesome. If you need another recommendation for DesMoines, check out Zombie Burger.

As far as Omaha, we had several places on DDD. Dixie Quicks, which actually moved to Council Bluffs since the episode aired, Amatos, Joe Tess, Brew Burgers, California Taco, and Big Mama's kitchen. If I had to pick one, I would go with Dixie Quicks. If you want a good burger head to Stellas in Bellevue its way better than the Brew Burgers that DDD went to.

If you are over in CB by the Union Pacific Yard, there is a bar called the Salty Dog, it has good food. If you are over by the Iowa Interstate there is a bar called LPL's that has good food.
Also, the IAIS arrives in the early morning, but the Eastbound Departs between 2pm and 3pm. My recommendation for time would be to get to the IAIS yard in the morning and all the power will be by the parking lot and well lit.
I can confirm that LPL's does indeed have good food. We were rebuilding some track last week down at the Bartlett elevator and ate there as usual. Food was good, as usual. Another place to eat on the south side of Council Bluffs is Jonesy's Taco House. They have great food there, nice place. They are on 16th ave. I don't think anyone has mentioned that Missouri Valley, Iowa is another great spot for train watching. Lots of action about anytime of the day around these parts. Plus the fact that UP has 3 tracks of the Missouri Vally yard full of surplus motive power could make for some interesting photo ops!
Most look to be the SD90's, but I'm no motive power guru. There were some old CNW units there and even a GP-38 for a while, don't know if those are still in the line-up or not. BTW, the UP caboose is now relocated along hiway 30 and is currently being repainted in it's original UP colors. There was talk or painting to match the CNW heretige unit, but I think it was pretty costly to do so no go.
Thanks again guys :)

I'm currently on my trip but don't have a way at the moment to post photos since most are on my camera and are not downloadable onto my iPad. I'll share a few things so far.

Yesterday morning I arrived before 8am in Des Moines and grabbed my rental car. I drove around by the UP yard as I had seen an IAIS geep with some cars moving through there while on final approach. I never did see it again but did see a UP southbound pull into the yard with a patched SP AC4400. After tootling around there, I decided to head north to Ames and Boone. Had breakfast in Boone at the Whistle Stop Cafe then headed out to find the bridge. Plenty of trains had passed through the area while there but when I arrived at the bridge a WB had just cleared it and an EB was halfway across. Took some pics then spent another hour or so staring at an empty bridge. Ugh. I left and not five minutes later a WB came roaring along (of course) which I caught at the wooden bridge just west of the High Bridge. I then began my long trek to KC for my first night. Got off the freeway in Cameron and tried to follow the UP south but ended up getting totally mixed up on the backroads. Got gas in Excelsior Springs just before running out then headed for my hotel in Independence.

This morning I got up and headed for the West Bottoms, where I hung out for about an hour or so. Saw a number of trains but the overcast skies made it a bit underwhelming in pics. Headed back and checked out of the hotel and headed for Knoche Yard as one of my goals was to see a KCS train in person vs just run-through power. Just before arriving, though, I saw a KCS SD70ACe (solo) leading a SB past I think HWY 24 (just south of the yard) so I jumped back on 435 to try to catch it. Well, needless to say, I don't know my way around these roads and had bad luck trying to find it. Ended up all the way south almost to Grandview, got all turned around, drove around on back roads, and somehow stumbled upon the big concrete viaduct off of Gregory Road. I pulled off to snap some pics and voila! I heard the southbound toot it's horn intermittently as it approached. I hustled my portly frame partway up the hill and grabbed some shots of it crossing. It had a grey "mid-train" AC helper - I say "mid-train" because it was just 10 cars from the rear. What would Pres. Tom Cater from the 1979-ish Trains Mag articles say about not placing them closer to the front? Lol

After that, headed to Lenexa to grab something to eat and sit trackside. BIG waste of time. It was lunch time and plenty of traffic. Couldn't find anything appealing as I don't know my way around so I ended up getting a mediocre sub at GreatCents or whatever it is. Scarfed it down trainless in Lenexa, then followed the tracks south to Santa Fe Road before getting back on the freeway without seeing anything. I got off where the freeway crosses the ex-MP as I saw a couple of shortline units there. Turned out they were at what must be a maintenance location or something. One was a black/yellow SD45 I think while the other was a grey geep. After that, I got back on and continued west.

My day was to end in Emporia so I would periodically jump off and tootle around to find the tracks. I did see trains occasionally, such as south of the big intermodal yard in Edgarton. I got to shoot a baretable off of Idaho Rd near Pomona but nothing else came while I stood there in the heat. Again, headed west towards "downtown" Pomona only to see two trains passing each other off in the trees. Whizzed around and caught an EB Z with a pair of NS GE's leading and lots of UPS in the mix. I found a pedestrian bridge in I believe Malvern but a couple of carloads of people had just parked in the driveway to it and gotten out so I drove around the block - only to miss another intermodal rolling east. lol

Heading back to the freeway the tracks were slightly separated with separate overpasses. I decided to park adjacent to the easternmost overpass as the sun was out but it was stormy looking to the east. Of course, a train came along very quickly heading WB just like I wanted - except it was on the other track. lol Soon though an EB rolled by so I got some pics, albeit going-away shots.

Finally got to Emporia and checked into my motel on the east side of town. I then drove to the other end of town and across a bridge spanning the eastern part of the yard. I parked and walked out to the middle of the span and hung out there for about 1/2 an hour or so. Got pics of the windmill blades as well as a few trains in decent light. I headed back into town to perhaps go back to my room and get ready for dinner when I saw a WB with some unlettered blue units. I was pretty sure these were some of the GE Tier 4 test units so wanted to grab a shot or video. They were on a Z train, though, and hauling you-know-what eastbound, so I jumped on the freeway and raced to catch them. I ended up getting off in Lebo with some sunlight still out, though not ideal for an EB. Didn't have to wait long for them to arrive. I video'd the train, which had 3 of the blue GE's and two BNSF GE's and a long string of trailers behind them doing full track speed. Just before it cleared the crossing, a WB grain train blew through. It had the Santa Fe heritage hopper in it, which was cool.

After that, I headed back to town and ate at Bobby D's BBQ downtown then caught some after-dark action by the tracks, including the local with BNSF 190 (blue/yellow GP60) shoving back into the yard after switching some grain cars at an industry. I'm now back in my room and listening to train after train blowing through town.

Tomorrow I start my day in Emporia and end my day in Grand Island. Not really excited about the long drive as I've put a lot of miles on the car in the last two days. I originally wanted to get up before sunrise so I could spend a few hours trackside near Emporia but I'm starting to think I should get an early start to my drive rather than hang out here too much more. I LOVE the BNSF transcon, but my past two getaways have been along the BNSF transcon in California and New Mexico, and I live in Seattle so don't really need a huge BNSF day. I'd rather get to the UP Overland Route with some time to spare, plus allow for anything along the way. Kyle? Other?

I still need to go back and review the thread to see what the advice was on getting to Grand Island. At this stage I'll probably choose a fairly short route (versus curcuitous) but haven't gotten that far yet.

Ok, that's where I'm at as of now. I'll touch base again and let you know how it's going.



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