Saturday, December 22, 2007

These Are A Few Of My Favourite Things

I know the title of this blog mentions "CenLA," that word standing for Central Louisiana, but one of my favourite places to spot is actually in a city two hours north--Monroe. At least it's central north. *S*

Monroe isn't the prettiest town in the state, nor is it the oldest. It's certainly not the biggest city around, but what it does have is trains, and as an added bonus it doesn't have the sort of traffic and crime and difficulties that can be found in, say, New Orleans. For all it's diminutive size (it feels about as big as Alexandria-Pineville, honestly) it's got a sizeable and busy KCS yard that leases a lot of rail time to folks like NS and BNSF and quite a few miles of UP tracks too. Add into the mix a surprising amount of storage facilities and industry shipping by rail and you've got a nice place to see lots of rolling stock.

Vulgar Wizard and I went there Friday to see what we could get into. The day promised very little, unfortunately. I can only assume the sun rose because we didn't actually SEE it until almost 3pm. The day was damp, foggy and cold, and all-together rather bleak. Undaunted (well okay, a little daunted) we pressed on. Our original goal was two-fold: 1) stop at the West Magenta KCS yard near US Hwy 165 and I-20 and 2) go visit the KCS swing bridge across the Ouichita River near Trenton St.

Imagine our surprise and then dismay to find that the swing span was wide open - open not to allow waterway traffic through but because repair work of some sort was happening on the span. Two barges as well as the incredibly dense fog swathing everything in grey cotton promised to damped our spirits. The lesson here, though, is not to give up and to forge forward and hope for the best. With that firmly in mind instead of a train I got--a crane.

Hey, at least it rhymes.

(You can see the other two photos in this set on my Flickr page.)

From there we roamed. Vulgar Wizard seemed to have a hankering to be driving rather than staying put in one place, and the cold and damp reinforced the wisdom of that decision with me. So, nice warm truck cab it was. I believe we were headed down Louisville, lead by my native guide VW when we got into a block that seemed to be mostly warehouses and storage facilities, nearing the 'bad' part of town when we rolled over a crossing. I automatically glanced out the passenger side window and saw nothing but a nest of old, weed-choked spurs leading to various warehouses and a few boxcars that I made note of to return to later if pickings were slim. VW, however, made a sort of giggle/snort/noise of excitement and suddenly we were screeching into a parking lot.

At my office we have one of those great big, super nice wall maps that is produced by the state itself. It's made of thick, heavy paper covered over with a sort of plastic coating and shows everything you could want to know about the state, including the railroads, their routes and their owners of record. Way up at the top of that map, close on the heels of Arkansas with lines extending into Arkansas and Mississippi is a meandering little short line called the AL&M.*

The Arkansas, Louisiana and Mississippi Railroad company is called a "short line" because their reach doesn't extend into the thousands of miles of track realm. On a map that seems to have every line marked "UP" or "KCS" it's nice to see another acronym. Being a trainspotter and this line being fairly close, naturally I've wondered about it. I wondered if it was owned by some big company, or if it kept it's own equipment, had it's own livery, that sort of thing. Being me I forgot about it completely on the one day I traveled into it's sphere of influence.

It took VW's sharp eyes to see the little pair of GP diesels, one clad in dark green and white livery, the other in orange and yellow parked on a spur beside a warehouse.

The first thing we did, of course, was to walk all around, oohing and aahing. VW spotted the bell and couldn't resist giving the clapper a good swing. The resulting peal sounded wonderfully loud in the cold air.

I spotted the build plate on the orange and yellow-liveried engine and marveled that a machine built by GM in 1964 could still be in such nice condition, and we looked at every little bit of those two machines that we could without getting off into the gumbo mud on the backside. As excited as I was and as cold and foggy and damp as it was it still didn't take me long to secure my camera with VW and climb that ladder. Ostensibly my reason for being there was to take some interesting photos of the engines, which I did, and which are on the Flickr set here. The other reason is because VW asked if I wanted some photos of me on the walkway.

Now, I'm not the sort of person who necessarily LIKES photos of myself. I don't see myself as being particularly photogenic but this was a fairly rare opportunity. Naturally, I took advantage, and she snapped the portrait.

It took an alert VW to catch a photo of me turning to visually pinpoint a distant air horn like a pointer spotting a partridge in the brush.

(The complete set of photos including the pair deadheading back through the yard can be seen on Flickr here.)

The rest of the day offered ample opportunity. We ended up camped right inside the KCS West Magenta yard and got to watch the operations there at great length. And we were rewarded almost immediately: not only did we get to watch a KCS-liveried EMD40-2 cut a consist of cars onto various spurs we were also treated to a massive mixed consist lead by NS 9603 (a DC9-CW) and a pair of resplendently decked out BNSF prime movers (a Dash 9-44CW and third in line was an ES44DC.)

(More photos from the West Magenta KCS yard can be seen here.)

This being Louisiana in winter the clouds and fog lifted as it was nearing time to head back, but undaunted we kept our eyes open and were amply rewarded: sitting on the line parallel to 165 was NS 9513 leading a rather shabby NS 8738.

We were of course required by Trainspotter Code to give chase, so we did, following her for the better part of the line and getting a few more photos along the way.

(A few more photos can be seen at the Flickr set here.)

All in all a very full day, rewarding and profitable as far as filling up an SD card in my camera goes. One of the things I like most about the West Magenta yard there in Monroe is that there's such a variety of liveries on it, from companies leasing rail time to companies trading back engine hours and miles. I've seen engines liveried in BNSF 'Warbonnet' paint, UP yellow and black, KCS grey and Retro Belle schemes, Conrail blue and NS black and white in the course of one day, not to mention a whole range of engine types and styles. I can only imagine what a full day of simply sitting on the I-20 overpass slope would bring.

* The AL&M is now operated by the G&W (Genesee & Wyoming,) whose website can be found here.

Also be sure to visit Vulgar Wizard's Flickr account to see HER views of these engines and more.

(some links are currently disabled until all photos are uploaded, sorted, stamped, filed, indexed, briefed, debriefed and numbered.)

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Blogger Jean said...

heh... that's a great photo of you up on the train. You look like a very happy little boy!

December 27, 2007 at 8:06 PM  
Blogger Vulgar Wizard said...

he ACTED like a very happy little boy as well, jean. trust me.

December 27, 2007 at 8:54 PM  
Blogger Vulgar Wizard said...

January 3, 2008 at 11:41 AM  

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