Rich Mountain and Vandervoort – 30 October 2005

by admin on 2015/10/30

This is Day 3 of Jimbaux’s three-day series of a fall 2005 weekend in and near the Ouachita Mountains, the primary subject of which is the mountain railroading on the Kansas City Southern Railway before the SD70ACes and subsequent locomotive models arrived on the property, meaning that most manifest trains still had spartan-cab power.

Day 1, not really in the Ouachita Mountains, included some scenes from the trip to the mountains, showing action on the Kiamichi Railroad and a parked KCS ballast train at Vandervoort; Day 2 shows some real KCS mountain action, with trains at Page, Stapp, Howard, and Rich Mountain.

A Crescendo To a Glorious Weekend

The morning of Sunday 30 October 2005 started early and well just like the previous morning; ’twas our last day on Rich Mountain, as I had a long, lonely ride to make this afternoon and evening.

After TS and I had checked out of our room in Poteau, we made our way to Heavener in darkness, just as we had done the day before.

TS writes:

Driving by Heavener Yard, we noticed a southbound H-train parked at the yard office preparing to depart.  First he would have to wait for a coal empty out of Page.  We went back to the Downtown Café for another good breakfast to kick off our day.


Just after we got out of breakfast, the northbound empty coal train on which the H-train had been waiting entered the yard at 06:46.

This is the C-SHKC, a Texas Utilities train coming from the Texas Utilities coal-fired power plant at Martin Lake, Texas, and, below, we see the rear-end pushers.

Well, that is okay, but I think that, despite our general propensity for indecisiveness, as the H-KCSH leaves the yard at 06:56, we know what our next move will be.

TS writes:

As the coal empty cleared the single-track at the south end, a signal lit up green for the H-train to begin his journey southward.  It was getting light by now, though still very dreary and drizzly—not the kind of weather one hopes for on Rich Mountain.

That’s funny.  Over the course of the next couple of years, both TS and I would come to love cloudy weather on Rich Mountain.  Both of us being flatlanders, we were unaccustomed to how much better gray-day photography was when you don’t have to deal with the sky behind your subject – the sky being brighter than your subject.  With clouds in mountains, you can do some really neat things with a camera, much more easily with digital than with film, and this trip seemed to plant in my ind the seeds of this understanding, to be harvested when I would return here in February.

As we approached Page, TS pulled over at Blue Cut, but I can’t remember if I did too.  I don’t know if he intended to photograph the train at Blue Cut, but, inspired by what I did at Blue Cut the previous morning, demonstrating the utility of maple leaves when you don’t bring toilet paper with you, he did the same thing.  One thing that I do remember (that is not in his trip report) is that after he finished his business, he reported to me his error of deciding on a location too close to the track to do such business.  Apparently, the crew on that day’s H-KCSH came close to having a bizarre sighting from the cab, and TS was saved from that embarrassment from a crew with a conductor whom he happened to know.

Oh, well.

Anyway, we are at Page, or thereabout.

This place is really neat, even under cloudy skies.

If you discount the prior three pictures as not being real action pictures, then the action of today starts very similar to the action of yesterday, with a northbound ballast train parked short of the road crossing at Page.

The first two of those three locomotives were the power for the ballast train that I saw and photographed parked in Vandervoort on Friday.

Here comes our H-train, and it looks about as good as H-trains of that time looked.

At this juncture in the story, some explanation of what the H-train is is warranted.  The H-KCSH and H-SHKC trains operate between Shreveport and Kansas City, and the “H” prefix stands for “haulage.”  Basically, the train is a “superlocal,” making all (perhaps with some exceptions that I do not know) carload setouts and pickups between Shreveport and Kansas City; so, the H-KCSH that leaves Kansas City will have all different cars by the time that it arrives in Shreveport, meaning that practically any carload shipment that originates or terminates on the KCS between Kansas City and Shreveport will move on the H-train.

As such, the H-trains educate us about this part of the world, since they carry the products produced by this land and its people; I like local trains for many reasons, and this is one of them, but I especially like that in the case of the H-train, it means these neat cars like woodchip hopper cars and pulpwood cars, plus rock hoppers, boxcars, and centerbeam flat cars carrying lumber.

Looking in the other direction now, we see the tail end of the H-train pass the ballast train as one of the trainmen reboards the train.

And, now, below, you might get a sense of what I mean about how clouds in a mountainous setting can make photographs better, especially considering that we are looking east not long after sunrise.

How is that?  I am pleased, even if, at the time, I would have preferred that there were no clouds in the sky.

Now, it’s time to chase our H-train up the mountain and to leave the state of Oklahoma behind for this trip.

I was next able to get ahead of the train at Howard, and I decided to climb a tree in a ditch to get what was a negligible amount of elevation for an anyway lame image.

Worse, though I did not realize it at the time, I did something that was dumb in a costly way; since I did not realize my error at the time, since not realizing the error was the error, and since, upon realizing the error, I’d have to forego a train, I shall wait to explain the error until I get to the point in the story in which I became aware of it.

Now, we proceed on to Casey’s Spot.

This, below, is just classic KCS railroading on Rich Mountain!

It doesn’t look quite like that anymore, sadly, but, hey, that’s progress, or something.

Here we are at Rich Mountain.

Anyone who has had the fortune to have been here knows that a train climbing Rich Mountain is not just something that you see or witness; it’s something that you experience.  You hear, for several minutes, the sounds of engines screaming in the distance; you hear the horn blown, echoing through the valley; you hear all of this before you see it.

The crest of the grade past, the train now rides down the mountain, seen below at Acorn.

Not long after this picture, as the other foamers continued to chase this train, and as I intended to do the same, I became aware that something just was not right.  There are some spots in the mountains where radio reception is difficult, meaning that for a foamer with a scanner, not being able to hear transmissions in some places is not unusual.  However, something was just not right; my radio had been very quiet for awhile – or so it seemed.

Whether or not I reached for the radio to check, the upsetting realization soon hit me that my radio was on the other side of the mountain at Howard; dammit!

See, when I did my useless tree-climbing for the lame shots of the H-train at Howard, my radio had fallen out of my jacket pocket into the ditch below.  Since I was already up in the tree, and since I’d come down as soon as the train passed, I figured that I’d just wait until then to grab the scanner.  The one little problem with this plan is that in the time between dropping the scanner and the train passing, and in my rush to get out of there once it passed so that I could get to the next shot, I simply forgot that the scanner had fallen.

So, here I am somewhere around or south of Acorn, and now I have to let this neat H-train go, turn around, drive back over the mountain, and go retrieve my scanner in a ditch 20-30 miles away; dammit!  Worse, with cellular reception bad in the area, and with me not wanting to waste any time anyway, I did not alert TS of why I – for the second consecutive day, and now for a very different reason – disappeared from a chase of a neat train.

Once I finally returned to Howard, I had trouble finding the scanner in the ditch; it had either slipped under or was camouflaged by a bunch of wet leaves, and, as I recall, I found it only after it made a transmission that allowed me to narrow down its location.

Having recovered my scanner, I now headed back up the mountain, doing the “paying for the same real estate twice” that General Patton hated so much.

At Rich Mountain, I intercepted the northbound H-train – which, according to TS’s trip report, met at Potter our southbound that we had chased all morning – and got a couple of different and not-so-remarkable images of it.

Gosh, I miss power sets like those!

That is one reason why model railroading is appealing.

I must have eaten somewhere – probably in Mena – some time between this shot and the next, but the next thing that anyone knew, I was in Vandervoort, and I imagine that by the time that I got there, I had given up on seeing any other human beings I knew on this trip; I’m guessing that cellular service must have still been bad, seeing how TS and I were not thus in communication.

I went to Vandervoort.  Apparently, I knew nothing anymore about area trains, having been unable to pick up anything on the scanner.  I gave up and left Vandervoort, but my memory from that long ago is too foggy to remember what my intentions were when I got to the stop sign at the highway; I don’t know if I intended to go north for whatever reason, or to go south, working my way home, resigned to the fact that I needed to get there.

Whatever my intentions were, they were cast aside by some magical coincidence.  Just as I was at the stop sign, there comes TS.  He had chased the H-KCSH all the way to Vandervoort and then gone on to Wickes only to realize that he had photographed that train plenty enough for the day.  (I can only guess that I’d have done the same had I not dropped by scanner.)  As he would inform me once we got out of our respective vehicles and began to chat, he had, in the process of making his Wickes foray, learned that three northbound trains were on the way.  Well, then!  I think that I shall stay afterall.  Also, given that we both knew that Vandervoort was the best place to shoot northbound trains this time of day in late October, I knew that, even though I might get some decent shots somewhere else after I left here, this is where I’d make my final stand for this day and for this trip; actually, yes, I would get two trains at two locations south of here after I left, but they were lagniappe, not really great.

TS writes:

Surprised to see each other, we turned around and I alerted him of the news that three northbounds would be coming soon.  His radio apparently didn’t pick up those transmissions.  We drove into Vandervoort to set up our shots and discuss our day after splitting up at Page.

It was a nice afternoon in downtown Vandervoort, Arkansas.  Not much was happening on this quiet Sunday afternoon.  The trees danced to a slight breeze, the birds sang, the sky was blue, the dogs rested in the shade, and a couple of dorks waited, staring impatiently down the tracks for the arrival of the first northbound.  Eventually, the horns were heard down at Hatton and we took our posts for the runby.

Yes; apparently, TS came to know what we came to call the “Vandy Dogs” too.

At 13:05, the first train passed.

This was the G-BMKC (Grain – Beaumont, Tx., to Kansas City, Mo.) with an interesting power set.

Anyone who knows the story of why Montana Rail Link power was so common on the KCS at the time, please remind me in the comments section.

Those TFM SD70MACs were an oddity to me at the time.

I was unimpressed with this ground-level shot, and I noticed that there was a solution right next to us.

Are you thinking what I am thinking?

Before I act upon my thoughts, though, there is some business that I need to complete.

TS writes:

After making good use of his empty Braum’s bag, James climbed the big tree next to the tracks, for a more elevated view of the second and third trains.  Apparently the top of his Explorer was not high enough.  I was quite fascinated by his chimpanzee-like abilities.

I try.

The sun was out – for now.  I had to clear out some branches.

TS writes:

Air horns through Hatton signaled the approach of the second northbound.  I took my post at the grade crossing while James remained perched at the treetop.  A series of thin clouds began racing across the sky, and dulled the appearance of the MBMKC as it proceeded through Vandervoort.

Damned clouds!

Well, if it’s going to be cloudy at least we need to get high enough so that we can get the sky away from the train, which is much more difficult to do now that we are down from the mountain.

I like lumber, and I like these old Santa Fe open-top hopper cars.

Well, isn’t this special.

I suppose that I stayed in the tree for the entire time between these two trains, as the next one came 19 minutes later.

This was the M-NOKC; so, it came from close to home.

This is it, mes amis; this is the last decent train that we’ll see on this trip, as the days of spartan-cab domination of KCS manifest trains will soon end too.

Note the intermodal stuff at the end of this train.

I thought that Katrina had ended KCS’s intermodal operations out of New Orleans; so, what were these containers doing at the end of this train?

The fun hour-and-a-half show here at Vandervoort had come to an end, and so ends our time at Vandervoort.  Even though I’d photograph two more trains, this is where the trip basically ends for me, as I have to say goodbye to one of my best friends and start (or continue, since I’m already a good way south of Rich Mountain) on the long, lonely road home; TS and I parted ways, as he headed back north, and I headed south.

Forty-two minutes later, I am in Gillham, where I get a lame shot of this northbound empty coal train.

That’s the C-WEKC, coming from Welsh, Texas, on its way to Kansas City and interchange with the Union Pacific Railroad; TS would photograph this train at Page.

Eighty-one minutes after my Gillham picture, I am in Ashdown; the light is fading fast, and I am getting my last pictures of this trip in the form of action on the Kiamichi Railroad, which is appropriate considering that this is how we started two days ago.

This is it, folks.

Okay, the lights are out, but I am not even in Louisiana yet, and once I do cross the border into my home state, I have about six hours of driving in the darkness before I reach home.

To whatever degree it is your place to decide, was this a successful trip?

I am pleased, and I am glad that I did it in that time before the KCS irrevocably changed; just one year later, 30 SD70ACes had arrived, as had some junky EMLX locomotives still in Union Pacific yellow, displacing the old spartan cab power from their mainline assignments, and leading to the retirement of many of them.  So, what you saw in these images was near the end of an era.

Also, for me, it was my last out-of-state venture in a year in which I traveled plenty.  I believe that I left the state every month that year from either January or February until this trip at the end of October.  I went to Washington, DC, Virginia, Maryland, and Pennsylvania with the Close-Up program in January-February, to DC, Maryland, Delaware, and Virginia, on a spring-break trip with a friend in March-April, taking the Crescent there, then to coastal Mississippi in May just to keep the silly streak alive, followed by the KCSHS convention in Sallisaw, Oklahoma, in June, followed in July by my New England, New Brunswick, and Michigan, partially-work-related trip, followed by my hurrication to California in September, and now this Rich Mountain trip.  Too much?  Yes, but I was young, energetic, and dumb.

Anyway, thanks for checking out the pictures.


{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Steve Boyko October 30, 2015 at 08:31

Nice collection of photos – love the 5 unit KCS / MRL consist. Good for you for climbing that tree – it sure made a difference in the photos.


2 Michael Roth October 31, 2015 at 09:33

This was a great trip, its so nice how everything is explained . Just like being there. Good Job there.


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