Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Arkansas – Rocket Motor Train And More – 24 June 2007

by admin on 2017/06/24

You thought that yesterday’s photo essay was ridiculously long?  Well, today’s is just as long, but it, depending upon your tastes, it’s probably better than yesterday’s!

The convention has ended, yesterday’s convention events were fun, it’s time to go home, and, on the morning of Sunday 24 June 2007, it is time to start moving southward; however, the first pictures of the morning are from about a dozen miles northnorthwest of Pittsburg at a Kansas City Southern Railway siding known as Mulberry, and that is the northernmost point photographed on this trip.


Three-Train Meet

I hate it when railroad enthusiasts say “three-way meet” to describe the meeting of three trains that are meeting at one siding on an otherwise single-track mainline with no nearby junctions; no, there are only two ways there, with two of the trains moving one of the ways, and what you saw is best described as a three-train meet.

So, here, we have a three-train meet in the first of four US states in which you will see railroad activity today.

That is the rear-end DPU locomotive on a northbound empty coal train.  This is Mulberry siding, just east of the town of Mulberry, Kansas, but the siding is actually in the state of Missouri, part of the smaller community of Burgess, and, at left, comes a southbound loaded coal train, one that you will see plenty today.

Three coal trains, one southbound loaded coal train and two northbound empty coal trains, were meeting here this morning, and these first couple of views are facing north, with a southbound loaded coal train at left.

Here comes the second northbound train.

And, now, it meets the southbound train that is there at the crossing, with the DPU locomotive of the first northbound train barely visible in the distance.

And here is the rear-end DPU on this second northbound train.

And, now, our southbound loaded coal train begins its move toward Pittsburg.

Mulberry is the last siding before Pittsburg (or the first siding after Pittsburg); here is the rear-end DPU.

You’ll see more of this train!


One More Hour In The Great City Of Pittsburg

Here it is a few miles and 21 minutes later, coming into the yard.

Okay, let’s go to the yard.

Back At East 23rd Street

Here at the yard is our train, and the locomotive that will be added to the front end.

That’s nice, and here’s the view in the other direction.

The front-end locomotives of our coal train are coming off so that another locomotive can be added to the front end.

Let’s take a look at the roundhouse tracks.

The tracks are still there, but the roundhouse is gone.

Now, the TFM 1654 – I like TFM SD70MACs – has been added to the front-end power consist.

Here comes another northbound empty coal train.

There were a few other foamers out this morning, including Sir Ficus.

Typically, on the Sunday morning of the convention, after the convention has actually ended, many of the attendees do some local train-watching, train-chasing, and photography before dispersing their way back home, and that is what I, too, am doing.

He was surrendering!

Well, so long, Pittsburg.  It’s been real.  I’d be back slightly less than a year later.

Missouri, Again

There’s A Method To This Madness

Thirty-four minutes later, we have caught up with the train at Asbury, just back across the state line into Missouri, and, just like with Mulberry siding, the first siding after leaving Pittsburg.

I’m not sure if he met another train here, but I vaguely recall that he was decelerating or accelerating here.

The clock is pushing 10:00 CDT, meaning that we’re getting into high-sun time here, but we’ll get one more set of shots before putting the camera away for hours.  Here we are at the Spring River.

Note the added TFM locomotive.

Okay, now it’s time to head south to get toward Heavener quickly.



Hello, Heavener, my old friend!

Whoah, what is that that we see by the fuel racks!

See that boxcar with the hoops?


Hey!  Look at this!  Look at what is parked at the fuel racks!

It’s the rocket motor train!  Wow, how did this one slip by us in Pittsburg?  Given the timing, I guess that it came through Pittsburg in the middle of the night, but you can be damned sure that it would have been heavily chased had it come through during the convention weekend at daytime!

I need to explain the story of the rocket motor train.

The rocket motor train carried parts for rockets for NASA, including the solid rocket boosters for the space shuttle as well as other research rockets.  ATK Launch Systems, formerly known as Thiokol, made the rockets for NASA at a facility in Promontory, Utah.  From there, they were trucked in very large trucks to the nearest railroad dock at Corinne, Utah, on the Union Pacific Railroad.  The UP would then take the train from there to Kansas City where it was handed to the Kansas City Southern Railway.

Prior to Hurricane Katrina, the KCS would take this train from Kansas City to New Orleans, where it would hand the train to the CSX Railway.  After Katrina, however, the KCS sent the train east through Vicksburg to Meridian, Mississippi, where it sent it over the Meridian & Bigbee Railroad to connect with the CSX in Alabama.  The CSX would then hand the train to the Florida East Coast Railway, which would take it to Cape Canaveral for NASA.  However, a derailment took place less than two months before these pictures were taken, as the rocket motor train fell off of a bridge on the M&B.

Therefore, I’m not sure where this particular train went after it arrived in Shreveport.  It could have gone the old route through New Orleans as much of the regular freight was doing at the time, and it also could have been interchanged to the Norfolk Southern Railway in Meridian.

Here is the passenger car for the technicians who ride with the motors.

Yes, that is the Hialeah that I photographed a little bit less than a year before at Schriever.

Note the boxcar at the beginning of the train.

This boxcar functions as a clearance test car. The hooped arrangement of bars around it is meant to gauge height and width clearances, since the rocket motor cars are considered “high-wide” — that is, a height and-or width that is greater than the normal for railroad operations. The boxcar as it would be without the hoops is a normal sized freight car with the normal maximum width.

The idea is that if a car is to be damaged on this train on this routing, let it be an empty boxcar, rather than a car with high-value cargo.

Due to the delicacy (in many uses of the word) of the shipment, these rocket motors moved in dedicated trains.  The empty cars would often return to Utah in regular trains.

I’m not sure when these shipments started, but they ended three years after these images were made when NASA ended the space shuttle program.

In May 2010, Dane Carlisle got a picture of what appears to have been the last of these trains.

The original plan on this expedition was that I’d foam the area until dusk, spend the night in Heavener, and then foam my way south tomorrow, but due to the combination of being suddenly (more) pissed off for a very proximate reason and of my desire to chase this train as far south as I could until the sun set, I toyed seriously with the idea of foregoing the hotel room and just chasing this thing until the sun set.

What do I do?

Stay, Good Boy

Ultimately, I decided to spend the night.  It wasn’t clear when the rocket motor train would leave town, but there may have been a train parked ahead of it, which may have been what made me think that it was safe to go to the north a little bit and see what was there, which included this.

Well, that’s neat; you don’t see those things much anymore.

The other part of the calculation here is that the later that the rocket motor train leaves, the less sense it makes to say that I’m going to chase it until sunset and then continue all the way home.

Grinstein Green At The South Howe Hill

This would, as best as I can tell, be the only time that I’d photograph one of these Grinstein Green locomotives leading a train at the South Howe Hill.

Furthermore, with the possible exception of my first trip to the mountain with Shawn in February 2003, I don’t know that I photographed any Grinstein Green locomotives leading trains anywhere around here, especially not on a digital camera.

The vegetation here was getting bothersome, unlike when The Mid-City Marine and I were here in February.

That was fun, I guess.  Now what?  It’s possible that I returned to the yard to check on the location and status of the rocket motor train, but, 36 minutes after the above image was made, I was right back (or still) at the South Howe Hill.

The Fort Smith Dodger

Get ready for some repetitive shots!

Yes, here is the Fort Smith Dodger, one of the more interesting trains to be seen here, which I say simply because I like local trains with these kinds of locomotives and cars.

Let’s get wider, for some lessons in perspective.

How’s that?  Three views looking in basically the same direction (the optical axis did, however, turn slightly to the right for each image) from the same spot is what is there.

I like the profile view like that.

Okay, are you ready for nine car views?  No?  Well, that’s too bad!

What are those things carrying?  And to and from where would they be going?

I like boxcars, but you probably already knew that.

I like KCS boxcars, too.

I guess that these carry paper.

Hey, check out these Arkansas & Missouri Railroad boxcars!

And here we see a Meridian & Bigbee Railroad boxcar.

We’re seeing so many of KCS’s shortline and regional railroad connections here!

Well, finally, the end of this is close.

I’m not sure what happened next, but I imagine that I engaged in some food procurement of some sort.

The Rocket Motor Train Blasts Off!

More than two hours after I spotted it at the fuel racks, the rocket motor train takes off, and the first shot that you see of it here was made just a mile or so out of the yard.

As the train passed me, someone, presumably an official with ATK Launch Systems, leaned out of the window to get a picture of me.

I was a bit worried that with the delicate nature of this cargo that I’d get a visit from someone, but I guess these guys figured that a skinny, sweaty white boy with a Louisiana plate on his truck, and who is being very conspicuous about his picture-taking, probably doesn’t belong to Al-Qaeda. This guy probably has several pictures of photographers; perhaps part of his job is “security” to document onlookers along the way.  Of course, the leaders of our country would often encourage us to watch the shuttle launches on television; so, it’s only natural that people might be interested in the process behind which such a spectacle happens.

I wish that people would realize that the entire production chain of everything is an educationally wonderful entertaining spectacle.

I think that I mentioned something about liking boxcars.

I like Missouri Pacific Railroad boxcars!

Normally, you don’t need to exert much effort to get ahead of trains climbing the hill, but this short train, especially with three locomotives up front, was, appropriately, ‘flying’ up the hill, and, 34 minutes later, here it is at Page.

Why don’t more people like trains like we railroad enthusiasts do?

This is a religion, isn’t it?

Hey, look, I am again being photographed!

This is one of my favorite-ever going-away shots of a train, especially if you exclude Lockport Branch stuff.

What do you think?


What Am I Supposed to Say Here?  That This Is The Land Of Opportunity?

I’m just glad that I had the opportunity to photograph the rocket motor train once before it stopped running, and this was the only time that I ever photographed it, even though I’d see rocket motor cars parked in KCS’s New Orleans Yard.

These two images were made just across the state line into Arkansas, at a place called Howard.

This next view, four minutes later, is a little bit farther up the mountain, also at in Howard, still.

Next, another four minutes later, we are at Control Point North Rich Mountain, the northern end of the siding at Rich Mountain.

The crest of the grade is in the siding near the southern end of the siding.

We are 366 rail miles from Kansas City here.

Let’s see a cropped version of that image.

Well, this is interesting; there appears to be a unit gondola train northbound in the siding.

We’ll get one more shot of this train, 20 minutes later, at Dubya.

With all of the traffic lights in Mena, it’s tough to chase a train through town.  My albeit limited knowledge of the area south of here was sufficient enough to know that the shots there this time of day wouldn’t be good, that the nearest place that I might get a decent image was Vandervoort, and I don’t think that that was worth the drive.

Oklahoma, Again

Chase Is Done, Now Have Some Fun

I’m glad that I chased the rocket motor train, and I’m relieved for it to be done; 38 minutes later (that’s apparently how long it takes to drive from Dubya to Heavener), we’re back in Heavener, and here is the gondola train that was seen on the siding on Rich Mountain.

Twenty-six minutes later, we’re back at the South Howe Hill for the northbound H-train, which appears to be shuttling dodger power from being serviced in Heavener.

Compare the lighting in this picture to the lighting in the picture taken here three-and-a-half hours earlier.

Visible loads and cars like these are why I like the H-train.

And this train appears to be short, perhaps because it is Sunday.

The First Shall Be The Almost Last

In the final hour of light, let’s see a few scenes back in town, starting with a parked train at the fuel racks, and, hey, you look familiar.

There it is, again!  This is the train with which we started the day two and three states ago at Mulberry siding north of Pittsburg.

We have photographed this one train in three states today (and it spent plenty of time in a fourth state, Arkansas, before entering Oklahoma), and I’m not sure that I have ever done that before.  Also, the timeline here adds credence to my theory that the rocket motor train came through Pittsburg in the middle of the night.

Here, again, is our gondola train.

This train may have originated at the quarry at Hatton.

Now, our coal train from early this morning – C-KCWE going to Welsh, Texas – is on the move from the fuel racks, and it is our chance to get one action shot of him in the third state of the day.

And, now, on the other end of the yard, here, it passes the locomotives of our Fort Smith Dodger from earlier.

It all comes together, doesn’t it?  Had it not been so close to dusk, we could have chased this thing up the mountain and gotten shots of it in four states in one day, but, knowing that that was impossible, let’s stick here in town and get some more shots of this wonderfully lit dodger power.

A “dodger” is a KCSish way of saying a local train, as it is able to dodge the large road trains.

I love this place.

Well, that’s all for tonight.  Thank you.

I’ll see you tomorrow for some more pictures that, while good, will not be as great, neither in quantity (that’s a relief) nor in quality to today’s images.


{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Steve Boyko June 24, 2017 at 10:16

Wow – so many great trains and great photos! A+!

I really liked your rocket motor train chase in particular. Quite a catch! That shot with the stone milepost in the foreground is killer.


2 John Shine June 24, 2017 at 11:05

Great look back at the Gray KCS! Fantastic shots, with very interesting motive power variety. Thanks for sharing!


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