El Mirage, Midnight 19 Aug 2007. Earlier in the day a KCS SD70ACe and Oakway SD60 brought a vehicle train down the Peavine to El Mirage. After dropping the autoracks, the units and three tank cars headed into Phoenix. Later that night I heard the KCS 4006 on the scanner at El Mirage preparing to pick up an outbound vehicle train. I headed out to see the power again and after a quick calculation I determined the train might make it to Hell Canyon Bridge after sunrise. I got on the cellphone and called my railfan friend Brian P. and asked him if he was game for a roadtrip to the mainline. I also informed him of the 4006 leading the train and he was sold on the trip but it would be an hour or so before he could meet me. I tanked up the truck, cleaned the windshield and picked up some ice and drinks for the trip.
Once back home I cleaned the truck out and prepped my gear. Brian arrived in due course and while driving out to Grand Avenue for the trip north, we heard another eastbound get a warrant from restricted limits. I told him it was probably the M-PHXBEL as I hadn't heard it depart yet during the evening. We decided to drive towards restricted limits and follow whatever train it was. As we approached Peoria Curve about 0115hrs, Brian saw the reflection on the railheads and said "there he is..." I turned around before the curve and pulled over, watching the train round the curve in my rear-view mirror. At 91st Avenue we pulled out onto Grand and began pacing the train. It had the BNSF 4843 on point, Oakway SD60 9065, BNSF 7670 followed by BNSF 4481. We were able to pace the train at 40-45mph for several miles...all the way to Bell Road...before we hit a red light. The detector at 173.0 sounded 220 axles...not a massive train but no slouch either. We caught back up to him shortly after the light at Bell turned Green but as he slowed for the double track at Beardsley we left him in the dust, needing to make up some time and get ahead of the KCS 4006.
Enroute to Wickenburg we heard the 4006 OS (On Station) the MP 124 (Congress) to the dispatcher. I'd heard on the scanner earlier he was going in the hole at Hillside (MP 100) for a meet with the westbound M-BELPHX. At this point we were a good 45 minutes or so behind the train but with the meet happening we'd have no problem getting ahead of the train. Our route through Yarnell to Kirkland (where we would re-aquire the Peavine) would take about an hour and having no idea where the BELPHX was, my thoughts for seeing that train were pessimistic. As we climbed route 89 to Yarnell the sky became saturated with stars and the summer Milky Way. I decided to pull over at a safe location and just take in the 2am summer sky. Brian and I got out of the truck and stretched out legs and marvelled at the amount of stars visible this far from the light polluted Phoenix metro area. From this location we could also clearly pick up the BNSF on the scanner and we even heard the Arizona & California dispatcher talking to one of their GP38-2s (3892 or 3894, we couldn't decided what was the last digit we heard.)
Looking south towards Matthie, we quickly found the headlights of the BNSF 4843. He had just OS'd the MP 130 to the dispatcher and his apparent location in the distant blackness matched. Brian thought he could pick out the sound of the locomotives working out in the distance and I don't doubt it. I may have heard it briefly myself but I can't be certain. After a few minutes of stargazing we hit the road again, making good time through Yarnell and finally arriving at Kirkland a little while later. Just after we arrived at Kirkland the scanner came to life again and we heard the BNSF 7779 give back his warrant from Ash Fork to Skull Valley. Bonanza! We might just see this W/B after all!
Skull Valley is located just a few miles east of Kirkland but the line winds through a canyon and we couldn't discern any obvious sounds of an approaching train. We were beginning to think the train might have already passed Kirkland before we arrived and was heading up towards Grand View towards the meet at Hillside. On occasion, crews don't immediately give back their warrants...sometimes it happens miles down the track from the actual location. As such, it is possible to not get an entirely accurate "fix" on a trains' location. However, this was not hte case tonight as before long we could make out the brightening glow of headlights behind the edge of the mountainside. Within a couple of minutes, the BNSF 7779, BNSF 4595, Oakway (yes, another Oakway!) 9099, and BNSF 4420 leading the M-BELPHX blasted through Kirkland.
Not in any particular hurry to continue our trek north, we agreed to go to Hillside (12 or so miles west) and watch the meet take place. Shortly, the high water detector at MP 88.8 sounded giving the train clearance to proceed. After a couple more minutes the hot-box detector at 88.9 indicated just 128 axles on the BELPHX. Certainly not the longest manifest train on the Peavine and he'd have no problem making the climb out of Kirkland through Bells Canyon up to Grand View and thence to Hillside. The highway to Hillside is an easy drive from Kirkland...certainly smoother than the 20 miles of dirt called Date Creek Road between Congress and Hillside. We arrived at Hillside and found the one grade crossing that is located in the middle of the passing track. From here we could watch both trains. To our right we saw the KCS 4006 and heard on the scanner he was just starting into the siding track. To our left we could see the BNSF 7779 moving through the darkness. He'd made good time up the grade and was quickly approaching the east end of Hillside. Soon, the 4006 was safely in "the hole" with the switch lined back for mainline movement. The 7779 soon arrived and rolled past us. I snapped a couple of photos in the dark, the high-beam headlights from my truck providing additional illumination of the train. After the 7779 was safely by Hillside, the 4843 received permission to shove back out of the siding and proceed east and we decided to wait for him to make the move and roll past us.
The M-BELPHX rolls by at Hillside
The V-PHXKCK rolls by at Hillside
Now the chase was on again. We'd have to make good time to stay ahead of the vehicle train but we were in good shape. Our next goal was to navigate through the outskirts of Prescott and up to the bridge at Hell Canyon before he arrived and after the sun popped over the horizon. Our trip was uneventful through Kirkland, Skull Valley, and Prescott and the eastern sky steadily lightened ahead of the rising sun. Brian has never explored much of this part of the Peavine so I took the opportunity to stop at the Abra siding for Brian's sake. Abra is located on high ground and we heard the dispatcher say the 4006 had cleared the MP 41...about 13 miles from Abra. We soon spotted the train in the distance on the valley floor to the west of us. We had time to get to Hell Canyon but with little more time to spare so we hit the road again. As we approached the exit for Perkinsville I pointed out the bridge to Brian...he didn't know it was visible from highway 89. Soon we were crossing the tracks at Drake and we parked a short distance from the eastern (geo north) approach to the bridge. From here, it is just a short walk (100 yards or so) to the canyon edge with its' panoramic view of Hell Canyon and the bridge proper. We could hear the train approaching from the south and we only had to wait a few minutes before the KCS 4006 and company crossed the bridge at 0605 local time. The sun had just risen so the train was barely illuminated as it crossed the bridge. Wanting to see the train again at the Little Hell Canyon Bridge, we didn't wait around long to hit the road again.
The V-PHXKCK crosses the Hell Canyon Bridge at 0605hrs.
The V-PHXKCK crosses the Little Hell Canyon Bridge a few minutes later.
Little Hell Canyon is just a few miles north of Drake and the railroad bridge is quite close to the highway. We parked on the shoulder and waited for the train. Unfortunately for me, some low clouds were starting to obscure the sun and by the time the train arrived the tracks were in complete shadow. I still snapped a couple of photos for posteritey then we jumped back in the truck for the drive to Ash Fork. Just before Ash Fork a public road to the west leads to the location of a cinder pit at the location formerly known on the railroad as Cruice. We turned off to check it out since Brian had never seen the pit and besides, we could see the train again. The clouds were still flirting with the sun but I snapped a couple of photos anyway. From here, it would be a race to meet the train at Ash Fork proper, just 4 railroad miles away. We arrived at the east end of the yard and in short order the KCS 4006 was rounding the bend at the west end. We parked on the north side so we could just sit and watch the train roll by. As the train approached I took the opportunity to photograph the remnants of the former short double-track bridge across a small wash. Before the Crookton Line Change, Ash Fork was on the double-track transcontinental mainline and this bridge is just one small reminder of that fact. I snapped a couple photos of the train on approach and we finally took the opportunity to just sit and watch it roll by.
The V-PHXKCK approaches the east end of Ash Fork at Milepost 401.
The V-PHXKCK crosses the remnants of the double-track bridge across a small wash at the east end of Ash Fork.
The remnants of the double-track bridge across a small wash at the east end of Ash Fork.
Up to now I'd toyed with the idea of doubling back to catch the M-PHXBEL that'd we'd paced on our departure from El Mirage. However, my original goal included watching the KCS 4006 join the mainline at Williams Junction so we abandoned the manifest and headed to Williams. We'd have no problem beating the 4006 to Williams due to the track profile and speed restrictions on the Peavine. From Ash Fork, Williams is just a 20-minute drive east on I-40. By now we were ready for breakfast so after checking out the Grand Canyon Railway, we grabbed a bite to eat. Very soon we were sitting next to the BNSF mainline at West Williams Junction, ready for some heavy freight action. We didn't have to wait long for our first train as a westbound double stack train rolled by. The occasional chatter from the scanner kept us informed of what was going on and it soon became evident both of the Phoenix trains were going to get new crews at Williams. As it turned out, there was some confusion and the KCS 4006 was tied down and that crew would join the M-PHXBEL in Williams for a ride to Bellemont to pick up their van ride. After a few more mainline trains we heard the power switch line the Peavine for the mainline, indicating the M-PHXBEL would soon arrive. The clouds had started to dissipate but some lingering puff balls were casting the occasional shadow on the tracks. Personally, from our particular vantage point, I really enjoy the view of the Peavine trackage diverging away from the main and disappearing, seemingly, into the forest. When the morning summer sun is shining, the prospect of photographing a well-lit train coming off the Peavine is quite pleasing. This particular location is well suited to that combination of morning sun, morning train, and me being there, but only during the summer months when the sun rises north of the mainline. During the times of the year when the sun rises more to the south of the mainline, this photo doesn't quite look the same, and it's more difficult to obtain, for various reasons. One reason is the weather and the several hour drive from Phoenix. Another reason is having a train depart Phoenix at the right time of the night that it arrives after the sun rises. Third is again the weather and the potential for muddy dirt roads leading to this spot and the associated mess that creates.
The M-PHXBEL descends down the Peavine at West Williams Junction...she'll be on the Seligman Sub in a few seconds.
Brian and I decided to head home after about a dozen trains. We were both kind of tired and since it was a spur-of-the-moment, last minute trip, we were content with what we'd seen so far. Seeing the M-PHXBEL come off the Peavine was pretty cool and the mainline traffic was entertaining, but it was clear the KCS 4006 was probably rusting to the rails in Williams with no indication of a crew arriving to take it east. We headed back through Williams to locate the train and get a couple more shots of it. We found the train a mile or so west of the depot so I grabbed a couple shots of it. From there it was back to Ash Fork via I-40 and the trip south towards home. En route I decided to show Brian Kayfour, which is just a few miles west of Abra and where highway 89 passes under the Peavine. I'd found Kayfour a couple years ago but didn't remember the dirt road being as bumpy as it was this time around. The siding is rather short and not used for much of anything these days but it's still cool to check out some of the more obscure locations on the Peavine. From there we headed down to Chino Valley for gas (it was $3.49 a gallon in Williams!!!) before taking the railfan route out of Prescott to Skull Valley. Brian hadn't seen Skull Valley recently in the daylight so we took the opportunity to stop and check out what we could find of the old alignment. At the north end of town and parallel to the east side of the Peavine, a dirt road leads north to some residences for at least a mile or so and ends at a gate. On satellite images (Google Earth, Windows Local Live, etc) this road is obviously the old track alignment that leads to Prescott. I snapped a couple photos for posteriety and we were soon back on the road heading for home.