The Airplane Train
I had seen the occasional photo of trains carrying airplane bodies, but I didn’t really pay a whole lot of attention. Why would I? After all, those loads headed for the Pacific Northwest were not going to be passing through my area. Out of sight, out of mind, you could say.
So as I left the Motel 6 in North Platte, Nebraska, bound for Rapid City, South Dakota, loads for Boeing were among the furthest things from my mind. As I hit the road I wasn’t even thinking of doing any railfanning, even though I would be in the neighborhood of BNSF’s Sand Hills Subdivision. This was a travel day, after all. I had places to be and people to see along the way.
Being fairly technically savvy, I have a few extra gadgets installed in the car… okay, one of my friends says the dashboard looks like the bridge of the Starship Enterprise. An exaggeration, perhaps? Anyway, the GPS navigator wanted me to go north until nearly the South Dakota state line and then head west. As my grandmother used to say, hogwash. It was more direct to cut across Nebraska Highway 2 to Lakeview and turn north from there. Fringe benefit? Highway 2 parallels the Sand Hills Sub.
I crossed over the railroad and turned west on Highway 2, turning on the radio as I did. It would be silly to be driving along a busy mainline and NOT be listening in, after all. Within minutes of turning west, a hotbox detector went off. Within minutes of that, I was looking at the rear of an empty coal train I was catching up with. I was overtaking the train when the tracks passed below the highway and disappeared to the north. Continuing on a few miles I kept an eye to the north, looking for a shot of the empty coal train I was sure I was ahead of by now.
I blew by just what I was looking for; stopped the car and backed up. The hills along the highway opened up into a valley with the railroad along the far side. I grabbed my camera from the trunk, waved at a passing car, and settled in for a bit of a wait. The wait was a bit shorter than I expected, as within minutes I could hear the sound of General Electric diesels working upgrade.
“Those coal trains really move out here,” I thought to myself.
After a few moments a pair of diesels popped into view, but the odd looking loads immediately behind them indicated quite plainly that this was no empty coal train.
I got my shot and headed back to the car. Of all things, I expect a coal train and this oddball shows up!
I fired up the engine and headed off down the road, fully intending to keep going until I either saw a train coming the other way or made my turn north. A few miles later, however, the tracks came back alongside the highway.
“Oh, why not?” I thought to myself.
The next thing I knew, I was playing leapfrog with “The Airplane Train.”
The westbound train passes through the semi-desert hills that give the Sand Hills their name.
The Sand Hills live up to the moniker, with mile after mile of rolling hills and few trees in many locations.
The train splits the signals at milepost 228.74.
Small bodies of water and small creeks are scattered throughout the region, offering an oasis of green surrounded by brown.
The “Airplane Train” passes by some of the region’s four legged residents. Between the equine and bovine varieties, the four legged critters out number the two legged by a considerable margin.
As the “Airplane Train” recedes into the distance, an eastbound loaded coal train passes.
Much like U.S. 30 and the Union Pacific mainline to the south, Nebraska Highway 2 parallels the BNSF mile after mile across much of the state of Nebraska.
The train passes yet another oasis.
The “Airplane Train” splits another pair of signals. I paced the train another fifteen miles after this shot before turning north. By noon I was in Rushville on the now abandoned Chicago & Northwestern “Cowboy Line.”
Friends commented on how I had made good time.
Photos by Mary Rae McPherson.
Copyright 2010 – Mary Rae McPherson