On the Wrong Side of the Tracks

I made a swing up to Cape Rock to check out the river level and the huge sandbar hugging the Illinois banks. After taking a couple of shots, I pulled into the small park at the bottom of The Rock to get a different angle. You can click on the photos to make them larger.

Tracks were open

The BNSF tracks were clear to the south. As soon as I crossed the main line and siding and looked north, I spotted the sunken barges I posted on October 21.

Where’d that train come from?

I spent about 45 minutes shooting the barges, then turned to see a long freight blocking my path back to the parking lot. This young fisherman was stuck on the wrong side of the tracks, too. Since these cars were parked on the siding, I thought maybe they were making way for a faster freight on the main line. Since most local trains aren’t that long, I decided to start walking south to see if I could get around it.

This one one of those situations where Plans A, B and C all involved swimming: I had the Mississippi River to my east; if the train extended south to Red Star, I was going to run into Sloan Creek; if it went too far north, there was Juden Creek to contend with.

Does this thing have an end?

About a quarter mile down the tracks, I ran into two fishermen walking north. “How far does this thing stretch to the south?” I asked.

“A long way,” one replied.

“Well, the head end of it is out of sight at Cape Rock, so I’m going to keep walking south.”

Way off in the distance, I could hear a train horn. Probably blowing at the crossings in town, I thought. Shouldn’t be too long before it passes, then the train on the siding will pull out, I was hoping. The clouds were building up, the wind was getting stronger and all I was wearing was a light long-sleeve shirt covered with a wool vest I had picked up for twelve bucks off a remaindered rack at Monteagle Pass.

Walking on railroad ballast is no fun, but I didn’t have much choice: there had been a rain recently that made the non-gravel areas full of soft mud. Adding to my distress was the audio book I had been listening to on the trip: Stephen King’s The Long Walk. I kept fearing that if my pace dropped below four miles an hour that someone would terminate me.

A little beyond this point, I ran across a bunch of bones on and around the track. They were too big to be a dog and they weren’t human, so I assumed that a deer picked a bad time to cross the tracks. I picked up a clean piece of vertebrae as a souvenir for Brother Mark.

Here comes the local

It was taking a long, long time for the northbound train to get here for all the whistling it was doing. When it pulled into sight, it had two power units, which meant that it was probably the local freight I shot back in April 2010.

Caboose confirmed it

When the caboose passed, I knew it was the local, probably headed to Proctor & Gamble to drop cars. I decided I’d start walking north again, figuring that once the local passed the stopped freight, it would pull out of the siding.

Getting ready for crew change

Then, the local started backing up and conductor Randy Graviett popped out of the caboose. He explained that they needed to do a crew change. They were going to back the train up far enough he could hop on the engine and go up north of Cape Rock to pick up a new crew. He said the train on the siding was being held up until a dispatcher in Texas told it to proceed.

Delay let me shoot Dredge Potter

By the time I made it north to the parking lot across from Cape Rock, the freight on the siding had pulled out. That was the good news. The bad news was that the local was blocking my path north and south as far as I could see. While I was waiting for the train to move, I spotted the Dredge Potter and her pushboat, The Prairie Du Rocher headed upriver. Not a bad day when you can shoot three stories in a three hours.

I was beginning to get chilly, so I decided to see how far north the local stretched. I finally came upon the head end about half-way to Twin Trees Park. Once I got back on the road, I started counting train cars. I can’t remember now if it was 29 or 39 cars back to the parking lot. I’m going to guess my total walking for the afternoon was about four or five miles on railroad ballast.


Barges Sink Off Cape Rock

The parking lot at the foot of Cape Rock had more cars than usual. They were checking out two barges that had run aground and sunk right in front of the water intake structure north of Cape Rock. One, loaded with rock, grounded parallel to the bank. One that was either empty or had dumped its load was sticking out in the river with a floating drum marking its stern.

Low water causing problems

I searched the paper and TV station websites for information about the barges, but came up dry. Someone at the scene said a southbound tow with 25 barges didn’t get set up right for the turn and ran aground, dropping these two and sending others drifting downstream where they had to be caught.

I was also told that 20 was the maximum string under these conditions, but I couldn’t confirm that. I thought doing a search for Coast Guard Upper Mississippi notice to mariners would give me everything I needed to know, but navigating the river on a dark, stormy night would be easier than trying to find that information.

My barge quest put me onto another adventure that you’ll hear about later.

Sunken barge photo gallery

Here are some other photos of the scene, including some rocks that are normally under water. Click on any photo to make it larger, then click on the left or right side of the image to move through the gallery.

Another Full Moon

When you’re shooting your second full moon of a visit, it’s probably time to start packing your bags. The moon phase ap on my Droid showed that the orb was 97% full last night, so I told Mother we better be ready to saddle up to shoot it tonight.

We pulled in to the parking lot at the base of Cape Rock to find eight or ten cars getting ready for the free entertainment. Just about that time, a long, long, long southbound freight rolled by in front of us. It kept coming and coming and coming, slowing all the time. Finally, with the last three empty hopper cars and a pusher engine blocking our view, it stopped. Dead, put-a-penny-on-the-tracks stopped.

We decided to go to the top of Cape Rock, but feared that it would be parked solid. To our surprise, there was only one car parked there, and it moved on, leaving us some prime real estate to watch.

While I was setting up my tripod, a guy on a bike rolled up. We did all the ritual chicken dances that people with similar interests do and got so involved that I didn’t pay much attention to the horizon. I’d look over my shoulder from time to time and think, “Nope, not yet.”

Well, I had misjudged where the thing was going to come up. On one of my shoulder checks, I looked a little more to the south and did one of those, “Whoa! Where did THAT come from?” Of course, I pretended that I had been patiently WAITING for the moon to get 10 degrees out of the water before shooting.

I shot a few frames with the longer lens on my video camera, but I like this one better because it shows how low the river is now. That’s one BIG sandbox down there. The river’s about three feet lower than it was when I shot the little picture above from Cape Rock last fall.

Checked out the casino

When some clouds covered the moon, we headed toward town. I thought maybe there would be some night working going on at the casino, but it didn’t look interesting. I opted not to try for a moon shot from the floodwall and the bridge because I had done those before. I decided to see what the view was like from the Common Pleas Courthouse.

When I came around the corner, the two women going down the steps were standing shoulder to shoulder trying to get a moon photo with their camera phones. I didn’t have the heart to tell them that the puny little flashes built into those cameras weren’t going to do much good at lighting up downtown OR the moon. I didn’t do much better. It was already pretty small in the sky by now.

This view down Themis Street is pretty similar to the one I shot in March of  2010.

I may try this angle for my next full moon shot, but it had better not be taken on THIS trip..