In my last post I mentioned blogging this time about a new program that helps organize photos three dimensionally. Well, June and July are my busiest months at work, which spills into my personal time, so needless to say I haven’t done all the research I would like before posting on such a topic. However, since it has been about a month, I figured I should post something and I’ve been itching to tell about a recent experience while train spotting.

While back in Fremont, Nebraska, for a wedding at the beginning of June I took a day to watch trains with my son in the morning, and then a friend in the afternoon (his bachelor’s party was later that evening). As my friend and I were standing on the Broad Street viaduct, which spans the Burlington Northern and Santa Fe tracks as well as the Union Pacific (plus the former Chicago and North Western) we got a little treat.

Now, train spotting the Burlington Northern and Santa Fe from the viaduct is always difficult, because you can only see the west half of the yard. The track then curves north and crosses the UP mainline before disappearing along the west edge of town. Since train horns in Fremont are as common as birds chirping, it is always difficult to see what tracks will have the next train if it is coming from the east. Well, we heard some horns and got ready. To the west there were headlights from an eastbound on the UP mainline (a double track that traverses the first transcontinental route from Council Bluffs, IA/Omaha, NE to Alameda, CA.) and we could soon see that it was stopping about a half mile out before the BNSF/UP diamond crossing.

Eastbound UP (center) waits for a clear before proceeding across the BNSF mainline diamond crossing (across middle from left to right)

Eastbound UP (center) waits for a clear signal before proceeding across the BNSF mainline diamond crossing (between the two road crossings going across middle from left to right)

The signal for westward UP trains was red (STOP). Since the busy UP route had trains stopped in both directions, this meant a BNSF was most likely coming to the diamond crossing. We waited, and waited. Soon the cascade green engines (2821 a GP39M & 2860 a GP39-2*) emerged from the north with three covered hoppers in front and a tanker in tow. It was obviously a switching job that was coming from the industries that BNSF serviced to the north of town.

They put the hoppers on the side track in front of Arp’s Red-E-Mix Concrete, connecting them with a string of others I and my son had spotted in front of the depot earlier in the day. Next, the engines backed up back onto the mainline, stopped, and the tanker was uncoupled from the back. The engines then pulled forward from the tanker. It took me a while to realize that gravity was now at work switching the tanker car.

There must be a small decline in grade going into the yard. As the engines pulled forward, they continued down the mainline instead of the siding, the tanker, still uncoupled, followed a safe distance behind slowly making its way forward. Once the engines cleared the switch it was flipped so the tanker wouldn’t follow the engines down the mainline, instead it rolled nicely into the siding where it met the string of hopper cars with a gentle bump and coupled together.

Tanker car uncoupled from the back of engines and giving way to gravity.

Tanker car uncoupled from the back of engines and giving way to gravity.

I know gravity is used for switching in many yards called “hump” yards, but I had never seen it in action. An added bonus was that it was used to solve what could be a railroader logic problem of switching. “How do you get a string of cars in order, when you have a push in front, and a car in the rear?” Answer: Use gravity.

The other question: why were the cars arranged in that manner? Well, I had a hunch, and checking it out on the map confirmed it. North of Fremont, along the BNSF mainline, there are a few industries: ag, cement, and oil. Each has a spur. The engines (coming from downtown) would have to pull forward into the oil siding, back out, and then while still in reverse (from the perspective of downtown that is), go down the mainline a little ways and connect to the hoppers at the ag industry. It would then go forward onto the mainline, and then reverse its way towards downtown.

Without doing a runaround on a passing track (which was not available as evidenced in the picture below by the refrigerator car and gondola sitting at the only other available switch) gravity was the simplest answer. I’m glad we were able to see it, it was certainly memorable.

Heading back to the depot (you can see the tanker at the end of the string of cars to the right)

Heading back to the depot (you can see the tanker at the end of the string of cars in the right)

Next time I do hope to talk about Photosynth and share some fantastic pictures and three dimensional scenes.

There are higher resolution photos of those used in this post at rrpics. I still have 300 pics of White Bear Lake to process, and about 200 of my trip to Fremont. Those should be up on rrpics by the end of the summer. I will make an announcement here when they are uploaded.

Also, I obtained the BNSF model numbers from a roster listing at

About Chad Leigh Kluck

Originally from Nebraska, I am a history and railroad enthusiast currently living near Saint Paul, Minnesota. I enjoy trains, photography, and nostalgic memories, as well as the history of transportation, agriculture, eateries, breweries, and railroad towns. More...

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