March 25, 2011

Roads and Rails

Tuesday afternoon in Kansas, we were loaded up and heading to Wyoming with fertilizer. People say that the mid-west states, the prairie states, are flat. No they aren't! In fact, most are far from flat! But Kansas! Kanas is absolutely flat as a board. OK, maybe a warped board. There are hills and dips here and there. But overall, its F.L.A.T! Which makes the gigantic elevators even more impressive looking!

And Kansas has lots of gigantic elevators. Even the dried up, boarded up little towns have large operating elevators.
We had loaded in Emit, Oklahoma, and en-route, for a few moments, we were in very close proximity to a brush fire. Emergency response crews were trying to shew spectators away, but fortunately traffic hadn't been stopped yet, so we were able to make it past and be on our way.

The smoke! Oh the smoke! It filled the air for miles and miles, as far as you can see! And you can see a LONG way out here!

On Wednesday morning, after driving all night, we were nearing our destination. Central Wyoming...not flat, but very dry!
6% is considered a pretty steep grade. This particular hill was a 9% grade! Kind of impressive!

We delivered just north of the hill in Riverton, WY. And then we had a 650 mile empty bounce to get done by morning for the next load. Just north of Riverton it seemed we were driving into a rock wall.

But what we were actually entering was the amazing 14 miles of the Wind River Canyon!

I found myself craning my neck to see the sky, as the canyon walls were so high.

We pulled off the highway to check on the trailer, and while Malcolm was doing some maintenance, me and the girls climbed over the guard rail and walked over to the edge to look down...
...on Wind River.

The breeze was a bit chilly, but the sun warmed me up. I found a soft spot of dried grass to sit on and soaked in the sound of the river, the wind, and the lack of traffic. The girls did their usual energetic snooping, occasionally straying just close enough to the edge to make me nervous.

The entire canyon is really narrow, forcing the river, the rails, and the road to share a small space. Looking north from our perch...
and looking south.
Can you see the train rails on one side and the roadway hanging over the river on the other?

Speaking of rails...

...that brings us to our destination in Montana. By 8:00 Thursday morning we were sitting in Pinnacle, MT. We had driven 650 miles empty, a long bounce for us, for a very important and very high paying load. Let me get off track here for a second to share that...

Recently the railroad has been conducting an advertising campaign trying to convince the public that if more businesses would ship by rail, there wouldn't be as many trucks crowding the road. Needless to say we were offended and feel that they are seriously misleading the public. I explained in this post

What does that have to do with loading in Montana? I'll tell you! We loaded in Pinnacle, MT, just on the southern edge of Glacier National Park, where 2 weeks ago a train derailed.(the previous link has a great shop ot the wreck from the air) Yep, a train, the 3rd to derail in Montana in a three day span if I understand correctly, derailed and dumped lumber, paper, grain, frozen turkeys and plastic pellets all over the ground in the national forest! And they called in the trucks to clean up their mess!

They also called in this company to man the work with their personnel and equipment, and I was really surprised to discover that apparently train derailments are common enough, that there is an entire company whose specialty is cleaning up derailments! Well, they also build track, BUT their other job is cleaning up, and they have a lot of expensive equipment to do the job, so it must happen frequently to justify their expenses!
I was trying to be discreet in my picture taking. Didn't want to tick off the BNSF reps, and didn't figure they'd want me taking pictures of their mistake. But I couldn't resist at least getting a few shots.
The cars had been drug down the track about a mile from the derailment, I guess so that track could be repaired and so that the product was more easily off loaded from the train cars to the truck.
We were getting a load of the plastic pellets. One cars cargo of plastic pellets was valued at $100,000. And one train car held about 4 truck trailers worth of product. They were using a gigantic vacuum to suck the pellets out of the train car and then dump them into our trailer.
this car was hauling some kind of sand, and there were sand and rock trucks from Havre waiting to load it.

The entire process took about 6 hours, and the entire time we were parked next to the track, a little too close for my comfort, as trains were still traveling through the area, at least 5 passing through while we were there loading.
It was a long 6 hours for us. I spent part of it catching up on sleep. But there wasn't any cell phone signal out there, so we were completely cut off. I hadn't realized how dependant we were on the phone and internet for entertainment when we're waiting.

I did get a chance to try out my new toy, a hot water heater that plugs into the cigarette lighter. I was skeptical, as I always am of these things, but pleasantly surprised when I actually got some pretty hot water out of it! We'll see how long it will hold up.
And so part of the time we were waiting, we enjoyed a cup of hot tea...
...and did a little bird watching.
a Stellers Jay. I know they are a jay, but I think they are so pretty!

Finally loaded, we hit the road for home, where we get to hang out till Sunday morning. The plastic pellets have to be in Illinois Monday morning. Originally surgical quality, the entire load of plastic pellets was downgraded to just animal grade plastic and will be melted down to make things like dog bowls or such items as would be used for animal care.

So...that's that. And I'm not going to get on my soap box, but I can't resist pointing out that...

...the trains can carry 250 trucks worth of product, but when a truck rolls over in the ditch, we only spill one trucks worth of product! So take that you deceiving railroad advertisers! And they may have told the newspaper that it was due to a snowslide, but the cleanup crew manager told Malcolm it was operator error! So you can't say you were not to blame!

As a last note: I have been playing with technology, something I fear I'll never master. But I'm learning and in the process, I've made a facebook page for my blog. If you look to the right, below the "Followers" section, there's a place to "like" me on facebook! Feel free to "like" me. I like being "liked!"


Anonymous said...

Wow now that makes for an interesting day. I always enjoy reading your blog. Great pictures as always. Hope you have a great weekend.

PS - If you ever have a chance to stop in BELLE FOURCHE you should check this out.


Dreaming said...

We've driven across Kansas more than a dozen times. I agree... it is flat and fairly uninteresting. One time we drove at night. There had been an ice storm and there were very few lights out there. That was very strange - and very boring!
But, I think southern Ohio is the flattest. But, it is only part of the state!

Awesome pictures of the train derailment. Interesting process to clean up the mess! Thanks for sharing.

Michaele said...

I just visited your blog after finding it on On The Way To Critter Farm. I was delighted to see photos from home. I recognized Beaver Rim right off. I am from Riverton and have traveled through Wind River Canyon hundreds of times over the years.
I am in Nebraska now and don't get back to WY much anymore. Thanks for the pictures and story.

Shirley said...

It seems to be a little strange that the company who builds the rails also cleans up the derailments... kinda a conflict of interest....just sayin'...
My husband worked for a company last year that cleaned up derailments. His job was to cut the boxcars up so they could be hauled away for scrap. He'd make the cuts and just leave a little bit connected, then the hoe would come and give it a little tap and the whole thing would collapse. His boss thought that was pretty slick.
The Wind River Canyon is gorgeous. I love the sound of rivers and creeks.

Sonya said...

Your entries are always so interesting! Be safe!

Meagan said...

WOW, that smoke was something, huh?! Crazy. And the canyon was beautiful. You get to see the neatest things while you work! :-) I love you and I can't wait to see you this weekend!!! Yipee!!!

Bethany said...

Beautiful photos! I'm with you on the trains, it seems everyone uses trucking as a scape goat these days and if we can be made to look bad or worse, sadly it is allowed!