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New Year in the Upper Mid-West

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Some trainspotting during New Year family re-union in South East North Dakota, a lot warmer (hovering around freezing) for this time of year and no snow so far!

Re-tracing my former stomping ground on the CP (Soo Line) & BNSF (BN formerly GN) lines in SW Minnesota.


Tenney. Not much sign of life apart from a cloud of steam from the Wheaton Dumont Co-Op elevator and a long string of grain cars indicated that the elevator was in operation receiving grain for dispatch by rail on 2nd January 2024. Tenney formerly the smallest city (population 6) was unincorporated as a city by a vote by the 5 remaining residents in 2010 and abandoned the remaining buildings re-sited or removed, view is from the "town side" of the elevator. I took a photo of the Tenney Pop 6 sign and 6 birds on a wire 20 years ago.


Grain cars as far as the eye can see. On yard track alongside the CP Line from Minneapolis to the Canadian Border at Portal.


Loaded and empties:  Cars are often switched by a Loading Shovel owned by the elevator company, sometimes a Trackmobile.


Business side of the elevator.  Yellow gantry above track is an anchor point for safety harnesses used by workers walking the roofs of the grain cars opening and closing hatches, tracks are graded to allow gravity to assist moving cars. Unloading shed and scales is a recent addition,  grain trucks were arriving frequently with 3 arriving during the 10 or so minutes I spent at Tenney


Aberdeen Line Junction between CP and BNSF. A couple of miles East of Tenney grade crossing between line typical of the Mid-West between CP East-West and BNSF North-South. There is a triangular junction between the CP & BNSF lines just beyond the diamond.  The BNSF and shortline Red River Valley and Western have running powers over the CP west of Aberdeen Line Junction to reach an isolated section of the former Great Northern as a result of a joint trackage arrangement dating from the mid-1950s.


BNSF East Bound Unit Grain Train.  I saw but was unable to take a picture of an East/South bound Unit Grain Train as a I drove from Aberdeen Line Junction towards Beckenridge Minnesota, but saw a train moving through Beckenridge Yard in the distance and managed to catch up up with a second east bound unit grain running about 5 minutes behind the 1st. Consist fairly typical lead by a pair of large GE units trailed by a single unit at the tail. Unit trains serve Shuttle Elevators and basically run as fixed formation trains on the UK "Merry go Round" principal between the Elevators milling centres or ports. The introduction of shutte elevators caused considerable controversity in the Mid-West Class 1 railroads initially providing shipping discounts for 50 and later 100 car loads an later refusing to load/handle less than 100 car lots, leading to closure of smaller elevators and increased trucking between farm and elevator.


Cars mainly BNSF with some leased and



some BNSF "fallen flags" a pair of cars in BN livery 28 years since BN absorbed the ATSF forming BNSF


Trailing loco appears to be a standard feature of Unit Grain trains, The similarity between BNSF/Great Northern and CIE "Super Train' colour schemes appear striking



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Couple of days later went to Whapeton ND to stock up on groceries and diy supplies (installing a cat door) and checked out the rail yard in the twin-town of Beckenridge MN before returning home by Tenney. Temperature had dropped a few degree and wind-chill increased so not really weather for standing around.


Beckenridge the headquarters and operating base of the Red River Valley & Western. The city of Beckenridge is on the eastern bank of the Red River of the North which drains the Valley area of ND an MN. The tracks in the foreground are the BNSF main line and siding (crossing loop), the RRVW Loco Shops and Offices single storey buildings in left background. BNSF/RRVWR yard lead in the background between the loco spur and elevators. A lot of older RR infrastructure survives at Beckenridge including the former Great Northern Depot Building and Roundhouse.


Looking the opposite direction East towards Aberdeen Line Junction and Minneapolis. The elevators in the distance is Red River Grain a Shuttle Elevator served by a tennis racket shaped balloon loop with a separate connection to the BNSF line https://local.echopress.com/breckenridge-mn/red-river-grain-co-218-643-3738


The RRVWR started out in the late 1980s with ex ATSF CF7 locomotives. Santa Fe re-builds of 1940s Cab Units as road switchers passed on in turn to Short Lines, some were used for switching elevators after CF7s were banned from road use when locos failed to meet cab crash worthyness requirements.


For many years the mainstay of  RRVWR motive power was its fleet of Caterpillar powered GP20-C locos 1980s Generation II locomotive of former BN GP20s. The Caterpillar locos produced distinctive dark clag when accelerating.


A pair of 2000HP EM GP 38-2 arrive with the Hankinson Job. The train includes laden bulk power cars from a flour mill at Fairmount and tank cars from an Ethanol plant at Hankinson on the CP Line, together with grain cars. The RRVWR serves industries and towns on the CP line as a result of a 1950s trackage rights arrangement when the Great Northern abandoned 30-40 miles section of line that ran parallel to the SOO later CP line.


The latest addition to RRVWR motive power are a number of former BNSF SD70 units. Useful for hauling 100+ car Unit Grain Trains from shuttle and larger elevator complexes to the BNSF interchange.

Tenney. Passed Tenney on the way home, grain trucks still arriving an drier operating but not a freight car in sight. It looks like the elevator loaded and dispatched a train between Tuesday afternoon and Thursday morning!


Edited by Mayner
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From the land of the Ice and Snow not quite from the Midnight Sun or Hot Spring s flow.

Its said that the Norsemen explored and traded in what is now Minnesota and North Dakota before their descendants settled the region with the building of the Northern Pacific and Great Northern, the Norwegians were used to extreme cold and the great plains were a lot easier to farm than their homeland.

The wife is of Viking and Germanic descent so off to Beckenridge this afternoon for groceries including 'Lefse"  Norwegian potato flatbread and some elevator/train spotting!


No traffic on the CP line near Tenny.  Busy loading and drying grain for the next rail shipment, a "high rail" excavator was working on the CP line just east of the elevator, so on to the BNSF line towards Beckenridge.


Another South/East bound BNSF Unit Grain approaching Campbell. Although the signals were not illuminated at Campbell, I could see a headlight approaching slowly in the distance and had time to pull off the highway at a grade crossing of a country road. In the US colour light signals only light up as a train is approaching and normally dark.


Too cold and long to bother counting the cars!


Trailing loco with footprints in the snow!


Beckenridge in the snow.  BNSF locos likely to e waiting for RRVW to complete making up a train for departure. Crete River SW was parked outside loco shop last week, long string of freight cars also parked on BNS siding (crossing loop).


Beckenridge RRVW Office Loco Shop looking East.  Switch crews (human shunters) use pick up trucks to drive around yards while making up and breaking down trains, in New Zealand and Australia shunters use Utes (scaled down local version of a pick up truck!)


Beckenridge Depot with mandatory stuffed and mounted caboose on right, Roundhouse on right. There appears to be plans to restore the depot as a museum, the Roundhouse is industrial use, tracks on left are used by RRVWR  PW dept. Hand operated switch on BNSF siding/passing track main line on right.


Red River of the North at confluence of Bois de Soiux and Otter Tail Rivers. Both Native American and Scandinavian tradition hold that the Vikings sailed down the Red River from Hudson Bay, later followed by French and British Trappers and the Soiux moved westward onto the plains later followed by European settlers mainly from Scandinavia and Northern Europe lured by the promise of fertile land and a mild climate🤣




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Checked out Hankinson interchange with the CP and regional/shortline Dakota Missouri Valley and Western in the hope of seeing CP,DMVW or RRVW power.

The DMVR interchange and an Ethanol plant are the main sources of originating and terminating traffic at Hankinson.


CP GP38-2  4406 switching at the East end of Hankinson yard. Switch crew member operating hand operated switch using a classical vertical switch stand. Ethanol plant in the background receives grain by road and rail and dispatches ethanol mainly used in motor gasoline (petrol) with its own switch locomotives.


4406 coupled up to a cut of cars in Hankinson Yard. 


Recently re-sited Hankinson Depot .  The Depot was re-located from its original location to a public park in 2003 and recently relocated to its downtown location top help bring life back to the main street. https://www.wahpetondailynews.com/news_monitor/news/soo-line-depot-returns-to-downtown-hankinson/article_1ca557c4-35b8-11ec-b20c-378a40a9b509.html


CP  GE ES44AC (Evolution Series) leads an eastbound bound (105) car grain train through Hankinson. The west end of Hankinson is a challenging place to compose a picture as the line curves from an east-west to a north west direction.


Although mainly CP some interesting 'fallen flag' cars in the train as a result of acquisitions. DME (Dakota Missouri and Eastern) was a short line acquired by the CP during the early 2000s to reach the Powder River Coal Field in Wyoming.


Kansas City Southern at first glance surprising. Canadian Pacific Railway and Kansas City Southern became Canadian Pacific Kansas City or CPKC following the recent merger of the two companies forming a single railroad connecting Canada, the United States and Mexico.

Went on to Beckenridge with a considerable number of RRVWR and BNSF locos at the motive power depot and the yard lead and a very full yard.


2-GP38-2 & 1 SD70 in the RRVWR  loco service area.


Line of operating and stored power 


4-BNSF GE Units and 1-RRVW SD70 on the yard lead awaiting their next turn.



Trackmobile positioning cars for loading Beckenridge. Traditionally harvest season/Autumn was peak time for shipping grain from the growing areas to the mills and ports. With increased storage capacity (on and off farm) growers and elevator operators have the capability to store grain and wait until the price rises! As technology changes agriculture in the mid-west became largely corporate with vast farms and few remaining family farms.


As I neared home I caught sight of an approaching CPKC train.


The train consist appeared familiar right down to the KCS cars, I was the same train that I saw over two hours earlier 40 miles away at Hankinson! Its possible that the train may have been held to allow more urgent traffic to overtake or cross westbound traffic at crossing places en-route. 


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Had to go to Whapeton (nearest large town) yesterday, checked out the RRVWR yard at Beckenridge and followed the BNSF & CP lines home in case there was rail traffic,

Although mild (temperatures hovering around freezing) we are now in a cold snap with day time temperatures around 1°F  -17C plus windchill so stay indoors and give railfanning a break unless we get heavy snow!


Pair of SD70s on Beckenridge Yard Lead, consists of BNSF ES44ACs on previous visits departed.


Yard less congested than last 2 days. Cut of Gondolas (opens cars) likely to be used for steel traffic to Gwinner ND, tank cars oil or ethanol.


BNSF ET44C4  3999 & 6879 coupling up to an empty Ethanol Train at Campbell MD.  All is not quite as it seems I saw a long train of tank cars (grain car barrier) parked on the passing track as I approached Campbell MN and a pair of BNSF locos backing down to couple on to the train. Crossing the tracks I got a couple of photos and a chat with the Travelling Brakeman who was doing the coupling up and brake test. The train turned out to be a Red River Valley and Western train bound for the Hankinson ND ethanol plant using borrowed BNSF motive power. The BNSF and RRVWR interchanging the cars on the passing track at Campbell probably provided a quicker turnround for a Unit Train than interchanging at Beckenridge each car had a gross laden weight of 110 (American) Tons or 11,000 tons for a 100 car laden train.

Interesting prototype for anything interchanging traffic between two railroads at a passing track (crossing loop) in a small city (pop 164) in the middle of the prairie, Campbell also has an elevator that occasionally dispatches grain by rail. 


Train coupled up and ready to depart as brakeman returns to his pick-up truck and meet the train at Aberdeen Line Junction. Travelling shunters perform a similar role in New Zealand travelling by Ute (pick up truck) between small yards and private sidings. There is a grain car at each end of the train as a barrier vehicle for highly flammable ethanol (grain alcohol).


I had hoped to take a photo of the RRVWR ethanol train on the CP line west of Aberdeen Line Junction but it was getting late and the CP line busy with eastbound trafic. CP ES44AC east of Aberdeen Line Junction.  The train is travelling under "advance approach" (flashing yellow) as it follows another train. Flashing yellow means the next signal is at yellow and the following signal red. The SOO line is easily graded and the CP generally uses a single large GE on grain and intermodal trains on the SOO Line across ND and MN.


The westbound signals were red and the RRVW brakeman was waiting in his truck as I  passed Aberdeen Line Junction and the headlights of an eastbound CP train appeared as I approached Tenney MN. Although topped and tailed by BNSF motive power the train was made up of CP and CP 'fallen flag" grain cars., its possible that CPKC may have leased BNSF power to help out or the train is bound for a BNSF destination, although American railroads compete with each other for traffic and fiercely guard their territory they co-operate with each other on operational matters to keep traffic moving.


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On 4/1/2024 at 5:34 AM, Mayner said:

The similarity between BNSF/Great Northern and CIE "Super Train' colour schemes appear striking

It wouldn’t be the only Irish-looking livery in the states either, the Southern Pacific’s livery looked quite similar to our own Black n’ Tan livery.image.thumb.jpeg.8fe8e5b0c8fb19b7fbc605013b24905f.jpeg


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In a way North Dakota is home away from home the wife's father still lives in the family home. At one stage we had planned to stay a year, though appears less likely as we all grow older. Today was trip to a hardware store and for groceries.

Once South East North Dakota was crisscrossed by railroads with the SOO Line and Great Northern running parallel to each other for about 40 miles serving the same towns until the GN abandoned its line in a trackage rights agreement during the 1950s that now allows RRVW/BNSF to serve towns on the CPKC (Soo Line). Fairmount a small town close to the Minnesota Border was served by four railrailroads with 4 depots east-west GN & SOO Line, north-south Milwaukee Rd Otronville-Fargo Line and shortline Fairmount and Velben. These days the CPKC line and part of the Fairmount and Veblen survive as successor of SOO Line, the Milwaukee Line abandoned during the 1980s a short section survives to serve a fertiliser and fuel depot.IMG_5766.JPG.12b460f75c7195f2779a27f89cbe3565.JPG

Classical wooden elevators at Tyler once served by the Milwaukee Rd Fargo Branchline. The elevators were later clad in sheet steel but retain tar shingle roofs. The modern grain bins and drying plant are likely to have been added after the railroad was torn-up.


Grain likely to have been loaded into boxcars through the side doors fitted with paper 'Grain Doors" when the railroad was in operation "moving grain 40' at a time"


Timber battens/boards exposed in area of damaged wall cladding. Timber elevators were usually clad in timber weatherboard. It looks like sawn timber battens/boards were used as a substrate for fixing the sheet metal cladding when elevators were-re-clad.


Pair of GP20-C rebuilds and an SD70 outside the Yard Office loco repair shop at Beckenridge.

The GP20-C are based on 1980s rebuilds of GP20 locomotives introduced approx 64 years ago, the SD70 is about to perform an interesting duty.


GP 38-2s 2015 and 4001 about to depart with a westbound freight. The SD70 in the previous photos has taxied 2015s Crew to their train, crew buses or taxis are often used to transport US train crews from the depot or sign-on point to their train.


Coil car in consist most likely for the Bobcat plant at Gwinner. 


A pleasant surprise was several ex-Delaware and Hudson grain cars in the train. The D&H a Canadian Pacific 'fallen flag" a North-Eastern road had a small fleet of red grain cars which eventually found their way to the RRVW and appear to be used for traffic between elevators and terminals on the RRVW system. There ware at least 4 ex-D&H cars in the train including some with intact shield and logo  34 years after the D&H was absorbed by the CP.



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20 years earlier and a bit warner. We spent six month in the Mid-West during the summer of 2004 en-route to New Zealand. Back then there was a lot more variety in terms of motive power and company liveries on the CP line across MN & ND.

The line was classed as 'Dark Territory" with  train movements on the Elbow Lake Subdivision controlled by "Track Warrants" (TWC) issued by radio by a Dispatcher based at Hankinson, a modern streamlined version of Train Order and Telegraph, no fixed signals and and hand operated switches at Sidings (crossing places). An advantage of TWC was that railfans could listen in to communications between Dispatcher, Train and Maintenance Crews and predict 'what was coming". The Line was upgraded to CTC during the mid 2100s to cope with increased traffic.


CP 9004 leading a consist of leased power heads a eastbound grain train through Fairmount ND. 9004 is a SD4-2F a cowled variant of the 3000hp SD40-2 design built for CP during the late 1980s. Oldest of Fairmount's 3 grain elevators on left flour mill in right background.


A pair of CP ex SOO Line GPs leading a westbound Way Freight (pick up goods) on the siding at Nashua MN Aug 2004. Nashua was a regular location for setting up meets (crossings) between opposing trains on the Elbow Lake Subdivision, with no grade crossings trains could wait in the siding for an indefinite period without the requirement to divide the train after 15 minutes to avoid obstructing road traffic. The switches at both end of the siding were hand operated, train crews departing the siding usually asked the Dispatcher for permission to leave the switch set for the siding and "switch set for siding" noted in Warrant for next approaching train.Fairmount21Aug2004018.JPG.caa483ca7698ebbc1cb2b832af273680.JPG

Eastbound mixed freight crossing Westbound Way Freight lead by 8545 at Nashua. 8545 is an GS AC4400CW (4400HP) trailing loco is a CP formerly SOO formerly Milwaukee Rd SD40-2 "Bandit Loco" retaining the remains of its ex Milwaukee Rd Livery.


Westbound way-freight passing Fairmount. The lawn and vegetable plot were the gardens of a dilapidated old two storey house near the location of the diamond between the East-West Soo and North-South Milwaukee line, track curving round on the right is an industry track which serves a fuel and fertiliser store.

Once carried in box cars covered hoppers were introduced in large numbers for grain traffic during the 1980s.


Anatomy of a train meet at Fairmount.

1. Eastbound Red River and Valley and Western Hankinson job accelerates along the 'main' at Fairmount after switching the flour mill in the background.

The RRVW Caterpillar powered GP20-C could produce some nice smoke effects while accelerating.


Relatively short freight by US standard, main and crossing track maintained by CP, yard tracks by local industries!


2. RRVWR Hankinson Job pulls up to the Siding Switch while a Westbound CP freight waits on the Main at the East end of Town.  The RRVWR freight is preparing to pull into the siding to clear the main for the CP train.


3. RRVWR train has pulled up clear of the siding switch, brakeman has set the switch for the main line and the RRVWR crew calling the CP Dispatcher to confirm the switch has been set for the main and the main line is clear.


4. CP 5960 leads Westbound trough freight into Fairmount. 5960 a 3000hp  SD40-2 is fitted with dynamic brakes for use on heavily graded lines,  6040 is an ex-SOO Line 3800hp SD60 dynamic brakes not really required on the relatively easily grade ex-SOO lines.


5. Meet between RRVWR & CP Freights  at Fairmount. As far as I recall the RRVWR freight set back along the siding to pick up the brakeman once the CP freight cleared, avoiding a long walk (for the brakeman) over rough ballast!


The shape of things to come! Single GEs Dash 9 and Evolution  series (4400hp)  locos handling the majority of CP freights on the ex-CP line

Edited by Mayner
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Possibly my last posting from this visit to the Land or Ice and snow before we return to New Zealand.


Ice Fishing shelters on the Red River.  Popular pastime shelters apparently include home comforts including heating, bedding and beer fridge.


4104 & 2018 switching at Beckenridge. When I arrived 4104 appeared to be preparing to depart with a Westbound freight when in fact breaking down the train by sorting cars to different roads "Flat Switching" or what was known as loose shunting in the UK and Ireland. Once fairly common in Ireland during loose coupled days usually prohibited in the days of Liner Train operation.

Loco pushes back against a cut of cars, cars to be sorted uncoupled and allowed to continue under their own momentum after the loco/remainder of the train has stopped.


Tank car with snow/ice on barrel is continuing under its own momentum after being uncoupled from the tank cars on the left. 

Brakeman in high vis is re-setting the cut (uncoupling) lever on the car on the left before preparing for the next cut. The Brakeman used the blue pickup in the background for moving around the yard.


4403 arrives with a short train of tank cars while 4101 waits to make its next move.  The tank cars are possibly molasses from a Sugar Beet Plant a couple of miles west of the twin towns of Beckenridge MN and Whapeton ND


The Yard God  has made a cut between the grey and black tank cars, shortly before 4101 and 2018 put away their train and return to the Motive Power depot.

The pick up had similar markings on the other side and tail board!



More Coil to make into Bobcats!


More D&H Grain Hoppers including a complete shield 34 years after the CP takeover.


East end of Beckenridge . Entry to balloon loop to Red River Grain Elevator, tracks with tank and grain cars on right forms a U.


Almost like busses Westbound BNSF Shuttle Grain. Two big GEs on head end one on rear, saw a similar train Friday loading at a Shuttle Elevator located on a stub branch of the Ottertail Valley Railroad (Shortline) near Fergus Falls MN. 


Edited by Mayner
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