Thursday, October 27, 2016

Chasing Union Pacific 844

Union Pacific 844; Blackwater, Mo.; October 17, 2016
It's been an unusual year -- the mainline steam locomotive I've chased the most has been Union Pacific's recently restored 4-8-4 No. 844. The funny thing is, a month before chasing the locomotive each time, I had no idea I'd even be seeing it. The railroad announced plans to run it after I had made arrangements for trips, and it was just coincidence that my trip and the locomotive coincided. I saw it a few times in Colorado in July as it ran back and forth in conjunction with the annual trip for the Denver Post's run to Cheyenne Frontier Days (all of which was covered in this post on my big western trip).

I was just getting on the road back from Colorado when I found out I'd need to make a trip to Kansas City in October, needing to be there on the 15th. It was quite a bit later I found out 844 would be traveling from Cheyenne to Memphis, making an overnight stop in Kansas City after it arrived. On the 15th! I had planned on leaving KC on the 16th, but the locomotive was going to continue east on the 17th to Jefferson City, Mo., so I added a day to my trip to work in an extra day of chasing.

I arrived in Kansas City on October 14, spending the night there. On the morning of the 15th I headed west to intercept the big Northern along with Otto Vondrak. Kevin Gilliam, who was shooting video for Trains magazine, and Mike Noonkester followed behind us. It had a servicing stop in Marysville, Kan., so I arrived at the small town of Winifred and waited. An old grain elevator made a nice backdrop as the locomotive came through on the gray day.
Union Pacific 844; Winifred, Kan.; October 15, 2016
The short train had a servicing and display stop just ahead at Frankfort, Kan., so we buzzed just a mile or so ahead out of town and caught it crossing the Black Vermillion River.
Union Pacific 844; Frankfort, Kan.; October 15, 2016
With its next servicing/display stop well over an hour away at Topeka, we thought we might have a chance to get ahead of it before the stop. The roads are laid out in a grid pattern -- and unfortunately the railroad runs diagonally through it all, giving it a much shorter route. Still, we got ahead of it at Emmett, Kan., but not by much.
Union Pacific 844; Emmett, Kan.; October 15, 2016
The train beat us into Topeka, but we wheeled into town for a quick shot of it as it stopped among the crowd at the large Union Pacific depot.
Union Pacific 844; Topeka, Kan.; October 15, 2016
The next servicing/display stop would be at Lawrence, Kan. Lawrence was the home of a noted rail photographer (and one of my early photographic heroes), the late Don Ball, Jr. He shot a lot of photos on the big curve near the station, and that curve has been unofficially dubbed "Don Ball Curve." Wanting a shot there, we headed into Lawrence and once again got the large crowd greeting the train as it arrived.
Union Pacific 844; Lawrence, Kan.; October 15, 2016
After the servicing stop, the train accelerated away, passing the large grain elevator that borders Don Ball Curve. From here we gave up the chase and headed into Kansas City for our evening appointment.
Union Pacific 844; Lawrence, Kan.; October 15, 2016
After spending Sunday, October 16, in Kansas City (perhaps more on that in a future post), it was time to chase 844 again as it ran to Jefferson City. It's first stop would be at Buckner. I was driving solo this time, with Kevin and Mike still chasing in their car. Since they had a navigator, I opted to follow them. The first point we picked was just west of the town of Buckner.
Union Pacific 844; Buckner, Mo.; October 17, 2016
The weather was much better on this day, with mostly sunny skies. Grain elevators are a part of the U.S. Heartland, so the next stop would be at one. Our next shot was in the small community of Levasy, Mo.
Union Pacific 844; Levasy, Mo.; October 17, 2016
The train rolled along the Missouri River, stopping at Lexington. We used that stop to find a perch overlooking the railroad and river at Waverly, Mo.
Union Pacific 844; Waverly, Mo.; October 17, 2016
Union Pacific 844; Blackwater, Mo.

The train's next stop was in the historic community of Blackwater, Mo. We wandered the dirt roads east of town and set up on an overhead bridge for a telephoto view of the train swinging through a curve (top photo of this post). Then came the wide-angle view looking down at the train from the same location.

The end of the run at Jefferson City was now on the horizon. Our last shot of the locomotive on the road would be just west of Jeff City at Marion.
Union Pacific 844; Marion, Mo.; October 17, 2016
At Jefferson City the train had to be put on its display track near the UP yard. As the train moved back and forth, engineer Ed Dickens (who just happens to be UP's Senior Manager of Historic Operations) was joined by his wife Nancy in the cab.
Nancy and Ed Dickens; Jefferson City, Mo.; October 17, 2016
Speaking of the cab, I had a chance to take a quick look inside during the Jeff City stop. The 844 is one tall locomotive, and it's probably the highest gangway I've ever had to hoist myself up.
Union Pacific 844; Jefferson City, Mo.; October 17, 2016
After dinner, a small group gathered in Jefferson City for a night shot of the big 4-8-4. For many, the chase would continue -- for some, all the way to Memphis. But for me, it was farewell (for now) and I continued to head east that night, wondering if 844 and I would have another chance encounter at some point.
Union Pacific 844; Jefferson City, Mo.; October 17, 2016

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