To Texas - Spring 2006


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Hamburg Fuhlsbuettel, Germany
Airport Hamburg, Germany

It was that time of the year again: Travel fever struck me and so it was time to pack a suitcase for another trip to the US. The flight was scheduled to leave Hamburg on 1oth April at around 9:00 o´clock. I booked a Continental Airlines flight headed nonstop for New York since I didn´t want to change planes in Paris.

Not much traffic yet... but then I had another hour waiting time before boarding started. I hate waiting...

Ah, here it is: flight number CO75 today was a Boing 757-200, which let me assume that the flight was fully booked. My mood suddenly dropped to sub-zero...


The closer it got to boarding time, the better my mood got. I seldom saw this few people on a plane to the US! So: get on board and hope that all seats in my row stay free (which actually happened, BTW)

Superb, "shoes off and have a nap" was the motto!!!


Once up in the sky the weather was significantly better than down on the ground. Right after lift-off, the sun peeked through the window and once again raised my mood! After having taken this picture, I stretched out for a nice long nap...


Five or six "wake-up calls" (Please fasten your seatbelt) and 8 hours later, New Jersey came into sight. Here we are approaching Newark Liberty International.


So far, so good. We made it over the large "pond" but.... I had 8 hours lay-over in New York! So what do I do now?

Well, Grand Central Station is located in New York and I always wanted to see it after it's renovation. So hop on the bus, pay 22 US-$ and let´s go!

BTW: the right picture shows a nice example of how to get rid of parking space problems. Cars are simply stacked on top of each other...

Landing At EWR airport
Landing At EWR airport


Car stacking
Car stacking


Driving a bus of this size over Broadway is really an art. Originally, Broadway is a two lane road but car drivers usually add two "virtual" lanes.

Sometimes, just the famous "thumb" fits inbetween the outer mirrors!!!

These pictures have been shot out of the bus window.

The good thing is that one sits slightly higher than in a car and so at least gets some people and buildings into the picture...

The bad thing is that the windows are tinted which decreases the availabe shutter speed.



Grand Central Station once was New York´s most important train station with 4 basement floors...

Today it is a mere shadow of former times. Only subways depart here for public transport. National and intercontinental trains start at Penn Station.

Unfortunately, I didn´t have time to visit that station, too, although I was heavily tempted ....

Grand Central Station is squeezed in between scyscrapers on Park Avenue which is not at all that glamorous here as you would expect. Tiffany´s is located some 10 minutes walking distance from here.

By the way: Around 3 PM local time, you are a lot faster walking than taking a cab!

The entrance hall alone is already very impressive: The doors in the background are more than 2 meters [ 7 feet ] high!



The ceiling of this hall had been elaborately restaurated some years ago and today shows the starry sky of former times. Unfortunately, you can only take a picture of a small part of it, even with a wide - angle setting. Really impressive work!

Here one can get an impression of the hall´s proportions...

The people seem to be somehow "lost" in this huge hall.




Well, it is about time to think about returning to the airport (and a human has to eat sometimes, too). Tonight, at around 11PM, I will arrive in Austin, Texas where my friend Steve will pick me up. After that: a good bed and sleep!

To conclude this first day, a snapshot to Times Square, of course again taken out of the bus window.



... until 13th April. The last three days required a bit of sweat and arm grease: tons of sand had to be moved from the storage site to fill in the "benchwork" of Steve´s garden layout.

Of course, I didn´t have to start from scratch; Steve already prepared the site very well as the following pictures show.




The trestle in the center picture was built entirely without glue. It is held together by nuts, bolts, and washers. A monster job: This bridge measures some 9 feet! The basic material for it is Redwood. Termites somehow don´t like this kind of wood; and there are lots of termites in Texas....

In January this year, Steve already sent me a couple of pictures featuring his layout. At that time, this area resembled more or less a huge pile of earth and dirt. Today, the first plants and flowers bloom on terraced scenery sections...

The track plan was laid out in a way that only part of the line is visible at any given time. This makes the "layout" interesting and provides for a lot of variety.

However, there is not much space to spread out here, either: the scale is 1/20.3!




One advantage of a garden layout: "Real time" trackplanning! I never thaught that this might actually work out but Steve taught me a lesson here. Lay out the track, check if everything fits, and: "Done!"

Before the first piece of track can be laid, the "benchwork" has to be built. It consists of sand mixed with clay and has to be brought in using a wheelbarrow. After that, compacting the sand is due: tamp everything down until only a slight trace of your shoes is visible when you walk on the sand. I took on the job of wheeling in the sand while Steve tamped everything down. One wonders how much dirt goes into an area of about 9 foot square at 1 foot height!!

Mainline and branchline cross each other at grade. The diamond area has to be absolutely level for at least 1 foot on either side of the diamond in order to avoid "involuntary disembarkments".

Once everything is roughed in and the soil is somewhat level, finetuning the track starts. The picture shows that the grade is way too steep. I guess, we need some more dirt here...


... until 16-04-06.

Something went terribly wrong with the drainage trenches. The climate here is so dry that the walls of the trenches collapsed already during digging them out. So nothing else was left than to fire up the lawn sprinkler and let it do it´s work. For Steve and me that meant: Play the lazy bone. Not that I had any difficulties with that :-)).

We went to attend a train show instead.

In New Braunfels - approximately half an hour from Austin - a small exhibition was staged. Apart from the the obligatory shop booths and swap tables, there were also some smaller layouts to admire. Nothing really exiting but at least layouts to look at and nothing to build...

Being an avid N-scaler, my eyes were almost immediately caught by an NTRAK-layout presented by AustiNTRAK.

It didn´t long to start a conversation with one of the club members and after the inevitable "Where ´re you from?" and "How ´re you doing?", he was stunned that I travelled all the way from Germany to see an NTRAK-layout...

When this guy learned that the world´s largest model railroad - the Miniatur Wunderland - is located in Hamburg, he somewhat went over the top:

In no time the whole team gathered around me and I had to tell them virtually everything about the Wunderland and Hamburg. Two hours later or so, I managed to leave but not without being "threatened" with a club´s visit to Hamburg...

There were some quite nice modules to be seen which showed off some really elaborate work (scratch-built track, turnouts, and buildings) but most of them were "common breed"...





The train consist in the right picture was quite interesting: Two E8A units, one in UP livery, and the other one in AMTRAK paint scheme. The train itself was also made up of UP and AMTRAK rolling stock and pictured the early AMTRAK - era.

The train itself was also made up of UP and AMTRAK rolling stock and pictured the early AMTRAK - era.

I found another nice motive when I spotted this coal mine.




... until 19.04.2006.

It was time to return to the backyard and fire up the wheelbarrow again: More dirt for the "benchwork"....



This small layout area of about 15 by 4.5 feet consumed roughly 27 cubic feet of dirt!!! That's a couple of wheelbarrow loads. The stuff has to be thoroughly compacted in order to dig the drainage trenches later on without the experience of collapsing trench walls again. The temperature here is about 100° F and we have a humidity of about 80%. So, after every fourth wheelbarrow, the pool offered a much welcome refreshment. That is why it took the better part of 2 days before the building stage in the pictures shown above was achieved.

In the evening, a relief message was posted in TV: Heavy thunderstorms expected! Sounds a bit weird but we actually looked forward to it! The rain would soak the earth and thus compact it even more...

What I didn´t know until that day: When people in the Austin area talk about "heavy" thunderstorms, they mean it! Until about 9 PM this evening, we enjoyed relaxing in the patio when suddenly a wind gust blew into the backyard and at almost the same time lightning and tennisball-sized hail came down on us. That went on for about 10 minutes. After this, "only" rain, wind, and thunder rumbled on. To make up for this, the news brought flash-flood warnings. The only good thing was that Steve´s house is built on top of a hill...


As if nothing had happened yesterday: sunshine and dry everywhere...

So: out into the backyard and start wheeling dirt again.

A couple of wheelbarrows and two hours later, the base for the terminal looked like this:


Due to yesterday´s rain, the trenches suffered some minor damage and had to be repaired.

The wye could also be laid out again. While being at it, a turnaround track was added "on the fly".

On the opposite side of the wye we laid out the rough shape for the second terminal... and, of course, shoved some dirt around.

This section is kept relatively flat to provide for some variety in the future landscaping. That meant less wheelbarrows of dirt for a change! The transition to the center section will be terraced with limestone. The frontmost track will lead to terminal 2 and thus will form a second - much larger - wye with terminal 1.

The trestle needed some sort of abutment. We decided to build a cribbage. The theme of this layout is "Logging" and logging lines very seldom had the money to build extensive (and expensive) permenat concrete structures.

Basically, a cribbage consists of wooden logs or beams that are laid crosswise on top of each other. The space between them is filled with dirt and rock debris to provide strength and stability.

The dry wash was also improved: The rain didn't drain through the dry wash but more or less filled it up to the rim. A second layer of stone was added in order to provide a better water flow.

Then, suddenly evening came again and it was high time to visit the pool. At 90° F water temperature a real fun part after all the drudgery...



Well, yesterday was a very nice day (weather-wise) but for today the weather forecast didn´t promise good news. Humid and warm air would come up from the Gulf of Mexico and at the same time, a cold front would come down from the north = Thunderstorms pretty much likely in the afternoon...

Forget everything, you knew about rain: The weather forecast did certainly not exaggerate!!! Sight about 6 feet, a temperature drop of about 30° F... and only ear plugs could help against the rumble of the thunder.

Work had to be postponed again. Instead, we could watch how Mother Nature soaked, weakened, and flattened out our so tediously tamped down trackbeds Yell!

No Macko, these are no stones to collect (insider)! As part of the thunderstorm, we were presented with some "small" hail about tennisball-size. The bits seen in the picture have already thawed to 25-cent (quarter) size...

After roughly 10 minutes of this downpour, the backyard looked like a lake scenery: The soil was so dry; it couldn´t cope with the water masses.

On the other hand, I didn´t hear any complaints about the rain...




The day after...

Actually, we didn't expect anything else: the backyard was a complete desater area. No chance to clean up though, as the earth was so soaked that our ankles easily disappeared in the mud.

That's what you get if you didn't think things through properly: Steve forgot to plan for a proper water drainage! Seen from this point of view, the storm was a wink of fate.

Steve wanted to have a bluff as a scenery element but not exactly in this location.

The rain simply worked out it's own way to flow off the layout. We wouldn't have been able to do it better with a shovel!

Slight disadvantage: it was definitely not intended this way .

After a close inspection Steve came to the conclusion that he needed a professional landscaper to install a proper drainage. That, of course, meant a complete stop for all outside activities. Bummer, but there still are a couple of projects that one could work on in the garage: bridges, for example. More to that later on.

Now it is family day: Steve's grandson has an important football match today and so it is off to that one first. After that, a birthday party is on the agenda, and to top it off, we have an invitation to an "open house". The first two points were done with in a relatively short time and are not really interesting, either.

Such an "open house" is a perfect excuse to get around the weekend-chores:

You invite a few guys who share the same hobby and start a discussion about model railroading. On a side note, a good meal is provided and the latest rolling stock is proudly presented (like the Challenger in 1/29 scale shown in this picture. Quite a beast...).

On the way back home, we got a real treat: Model railroading in 1:1 scale!




AUAR stands for "Austin Area Terminal Railroad"; a branch line that owns and operates 125 miles of track around Austin,TX. This company is sort of a "treasure chest" for engine "snipers". They still run older engines from the late ´70s like the GP30 shown in the above pictures. Well, this was an action-packed day and so I think, it is time for a good night´s rest now...


...until 26-04-2006

Still a "No go" in the backyard. The soil is still way too wet...

So, to get on with the project, it is the garage: I already mentioned the bridge building for those otherwise unproductive days. Building material is again Redwood, as it is not on the termite's diet plan.

For outside use, the wood nonetheless has to be treated: To achieve a prototypical look, it is stained. I dip the wood right into the stain and let it soak for a couple of seconds. This yields this beautiful deep brown shade.

Steve uses another method: he uses a rag and wipes the stain onto the wood. This yields a translucent effect while the natural color still shines through the stain. This way, "new" railings can be modelled (learned something new here...).

Since wet wood needs some time to dry, we used this span to design a wooden arch bridge. After firing up the computer and some planning efforts, we came up with this design:




I used a trackplanning software called 3rd PlanIt® to design it. Took me about 3 hours...


Today I wanted to see "real" trains. Steve knows a junction which he said, is buzzing with traffic, and where you can get real close to the trains. After all, I wanted good pictures, right?! So off we went to McNeil.

Once arrived there, I was a bit dissapointed...

This is supposed to be one of busiest diamonds in Texas? Somewhere in the middle of nowhere and even single-tracked??

Besides: just look at the trackwork. Trains are really supposed to run on this???

McNeil Junction
McNeil Junction


Looking a bit closer, however, revealed the mainline track: it lies much deeper than the crossing branchline...


Hello, do I hear a diesel growling?

Quickly turn round, and up with the camera. A Union Pacific SD 70M leads a mixed freight eastbound out of Austin. Downtown Austin is about 14 miles behind the engine.


The "getting close to the trains" statement by Steve proved to be true. As this train passed by at about 5 mph, I stood about 9 feet away from the tracks.

The diesel makes just a low growling noise. So be warned if you´re out to snipe trains: don't stand too close to the tracks and ALWAYS keep a safe distance to moving trains! You simply might not hear the beast approaching...


An SD40-2 (EMD) of HLCX (Helm Financial, a leasing company)

Another SD 40-2. This time ex BNSF (Burlington Northern Santa Fe), also owned by a leasing company.

Hey, I know this kind of car! A couple of them also cruise the Wunderland...

Asphalt train

The good thing with American trains is that most of them run with more than one engine. This way, one has pretty good chances to picture different kinds of engines in a relatively short time. You just have to be a bit patient. Speaking of being patient: Steve obviously didn't tell me stories about this junction - the mixed freight had just passed when the block signal showed a green light again. This could only mean that another train was approaching.

A quarter of an hour later, it happended - and this train could also be smelled: It was loaded with fresh asphalt and it wasn't short, either. The count resulted in 83 50´ gondolas...

Leading unit was SD60M # 6252, a 3.800 hp engine.

Then came UP #7549, a GE AC6000CW (6.000 hp)

followed by UP #7532, also a GE AC6000CW, and finally...

UP #2245, a SD60M.

Then followed 83 of these 50´ gondolas, fully loaded with asphalt. Apparently, some 19.000 hp were needed to haul this train!

From a nearby working track gang we heard that the next train wouldn't approach before half an hour. But the railroads didn't let us down. From the right, a short switching unit came closer and it featured a real treat (at least for me):

The engine was a SW-1500. 808 units were built by EMD between June 1968 and January 1974 for various railroad companies. Some of these robust engines survived until today and Austin Terminal Railroad owns two of these little critters...




Some 45 minutes after the switching action was completed: exaggerated hectic at the track gang!

Although they took it easy most of the time, they obviously didn't want to mess with AMTRAK. In no time, the tools were off the tracks! One of AMTRAK's star trains was about to pass by: the "Texas Eagle". This train runs 3 times a week (!!!) between Chicago, IL, San Antonio, TX, and Los Angeles, CA.

All in all, this run sums up to about 1,300 miles. However, this train lost much of it's former glamour; leading engine is usually a P42 (Genesis). The train is split in Longview,TX and only six coaches run further than Austin. No wonder: when the train passed by, one could see that it was almost empty. Flying is cheaper and - most important - a lot faster than a train. I didn´t even see a bistro car in the consist (as would be normal in German long distance trains) ...





... until 05-01-2006
This evening I hopped into my car and went for a spin to Phoenix, AZ. I wanted to visit my old friend Dorr Altizer who was my chief-sysop during former CompuServe-times. I felt that after 9 years, a visit was more than overdue.

The route was quickly made up: Enter I-10 near Austin and turn onto I-17 in the vicinity of Phoenix. The rest of the trip had to be done on US-60 and a few minor roads. Sounds like "around the corner" but it isn´t: 1,051 miles (or 1.690 km) or 15 hours driving time were to tackle. Stops were only allowed for gassing up or a "pit stop" once in a while. In order to drive in comfort (temperature-wise), I started out in the late evening. A short nap (about 2 hours) was taken near El Paso, TX before knocking at Dorr´s door at around 3 PM the next day.

Well, since we didn't have anything else to talk about, we cleaned up the old CompuServe picture gallery... Three hours later we were able to switch to such trivial things like "And what did you do the past 9 years?". It was a very nice evening at BBQ and beer (and a veeery long one, too)... The next morning (29. April) saw me on the road agian. The camera battery was fully loaded and the memory card was longing for some "freshh picture food". I chose US-60 as my route because - guess what? - yeah, railroad tracks run parallel to that road.

I made my first stop at the Sam Simon rest area because I could see tracks from the highway.... First, however, there were nice trucks to look at. Does it look familiar? In the Wunderland, however, this trailer has a matching tractor and none of "Werner Trucking Co.".


Tracks were there all right but where the h*** were the trains!?

Track and scenery to the right; track and scenery to the left...

Just a sec: I hear some rumbling (and that is not my stomach!)

Patience pays off! I expected BNSF (Burlington Northern Santa Fe) engines in this area rather than armor yellow, the UP paint scheme.

Head power on this train was UP #5429, an AC45CWCTE

In this train consist, this old 50-foot boxcar caught my attention. Apparently, it was used to haul salt as it was labelled for "Halite salt". If only I could "mess up" some of the boxcars in the Wunderland this nicely..

There was another eyecatcher in this train: This so-called "Shorty" tank car which was used to transport sweetener for corn products. Obviously, it hasn´t always to be oil in the tank. Take this as a hint for your mini-loads

Obviously, there´s nothing, Mother nature doesn't offer a prototype for...

Harry, our "Master of Plaster" in the Wunderland, once pressed his ring into the wet plaster and left a skull as an impression in the scenery. Had he made a mold of his ring and filled it with plaster, it would have been perfect...

A bit further down the road (roughly 90 miles), I spotted a frontage road. These roads run parallel to the railroad tracks and serve the track maintenance gangs as access path. Now, what is good enough for track gangs, serves me well, too... (and it is not forbidden, either).

Massive Saguaro cactii! The ones shown here easily top 15 feet!

Walt Disney was right : The desert lives! This little mouse chose a hole in the cactus for a siesta; on the shady side, of course!

Now a Harley under my b*** and one could feel like being in the movie "Easy Rider"!

This is what a road in the so-called "Wild West" should look like, right? This picture will change soon, however, because the I-17 which I´m driving on here, rises to about 7,000 feet above sea level before Flagstaff is reached. The mountains in the picture's background are well over 45 miles away but have to be crossed nonetheless. That means battling grades of up to 6% on a 4 mile stretch. Some radiators may start "sweating" here...

I decided to take a short brake at the next rest area to let the car cool its heels.

The name of this rest area is Sunset Point. It is already at 4,000 feet above sealevel (1.232 meters). Apart from a superb panoramic view (and most probably a beautiful sunset to watch) and most welcomed shade, this area doesn't have much to offer.


Meanwhile the car has cooled down and is ready to tackle the grades which meant two hours rest but better be on the safe side! And so it's off on the road again. Oh, yes, the picture shows all rest areas along I-17.

I-17 reaches 6,000 feet (or 1.848 meters) above sea level here and I am still climbing up. At least, the desert lies behind me. Here we have some green again for the eyes!

You won't believe how beautiful trees can be after driving through the desert!




Flagstaff has been passed and now I am on I-40 heading East. To Albuquerque, my next destination, I only have 299 miles (about 317 kilometers) to drive. But before that, I want to stop at "Meteor Crater". 50,000 years ago, a meteor hammered a giant hole into this otherwise flat landscape. That's a must-see for me!

No, this is not I-40 anymore but Meteor Crater Road. It is only 6 miles long but it seems to go on for 60 miles; also seen from behind the wheel.

15 bucks entry fee!!! A bit too much for my taste. On second thought: there must be some attractions inside. At least, that´s what I thought...

First go to the museum to learn about this area. Well, let´s just say, it is not *that* sumptuous! They show some meteor fragments (the largest is seen in the picture) and some information boards which clarify the consequences of a meteor hit on earth. In addition, they have videos and some info-boards showing meteor impacts on our neigboring planets. No trace of information regarding the influences on geological formations in the crater area or special mineral findings! In this case, I prefer watching Discovery Channel; it is clearly more informative!

After I swallowed the first disappointment, I stepped out onto the crater rim. Of course (!) there is no path to walk along the rim. There are a few small passageways to outlooks with binoculars.

Mother Nature made up for what mankind messed up: This little gecko was really curios; one could even say "trusting".

He rushed onto the path, looked longingly at my feet, and disappeared as fast as he came when he decided that nothing edible was on the plate for him.

Here is a small fact sheet about the crater:

  • * Impact : 50,000 years ago
  • * Impact speed : 26,000 mph / 41.808 kmh
  • * Main ingredients : 98% iron, 2% nickel
  • * Length : 150 feet / 46,2 meters
  • * Mass : some hundred thousand tons
  • * Explosive force : > 20 million tons TNT
  • * Crater depth : 700 feet / 215,6 meters
  • * Crater diameter : > 4,000 feet / 3,86 km
  • * Impact depth : 1,376 feet / 423,8 meters

------------ And that was just a "small" chunk!

Meteor Crater panorama



Back on I-40 to Window Rock and Gallup (NM), I spotted this scene. What the ....???

The mystery's solution: Two hoppers in the middle of nowhere! At least, I also noticed some track soemwhere in the background. That gave me some hope...

After that thought flashed through my brains, my hopes were already fullfilled!

Just a little obstacle here: Only emergency stopping is allowed on an interstate. Now, for a railroad enthusiast like me, this definetely *is* an emergency; I don't believe, however, the state trooper behind me thought the same way Wink. So I took the camera, loosely aimed, and shot through the windshield. At a 1/4000 second exposure, this shouldn't be a problem.

That's what I thought but not the cop behind me. Maybe he thought, I shot the train (which I actually did in a sense, hehe). Anyway, he pulled me over and asked me what I just did. When I told him that I photographed the train, he shook his head in disbelief and wanted to see my drivers licence and car papers. Being a smart guy, I showed him my German passport together with my German drivers licence. Then, the inevitable came: He looked at my (gray) licence and asked me: "What's this, Sir?" In the end, he believed that it really was my drivers licence and went back to his car (I assume, to check if my car was stolen). There it was, the much longed for emergency case!!! Only I wasn't allowed to get out of the car. Sh**!

Boy, that guy was fast! I had just enough time for another snapshot out of the passenger window before he came back. At least, I could see that I was now in BNSF - country.
When the trooper came back, he suddenly very friendly asked me if he could have a look at my camera. He sure could. I won't enter into any discussion with authorities (at least not in the USA). When I casually mentioned that I am a railway enthusiast and work for the world's largest model railroad layout, he grinned from ear to ear and whished me a nice day with "lots of prey". What a nice guy!!!

On I went.

Next stop: Window Rock. I could already see it in the distance. The clouds were a bit daunting for my personal taste. From the Mid-West I know that these formations can develop into a grown up tornado. So far, the radio didn't issue any warning, though.

Window Rock 1 mile. I hope to find a side road there... Part of this sandstone formation is a holy place for the American Native Navajo tribe.

I finally found a small side road and quickly turned into it for some rest.

The daunting clouds were forgotton when I heard the typical diesel mumbling. Normally I don´t like the orange-green "pumpkin" - scheme of BNSF but in this light, it is simply beautiful!

Head power is BNSF #7763, a class ES44DC. The "DC" stands for (D)irect (C)urrent motors on the axles. Most engines are equipped with AC-motors. NO, they are no electric engines but diesel-electric ones. The diesel generates the power for the axle-motors.

Great! I love this picture of a container train in front of the Window Rock background. This side step was really worth the time!

BTW: this section is part of the mainline between Chicago and Los Angeles and is completely double-tracked. Approximately every 20 minutes a train passes by. That is why this line is also nicknamed "Race track". Doesn´t have anything to do with speed ,though: maximum speed for container trains is limited to 55 mph (88,44 kmh) here...

The next stop on my list was Gallup, NM. They have a yard there - and a bridge providing an excellent view over the yard.
Bad luck - there were roadworks under way on the bridge and nowhere to park the car. On top of that, it was time again to fuel up. In the meantime, gas prices are way out of budget for the average American car driver: US-$ 3.09/gallon. The German car driver, however, can joyfully gas up. In Germany, this equals to EUR 0,80/liter!!!

No yard... but sometimes, a gas station can serve as a perfect stand-in, especially when the tracks are located across the road.
The classic paint scheme of the BNSF (originally the ATSF = Atchinson, Topeka Santa Fe) is the warbonnet scheme. #603 (a CW44-9) is passing by showing off it´s colors.



Here we have a rare bird: #4472 appearently wears a trial scheme. Apart from the building year (06/99), I couldn´t find any more information about this engine.

After these lucky hits, I kept on driving East on I-40. Close to the Continental Divide, I spotted a sign to old (classsic) Route 66. Although it was already late in the afternoon, I couldn't resist and made the turn. Lucky me! Suddenly, I found myself driving on a dirt road and approaching a grade crossing with ample space to park the car. A beautiful sunset helped me over the waiting time for oncoming trains.

Not long, and a westbound container train with NS (Norfolk Southern) engines approached the grade crossing. It was already pretty dark but at a filmspeed setting of 3200 ASA, pictures were still possible.

Click image to watch video

And then, there was the hit of the day: an eastbound train had to wait for a free block and stopped just short of the grade crossing. The engineer must have seen me and after a short while, he approached me and asked if I would like to take a picture of his engine. WHAT??? This was definetely the first time ever that an American engineer asked me such a question!!! Of course, I wanted! To top it off, he offered to stop right on the crossing for a photo. Boy, was I happy!

Nightshot, I asked for his eMail adress and as soon as I had the picture processed, I sent him a copy. When my email software checked the inbox after half an hour, his reply was already in: "Thank you very much for the photo and if you return to Gallup one day, come by and ask for a cab ride." What more can you ask for!!!

The rest of the night and the following day were more on the boring side: "Making miles" was the goal. After a phone call, it turned out that I didn't need to drive to Eagle Nest (NM). I have a project running there where I am a consultant. So it is Interstate 40 to Albuquerque and then on to I-25 South, direction Texas. I stopped again close to El Paso for a nap and then tackled the rest of the road to Austin.

A small incident happened near the end of my trip: on the last leg between San Antonio and Austin, the sky darkened more and more, and it looked very much like an oncoming thunderstorm. Somehow, I also took the wrong turn in San Antonio and got lost. Well that's what happens if you look at the sky rather than traffic signs... Found I-35 North in the end and after 5 minutes driving got caught in a massive traffic jam. Wouldn't have been too bad (it was rush-hour, after all) if it weren´t for the sky color and me stuck in the center lane. The mean thing was that it started to rain and after a few seconds it seemed that the car was beaten up. Walnut-sized hail and nowhere to hide! What a noise... Somehow, the highway emptied itself at walking speed and I, too, was able to sneak away.

Since I was crammed in in the center lane, the best places to hide were already occupied (bridges are very popular in theses cases). At last, I found a tree with dense leaves as shelter. After 5 minutes, the spook was over and the sun was shining again. Unbelievable! Hmmm, the engine is not running. Why does the car move then? Ah, my shelter changed to a river! You should have told that a dummie like me! Now quickly get the car to run and somehow get out of the mud as fast as possible! The windshield was full of twigs, leaves, and hail but still intact. I didn't care that the wipers couldn't clear the windshield: Just get out of here! Somehow, I managed it and finally had asphalt under the tires. The water on the road reached the wheel hubs and strongly resembled a mountain river during snow melting, only a lot dirtier. Well, insiders know that I am friend of "dirty soup" but this wasn't really my stuff...

At the next parking lot, I cleaned the car from leaves, twigs, and the rest of the hail, and then drove the last 50 miles up to Austin where I arrived at about 7 PM. Uhhh, the car looks ugly! As if it had the pox. Just wait until the rental company sees it...

See you soon, Erhard


... until 08-05-2006
Think, I could as well have stayed in Arizona. Working on the layout was not possible because the weather wasn't on our side. Nice and sunny during the day and thundertorms at night. That menas: the backyard is just one big mud puddle...
Well, obviously there is nothing left but go shopping, start an excursion or two, or just be plain lazy (the latter being absolutely no problem for me).
But maybe I should polish up my favorite photo spot a bit. This junction is made for a US-module: small, handy, overseeable, and with operative challenges... Austin White Lime can be kitbashed from commercially available kits. Also availabe are some historical facts. The small shop with it's post office lends itself as a scratchbuilding project. Here are a few pictures for those who want to try it out:





Find yourself a couple of styrene sheets and some parts from "scrap-box", and you have a nice building project for 3 to 4 evenings...

Yesterday, on 7th May, I followed the line to Taylor,TX (roughly 30 minutes drive). If you see a track running parallel to the road in Germany, you inadvertently think of some minor branch line. Not here: The line comes from Austin and leads all the way through to Chicago (of course, with a few connections inbetween)!!! So this is a veritable mainline with proportionate traffic...

If, however, someone is working on the track, there is no traffic at all... The guy in the picture furiously swings his hammer and desperately tries to fit two toatally bent track bolts into their holes. Why that? He had sparkling new bolts on his truck!

Only one assumption is left: "We have to save money, whatever the cost!"

Swinging the sledge hammer MOW vehicle 

Upon arrival at Taylor, it wasn't very difficult to find the yard. Taylor can easily be overseen - one main street and a few side roads left and right of it.

But then it struck me like lightning: I found a train with 9 (in words: NINE!!!) engines sitting in the yard! What a treat!!!

I couldn't take a picture of all nine engines. Even the wide-angle setting didn't work. So I walked down the train and shot the engines that appealed the most to me.









Refuelling from a tanker


On the way back to McNeil - already on Highway 79 again - I found another surprise:

A train with a leading Conrail engine approached me. That was quite a change to the overwhelming armour-yellow in this area. Consequence: I made a U-turn and put the pedal down in order to pass the train and find a spot to snipe it. Ok, Ok, speed limit was at 60 mph but no sheriff in sight, and besides, 80 mph work better to pass. I found a small grade crossing just outside of Taylor, parked the car, and fired up the video-cam.


Click for video

Oh well, time is flying by and now it is already time to think about packing the suitcase again. My flight home to Hamburg departs tomorrow.

Again, I caught a "great" flight:

  • departure Austin at 06:40 (CDT),
  • arrival Newark 11:08 EDT,
  • departure Newark 17:40 (another 6.5 hours at the airport),
  • and finally arrival Hamburg on 10. May, 2006 at 07:30 local time.

I don't think I'll go to bed tonight. Just got used to sleep in... In case you want to have a blarney with me at the Wunderland, well, you can try this from 16th May on. Before that, I have to sleep a few hours Laughing

Allright, folks, that´s it: I now close this diary and we´ll meet again!