After a quick, but comfortable few hours at the Sleep Inn in Statesville, it was time to chase again. I mentioned in Part 1, the 611 excursion was scheduled to depart Spencer at 7 AM, and I was staying only 20 miles or so out of Spencer, and yet, I planned to depart the hotel at 8 AM. Was I crazy!? If you think so, I dare not tell you that I departed the hotel at 8:05 AM and then stopped at the closest Starbucks in Statesville before proceeding towards the tracks. I knew the train would leave a few minutes late, and once they left Spencer, they would have to wait for signals to get lined up through Salisbury NC. And this time... luck was on my side!
With the FIREUP611 Twitter feed not showing they were on the main yet, I knew I had time for coffee. Once I started driving along the right of way and seeing all the cars waiting at every crossing, I knew I hadn't missed her!
TRAINS Magazine published a chasing guide for todays journey. A simple map with landmarks listed, and showing how the roads parallel the tracks. I was interested in the Bostian Bridge near Statesville, the site of a tragic train wreck in 1891. I found the bridge, but there was no way to get anywhere near it without trespassing on private or railroad property. So... I just backtracked to the nearest crossing. I chose to stand against the sun hoping to get a back-lit shot of the 611 with the smoke. I chose to use video on my iphone6 rather than try to get "the shot" with my Nikon. The results were decent... was hoping it would be better but it captures the morning sun shining on the 611 and the smoke. I posted the video at the end of this blog.
Next I jumped on Highway 70, towards the bridge at Lyle Creek. Highway 70 and the Railroad cross the creek close enough that by standing on the shoulder of the bridge, you can get a great view of the railroad bridge. Lots of Train Chasers were on the bridge so I parked, and walked out to the middle of the bridge. A few railfans said the train stopped for a few minutes. That few minutes felt like a long time to wait on the bridge, the wind was very cold, but when the train came, it was worth the wait. The #611 and her train looked like a little model train so far away. And since the train hadn't picked up full speed yet, there was plenty of chances to get some photos.
Now... the Chase was on! #611 was picking up speed and I lost her for a bit. Caught up to the train again in Long View NC. Looking on the map, I could see the tracks went right through town, but what I thought was a grade crossing turned out to be an overpass. So I drove up the road to the next crossing. There was a sidewalk right next to the tracks, so I parked on the street, hopped on to the sidewalk just as the crossing gates started to come down. Most of the chasers were at the over pass, and with the side walk being close to the tracks, I could get a really great photo of #611 climbing a small grade.
After Long View I hopped on the interstate in order to get ahead of the train. The next location I had my eye on was Morganton NC. Morganton has a nice historic depot. I arrived near the depot and cars had stacked up on the small drive way. I thought I was well ahead of the train so I parked down the hill from the station and started walking up... and then I heard the whistle. I made it to the top of the hill to watch the #611 pass through, but I was not at a good location for photos. Too bad.. the sun was perfect at that location. Better luck next time.
On to the loops! As I mentioned, the entire purpose of this weekend of chasing was seeing #611 climb the Asheville Loops. The Asheville Loops are a truly an impressive series of curves that allow the railroad to climb up a large grade in a short amount of time. I already knew where I wanted to be - Andrews Geyser. The Andrews Geyser is a man-made fountain that was constructed in memory of the men who died while building this section of track. The original geyser was constructed in 1885. It was later reconstructed in 1911, and restored in the 1970's. There is a small park with picnic tables surrounding the geyser, and the tracks loop around this area in a large climbing curve. Passengers on the train can see the geyser at 3 different locations along their journey. Since seeing the #611 at this location was the top priority, I went straight there from Morganton. I got off the Interstate and drove into the small town of Old Fort, where a huge crowd was gathering in front of the historic depot. Traveling towards the Geyser, I saw many railfans camping out to get a good spot. It was tough not to stop along the way.. knowing the train has to slow down a bit going through this curvy section of the line, it would be possible to get a good shot, and then drive to the geyser in time to see the train, but I knew traffic would be heavy on the small windy road, and parking near they Geyser would get crazy.
Sure enough... a big crowd had indeed gathered around the geyser. And who could blame them! I wasn't particularly worried about getting a "perfect" picture. I mostly wanted to hear #611 working hard up the grade. Was a good 30-40 minute wait. Many railfans were talking, sharing stories of various trains they have ridden and chased throughout the years. Finally... you could hear the whistle echoing through the hills in the distance. Then... a bit closer, and closer. Suddenly you could hear the #611 as she entered the valley, there is nothing like hearing a large steam locomotive working hard. This was no "I Think I Can I Think I Can" this was "We've got a grade ahead of us, let's get this done" (seriously... that's what she was saying... I'm an expert in locomotive translation :P ).
Everyone was thrilled... #611 put on an impressive show at the loops.
Following the loops, the #611 travelled to Asheville NC where passengers could detrain and enjoy the town. I knew the traffic in Asheville would be crazy, and I knew nothing could beat the Loops, so I headed home from there.
Over all I saw the #611 in a wide variety of settings over the weekend. Each time was unique. Steam on the mainline is a rare sight in the USA, so it's important we support it, and enjoy every opportunity we can get.
Want to know more about Mainline Steam, which engines are currently operating, and when they are scheduled to operate? Head on over to MAINLINE STEAM. I update the schedules frequently. Also like my page on facebook, where I share steam photos and news.