Sept. 28-30, 2012
It was time to get our butts back to Texas, so we pointed the Airstream south and started driving. We normally don’t like to drive more than 6 or so hours a day plus stops, so that means we have three more days of farmland.
We drove a long first day to get to North Platte, Nebraska. We needed to do some laundry and there was something to see so we hung out for an extra day.
North Platte is home to one of the largest (if not the actual largest) train yards in the US, home of the mighty Union Pacific. There is small visitor center called the Golden Spike Tower with information on the railroad and a very comfortable rail yard viewing area on the top floors. From there you get a great overview of the comings and goings of the yard. The viewing area is manned by retired rail workers who live to talk trains.
Here’s the fleet of locomotives at the ready. The building on the left houses more locomotives for service.
Here’s where the trains enter the yard. The main holding area is flanked by two humps, one on either end. This is a major crossroads, so many trains come in with cars heading for various destinations. The real function of the yard is to sort and redistribute the cars to other trains. The way they do this is interesting, but surprisingly quite simple.
The incoming train approaches the hump. As each car reaches the hump, its disconnected and rolls slowly due to gravity onto one of dozens of parallel tracks. One by one the entire train of cars is processed onto multiple tracks, each representing a different destination. You can see a set of two cars rolling down the hump in this picture.
These are groups of cars in the holding area waiting to be hooked up onto a new locomotive for a new destination. Periodically, one or more locomotives will pick up cars from multiple holding tracks to assemble its multiple mile long train and head out.
I think the yard stretches about 8 miles long. Its quite the site, even for someone who is not a “train-guy”.
The visitor center also has a corn maze for the kids, this is Nebraska after all. Its hard to tell from the first shot, but the maze is actually train themed as shown by the second picture.
We drove, as expected, the next two days back to Texas, spending the night in Liberal, Kansas along the way. Other than getting a taste of a typical Kansas thunderstorm, the trip was uneventful.