July 15, 2015

7/14/15 - Golden Spike Tower

When I first set up the route for this year, one of George's friends noticed we were going to be in Nebraska and told us that we should stop at North Platte to visit the Golden Spike Tower. Although I hadn't a clue what it was, I put it on the itinerary so I wouldn't forget. It's a perfect example of someplace you never would have known about unless you talked to someone who'd been there. If you like trains, you can really get your fill here. Even if you're not into trains, it's a fascinating place.

There's another Golden Spike where the east and west sections of the transcontinental railroad were joined with a ceremonial golden spike. That's at Promontary Point in Utah. We'll get there eventually because it's part of the National Park System, but that's not this Golden Spike.

This is Union Pacific's Bailey Yard, the world's largest rail yard. There are over 150 trains each day, 10,000 cars and LOTS of locomotives. The brochure says "More trains than you can keep track of", which may be grammatically incorrect but really fits.

There are 23 flags in the courtyard, one for each state where there are Union Pacific rails. At the base of each flag there's a plaque which identifies how many miles of UP track there are in that state and a little map to show where the tracks are.
There are two viewing platforms. From the observation decks of the tower, there's a panoramic view of locomotives and rail cars as they're being sorted and moved around the yard. The one on the 7th floor is outside; the upper one is enclosed.
When I was checking out the place before we got there, I saw a lot of reviews from people complaining that the tower was too far away to be able to see much. Here are views from the 7th floor deck, first west, then east:
So, yes, it's a bit difficult to see details....good thing I got a new camera! But, wait! I'm not only getting ahead of myself, but now I'm showing off. That's pretty tacky.
The Locomotive Repair Shop is as big as 3 football fields, and repairs 750 engines each month. There are yard engines that look just like the rest, collecting locomotives, joining them together, scooting them from all over the yard until they're lined up and ready to go into the Repair Shop. That's the fun part to watch.
Each locomotive goes to the sand tower. They use the sand for traction on the wheels anytime they begin to slip. I didn't know the wheels ever slipped, so I didn't know about the sand either. I think George did. 
The Hump Yards are elevated mounds for sorting individual rail cars to get them connected for their final destination. The East Hump is raised 34' (that's the bridge in the distance.)  The cars roll slowly down the humps and are sorted into bowl tracks.
The ramp from the hump is on the left. There are 64 different bowl tracks on the west side where the cars are connected for their final destinations along UP's route. Bowl tracks are actually shaped like a bowl--with the tracks on an incline, the trains won't get out of the bowl before they're supposed to.
The East Run Through (those yellow towers in the distance) is where they refuel the engines and other maintenance stuff. Locomotive crews are changed out here too. On an average day, they service 300 locomotives.
There's a hump yard for the trains going west too. Check out the bridge in the distance--that's the West Bound Hump--which we see by looking towards the east. The East Route Tower (below right) is where the yardmaster controls eastbound departures and sets up the individual trains for departure.
Headquarters for Bailey Yard is in this building where the yard superintendent and his staff manage the whole yard. Personally, I'd want a lot of staff.
The statistics on this place are amazing. The map (double-click on it to enlarge it enough to really see how detailed it is) shows all the different tracks in the yard. Bailey Yard sits on 2,850 acres stretching out 8 miles!
The volunteers are all people who used to work here--the one that George talked to for an hour or more had been an engineer. These guys love trains and everything to do with them, so they're not only knowledgeable but enthusiastic. I had more fun wandering up and down stairs, inside and out, taking pictures, watching trains than listening to those guys swap stories. I liked watching the yard engines bustle around, collecting and connecting cars, making a train out of them.

If you are ever near North Platte on I-80, take the time to detour to Bailey Yard and the Golden Spike Tower.

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