Leave No Station Unphotographed: The Blog of SubwayNut.com


The Northbound Heartland Flyer to Norman, Oklahoma

Greetings from Norman, Oklahoma where my evening adventure of the day was riding the Heartland Flyer! I am planning to fill in on the rest of my adventures by postdating posts.

The day began this morning as I let myself sleep in at the hotel out by Love Field. I went and enjoyed the complimentary hot breakfast before checking out and leaving my backpack at the front desk again. My goal for the morning was to get most of the northern branch of the green line done. It is tracks I will have to ride on again (when I venture out to ride the A-train to Denton) but it just seemed like a good little morning trip to avoid spending tons of time slowly taking the train through downtown. Although the DART runs every 20 minutes one really nice aspect of it is that it seems to follow its schedule pretty much to the minute. I notice that there is an extra post-rush hour take-out providing a ten minute frequency and incorporate that into my rail fanning plans for the day. I end up getting every station between Love Field and Downtown Carrolton before realize I am running a little bit early. I take the bus back to my hotel from last night and take a little walk through the suburbain sprawl (with quite a few office parks) making a few phone calls before grabbing my backpack and catching the bus to the Hospital area and getting the 1:58 Trinity Railway Express train to Fort Worth.

The TRE train has just two bilevel cars and could easily use a third car. I am stuck grabbing a set of facing seats with someone else, its that crowded. There is no luggage rack (in this TRE car) so my backpack is stuck spending the ride in the seat next to me. We get to Fort Worth and I go straight to the Amtrak ticket office where the agent gladly lets me leave my bag overnight for the standard $3 charge. Next I had come up with a bit of a possible adventure to get two more stations on Trinity Railway Express with an hour to spare. Instead I start walking downtown and realize that I am at the perfect time to head up to the stockyards and see the 4:00pm Cattle Round-up. I take the bus up to the stockyards and watch maybe ten bulls with there huge longhorns being marched around in a circle (something they do twice a day every day). The stockyards do though seem worth seeing. I take the bus back downtown and I notice what is the old Santa Fe freight depot followed by the old passenger depot. While I am taking pictures of the old passenger depot, now owned privately as a special event space, a women who works there stops her car and asks me if I want a look inside. I of course say yes and get a little tour. I then rush back to the station in time for my train and as I board realize I have no idea what the direction of travel is. The Superliners in use on the Heartland Flyer have the seats in a half facing each direction design. I learn and grab a seat facing forward for the ride north.

At 5:20 The Heartland Flyer backs up a bit to ensure an on time departure I notice one women running out to the train to board the train. At 5:25 we finally switch out of the station and I realize I am in the very front of the train behind the locomotive. We crossover the TRE tracks on a bridge and then cross over the highway overpass the TRE goes under. We go over grade crossings on the edge of downtown, and continue through uptown on a grade. The conductor welcomes us aboard #822 addressing the train
5:28 – pass a cemetery as we leave Fort Worth and then go through a neighborhood and then lots of trees, its strange being on a Superliner with normal Superliner seats but the seats in short-distance push-pull half backwards, half forwards configuration. We slowly cross over a fork of the Trinity River and cross another railroad. I can really hear the engine sitting right behind it.
5:33 – pass the Mexican Community (according to a man sitting across from me) and a loop for horseback riders.
5:35 – pass the huge scrapyard for the day and then the old Navel Station and Meacham Airport. Then our first time meet a train of wind turbines on very long double flat cards as we go through a train yard quickly and then hopper cars.
5:39 – enter Saginaw and then pass an historic depot at Saginaw interlocking as we switch railroads. Next is a grain yard followed by silos and its water tower off in the distance as we enter farmlands and fields. There are some subdivisions off in the distance before these become closer to the train. The conductor comes through taking tickets. There is a strange contrast of beeping for eTickets and punches from the old fashioned tickets. I end up being the last ticket collected as the conductor thanks me by name (he has done this with everyone) and says “How Cool is That” as he zaps my iPhone. He issues the most unique seat checks I have seen, ripping them into thirds like he is rationing them before writing my destination on it and hole punching it. Those going all the way to OKC just get a blank white one. We slowly enter more farmland and pass another freight train. Soon after my ticket is collected there is a nice long cafe car is open announcement from that attendant. She gives far too long a safety briefing saying to use the handrails and reminds people that the only products permitted in her lower-level lounge are those bought on board.
5:51 – I think we have left the Metroplex beyond, but wait I see the large boxes on a JC Penney (a warehouse) in the middle of some fields.
5:54 – pass a shopping mall off in some of the fields. I notice the conductor is just sitting in some open seats his suitcase open.
5:58 – pass through Justin, a seed bank and some houses off in the distance.
6:04 – the subdivision of Northlake
6:07 – More new houses and a feed store. I hear some people behind me complaining about the line for the sank car
6:11 – Go under US-380 and I realize I am only 8 miles from Denton, the northern terminus of the A-Line Express, a new DMU commuter train I am planning to ride tomorrow or the day after depending upon timing.
6:13 – Now we go through Krum with a mixture of larger subdivision houses and then a trailer park
6:17 – We continue through fields I exhaust from the locomotive blowing by my window now and again.
6:20 – pass through a forest with trees on each sie of us but more fertile fields beyond them.
6:22 – approaching Sanger, pass a subdivision of identical single story ranch style houses. I then can see a downtown off in the distance.
6:25 – see I-35 off in the distance and nice contrast of cows followed by a huge Wal-Mart distribution center. There are a lot of bales of hay.
6:30 – going over a little water and a riparian zone so there are quite a few trees that also act as a buffer between fields and the train
6:32 – pass a few houses and the signs of a few suburban houses as we enter and then go parallel to I-35.

At 6:39 we go back to trees in a wetland interrupting the fields and the announcement for Gainsville. I hear the other conductor in my car get up and check for passengers. We enter passing the antique center of north texas. We arrive at 6:42 and there about a halve dozen people on the platform looking like they are getting on, more than getting off. Most lack luggage, guess there making a day trip from OKC. There is a nice old wooden depot, the seats in front of me now have passengers huffing and puffing who almost missed the train. I notice another interesting aspect of eTickets the conductor just needs one from a party traveling together on the same reservation. They have three separate tickets but he just scans one. One of the passengers asks the conductor the fastest speeds and I hear we get up to 79mph in Oklahoma but only 55-60mph in Texas due to the fact the grade crossings need to be retimed in Texas which that state hasn’t paid for yet.
6:51 – Go through trees and fields of North Texas. The land isn’t totally flat, rolling up and down a tiny bit although it could just be the size of the trees in the area.
6:56 – Cross the Red River into Oklahoma! The 43rd state I have now at least set foot in! More trees along the railway line which yield to some fields as well but plenty of trees.
7:02 – go through the first town in Oklahoma, Thankerville, and go back to rolling hills in fields off in the distance from the train.
7:13 – Now we pass through some simple small houses of Marietta passing its baseball fields seeing what looks like a pee-wee coach pitch game going on. The area around us becomes full of more trees and continues this way. The glare from the evening sun not that nice since I am sitting on the west side of the train. There are little patches of water in places, we could moving 80mph.
7:22 – see a few houses of Overbrook off to one side of the train, Ardmore the one smoke/fresh air stop is next, were definitely going faster possibly, 79, I can hear the generator of the P42s speed which keeps changing.
They announce were approaching Ardmore but not to get up yet. I do one of my techniques for making sure I have the longest possible photo stop by running to the bathroom and getting the arriving announcement while I am in there before jumping off the train to get a quick photo essay. We arrive about two minutes late. I end up walking the length of the train and get pictures of each of our locomotives. I get the All Aboard and re-board in the rear coach and notice that almost every set of two seats is taken in the previous two coaches being used by passengers going the full FTW to OKC length. We leave 5 minutes late at 7:33 officially. I walk the length of the train on board and notice the conductor is still using his old fashioned pad to sell tickets ($20) to passengers who have just boarded the train in Ardmore. I thought that would now be just an iPhone transaction. I know the train sold out yesterday since it was my original plan to take it that day. I still got its lowest bucket though for my little overnight round trip 3 days before so I could also get my NARP discount
7:38 – slow down passing a huge chemical plant and keep running slowly by trees in the evening sun.
7:48 – there is a nice low evening sun over fields and a few cows with plenty of trees in the rolling hills.
7:51 – Go by a few houses in the tiny community of Gene Autry near the Ardmore Airport. My iPhone is being slow (cell service is poor).
I decide I need to visit the cafe car and go downstairs and get distracted sightseeing with the sun setting on the Watchita River. The cafe car has a slightly unique menu printed on a piece of regular computer paper. There the usual donuts but the sandwiches are different and seem quite a bit cheeper. Had I known the reasonable prices I might have skipped stopping at Subway for a sandwich. At this point we reach the most scenic point of the trip along the Washita River, through the Arbuckle Mountains. No pictures because I didn’t bring my camera down. The water is real low. After I buy a nice large cookie the conductor jokes with me that “Were not a fly by night operation.” I try an explain that I am used to the more expensive regular cafe cars. The river luckily comes back into view in the sunset were moving slowly with trees all around us.
8:05 – pass Doughardy in a meadow with a farm house off beyond it.
8:12 – the river comes back into view as the sun keeps setting
8:15 – regain speed as we go through Davis, a main street is visible off in the distance. The sun keeps setting on the trees and fields. I think I’ll be shooting Norman in the dark
8:24 – Slow down passing some other chemical plant as we go through Wynnewood, there is tubing and smokestacks on both sides of the train for this industrial monstrosity we must pass by slowly, before a full unit coal train passes us by. We stop to let it pass.
8:33-It finishes and we leave again, the sun almost fully set and regain good speed.
At 8:41 the sun has almost fully set as we start coming into a town. It is the town of Pauls Valley. It feels a bit big and has a modern gated platform in front of a closed station house with an old pointless arrow sign on it. The gate is already open. It’s getting a little dark for photos. We leave at 8:43 about 20 minutes late, quite typical for the Heartland Flyer as I have tracked it for the past few days. There is a caboose and steam engine beyond the depot in a little park. We leave the houses of Pauls Valley beyond and go back into fields. A ray of pink sunlight still visible but not much else. I see the last rays of sun, had the train been on time I would have gotten some last ray shots in Norman, guess it will be a photo essay in the dark. This I expected (after tracking the train for the past few days) but was hoping for the better.
9:15 – announcement for Purcell although there is no one on the train getting off. He also announces it will be 15 minutes to Norman. Everyone around me gets on their phones, all going to Norman to say how close they are.
At 9:17 we slowly get to lights of a platform along a very empty parking lot with just a shelter. There are a few people waiting in that shelter. We briefly stop but there is just family watching the train go by. There is a nice long platform with an unused wheelchair lift enclosure. I decide its time to pack up. We slowly pull into Norman arriving at 9:35. I notice one major problem with trying to get a nighttime photo essay. The platform has very few lampposts. The lights in the station are off but they switch on almost immediately. I go inside and start chatting with the volunteer who staffs the station and almost forgot to come and show up. I get my pictures of the space used during the day as a rehearsal space for the performing arts and he offers me a ride the 3 miles to my hotel which I am grateful for. The original plan was to walk. I get to the Country Inn before 10:00pm which accepted by bid on Priceline of just $35 (came to $45 with taxes). My goal was to only ride the Heartland Flyer if I could make the round including accommodation trip for under $100 which did happen. To make myself even more happy I find out the complimentary breakfast starts at 6am giving me half an hour before I need to leave the hotel and catch the commuter bus up to Oklahoma City so I can ride the Heartland Flyer for its entire length.