In mid-October 2011, I drove U.S. Highway 191 North, from Moab towards Crescent Junction. About half a mile south of Utah Highway 313 (to Canyonlands National Park and Dead Horse Point State Park), I saw the unmistakable glare of locomotive headlights, heading south toward Moab and Potash, Utah. With two powerful headlights lights stacked above and two more spread out below, their brightness on the landscape was second only to the light of the sun.
Across from the Bar-M Chuckwagon site, U.S. 191 intersected a gravel road leading west. As soon as I turned on to that road, I found an uncontrolled railroad grade crossing only a few yards away. Parking my truck, I grabbed my camera and ran toward the tracks. When I looked again at the approaching engine, it appeared stopped in a road cut, north of Highway 313. Had time stood still, was the train stopped on the tracks or was it moving too slowly for me to see?
Soon, I could see that the locomotive was accelerating toward me on level ground. From that distance, I knew that my old Sony digital camera would not show much detail. Impatiently, I waited for the train to approach. As it closed on my position, I started taking snapshots of the action. While composing my shots on the LCD screen, I did not realize how quickly the train approached.
Watch the video, "The Union Pacific Potash Local"
When I walked across the tracks to get a different perspective, I heard a deafening blast from the Union Pacific locomotive's air horn. The engineer seemed to be saying, “Watch out. Here I come”. With a five-second delay for image processing, I had to wait for each shot to clear before I could again depress the shutter. As the lead engine passed my position, I swung the camera up to capture the power and size of the Potash Local. From earthquakes to hurricanes and tornados, eye witnesses will invariable say, “It sounded like a freight train coming towards me”. After standing my ground just yards from the passing engines, I understood exactly what they meant.
With a clickety-clack on the joints of the hand-laid tracks, the Potash Local soon traveled around a bend and out of sight. In a few more miles, it would pass the “Train of Pain”, parked on a siding overlooking the Moab UMTRA Site. The Train of Pain hauls radio nucleotide-contaminated soil thirty miles from the Moab Pile to a disposal site near Brendel, Utah.
After passing through the Moab Rim within the mile-long Bootlegger Tunnel, the Potash Local enters a road cut that bisects many layers of solid rock. After emerging from those two engineering marvels, the tracks then parallel Utah Highway 279 (The Potash Road). Downstream, along the scenic Colorado River, the destination of the Potash Local is only a few more miles ahead. The end of the line and terminus of the Cane Creek Subdivision (Potash Branch line) is the Intrepid Potash Cane Creek Plant.