Here is how the junction looked in 1974. A westbound Frisco mixed train, pulled by a Santa Fe SD-45 and two SD-40's, blows by the old semaphore signal that guarded the diamond. At the time, the transfer track was little used.
Left: In 2009, a westbound Z-train uses the transfer track to divert off the mainline onto the Avard Sub, while an eastbound manifest waits on the other side of the diamond for a clear board. Today, meets like this are common as Fort Worth dispatchers use the Red Rock Sub as an elongated passing side. The Z train will divert back onto the Avard Sub, using the cross-over track in Perry. This image was taken in Winter, when the sun is low in the southern sky. December through February are the best times to photograph Black Bear Junction.
the early 1970’s, the hottest train on the Frisco was the westbound QLA, a
transcontinental train which ran from Memphis to California on the Southern,
Frisco and Santa Fe lines. The Frisco
segment ran through Oklahoma City, then southwest on a secondary main to Quanah,
Texas, to interchange with the Santa Fe.
In 1973, the Frisco completely rebuilt the line from Tulsa to Avard to
handle the QLA and other hot trains like the QSF, significantly shortening
mileage and running time to California, as opposed to the route through
The management decision to invest
money was bold, given the dismal national economy. The 1970’s were not good
years for American railroads. The Rock
Island and Milwaukee Road were a handful of derailments away from liquidation. Even profitable lines like the Santa Fe and
Union Pacific deferred maintenance. The
Frisco’s decision to use four million dollars to rebuild the line to Avard was,
in that environment, astounding. When
completed, the Frisco routed as many as six transcontinental trains per day
through Avard. By the mid-1970’s, Santa
Fe power generally ran west of Tulsa. A
casual observer would have thought the line was part of the AT&SF.
Right: AT&SF 5520 West (an SD-45) Hauls the QLA through the Osage Hills West of Tulsa in 1974.
first photographs of the Tulsa-Avard line occurred by accident in March of
1973. On a dark, cloudy morning, I had
driven north of Oklahoma City to photograph the southbound Texas Chief, which
had become a ward of Amtrak in 1971, was later renamed the “Lone Star” and was
eventually discontinued in 1979. North
of Edmond, I discovered a manifest on the ground (the only derailment I have
ever seen on the Red Rock Subdivision), and I wondered what had become of the
passenger train. Not having anything
better to do, I followed the line north to Perry, where I discovered the
stainless-steel Chief sitting quietly at the small station.
What happened that day was
complicated. Talking to a couple of Amtrak employees, I learned that the
passengers had left the train and were taking a bus to Oklahoma City. The crew was now trying to decide what to do
with the train, since the line to the south was blocked. After lengthy discussions with both Santa Fe
and Frisco dispatchers, Amtrak decided to dead-head the train east to Tulsa on
the Frisco line, then southwest on another Frisco line to Oklahoma City,
thereby running around the derailment. To
make that move, the power had to be relocated to the rear of the train, so that
the Chief could run backwards (north) on the Red Rock subdivision to Black Bear
Junction, where it would take the transfer track east to the Frisco line and
Tulsa. The F-units were running
“elephant style” that day, however, so the Santa Fe had to provide a blue and
yellow freight F-unit to connect to the power as the lead unit. A Frisco crew qualified to run the line also
had to be driven to Perry. This process
took several hours.
Eventually the empty train headed
north towards Black Bear, and I followed.
Much of the Avard Subdivision northeast of Perry runs in the valley of
Black Bear Creek, several miles from the main highway. I took photographs as best I could, never
having seen the line before. I followed
the train all the way to Tulsa, noticing that a portion of the line had already
been upgraded while another portion, closer to Tulsa, was still lightweight,
jointed rail waiting to be replaced by heavy welded steel, new ties and fresh
ballast. Once the train reached Tulsa,
it turned and ran southwest to Oklahoma City on what was then a moderately
busy, single-track Frisco line protected by semaphore signals. The Chief arrived in Oklahoma City at
sundown, where the freight F-unit was removed, and the original power returned
to the front of the train for the remainder of the trip south into Texas. To my knowledge, that was the last passenger
run on the Avard Subdivision.
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