|Westbound Stacks, Lead by an ES44DC, Roar Past the Grain Elevator in Perry, Oklahoma.|
|A Re-Routed Westbound Empty Coal Train Climbs the Osage Hills.|
|An Eastbound Manifest Passes the Keystone Dam, Led by a C44-9W.|
|A Rock Train at Same Location.|
Below: Eastbound Stacks Crossing a Small Arm of Lake Keystone.
|BNSF 7545 East Roars Along Realigned Route Straight Through the Osage Hills.|
|Same Location in Winter.|
|Cimarron River Crossing.|
There may be no other line in the United States in which the geography changes as rapidly as on the Avard Subdivision. In about 150 miles east to west, the terrain shifts from close, forested hills that look like central Tennessee to open wheat fields and grain elevators that look like eastern Montana. Leaving the valley of the Arkansas River west of Tulsa, for example, freights climb through sandstone cuts surrounded by oak forest. By contrast, on the western side of the line, near Carrier, trains negotiate an ocean of ripening amber wheat. The distance between the two locations is only about one hundred miles.
Westbound Stacks in the Siding at Pawnee
Early in the 18th century, more than 60,000 members of the Pawnee Tribe inhabited the North Platt River in Nebraska. The Tribe then, as it is now, was composed of four distinct bands: the Chaui “Grand,” the Kitkehahki “Republican,” the Pitahawirata “Tappage” and the Skidi “Wolf.” After encroachment by white settlers, the Pawnees unwillingly ceded their territory to the U.S. Government and were removed from Nebraska to what is now Pawnee County Oklahoma in 1875. The Pawnee Indian Agency and an Indian boarding school named the Pawnee Industrial School were established just east of the present site of the City of Pawnee. The school, called “Gravy U” by locals, was closed in 1958 and the land was returned to the Pawnee Nation in 1968. Many of the former Industrial School buildings now serve as Tribal offices and as a home for the Pawnee Nation College.
The Eastern Oklahoma Railway, which later became part of the Santa Fe, built a line through Pawnee between 1900 and 1902. In 1902, the Arkansas Valley and Western Railway (now the BNSF's Award Sub) also built a line through the city. The Santa Fe branch line was abandoned years ago. However, the portion of it through Pawnee is now used as a passing siding for the Avard Sub. In the image above, westbound stacks are on the remaining portion of the old Eastern Oklahoma Railway. The mainline is barely visible in the bottom center. Through town, mainline and passing siding are separated by a considerable distance.
Westbound Stacks Approaching Old Pawnee Industrial School.Black Bear Junction
Black Bear Junction is a pleasant location to spend a day watching trains. You are nowhere near a town or any people. A gravel road leads from the county road onto a small hill above the diamond, where trains from both the Red Rock Subdivision (12 -20 trains per day) and the Avard Subdivision (15-30 trains per day) roar past in all directions. That the Avard Sub is now busier than the Red Rock Sub is one of life's great ironies, because the line east from Tulsa was almost abandoned by the Frisco in the 1950's.
To the left and below is a map of the junction. As you can see, the Avard Sub is running due east/west, while the Red Rock Sub is angling from northeast to southwest. This is a current USGS map, yet it still identifies the lines as belonging to the Frisco and the Santa Fe! A county road runs due north-south immediately east of the junction. The gravel road turn-out is just south of the Avard tracks.
About two hundred yards west of the diamond, the Avard Sub turns southwest and parallels the Red Rock Sub towards Perry. It is common to see an eastbound train on the Avard Sub stopped just short of the diamond, waiting for a train to pass on the Red Rock Sub.
The junction is named for Black Bear Creek, which floods frequently. Both the Red Rock and Avard Subdivisions are just high enough out of the flood plane to avoid service outages -- except, I assume, in floods of Biblical proportions. To give you some idea of the relative safety of the junction, I have taken photographs at Black Bear (off and on) for 45 years, and I have never seen the lines closed for high water.
Below are several images taken at the junction, which I hope will give some idea of the photographic possibilities.
|In January 1999, westbound pristine warbonnets approach the diamond to cross the Red Rock Subdivision. The transfer track, where Tulsa to Oklahoma City and Texas trains diverge from one subdivision to the other, is in the foreground.|
|Near Morrison Oklahoma -- January 1975.|
|West of Covington, Oklahoma -- an SD45-2.|
|Cascade Green Near Pawnee, Oklahoma -- December 1982.|
|Mix of BN and ATSF Power at Perry -- Lead Unit is a GP-28M (I Think).|
|Westbound BN trailers are passing Perry, Oklahoma. The water tower and large plant in the background are the international headquarters of Ditch Witch, Inc.|
|Santa Fe, Frisco and BN Power Roll East -- Toward the Avard Sub -- Down Curtis Hill on the AT&SF Transcon.|
|More Mixed Power off the Avard Sub Has Transferred to the AT&SF Transcon Along the Sand Dunes at Curtis Hill.|
|The Last Frisco Unit I Saw Come Off the Avard Sub -- Curtis Hill, February 6, 1982.|
|A Meet at Shirk.|
|A Meet at Hallet.|
|A Southbound Crosses the Diamond on the Red Rock Sub While an Eastbound Waits on the Avard Sub for a Green Signal.|
|A Temple (Texas) to Tulsa Manifest, Led by an SD70ACe, Transfers off the Red Rock Sub onto the Avard Sub, While Another Manifest Waits Behind the Diamond.|
|USGS Map Showing the Extent of Double Track Fairmont. Notice that both lines are misnamed. The two branch lines in the northeast quadrant were both abandoned years ago.|
|Eastbound Stacks are Coming off the Passing Siding at McWillie.|
|BNSF 7067 West Roars Toward Avard Beside the Distinctive Red Soil of Western Oklahoma.|
|Wheat Fields and Stacks.|
|A Pristine Warbonnet Rolls Past Lucien.|
|The Sun Sets at Black Bear Junction.|
So there you have it -- the Avard Subdivision from Tulsa to Transcon -- an interesting and little-known piece of twenty-first century railroading. I hope you enjoyed the tour.
To see my other posts, go to waltersrail.com.