My railfanning outing for this Monday afternoon started out like any other, but quickly became a whirlwind of chaos. On my way out, I got word that train 36Q would have NS #8114, a heritage unit painted for the "original" Norfolk Southern Railway. If I caught it, this would be my first ever sighting of a heritage unit! Upon arriving in Gainesville, I found my usual parking spot overrun with building materials, and had to take the long way 'round to get to where I wanted to be. This move was compounded by the presence of train I28, sitting in the siding between Gainesville and Wellington. However, by the time I was able to identify this train as I28, and what it was waiting in the siding for, it was already tearing out onto the main track to continue its journey South. I confirmed this by arriving at the Balls Ford Road crossing only to be greeted by the second half of the train. Darn.
Then, just as I arrived back at my spot in Gainesville, I swear on the operating rule book I heard "47" calling signals coming South from Alexandria. Clifton, then Bull Run, then Manassas... Strange, 047 is reserved for the circus train, and there's no circus moves near here...UNLESS, it's the retired elephant cars coming South!!! I raced over to my other usual spot, at a grade crossing between Powell Junction and Bristow, shouting obscenities at all the slow vehicles in my way (with my windows rolled up, of course!). I know I heard "47" at least 3 or 4 times on the radio, but I was greeted only by VRE #327, which rolled off into the horizon to Broad Run, and then returned several minutes later as a Northbound run.
Shortly after, Norfolk Southern intermodal train 214 came north on the other track...
...bringing a genuine hailstorm in its wake! After the tail of 214 was out of sight, I drove up past the yard and station in Manassas, looking for any evidence of the "47" I was CERTAIN I had heard on the scanner, finding nothing out of the ordinary; some freight cars and an Amtrak regional. I started driving back to Gainesville to set up my shot for 36Q, but was caught off-guard by the blinding heavy rain and hail, as well as radio calls from train 12R, hot on the heels of 214. I knew when I heard 12R call Wellington, there was no way I could make it to my usual spot at Gainesville in time. Instead, I went back to the Balls Ford Road crossing and parked without a second to spare as the bells and gates went off.
Satisfied with my two back-to-back catches, I swung through Chik Fil A to pick up lunch. I finally parked at my usual spot in Gainesville, just about to dig into my fries, when 36Q called Powell on the scanner.
The distance from Powell Junction to the west end of the siding at Gainesville is only about 7 or 8 miles, but it always seems to take an eternity for trains to traverse it. I waited with baited breath, in the last of the raindrops, while my lunch got cold in the truck parked on the other side of the tracks. After some pacing and muttering, headlights appeared over the horizon. 36Q bore down, and I laid eyes on a sight I hadn't seen in-person before: A Norfolk Southern heritage unit!
Norfolk Southern's Heritage Unit program began nearly four years ago, but due to various life circumstances, I never really had the resources to get out railfanning, much less be able to track down a heritage unit until these last several months. Getting #8114 in particular was doubly satisfying for me, as the "original" Norfolk Southern Railway holds a special place in my heart. My cousins lived down the street from the old NS freight yard in Raleigh, and we spent many afternoons watching trains from the modern Norfolk Southern go about their work. In addition, thanks to some reading material I own about the old Norfolk Southern, I've incorporated flavors of the North Carolina-based line into my freelance model railroad adventures. If I wanted to be a stickler, I'd muse that a modern widecab might look good in the grey-and-red-stripes livery of the second-generation motive power on the original NS, but anyway!
After finishing my lunch, I heard 36Q take the siding at Allison to wait for hotshot train 203 to come East. 203 is a personal favorite of mine, but the light was fading, and I had a meeting to get to. But all-in-all, a solid day railfanning, catching 3 freight trains including one special one, makes for a reciting of a favorite phrase of one of my train buddies: "A bad day playing with trains is better than a good day doing anything else!"