"A Nice Surprise"
After landing in Des Moines earlier that morning and getting my rental car, I headed straight for Newton in the hopes of catching the ferry move to Mitchellville, expecting the 6988 to be on west end of the train. Upon arriving at the shop in Newton where the engines are kept, I can see the smoke of the 6988 back towards town, meaning that they have actually already cleared town. Realizing that they are also moving faster than I expected, I decided to head straight to Mitchellville and arrive in town right as they were arriving. To my surprise, I discover that the 6988 is actually facing east, which makes for a nice surprise as I now knew that the engine will be well lit for the early trips the next day.
Shortly after arriving in Mitchellville though, I'm surprised again to see the train continuing to head west towards Altoona, initially thinking that they might be doing something for the Iowa State Fair in Des Moines. Upon arriving in Altoona, I see the train parked in the siding. After talking to Bart Jennings, I learn that they're actually on the first of two test runs & that they're waiting in the siding of CBBI to clear the main. After CBBI clears the block, the train clears the siding & the GP38-2 continues to lead the train west to it's planned stopping point before handing it to the 6988 for the return trip. With ~20 minutes to run ~10 miles, the crew of the 6988 puts on a good show going up the grade through Altoona as they proceed at track speed of 45mph.
A couple of thoughts occurred to me during the test runs.
A: It's feels good to be chasing a steam engine on a mainline & at mainline speed for the first time in close to a year.
B: Thank goodness that I discovered about these test trips, because they served as a warm up for what to expect the next two days in terms of chasing & planning ahead.