Railfanning The Tulsa Area

By Bill Gillfillan

Last updated June 29, 2000. Used with permission by Mr. Gillfillan.

Table of Contents

BNSF -- Cherokee Yard

Cherokee Yard begins about one quarter mile south of the Arkansas River and lies west of I-244. The yard is basically between 17th street and 41st street. The hump (not really, more on that later) is on the south (railroad west) end. Arrival tracks are along the east side closest to the expressway (RD8 - RD11), the yard bowl tracks are in the middle (40 of 'em), and the departure tracks are on the west side of the bowl (RD1 - RD7).

The engine service area is located on Union Ave. just south of the 23rd street overpass on the west side of the yard. Unfortunately for photography, there is a "carport" over the 3 service tracks. Officially, south of the overpass is BNSF property, and signs warn trespassers to stay out.

The approach to the hump is downhill from 41st to the crest near 33rd Street where the yard office is also located. The hump power therefore operates in dynamic brake as it works toward the hump. Normal power is either an SD38-2/GP38-2 set (BN 6261 and BN 2299), an SD40/TEBC6 set recently repainted into the Heritage I scheme, or an SD38P/TEBC6 set. The TEBC6 is a slug made from an SD9; it has a cab and a fuel tank that carries fuel for the mother unit. The SD38P's are rebuilt de-turbocharged SD35s.

Trimmer jobs that assemble outbound trains usually use single or paired MP15s and/or SW1500s, but occasionally other 4-axle power is substituted.

The Railfan Parking Lot (a large gravel area about 2 city blocks long) is on the east side of the yard just south of 17th street. Most of the activity is on this end of the yard. Stay between the pole line and the frontage road and you'll keep the Special Agents' blood pressure down, i.e., you won't be trespassing. On the other end of the yard you can park near 33rd West Avenue or in the parking lot just north of there on the east side of Southwest Blvd. at the Crystal City shopping area.

Back to the top Back to the Table of Contents

BNSF Tulsa-Area Subdivisions

The Cherokee sub runs east out of Tulsa to Springfield, MO, and basically parallels Oklahoma 66 (the old US 66) through Claremore and Chelsea and points east. The tracks are right alongside the highway from the Verdigris River Bridge to Chelsea. At Afton, OK, the Afton sub heads north for Fort Scott, KS, and Kansas City. The Cherokee and Avard subs handle the transcontinental traffic from California to Memphis/Birmingham and are probably the busiest. Cherokee sub is CTC, but a lot of the signals are now approach lit. However, there's usually a fair amount of radio traffic to let you know what's going on. Frequency is 160.920.

The Avard Sub runs west out of Tulsa to Enid and Avard where it connects with the former Santa Fe Chicago to Los Angeles mainline. The Avard sub is not signaled, so all trains receive a track warrant as they depart Cherokee yard. Frequency is 161.385.

The Creek Sub runs south to Sapulpa (about 15 miles) and continues south to Madill and Irving, TX, and has about 3-4 trains each way a day. Frequency is 161.160.

Total train count through Tulsa on BNSF is approximately 3 dozen a day.

Just north of Crystal City on Southwest Blvd. near 41st Street be sure to check out Ollie's Restaurant. You can't miss it; he has a grade crossing signal and a baggage cart outside of the restaurant. He's done the whole inside in model trains and assorted other railroadiana, including three tracks suspended from the ceiling. And the food's not bad, either. Sit close to the door on the street side, and you'll be able to monitor activity on the BNSF just across the street.

Back to the top Back to the Table of Contents

BNSF Tulsa Area Frequency summary

Application Frequency AAR Channel
Cherokee Yard yardmaster 161.100 66
Cherokee sub 160.920 54
Avard sub 161.385 85
Creek sub 161.160 70
Hump A2 160.500 26
Hump B3 160.830 48
Trimmer A3 160.800 46
Trimmer A4 160.980 58
Trimmer B1 160.950 56
Trimmer B2 160.890 52
Car department 161.250 / 160.710 76/40
Mobile phone 161.130 68
Special agents 160.380 18
Maintenance of way 161.430 88
Diesel shop 160.725 41
Unknown 161.010 60

Back to the top Back to the Table of Contents

South Kansas & Oklahoma

Frequency: 160.785

This is a segment of the former Santa Fe line to Kansas City that used to host The Tulsan and The Oil Flyer at 80 mph. You're lucky to find track capable of half that speed these days, usually closer to 1/4 that speed. The SK&O's yard is in Owasso between 76th Street North and 86th Street north. Go north out of Tulsa on Hwy. 169, then exit at 76th Street North and turn left. The yard is about one mile west of Hwy. 169. SK&O normally only operates weekdays. On the weekend there may be a couple of engines at the yard, but access isn't available; they are behind a closed and locked gate.

Currently, trains run north out of Owasso 1-3 times a week as traffic demands. Service to the Port of Catoosa is usually daily. Also working daily is a job which works south out of the Owasso yard to Tulsa to perform interchange with BNSF and switch customers between Owasso and Tulsa.

The line serving the Port of Catoosa departs the "main" to the east about a 1/2 mile south of the Owasso yard. The ruling grade on this line is the climb over Hwy. 169. Following the line to the port isn't too hard on SH 266/46th Street North (a.k.a. the Port Road.)

SK&O power is anything from ex-Katy and ex-Santa Fe GP7's to ex-KCS/Conrail/Ohio Central/Rio Grande/Union Pacific GP30's and GP35's. And there doesn't seem to be the same paint scheme applied to any two locomotives, so it's a colorful little operation.

Back to the top Back to the Table of Contents

Stillwater Central

Frequency: 160.785

This is the name for Watco's operation of two separate former BNSF lines leased from the State of Oklahoma. The name was first applied to the operation at Stillwater on the former Stillwater Sub (originally AT&SF), but also spread to the former BNSF Sooner Sub (former BN/Frisco Oklahoma Sub) between Sapulpa and Oklahoma City. Operations on this part of the SLWC are few and far between - in fact, the only operation by the Stillwater Central so far has been to move SEKR 123 to Oklahoma City for switching service (one customer at Red Horse). BNSF will occasionally run an overhead train between Sapulpa and OKC for BNSF, but these have been infrequent and usually occur as a result of some disaster on BNSF which affects Oklahoma City - Tulsa traffic. Operation is done via Track Warrants from the SK&O/SLWC dispatcher at Cherryvale, KS; however, these are delivered via fax prior to movement, so radio traffic is virtually nil.

Back to the top Back to the Table of Contents

Union Pacific

Frequency: 160.470

UP runs a local 6 days a week between Muskogee (southeast of Tulsa about 45 miles on the Muskogee Turnpike) and Tulsa. Power is usually a mix 3 four-axles. They have 2 yards in town - the former Katy yard near 51st Street South and Mingo, and the former MP (originally Midland Valley's Lefebre Yard) yard near 31st street between the Sinclair refinery and the west side of the Arkansas river. Unless the train is there, there is usually nothing there, so it may not be worth your trip.

The train from Muskogee usually arrives at TYO (Tulsa Yard Office, or the former Katy yard) around 8 a.m., then runs down the middle of the Broken Arrow Expressway (US 64/SH 51) into downtown Tulsa. As BNSF's traffic will allow, they are given permission to enter the mainline downtown at Urban (near Greenwood & 1st Street), then proceed to Cherokee Yard with interchange for BNSF and Sand Springs and TSU. Until Cherokee Yard can accept them, they usually park somewhere east of Lewis Avenue so as to stay off street crossings, which leaves the majority of their train still hanging out in the median on the B.A. Traffic on the Cherokee sub in the morning is usually fairly busy, so it's not uncommon for UP to be stuck in the penalty box for several hours, possibly until after noon.

Depending on the whims of the Cherokee Yard yardmaster, the UP may leave and/or pick up their BNSF interchange on a track east of Urban or in a track by Tulsa Union Depot for separate handling by a Cherokee Yard trimmer job. They'll interchange with the Sand Springs, then get back on their own track just north of 17th street to go over to the old MP (originally Midland Valley) yard.

The major industry UP serves is the Kimberly Clark plant about 12 miles south of Tulsa south of Jenks. They also serve the Sinclair refinery and a Pepsi plant on the south side of I-44. Interchange to the TSU is via a track along the south side of the Sinclair refinery along 36th Street (reached from Southwest Blvd. by 35th St.). More on that under the TSU.

Radio frequency usage seems to depend on the crew, but they're supposed to use 160.470 while on their own track. They've been known to use 160.410 or 160.680. They'll be on 161.100 while on BNSF.

Back to the top Back to the Table of Contents

Tulsa-Sapulpa Union (TSU)

Frequency: 161.070

This is a former interurban line linking south Tulsa with Sapulpa, about 12 miles away. They run 5 days a week and are usually at the Tulsa end of the line around mid-afternoon. Power is usually 104, an ex-BN SW9, or 107, an ex-BN SW7. In mid May 2000 TSU acquired an ex-SOO line SW1200 which will become TSU 108. Their line roughly follows Southwest Boulevard from 31st to 41st, then I244 and Hwy. 66 - New Sapulpa Road southwest out of Tulsa. They serve an industrial area south of 61st Street and the Ball Foster glass plant in Sapulpa that usually has an engine devoted to plant switching.

At the north end of the line they cross Southwest Boulevard in a switchback arrangement on the former MV team track to interchange with UP. They interchange in Sapulpa with the BNSF alongside Ball Foster on the Creek Sub.

Back to the top Back to the Table of Contents

Sand Springs (SS)

Frequency: 160.230

This is another former interurban that connects downtown Tulsa with Sand Springs, about 8 miles west on US 64. West 3rd Street out of downtown Tulsa and Charles Page Boulevard follow the tracks pretty well, especially west of 33rd West Avenue.

If you follow Charles Page, pass the K-Mart and Keystone Chevrolet and follow the street through a jog to the left and back to the right onto Adams Rd. About 4 blocks or so later the Sand Springs shops will be on the right. I don't get over there very often, but I think they're fairly friendly.

The Sand Springs' main business is inbound loads of scrap metal for Sheffield Steel located on the north side of the Arkansas River along Hwy. 97 on the west side of Sand Springs.

Sand Springs get interchange from BNSF and UP at Tulsa; the interchange tracks are located west of the BNSF main between 1st Street and around 10th, but cars are usually shoved into the interchange tracks. This area is under I-244, and not one of the safer places to be. They usually make it to the east end of the line around noon or one o'clock. Power for the Sand Springs is 3 SW900's in yellow with green trim, 100-102 purchased new in the 50's. They usually use a pair to come over to Tulsa.

Back to the top Back to the Table of Contents

Sheffield Steel

Sheffield Steel in Sand Springs has a couple of SW1200 plant switchers. One is former Port of Catoosa engine 101, the other a former Missouri Pacific unit. If you attempt to photograph, you should call ahead; their security folks are rather protective.

Additional information

Tulsa railfans contribute to an email list called RRTulsa which is based on Onelist. Go to http://www.egroups.com/community/RRTulsa to subscribe and to obtain more information.

John Kirk maintains Stillwater Station at http://ok.railfan.net/, which, among other things, contains a lot of good Oklahoma information, including an SKOL roster and other radio frequencies used in Oklahoma.