Today's Train of Thought Takes us to the northern Great Plains right around harvest time where a strategically placed stand of cottonwood trees could technically count as 'fall foliage'.
Before oil drilling in western North Dakota's Bakken shale took off and provided class 1 carriers such as BNSF or Canadian Pacific with exponential increases in traffic, wheat and grain were still big business for rail carriers in the Roughrider State.
Although Class 1 carriers like the BNSF have been experimenting with expedited 'shuttle' trains, by and large the grain has been gathered and shipped the same way for the last century or so with the harvested grain from nearby farms being shipped a short distance to a relatively centrally located elevator where they await further shipment in railcars. These small elevators were the Raison d'être for numerous branchlines throughout the US Great Plains and Canada's prairie provinces.
Here, railpicures.net contributor Mitch Wahlsten caught BNSF GP39M #2872 leading orange and Pullman green GP38AC #2161 past a stand of cottonwood trees changing colors on their way to pick up a cut of cars at the elevator in September 2007. This image is an increasingly rare example of a Class 1 providing branchline service- starting in the late 1970s, many marginal lines were abandoned or sold off to shortlines operators across the USA.