Thursday, June 16, 2011

Today's Train of Thought- Getting Outta Dodge, June 16 2011

Today's train of thought takes us to a corner of the Old West that saw lawmen and gunslingers such as Bat Masterson, Doc Holliday and Wyatt Earp [not THAT Wyatt Earp- NANESB!] make a name for themselves.

Dodge City, KS- sometimes referred to as 'Queen of the Cowtowns' or 'The Wicked Little City shortly after its founding- saw the Santa Fe arrive from the east in 1872 with settlers, an Army outpost and buffalo hunters ready and waiting to business with the railroad.

From remote Army outpost to settler's encampment to booming cowtown to sleepy backwater, the Santa Fe line through Dodge City never changed hands- with one line continuing west to LaJunta, CO from Dodge City, with another branching off to the southwest and on to Pritchett, CO. It was in 1996- shortly before the formation of BNSF- that Santa Fe sold the 254 miles of track from Dodge City to Pritchett, CO (as well as a branch between Santana, KS and Boise City, OK) to Western Railroad Builders to be operated as the Cimarron Valley Railroad.

Western Railroad Builders had some prior experience operating former Santa Fe lines out West, starting with their purchase of the former Santa Fe Whitewater line between Demming and Silver City, NM (this was later expanded another 48 miles between Deming and Hatch in 2002) in 1990.

Like other shortline operators such as Rail America or Genesee & Wyoming, it isn't that unusual for equipment from one operation to fill in on another line when needed. In this case, the equipment in question is two very rare GP26 locomotives from the Southwestern.

Back in the 1980s, the Illinois Central Gulf had a pretty successful track record of breathing new life into older EMD locomotives in their Paducah, KY shops. The earlier GP10, GP11 and SD20 models had gone well for them, so there was no reason to believe that the ICG's proposed GP26 rebuilds would be any different. While earlier rebuilds had started off with aging GP7s or GP9s, the GP26 was basically designed to prolong the life of ICG's aging GP30/GP35 fleet (and perform contract work for other railroads if interested). The ICG started with two aging former 2250 HP Gulf, Mobile & Ohio GP30s involved in a wreck and did a number of internal and external upgrades before fitting the locomotives with a new cab. However, most railroads at the time preferred purchasing their power new rather than hoping the rebuilds from ICG's Paducah shop would hold, so GP26s #2601 and #2602 were the only ones made. Interestingly, a similar and much more successful rebuild program by VMV and Morrison Knudsen for Burlington Northern got under way some 8 years later.

They eventually were retired by the Illinois Central and sold off the the Southwestern Railroad along with some former Rio Grande GP30s for use on both the New Mexico line and the Cimarron Valley in southwestern Kansas ans eastern Colorado.

Here, contributor Arthur James caught the one-of-a-kind duo working the Cimarron Valley's Ulysses Turn at the siding of Hickock, KS between Ulysses and the junction of the Boise City line at Santana, KS in late February 2009. Not too surprisingly, wheat, corn and fertilizers are major sources of traffic along the line.

[Hat tip Daniel Kohlberg on some background behind the GP26 rebuilds]

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