Saturday, June 12, 2010

Today's Train of Thought- June 12th, 2010; Panhandle Anything that Comes Our Way

It may not look it, but today's train of thought is something of a throwback to the Wild West.

The Denver Rio Grande & Western's a railroad with an interesting history. Originally contructed in the 1870s with the intention of linking Denver with ports on Mexico's Pacific coast and points south. Due to the quicker contruction time and lower costs, founders Gen. William Jackson Palmer and William Bell opted to use narrow gauge.

They ran into fierce resistance from the Atchison Topeka and Santa Fe when they tried constructing their line through New Mexico's Raton Pass (even to the point where the Santa Fe reportedly hired gunfighters Bat Masterson and Doc Holliday as protection in what was later known as the Railroad Wars). Instead of continuing to fight the better-funded and better-armed Santa Fe, the Rio Grande decided it would use its narrow gauge line to exploit Colorado's abundant natural resources via a line through Colorado's Royal Gorge.

This also sparked confrontation from Santa Fe's hired guns, however, the Fourth Judicial Circut Court would rule in favor of the Rio Grande and Masterson and his men would be forced to retreat to Pueblo, CO in June 1879.

Rio Grande would go on to build and operate a fairly extensive network of narrow-gauge lines throughout Colorado- some of them operating (with steam power) into the early 1980s. However, it's main line between Denver and Salt Lake City was converted to standard gauge in 1889. The line through the Royal Gorge and La Veta Pass in Southern Colorado were also converted into standard gauge.

The Rio Grande was also a holdout in another sense. During the streamliner era. Rio Grande's marquee passenger train was the Chicago-San Francisco California Zephyr, which was jointly operated with the Western Pacific and Chicago, Burlington & Quincy. In 1971, the Rio Grande initially opted out of Amtrak and operated a truncated version of the train called the 'Rio Grande Zephyr' which operated between Denver and Salt Lake City. This lasted until the spring of 1983, when a massive landslide at Thistle, UT blocked the Spanish Fork River and submerged the town along with Rio Grande's line. When the line re-opened, Rio Grande turned control of passenger operations over to Amtrak. But that did not mean that the Rio Grande would be out of the passenger business altogether, since they would continue to operate the Denver-Winter Park, CO Ski Train through 1988, when billionaire Philip Anschultz owner merged the Rio Grande with the Southern Pacific.

The Southern Pacific, in turn, was acquired by the Union Pacific in 1996- which brings us back (in a roundabout manner) to today's Train of Thought. From the late 1980s up until Union Pacific's acquisition of the 'Espee', Southern Pacific was perpetually short on motive power and hardly had the opportunity clean the locomotives in its fleet, let alone repaint them. The same held true for the first few years of Union Pacific's operations as well (the UP had almost simultaneously acquired the Chicago & North Western that same year) but by the early 2000s, they had ordered newer locomotives and much of which wasn't repainted from Southern Pacific, Rio Grande or Chicago & Northwestern colors was simply retired or sold off to reigonal or shortline railroads.

That's not to say that all of them were immdiately repainted or left the property, as contributor Kevin Andrusia has shown with this photo. Here, aside from the yellow patch along the cab, he caught former Rio Grande GP40-2 #1445 leading all-yellow former SP GP40-2 #1434 over a small trestle on Union Pacific's Plummer branch at Worley, ID. The train is enroute to excahnge cars with the St. Marie's River Railroad, a shortline in Idaho's panhandle that operates over 91 miles of former Milwaukee Road Pacific Extension trackage to serve a Potlatch Corporation lumber mill. Mr Andrusia thoughtfully identifies the orange and black EMD as former Rio Grande #3129

The date? April 23, 2010. Aside from the renumbering, very little has changed with the 3129 1434 over the last fourteen years.

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