Thursday, March 8, 2012

Today's Train of Thought- South Dakota Switchback, March 8, 2012

Although it may not look like it, today's train of thought takes us to the eastern corner of the Mount Rushmore State. And like any complex page-turner or Hollywood noir film, there is more to this scene than meets the eye, complete with a couple of movie stars seemingly hiding in plain sight.

Here, contributor Sam Botts catches a pair of SD39s painted for Rio Grande leading a southboud rock train for the D&I Railroad rounding a curve at Garretson, SD with a cut of first-generation D&I power trailing on November 17, 2005.

The two orange and black locomotives were prominently featured in climactic scene of the 1997 film Switchback starring Dennis Quaid, Danny Glover and R Lee Ermey. After filming for Switchback wrapped up, the two SD39s went to Andesite Rock company of Longmont, CO- a sister company of Sioux Falls, SD-based LG Everist. The locomotives were re-lettered and renumbered for Andesite and joined a pair of former Rio Grande SD45s in the upper Midwest, but the Rio Grande orange and black remained for many more years.

But here's the kicker- the Rio Grande never owned any SD39s. The two Andesite units started out life on the Southern Pacific in 1970 and by 1986 was retired and sold off to Helm Leasing. Along with a hodgepodge of former Burlington Northern SD45s, the two former Espee SD39s logged time on the Utah Railway dragging coal trains over Soldier Summit before being withdrawn from servise and sent back to Helm. By 1993, the duo was sold to Andesite for pulling rock and aggregate trains throughout the upper Midwest. Three years later, the production company responsible for filming Switchback agreed to lease the two SD39s from Andesite. This all took place a few months after the Union Pacific took over the Southern Pacific (and by extension, the Rio Grande). While there were plenty of locomotives in Rio Grande paint still around, the Union Pacific refused permission to lease any of them for the film. Instead, the production company leased the Andersite units and the two SD39s to Midwest Rail Car of Kansas City, MO where they were painted into Rio Grande colors, emerging as 'Rio Grande' #5319 and #5325 respectively.

Interestingly, there really was a Rio Grande #5319 and #5325- both of them were much larger 3,600 HP SD45s that were rebuilt by Morrison Knudsen into SD40-2s (while still retaining the SD45 carbody) that saw service with Union Pacific through the mid-2000s before being sold off to CIT Financial leasing (CEFX).

When the filming wrapped up, the #5319 and #5325 were sent back to Andersite before being renumbered to #4027 and #4028- while still retaining their 'Rio Grande' paint scheme for a few more years. By the mid 2000's, with increased traffic from the Dell Springs quarry and some ethanol plants sprining up on the south end of the line, the D&I needed additional locomotives and horsepower. In addition to purchasing some four-axle GP39-2s and GP50s, the D&I arranged for the long-term lease of the #4027 and #4028. These days, the two SD39s can be seen wearing the D&I's yellow and black colors, although they still carry lettering for ANDX under the cab.

Another twist to this photo. I think I've mentioned before that the D&I interchanges with the Canadian National and Union Pacific in Sioux City, IA thanks to a patchwork of trackage rights with BNSF, former Milwaukee Road track owned by the state of South Dakota and D&I/Everist's branch between Sioux Falls, SD and Dell Rapids, SD. However, because of an ice floe undermining supports for one of the bridges south of Sioux Falls, Andersite SD39 #4027 is seen leading the detouring D&I rock train over BNSF's Marshall subdivision east of Sioux Falls.

[Hat tip to CineTrains for detailing the information about the locomotive's activities before and after the filming of Switchback- NANESB!]

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