RETURN of the RIO GRANDE SOUTHERN


The "Return of the Rio Grande Southern" saga started with this 1997 recreation of a RGS freight train, seen here using
the bridge near the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic's Los Pinos water tank as a stand-in for the Southern's Bridge 45A.

On Saturday, August 23, 1997, Bill Lund and members of the Rio Grande Southern Modelers Club presented a special photo freight excursion billed as "The Return of RGS 455" to recreate what is probably the most fabled narrow gauge railroad in America. A railroad that, between the years 1892 and 1952, created such a legend of uniqueness and originality trying to overcome poor economic times and the forces of Mother Nature, that by its last years it had become, and still is, a favorite of a legion of narrow gauge fans.

On this date "Rio Grande Southern" narrow gauge 2-8-2 "#455" with a freight train and caboose "0404" once again took on water and coal in the old mining town of "Rico," climbed over "Lizard Head Pass," turned on the wye at "Vance Junction," and smoked it up on "Keystone Hill." The quotation marks illustrate that these are make believe names for similar locations on the Cumbers & Toltec Scenic line in southern Colorado, using C&TS #463, an identical locomotive to the original 455, relettered as the 455. From this start on a high note with a steam train, to all of the Southern's unique fleet of home made "Galloping Geese" rail cars returning to operation, to many of the operational problems that are part of the RGS legend, this "return" of the RGS is continuing in a manner very reminiscent of the original RGS saga.

The Original Rio Grande Southern
In 1892, Otto Mears, a successful road and small railroad builder, completed the 162 mile Rio Grande Southern RR connecting with the two western ends of the Denver & Rio Grande's narrow gauge system, at Durango and Ridgway, to provide needed rail service to area mines in the San Juan and San Miguel Mountains not served by the Rio Grande. The RGS was an instant success with all the freight and passenger business it could handle.... that is until the Government's voracious purchase of silver was cancelled just one year later and the bottom fell out of the silver mining boom, causing former boom mining towns and camps to become overnight ghosts, bank and business failures, and forcing the RGS into receivership.

As the years went by, the struggling RGS, having to rely on increasingly older locomotives and equipment, along with annual snow blockades, mudslides and washouts of the line and bridges and deferred line and equipment maintenance, suffered frequent derailments, wrecks, breakdowns and operation interruptions. Finally, the start of the Great Depression in 1929 put the Southern into a second bankruptcy. One of the last ditch cost saving steps instituted to try to keep the Southern operating while in receivership was the conversion of used 1920's automobiles into seven hi-rail type vehicles, referred to at first as "Motors" by the railroad but eventually as "Galloping Geese" by the public, to haul the few passengers, mail, and small lots of freight the Southern still generated, to save the expense of running full steam trains unless needed, extending the life of the RGS another 20 years.

The Geese continued the Southern's legacy of breakdowns and derailments, with poor brakes, runaways, and overheating. Many original photos of the Geese show them running with their hoods blocked partially open to increase engine cooling. And passengers suffered a somewhat extreme discomfort from being crammed in the small confines of a Goose while bouncing for miles on uneven and rickety track only to usually arrive at their destination late, weary and dirty.

The night before the excursion, 455 was posed in the old "Rico" yard for a night "open flash" photography session.
(The moon is a multiple exposure, taken with a 400mm lens.)



The original Rio Grande Southern was plagued with derailments and other mishaps. So when the "Return of RGS 455" trip ended in a derailment on a section of track where the roadbed was softened by spring snow melt, it was just one more recreation of history! Shades of the original Southern!


Even the pass to ride this RGS train resembled an original pass used by the Southern in the 1890s and early 1900s.

The Return Continues
While there have been no more RGS steam train excursions, all of the Geese have now been restored to operating condition and, just like the original RGS which had its Galloping Geese take over train service and in later years operate passenger excursions, so do the Geese now continue to run passenger excursions. And like the original years, today's "Southern" has had to deal with not only a derailment caused by poor track conditions, but line washouts, Geese that overheat, break down, have brake problems, derail, and even have had a collision.


Today's operation of Galloping Geese on non-Rio Grande Southern rails is not without precedent, as the Southern regularly used the Rio Grande's Durango yard. The Colorado Railroad Museum has restored and maintains Geese 2, 6 and 7 which are operated on the museum's circular track, where they have had their share of breakdowns, make-shift repairs and other problems. Geese 1 runs on the museum track in Ridgway, and, along with #2 and 5, has run on the Durango & Silverton at the annual Railfest; #5 runs on special events on the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic; and #4 has operated at the Railroad Museum and the museum in Ridgway. Goose #3, the only Goose not remaining in Colorado, was sold to Knotts Berry Farm amusement park in Buena Vista, California in 1952 along with RGS locomotive #41 and D&RG #340, and carries passengers when there are not enough riders to fill a steam train coach. Just like in the 1930s on the RGS when the Geese cut operating costs tremendously by replacing full steam train operations!


Goose 7 in a spring snow storm at the Colorado Railroad Museum, with its motorman
trying to figure out what is wrong under the hood is RGS déjà-vu all over again.



The "Goose Fest" is a special event at the Colorado RR Museum, shown here in 2012,
that gathered all the Geese except #3 together.



Goose #4, seen here in the 1980s, sat on display by the San Miguel County courthouse in downtown Telluride after being sold to the town when the RGS abandoned. In 2008 the Telluride Volunteer Fire Dept. had it moved to Ridgway for restoration to operating condition, and it was on hand and running at the "Goose Fest" in 2012. The restoration of #4 took place in Ridgway, where it, along with all its brethren, were originally built.

In 2001, there was a Ford Model T rail car at Railfest, running excursions along with the Geese. This too is historically significant in this "return of the RGS" saga. In 1913 the Southern built an inspection vehicle from a Model T Ford. Like the later Geese vehicles, this car suffered its share of mishaps, including a derailment and a broken axle, before it was destroyed in a head-on collision with a steam engine. In 2001, Rio Grande Southern history repeated itself (to a degree) when the visiting Model T rail car rear-ended Goose #2 at the year's Railfest event. Another deja-vu all over again, as in 1936 this same Goose #2 collided with a plow flanger!


Motor #1, the first of the RGS hi-rail vehicles altered from automobiles (a 1925 or '26 Buick Model 45 Master Six Touring car) that would later come to be known as "Galloping Geese," was probably scrapped in 1933. In 1999 Karl Schaeffer, President of the Ridgway Railroad Museum, rebuilt #1 from scratch using a 1926 Model 47 Buick found in Montana. With some of the parts built in the rail shops in Durango and the rest of this recreation built in Ridgway, #1 is following in the footsteps of its Geese ancestors which were all built in Ridgway and also spent time in Durango. Motor #1 has also continued the legacy of Goose problems, when it ran out of gas on one of the Railfest excursions out of Silverton into the Animas Canyon. #1, here at Railfest in Silverton, can be seen at the Ridgway museum in the summer.
A Goose exiting the Animas River Canyon into Silverton with the high San Juan peaks in the background reminds one of photos of the original Geese at Ophir with the Cathedral Spires and surrounding mountains towering in the background. Some might say that all that has been missing from the "return" of the Southern were a mud slide across the tracks and a runaway Goose. Not so! No runaways thank goodness, but at Railfest in 1999, heavy rains brought mud and rocks down on the D&S line in the Animas Canyon, stranding two tourist trains in Silverton. Another mud slide in July 2007 covered the tracks in the canyon. Photo run-bys on Goose 5's excursion trips into the canyon were held at the site of the slide, again somewhat duplicating original photos showing a Goose stopped by a mud slide.

Goose 7 has been reunited with an old partner at the Colorado Railroad Museum. D&RG 346 was one of several non-RGS locomotives that operated in RGS territory, and in fact received its new number 346 in the RGS's Ridgway roundhouse when it was renumbered in 1924.


A visiting rail-converted vehicle at Railfest, duplicating a practice on the original RGS that built a "Goose like" vehicle for the San Christobal RR that ran on the D&RG line into Ouray. The San Christobal "Goose" was later dismantled by the RGS and some parts used for the RGS Geese. To this day a panel inside Goose 2 at the Colorado Railroad Museum carries the San Christobal RR name.

This "Casey Jones" motor, built and operated by the Silverton Northern RR in the teens and 1920s, has also run at Railfest along with the Geese. Stan Jennings' 1949 Chevrolet pickup parked nearby is a nice touch for this photo. Today in the summer and fall Casey Jones is on display beside the San Juan County Historical Society Museum in Silverton.


At Railfest in August 2001, a special night photography session in the Durango yard captures Motor 1 and Galloping Geese 2 and 5 alongside RGS 42 posed outside the roundhouse. Historically correct, as the RGS rented space in the Durango roundhouse.


In April 1986 Goose 7 continued the saga of "freak accidents" the Geese have been involved in when its freight/passenger box was blown off the frame by a high wind, after it had been unbolted preparatory to restoration work at the Colorado Railroad Museum.


Wayne Brown of the Galloping Goose Historical Society tries in vain to start #5. On the C&TS in 1998, #5 would run, sputter and die. Run again, die again. The problem eventually was diagnosed as in the fuel pump, the result of a softening of the 1940's fuel pump diaphragm by modern gasoline blends, but at first it was thought to be vapor lock. Here clothes pins are being used to help wick heat away from the fuel line.

Trials and Tribulations of Goose #5
Beginning in 1998 after its restoration by the Galloping Goose Historical Society in Delores, Colorado, each year Goose 5, which was sold to the town of Delores for display when the RGS abandoned, has run on the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic and at Railfest on the Durango & Silverton. On the C&TS in 1998, #5 would run, sputter and die. Run again, die again. The problem eventually was diagnosed as in the fuel pump, the result of a softening of the 1940's fuel pump diaphragm by modern gasoline blends.

On several occasions in the 1930s and 1940s a Goose would break a driveshaft which in turn flailed around and severed the brake air line, giving the Motor and its hapless passengers a wild ride down grade. And the Geese's inadequate brakes also frequently failed all on their own. On the 1999 C&TS runs, #5's brakes, being adjusted too tight, caused the engine to labor more than the cooling system could handle. (Work Goose #6 was somewhat famous for bad overheating problems, even when running downhill!)

Then the fuel pump problem bit again. #5 would simply quite running or refuse to start. Or would run a bit, then die; run again, then die. Another replacement mechanical pump was installed, but the final solution had to be the installation of an electric pump. Next, #5 suffered from battery failure, when a 12 volt battery installed to run the new electric fuel pump (the Geese operate on a 6 volt system) turned out to be defective and would not hold a charge. Alternately regaining power then running down, the failing battery again allowed the Goose to start up, run for a while, then the pump would fail again.

In June 2007, Goose #5 missed its scheduled trips on the C&TS account a blown head gasket and valve trouble. One can imagine the nail-biting frustration of #5's passengers as it sputtered to a stop time after time at some remote location. Shades of the 1930s and '40s! In March 1944 a Motor following an engine with a plow over Lizard Head was stranded along with its passengers for two days when the engine and plow could not get through, until they could be rescued by a bulldozer. In one day in 1935, Motor #3 derailed when a part fell off under a front wheel, and that same day Motor #5 derailed in snow, creating a shambles of both vehicles' schedules. In 1946, #4 had a wheel fall off in the Ridgway yard.

In 1999's operation on the C&TS, #5 jumped its tracks when its front axle broke. This resulted in make shift on the spot repairs to get the Goose back to a place near a road where its passengers could be taken off (no bulldozer required this time), and then repairs made.


During its visits to the C&TS in Chama, Goose 5 resides in a portion of the original "Rico" roundhouse. For the 1997 "Return of RGS 455" excursion, these Chama rail yards were dubbed "Rico." Both Chama on the D&RG and Rico on the RGS were division points, with Rico splitting the north and south portions of the RGS.


Goose 5 has reached the top of "Lizard Head" (Cumbres) Pass, by the Cumbres Pass section house.

There is no lake to the left of this scene, but from this angle Cresco tank on the C&TS is a good stand-in for the Trout Lake tank on the RGS. Just add a Galloping Goose for RGS authenticity! Coxo, the site of a former siding and water tank on the C&TS 4% below Cumbres Pass, played the roll of the Southern's 4% Keystone Hill on the Telluride branch. The Rio Grande's final climb to Cumbres Pass, with its high walls of volcanic rock, and Lizard Head Pass on the original RGS, are both equally famous as high, 10,000+ ft scenic passes their railroads had to cross.



Goose 5 turns on the snow-shed covered wye at Cumbres Pass, recreating somewhat the image of the snowsheds on the Southern's Lizard Head Pass.
On the 1998 Goose runs on the C&TS, Stan Jennings posed his restored 1949 Chevrolet pickup, complete with period license plates, at places near the tracks to compliment photos of #5.


Goose 5 and Motor 1 by the Silverton station.

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