Wednesday, July 31, 2013

POTD: Blending into Plain Sight

Photo: Frank Keller
Sometimes railroad photography is nothing but a locomotive and a frame, or even a simple headlight or a machine used to create one special part for one piece the railroad simply couldn't do without. Other times you have to search for a sign of the railroad in the photograph. It seems that sometimes it's far afield, still others it's right in front of you and you wouldn't know it. In this case on the Joint Line, it's both.

On the cool morning of October 24, 2010, the bright orange of this BNSF coal train blends in with the autumn brush colors as it descends from Monument below the watchful gaze of the Rampart Range and the northern reaches of the Air Force Academy grounds along the Rio Grande right-of-way. The other half of the Joint Line, the Santa Fe right-of-way, is in the immediate foreground, abandoned 41 years ago, with a handful of pilings and a single bent showing the former trestle site for what it is.◊

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

POTD: History Running Late

Photo: Mike Danneman

Popping in and out of sunlight, the California Zephyr makes it's way through Rocky in the early evening along the Front Range. Nothing would be amiss if this were train 6, the eastbound heading for Denver. Unfortunately, this is train 5, the westbound heading up to Granby and Glenwood Springs at 6:40 PM on June 25, 2011. Amtrak Phase III heritage unit #145 rides point as it scrounges the rails for spare minutes to make up a schedule that is 10 hours late, according to photographer Mike Danneman, who has taken POTD for both yesterday and today. Amtrak #145 is one of five units painted in a special heritage paint scheme celebrating Amtrak and its history of 40 years from 1971 to 2011. History, at least today, is running late.◊

Monday, July 29, 2013

POTD: Tunnel Motor at Minturn

Photo: Mike Danneman

Today's Photo of the Day comes from Mike Danneman. His photo, titled Tunnel Motor at Minturn, captured Rio Grande SD40T-2 #5398 at the head of a westbound coal train waiting for a new crew in Minturn before departing for Dotsero, Glenwood Springs and points west. Mr. Danneman's choice of including the rail for the foreground is no mistake. The top of the rail is where everything happens for this train and the entire Rio Grande Railroad! The more I look at this photo, the more I like it. That's a good sign!◊

Sunday, July 28, 2013

''Tell My Wife I Died Thinking Of Her''

Over a century ago, the tale of Denver, South Park & Pacific engineer William Westall was a popular story and eventually people retold often enough that it entered into folklore. The common version is simple but memorable enough:
  • A train filled with people was headed down the track
  • Rounding a curve, the engineer saw an alarming sight. The track was obstructed with rocks and boulders
  • Too late to stop in time, the engineer ordered his fireman to jump while he stayed and rode the brakes, in an attempt to spare his passengers
  • While the train was slowed enough to prevent certain doom, the engine still struck the obstruction, mortally wounding the engineer
  • Dying in his fireman's arms, the engineer's final words were, "Tell my wife I died thinking of her."
Westall Monument, photo by Milly Roeder
While typically devoid of details, the folk tale is nonetheless true. It might have been lost forever to history, if it weren't for a cryptic monument and a tourist's curiosity. The full story of the monument, the tourist and the engineer who saved 450 passengers from death is recorded by Milly Roeder in an article, The Story of Billy Westall and the Westall Monument, originally published in 1998 by the Jefferson County Historical Commission.

The next year after Westall's death, the DSP&P was absorbed in the 1899 merger creating the Colorado & Southern. That same year, the monument was placed along the right of way near the spot of the derailed engine. For the next century, it stood, surviving not only the C&S, but the Burlington, BN and all the people who ever knew Westall. The monument itself, according to the 14 year-old article, was in peril of falling into the river.

Enter a group of students, the National Junior Honor Society from West Jefferson Middle School in Conifer. Over the past year and a half, they've been planning and working to restore the monument. Notably, the way they're going about it seems to be working. They've involved a number of folks, like Denver Water's Neil Sperandeo, and historic groups, including Colorado Preservation Inc. and the Denver South Park & Pacific Historic Society. As of this month, work has progressed to the point that they have a new site picked out and could use some grant money to restore the monument to its new location. Those interested in getting involved or donating to the project should e-mail Mr. Frank Reetz of West Jefferson Middle School.

All this cooperation and learning is happening because of history, preservation, and adults who are willing to get involved. Certainly, a lot of good is coming out of the tragic death of an engineer.◊

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Error -- File Not Found

The computer glitch has fell'd many heroes. God alone knows how many Gettysburg Addresses and how many Purpose Driven Lives have been wiped out in the formative stages by the message, "This file may be corrupt." or "Drive not recognized - Abort, Retry, Ignore." On the other hand, how many obtuse and awful works have been justly wiped out by the same thing?

So, somewhere in between these two poles sits my work: a review of Dale Sanders' Rio Grande - Scenic Line of the World and another review of Ralph and Clarence Danielson's Basalt: Colorado Midland Town. I had these open last night as I worked in my recliner, putting the finishing touches on them, when I fell asleep. This morning, they are gone, wiped out by computer error and possibly tendency to press keys in my sleep. While this "dog ate my homework" excuse is likely going to fall on its face, I have to admit that it's nonetheless true and the grief in hours of effort lost is now mine to share with countless other writers, both the famous and the obscure. My claim to fame today is that I can lose data with the best of them.

The good news about starting over is that a rewrite is almost guaranteed to be better than the first draft. It's going to be better. At least that's what I keep telling myself. I will keep working on these. In the meantime, I invite you to peruse the columns at right (on the non-mobile version of this site). There's news sources, Grande sites (Rio Grande sites), Rio Grande Southern sites, Model Railroad Club sites, Railroad Radio streaming and even a "hidden" link to a nifty wallpaper. Don't forget the poll, either. "How would you spend $5M on the Colorado Railroad Museum?"

Thanks for your patience!◊

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

UP Big Boy Locomotive -- Largest Ever Built -- May Again Roam In Colorado

UP 4014 during her operational days
Photo: Union Pacific
It's official. Union Pacific Railroad announced today that it has re-acquired one of their legendary 4-8-8-4 steam locomotives with the full intention of restoring it to active service. After a lengthy stay in the rumor mill, UP reached an agreement with the Railway and Locomotive Historical Society, Southern California Chapter in Pomona, to transfer ownership of #4014 back to the railroad. Union Pacific plans to relocate No. 4014 to Cheyenne, WY, where their "Heritage Fleet Operations" team will work to restore it to operating condition.

UP donated #4014 to the historical society December 7, 1961, which was the 20th anniversary of Pearl Harbor in 1941, the same year that the first Big Boys began operations. The locomotive arrived January 8, 1962, at its current display location at the Rail Giants Train Museum in Pomona.

"Our steam locomotive program is a source of great pride to Union Pacific employees past and present," said Ed Dickens, senior manager of Union Pacific Heritage Operations. "We are very excited about the opportunity to bring history to life by restoring No. 4014."

What About Denver's Big Boy?

Big Boy 4005, the Big Boy on permanent display at the Forney Transportation Museum in Denver may have been considered for restoration, but given the long duration #4005 spent out under the open sky in the years before the museum moved, she almost certainly would have cost more to restore although it's unclear Union Pacific ever seriously considered the locomotive, one of several surviving Big Boys around the country.



Union Pacific 4014 in Pomona CA in 2005
Photo: Morven, Wikimedia Commons
It remains to be seen whether Union Pacific has a use for 3 steam engines in a special program. Certainly, the steam program is Union Pacific's prime goodwill ambassador, crushing other companies' PR machines under a million pounds of live steam. On the other hand, could it be setting us up for a retirement of #3985, the Challenger that UP restored back in 1981. Such wouldn't be likely right away, but odds would favor its early retirement if someone finds the costs of running or repairs to be unjustified. Personally, I'm excited at the possibility of finally seeing a Big Boy in motion. I only wonder what the world's largest steam locomotive is truly going to cost.◊

Monday, July 22, 2013

September Issue of Trains Has Rare Narrow Gauge Colorado Tale

Current subscribers to Trains Magazine will be pleased to know that the issue for September 2013 contains a four page article about Martin E. Hansen and his railroading connection to his great-grandfather Walter Joseph Hannan. Hannan was an engineer for the Colorado & Northwestern Railway, who died at the throttle while bucking snow to reach Ward, Colorado in April 1901.

The Colorado & Northwestern Railway was a narrow gauge affair that connected Boulder, Colorado and the aforementioned town of Ward with a spur to Eldora. It is a line seldom talked or read about, essentially a lost road. Begun late (1897) and pulled up in less than 25 years, the C&NW ventured west of Boulder to places like Gold Hill and Glacier Lake with 48.1 miles of 3-foot gauge rails. The railroad changed to the Denver, Boulder & Western in 1909 and was abandoned in 1919. Tivis Wilkins notes,
In July 1920, after most of the line had been dismantled, the Colorado Supreme Court reversed the decision of the PUC (Public Utilities Commission) and ordered operations to be resumed. The order was never carried out.1
The railway's engine #30, which survived for a while as C&S 74 and RGS 74 before retiring to a Boulder park and then the Colorado Railroad Museum, was the same engine that Hannan rode to his fate as the town of Ward watched in horror.

Suffice to say it's a great story, one worth the price of the magazine. Watch for it at the end of July in your mailbox. Look for it on pages 40 - 43 under the title Landslide of Emotion. Enjoy!◊

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Saving Your Life

As someone who lives with his chronic illnesses and the disabilities that come with them, I can safely say that I've had my own experiences with depression. I have at least once in my adult life seriously contemplated taking a shortcut to heaven. Thank God, I never acted on those thoughts, and my children and wife are glad to have a father and husband.

I won't bang anyone over the head with it, but I know it's worth stating that suicide is a spiritual as well as psychological struggle. My own grandfather struggled with his father's suicide, and both he and my father also had their moments. If you're having yours, wait!

I won't blow bubbles and unicorns on your reality, but I can honestly say that if I had acted on my own impulse to die, I would have missed some awesome moments that I could never have anticipated. It's worth sticking around, because it will get better. Things will change and some will change for the better. But don't just take my word for it. There are others who will need you. All it takes is the courage to hold on one more minute, one more hour, one more day. Hang on!

In memory of Alex Frye.

Friday, July 19, 2013

UP Crew Readys Venerable 844 Steam Engine For Annual Denver Trip

As seen here, Union Pacific is readying the never-retired 4-8-4 Northern steam engine #844 for it's annual series of trips between Denver and Cheyenne's Frontier Days. I've chased the 844 numerous times, but never to Cheyenne, oddly enough. Nonetheless, I know others like Skip W that have already greased up their tripods and cleaned their lenses. For some, chasing is a hobby, others a diversion, but for folks like Skip, it's a passion.

The route will follow that of the Denver Pacific, the first railroad to connect Denver with the outside world by rail in 1870, six years before statehood and our nation's centennial. Those were the days of ornamental steam, when antlers and whale-oil lamps sat above link-and-pin couplers and wooden cowcatchers. Like the Cheyenne Frontier Days itself, the 844 is more than just a working anachronism. It's a functioning mode of transportation, and the industrial age technology belies it's youth. While the 844 was built as UP class FEF-3 in 1944, over 74 years after 1870, the engine itself is 68 years old,  and much younger than the 142 year-old route it will be rolling over at a rocket's pace very soon.◊

Follow the Train