Friday, June 22, 2018

POTD - Thin Air and Thin Rails On the Monarch Branch

In the twilight of the narrow gauge era of the Denver & Rio Grande Western, the Monarch Branch had the rare distinction of being standard-gauged in 1956 and converted to diesel operation.1 This was the year after the Marshall Pass line was scrapped. Thus, the conversion would end Salida's long years as a 3-rail terminal and as a cornerstone of the far-famed Narrow Gauge Circle. Still, for another 26 years, the Monarch branch would continue in use until 1982 when a shutdown of the steel furnaces at Pueblo obviated the need for limestone from the quarry near the summit of the pass. The Rio Grande officially abandoned the branch in 1984.2

Photo of the Day: John Dziobko
Click image for full size, original image
Button copy and a high-nosed EMD GP-9 would be the first clues that this isn't a recent photograph. In fact, it's early September 1969 on the Denver & Rio Grande Western's Monarch branch above Salida and its junction with the Tennessee Pass Route. Our Photo of the Day shows just how intense mountain railroading on the Rio Grande could be! Tight curves prevented six-axle diesels from working the branch. Grades of 4.5% and a pair of switchbacks, the only switchbacks on the entire system, were hardly enough to keep the brakes on the limestone gondolas from smoking. The easy access of US 50--the "Backbone of America" as Time magazine called it--and its activity into the 1980s made the branch something of a legend for the Rio Grande, especially among railfans. Those who witnessed the railroad's regular herculean struggle against gravity would seldom soon forget it!⚒

Footnotes:
1 Rio Grande: To the Pacific by Robert LaMassena 2nd Ed p176
2 www.drgw.net Monarch branch by Nathan Holmes