Sunday, September 18, 2022

San Luis & Rio Grande Railroad May Have A Buyer But Questions Remain

San Luis & Rio Grande Railroad steam engine number 1744 steams lit up by the rising sun as it continues eastbound up and out of the San Luis Valley of southern Colorado, USA
SL&RG 1744 steams eastward into the sunrise toward La Veta Pass
Photo by Mike Danneman
After an auction ordered earlier this summer by a bankruptcy judge, the San Luis & Rio Grande Railroad, operating for years without an owner in the San Luis Valley, may actually have new life and a new owner. Officials are quick to stress that nothing is final or binding, but the details are being ironed out with long-time Great Western Railway of Colorado owner OmniTrax

Another company, North Central Railcorp headed by Friends of the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad, Inc. President Tim Tennant, has indicated its interest to Roni Wisdom, Alamosa County Administrator, and should be working with the court and trustees, says Alamosa News

Hopefully, in OmniTrax we have a clear winner. Even if we do, the possibility exists that if OmniTrax fails in the San Luis Valley, it could file to abandon the historic branch like it did recently. According to AlamosaNews.com

On Aug. 9, 2019 – just three years after purchasing the line – OmniTrax and CTXR petitioned STB to abandon the line, citing the loss of millions of dollars in acquiring and operating the line and asserting the cost of continuing to maintain and operate the line far outweighed the potential revenue from shippers. STB approved the petition, and the line was abandoned.

That is not to say that the San Luis & Rio Grande Railroad would be in the same boat as the Central Texas and Colorado River (CTXR) Railroad, which was purchased by OmniTrax on the assumption demand for fracking sand would drive their railroad's profitability. When the demand didn't materialize in 2017, the railroad stalled. The San Luis & Rio Grande has the demand already in hand.

The rising sun glints off the special photo freight of the SL&RG
Photo by Mike Danneman
One question would be whether OmniTrax, if awarded the sale, can couple the existing demand for the valley's agriculture with its existing business model of rail-driven real estate. Having a client commit to using OmniTrax in the San Luis Valley would settle a lot of nerves. So would public funding or tax breaks to spur new business growth. But no one can expect either to show up on demand.

On the other hand, one thing is certain: If SL&RG were to shut down for any reason, Coors' Rocky Mountain barley and other clients' products would be forced over La Veta Pass via US 160, and I know from personal experience the highway would never handle such a load without tens or hundreds of millions of dollars spent to improve it. Thus, the San Luis & Rio Grande Railroad had better keep those steel wheels rolling, whatever happens. We can't afford for it to stop. ⚒


Friday, September 2, 2022

POTD - Floating a K-37 Over the Animas At Tacoma

Today's Photo of the Day is by Kevin Madore, who a year ago today captured Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad's oil-fired K-37 493 as it crossed the Rio de las Animas at the Tacoma bridge. The way Mr. Madore used his wide angle to shape the scene it makes the thousands of pounds of steam and steel seem to float, barely touching the bridge. I know that every bolt is feeling the the heaviest of the Rio Grande's narrow-gauge (actually a former standard-gauge!) engine as it rolls across it, but somehow the wide angle view and the elevation makes the engine seem to glide across! 

Today's Photo of the Day by Kevin Madore makes the K-37 Mikado engine seem to float above the Animas River

In the right hands, photography is science and artistry coming together to create magic. Sometimes you can make the heaviest things float on air.⚒

Friday, May 13, 2022

Denver History Still Lives ...If You Know Where To Look

Baseball fans, especially Colorado Rockies fans, already know Coors Field is special. Constructed between 1993 and 1995, Coors Field--named in perpetuity for the beer that brought baseball here--became the cornerstone of a downtown Denver revitalization project, and its effects have not stopped for nearly 30 years! This is no booster speech; it is simply acknowledging a proven fact.

Without Coors Field, it's fair to say that businessmen and builders like former-Mayor-and-then-Governor John Hickenlooper would have had much more difficulty attracting investors and generating momentum for businesses and projects that got started or are now based out of lower downtown, LoDo to the locals. Without Coors Field, the renovation and redevelopment of Denver Union Station would probably never have happened. The FasTracks rail and transit project would have been more difficult to sell and Denver's suburbs would have been as isolated as they were in the 70s and 80s, and sprawling ever outward even more than they do today. LoDo is now synonymous with revitalized and reinvigorated urbanized living. The strong popularity of such a lifestyle has produced another re- adjective: regentrification. If you have lived anywhere in Colorado in the past 25 years, you have benefitted in some small way from this LoDo effect. 

All of these "re-s" have effects both bad and good. What's also apparent is that the optimism keeps popping up and spawning new challenges and opportunities. For example, I was more than a little unnerved by the relentless construction and development. Was no one going to remember the railroads of downtown or the Moffat Road depot or the lines that ran through Auraria? The viaducts or the Postal Annex, the yellow-bricked monstrosity that sat south of Union Station is gone, hauled away in 2005. What of the Denver of before?

It may not be possible to preserve everything, but we can still build with an eye to our past as well as the future. The Oxford is still with us. Denver's Union Station has never stopped serving all passenger trains climbing and descending to the Mile High City, save for a renovation. The Union Pacific Freight Office persists (at least outside) as the Denver Chop House. But I shuddered when I saw construction barricades going up right next to it. This was hallowed ground. This was where Gen. William J. Palmer laid the first rails of his beloved Baby Road, the narrow gauge Denver and Rio Grande Railroad. What were they doing to this spot? I didn't have far to look: McGregor Square.

Yes, the west corner of the giant Colorado Rockies-built development is built right off the spot in the street where Palmer spiked his rails. So imagine my surprise when I found that one of the establishments in the complex is called "Milepost Zero!" No! I thought, This can't be! Do they really know? And although it does not mention the Denver & Rio Grande or its later incarnations by name, their site says the following:

In Denver’s early days, the railroad became the center of everything. Across the street from what is now Coors Field was where the tracks began – mile post zero. Today, McGregor Square sits in the center of everything Denver has to offer.

It all starts here. Welcome to Milepost Zero.

Milepost Zero is the simply great, convenient choice in Denver’s Ballpark neighborhood. Your home-base for shopping, dining, entertainment, gameday, exploration and everything in between, Milepost Zero serves up something for everyone in the family.

Explore the concepts in our food hall, grab a drink at the bar or pour yourself a beer from our extensive Beer Wall selections. No matter what you’re in the mood for, you can enjoy your favorites in our expansive indoor space or outdoor plaza at the heart of McGregor Square. Catch the game on our giant outdoor plaza screen or just watch the action in the square while you fuel up or wind down. 

When I next visit Coors Field and hopefully watch a Rockies game, I plan to visit Milepost Zero and hopefully partake and imbibe. It's the least I could do for such a history-minded proprietorship, even if the prices are above and beyond what I would usually pay.

Wednesday, April 13, 2022

Jim Wrinn, Passionate Advocate and Colorado Railfan, 61

This is a post I'd rather not write. I will keep it brief. 

Perhaps one of the greatest friends to the railroads of Colorado, indeed certainly to live outside of the state and within the last 30 years, has passed on March 30, 2022. Jim Wrinn, for 17 years Editor of Trains Magazine, had a long battle with pancreatic cancer before it stole him from our midst. I wish I could say this is the only friend I've lost to the monster, but I can't. It has the highest mortality rate of all the cancers, with a 5-year survival rate of just 11%, or 9 out of 10 diagnosed die within 5 years

Yes we all die. Yes, I believe that something wondrous and glorious awaits only some of us. I believe I will see him again. That doesn't take away the pain of goodbye. And certainly not someone who was generous with his time and energy to someone like me. We weren't that close, but he made me feel a part of his world, and that counts for a lot for someone disabled.

Jim was no stranger to the Antonito, to Durango, to Denver, or many of the points around and between. He realized a hope at the Victorian Iron Horse Roundup (archive) by re-enacting a shot from Trains' long past covers only last year (above). Had COVID delayed it again, he wouldn't have lived to see it. I am personally gratified it did not and he did.

His obituary at Trains contains the following quote of Fred W. Frailey:

“Every writer wants an editor, a boss, who says yes, . . . Forget what ‘yes’ means — it can mean anything. Jim Wrinn always said ‘yes,’ even when it was no because he made it seem like yes. I love the guy.”

Adios, my friend. ⚒

Tuesday, January 18, 2022

Trains 1963: D&RGW 3600's Out of Minturn

Mention Rio Grande steam in railfan circles and immediately what comes to most minds? The diminutive narrow gauge steamers of the Cumbres and Toltec or Durango and Silverton. Few think of the main line steam giants of Challengers, cousins of recently retired UP 3985, or mallets with massive 40-inch low pressure drivers living on as class L-96s. Indeed, half of the steam legacy of the Rio Grande has vanished like water vapor on the Colorado wind. It is the most vivid reason steam preservation programs continue to endure 80 years after the zenith of steam. Provide the experience of the raw power and romantic beauty of steam and watch it fire young imaginations!

Yet we do have some signs of the passing of standard gauge Rio Grande steam. Photos of brawny giants reside in collections large and small. One of the largest remains the Denver Public Library Western History Collection. No less beloved are books like the Colorado Railroad Museum's Rio Grande Locomotives and Robert LaMassena's  Denver & Rio Grande Western: Superpower Railroad of the Rockies published in 1999. 

Perhaps the most meaningful are the personal accounts like that of John Hill and Dave Straight from 2015. More widely known is a much younger Robert LaMassena's account of the 3600s Out of Minturn published by Trains in 1963. Reproduced here by permission, he recalls the run over the Continental Divide with peaches from Grand Junction and Palisade. On a side note, Palisade peaches are one of the most wonderful parts of late summer in Colorado, second only to the fall colors. I can remember with perfect clarity my most recent ripe peach from Grand Junction in all its giant, sweet, juice dribbling glory! They are incredible! If you are here in late August or early September, do not miss your opportunity to eat your fair share.

To read in full resolution, tap or click the image to view it

D&RGW 3600s Out of Minturn

by Robert A. LaMassena
Trains magazine, April 1963

Trains magazine cover (p.1) showing two photos of D&RGW steam engines during the peach rush






Finally, this article was reproduced from Trains 1940 - 2010, but for access to thousands of other articles published since October 1940 to today's issue, all you need to do is subscribe to Trains with an Unlimited subscription. I'm finding my own self-paid subscription to Trains unlimited very handy. ⚒