#455 & the RGS Recreated - By Frank Maly

On Saturday, August 23, 1997, the Rio Grande Southern Railroad rose from the cinders of the Rico yard in southwestern Colorado. It chuffed slowly out of the yard pulling a mixed consist of freight and passenger cars sandwiched between K27-type engine #455 and caboose number 0404. It proceeded in most unusual order, past Lower Gallager, up Keystone Hill to Lizard Head and then Vance Junction.

After turning at the Vance Wye it returned via the Ute Coal Pocket, Upper Gallager, over Bridge 45A toward Brown. It was shortly after Bridge 45A that the muddied roadbed split the rails and 455's tender touched ground. In a way, considering the somewhat checkered past of the RGS, it was the perfect end to a perfect day.

The trip of course was a revival. Bill Lund, assisted by many other members of the Rio Grande Southern Modelers Club staged this rebirth in concert with railfans from all points of the compass. Bill, along with several friends, traveled to Chama, New Mexico the prior weekend and painted the Cumbres and Toltec Scenic Railroad, (nee' Denver and Rio Grande), K27 engine #463 with the RGS logo numbered 455. Their caboose was similarly cloaked as RGS #0404. The stage was set.

The following Friday night, August 22 a night shoot was conducted by Tom Cardin of Chama. He directed the photographers and manned a powerful strobe enabling photos of both engine and tender from many angles and several locations in the Chama yard. The next day, with three converted boxcars filled with enthusiastic railfans armed with cameras and camcorders, #455 pulled out of Rico-for-the-day. It pulled a short, mixed consist - typical of the RGS.

Bill Lund chose photo runby sites new to the D&RGW freight specials run frequently out of Chama pulling cars restored by the all-volunteer Friends of the Cumbres and Toltec. Instead, he chose photo runby stops based on their resemblance to locations on the Rio Grande Southern. Coxo was chosen for its similarity to Keystone Hill, and the approach to Cumbres passed for Lizard Head. The usual freight special turnaround wye at Big Horn was redubbed Vance Junction for the day. The bridge at Los Pinos substituted for 45A while Ute Coal Pocket, Upper Gallager and Brown were referred to simply as "MNW" - middle of nowhere. Several other stops were made along the way.

Shortly after taking on water at Cresco, 455 ran afoul of a roadbed weakened by an unusually rainy summer. The rails spread under the weight of the locomotive and the tender touched ground. Attempts to re-rail the tender were unsuccessful; a call to Chama for assistance was placed by an ashamedly non-RGS prototype cellular phone. Buses were also dispatched for the 80+ passengers who, though disappointed by a rail trip cut short, agreed that it was indeed a most prototypical conclusion to a wonderfully planned and executed day.

Congratulations are in order to the inspiration of Bill Lund, the RGS modelers for their assistance, Tom Cardin for his photographic insight and the Friends of the Cumbres and Toltec for their incredible restoration work. It was certainly THE EVENT of the year for or all fans of narrow gauge railroading.