#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.