Personal Projects, Photography, and Pointless Pontifications
Colorado Railroad Museum Goosefest 2012
Most of you are relatively familiar with the Rio Grande Southern’s
fleet of automobile conversions, known eventually as the Galloping
Geese. The fantastically successful series of machines started in 1931,
when Jack Odenbaugh built RGS 1 from a 1925 Buick Model 45 touring car.
The creation was designed to allow the RGS to fulfill its mail
delivery contracts without actually having to fire up a steam locomotive
and suffer the costs of running a regular train. Originally the
backend was an open bed with wooden stake sides, but within two months
it was rebuilt as an enclosed, locking box to satisfy the US Postal
Service and a cramped seven seat passenger compartment.
The machine was an unqualified success. Since RGS 1 had paid for
itself within a month of hitting the rails, construction on an entire
fleet of motors commenced immediately. Over the next five years, six
more conversions took place, using both Buicks and Pierce-Arrows as
starting points. The newer, larger motors quickly took over for RGS 1,
since as built, it was an excellent prototype but far too small to
sustain regular service. After only two years, RGS 1 was stricken from
the roster, but the other six motors continued on in regular service
until the end in 1952, albeit with an almost endless number of changes
One of the charming things about the Geese is that they were
constantly evolving throughout their service lives. Over the years,
some of the original Pierce-Arrow bodies were replaced on some units
with Wayne bus bodies left over from European WWII service, one of the
Buick bodies was replaced by a Pierce-Arrow, the engines were changed
out for surplus WWII GMC 361 engines, and in the spring of 1950, some of
the rear freight boxes were rebuilt to passenger compartments and
upgraded for tourist-hauling service. While almost certainly referred
to as Galloping Geese by the locals at an earlier date, it was at this
conversion to tourist service that the railroad officially embraced the
name and the now-iconic logo.
The truly remarkable thing about the RGS Geese, however, is their
longevity. As a testament to their uniqueness and usefulness, at the
close of operations all six remaining motors were quickly snapped up by
new owners. RGS 2 went to Bob Richardson’s collection for the
soon-to-be-founded Colorado Railroad Museum. RGS 3 was used in the
scrapping of the line and was then purchased by Walter Knott and taken
to California. There 3 would work on the park narrow gauge at Knott’s
Berry Farm alongside other RGS equipment. RGS 4 and 5 were purchased by
local civic organizations to be placed in parks along the former route.
RGS 4 went to the Telluride Volunteer Fire Department and was placed
next to the fire station. RGS 5 was purchased by the Dolores (Colorado)
Rotary Club and placed in a city park across from the old depot site.
RGS 6 and 7 were used by the Brinkerhoffs for scrapping out the RGS and
then retained in the scrap yard in anticipation of future use in
scrapping the San Juan Extension.
The road to Goosefest really starts in 1991, with the founding of the
Galloping Goose Historical Society in Dolores. In 1997, after
recreating the RGS depot in Dolores, they turned their attention to the
the full, operating restoration of RGS Goose 5. By 1998, the work was
complete, and the Goose rolled onto the rails of the Cumbres and Toltec
to carry its first passengers in 45 years.
Quite surprisingly, a goose nearly 70 years gone was the next to
return to operations. Using the remains of a 1926 Buick found in
Montana, Karl Schaeffer rebuilt RGS 1 as faithfully as possible to its
original design. It made its first runs at the Durango and Silverton
Railfest in 2000, and lives on today at the Ridgway Railroad Museum.
RGS 2 was one of the first pieces brought to the newly-founded
Colorado Railroad Museum in Golden in 1958. Since then, it was
maintained in much the same condition as when it arrived. In 1999,
restoration work started to return it to an operational state, and it
made its debut at the D&S Railfest in 2000 with RGS 1 and RGS 5.
The installation of a much-oversized airbrake by the D&S had caused
additional damage, and it took until 2007 before the Museum completed
repairs and outfitting with a proper brake system.
RGS 3 never technically left service, but Knotts mostly kept it in
standby service after the 1953 season. It would return to service
periodically when D&RGW 340 needed servicing, but mostly sat around.
Knotts replaced the original prime mover with a diesel in 1996, and
then later did a full restoration of the passenger box to its 1950s RGS
condition in 2004.
RGS 6 and 7, as mentioned previously, were retained by the
Brinkerhoff Brothers for potential future use in scrapping other narrow
gauge lines in southwestern Colorado. With the relatively certain
survival of both the Cumbres and Toltec and the Silverton Branch by
1981, the Brinkeroffs sold both Geese to Bob Shank of Durango, who then
later sold them to the Colorado Railroad Museum (via a third party) in
1985. The condition of both was extremely rough, with parts rotted,
corroded, or just plan stolen over the years. The Museum started a
wholesale restoration on both and they made their mutual debut at the
first Goosefest on 8 Nov 2008.
RGS 4 was the last to be restored to service. In 2008, after only
routine maintenance for 56 years, the deteriorating state of RGS 4
forced the TVFD to take more drastic measures. The wooden
superstructure was rotted to the point that the roof would soon collapse
if work wasn’t done. So, in May of 2008, Goose 4 was trucked down the
road to the Ridgway museum and work started on what was originally to be
only a cosmetic restoration. Upon opening up 4, however, the
drivetrain was found to be in remarkably good shape and a full operating
restoration was authorized. On 20 Aug 2011, RGS 4 moved under its own
power for the first time since being parked in 1953, and by a month
later the restoration was completed.
Back to present day… The fabled RGS is little more than memories
and a cinder-laden bump of dirt across the ground. But six machines
that roamed those rails were – for the first time in six decades – all
restored to the way they were during their heyday, if not better. As
such, Colorado Railroad Museum started planning for a reunion of all six
plus the recreation of RGS 1. It would be the first time that all six
original Geese would be in the same place since the end came in late
1952. For the weekend of June 15-17, 2012, the Museum’s track would be
invaded by Geese coming from all corners, including Knotts 3.
It turned out to be a fantastic weekend, although Knotts canceled at the last minute, leaving only six Geese. (One of the guys in attendance was from Knotts – we threatened to give him a grey T-shirt with a “3” on it and make him run around the loop…) The crowds, according to one museum volunteer, were every bit as bad as a Thomas weekend, but I’m glad to see so many people took the opportunity to experience such a historic event. What follows is a series of photos over the course of the three-day event. Enjoy!
All photographs in this trip report were taken with a Canon EOS 1D Mark III using either a Canon 24-105mm f/4L IS/USM, Canon 17-40mm f/4L USM, or a Canon 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6L IS/USM.