One of the sure signs of summer coming to a close is Railfest in
Durango on the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge. Every year at the
end of August, the DSNG puts together a special weekend full of events,
largely targetted at rail enthusiasts.
Thursday, August 21 – RGS 5 to Tacoma
Probably my most anticipated trip this year was the Thursday run of
RGS Goose 5 to Tacoma and Cascade Canyon. Nothing particularly to do
with Goose 5 – I’ve ridden it many times before, including a couple
times on the Cumbres & Toltec earlier this season and many times on
the D&S – but included in the trip was a tour of Xcel Energy’s
Tacoma Hydro plant. For those who don’t know, I’m fascinated with
industrial history, with a particular penchant for old electrical
generation and distribution. The Tacoma plant is one of two small hydro
stations that Xcel operates in the San Juans, and most of the original
equipment remains on the property, much of it still in use. The 1905
facility remains only accessible by railroad and then by a footbridge
over the Animas River. The chance to tour this historic plant wasn’t
something I could pass up, and I’ve posted a number of photos of the
facility’s fascinating interior.
Thursday morning’s transportation from Durango to Tacoma – RGS Galloping Goose #5. We’d depart right on the tail of the first (0815h) train.
Stopping at Rockwood for a quick bearing check and to allow the passengers one last rest stop before we launched into the wilderness beyond the cut.
Tacoma lies approximately 3.2 miles beyond Rockwood, past the famous High Line and over the High Bridge. It’s the site of Tacoma Hydroelectric Plant, now owned and operated by Xcel Energy. The only access to the plant is by rail, and then across the Animas via a foot bridge. Included in several of this year’s Goose trips was a tour of this historic hydroelectric plant.
Originally to be called the Rockwood Plant, the facility received transformers in crates originally bound for Tacoma, WA, and marked as such. The nickname Tacoma eventually stuck, and the plant has been known as such since it’s opening in 1905. The penstock feeding the plant is visible as a scar on the hillside in the background.
Inside the plant, looking south. The two large green semi-circular covers to the left are the original two Pelton turbine housings, installed in 1905-1906. Each connects to a ~2.25 megawatt General Electric generator of the same vintage (though each as been rebuilt several times as part of routine maintenance, and uprated from their original 1.3 megawatt design capacities).
The first of the older two generators was actually online that Thursday. The big silver box in the foregound houses the controls for the hydraulic actuator that opens and closes the gigantic needle valve valve on the penstock leading to the turbine, thus controlling water flow and power generation.
The builder’s plate on the active generator. Note how it still says “Alternating Current Generator”? Edison (one of the primary forces behind General Electric) had bitterly lost the AC-vs.-DC battle some fourteen years earlier on part because of Tacoma’s sister plant in Ames, CO.
Behind each of the original two generators lies three of these beautiful old GE transformers. Gigantic by today’s standards (the modern equivalent would be about a third the size, and not come in the very cool riveted case), three of these gems are still in active daily service, including this one.
The builder’s plate from one of the transformers. The two original generators both produce power at 4kV. These transformers then boost the voltage to 46kV to be transmitted on the line to Durango and Silverton.
Love the cast base for one of the original Pelton impulse wheels – “THE PELTON WATER WHEEL CO – HYDRAULIC ENGINEERS – SAN FRANCISCO NEW YORK” Technical trivia – the input pressure to the turbines is just above 500 psi, as a result of the (maximum) of 1077 feet of head pressure from Electra Lake.
Another look at the original two turbine/generator units from above.
Behind the transformer gallery is this room. Those lines across the ceiling are the 46kV outputs of the plant, headed for the substation behind. The replacement transformers for the first bank are visible in the far rear corner. I believe they’re offline at the moment, with generator 1 cross-connected to generator 3’s transformers.
Some of the old contactors – presumably used to connect the transfomers/generators to the power grid – up above the transformer gallery. These are no longer connected, but thought they were an interesting old piece of hardware.
The problematic generator #3… Installed in 1949, the turbine attached to this 4 megawatt generator tore itself to pieces at 0200h on 31-Oct-2005 and is still awaiting repair. When operators reached the plant, the upper housing for the water wheel was found lying upside-down, off its base and over by the other generators.
Lest anyone have any doubts about how much damage thirty tons of rotating mass can do when it isn’t well behaved, note the holes in the roof above turbine #3, probably 25-30 feet up from the ground.
A look at the damaged turbine itself.
Looking down into where the business actually happens – normally, there’d be a cover on this, and up to 27,000 gallons per minute would be coming out of the nozzle at just over 500 pounds per square inch. (From Appendix B-2, Tacoma Hydroelectric Project relicensing application)
There’s damage to the generator as well, presumably from the wheel coming out of balance and causing the shaft (and thus the generator’s rotor) to wobble. Note the torn-up windings and the damaged bearing block.
A closer look at some of the damaged windings.
The operating room for the plant. The facility can be operated locally, but is usually run remotely, given the inaccessible location (particularly in the winter).
The north face of the facility – at one time, when the plant was continuously manned, there was a small town built here for the operators. Note the cast iron streetlight – yes, they still work.
Two of the houses remain, and this one is used by Xcel employees staying at the plant site. Our guide had been there for several days, and was nice enough to let us have a quick tour of their living accomodations. Not a bad assignment in the summer, I’d have to say.
With the tour of the Tacoma facility complete, it was back to the Goose. The 0900h train out of Durango was just getting up to us, so we set up an impromptu run-by with DSNG 486.
Continuing northward, we did a quick run-by at Tall Timber
And then another at one of my favorite spots on the line – the Tefft truss bridge
Breaking for lunch on the Cascade Canyon wye. Of course lunch is not provided on these trips and yours truly didn’t plan ahead, so I wound up buying two small bags of Doritos and a Mountain Dew from the Goose crew.
Passing over the famous High Bridge on the way back to Durango
I’ve never particularly been a fan of Goose shots on the High Line, just because the Goose is so small it gets lost. Still, this one seems to have worked out okay.
Coming around the big horseshoe in the High Line
And back in Durango – another Goose trip concluded without incident (other than losing the case for my polarizer somewhere around Tacoma)
Friday, August 22 – Chasing D&RGW 315 Durango to Rockwood
This year’s special trains mostly focused around runs with recently-restored D&RGW 315. On Friday, I chased 315 between Durango and Rockwood as it made a trip to Cascade and back.
315 off on her first Railfest run on Friday, 22-Aug-2008. Unfortunately, the sun was still a couple minutes from hitting the bridge.
By the time she got out of town, though, no problems at all with light. Here’s 315 running between Home Ranch and Hermosa, right along US 550.
After a quick stop at Hermosa for water (the small C class tenders don’t hold nearly as much as the K-36s), the special starts up the grade towards Rockwood.
The usual famous US 550 overpass shot, about halfway between Hermosa and Rockwood
Approaching the Shalona Lake crossing of the old highway
And finally, pulling through Rockwood. The train will run up to Cascade wye and then back to Durango in the early afternoon. We were told by one of the track guys at Rockwood to expect it around 1300h, but turned out to be more like 1400h.
One thing I hadn’t noticed until Rockwood was that the coaches had temporary “Denver & Rio Grande Western” lettering applied via some sort of temporary adhesive tape.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t holding up well, as several of the cars had already lost large parts of it by Rockwood. By the afternoon, the cars had all mostly reverted to Durango & Silverton lettering.
We ran back to Durango to catch the departure of Goose 5, but the shot at the bridge didn’t exactly work. So, the first shot of RGS 5 making its Friday run to Silverton comes from the Hermosa bridge.
And right behind the 315 special, the NARCOA motorcar folks would head out of the wye and head north as well.
And seen again high on the hillside, as the line approaches the 550 overpass.
Arriving at Rockwood, the Goose ducks into the wye to top off the gas tank.
Pulling up to the D&S fuel rack
With the tanks full and the passengers loaded, RGS 5 heads out of Rockwood for points north.
A few hours later, DRGW 315 approaches the Rockwood cut from the other direction, bringing the special back from Cascade.
A differently-composed shot at the same spot.
315 puases at Rockwood before starting down the hill.
315 and special coming down from Rockwood and just about to pass under US 550.
Approaching Hermosa, just above the highway crossing
And out of Hermosa, crossing one of the two wooden truss bridges on the line.
315 and crew make good time along the flat, level line from Hermosa to Durango.
Ugh, why exactly do they feel the need to paint lines on the road when some of us have a train to catch?
Yeah, I tried a new spot, it sucked, next shot please…
Grab shot at the Durango bridge
And, some time later, back in the yards, taking 315 off the train and pulling it over to the roundhouse for servicing.
The reflection shot off the lake at Rockwood – normally it’s not a shot you can get, as you’re standing in some guy’s yard. Thanks to a friend I met on one of the earlier C&TS trips, though, we got permission to be in there.
Dropping down onto the flat and level near Hermosa for the run back to Durango
Running along at Home Ranch siding
Three different classes of Rio Grande steamers simmering outside the Durango roundhouse. Thanks to Michael Ripley for providing the evening’s lighting, as well as keeping this rather large night shoot from descending too far into chaos.
A different view of the three amigos
DSNG 481 sits over by the disused railbus at the start of the photo shoot – they’ll get her in the house shortly.
481 goes for a spin on the table to be put away for the night
With 481 put away, the yard guys bring 315 out onto the table.
Hands down, this is my favorite shot of the trip. I finally found something productive to do with those @#$%^$% yard lights.
And finally, one more shot of 315 on the table. That’s it for the night – off to bed, need to get up early for 315 on Saturday morning.
Saturday, August 23 – Riding 315 from Durango to Silverton
On Saturday, I rode behind 315 as it made a round-trip run from Durango to Silverton with a photographer’s mixed freight. Unfortunately, the photo special was a bit disappointing, with only two run-by locations largely due to the sheer amount of traffic on the line (not to mention a few people who seriously needed some photo line etiquette reminders), but I still managed a decent set of shots out of the experience.
With daylight not quite lighting the yard yet, 315 and the Saturday photo special are about ready to depart.
We were scheduled to have one run-by on the way up – the High Bridge. The light wasn’t quite far enough down in the canyon, but we had to skip it anyway. That didn’t stop me from cranking on the ISO and shooting out the side of the train, such as in the dark canyons above Tacoma.
Another out-the-window shot at the north end of Needleton siding. With 315 getting out of Durango a bit late and then losing time on the regularly-scheduled trains, we were highballing it all the way to Silverton.
Another not-so-bad shot out the window with the Grenadier Range in the background.
Arrival in Silverton under what can only be called excellent skies. I think this is the first time I’ve blue skies and sun in Silverton during the summer in years.
Just another Silverton view.
Shortly after our arrival, the first regular train came rolling in with K-36 #481 on the head end.
Goose 5, back from its morning run to Elk Park ahead of us, sits on the far side of the Silverton depot.
After quickly running to eat before the passengers from the first train bogged down all of Silverton’s eating establishments, we returned to the station just in time to see the second regular train roll in.
I have to admit, it’s a nice vantage point from this gravel pile.
Preservation work continues on the Silverton rolling stock. DRGW K-37 493 has received a coat of paint since I was last here. A K-37 in a green boiler jacket is definitely interesting (and not prototypical, I might add), but definitely better than the rust bucket she was turning into.
Yes, I’m cheating, 481 is really backing up after turning the train on the wye. The NARCOA motorcars are in the south end of the siding, and the photo special (without 315) parked behind them.
At long last, the final train of the day rolls in – the President’s Special. This year’s power is 473, sporting a green boiler jacket and brass jacket bands. Unfortunately, the light is starting to fail.
They tried to set up a photo op of all three classes of engine in front of the Silverton depot, but unfortunately there was only a photo line on one side. The tragically clueless (usually in red shirts) kept wandering into the middle of the engines from the far side, making getting a clear shot nearly impossible (out of 35 frames, this is the best, and it still has an oblivious yahoo wandering around by 315).
In an effort to help make up for the missed run-by earlier, the crew tried to get us all rounded up and back on the photo special as soon after the three engine meet as possible. We then went in the hole to let the first regular train out ahead of us.
So, first run-by of the day was just before 1400h at the Silverton bridge. Not exactly a rare photo op, but still scenic and a tight enough shot that you could isolate the freight section of the train.
Heading down along the upper Animas towards Elk Park, where we’d do another run-by and then duck in the hole for three (second regular, president’s special, and the motorcars). The sun was really giving way to thick clouds, and it even started to rain briefly.
Elk Park provides a number of unique angles, such as the bridge that carries some trail over the Animas here. Ta da! A shot from the middle of the river! (Wouldn’t really recommend being in the river – as someone who’s fallen in the Animas getting a shot – in the winter, no less – it’s really cold.)
So after dumping us all off, 315 cleared up in the Elk Park siding, some distance to the south. With failing light and being less than thrilled with the bridge shot, Nathan Z. and I went looking for other photo opportunities. After doing a little landscaping, this shot opened right up.
This actually would be a dual run-by – the presidential special pulled up to let off its passengers as well, and then backed way up so that 315 could also participate. This was about the last possible shot from our new-found spot, as the clouds were clearing and direct light returning to the canyon floor.
With our secret spot no longer usable because of light, we rejoined the main photo line.
473 making its run past the line. Notice the doofus up on the rocks in all of our shots. The genius didn’t respond to the entire photo line yelling at him, and was just slightly out of pelting range.
A better look at 473’s paint job in the sunlight.
While 473 was stopped and picking up passengers, I grabbed a few shots of the flags flying on the front end. Yes, the supersaturated effect is intentional.
Ah, what a miserable place to spend an afternoon… (very big, cheesy grin intended)
The last thing to wait on was the motorcars. Once they were by, 473 headed on south and 315 returned to collect us. The light was once again going, this time not due to clouds but rather on account of the lateness in the afternoon.
One final stop for the day at Needleton tank. The tank is non-functional, of course, but the crew was happy to play along and put the spout down.
Some of the day’s crew poses on the 315 for us all. Thank you all for the hard work to haul us around, even if traffic levels didn’t allow for much of a photo special.
One last shot going over the High Bridge on the way back to Durango. Our crew is actually on the verge of going dead, so there’s a relief crew waiting at Rockwood. Before it’s all said and done, it’ll be a 13+ hour day.
Sunday, August 24 – Exploring East Mancos
Sunday offered a tour of the third remaining water tank on the RGS. Yes, there are three. In addition to the Rico and Trout Creek tanks, which are readily accessible from public roads, there’s a third at East Mancos. Few people have seen it, as the tank site lies deep in private property and away from any public road. The ranch that owns the tank is currently for sale (and for a cool $3.3 million,
it could be yours), and thanks to the efforts of Rod Guggenheim and the realtor, Dave Coates, we were able to pay the site a visit. In addition to getting a bunch of photos of the tank, it also offered an opportunity to photograph the remains of one of the Rio Grande’s earliest cars – an 1880 Billmeyer & Small Mail/Baggage car purchased by the RGS in 1891 and turned into a section house in 1903. The car is mostly collapsed, but is still an incredible piece of history in the field. Hopefully you RGS fans out there will enjoy this rare look at a seldom-seen location. Thanks to Rod and Dave for putting up with all of us, and for arranging this tour.
Before heading over to Mancos to visit the tank, I stopped by the Durango bridge to catch DSNG 486 and the second regularly-scheduled train.
Here’s the property – the East Mancos tank is well within the ranch, and normally off-limits. The ranch is currently up for sale, so if you have an extra $3+ million lying around, you too could own East Mancos. Thanks to Dave (the realtor) and Rod Guggenheim, a few of us had the opportunity to visit the site.
After driving most of the way in, we walked the last few hundred yards down to the tank site. The track here made a series of loops to descend the hill to cross the East Mancos River on Bridge 131-A, and the East Mancos tanksite was on the approach to the bridge. This is looking down the grade towards the tank, still out of view.
After walking down the grade a bit, there’s the tank we’ve all come to see
As you can see, the tank has a bit of a lean to it, but is still generally in decent shape. As on most disused tanks, though, the bands are slipping. The strange roof under where the spout would be is obviously not RGS, and was added by one of the property owners
A view of the (geographically) east side of the tank
Looking west back up the grade
The attachment point for the spout, including the two guides for the counterweights on the sides
If you look closely, the numbers are still visible on the water gauge.
Detail shot showing the stone footings and west side of the base.
Another detail shot of the southwest corner.
Inside the center box, showing the pipe that fed the spout.
And on the other side of the center box are these two cast iron pipes, presumably the feed lines for the tank (though why two? overflow line?)
An overall east side shot of the base.
The southeast side of the tank base
A close-up of the central pillars under the east side. No, they’re nearly vertically straight, I just can’t hold a camera.
One of the other guys found this in the weeds – it’s hard to tell, but it’s the old tank ladder.
Since I forgot my tape measure in the CR-V, I just wound up shooting lots of things with my hand in the picture. Turns out the bottom tank band is six inches wide.
Another detail shot, showing the construction of the tank base and deck on which the tank itself sits.
Detail of the area around the former spout connection.
Note the tensioning rods between the large wooden members – they’re round half-inch iron rods.
A close-up of the output pipe coming through the underside of the water tank supports.
One of the saddest items at the site is this former carbody. This is the remains of one of the Denver & Rio Grande’s earliest cars, one of four 34-foot mail and baggage cars built by Billmeyer and Small in 1880 as D&RG 6-9. Eventually they became D&RG 55-58, and in 1891 were sold to the RGS. RGS 152 landed here as a makeshift section house in 1903. Only one other carbody, RGS 150, survives today, and can be found at CRRM. (From The RGS Story, Volume XII, p.255)
A look in the uncollapsed end, showing where the stove was previously located.
Next to the remains of RGS 152 are the remains of a non-descript boxcar, presumably used as a toolshed by whoever was living in the sectionhouse.
Even more than half a century gone, remnants of the RGS are everywhere. Here’s a tie with spikes still in it, just off the right of way.
One of a dozen or more tieplates that the group found while walking along the grade. One guy even found a Greer Spike.
Looking back at the tank from near where Bridge 131-A would have started. Little remains of the bridge today, but WH Jackson captured two trains from near here back in 1889.
Looking southeast, the RGS grade heading for Grady can be seen high on the hillside.
On the way home, I followed the old RGS and decided to photograph the other two remaining tanks. Here’s the one at Rico, taken out the car window in the pouring rain.
Looking back to the south past the Rico tank.
The third is the restored tank along the road at Trout Creek.
All photographs in this trip report were taken with a Canon EOS 40D using either a Canon 24-105mm F4 L IS/USM, Sigma 18-50mm, or a Canon 100-400mm f4.5-5.6L IS/USM.
This work is copyright 2020 by Nathan D. Holmes, but all text and images are licensed and reusable under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike license. Basically you’re welcome to use any of this as long as it’s not for commercial purposes, you credit me as the source, and you share any derivative works under the same license. I’d encourage others to consider similar licenses for their works.