DRGW 5371, the final remaining unpatched Rio Grande unit, is on very borrowed time. Having escaped the patch numerous times during 92-day inspections at Roper, it’s unlikely to survive this next one. As of midnight on Nov 13, 2006, it will be due for its three year (triennial) inspection. Three year inspections are not done at Roper, and as such the unit will be headed for North Platte, NE, on Nov 14, 2006. While there, away from its guardian angels in Utah, it will almost certainly be patched. With that, the long twilight of the Rio Grande – some 18 years after the original SP merger and a decade after the SP-UP merger – will come to a close of sorts.
Not being able to be away from work on its final day – Monday, Nov 13, 2006 – I decided to spend the last weekend in Helper, observing what I could of 5371’s final days. I may not have gotten the chance to see it one last time on the Sunnyside Branch (although it did work the dirt train all the way to the landfill on Monday), I did get to see it out and about on the mainline, both on the local and as the rear unit on a helper set. What follows are a few photos from Friday-Saturday, November 10-12, 2006.
Friday, Nov 10, 2006
The first train of the trip is this westbound BNSF, lead by 5336, taking the siding at Brendel, UT, on Friday.
Why’s it in the hole? To meet UP 4677 and the eastbound M-PVNY!
A better look at Friday’s M-PVNY-10, lead by 4677, 4101, and 3951.
Following along westward, we see BNSF 5336 west again on the east side of Green River, right before the train ducks under the highway bridge
As I get closer to Helper, I keep hearing trains talk to the Dirt Train, and I assume they’re somewhere near Mounds. So I head down through the desert, only to find Mounds to have the wesstbound M-NYPV in the hole and a very late Amtrak 6 shooting across the desert.
With the 6-ish hour late Zephyr out of the way, M-NYPV heads back out onto the main and westward towards Wash
At Wash, we find the Dirt Train – powered by UP 3563 and DRGW 5371 – working in the yard, with M-NYPV in the siding. It looked like they stopped to pick up a few cars from the Wash yard.
Having completed their limited work for the day, the local crew picks up a string of empties and heads back for Helper. Here they are accelerating through Wellington.
Here she is, the last unpatched (or unpainted) Rio Grande locomotive, and the whole reason for this trip. This should be her last weekend before being shipped off to North Platte for a three-year inspection… and almost certain patching.
Over the road bridge on the west end of Price, UT…
Up at Maxwell – about halfway from Price to Helper – the dispatcher throws the dirt train into the siding. What the heck are we waiting on? There’s only a couple miles to go!
Oh, that’s what we’re waiting on! UP 7213 leads a westbound coal empty, headed out to the CV Spur south of Price for loading.
Just another look at the local power under some of the cliffs between Maxwell and Helper
The Dirt is still not quite going to make Helper, though. The M-NYPV that we saw at Mounds and Helper is in the yard and getting manned helpers for the climb up Soldier Summit. The DS is keeping the Dirt out of the way at Spring Glen while the helpers flag by the signals on the east end of the yard and tie on the rear.
As the sun starts to sink over the mountains, I caught this one last train – a Utah IPPX train – at Kyune.
Following the Price River through the curve at Kyune, with the unique wye that ends the center siding in plain view. Thankfully it’s four grey and red MK50-3s, and that horrid orange thing is nowhere in sight.
As if the MK50-3s weren’t odd enough, what about a batch of Australian SD50Ss and an ex-ATSF SD45 as a helper set?
One last look in fading light, as the IPPX train heads out of Colton for the summit.
Rather than do the sane thing and sleep, I decided to go try some night stuff in the desert. Too bad, as I found out later, there wasn’t a train from Helper to Grand Junction. This is midnight at Mounds, as the moon shines down the rails. That’s Sunnyside in the distance.
Saturday, Nov 11, 2006
Saturday, 11-Nov-2006, started off really dead around Helper, so I decided to head over the hill and see the recently renovated Rio Grande yard in Provo. About the time I got there, Amtrak 6 (the eastbound Zephyr) showed up, again almost six hours late. Here it is just up the hill near the west end of the Thistle line diversion.
Between horrid light and some brief bouts with snow flurries, I didn’t put much effort into chasing Amtrak. I spent about 25-30 minutes examining the old U&PV right of way out of Tucker (today’s rest area on the west side of the hill), and then back just to catch Amtrak again short of Lynn.
Something interesting happened about that point, though. I heard a manifest leaving Helper, and it was talking to its helper set. Since the big, all-AC4400CW set went over the hill in the morning, it had to be DRGW 5371 and that SD40-2 from yesterday! Here they are at Utah Railway Junction, just outside Helper.
Another shot as the pair start the push in earnest, just past URJ.
The light’s still bad (I’m shooting at ISO 800 or ISO 1600 a lot of the time, hence the noisy images), but I’m not going to pass up one last opportunity to see 5371 working the hill. A bit further up, they’re pushing towards Castle Gate. Note that the grade signal is lit on the signal bridge.
5371 in the shadow of the eastern side of the Castle Gate formation (just out of view to the right). This was taken from the Price water plant road.
Grinding through the curves just above Lynn, with two other fans in view (hello to Frank Keller and Todd Busse)
Just another curve, this one almost up to the Nolan Tunnels at MP 635.1. You just have to love those classic Rio Grande-style hooded signals, complete with grade light (the small, lower target).
A little more telephoto-compressed shot at the same point as 28
The helpers slip into the easternmost of the Nolan Tunnels
Since up to this point, I haven’t even photographed the front of the train, I decide to stop and grab a couple shots as it comes out of the gooseneck between the Nolan and Kyune tunnels. This MNYPV is lead by UP 4468, followed by 4818 and 3821.
And shoving hard on the back end are our two helper motors again. This stretch was a great chance to hear the old T-2 really working.
Through Kyune, it’s possible to see the three tracks winding along the river from US 6 high above. That’s not fog or clouds you see up above – that’s a snowstorm creeping over the mountains.
Since the grade eases after Kyune, the helpers are frequently cut off at that point. That’s just what happened on Saturday, as just past West Kyune, they cut the train free and headed back to Helper.
It’s a little gritty from being shot at high ISO, but it’s still a Grande tunnel motor popping out of the Kyune tunnels in late 2006!
Just out of the Kyune tunnels, the lines cross a low trestle.
Down between Lynn and Castle Gate, the lines cross the Price River, going from the east bank to the west.
Nearly back to home base, the two units pass under a signal bridge that holds the approach signals for Utah Railway Junction.
Finally, back in Helper, with the signal bridge over the west end in the background. The light’s really starting to go and the snow is starting to fall, so it’s time for lunch.
Before calling it a day, I went after the delayed eastbound M-PVNY that Frank and Todd had mentioned over lunch. Here it is passing under Kyune in the onset of the snowstorm.
It looks like manned helpers are back to stay on Soldier Summit, though they likely won’t be tunnel motors, but rather big sets of GE ACs like this mid-train set in M-PVNY.
More M-PVNY in the start of Saturday’s snowstorm, this one just out of the Nolan Tunnels.
And finally the M-PVNY at Castle Gate. There’s not that much snow falling here yet, but there isn’t any light, either. At that point, I decided to go get some coffee to warm up and call it a day.
Sunday, Nov 12, 2006
While talking to Frank and Todd on Saturday, they’d mentioned that an opportunity might present itself on Sunday morning – a train loading from the Skyline Mine out on the Pleasant Valley branch. Having never seen a train out there, I headed out and arrived just in time to see the train already at the mine and preparing to load.
By the time I got there, they were cutting off three of the four units, preparing to run them around the train to lead back west. The fourth unit would remain on the rear as a DPU. Once arranged, they’ll back under the loadout and start filling the train with coal.
One more look at the mine and the power set. It’s cold out here and coal loading is a long, boring process – I’m headed back down the hill.
To show you what remains of the Pleasant Valley line beyond the Skyline Mine, I took a few shots on Friday afternoon. Here’s the current end of track, a few thousand feet beyond the loadout. The line used to continue further, up as far as Clear Creek.
In fact, much of the track is still in place, as here, where it crosses under the highway (looking south towards Clear Creek)
And on the other side, looking back north towards the end of track and the Skyline mine.
I’m sure glad we marked this track defect, I don’t think we ever would have noticed it again if we hadn’t.
Okay, back to Sunday’s trains. I wandered around for a bit, searching for anything moving, but eventually found this returning Utah empty near Kyune.
A broader shot on the same curve at West Kyune, showing four Utah MK50-3s (5003, 5001, 5002, and 5004) and the trailing train of old bottom-dump steel coal cars.
Down the hill a bit, emerging from the Kyune tunnels with a bit of snow still on the ground from the night before
Well, I got one set of tunnels, I might as well get the other, too – here is 5003 east again at Nolan.
Probably my favorite shot from the trip is this one of the four Utahs approaching Castle Gate
One final, slightly cluttered shot of the train near the generating station near Castle Gate
Following on the heels of the Utah empty was Amtrak 6, again between 5-6 hours late. The rock in the background used to be the west side of the Castle Gate formation until the highway department blew it up…
Deciding it was time to head for Colorado Springs, I followed Amtrak 6 across the desert. It’s remarkably hard to catch, especially when you have to stop for gas! So, instead I just went on and caught 5 coming through Clifton, CO, a little under an hour late.
The final train for the day was the Minturn Local at Lacy, powered by two ex-SP tunnel motors (UP 2841 and 2903). It sounds like this was as far as it went on Sunday.
So long, 5371. It’s been a blast having the opportunity to chase one last Grande on its home rails, cared for and watched over by folks who love the Grande some 10 years after the Union Pacific merger and an amazing 18 years after the Grande officially disappeared into the Southern Pacific. Thanks to everyone out there to made the long twilight of the Rio Grande possible.
All photographs in this trip report were taken with a Canon EOS 20D using either a Canon 24-105mm F4 L IS/USM or a Canon 75-300mm f4-5.3 IS/USM.
This work is copyright 2021 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.