RGS Goose 5 on the C&TS

The Galloping Geese are definitely one of those oddities of Colorado railroading. They’re small, gasoline-powered railcars built from highway vehicles by the struggling Rio Grande Southern in the 1930s as a way of continuing service without all the costs associated with full-sized trains (coal, a crew of at least four, maintenance, wear on the track, etc.) By the end, seven were built for the RGS, and an eighth was built under contract for the San Cristobal Railway. Of these, all but RGS Goose #1 and the San Cristobal unit survive today. Goose 1 continues to exist in a way, as a very good replica was built by the Ridgway Railroad Museum.

Probably the best known of the fleet is Goose #5. RGS 5 was originally built at the RGS’s Ridgway shops in the spring and early summer of 1933 using a 1928 Pierce-Arrow touring car body and Pierce-Arrow 36 engine up front and a large express freight area in the back. In 1946, its appearance underwent the first radical change in appearance, when the Pierce-Arrow car body was replaced with the Wayne bus body is has today. In 1950, its appearance changed yet again, as the express freight box on the rear was converted to passenger use, as a way of retooling the Goose to serve in the new tourist services that the RGS was promoting. Less obvious changes were made along the way as well, with airbrakes added at the FRA’s insistence in 1939 and the original Pierce-Arrow engine being replaced with a GMC inline 6 from a surplus WWII truck in 1947. While marginally successful, the tourist traffic wasn’t enough to save the RGS from rapidly tanking freight revenues. By 1952, the railroad called it quits, and some of the Geese were used in the scrapping operations. 5, however, had a different fate in store.

RGS 5 was purchased by the Dolores Rotary Club and donated to the city, to be statically displayed in Flanders Park. It sat there, suffering the worst Mother Nature could throw at it, for some 44 years. By the early 90s, the freight box was on the verge of collapse – a result of years and years of water leaking in through the roof onto the wooden carbody. In 1987, the Galloping Goose Historical Society was created, largely under the guidance of Wayne Brown, to preserve the motor and restore it to operating condition. To dispel local doubt that the newly-founded group was up to the task, they first set about building a replica of the Dolores depot. By late 1996, they began work on the Goose itself, finishing up the restoration to a fully operable state in only fourteen months.

On 30-May-1998, some 47 years after it last moved under its own power, the Goose made a successful return on the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic. Well, mostly successful, aside from a few bugs to be worked out… Since then, it’s been a staple of Railfest in Durango and a regular visitor to both the Cumbres & Toltec and the Durango & Silverton.

When it was announced that Goose 5 would again be making a few runs over the C&TS in 2006, I immediately jumped on it. I’d tried to ride on its 2005 visit, but work sent me to Memphis that week instead. By the time I found that I could go to Railfest 2005, the Goose tickets were already sold out. However, a quick phone call revealed that I was early enough to get on any run I wanted this year. My choice? Saturday, 10-Jun-2006, when the Goose would run westbound from Antonito to Chama. That way, I could ride the San Luis & Rio Grande’s standard gauge tourist train on Friday, then ride the Goose on Saturday, and chase the Goose on Sunday as it made a run from Chama to Osier and back. What follows are my photos from the Goose portions of that trip – the SLRG bits will come in a future trip report.

Riding the Goose – Antonito to Chama, Jun 10, 2006

Chasing the Goose – Chama to Antonito, Jun 11, 2006

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.

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