Snow Goose – RGS 5 on the D&S, Feb 17-19, 2017

In mid-February 2017, the Galloping Goose Historical Society brought their pride and joy – RGS “Galloping Goose” #5 – over to the Durango & Silverton to operate as part of the Winter Photographers’ Special weekend. This marked the first time that Rio Grande Southern #5 had operated in the winter since the end of winter RGS operations in 1951-1952.

RGS 5 was sporting a brand new snowplow on the front. The plow is a modern replica of the plows actually fitted to the RGS motors back in the day. Dolores welder Ken Vance made this one, patterned after the one on RGS 6 up at the Colorado Railroad Museum. I can’t find any pictures of #5 with a plow fitted, but the new replica looks spot on to an old Sanborn photo postcard image I found of #7, taken in Ridgway in the 1940s.

RGS 7 fitted with a snowplow (and apparently broken down – note the tow bar through the front) in Ridgway back before 1945, as it still has the Pierce-Arrow body. From photolibrarian’s Flickr.

Friday – Feb 17, 2017

February 17 had RGS 5 making two sold-out short trips from the Durango station up to the Home Ranch wye and back. The day dawned sunny and quite moderate, allowing for some easy shots in and around Durango. After the second RGS 5 run was back to the depot, I headed up to Rockwood to catch 473 and the regular Cascade train coming back. While it was still sunny at Rockwood, by the time we were down to Hermosa, the weather had turned decidedly colder and overcast. So I called it at day after that and headed back to Durango to kick back with a couple beers and dinner at Animas River Brewing.

Saturday – Feb 18, 2017

Galloping Goose 5 had its own trip on Saturday with a small group of photographers. We left before the regular Cascade train to get in a few morning light shots and then went in the hole at Tacoma to let 473 past.

While we were waiting, the plant operator for Xcel Energy’s Tacoma Hydro plant opened the place up and gave us a quick tour of the historic facility. The small (currently 4.5 megawatt) hydro plant opened in 1905 to provide cheap power to the mines around Silverton, and continues to feed power into the grid today. While the control systems and switch gear have been modernized, the generators and turbines are still largely original.

Once the regular passenger train was by, the trip continued north to Cascade, turned so that we remained behind the regular train, and headed back into Durango with a few more run-bys on the way down. The afternoon was largely cold and dreary. The most eventful thing was hitting a bicycle frame on the rails around a blind corner just above the US 550 bridge. Fortunately, the Goose handled it in style with no harm done except an excited “what did we just hit?” moment from the crew.

Saturday night was the D&S’s traditional night photography session at the roundhouse.

Sunday – Feb 19, 2017

Sunday was the Durango & Silverton’s annual Winter Photographers’ Special, so both it and the RGS 5 special were out on the line at the same time. I awoke and looked outside to my amazement – large white snowflakes quietly and peacefully falling everywhere. Not any wind to speak of. This was going to be a truly epic day out on the line. This would be one for the books – the perfect weather that winter railroad photographers dream of having, but rarely lines up with excursions planned months in advance.

The Winter Photographers’ Special (hereafter WPS) in 2017 consisted of K-27 #473, a concession car, a coach, an open car, two more coaches, and caboose 0540. It left Durango at 0800h, followed by those of us on the Goose fifteen minutes later. We’d do a few run-bys together and a few separately, as time and track allowed. By having us behind 473 and the WPS train, it gave us the ability to stop and take advantage of photo opportunities wherever the crew found them. (And I suppose from the railroad’s perspective, if we broke down, we weren’t going to be in the way of the majority of revenue-generating passengers.) With a whole lot less of us on the Goose, we could load and unload quickly and fit into tighter spots, opening up opportunities that the big group couldn’t take advantage of.

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