UP 1989 at Milliken Madness Day

So, the Rio Grande Heritage SD70ACe had been unveiled for nearly a month, and due to other commitments keeping me away from home, I still hadn’t gotten the chance to photograph it. When I heard it had been moved north to La Salle, CO, on 11-Jul-2006, and would be used as part of an Operation Lifesaver run, I figured I’d miss that as well, since they tend to be during the week. Eventually, however, the truth came out – it wasn’t to be an Operation Lifesaver run, but rather a display at Milliken Madness Day, a town celebration on Saturday, 15-Jul-2006. As part of the display, 1989 would be open to the general public for tours. This was an opportunity I just couldn’t pass up.

I headed north a little later than expected, due to last minute maintenance at home. The trace indicated that 1989 was expected to leave La Salle at 1030h, and since I didn’t leave Colorado Springs until around 1100h, I figured the best I’d be able to do would be some static shots in Milliken. When I arrived at La Salle, though, the unit was sitting sitting around the yard, and was paired with UP “snoot” SD40-2 3246. I snapped off a few photos, and then, seeing no sign of action and hearing nothing on the radio, headed up to Greeley to grab some lunch.

Just as I came into Greeley, I started hearing chatter that sounded a lot like a crew starting to switch cars. Having sat out in 100+ degree heat for the entire morning anyway had quashed any appetite I might have had anyway. So, upon purchasing yet another 44oz “bucket-o-cola” from a convenience store, I headed back to the yard. Sure enough, a crew had taken the two units and was coupling onto a set of cars in the yard. As I watched, they pulled forward with a string of about 20 cars, stuck a flag on the back, and started up towards the junction with the Fort Collins Branch.

The local went up to Milliken, as was expected, but much to my surprise didn’t stop. It didn’t even slow down, for that matter. The crew, having two or so hours before they’d need to be back with the motor, was moving a cut of cars to somewhere north. At Kelim, they dropped well over half of the train on the Great Western interchange. However, as Nathan Zachman found out from the crew, they’d be hauling the first half of the train yet further north.

Most of us just stuck around a closed crossing at the west end of Kelim, awaiting their return. By that point, there were at least five fans following the train – Nathan Zachman, Rob Beyers, Bob Sobol, a gentleman from Denver whose name I missed, and myself. We never did figure out exactly where the cars went, but some 40 minutes later the light power returned. Nathan Z. had gone north to find them, but by the time he located the power, they were on the west side of I-25 and returning, sans cars. Once back into Kelim, we all followed and caught the units a few times on its way into Milliken.

Once there, the crew tied the handbrakes on the two units and shut down the prime movers. At that point, things were handed over to Steven Bates, an ex-Grande man, UP engineer, and representative of Colorado Operation Lifesaver that afternoon. He talked for a moment about the units and about safety while around them, and then, two or three people at a time, lead a decent line of fans and locals alike through the cab and down the rear. In addition to the main attraction (UP 1989), a few OLS folks had parked themselves in the shade nearby with material about grade crossing safety and the usual life-sized reminder of what can happen – a car, wrecked and mangled in a car/train collision, sitting up on a trailer for all to see.


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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