Denver Rio Grande Western Railroad

(PHOTO: RIO GRANDE ZEPHYR POWER 1982, BURNHAM SHOPS, COURTESY OF PAT HEINAN)

My first position with the Denver Rio Grande Western was in the sales (traffic) office in Chicago in 1973. The interview process was a bit informal compared to other railroads that I had interviewed with at the time - for some reason the smaller, regional railroad sounded more interesting than getting lost in a larger company as part of an official "training program". This was perhaps not the most logical way to make a career decision, but looking back I don't regret the choice. After several transfers in the DRGW traffic department, in 1978 I transferred to Grand Junction, CO as a locomotive engineer trainee, as I desired to return to railroad operations.

For additional DRGW material, visit the Rio Grande Modeling & Historical Society at rgmhs.org. There are many items of interest for sale in the company store, and consider joining the society if the DRGW is of special interest to you.

Denver Rio Grande Western Contents:

                    • Passenger Information and Official Guide excerpts
                    • Employee Division Timetables
                    • Operating Rules, Airbrake Rules, Signal Rules.
                    • Miscellaneous items
                    • Green Light employee magazines, 1967 - 1984
                    • A few trips on the South branch 1979 - 1981
                    • Photos (work in progress)
                    • DRGW Narrow Gauge Orders, Misc. items, photos (moved to separate page)

Passenger Information and Official Guide excerpts.

The items below are a few samples of passenger brochures from the various periods as shown. All are original documents acquired from DRGW contacts except the 1915 reprint of the Denver Rio Grande - Western Pacfic schedule and brochure. The passenger forms are a multi-carbon copy form for revenue auditing in the pre-computer days. On the form, DRGW is 197, CBQ is 133, and WP is 840 - so perhaps this particular form was for the California Zephyr, although it is not so labeled. The Dining Car menu gives one an idea of prices from 1967. The Official Guide excepts are reprints from various years. A list of DRGW predecessor railroads as of the 1910 Official Guide is shown at the beginning of that group of links, to explain the inclusion of some of the rather obscure pages included. Of course, the Denver & Salt Lake (originally Denver Northwestern & Pacific) is included when found in the Guides. The Rio Grande Southern is also shown in some of the links.

Official Guide Excerpts

Employee Division Timetables

The following links are to employee timetables from the past, all except the 4th Division (1919) are original documents. The 1950s era documents were acquired at Owen Davies Bookseller in Chicago in 1973, all the others from DRGW contacts. The division timetables from 1970 are the most recent documents posted here. If you are interested in DRGW System Timetables which originated in 1972, contact me at the email address on the Home Page.

Operating Rules, Signal Rules, and Air Brake Rules

The first five entries from the very early years of the DRG came from a friend whose father was a DRGW signal department employee and dispatcher in the early 1900s. The 1895 "Roster of Divisions" was an early timetable-like document which may have come from an online source which I was unable to recall. The two old Air Brake rules books were received from Art Schwab (DRGW engineer) after he retired many years ago.

Other items will be added to this section as appropriate.

Miscellaneous DRGW documents

The Denver map from 1929 is from the C&S Railroad, but I included it under DRGW because of the extensive inclusion of a number of DRGW facilities in the Denver area. It is a patchwork of a very large document, with some deliberate overlap of some parts of the map. The Dotsero Cutoff document was from a brochure published at the time the cutoff was opened in 1934. The 1954 Grand Junction Seniority was lent to me by Art Gilmore, a Conductor for many years with DRGW and Amtrak. It is a time/earnings book for railroaders published by various commercial sponsors in Grand Junction. Many employee names from 1954 are found in the pages reproduced here. I had the privilege of knowing more than a few of the folks listed.

The four annual reports (1975-1978) from Rio Grande Industries make interesting reading some forty years later. The company was concerned about its competitive position, and trying to stay relevant in the national railroad industry. Unlike many "Industries" railroad companies, the distraction of minor subsidiary companies never started to dominate the focus of management at the Rio Grande. The railroad company dominated RGI revenues and profit and the overall attention of the executive officers.

Three sets of train orders posted courtesy of Pat Heinan are explained further below.

Other items will be added to this section as appropriate.

The following three clearance forms with accompanying train orders from November 1979 and March 1980 are posted courtesy of Pat Heinan, retired DRGW and Amtrak locomotive engineer. From November 1979 is a Union Pacific clearance form issued to “RI 365 West” at Limon, Colorado for operation over the Rock Island trackage rights from Limon to Denver. Rock Island trains terminated at DRGW’s North Yard in Denver, and Pat obtained these orders from the inbound power at Denver. By this late date, the Rock Island was struggling in bankruptcy and with labor unrest, and it finally ceased operations in early 1980. The DRGW then lost a friendly connection at Denver that was missed in future years........ RI 365 West

The DRGW clearance from March 28, 1980 at Grand Junction was addressed to “No 18”. At the time, the Rio Grande Zephyr (Numbers 17 and 18) was listed in the timetable as a “Second Class” train with station times shown where required. Accordingly, the train number (either No 17 or No 18) was a proper train address under the operating rules, such as found on this clearance. I recall one engineer that I worked with (on one of the small number of trips that I caught this train as a fireman) who insisted on using these train numbers and not the engine number to identify the train. When asked for his engine number – rather than replying “5771 East or West” – he would say “No 18 or No 17” - whichever was appropriate. One conductor would insist on knowing the engine number for his delay report. This would further irritate the engineer and he would not answer again. I imagine normally the conductor caught the engines going past his train and got the number, or someone else took pity on him and told him the engine number. This whole charade was much ado about nothing, but one of those small things that I recall chuckling about at the time. On this day, the orders contain the slow orders in effect between Grand Junction and Denver. Since the DRGW was under Centralized Traffic Control on its entire main line by this time, no orders were required for movement authority. In addition, the train was a “Second Class” train authorized by the timetable if that had been required. But it certainly was NOT: “DRGW 5771 East”…......... NO. 18

The final set of train orders from Pat is just a clearance form with no orders and one message for the “old” DRGW ski train operating between Denver and Winter Park, Colorado. The weekend in question, March 29 and 30, 1980, was likely the last operation of the train that season. In the message accompanying the clearance there is an outline of operating times and an instruction to not exceed 30 MPH for the entire distance. I believe this speed was enforced because of the advanced age of the cars in this consist. Later, after Ansco Corporation upgraded some equipment for this operation, this speed restriction would not have been in effect. No slow orders were in effect for “Extra 3124 West”……..... EXTRA 3124 WEST

The train orders and clearances below for "The Prospector" (Trains 7 and 8 were found in a collection of orders from an anonymous source. This set is for train number 7 in 1965. At the time, Bond was still an open train order station. Because the DRGW main line from Denver to Grand Junction was centralized traffic control by this time, the orders contain no operating authority but do include speed restrictions and other information. Note that they are addressed to : "NO. 7"......... No. 7 The Prospector

Green Light 1967 -1984 (company magazine issues)

Company magazines are probably not normally considered historical material, however, these links are posted to provide a reference for those who might want to find information about a family member or friend that worked for the Denver Rio Grande Western during these years. Inside a number of issues, there was a series of articles with information about employees, departments and so forth entitled: "Let's Get acquainted with the Rio Grande". The first issue in this collection that contains one of these articles is May 1968. Since a number of issues are missing, this series is unfortunately not complete. Other regular features helpful to a research project are lists of promotions, retirements, and deaths. Unfortunately, no indexing occurred over the years, so - happy hunting. In addition to articles about personnel, some of the magazine covers and articles provide some perspective about the competitive concerns that the company faced, and information about major customers and industries that were served.

Anyone wishing to contribute company magazines not listed here, contact me at the email address on the home page.

A few trips on the South Branch 1979 -1981

Some train orders and commentary from a few days on Subdivision 16 and 16A from 1979 to 1981 are found below. These two subdivisions constituted the Denver Rio Grande Western Utah Division branch line that diverged south from the main line near 5th street in Grand Junction (under a long, elevated street viaduct, then and now). The branch line crossed the Colorado River (formerly the Grand River – thus the original source for the name of the town) and followed the Gunnison River along a scenic (mostly inaccessible by automobile) route to Delta, Colorado. At Delta, the coal branch (16A) split from subdivision 16 and went east following the North Fork of the Gunnison River to load trains at several coal production facilities. The original DRG narrow gauge system had reached Grand Junction by travelling west from Salida over Marshall Pass, through Gunnison and then over Cerro Summit into Montrose. At the time covered here, the mileposts still reflected the mileage from Denver – Pueblo – Salida – Montrose (351) – Grand Junction (424). Thus, subdivision 16 was a remnant of the original Denver Rio Grande narrow gauge system, this portion having been converted to standard gauge in 1906. The North Fork branch was completed in 1902, and it was also converted to standard gauge in 1906. The Rio Grande Western narrow gauge lines west from Grand Junction were converted to standard gauge in 1890, coincident with the completion of the Rio Grand Junction Railway from Rifle to Grand Junction – which was originally built to standard gauge. The Grand Junction milepost on the “main line” was 450, a significant difference from the 424 milepost of the original narrow gauge line. The route west from Salida over Tennessee Pass, through Dotsero and Glenwood Springs was thus 26 more railroad miles than the original line through Montrose.

Fast forward to 1979 - the Colorado Division train and engine service employees had inherited the seniority rights to the work on the “South” end from Grand Junction. When working sixteen hour days (the Federal Hours of Service limit through 1969, then changed to fourteen hours for a couple of years, and finally to the current twelve hours in 1972) – many of the Grand Junction Colorado Division employees had a dim view of this assignment. In previous periods, the job had been comprised of long hours, relatively low pay, rooming at houses when necessary to tie up away from home – not a great job in most respects. Some of the most senior employees told stories of forced assignments to Gunnison on the narrow gauge in its final days. By 1979, the assignment had changed a great deal. We were able to leave Grand Junction early in the morning (usually 500 AM to 700 AM on duty), get to the coal mines, load the coal and return within twelve hours most of the time. Although it was a much slower speed operation than the main line (30 MPH maximum compared to 50 or 60 MPH) – and loading coal for a couple of hours could be a bit tedious, I enjoyed the job and placed on it when able to hold it (usually in a fireman position, very occasionally as engineer).

At the time of the trips below, train operations were still by train order in “dark” territory (lacking signals). Copies of a few trips were saved because they contain some details greater than just “Run Extra Grand Junction to Delta”, etc. The June 4, 1979 trip was on a one hundred car unit train of NORX gondolas to load at the Westmoreland mine near Paonia, Colorado (at Converse on the Subdivision 16A station list). The railroad had constructed a wye at the Converse location, so that no switching or running around the train consist was required. We pulled east of the wye switch, backed the 100 cars under the tipple to the end of the tail track, lined the route to head back to Grand Junction and started loading coal. This relatively quick operation made this assignment one of the fastest turns available on the subdivision. On this day, there were three trains “working extra” between Delta and Converse on the North Fork coal branch, including our Westmoreland train (755102, Extra 3078). On our return leg home from Delta on the second yellow Clearance form at 142 PM order number 236 gave running authority to 4 Extras from Delta to Grand Junction. From the work message accompanying the orders, I can’t recall where the additional extra originated, but - this was a busy day on the south end. Link: Train 755 June 4, 1979

The August 1, 1979 trip was another trip to Westmoreland Coal in Paonia. On this day, there were two trains “working extra” on the North Fork line, our train Extra 3077 (755131) and train 782131 with engines 3124 and 3128. Additionally, the orders give authority and protection and time instructions for another work extra 3006 that was working between Grand Junction and Delta. I might have saved these orders because of these additional complexities. Link: Train 755 August 1, 1979

The last trip from 1979 was on August 6-7. The orders are for the Montrose local train 578 going and train 579 returning. Generally, this assignment was intended to return to Grand Junction the same day, after switching as necessary in Delta and Montrose (sometimes other stations, as mentioned on the work message for the train). We may have had some unusual work on August 6, because we stayed in Montrose that night and came home the following day. Work Extra 3018 was working between Delta and Grand Junction on both days, with appropriate authority, protection instructions, and wait times stipulated. One interesting note is the instruction from the Assistant Superintendent Wilbur Lucore on August 7 addressed to our Conductor on train 579 to pick up a car from the work train if the work extra is not returning to Grand Junction that evening. Our Conductor was Tom Anderson (TMA in the message) and the maintenance supervisor was R C Phillips (RCP in the message). Some forty years later, I can’t remember if we stopped and picked up anything from the work extra, but Tom was a fine Conductor and would have been very efficient completing whatever was required. He was a pleasure to work with on the south branch assignments, and could handle cars about as well as any Conductor I recall working with at Grand Junction.

Links: Train 578 August 6, 1979 Train 579 August 7, 1979 Photo: Tom Anderson

I should mention a bit about the engineer that I was working with on all these trips in 1979 – Harold J Cothern. His nickname was “Grump” – not because he was a grouch or a grump, but because he sounded grouchy on the radio - as he had a gravely deep voice that was unmistakable. He was a very friendly gentleman in fact, and he showed me a lot of good train handling and coal loading skills on the south branch trains. I worked with him a lot over my years in Grand Junction, and I imagine he thought I was a smart-ass punk (sadly, a somewhat accurate assessment). I am sorry I never thanked him for putting up with me and helping me learn the job early in my career. Photo: Harold Cothern (Grump) March 1980

The single trip from 1980 (September 19, 1980) was a day I worked the yard on the 300PM shift and we relieved the 727/728 coal train on hours of service and brought it into the Grand Junction yard for the eastbound crew. The outbound orders and work orders for 727 are addressed to engine 3126, and the return orders from Delta for 728 in the afternoon are addressed to engine 5347. At the Hawknest mine at Oliver, Colorado, it was necessary to run around the train, change operating ends for the engine consist, and load the train in two moves. Although that sounds complicated, the load out was a two tipple structure (photo link below) and we loaded coal here faster than at any facility I can recall. The delays that the train had incurred were no doubt related to the activity of the two work trains working between Delta and Grand Junction this particular day. I remember times when high water had damaged track and rip rap and shoring were necessary. Links: Train 727 September 19, 1980 Photo: Hawknest Loadout 1980

The final train with orders copied here involved a mishap, which fortunately was not too serious. On August 28, 1981, three coal trains were called at Grand Junction for the North Fork branch. Train 782 was headed to Somerset for U S Steel coal, train 755 to Westmoreland in Paonia, and our train 727 to Oliver to load at Hawknest. The first clearance and run orders issued in Grand Junction at 547AM authorized movement for the three trains to Delta, but did not properly authorize protection for Sperry Rail Service Car 144 which was working extra between Delta and Grand Junction after 701 AM. I recall that we had to stop and wait for a corrected set of orders, received on a new clearance at 734AM. The errant order (order 12 on the first clearance) is not with the paperwork I saved, perhaps because we were instructed to discard it. At any rate, all three crews remained on duty with the corrected paperwork, as I think management felt the primary fault for the error lay with the dispatcher that had originally issued the improper orders. In the operating environment found in the industry today, I doubt if the situation would have been handled in such a relatively lenient manner. All of us were very careful after this incident to verify that all proper orders were in effect when a Sperry Car or other work train was in the mix. A few misunderstandings occurred after track warrant authority was used for authority on these subdivisions a few years later, but never any serious incidents that I can recall. Link: Train 727 August 28, 1981




Photos (work in progress)

WARNING: Lots of these photographs were taken on a basic beginner's camera (Kodak Instamatic with 126 film) by a rather novice and not very talented photographer - so some of the results are not great. I decided to try to put a few on the website because they do tell a bit of a story from all those years ago when I was a new employee in the industry. This first group of DRGW photographs is from the 1970s with subjects and locations when recalled.

DRGW Misc 1973-1 DRGW Misc 1973-2 DRGW Misc 1973-3 DRGW Misc 1973-4 DRGW Misc 1973-5 DRGW Misc 1973-6