The last true bastion of Rio Grande road power, Helper, Utah, may soon just be a memory. The famed Dirt Train, a garbage haul from Salt Lake to the East Carbon landfill, has consistently held the last set of unpatched Rio Grande tunnel motors on the UP system. Currently, there are two motors left - 5371 and 5390 - and both are stationed in Helper. However, the Dirt Train will probably draw to a close this month (Aug 2005), as Salt Lake switches from rail-hauling their trash over the hill to trucking instead to a new landfill in Tooele County. In addition, the tunnel motors all have patch at next inspection notices in their maintenance files. So not only will the Dirt be gone soon, but quite possibly the last two patched tunnel motors will be as well.
With that in mind, I decided it was time to revisit Helper after a two year absence. However, I usually take Friday off as well, and rather than following the Montrose Local as I usually do, I'd try something different and go after the Potash Job. This train, which also runs only on Fridays, runs west from Grand Junction to Brendel, where it diverges down the scenic Cane Creek branch towards Moab. For some reason, this branch and its local seem to receive very little coverage, yet I recalled from my last visit to the branch in 1997, the scenery is second to none. The 36 mile branch, built in 1962, runs down directly between two national parks (Arches and Canyonlands NPs), and has huge, bright red and orange sandstone geologic features as a background. Unfortunately, it was overcast and occasionally raining for my trip, but the scenery and the two SP AC4400CWs on the local more than made up for it.
Helper itself was interesting. While I was there, the Dirt Train didn't even run out to East Carbon before Monday morning, and even then, it wasn't the tunnel motors. The two T-2s spent most of Saturday sitting around the yard (aside from the crew and 5390 switching about four cars), but on Sunday a truly rare sight happened - the tunnel motor pair, plus a UP SD40-2, went over to the west side of the hill to push not one, but two eastbounds over Soldier Summit. Combined with decent lighting, this was a sight to behold and more than made up for the lack of Dirt Train activity. In addition to the tunnel motors, I also managed to photograph numerous Utah, Amtrak, and UP trains operating over the hill. I think you'll enjoy it... Since I've done many trip reports about Helper before, I've left off most of the commentary, except for the Cane Creek Branch part, and just decided to let the pictures tell most of the story.