Because the powers that be had decided I'd get Friday off due to them moving our offices to a new building north of Colorado Springs, I decided it would be an excellent time to head out to Grand Junction on Thursday night and catch some local traffic early Friday. From there, the plan was then to spend the rest of the weekend in Helper, as the D&RGW count was back up at four tunnel motors. At the moment, Grand Junction keeps a pair of Rio Grande GP40s, and I had some hopes these might be dispatched on the Montrose or Potash locals. Also, DRGW 5361 had arrived the day before, and there was always the possibility that it would get one of the locals.
For those unfamiliar with the territory, there are two weekly locals that run out of Grand Junction, CO. One runs south along the North Fork sub to Delta, CO, where it switches local industries and then continues south to Montrose along the original D&RGW mainline (back in the days when D&RGW was synonymous with three footers, but the line is now long since standard gauged). Typically, it seems to draw a pair of four-axle units for power. The other local runs west to Brendel, UT (also called Crescent Junction), where it turns south towards Moab on the Cane Creek Branch. It's main purpose is to serve a mine at Potash, UT, just northwest of Moab, and hence is usually known as the Potash local. Typically, I've understood that this train draws several six-axle units for power, and hauls large cylindrical hoppers as its main cargo.
Friday started about 0500h, since I'd always heard that the locals were usually called for 0530h. Sure enough, despite hurrying to get everything together and checked out in time, I still heard the dispatcher talking to someone preparing the Montrose local for departure. I arrived in the yard almost right on time at 0530h, and there it sat - an SP GP60 on the front, and an ex-SP GP40 behind it, now in UP paint. Still being a few minutes before dawn, there was just barely adequate light to see that the cab was empty. Based on that, I decided to go look for the Potash local being assembled.
On the other side of the yard, up more towards the tower, I did indeed find something that looked about right - two six-axle units, a bunch of cylindrical hoppers, and a couple tank cars. This seemed reasonable, but the only problem was that it was going the wrong way. It appeared to have just arrived in Grand Junction, so I concluded that the turn had gone out far earlier than I expected and had returned before daylight. Darn - that left me with no choice but to follow the Montrose local, which hadn't even drawn a DRGW unit.
As it turned out, even the Montrose local wasn't ready to leave until nearly 0630h, so I did have the benefit of morning light before he pulled out. One of the greatest things about western Colorado and eastern Utah is how the surrounding mesas light up with a beautiful warm glow before the rest of the landscape in the mornings. As it just so happened, the local's departure coincided with the very end of this phenomenon, and I was able to catch him leaving Grand Junction in some very nice lighting (Photo #1).
Being completely unfamiliar with the section of the line south of Grand Junction to Delta, aside from the fact I knew it was in a canyon to the west of the highway, I turned to my trusty DeLorme topo maps for a clue as to where to catch the train next. (And yes, for those of you who know me, I actually remembered to take all my gear this time, including both Colorado and Utah topo maps, Altamont Press timetable, scanner, camera, laptop, and, most importantly, lunch...) My best guess was Bridgeport, the second siding south of GJ (after Whitewater) and the first scenic place I really had access to the railway by road.
The line clings to the east side of the canyon at this point, making the lighting fairly bad southbounds in the morning. Also, just north of Bridgeport is the Bridgeport Tunnel, making southbound trains almost impossible to hear until just a minute or two before they appear. For reference, to get there one needs to turn west on 39 1/2 Road off of US Hwy 50, about twelve miles south of Grand Junction. There's a parking area at the end of the road (right next to the west/north end of the siding), and my map shows the land on the east side of the tracks to be BLM land, meaning you probably won't be trespassing if you get away from the parking lot.
As I was hiking north along the line, I heard the detector just south of Bridgeport go off, and actually detected some dragging equipment back near axle 340. Poor crew, I certainly wouldn't want to walk that far down in this canyon - little biting bugs everywhere, and already getting hot by only 0730h. Still, by the conversation I gathered over the radio, I concluded that this was a northbound coal load off the North Fork, and he'd be meeting the local here at Bridgeport. With that, I further secured my position on the cliff above the west switch and waited... and sat, and let my rear go numb, and sat more, and waited... The only unnerving part was when I kept hearing gunshots from the ranch across the river. Couldn't help but think of a mad rancher shootin' at that there trespasser across the river (despite the fact I kept reconvincing myself I really was on BLM land...) Finally I heard the local's power emerging from the tunnel, and managed to get Photo #2.
Just as I expected, the local's crew stopped, threw the switch, and headed in the hole to wait on the westbound load. As it turns out, whatever was dragging was easily fixed and I didn't have long to wait. Because of the little wash that the road follows down into the canyon, lighting is much, much better for southbounds. Soon, SP 170 emerged from around the corner (Photo #3), religned the switch, and continued north towards Grand Junction.
The next decent place to catch the local looked to be on the access road to Escalante Canyon, a few miles north of Roubideau. As I recall, the road is 6 1/2 Road, but is marked as 6.50 Road from US 50. A few miles down, it provides a nice view of a curve and straightaway, just before a grade crossing if you prefer a closer shot. (Photo #4) As I was getting back in the truck, I heard the local request a track warrant to work Delta, and the DS putting them in the hole at Roubideau instead to meet a work train.
9733 and the local arrived at Roubideau first, and stopped in the hole just short of a private crossing near the east end of the siding. Several minutes later, the detector up the line went off, and eventually a ballast car appeared from the cut, and then another, and another... (Photo #5) Quite a surprise for me, who had been setting up the shot assuming a locomotive would be in the lead. Apparently this particular work train had been dumping ballast around Delta, and was to dump some ballast further up the line towards Grand Junction. First, though, by what I heard on the radio it seemed some of the doors on the cars were stuck, and needed to be fixed before the train headed northwest. As soon as the work train was beside the local (Photo #6), the crewmember on the ground for the run-by climbed back into 9733 and once again we were off for Delta. (Photo #7). Photo #8 was taken of the work train sitting, apparently receiving maintenance to some of its dump doors.
Delta, Colorado, marks the junction between the now-busy North Fork line, which serves several large coal mines, and the original D&RGW mainline down towards Montrose. The line to Montrose, originally constructed as narrow gauge and passing through the Black Canyon, Marshall Pass, and the Royal Gorge all the way east to Pueblo, is reduced to a light industrial spur down to Montrose. Upon arrival in Delta, the first order of business for the local was to switch the grain elevator in the northwest part of town. This is done by cutting off the power and inbound cars (all on the head end of the train, leaving the rest of the train out on the line towards GJ), bringing them around the wye out on to the actual North Fork branch, and then switching them back into the elevator property (Photo #9). On Friday, there were about a dozen or so cars going in, and about four or five coming out. To get the cars all properly spotted took the crew nearly an hour, during which time I wandered over to McDonalds for something resembling breakfast - and, for a change, I didn't even regret it this time, perhaps restoring my faith in fast food...
The yard in Delta definitely has an old Rio Grande feeling to it, especially with the light trackage and the wooden loading dock. After finishing a semi-lethal, but mighty tasty breakfast, I went down to the south end of the yard and sat to await the return of the local's power. Sure enough, within fifteen minutes or so, 9733 and train returned to drag the rest of the train into the yard and switch the local lumberyard (Photo #10). After some time of watching the crew switch cars in and out, as well as rearrange bits of their train, it all became rather tedious and dull, and rather than wait for the train to proceed on towards Montrose I decided to head back into Grand Junction instead - and thus ended my first experience with the Montrose Local, unfortunately sans Rio Grandes.
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|All the images here are Copyright 2001 Nathan D. Holmes
Note this doesn't mean you can't use them - In fact, I encourage people to use and enjoy them.
I'm placing them under the same license as RailARC images.
All shots in this trip report were taken with a Canon EOS D30 with a Sigma 28-80mm F3.5-5.6 lens or a Tamron 28-300mm F3.5-6.3.