The whole thing started Wednesday night when JB Bowers of Pueblo, CO, posted to the Rio Grande list that he had a reliable rumor of a UP train working past Parkdale, CO, on the old Tennessee Pass mainline the next day. Quick history lesson, for those not familiar with Colorado railroading with the Union Pacific: In late 1997, UP shifted all normal through traffic off the Tennessee Pass route due to its high operating cost. Past that point, locals continued to run to Gypsum on the west side and Malta (just south of Leadville) on the east side, but nothing actually went over the pass itself. UP has considered everything between these points embargoed and enforced this with turned-over rails at both of these points. About two years ago, the mining traffic at Malta dried up, and after the last regular Malta Turn, the end of track was moved back to just west of Parkdale, where it remains today. The line is physically intact, though, and for various reasons a rare train still does sometimes pass onto the out-of-service main. This was to be one of those trains, hopefully... Time to call my boss, tell him I think I'm going to take a day off tomorrow.
Before I go further, I should mention that two railroads jointly operate parts of the main below Parkdale, CO. Rock and Rail, owned by a quarry operation in Parkdale, moves most of their product out by rail, and operates from Parkdale over to the Pueblo Yard, where they either exercise trackage rights to Colorado Springs or they interchange with the Union Pacific for shipment elsewhere. They regularly store their equipment on the main, and apparently this is what tipped of this friend of JB's - UP asked them to remove their equipment from the mainline so that a train could proceed up the line. In addition, the Canon City & Royal Gorge (pronouned Canyon City) operates a passenger operation through the Royal Gorge for twelve miles west of Canon City, using two ex-CNW F-units repainted in a scheme that looks roughly Rio Grande-esque (though not exact - Photo #2, from last summer). UP, however, retained overhead operating rights on this line when it was sold, so they are free to run trains such as these without any problems whatsoever. In addition, I believe UP Dispatcher 80 still controls traffic and CTC over this segment, so ultimately they're still in the picture.
As a new feature I plan on including with trip reports, I've made the first image a map and a quick timetable of the area in question - Pueblo up the Arkansas River to Malta, just south of Leadville. I'm hoping that this helps anybody unfamiliar with the region (Photo #1).
The initial report I got was that the crew was called for 0700h, meaning I needed be awake at 0530h to get down to Pueblo on time. Late on the night of the 20th, I checked the UP trace and noticed that DRGW 5356 had been assigned to a Pueblo-Pueblo run, and was expected to leave at 0600h. Just in case, I decided to play it safe and be there in plenty of time - 0545h, meaning I had to be awake at 0400h. Ugh - we all know how much I love early mornings. (Hint: I'm seldom to work before 0900h.) Just time to throw the laptop, camera, scanner, Altamont Press timetable in the bag, put the batteries on to charge, and head off to bed - it's going to be an early one...
Tennessee Pass rumors come and go - rumors of trains show up semi-regularly, few ever come to pass. However, this was quickly turning into a rumor that had motive power assigned to it, and consequently my excitement level was climbing with every minute. When I only had five hours to put towards sleep ahead of a very long day, anything keeping me awake is a very, very bad thing. Finally I think I fell asleep, or my wife knocked me out to shut me up around 2330h. Let me tell you, it seemed like about five minutes passed and my alarm was waking me up at 0400h. Ugh, I hate mornings, and I really hate getting up before the sun.
Fortunately, there's no exhaustion that a litre of Mountain Dew and the chance to see Rio Grande power on Tennessee Pass won't fix. Well, at least the chance - I don't think caffeine or sugar even affect me anymore. I loaded up everything into the truck, grabbed my DeLorme topo maps, and headed down to the local convenience store to feed both my truck and myself. Fortunately I eat cheaper than the truck does these days... Regardless, I was Pueblo-bound by 0430h, plenty of time even if the crew was early and things got rolling.
Arrive Pueblo 0530h. Discover the reason I haven't heard any radio traffic since leaving Colorado Springs isn't because there wasn't any, but rather because my scanner batteries were dead and I didn't bring the lighter-plug adapter. That's item #1 forgotten for the day. So, another stop at another convenience store and $12 later I had a powered scanner again. Why is it every time I go out on a major trip I manage to do this?
A quick run around the town revealed nothing really moving, and I couldn't see any strings of gons sitting in the yard to be taken up the hill. The whole TP mainline is currently being cleaned up due to the settlement of a suit claiming that SP was negligent in cleaning up their M-o-W mess and consequently it was endangering the ecology of the area (ties in the river, etc...) There's a Herzog unit doing the work, but it requires a constent supply of empty gons in which to put junk after it picks it up. All of the locals up into the embargoed section of the line in the past year have been to deliver and switch these gons, and I had no reason to assume otherwise. My natural conclusion was that the power would probably be headed out light, pick up some loaded gons, and bring them back down to Pueblo. I was actually expecting a set of four axle power to get the job, but I couldn't figure out what other job 5356 might be assigned to if it wasn't assigned to this TP train.
Parked at the UP engine facilities were various bits of big AC power, along with the three D&RGW tunnel motors off the previous night's rock train (Mesa, CO to Pueblo, CO, for interchange with Rock and Rail), and a fourth T-2 buried in behind an SD70M - presumably DRGW 5356. Down in the yard itself, BNSF was busily switching cars and pushing trains in and out, but the UP side showed little to no activity. 0600h and 0630h came and went, nothing happened. Five small units sat in the yard, seemingly lifeless from my perch high on a hillside to the west of the facility. I was seriously beginning to worry that the rumor was just a rumor, or they'd left early in the morning and I'd missed them entirely. With no action in sight, I set off to McDonalds to sit, read the paper, and eat something resembling breakfast.
About 0740h, I headed out again in hopes of seeing something move. Again, nothing apparently changed, except there were some signs of life in the yard. For one, an empty coal train had pulled in and stopped just short of the switches that would let it out on the Tennessee Pass line going west out of the yard (Photo #3). Also, a pair of units (one SP, one UP) had been fired up and was starting to perform switching duties, etc. My initial assumption was that they would be putting a train together and taking it up, since they looked like fairly small units and it was the only readily visible activity. So much for having 5356 around, I guess.
After an additional amount of touring around looking for additional signs of movement, I finally just returned to the bridges at the west exit to the yard. As I came up on the gravel pullout at the west end, I noticed another truck sitting there, and another guy out wandering around with a camera. Another crazy person out at this time of the morning... It did give me a bit of reassurance that I either hadn't missed the train or else there were just two of us standing around waiting on a train that would never come. So after passing across the bridge to get a better look down the yard tracks, I crossed back over and struck up a conversation. The other railfan in question was none other than JB Bowers himself, the man who started this whole thing. We stood, talked, waited, talked, waited, watched the switching geeps disappear deep into the yard, and eventually, after almost an hour, I'd honestly decided that nothing was going to happen. Deep down I still wanted to believe there would be a train reasonably soon, but it was already almost 0830h, and there was no sign of anything even remotely close to leaving. Therefore, I did the one thing assured to bring out the train - I decided to leave.
No sooner had I gotten across the bridge than I noticed headlights far down in the yard on an empty track. All I could see was that the lead unit was an SD70M, and the only one I knew of was coupled to a Rio Grande T-2. So I waited, and waited, and after what seemed like fifteen minutes, the two units finally got close enough I could see the second unit was indeed 5356. Note to self: make the universe think you're leaving, and dumb luck will make the train will show up. Back over the bridge to tell JBB not to give up, the train's on its way...
After another small eternity of watching them collect cars in the yard, they finally announced on the radio that they were ready to go, and pulled up to the switch to exit the yard. What I couldn't understand was the consist they'd collected behind them - 75 steel rotary-dump coal cars. While there is a generating station in Canon City, it still didn't make sense because the cars were empty and they were rotary dump - the CC station can only accept bottom dump cars. At this point I was thoroughly confused - what the heck do they plan to do with the hoppers? As the crewman was standing at the switch, he asked the crew on UP 4091 why they weren't moving forward. As it turns out, while applying train brakes to stop for the switch, one of the cars had dynamited and the whole thing went into emergency. They were in the process of pumping the air back up, though, and it appeared to be holding. I was hoping, for the crew's sake and mine, that this wasn't a sign of things to come - otherwise, it was going to be a long, slow day. Within minutes, though, everything was back to normal and the crew pulled through the west end of the yard and kept right on going. At last, the local we'd been waiting for was a reality. (Photo #4) For reference - I had absolutely no luck getting a decent photo here. The light this time of day was completely wrong for any shot I could think of using, but without a photo to start the trip, how would I ever get this report written?
While there are a small amount of photo opportunities between Pueblo and Portland, none are really all that great, and none are well suited to a westbound train in the morning. All of them would have amounted to pictures of the sun with a black blotch eclipsing part of it. So I headed on to Portland, a cement plant and limestone quarry twenty-five miles from Pueblo. Upon arrival, I still found the lighting to be unusable, so on up the road I went to Florence.
Just outside of Florence the tracks go under the road (Colorado 120) on an old concrete bridge at approximately MP 148. While not great, the lighting was much better than Portland, and I could at least get some elevation above the train. After waiting what seemed an eternity and once again almost giving up on the assumption he'd beaten me to the bridge, I finally heard a detector go off at MP 141.6. Thank goodness, as it's a very steep embankment and there aren't any shoulders on the road, so a railfan is left to brace himself against sliding downhill - was really grinding my toes into the front of my boots. As a note, my Altamont timetable doesn't list a detector at this location, but I definitely heard one. Reported speed: 22 mph. Well, that would certainly explain why this was taking so long... Within a few minutes, JB showed up, and a few minutes after him, so did the train. (Photos #5, 6) As an added benefit, UP Dispatcher 80 asked the 4091 how far up the intended to go - and the magical answer of "Malta" came back. Also, I heard verification from the track inspection truck that the rail at Parkdale had been reinstalled and was ready for service. Whoohoo! Clear to Leadville - this was going to be a very good day if the weather held up.
At this point, I could hear over the scanner that the CCRG's train was just pulling in to Canon City, and was about to start unloading passengers. The 4091's crew was notified not to come through Canon until they'd been cleared by the CCRG's crew that unloading was complete and the passengers were all clear of the platform. Understandable, most of those tourists were probably oblivious to the fact that there was going to be a westbound freight today. It was also good for JB and me, who both got stuck behind a road mowing crew on the way in, and consequently lost quite a bit of time on the train. No matter, though, really, as we both made it down to the crossing west of the CC&RG's depot before he was even authorized to come through.
Due to the lack of time, I didn't get a chance to get a decent shot of UP4091 passing the Gorge train sitting in the siding. All that I took were obscured by objects or by shadows, caused by the numerous trees, bridges, and structures around the area. Thanks to the wonders of digital editing, however, I'm able to bring you Photo #7. It's a bit blurry, but that's mainly due to hot air moving around in the atmosphere, and I can only correct for so much... Once he had emerged, though, the sun had finally climbed high enough in the sky to give a railfan a chance, hence the two photos of its passing through Canon City (Photos #8, 9). After that, he disappeared down into the Gorge and I proceeded up and around to Parkdale on US 50. There really aren't any good ways to easily access the Gorge - the park around the bridge is too expensive just for the impressive shot of looking off the bridge and down on the passing freight.
At Parkdale, UP 4091 would step off the end of the still-used track and onto the long-unused embargoed section between West Parkdale (technically the end is at MP 171.9, I believe) and Malta.
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|Oh yes, one other thing
I should probably mention - 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 images were taken with an Olympus C-3000 camera, a beautiful piece of machinery.