Perlite, Scoria and Scenery in the closing days of the Rio Grande

I am a big fan of the Denver, Rio Grande and Western.  Unfortunately, the DRGW began to disappear in the 1990s as the effects of its 1986 merger with the Southern Pacific influence grew, but it really began to disappear in the early 2000s as the effects of its 1996 merger with the Union Pacific really took hold.  One of many segments of the Rio Grande that was interesting and scenic was the Alamosa Subdivision.  This post is going to focus on operations around Antonito, Colorado.

1984

The first segment will focus on when B. Smith visited the line in July of 1984.  It was pure DRGW then.

Perlite loads near Antonito being switched by local train in July 1984. --©photo by B. Smith

Perlite loads near Antonito being switched by local train in July 1984. –©photo by B. Smith

Local at Antonito.  Engine (GP-40) has run around its train after arriving from Alamosa.--

Local at Antonito. Engine #3086 (GP-40) has run around its train after arriving from Alamosa. –©photo by B. Smith

Covered hopper of perlite in the consist.  What a great paint scheme!

Covered hopper of perlite in the consist. What a great paint scheme! –©photo by B. Smith

Local at Antonito about to return to Alamosa with train of perlite loads.

Local at Antonito about to return to Alamosa with train of perlite loads.  –©photo by B. Smith

2003

In 2003, James Griffin documented the action in the closing days of action that reflected the DRGW heritage of the line.  His website does a great job of capturing that day in 2003 and I encourage you to check it out.

Griffin captured a photo of this DRGW perlite car sitting in Alamosa as he waited for the train coming down from Pueblo, CO. March 7, 2003.--©photo by James Griffin.

Griffin captured a photo of this DRGW perlite car sitting in Alamosa as he waited for the train coming down from Pueblo, CO. March 7, 2003.–©photo by James Griffin.

train makes it way to Alamosa, east of Fort Garland, CO.

Train makes it way to Alamosa, east of Fort Garland, CO. –©photo by James Griffin.

Near Trinchera Ranch Road, CO

Stunning scenery near Trinchera Ranch Road, CO. –©photo by James Griffin.

Scoria loading into open hoppers south of Antonito.--©photo by James Griffin.

Scoria loading into open hoppers south of Antonito.  Locally mined scoria was added to the traffic mix after B. Smith’s visit in 1984.  Scoria is volcanic rock primarily used for landscaping.–©photo by James Griffin.

Leaving the nearby perlite plant--©photo by James Griffin.

Leaving the nearby perlite plant which sits a little south of the scoria loading site.–©photo by James Griffin.

This is only a small sample of the great photos James Griffin offers on his site.

Today

Today the line is now operated by the San Luis & Rio Grande which interchanges with UP at Walsenburg, CO.  The spirit of the Rio grande lives on in the paint scheme of the SL&RG and the occasional DRGW car that makes an appearance.

San Luis and Rio Grande unit #116  in Walsenburg, CO April 4, 2014

San Luis and Rio Grande unit #116 in Walsenburg, CO April 4, 2014 — photo by Paul Leach

Modeler’s note:  The DRGW offers interesting modelling possibilities during almost any of its eras.  The 1996 to early-2000s window particularly intrigues me because of the potential to run mostly DRGW and SP motive power with the cars of the DRGW, SP, SSW (Cotton Belt), UP, Chicago and Northwestern, Missouri Pacific and Western Pacific all home road cars.

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Perhaps the finest locomotive paint scheme ever devised?

The first use of railroads in the United States, may have preceded the United States.  Some contend the first railroad in what would become the United States was in 1762 when British military engineers constructed a gravity railroad at the Niagara Portage in Lewiston, NY.  Beginning in the early 1800s, rail became an important part of the transportation scene in America.  Over the years, many methods have been used to create corporate identities.  Since the mid-1950s, railroads have commonly deployed colorful paint schemes on locomotives and rolling stock to foster a brand.

ATSF 2349 in San Bernardino CA on February 14, 1987.  ©photo by Greg Sommers. http://www.locophotos.com/PhotoDetails.php?PhotoID=132150

ATSF 2349 in San Bernardino CA on February 14, 1987. ©photo by Greg Sommers. http://www.locophotos.com/PhotoDetails.php?PhotoID=132150

There have been many classic, attractive schemes employed, such as Santa Fe’s warbonnets (both red and silver and blue and yellow) and Union Pacific’s.

UPY 719 in Rochelle IL July 11 2006. ©photo by Collin Reinhart. Courtesy of RR picture Archives --http://www.rrpicturearchives.net/showPicture.aspx?id=441139

UPY 719 in Rochelle IL July 11 2006. ©photo by Collin Reinhart. Courtesy of RR picture Archives –http://www.rrpicturearchives.net/showPicture.aspx?id=441139

The competition is tight, but perhaps my favorite all-time locomotive paint scheme was the one used by the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad beginning about 1969.  The DRGW must have liked it too–it was the principal scheme from 1969 to the date it merged into the Union Pacific in 1996, by way of its merger with the Southern Pacific in 1988.  As a result, it was the principal paint scheme for almost 30 years.

Rio Grande 3096 Backman's Crossing,Provo,UT Early Spring 1994. --photo by Quinn Clegg.

Rio Grande 3096 at Backman’s Crossing near Provo,UT in Early Spring 1994. –photo by Quinn Clegg.

Back in the early to mid 1990’s well into the SP era, it was still possible to catch pure sets of Rio Grande power on Southern Pacific trains.  The DRGW continued to use this scheme pretty much throughout the SP era.

DRGW 3095 at Desert, UT on Apr 1 1988. ©photo by Mike Woodruff courtesy of RR Picture Archives.

DRGW 3095 at Desert, UT on Apr 1 1988. ©photo by Mike Woodruff courtesy of RR Picture Archives.

What a great scheme.  Of course, it didn’t hurt that the DRGW operated in some of the most beautiful parts of the United States.

Here the scheme was applied to a GP-30.  Rio Grande train north of Provo,UT in 1994.  --photo by Quinn Clegg

Here the scheme was applied to a GP-30. Rio Grande train north of Provo, UT in 1994. –photo by Quinn Clegg

I really like the above picture.  In a sense, Quinn Clegg has captured the essence of the DRGW–attractive trains passing through often lonely but beautiful scenery.

The DRGW also had great schemes applied to their rolling stock, but that may be the subject of a future post.