Vintage Rio Grande

...from the Family Archives

As a kid growing up during the 1960s in Colorado, I was fortunate to have been dragged off on any number of picnics and outings at that notable railroading location, the Moffat Tunnel.  My dad loved to go watch trains (so did we boys), and fortunately he even took a few photos.  East Portal was a short day trip away from our home in Boulder.  Even though I hated eating the road dust while driving in from Rollinsville, these trips were some of the best memories from my childhood.

West Portal, on the other hand, is a l-o-o-o-o-n-g ways away by road.  Fortunately, we took frequent vacations in northeast Utah that took us past the tunnel on US 40, and of course we usually stopped for a break there.  In addition to a couple of my dad's photos below, on at least one occasion my sister took a few slides.  Hers were on a half-size-format camera, so the resolution is not as good as my dad's stuff, but it is still well worth seeing.

When my book project was underway, I ransacked all the family photo archives I could find, and here you will find everything I uncovered.  One of these photos made it into the book, but I wanted to share the rest of them with you as well.  I was disappointed to find that there were no photos of F-units in the group (they were still common at this time), but at least we have photos of the hood units when they were new.  Oh, and read to the bottom of this page for a small bonus...

East Portal in early 1968 was the setting for some of Rio Grande's newest (and largest) locomotives, the SD45s. 

In this shot, the lowest-numbered SD45 on the Rio Grande roster, No. 5315, leads a westbound train at East Portal, sometime in May or early June 1968.  There are at least three SD45s on this train.
Here we see the power as it approaches the tunnel portal.  The lead unit was delivered in January 1967, and  No. 5334 came in April 1968.  Since the slide was developed in June 1968, this unit was literally brand-new.  At this time, the curtain was still mounted right at the entrance of the tunnel.  Also, the west switch of East Portal siding was literally right in the mouth of the tunnel; it has since been relocated some yards to the east, away from the portal. Compare this photo with this one taken in 1994, twenty-six-and-a-half years later and also featuring some SD45s.
This photo shows the caboose on the same train.  The black cabooses were very common at this time, as you can see by the sampling on this page.  This photo appears in my book (available signed if purchased directly from me).  The photo was taken by my dad's camera, but given that my parents are both standing to the right of the caboose, someone else obviously snapped the photo!
On the same day, another set of SD45s leads an eastbound freight out of the tunnel, with No. 5321 in the lead.  She is also of the class of '67, but is only a year-and-a-half old here.  The area around the portal was much different in 1968, with rows of cabins on the north side.  The modifications that took place around 1983 tore up the ground above and beside the tunnel, adding new fan towers and buildings, and demolishing most of the old wooden structures.  The curtain was moved back into the portal structure at that time.


West Portal in 1966-1967

The first two photos were taken by my dad in the fall of 1966, according to the inscription-- probably Labor Day weekend, I would guess. 

This photo shows GP35 No. 3034 leading an eastbound train into the portal.  Having arrived in June 1964, the unit is barely two years old at the time.  About six years later, the GP35s were all downgraded to "B" unit status, so seeing one leading a train is something of a short-lived rarity.
Dad shot the caboose as it went by-- another black one.  Unfortunately, the motion blur makes it hard to read the number.  Since it was probably traveling at about 40 mph and he was using Kodachrome 64 on a fully-manual camera, I'll forgive him!  Notice the car in front of the caboose-- it's a piggyback car with a Consolidated Freightways van.  It looks like their logo didn't change much in the following 30 years.


On a different day, probably in the summer of 1967, my sister took several shots of two trains at this same location.

This photo shows a string of 4-axle units leading an eastbound train towards the tunnel.  There are at least two GP30s on the point.  For those who are familiar with the contemporary surroundings, notice the total lack of ski condos in the shot.  The valley was overall much more "natural" back then...
Here we see the cab (and not much else) of GP30 No. 3023, as the train enters the tunnel.  I won't identify the various family members who appear in these photos, but they know who they are!  Notice that there was no security fence around the tunnel back then.
Now, how's this for an interesting flatcar load!  Remember, the Vietnam war was going on at this time, and military shipments were not uncommon.  But considering that this was not a dedicated military train, the presence of a battle tank is something of a surprise.
Yes, it's another black caboose, and no, you really can't read the number clearly-- though it might be 01429.  You can tell by these photos that train-watching at West Portal was pretty popular.  A lot of people made use of the picnic tables above the tunnel, just off US 40, and would come down to watch the trains go by.
Here's another train, pulling up to the east switch of Winter Park siding.  The absence of condos in this photo is such a contrast from modern times...
Here the train is waiting at the switch, probably for the tunnel to finish venting.  Notice the lack of visible exhaust above the locomotives, in contrast to the picture above.  This train looks like it has a lot of piggyback cars near the head end.
Essentially the same view as above, except for the cloud shadows.  The train hasn't moved yet.  If my memory serves, it sat there for quite a while until finally, blowing the horn long and loud, it crept into motion and gathered speed until it dived into the tunnel.
Here it goes-- you can barely see enough of the cab to know that it's led by GP40 No. 3069.  She arrived in February of 1967, so she was pretty new at the time.
Black cabeese-- four out of four shots.  Someday when I have a little extra time, I'll research how much of the fleet was still in black at this time.  The pipe for the water tunnel was painted silver back then.  Contemporary colors include pale green and pale tan, depending on the year (I have a piece of the green paint that was there in 1999).

Rollins Pass

This interesting photo shows the ruins of the snowshed at Corona, atop Rollins Pass, and dates from July 1966.  At that time, there was still a great deal of timber left over from the extensive snowsheds that once covered the track and facilities here.  I'm not sure when the wood was removed, but I don't recall it being there in 1975 when I was last there, and it's certainly gone now.  At the time of this photo, the area had been inactive for less than 40 years.

By the way, that was one interesting car trip over Rollins Pass, in a 1960 Ford Galaxy sedan with eight people in it!  I was not quite six years old, and I still remember it well.  Yeah, we hit bottom a few times...

Would you like a little surprise?  This photo was not taken by anyone in the family, but rather lent to me by Bruce Collins.

Bruce took this photo sometime in the late 1960s, contemporary with the other images on this page, at the cut at the east end of Crescent siding.  We have F7 No. 5671 and three B units leading a GP30 and another geep.  There's a whole lotta brake smoke following the train-- it's nearly 2% downgrade through here.  Although we might lament the presence of the two hood units behind the four covered wagons, it's a treat to see these four F units doing their job at this late date.


Glenwood Springs, 1981

Moving forward in time, here are four pictures from November 8, 1981.  I assume they were taken by my mother, on a Kodak disc camera.  Worst invention ever.   We were in Glenwood Springs via the Rio Grande Zephyr, and were at the depot awaiting the return trip.

While we waited, this westbound freight train came out of the canyon.  It was led by GP40-2 No. 3103, joined by GP40 No. 3052 and GP40-2 No. 3099.  For another photo of the same train taken a few seconds later by me, see this link.
Finally, eastbound train No. 18 hove into view.
Closer now...
Bell ringing and engine throbbing, the train glides up to the platform.  I also took a photo about this time-- see this link.


Moral of the story?  You never know what photos you take that someone might find interesting later on.  I suspect that my dad thought the F units were old hat, and shot the new SDs and geeps because they were new and different.  As a result, I tend to photograph as wide a spectrum as I can.  Thirty years from now, who knows which images will be of interest?  Best to be safe!

I'd like to thank my sister for the use of her photos, and my mother for allowing me to have these photos of my dad's.  He passed away in November 2004, but not before he got to see one of his photos in print.

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