Rio Grande Ski Train

F9’s Leading, Domes Trailing

In early 1984, I frequently went out to photograph the Ski Train along the Front Range west of Denver. One happy day, just prior to acquiring my first decent camera, I caught the train coming down the mountain with the three F9s for power– and two stainless-steel dome cars from the erstwhile Rio Grande Zephyr! All I had with me was my basic little 110 camera, but I burned nearly a whole roll of film anyway.

Over twenty years later I acquired a negative scanner, and was able to greatly improve the quality of these images. Yes, I know, it’s still 110 film. But the resolution is better than formerly possible, and the colors aren’t skewed with time. See this page for more of my early 110 outings. Thankfully, only a few weeks after these were taken, I received a nice 35mm Minolta as a gift, and never had to contend with this issue again…

But, back to the subject at hand. The date was probably March 24 (if this was the same run mentioned in the Ski Train book by Patterson & Forrest). I had decided to drive down from Boulder to Coal Creek to photograph the Ski Train on its return trip. I was running a little behind, so I could see it threading the Flatiron tunnels as I drove south on Colorado 93. Even at that distance I could see that there was an awful lot of reflection on the rear of the train. It had to be domes! Mind you, I was unaware that the Rio Grande had kept any cars after cancelling the RGZ, so this was a complete surprise. I burned it up 72 and turned off on Blue Mountain road just as the train popped out of Tunnel One.

ST84_10 I located myself across the tracks and waited, which didn’t take long. The train came into view as it exited the mouth of the canyon. Obviously, my Instamatic camera was not built with a
telephoto lens…
ST84_11 A little closer now… You can see I wasn’t the only person out there that day, although I don’t recall talking to the other train-chasers.
ST84_12 Here’s a nice portrait of F9A No. 5771 as she purrs past.
ST84_13 Here’s the main body of the Ski Train, the heavyweight cars that dated back seventy years.
ST84_14 A quick swing to the right and I shot the combine, another veteran Rio Grande car that entered service in 1950.
ST84_15 Here come the celebrities! First up is SILVER SHOP , a dome buffet car that served on the California Zephyr and its successor, the RGZ.
ST84_16 Bringing up the rear is the classic dome observation car SILVER SKY . The presence of these two cars probably indicates that this is the Mayor of Denver’s annual ski trip. Federico Peña is somewhere behind all that glass…
ST84_17 There she goes, around the curves leading to Clay and the Big 10 curves.

Well, this was too good to pass up, so I jumped into my not-so-trusty 1971 Renault R10 and smoked on down to the overpass at Rocky. (That car had the worst habit of quitting at inopportune moments… We called it Kato; as Inspector Clouseau would say, “Not now, Kato!”). Fortunately, this was not one of those days.

It always seems like forever for a train to transit Rocky siding. Here it comes, dynamic brakes humming and Mars light flashing. ST84_18
Another look at the classic F units as they curve past… ST84_19
The steam generator car No. 253 is right behind the lead unit. ST84_20
Another view of SILVER SHOP , as the domes roll through
the cut towards highway 93.
And there goes SILVER SKY . I didn’t know it at the time, but this was the last look at her I was ever to have. ST84_22

I was fortunate to have two more opportunities to chase this train in the 1984 season, both times with a better camera. But I have always been thankful that I went out on that chilly afternoon to capture this last-of-a-kind operation on the Rio Grande: F9s leading and streamlined domes trailing.


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