Ski Train ~ 1984

F Units and Domes!

In early 1984, being a resident of Boulder, I frequently went out to chase the Ski Train along the Front Range south of town. 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.

Some twenty years later, thanks to a scanner with negative-scanning capability, I was able to drastically improve the image quality. Yes, I know, it’s still 110 film. But the resolution is much better than before, and the colors aren’t degraded with time. See this page for more of my early 110 outings.

(Thankfully, only a week after these were taken, I received a nice 35mm Minolta as a graduation gift, and never had to contend with this issue again…)

But, back to the subject at hand. The date was March 24, 1984.  I had decided to drive down to
Coal Creek to photograph the 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 from Boulder. 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 from 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.

(Click on the pictures for the larger versions.)

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, they didn’t make my Instamatic camera with a telephoto lens…
ST84_11 A little closer now… You can see I wasn’t the only person with this idea, although I don’t recall talking to the other railfans.
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 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 SHOP, as the domes roll through the cut under Colorado 93. ST84_21
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

As things turned out, this was the final season in which the F9 locomotives would be used on the Ski Train (or any passenger train).  And since this was the only Mayor’s Special of the season, the stainless-steel domes would not show up again.  This was the last time a Rio Grande train ever ran with F9’s up front and domes on the train.

I was fortunate to be able to chase this train two more times 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 final run with F9s leading and domes trailing.

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