One cool summer evening in July 1986 we went train-hunting at the mouth of Coal Creek Canyon, south of Boulder. At this time the Rio Grande railroad was still an independent entity. Had I known how short-lived that situation would be, I would have shot more film!
We parked at Blue Mountain crossing and followed the track to the west. We expected the eastbound Amtrak train number 6, the California Zephyr, to pass shortly, and it didn’t disappoint.
|Studying my photos, I have determined the consist, which was as follows:
A little more information on Amtrak operations during this period:
East of Salt Lake City, the train was a combination of 3 different trains– the CZ, the Desert Wind (SLC – Los Angeles), and the Pioneer (SLC – Seattle). Some cars from the other two trains ran through to/from Chicago, making for an elongated Zephyr.
In my photos above, in all likelihood, all cars behind the diner came off the Pioneer and Desert Wind. Both of those routes were discontinued in 1997.
After Amtrak had gone round the bend, we continued up the line to a point where the tracks pass through a cut just east of the bridge. We had heard a westbound train announce its presence from the direction of Rocky, so we set up to wait for it.
By now it was getting pretty dark, but we heard yet another train coming up from Denver, so we waited around. Shortly train 103, a long manifest train, rumbled past. It had a lone SD45 shoving on the rear. But this train didn’t completely disappear– it stopped with the tail end hanging out of tunnel 1. I now know that this is the practice when westbound trains enter the siding at Plainview, to keep from fouling the grade crossing for extended periods. Anyway, we ended up walking all the way up the grade to the rear of the train, kinda studying things. We were smart enough not to attempt something stupid like actually climbing up on the helper unit, but we were close enough to feel the heat and smell the oil. Nothing happened, and it being now completely dark we decided to head back to the cars at Blue Mountain. That’s a long hike in the dark, by the way, with a dog and a baby along!
It has been 35 years since that night, yet I can still remember all the sensations and experiences, such as the way the velvety leaves stuck to our socks! The rails are still there, but it’s all Union Pacific now, and tunnel motors are a thing of the past, as is the Rio Grande. Thank God for memory, and for Kodak…
© James R. Griffin. All rights reserved.