Anonymous Action

Unidentified Units from the Rio Grande Days

Not everything can be known.  That’s just the way it is.  Knowing that fact doesn’t make it any easier to swallow, though!  Case in point: trying to identify locomotives from old photos.

(For the non-railfans, this is your cue to head for the exits.  Only serious “trainspotters” will find this interesting.  On the other hand, the photos are worth seeing.  OK, non-train-geeks, stick around.)

I have become aware that I have some OCD tendencies. In my hobbies this sometimes manifests itself in wanting complete collections of things, particular in rail photos.  I’d like to have a pic of every single Southern Pacific AC4400, for instance (currently not even close!).  I’d also like to get as many Rio Grande units as possible.  Given that most no longer even exist, I’m limited to combing through my old images at extreme magnification, searching for previously-unidentified units.  

In most cases I get little besides eyestrain.

However, despite the lack of much new information, I do find myself appreciating many of the images on their own merit.  Because of that, I’m collecting them here below.  It’s a trade-off between the OCD and artistic sides of my brain, I guess!

So, without further ado, here is a chronological collection of inscrutable imagery.

drgw3103 3052 GS 1981-11-08 First up: a classic Rio Grande freight rolling out of Glenwood Canyon on 11/08/1981.  The first two units are identifiable, but not the third.  It’s my mom’s photo and scan, which is unfortunate because if I had it I could scan it in higher resolution and pick out that third numberboard back there.  Alas, she is gone, and so are the negatives.  It’s a GP40-2, but which one remains a mystery.

January 9th, 1982 (I think)– the Ski Train is climbing through Crescent with a pair of GP40-2’s leading.  Can I read the number of the leader? Nope.  It looks like 312x (0, or 6 lost likely).  Yet another win for 110 film…

19820814-Tabernash Here’s an eastbound coal train waiting in the siding at Tabernash on 8/14/1982.  The shot was taken from the dome onboard the Rio Grande Zephyr using a Kodak Disc Camera (possibly the worst camera design of the 20th century).  All I can see for sure is that there are five units, and the leader is probably a tunnel motor.  But check out that high-elevation sky!
drgw5356-1982-11-25 Skip ahead three months to Thanksgiving.  Here, tunnel motor 5356 leads three other units down the front range.  Image taken with a 110 camera, barely better than a disc camera, and there just aren’t enough grains on the negative to see more details.  I do know that the fourth unit was a GP30 with the billboard herald, but only because I remember it.

Here’s the Ski Train in February or March of 1983.  It has another pair of GP40-2’s on the point.  Photo of the leader?  Guess.

Do you know what irony is?  In looking at this shot, I discovered that I hadn’t put this image of 3127 on my Four-Axle page! It’s now added.

DRGW014x2 I identified the locomotives in a later shot, but which caboose is this? All I can tell is it’s one of the riveted-construction cars.  This time I’m using good 35mm film, but somehow I managed to lose this negative!  Scan from the print.
My parents had given me a nice SLR for college graduation and I christened it shooting trains.  But a couple of months later we moved out of state and my frequency of D&RGW photos went waaaaay down.

DRGW101_3 Coal Creek Canyon Standing too close to a moving subject in inadequate light with too-slow film yields images such as this.  I love the photo but it’s not very informative…  All I know is that it’s a tunnel motor in the 5386-5397 series, based on some features in the next photo.
DRGW101_4 Coal Creek Canyon The three trailing units in this photo are forever anonymous.  The second ands fourth units are in the 5386-5397 series (note the boxy headlight mount), and the third unit has a short nose so it’s in the 5341-5373 group.  That’s all I can tell.  I still love the photo.  (The leader is 5348.)
railblazer1 Here’s a hard-to-identify one that actually yielded to my efforts!  The trailing unit turns out to be GP40-2 No. 3116, with a high degree of certainty.  The leader is GP40 No. 3077.  Christmas eve morning 1988, the eastbound Railblazer.
DRGW 3051

12/24/1988– a westbound freight at tunnel 1.  Who’s that fifth unit there, the one whose cab we can’t see?  One of the early-order GP40’s, but that’s all we’ll ever know.

UPDATE! Through the good eyeballs of my buddy Glenn, who (1) made a guess at the KarTrak panel and (2) knew something about the unique radiator panel on this unit, we’ve identified the anonymous loco as No, 3057!  See?  Sometimes you can actually solve an ancient mystery.

NY_1990-11_001 Jump forward a couple more years.  on 11/19/1990 I photographed this trio at north yard in Denver.  I didn’t own a telephoto, but I still should have tried harder.  That’s SD50 5506 and SD40T-2 5348, but who’s the third one on the right?  If you held a gun to my head I’d say 5402, but it’s just not that definitive.  Why didn’t they ever wash those rear numbers?
t1-swing-9111 The following year, massive coal trains proved to be a target-rich environment; 8 or 9 locomotives would appear on single train!  Here, one such train has a 3-unit swing helper.  Later photos identify them as 5365 and 5517, but the third unit is an unknown SD50.  All that I do know is that it’s not 5506, 5507, or 5517– they were all identified on this same train.  (11/20/1991)
t1-rear-9111 Here’s the rear helpers on the same train. For some reason I didn’t closely photograph the pair of tunnel motors on the rear. They remain anonymous.  I guess I was concentrating on chasing the train through the tunnel so I could photograph it across the valley.  Lacking a telephoto lens, I need not have bothered.
DRGW5350 Here begins an unfortunate trend of oblique angles from too close to the rails.  Not the leader– it’s solid. But what’s the second locomotive?  Merely another anonymous tunnel motor.  Wind the film and take another shot, idiot! (he says to his past self).   (12/30/1991)
SD40T-2Top Same train, swing helper.  I do love this image– it conveys a real sense of the size of these beasts– but it’s not much for identifying it.  The angle is just too severe.  Based on the Leslie horn I’d guess somewhere in the 5398-5413 range but even that’s not certain. BTW the adjacent unit is SD50 5512.
drgw5393 One of my favorite action shots, No. 5393 leads a westbound train into Pinecliffe.  Who’s the trailing unit?  No idea.  Oblique angle again.  In this case I was borrowing an 80-200mm lens of my dad’s, and it’s currently backed off as far as I could go.  No macro setting on that baby!  (7/21/1994)

After this time I did get better about taking roster shots of Rio Grande power.  For one thing, I saw so little of it, every sighting was an event to be commemorated.  Also, I could afford more film.  Not that I’ve never missed a contemporary spotting, but not of D&RGW power.  Now, of course, one must go to a museum to find any.  Incidentally, notice that all of these images predate the Internet?  At that time, collecting roster shots had not even entered my mind.  Too bad I didn’t learn better photography techniques before it was too late.  But at least these are still fun to look at.

© James R. Griffin. All rights reserved.

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