A Day in 1982

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A Classic Day of Railfanning


For various sentimental reasons, probably my favorite year of operations.  On the railroad, it’s still solidly D&RGW.  Two, count ’em, two home-road passenger trains still ply the rails– nowhere else in the nation can that be said at this time. The area has not yet succumbed entirely to montane “urban” sprawl. First and second-generation diesels can be seen operating side-by-side. What’s not to love?

What follows is a scale re-enactment of one Saturday in early January 1982. Per Rule No. One, I’ve blurred a few lines of reality, but the flavor of the day is authentic.  Pretend for a moment that we have two friends, amateur railfans, who have split up to cover the line on both sides of the Divide in order to photograph the Ski Train’s annual Mayor of Denver special.  The passenger department has borrowed a pair of dome coaches from the Rio Grande Zephyr for the day and put them on the Ski Train instead.  While waiting for the special, our photographers also encounter the usual assortment of revenue trains.

1982-01 As the sun cracks the horizon, our Eastern Slope photog drives down to Union Station in the heart of Denver to get a departure shot of the Ski Train. Final boarding has completed and the conductor awaits clearance from the dispatcher to leave DUT. The Rio Grande Zephyr had departed a few minutes earlier. Our railfan takes the opportunity to race up to North Yard to set up for the next shots.
1982-02 A few minutes later, the train has climbed out of the Platte valley and is now skirting North Yard, passing the yard tower and the fuel/sand facilities.
1982-03 Sprinting madly up Pecos Street, the photographer beats the train to Utah Junction and catches the train as it curves past the Cargill elevator.
1982-04 Meanwhile, up at West Portal, our buddy warms up his camera by recording an eastbound coal train as it enters the Moffat Tunnel.  A pair of SD40T-2 “Tunnel Motors” lead the way.
1982-05 Our Denver-based photographer has called a friend of his to remind him to get out to Big Ten with his camera, pronto!  His friend sprints for Rocky and drives up the access road (yes, trespassing) to get set up at the west end of Rocky siding. A third companion jogs up to Big 10 for the following shot. The Ski Train’s consist today is a pair of GP40-2’s (freshly washed), steam generator car No. 251, combine No. 1231, domes SILVER PONY and SILVER MUSTANG, and the usual string of heavyweight coaches.
1982-06 The third companion makes it just in time to record the train’s transit of Little Ten.
1982-07 While the above has been going on, our first photog has arrived from downtown and catches the train just as it hits the west switch of Plain siding and enters Tunnel 2. The other two guys go back to Perkins for some coffee and pancakes.
1982-08 Driving back down from Plainview takes too much time to beat the train to Crescent, so our railfan opts instead for Pinecliffe. Coal Creek Canyon and the Wondervu switchbacks are thankfully clear of snow today, and he beats the train with time to spare. Here he watches the middle of the train as it curves past the former site of Tunnel 28.
1982-09 There’s no hope of intercepting the train after this, so the east-slope guy heads back down the mountain. His scanner tells him that the Martin Drake train is on its way, so he waits and catches it at Clay. This is the same train that his west-slope partner saw earlier. Three tunnel motors and an SD45 are on the head end…
1982-11 … and a GP40-2/GP40 pair (the “West Helper”) are coupled on behind the caboose, helping brake the train down the long 2% descent from the Moffat.
1982-12 Back on the west side of the divide, our partner heard on the scanner that an eastbound freight was coming up from Tabernash.  He spots it through the trees above Fraser.
1982-13 Here it hits the crossing in Hideaway Park.  The train is led by a GP30, with a GP35 and SD40T-2 assisting. But the Ski Train’s arrival is imminent so our photographer heads back up US 40 to the tunnel.
1982-14 Arriving just in time, our friend snaps film as the train eases out of the tunnel and rolls to a stop next to the ski area. It’s a beautiful clear January day in the Rockies.
1982-15 One of the 1910-vintage coaches waits across from the ski lodge. A couple of impatient cross-country skiers are already making tracks on the wrong side of the rails here.
1982-16 The westbound train is waiting in Winter Park siding for the Ski Train to get out of the way. Fortunately the tunnel has been venting while the train unloads, shortening the overall wait somewhat.
1982-17 After unloading, the train leaves the resort and heads down the mountain to Tabernash to be turned. Here we see it on the reverse curves on the hill behind Hideaway Park.
1982-18 As it turns out, the switch at east Winter Park hasn’t been used since last night’s snowfall. The section crew has arrived and is clearing the points while the eastbound freight waits impatiently in the siding.
1982-19 Finally the ice is cleared from the switch and the freight proceeds into the tunnel.
1982-20 Later that afternoon, after lunch at Deno’s Swiss Haus, our photographer snaps the Ski Train as it waits to board. We assume the Mayor had a good day skiing, but intel suggests that his time was spent more at the bar than on the slopes…
1982-21 Back on the eastern slope, our rested railfan has once again ventured up past Pinecliffe through Pactolus and has hiked to Tunnel 30 to watch the returning Ski Train.
1982-22 Luckily, the train got stopped on a red at Pinecliffe, giving our friend time to get ahead of it and hike past Tunnel 29. The light is beginning to fade a bit as the train curves around the 12-degree curve.
1982-23 Now we’ve gone back down to Plain and are watching as the Ski Train exits Tunnel 2.
1982-24 On the home stretch now, the Ski Train rolls through Clay siding.  Any further photography will be difficult due to the rapidly-falling dusk.
1982-25 A cold winter night has fallen and our west-slope friend breaks out the tripod to record some time exposures. Here he shoots the ski area, finally quiet after another busy day.
1982-26 His most peaceful scene is recorded amongst the condos above Hideaway Park, where a small chapel holds evening service with its Christmas lights still lit.

It’s been a long, tiring, but satisfying day for our small cadre of railfans. Tomorrow they’ll take their film to Walgreens for some 1-hour film developing, and they’ll gather to swap stories. Meanwhile, the railroad never sleeps; it goes about its business as always.



(For reference,

is the track plan.)