Rio Grande: Unconventional Mountain-Climbers
From the 1960s to the end, the Rio Grande was an EMD shop, and that’s what you’ll find on the La Plata Division. (Except for that pesky Alco PA. And the Krauss-Maffei ML-4000. Yes, there are exceptions to most rules.) With my recent expansion backward in time, I now roster everything from F3s through SD50s. There are not many oddballs in the D&RGW fleet, minor detail differences notwithstanding, so it’s relatively easy to showcase a typical mix of power during this era.
I say “unconventional” because the D&RGW successfully used 4-axle DC power in low-speed grind-it-out mountain service for decades, going against conventional wisdom that this should be 6-axle territory. There were even occasions that 4-axle power showed up on coal trains, although that was not the norm. And honestly, the smaller 4-axle geeps look better on a curvy model railroad like mine, although that has not kept me from using all the 6-axle monsters that are used on the real line.
||A modified Bachmann shell on an Athearn drive. I built this long before the commercial F9 was available. Absolutely essential unit for a Rio Grande layout between 1971 – 1984!|
|OK, technically it’s only one F9, but I also built a post-1980 version. Note the unique pilot design. This is a highly-detailed Stewart unit. I described this process in an article for the Prospector magazine.|
||(above)||See the photos above. One is a Stewart dummy, and the other an Athearn F7B powered unit, modified.|
||Shown is GP30 No. 3015, a Phase II unit (note the longer cab on this side). It’s a project using a repainted & detailed Bachmann shell over an Athearn frame with Atlas trucks and a can motor. I acquired the shell and chassis separately on e-bay.
I have two others, Bachmann Spectrum units.
||A Bachmann Spectrum model that I repainted and detailed. GP35’s cannot lead trains in my era, so it introduces realistic operating issues.|
||No. 3080, the highest-numbered GP40 with the small herald. The model was originally a dash-2, but I changed out the dynamic brakes to the correct type.
I later picked up an Atlas GP40 which was also numbered 3080. So, I renumbered this Athearn unit to 3077.
I also have a second Atlas unit and a hybrid Athearn / Con-Cor Smurf.
||No. 3099, my first GP40-2, wears the stock Athearn number. It’s more heavily weathered than No. 3109 below. These are all Athearn blue-box units, detailed.|
|No. 3109 here is a fave of mine; I’ve seen the prototype unit several times. It’s still running today, though sadly as a full UP repaint…|
|Here is No. 3126. You can see the low-nose headlight package installed here as well as other details. It has the usual lighting circuit installed.|
||No. 5319 is a new Athearn unit. No. 5320 is my oldest detailing project, an old-style Athearn model with the too-wide hood.|
|A second one is also a new Athearn unit, with the billboard Rio Grande herald.|
One can never have too many tunnel motors. I have seven at present. This is the signature locomotive of the latter-day Rio Grande.
Not shown is 5371, which turned out to be the last non-patched D&RGW unit ever operated on the UP.
|Nos. 5348, 5376, and 5362 are seen at Winter Park. The two end units are new-style Athearn models; the one in the middle is a detailed blue-box version. All DCC now.
The real No. 5348 was wrecked in 1994 on Tennessee Pass.
|Nos. 5390, 5411, and 5378 in North Yard. All three are blue-box models, detailed and weathered.|
|No. 5390 is my most extensively-modified blue-box unit. I shortened the fuel tank to the correct length, and filled in the pilot face opening. Also note the distinctive low-nose headlight mounted in an external box on this unit. 5390 is DCC now.|
||No. 5507 has an RPP shell on an Athearn drive. She runs sweet, and looks great. A major project! Many, many hours of work…
No. 5503 is a newer Athearn RTR unit.
||No. 3155, as she appeared after addition of ditch lights (which work, by the way). I detailed this unit. The last power painted for the D&RGW… DCC.|
|(photo coming later)||No. 3154 wears the unique white Scotchlite stripes. Really. Actual Scotchlite.|
||This unit resides at North Yard, handling most switching chores.|
||Spectrum unit. This came with an unprototypically-orange paint scheme, but I have toned it down to a better shade of gold. It’s good for those urban locals and as an additional switch engine in Denver. Needs weathering, though.|
||Ancient Athearn unit, much-upgraded; I painted and lettered it. As shown it has a constant-brightness LED kit, but is DC only at this time. I hadn’t applied numbers yet when this shot was taken.
The one-stripe scheme was applied around 1961. I use this on my Yampa Valley trains.
Not pictured: Essentially all of the early 1960s equipment, including:
- F3’s (A-B-B-A)
- F7A and B units
I will get the camera out soon and update this area of eras, so to speak. The F’s are Genesis or Stewart for the most part; the Krauss-Maffei is the usual Rivarossi unit and needs much work; several others are Spectrum; the PA is a much-upgraded ancient Athearn model. (And I also have an undecorated 4-6-6-4 that I intend to christen as a fantasy excursion locomotive; management is still kicking around the options on that.)