UP 1989: the Rio Grande Heritage Unit

In 2005, Union Pacific decided to tip its hat to some of the historical components of its system– railroads that had been acquired via mergers in recent years. Accordingly, the railroad commissioned some artists to develop designs based on six “heritage” railroads, which were then applied to six brand-new SD70ACe locomotives being built by EMD. The six railroads thus honored are the Western Pacific (WP), Missouri-Kansas-Texas (MKT), Southern Pacific (SP), Denver & Rio Grande Western (D&RGW), Chicago & Northwestern (CNW), and Missouri Pacific (WP). Note that none of these schemes were actual designs ever used by these railroads, a sore point with some railfans, but were inspired by elements used by them over time.

Some of the units were released in 2005, others in 2006. The D&RGW unit is one of the latter, unveiled (literally) in a special ceremony in Denver on June 17, 2006.

Chapter 1

I had terrible luck ever photographing any of these units; I had one close call with 1989 in July 2006 but missed it by one day. For its first years 1989 spent most of its time in Colorado but my visits there had dwindled; before long UP released the unit into the wild and thereafter it could be literally anywhere on their system. So much for narrowing the odds.

A family member’s relocation to the Front Range happily coincided with a brief assignment of this unit to the Pueblo pool. On the evening of May 23, 2020, I glanced out the window at the sound of a passing train, and Lo and Behold! There she was, running second on a northbound rail train. Not as picturesque as leading, but who knew when another chance to see it would arise. Half a loaf… I decided that I would never forgive myself if I didn’t give chase.

(As things turned out, 1989 was leaving Colorado with this load of ribbon rail; within a few days it was in Oregon. Who knows when I would have encountered it again?)

First Stop: the overpass on the north side of Monument, Colorado.
The top-priority specific goal was to grab 1989 as it crossed this iconic bridge at Monument. It’s one of the few that still bears the Rio Grande herald. So, of course, I mis-framed the shot and clipped off the plow. Figures…

Before the whole train had even passed, I hit the highway to try for some shots at Palmer Lake, just a couple of miles up highway 105. I discovered a small hill on the south edge of town– the Railfan Hump, as I learned later– and set up with about 90 seconds to spare.

The leader was this nice SD70M with flared radiators, with paint in remarkably good condition– which makes me suspect it has been repainted. Had 1989 not been present, this unit would have been worth the chase regardless. Here, it’s merely a distant second in importance. Note that this is an all-EMD train today. The trail visible at upper left is the old Santa Fe grade, I believe.
Taken just seconds after the header image– this shows the crest of the Palmer Lake summit. Ahead is the town itself, and in the near distance is a brand-new pedestrian overpass. I had briefly considered going there for the rollby but didn’t think I could hoof it up there in time. I chose well.

Again it was time to jump behind the wheel, as the train started making speed across the top of the ridge. I managed to get out ahead of it again and parked on the high ground at Spruce. There was a southbound BNSF coal train on the near track, waiting for the rail train to clear the single-track at Palmer. It sat and waited as my quarry hustled by on the northbound main.

The two rights-of-way are not exactly parallel through here. The entirety of the UP rail train is visible over the BNSF coal buckets. BNSF often has a spare unit parked on this little spur, here. Incidentally, most of the rail train is made up of former D&RGW flats (hence the RGAX reporting marks on the cars). By now the direct sun has deserted me, but the light is still not terrible.
Here’s a broadside of UP 1989. On the opposite side, one of the access doors has been replaced by one that does not match the Heritage scheme; hopefully one day that will be remedied. Even though it’s not a traditional paint scheme, it has really grown on me over the years, and I’m glad to see it still in such good condition overall.
Here’s a going-away look as the train approaches Tomah. The light has really diminished by now.


Chapter 2

Fast-forward a year and a fraction. We were again visiting the area, and our trip happened to coincide with a UP steam excursion passing through Denver. Happily I drove the crew out east of Denver and chased the 4014 and train into the city. Later that evening I heard that UP 1989 was parked down at Union Station, which had me kicking myself for not going all the way downtown with the Big Boy. But it worked out, for two days later when the steam train returned to Cheyenne the 1989 had been added to the consist.

On that day, September 7th 2021, we followed the 4014 and train from Brighton as far as Eaton (just north of Greeley) and shot multiple run-bys, as well as taking advantage of a train halt at Greeley to get standing shots of all the equipment.

First shot of 1989 that day: the train is flying past the Wendy’s in Brighton. Mobs of people were at every single place one could view the train. It’s not often that (to me) the 1989 gets upstaged, but the Big Boy certainly eclipsed her this day. I got a solid 3/4 shot of 1989 anyway.
A couple miles north of Fort Lupton we got another roll-by of the train. Here, 1989 (running behind an SD70 that was idle) crosses County Road 18 just north of Fort Lupton.
As the train took an exhibition stop in downtown Greeley, I walked back and photographed the diesels (and the rolling stock).
Here’s the whole train as it blasts through Eaton, just north of Greeley. The 1989 is visible just ahead of the passenger equipment. You can see what I meant about it being eclipsed by the Big Boy!

As it turns out, so far every single photo I have taken of the 1989 is from the engineer’s side! During the Big Boy chase it was a simple matter of being on the sunny side of the train. I guess I have a reason to try to catch it again sometime…