Colorado and the D&RGW Craig Line

July 14 through 19


Dennis Williams and Paul Speer are former students and friends of mine here in Indianola who model the Denver and Rio Grande in HO.  They have a large layout that they call the "Denver and Rio Grande Pacific" in Dennis's basement, and it is based primarily upon the Dotsero Cutoff and the line northwest to the coal mines near Steamboat Springs and Craig.  These two fellows take a vacation trip each summer strictly to railfan their favorite line and are already very familiar with the above portions of the line, now part of the Union Pacific system.

In a conversation with Dennis at church one day earlier this summer, I learned that the boys had tickets on the California Zephyr and were going to Glenwood Springs, where they would rent a car to go exploring in central and northwest Colorado.  Without any forethought, I offered to drive out, meet them and provide 4WD transportation in exchange for their expertise if they would show me around the territory.  We met a couple of weeks later to work out the details and put together a plan where I would do some vacationing on the way out and then meet them in Glenwood Springs on Monday afternoon, July 16.

(All times below are Central Daylight unless otherwise noted)

Saturday, July 14

I left Indianola around 7:00, planning to follow the BNSF westward and to stay in Hastings, NE, where my friend Jane Jensen was attending a pastors' school at Hastings College.  I got to Creston just after 8:00 and found a DTCX coal load with distributed power tied up in the yard. BNSF 8863 was on the head end.  A GEAX empty with BN 9655 pulled out just as I arrived and another empty with 9674 and 9517 and MPWX cars followed me in and tied up on Main 1.

I checked out a few other units around the yard, including BNSF 1487, 4225, 2304, 2780 and 2119, with BN 2821 and 2338.  A call to 1-800-USA-RAIL revealed that No. 6 was 2:31 down, so I decided to try to intercept them along the line somewhere to the west, figuring that I could at least make Red Oak ahead of the train.  Just west of Creston I caught another load arriving, with BNSF 8815 and BN 9567.

Just after 10:00 I stopped for a while in Red Oak and checked out the depot there, which is undergoing restoration.  A coal train was set aside in one of the yard tracks.  While in conversation there with a gentleman, I overheard some discussion about Amtrak making its pickup in Omaha.  I decided to go on to Glenwood and catch the Zephyr there instead.

The Glenwood depot is still in service as an office for the BNSF.  I waited there for about 1/2 hour, listening to No. 6 make progress through Nebraska and over the river into Pacific Junction.  They came around the corner west of the depot at 11:26.  My friend Rich "Hap" Fertig was at the throttle.  He leaned out the window to wave and said hello on the radio after the train had passed.  Power on the eastbound CZ today consisted of AMTK 75, 34 and 167.

My next stop for pictures was in Union, Nebraska, where there's a captive MoPac caboose and a small UP yard.  Two UP units were tied up near the caboose, UP 4247 and 5104.  A northbound (maybe westbound?) manifest with UP 6064, 4601, 9930 and 8621 was parked on a siding south of the highway grade crossing.

I got to Hastings just after 3:00 and waited for a westbound BNSF stacker to clear Elm Street on my way into town.  Both UP and BNSF pass through this town, and at one time there was a diamond (and I assume a tower) just southeast of the downtown area.  However, the UP has reconstructed their line with a flyover to cross the BNSF and has eliminated all but a couple of grade crossings.  My motel was in the north end of town and I could hear trains from both roads come through, but not see either line.

Sunday, July 15

Hastings is where a pair of the Zephyrs are supposed to meet, provided they are on schedule.  This meet is around 2:45 a.m., and I considered getting up to see them.  However I learned from a call to Amtrak's automated tracing system on Saturday night that the eastbound train was well behind schedule, so I decided to just get some sleep instead.  I left the motel room's window open, though, and I awoke at 4:00 a.m. to the distinctive sound of the GEnesis units' horns.  I figured this must be the late No. 6 and that I'd not heard a timely No. 5.  I went back to sleep for an hour or so and then got up and went out around 6:00 to do some exploring.

I hung around the UP bypass, on which there'd been plenty of traffic earlier, but never did manage to get a picture of a train coming through.  There was a very light shower around sunrise, producing a beautiful double rainbow in a rose sky.  From radio conversations I concluded that No. 6 was going to be at the Hastings depot soon, so the train I'd heard at 4:00 must have been a late No. 5!  I took up a position near the restored Hastings depot to wait on the eastbound CZ.  Their headlight appeared on the horizon about 6:30.  Power on this sailing of the Zephyr was AMTK 23, 134 and 83.  They made a fairly long stop and were out of town around 6:45, almost four hours down from schedule.  Before heading back to the motel, I took a couple of pictures of power in the Hastings yard, BNSF 2352, 2327 and 2298, and BNSF 2328 with BN 1515.

After church, at which I "crashed" the pastors' choir at First Presbyterian, and lunch with Jane and the president of her seminary, Louis Weeks, I was back on the road and headed for Estes Park, Colorado.  My plan was to stay near the BN line that follows highways 34 and 6 out to Brush, Colorado, and then go west toward Rocky Mountain Park on Hwy. 34.

I made a quick stop in Holdridge to check on the Zephyr Cafe and that neat sign that I covet.  The cafe was closed and the sign still hanging.  I'm not sure how much longer I can stand to leave it out-of-service but undisturbed...  A UFIX coal load sat at the west end of town, apparently having to inspect the train after being stopped by a detector.  Near Cambridge, pretty close to 4:00, I met an eastbound grain train with BNSF 4919, 7320 and a third unit that I didn't get.  I made a very short stop in Indianola for a self-portrait.

Somewhere along this route my phone rang - it was my daughter-in-law, Tammy.  She asked where I was and I told her, and then I returned the question.  Her reply was, "In the motel you'll be staying in tonight!"  Although we'd known that we would both be vacationing at the same time, we'd not coordinated a thing.  By pure coincidence Tammy and Byron were in Estes Park on the same night and had booked the same motel as I.  When Byron had gone to check in and asked about a reservation for "Tinder", the clerk had pulled up "Dick Tinder".

It was very warm in southwest Nebraska with the temperature hovering on both sides of 90 degrees as I climbed toward the mountains and changed time zones at 5:00 (CDT).  A half hour later I met a set of RTPX (looked empty) cars with BN 9497 leading six units.  Just minutes later I reached the Colorado line - temperature 89 degrees, altitude 3360 ft.

I got to Brush around 7:00.  A westbound manifest was stopped northeast of town, having hit a motorcycle at a grade crossing.  The ambulance was just arriving as I rolled by.  I heard later that the rider was going to be fine, but the cycle was still hanging on the front of the loco and was not in very good condition.  Near Fort Morgan Hwy. 34 separates from the BNSF line and heads west for Rocky Mountain National Park.  It's along here that you start realizing that the clouds you've been noticing on the horizon are more than just clouds.  The road becomes steeper now and after Loveland, you're in the canyon with the Big Thompson River.  The elevation increases rapidly and the temperature starts to drop.  9:00; 6000', 9:10; 7000'; 9:15 Estes Park; 7500', 72 degrees.

Monday, July 16

Byron, Tammy and I started the day with a short hike in the park.  I'd called Amtrak early in the morning and learned that my friends' train was well behind schedule (no surprise) and concluded that I wouldn't need to leave for Glenwood Springs until after lunchtime.  I was up early to catch the sunrise over the mountains and drove down into town where some Elk were wandering around near the visitors' center.  After our hike, I got my stuff out of my motel room, checked out, washed and fueled the Jeep, and then we went downtown for shopping and lunch.  By 1:30 I was on my way again and headed over Trail Ridge Road to the west side of the park.

This might be a good time for an orientation session for those of you unfamiliar with the territory above or with the Bond to Craig branch of the Rio Grande.  When David Moffat built his railroad, the Denver, Northwestern and Pacific, it was built through the Rockies on the current route of the California Zephyr, except that it was a few years before what' s now called the Moffat Tunnel was completed.  At Bond, the route started north to Steamboat Springs, where it turned west and ended in Craig.  The other main Colorado route through the mountains was well to the south, coming northwest out of Pueblo, through the Royal Gorge and Tennessee Pass to what is today called Dotsero.  This route is not currently in service, the Union Pacific having closed it after they took over these routes when they acquired the Southern Pacific.  Long before the Tennessee Pass route was abandoned, a connecting line was built between Bond and Dotsero (the "Dotsero Cutoff") that has always been a portion of the route of the California Zephyr.

Please examine this map, noting the following things that I've marked in red:  the original Denver, Northwestern and Pacific route from Winter Park through Granby, Kremmling, State Bridge, Bond, Toponas, Yampa, Phippsburg, Oak Creek, Steamboat Spr., Milner and Hayden to Craig; the two spurs to coal mining areas - Axial and Energy; and the Dotsero Cutoff between Bond and Dotsero.  These are the rail lines that figure in the story to follow.  (Map based upon a portion of a 1992 Colorado DOT publication)

I've also hand-drawn a second map that details a portion of the Craig Branch between Toponas and Bond.  Note on this map Egeria, Volcano, Twin Bridges, Crater and Copper Spur.  These locations will be important in the narrative that follows.

My planned route to Glenwood Springs was as follows:  Go over Trail Ridge (12,500' pass) on Hwy. 34 to Hwy. 40 near Granby, then west on Hwy. 40 to Kremmling, up and over Gore Pass (9500') on Hwy. 134, turn south at Toponas, follow Hwy. 131 to Wolcott, and finally take I-70 west to Glenwood Springs.

I got to the junction of 34 and 40 just west of Granby about 3:15 and decided to go into town and see how the Zephyr was doing.  I hadn't reached the depot before I saw the passenger train accelerating away to the west.  I turned around and started back down Hwy. 40, thinking that the boys would now probably beat me to Glenwood Springs, but they weren't going anywhere without me no matter how late I was.  The train was out of sight by the time I got out of town, but I heard a detector report them at "three five miles per hour", and I was on a road with a 65 mph limit, so, the chase was on!

I caught and overtook the Zephyr easily and was able to stop and get pictures of them as they passed me while rolling slowly around the curves next to the Colorado River in Byers Canyon.  Power on the westbound CZ today was the same set of engines I'd seen eastbound with Rich Fertig in Iowa on Saturday afternoon, 75, 34 and 167.

Dennis and Paul had gotten a room in a sleeping car and had a window on the north side of the train.  I was taking pictures from the south side, so they were not yet aware that I was pacing them through the canyon.  However, near Kremmling the railroad switches to the south side of Hwy. 40.  I stopped by the overpass and got a pictures of the train as it approached, passed the siding at Troublesome and sped away toward Bond and the Dotsero Cutoff.  I learned later that this time Paul spotted the Jeep and called Dennis' attention to the window as I stood above them with the camera in front of my face.

My route to the next trackside location took me well to the north, over Gore Pass.  The boys knew that and concluded as I did that I would not see them again until Glenwood Springs.  I hurried over the pass though, just in case they were delayed.  The radio conversations between the dispatcher, trains and maintenance of way personnel helped me stay aware of the train's location.  I'd gotten over the pass and was entering McCoy when I heard "Good roll-by at Bond, number six".  I wasn't familiar enough with the town names to know for certain where that put us, but at about the same time I saw a sign ahead saying "Bond 3".  I stopped next to the rails and got the camera ready for one more shot, surprising Dennis and Paul who concluded that I just might have been breaking the speed limit here and there in my trip through the mountains.

Had I been better prepared, I would have known that there was a secondary road that closely parallels the Dotsero cutoff and I could have continued the chase.  Instead, I just followed my planned route down to Wolcott and west on I-70.  Remarkably, I managed to get ahead of the train again.  I was west of Dotsero on the interstate when I heard the on-board conductor and engineer changing radio channels at Dotsero!  I went on to Glenwood Springs, where I spotted eastbound No. 6 in the station.  It too was running fairly late today.  I was held up in traffic getting there, but I did manage to get a picture or two of the train, with AMTK 119, 177 and 178, before it pulled out to meet the waiting No. 5.  They rolled at 6:02, well down from the scheduled 1:37 (CDT).

Number 5 came into the station at Glenwood Springs at 6:30 and I soon located Dennis and Paul.  These fellows manage to travel very lightly - each with one bag and a large camera case.  We loaded up and started back east down the interstate.

After a short stop for some supper and fuel for the Jeep we started back up Hwy. 131 toward Craig, where Dennis had made reservations for Monday and Tuesday nights.  We talked over my good fortune in meeting their train at Granby and they started explaining the layout of the Craig line and what they planned to see in the next couple of days.  Around 8:30 we stopped at Bond, where the Craig Branch and Dotsero Cutoff separate and checked out some power on a work train and a coal load in the yard there.

Tuesday, July 17

As usual, I was up early to check out the morning.  It was clear, cool and dry, just under 50 degrees, and felt great compared to Iowa's recent heat and humidity.  I was impatient to get started, but Dennis and Paul had been here before and were in charge now, I was just following directions.  Their plan was to make a quick survey of the mines and see if there were any coal trains in the process of loading or unloading, and to assess the state of the coal piles at the mines to see if they were preparing to load trains.  We got going around 9:20.

We drove southwest out of town on Hwy. 13, stopping first at the Empire mine flood-loader.  This mine is not currently being worked.  We continued to Axial, where there was a different loading system, a tunnel arrangement that the train passes through.  This location seemed to be preparing to fill a train, and was creating a large cone-shaped pile on the ground above the loading tunnel.

We went back toward Craig but turned east before getting back into town in order to have a look at a power plant just south of the city and a surface mining operation that is carried out in some hills above the power plant.  The plant receives coal from a train that shuttles between it a local mine as well as coal from the surface operation, and was in the process of unloading a train.  The surface mining is done with several very large drag-lines.  These shovels create long trenches into the hill, which are eventually back filled as the mining operation moves along the hill.  The above images were taken from a road near the power plant.  I went out Tuesday night to get a shot of the shovels, as the booms are illuminated - this was the first thing we saw when we drove into Craig on Monday night.

We went back into town and checked out a couple of other railroad attractions, including the old D&RGW depot.  The private car of David Moffat, named Marcia, has been preserved and is on display right next to the highway as you come into town.  We parked in the completely empty VFW lot across the street to take some pictures.  Some man scurried out of the VFW to see what we were doing and to tell us that we should go to the Chamber of Commerce to arrange for a tour.  I came back Wednesday morning at 6:45 (local time) to get a lower sun angle on the car and the same guy poked his nose out the door of the VFW to see what I was doing - maybe he lives there, who knows?

We finally got ourselves out of town around lunch time and headed over to Steamboat Springs and down the branch toward Phippsburg.  There was quite a bit of road construction around Steamboat, it was slow-going and we made up our minds to avoid the area if possible.  I stopped for a picture of some equipment along the way south in one of the areas (Avril, Edna, etc.) where there had been active mines years ago.

We arrived in Phippsburg a little after 1:00 and stopped to have a look around the yard.  A PSCX empty was tied up with four units on the head (north geographically, west on the railroad) end, UP 8304, SP 103, UP 8200 and 8257.  We also found another empty, WBKX cars, with the power scattered around and a couple of units (eventually to be mid-train power) cut off, UP 7076 and SP 290.  A few pieces of Rio Grande equipment remain in the yard.  I got a couple of images of a spreader, along with a caboose and some boxcars in maintenance service.

Note:  Below, I'll give the geographic direction first and the railroad direction (if necessary) in parenthesis second.  On the Craig branch, east is toward Bond (and Denver) and west is toward Craig.  Further, I'll use "down" for toward Bond and "up" for toward Craig.

At the south (east) end of the yard I got the units on the back of the PSCX empty, UP 7286 and SP 193Dennis used his "bazooka" and went about measuring anything that might have once belonged to the Rio Grande, Paul stood by in a Rock Island shirt and I walked up the yard to check out the back of the WBKX train.  The units on the rear were UP 8181 and SP 247.  Looking back to the south, I noticed an interesting track arrangement where the siding began at Phippsburg.  Both tracks were curved rather than the common practice of keeping the mainline straight.

We made a short trip up the line to see the power on the front of the WBKX empty, which was parked south of the yard, UP 6885 and 7237.  At this point we decided to get some lunch and headed down to Yampa for a stop at Lombardi's Cafe, gas station, convenience store and souvenir shop.  (Five Stars - Highly Recommended!  We returned for brunch on Wednesday)

We drove on south (east) down the Craig line toward Bond in the afternoon, and arrived there at 3:50, just in time to catch a piggy-back train with UP 4165 and 4132 stopping for a crew change.  We drove ahead to State Bridge and parked on a hill above town to catch the "Z" train rounding a sharp curve on its way toward Denver, trailing flatcars loaded with UPS vans.

Back at Bond, a work train that had been waiting on the eastbound pigs was pulling out to take the mainline to Dotsero.  We drove a short distance west of Bond to get pictures as it crossed the Colorado River and ducked into a short tunnel.  Dennis and Paul wanted to explore a bit, so we next took Copper Spur road up a steep hill to a grade crossing on the Craig Branch.  Here the rail line comes out of Tunnel 44 and rounds a sharp curve.

We picked up some radio conversation that indicated that there were a couple of eastbounds approaching on the mainline, including Amtrak No. 6.  We shot the first train, a manifest with UP 4181, 6112 and SP 151, from the same location as the work train, but on the west side of the tunnel.  Is that a gorgeous little spot for your ranch, or what??

Amtrak had to stop and wait on some activity at Bond, and conveniently rolled to a stop right on the bridge at 5:30, about an engine length from the west siding signal.  We were shooting from Hwy. 131.  Power today, 9, 141 and 66.  We could have waited on No. 5 which, from the radio, was somewhere around Radium, but we'd heard that one of the empties was getting ready to leave Phippsburg, so we ran north (west) up 131.

We found that the WBKX train had put two engines in the middle (UP 7076 and SP 290) and was making its last move to assemble the train as we pulled up by the highway overpass just north of Phippsburg.  Just after 6:00 a crew van arrived, bringing the conductor from the mid-train coupling activity up to the head end.  He came over and asked where Warren County was, and we learned that he was from Council Bluffs.  He said that his train was going to Axial and that the PSCX empty, with UP 8304, would be going later to Energy.

We went up the line for some pictures of the WBKX train as it came through the valley beside Oak Creek and the highway.  Our last encounter was at "179 Road", where we watched the head end, mid-train power and pushers go by.  It was 6:45 when the train passed and definitely rush hour on 131 (right background).

We then went back down to Phippsburg where the four units on the head end of the PSCX train were being cut apart so that two could become mid-train power in the 108-car empty before it headed on up to the Energy mining area.  The four units were pulled north of the mainline switch, two units were set out, the remaining two went back to the train and pulled up to leave 54 cars south (east) of the switch.  The train was cut, pulled north of the switch and backed onto the mid-train power.  Finally the mid-train units were pulled north and doubled onto the remainder of the train.

We drove up to Oak Creek to watch the train come down the hill into the little town and curve north toward Steamboat.  They were through around 8:00, and we then headed out on "20 Mile Road" to check out the Energy mining area.  We made a short stop for a couple of pictures and to assess the state of the coal piles at Energy.  Then, rather than continuing on 20-Mile, we went northeast and north on gravel roads toward Allan, where the Energy branch leaves the Craig line west of Steamboat Springs near Milner.  We caught 8304 one more time, at 9:00, just as they came by the Allan siding and crossed over for the trip down to the mine.

We headed on into Craig and tied up for the night.  I did slip out after it was good and dark (around 11:30) to get some night shots of the drag-lines with the lights on their booms.

Wednesday, July 18

I was surprised to find Dennis waiting in the motel parking lot when I returned from getting fuel and disturbing the little man at the VFW while getting another picture of Marcia.  It seems he and Paul had heard a load already up from Energy and headed out of Allan for Steamboat Springs.  They were packed and ready to chase.  We flew through McDonalds so the boys could get something to take along for breakfast.  I'd already done granola bars, juice and coffee an hour ago and was good to go.  I was instructed to take 20-Mile road to avoid the construction in Steamboat, so we roller-coaster'd over those hills like we were running 'shine with the revenuers in hot pursuit.

On the radio we heard the train coming through a Form B at Steamboat at 8:45.  Just after 9:00 we made a 4-minute stop at the mine in order to check out another train about to be loaded.  It had CNW 8825 and UP 7154 in front.  Then it was off over the hills again.  We reached the southeast end of 20-Mile Road at 9:21 and turned back north, pulling over for pictures a few miles up the highway at the old Edna mine area.  Our train came into view at 9:30 and rolled past a track gang that was waiting in the Edna siding.

The light was great and it was hard to resist just firing way.  I took 13 pictures as the train passed.  This was the PSCX car set that we'd seen going up the line last night. UP 7286 and SP 103 were now the lead units.  The mid-train power passed and the rear of the train came by the steel gang, SP 103 and UP 8304.

We turned around and chased the train back down the line, running along beside it through Oak Creek.  We got ahead on the short stretch down to Phippsburg and set up beside the overpass at the north end of the yard.  I caught a shot of the train with the head end and middle power showing at 9:44.  The train slowed as it came under the highway and eased down toward the yard.  I turned the camera back to the north for the middle and rear units, and then watched the cars roll slowly down into Phippsburg.  After the rear of the train made it through the cut and was on its way down into the yard, we loaded up and headed into Phippsburg (That's pretty much the whole town in the picture).

There'd been some discussion on the radio about where this train would fit when it got into Phippsburg.  Things were getting crowded and the dispatcher wanted to keep one open track for another empty that was going to come up from Bond.  We browsed the yard for a bit.  There was another train tied up, a set of empty CCTX cars with the power already split three ways.  UP 8238 and 7228 were on the north (west) end, UP 8037 and 6476 mid, and UP 6765 and 6789 were on the south.

Paul checked out an "Under Warranty" loco before we went down to the south end of the yard to have a look at "our" train, the one we had seen go to Energy and return and which we would follow to Bond this afternoon.  After an analysis of radio conversations and a critical evaluation of the situation by Paul and Dennis, we concluded that it was time for a nice big breakfast at Lombardi's in Yampa.

Dennis bought a Yampa T-shirt after brunch and, in conversation with the clerk, discovered that our activities were the talk of at least two small towns in the area.  "We're taking pictures of trains."  "Are you the guys in the red Jeep?"  "Yeah, that's us."  Paul told us that the radio made it sound like there was a train coming up from Bond that was at Crater.  This fit with the dispatcher's concern about keeping an open track at Phippsburg.

We drove down to the area where the train would be coming out of the north end of Egeria Canyon, but found that there was no public access to the tracks or to the place called Egeria.  All the property was fenced off and marked with "King Creek Ranch" signs, so we just did the best we could from the highway.  The empty, with KPLX cars, came into sight at 12:25.  The tracks here make a large "S" curve and there is a siding just south (east) of the village of Toponas.  We watched the train snake down the hill and then come to a stop on the main, short of the west siding signal.  (It was fun to be able to take pictures like those just above.  Here at home I get few opportunities to take pictures of entire trains, since Iowa railroads have almost no hills or curves, and where they do, there are plenty of trees.)

The KPLX train sat still for a few minutes as some maintenance was finished up on the track ahead of it, and then climbed over the crest of the grade past Toponas.  I got pictures of the head (UP 7087 and 6441), mid (UP 8125 and 6814) and rear (SP 283 and UP 7235) as they came by Finger Rock, just a couple of miles south of Yampas on the highway.

By this time we'd learned that there was a crew called for 2:00 (Mountain) for "our" train, the load currently tied up in Phippsburg.  That gave us a couple of hours to go exploring.

Dennis had come on the trip with a prime directive: Find That Bridge.  The bridge in question was pictured in a book about the Rio Grande that he had and was actually a pair of deck girder bridges on the side of a canyon between Volcano and Crater.  We figured that if someone else had gotten a picture of That Bridge, called "Twin Bridges" in the book, we could, too.

We drove down to McCoy and turned north onto gravel roads that headed back toward the east side of the Rock Creek and Egeria Creek canyons.  We followed the Conger Mesa Road back until we had a good view of Crater, where there is a spur off of the Craig line.  There were a few hoppers parked on the spur and some sort of mining activity (cinders?) was going on up above.  In the previous picture, the tracks near Volcano are evident as a cut up and to the left - about 2 miles away from the camera's location.

We decided to bear east and north and followed "4 Road" on for a couple of miles until it ended in a large dude ranch complex.  We got the attention of a woman who was employed at the camp and explained that we were on a mission to find and photograph That Bridge.  She knew of it and told us that the bridge was inaccessible, the route being too steep even for horseback.  However, she did describe for us a trail that went around behind Crater and then down into Rock Creek Canyon.  She said that we'd be able to see the bridge from this trail, and that it was a horse trail, but in good condition, with a small wooden bridge across the creek at the bottom.

We were asked if we were taking pictures for a book and answered honestly.  I think next time it might be better to say "Yes!" and to approach property owners for their assistance in exchange for credit in our publication.  I definitely want to go back and do this again.

We back-tracked and headed for Crater.  There were several different different paths sort of resembling roads going northwest from the entrance to the mining activity.  After looking them over, we finally took the leftmost, least-traveled one, which led us around behind the mine to reveal: That Bridge!  We stopped for more pictures (Tunnel 48 just to the right) and to debate whether the "PRIVATE" signs referred to the road or the property adjacent.  We were actually about a mile from the bridge (right center) at this point.  Dennis put the Bazooka to good use, I limped along with a measly 160 mm.

The trail continued down into the Rock Creek Canyon at this point.  It was in great condition, but rather steep and narrow.  Just after the Jeep nosed over the first good hill Dennis asked if I was sure I wanted to do this - definitely a rhetorical question!  We stopped here and there for more pictures (bridge - bare area upper left, Dennis, Bazooka and Jeep - lower right) as we dropped down through some switchbacks to the bottom of the canyon, crossed the bridge and started up the north side.  It wasn't long before we hit the border between public lands and the "JJJ" ranch.

There wasn't enough room between the rock wall on the right and the precipice on the left to turn around, so the boys walked back as I reversed the Jeep and we looked for a wide spot in the trail.  We made one stop and gave it a good try, but eventually gave up and returned to backing.  I'd thought about this problem on the way up and made mental note of a location where I knew we could turn around, so I just had Dennis and Paul get aboard and we backed all the way down and got ourselves pointed home again.

By now we figured it was time for the load we'd seen this morning to be about ready to leave Phippsburg, so we drove up there and found the train just starting to roll at 3:40.  We turned back south and discussed what it was going to take to stay ahead of them and where, in addition to That Bridge of course, we might be able to stop and get pictures.  I asked for Finger Rock and got my "calendar shot" just after 4:00 as 7286 came by the landmark.

We went as fast as we could back down to McCoy on 131 and then hung the tail out a bit on the gravel racing back up to our photo location behind Crater.  We needn't have bothered.  There was a gang with "Shot Crete" equipment working on Tunnel 49, just south (west) of the Volcano siding, and they had to clear up in the siding before 7286 could come around the corner and pass them.  It was 5:15 before our train came out of the tunnel and approached the Volcano siding.  Here's how it really looked - you can just barely make out the mid-train power at the west end of Volcano siding.

Just after the rear units exited the tunnel, 7286 was on That Bridge.  There were scattered clouds rolling by and, unfortunately, the scene was in one's shadow as the head end passed the bridges.  By the time the rear power reached them the whole area was in sunlight again.  A detector reported the train's speed as 16 mph.

We took off to catch the train at the "Crater Loops", a pair of horseshoe turns southeast of Crater.  7286 appeared beside Crater in a surprisingly short time.  I got some shots as the train rounded the first loop and wound back toward itself to enter the second.  The head end was exiting the second loop as the rear-end power rounded the first.  I got one more picture before we drove back toward McCoy, waiting for the train to clear a grade crossing on the way.  We debated a run to the Copper Spur crossing and decided to play it safe and just go on down to Bond.

At 6:08 the 7286 came downgrade above the highway, (note the pole with many insulators - a rock slide detector) turned south and eased across the grade crossing toward the junction with the mainline at Bond.  The middle and rear units came by and cleared the highway at 6:13.  As soon as the train was by, Dennis whipped out his tape measure and checked out this sign that once read "D&RGW RR BOND, Depot and Lunch Room".

This was moving day.  We'd packed everything and checked out of the motel in Craig before chasing 7286 to Phippsburg this morning.  Dennis had made reservations for us in Rifle, about 30 miles on west of Glenwood Springs, so it was time to head south and west.  We took a road that branched off of Hwy. 131 just west of McCoy (301 Road) and which followed the Dotsero Cutoff closely along the Colorado River.  We heard a detector and Paul advised us that a train was just about to our location, so we pulled over for pictures.  At 6:50 we caught an eastbound manifest with UP 9144, 9244, SP 9721 and UP 2392.

Thursday, July 19

The Jeep was ready for a wash and I was ready to head home.  We got out of Rifle around 9:30 in the morning.  The boys were going to go into Denver for some hobby-shopping and then spend one more day exploring.  I dropped them off in Glenwood Springs, where they picked up a rental, and was back on the interstate at 10:20.  Denver was smoggy and 91 degrees.  Brush, clear and 100.  I made the Nebraska state line at 4:07 and the Iowa border at 9:30.  Long trip, short story:  I got to Indianola around midnight, 900 miles in 14 1/2 hours.  It was 82 and very humid.  I garaged the Jeep, carried in the camera and laptop, kicked on the AC and crashed.

Sunday, July 22

Dennis and Paul were to return their rental and get on No. 6 at Glenwood Springs Saturday afternoon.  I'd called Dennis' wife and told her that I was considering meeting their train on Sunday at Osceola.  She said that Paul's sister Sally was to pick them up and that she thought that Sally would be happy to have me do it instead.  I called Sally and she indeed welcomed the idea.

I used the Amtrak automated trace to check on the eastbound Zephyr, which was scheduled for 8:38 a.m. but had been running over two hours late.  I decided to make a morning of it at Osceola and left Indianola about twenty 'til seven.  Just outside of town I heard the DENGAL report itself out of Creston at "06:43" and figured that I might be able to beat them to Osceola.

I got to the station at 7:20 and could hear horns west of town.  The DENGAL came by at 7:26 with BNSF 4983, 7306 and 9450.  I couldn't tell if BN 9450'd been SF-ized yet.  Many of the 9400's have been re-lettered.  The detector east of Osceola reported 402 axles on the eastbound manifest.

BN 2701, caboose 12155 and a couple of piggyback flats were parked in the spur to the east of the depot.  The Main Street (Hwy. 69) grade crossing was torn up and traffic was being detoured to the east.  Hopefully, this will give the railroad a chance to take care of the mud hole just west of the depot.  There's been a slow order on Main 2 here for months.

In front of the depot, Amtrak patrons were warned...

At 8:06 I heard "Okay on..." messages exchanged and at 8:28 the detector reported 512 axles on Main 1.  This turned out to be a DEEX empty led by BNSF 9428 and BN 9686.  The crew on 9428 was discussing a problem with their locomotive with "Fort Worth Mechanical".  They had an alarm bell ringing that they couldn't get shut off.

Another empty was close behind and they were offering helpful hints like, "You didn't hit the 'Attendant Call' by any chance did you?"  Their next suggestion was that 9428 stop and back over at Thayer so they could go into Creston first.  "My conductor will get the switch for you..."  The following train, MARX tub gons, had BNSF 9937 and 9672 on the point and came by the depot at 8:40.

The VHF skip was in this morning and I was hearing railroad radio from all over the midwest.  The "LaCrosse Dispatcher" was coming in on the same channel used by the BNSF between Albia and Creston.  At 8:49 the Omaha line desk said, "We'll get that old silver bullet down to P. Junc. and you can follow him..."  I figured No. 6 would make Osceola around 11:00.

In a few minutes I heard "Okay's" exchanged again and at 9:35 the last load ahead of Amtrak came into town.  The noise of the dynamic brakes was very noticeable as the train slowed for the mud hole.  This train had CEFX cars with BNSF 9744 and BN 9478.

Creston's computer was down, so the dispatcher was were warrants on the air to eastbounds.  Amtrak got its at 10:22 and arrived at the Osceola depot at 10:56.  Power on the California Zephyr today, AMTK 129, 145 and 96.  In the consist:

Express 1754
Transition Sleeper 39003
Sleepers 32042 and 32117
Diner 38068
Sightseer Lounge 33020
Coaches 31500 (Smoking?), 34065, 34031, and 34074
Sleeper 32110, "Tennessee"
Baggage 1249
Six Boxcars, No Roadrailers
Paul and Dennis alit from one of the sleepers, the rest of the passengers found their way and the "silver bullet" was away, reporting their times at Osceola as, "fifty-seven and oh-one".

Whew!  That's It!!