RITS 2005

Colorado Springs, August 9 through 14


Tuesday, August 9

Susan and I were on the road early, dropping down to Hwy. 34 to follow the California Zephyr route west into Nebraska.  Our first stop was in Creston at the east end of the yard around 9:30 where I found some parked coal trains, one with BNSF 9446 and 8221 on the point.  9446 had a comment on the fuel tank - you can fill in the blank...  Adjacent was BNSF 9784.  We waited a couple minutes for a westbound that we'd seen along the way to arrive.  This was a set of OGSX cars behind 8867 and 5490.

It was mid-afternoon before I got another chance to take some train pictures.  Somewhere in the middle of Nebraska we found a long string of new BNSF covered hoppers and a couple of locos.  The hoppers and one of the locomotives had the new "swoosh" logo, apparently an effort by BNSF management to make the company indistinguishable from someone selling, say, tennis shoes, or real estate.

We stopped for supper in Holdrege and I once again checked out the Zephyr Cafe.  It's again for sale (the third time in the last few years) and I think unlikely to ever again develop a sustained clientele.  After we returned from our trip I called the realtor and offered to pay generously for the sign and to make sure that it was preserved, rather than eventually falling victim to vandals or thieves.  I've not yet heard back from the cafe's current owner.

Our stop for the night was the "Chief" motel in McCook.  The motel's annex actually has a pretty good view of the railroad.  Next time I'll request a room in the back.

Wednesday, August 10

I was up and out pretty early to catch No. 5 making its stop at the McCook depot.  The Zephyr made its stop in a "Crater Free" area at 4:27 A.M.  One passenger, for Grand Junction, CO, boarded and two detrained during the two-minute stop.  Consist today:
AMTK 142 and 72
Baggage 1132
Transition Sleeper 39014
Sleepers 32006 and 32056
Diner 38000
Sightseer Lounge 33001
Coaches 34027, 31012 and 34063
One XpressTrak car
We made a stop at Max, NE, at 9:30 to get some pictures of a freight train waiting for a tie gang to get into a siding.  Leading the train were BNSF 6710, 6839, 8612 and NS 9736.

We made it to the convention site, the Clarion Hotel (formerly LeBaron) in Colorado Springs, late in the afternoon.  Check-in took almost an hour, an omen for the next few days of poor service we experienced at the Clarion.  I must credit the convention organizer, Steve Pelles, however.  He did an excellent job and put in a prodigious amount of effort setting up a great meeting.

In the evening I attended the RITS board meeting, staying long enough (midnight) to get a taste of the on-going friction between some officers and the editors of the Digest (now approximately 5 years behind in issues).   Present at the meeting, Jeff Spangle, Bryon Weesner, Jeff Worones, Lee Bertholf, Dick Hutchins, Bill and Bob Riebe, John Harper, Ted Sandlin, Ross Dando, Paul Schuch, Karen Huerter, Jim Welch and Dick Riedquist.  Membership of the organization stood at 815 persons as of this annual meeting.

 Among the business decisions:  RITS will publish a quarterly magazine, "The Rocket" through Whitewater Publications.  The first of these has been mailed and was referred to by one board member as "pitiful".  Organization dues will go from $20 to $35.  For this money, members will get quarterly newsletters "The Rock", quarterly magazines "The Rocket", a calendar and possibly an annual Digest.  Next year's national meet will be in Cedar Falls, IA, August 17-19.  Elections for RITS officers are coming up, and nominations are due by September 10.

Thursday, August 11

Steve Pelles had organized several side trips for the RITS group, a trip to Pike's Peak on the cog railway on Thursday, a bus tour to Limon on Friday, and another bus to the Royal Gorge Route train on Saturday.  Though the hotel had given everyone tickets to a complementary breakfast at their restaurant, they were not prepared to serve the crowd at the advertised 6:30 opening.  We were eventually fed in time to board the bus and head for the Manitou station for an 8:00 departure of the cog train.

The bus arrived in time for us to get our tickets and look around a bit while a "train" loaded and headed up hill.  The cog railway is very interesting from an engineering and technology standpoint.  The switches are a combination of points and stub mechanism to move the rack as well as rails.  The RITS group was treated to some venerable equipment from the 50's rather than the new hydraulic drive Swiss cars.  We had a separate diesel-electric loco with two diesel engines, and a passenger car with overhead windows.

Once underway, our very knowledgeable narrator pointed out the sights, including telephone poles for reference to the grade we were climbing, at times has steep as 25%.  There were several sidings on the way up, and we were told that there would be 17 trains operating on the mountain today.  We stopped and detrained at a hydraulic power plant, affording an opportunity to get some pictures of the equipment we were riding.  The plant has a single turbine wheel and a very interesting one megawatt generator.  Due to repairs to the pipework, they were not in operation today.

We reboarded and were shortly on our way up the hill again.  Before long we could see Colorado Springs, and (on a clearer day perhaps) Kansas!  We entered the clouds around 10:00 A.M. and made a stop at Windy Point for a meet with several trains, including a maintenance crew around 10:15.  Some of the passengers dropped off for a "runby" at this point and found that it was pretty chilly outside our car.  We got to the top just after 11:00 and boarded for the trip back down at 11:40.  Box lunches were served on the way, much of the time in clouds and/or rain.

We were put back on the tour bus at the Manitou depot and taken to the "Miramont Castle".  I'm still not sure just what that is/was, because Susan and I didn't take the (extra cost) tour of the place.  However, open for visitors, right next door to the castle, was one of the more bizarre train sets I've  ever seen.  This was an exceptionally complex HO multi-level affair featuring very imaginative construction.  I couldn't tell for certain if all the levels were connected, or if there were several independent layouts.  A short train, under the supervision of a woman smoking a cigarette, was circulating at scale mach 1 or so.  Though fascinating in some respects, there definitely were some "fit and finish" issues.  Watch your heads!

We were next bussed downtown to what was described as a former police target practice range to see the "Pike Masters" club layout.  This large HO layout had several trains circulating and a few club members present to show off their work.

Friday, August 12

Friday's official schedule called for the group to get back on the bus and go to Limon for a tour of the depot there and of the remains of the Rock Island's line between Limon and Colorado Springs.  We'd made reservations for the trip, but by Friday it seemed like we'd been driving or riding since early Tuesday morning, and we'd checked out Limon on the way down on Wednesday.  We decided to skip the bus, stretch our legs and do some local shopping and sight-seeing.  We hit the breakfast buffet a little later than we did Thursday morning and found that it had been cleaned out, even though it was advertised to be served from 6:30 to 10:30.

I feel sorry for the staff at the Clarion, I'm sure they have to deal with lots of grumpy customers due to what is apparently a very disorganized working place.  I'll not go into the numerous other problems we ran into like an advertised but unavailable wireless network, food that was billed but never delivered, missing security lock on our door, etc. I'll just say that it sort of reminded me of riding Amtrak.

We did take advantage of our dinner reservation with the RITS group at Giuseppe's Restaurant, which occupies what was once the Rock Island (and several other roads) depot.  The depot is right next to the "Joint Line" and across the street from a park with a preserved Rio Grande steamer.  Our group was seated by windows looking out on the rails, and trains were going by (coal trains), but, even though everyone seated there was a train buff, the restaurant staff insisted on keeping the shades down.

Saturday, August 13
This was the day when the RITS event was open to the public for the "swap meet", model contest and display layouts.  An optional trip to Canon City with a ride on the Royal Gorge train was available, but we'd not planned to take this one.  We were out early for a walk downtown (one good thing about the Clarion was its proximity to the Colorado Springs business district).  After crossing the interstate, you're directly over the Joint Line.  This particular morning there was a pair of UP units and a fairly well-preserved Rio Grande engine parked near the restaurant.

After our stroll downtown, we walked north through a park area and crossed the interstate again on a pedestrian bridge.  Colorado Springs seemed to have a fairly large population of street people hanging out in the parks and tourist areas.  On the way back across the bridge I managed to catch a northbound WFAX load led by BN 9524 and BNSF 8924 at about 9:00.  Actually, our room at the Clarion had a view of the tracks, and every now and then I'd see something go by.  Traffic seemed to be almost entirely coal trains, like this distributed power one, with BN 9646 and 9413 in front and BNSF 9977 and 9844 in the rear.

After our walk-around, Susan took off to do her own shopping and I went to the meeting rooms where the vendors and display layouts were located.  An N-trak setup belonging to the "Pike's Peak N-gineers" club featured Rock Island equipment, of course.  In another room there was one of the best-looking portable layouts I've seen, an HOn3 setup done by the "Slim Rail" club.  They had a couple of trains running, with a TV camera in a snowplow and assorted sound effects playing.

On the other side of this room there was a demonstration and display of miniature mechanicals, such as a steam engine and a working turbine generator, similar to the utility station we'd seen on the cog railway trip.  Naturally, I made several visits to the vendors and did my part to keep the nation's economy in good health.

After lunch Susan and I went to the Roswell Yard area, where the Rock Island once had a roundhouse and yard.  This site has been taken over by some street car enthusiasts, who have a museum and layout, as well as some restoration projects underway.  The museum has several PCC cars, one of which was being operated by a woman named Eilene.  Eilene took us for a ride of a few carlengths.  They hope to extend the tracks someday.

Nearby is a retired SP baggage car containing what Steve Pelles refers to as "my museum".  Indeed, the gentleman supervising this collection said that most of it belonged to Steve.  In addition to many Rock Island items, there's a small HO layout in the car.  We were also told that the street car restoration project we saw in the roundhouse had been going on for over seven years.

Saturday evening's entertainment was a banquet with a terribly dry speaker, but a fun auction.  Very few people bid on the items offered, but Susan and I did our part to keep the economy moving!

Sunday, August 14

We got out of town in the dark Sunday morning, determined to make it all the way back to the acreage (790 miles) in one day.  We drove back up to Limon and then east into Kansas along what was once the Rock Island route.  Leaving Colby, Kansas, we angled up into Nebraska and made a stop in the middle of the afternoon at Fairbury where there is a preserved depot and division point office building.  Fortunately, they were open for visitors on Sunday afternoon and we were able to get a good look at everything.  I'd visited here before, but the second floor has had a great deal of work since then.  It now has a large HO train layout and several offices and meeting rooms set up.

Outside to the east of the building is what remains of Rock Island motorcar 9047, hopefully to someday be restored.  RITS has contributed some money from the Sustaining Fund for this project.

That's It!