Sunday, May 27, 2007

1981 Trip, Day 3: Soldier Summit and some Utah Alcos


Employees called it the "FART". . .

June 8, 1981: We spent the night in sleeping bags near the east switch at Gilluly, the roar of trains blasting up the 2.2% grade waking us up repeatedly. With sunrise, we headed up to the top of 7440' Soldier Summit to catch the first rays of the sun on two eastbound trains, junk manifest #136 with 3 big SD's powering 54 cars over the summit at 7am, followed a half hour later by #134, the empty Ford Auto Return Trip train out of Milpitas, California, off the Western Pacific at Roper, behind three GP40/-2's on 41 autoracks and 85' high cube boxcars. We followed this train down Price River canyon until it met an upgrade manifest train, #195 with a catalogue of Rio Grande's turbocharged B-B power: GP30s, 35's and 40's. We followed this train over the top to Gilluly, where it met another eastbound. It was a busy morning on the Mainline Through The Rockies, and Mark the Rio Grande Fan was bouncing off the walls, he was so happy.


Ripping off the classic "Donald Sims Gilluly shot". . .

We then drove up the access road to the "middle" horseshoe curve at Gilluly (there's three of em: the lower one, under US Highway 6; the middle one, where the railroad turns back eastward; and upper one at the old location of Scenic, which dips into Davidson Canyon) and waited for the "classic" shot of the head-end wrapped around the curve with the power in the foreground and train in the background. We were soon blessed by train #747, four tunnel motors on 87 loads of coal. Right behind him was the hottest train on the railroad, #101, the Chicago-Oakland trailer train for the Southern Pacific at Ogden, and behind him, one more westbound led by an SD45 on a long manifest train.



At Martin: The 'greys' switch their train. . .

Satisfied with what we had, we headed down the other side of the Summit, stopping off in Martin, just outside Helper, where Utah Railway's small yard is carved into the hillside. A set of four grey RSD4's and 5's were assembling their train of empties bound for loading down the shortline's rugged branch to mines at Wattis, Hiawatha and Mohrland. We were hungry, so we grabbed a quick lunch outside of Helper (photographing a Rio Grande coal empty through the window of the diner) and finished in time to catch the afternoon Utah train blasting out of the railroad's only tunnel leaving Martin yard at 2:45pm. Then it was time to get back to the Grande.


Four RSD's blast out of Martin on a mine run. . .

The desert lay ahead. I'd ridden the Rio Grande Zephyr between Grand Junction and Helper, but had never driven this stretch of the railroad. This was all new territory for Mark, and it might as well had been for me, too. Our No. 1 priority was photographing the westbound Rio Grande Zephyr with its classic F9's and round-end observation car. I had an idea for a photo between Grassy and Cedar, a ways east of Helper, so we drove out with plenty of time ahead of him and waited. And waited. And waited some more. Finally, the "Silver Lady" appeared. What a disappointment! The train had its usual four dome cars, all right, but the round-end observation car "Silver Sky" apparently was in the shops at Denver, subbed by the less-desirable blunt-end lounge "Silver Shop." Insult to injury was the lead locomotive: F9A 5771 was also bad-ordered, and Burnham added GP40-2 3103 in its place. Our enthusiasm for this bastardized train showed in our photographic efforts, which sucked.


This shot of the RGZ really sucked. . .
. . .but we made up for it with the shot of #187!

We heard on our scanner of a following westbound, and decided to blow off the RGZ for more great freight action. We bagged a great shot of westbound #187, manifest and trailers, above Grassy siding, 2 GP40-2's on 28 cars against a wonderful Utah desert backdrop. We followed him back to Helper, photographing train #146 departing town with seven clean locomotive in great afternoon light.

#146 leaves Helper in perfect light. . .

Price Canyon was in shadows, but the lowering sun created a wonderful "glint alley" of high contrast, golden backlighting above Kyune, where we photographed #187 one more time (with a single-unit helper shoving on the rear). The 187 had run around a loaded coal train on the two-main track CTC, and soon came the train of the day: 84-cars of coal out of Carbondale, Colorado for Geneva Steel, with four SD40T-2's up front, and a six unit helper (2 tunnel motors 3 GP40s and an SD45) cut in 60 deep. A silhouette of the train's caboose against the deep blue sky at dusk at the Summit was a great way to end the day. I'm sure we must've had huge smiles on our faces and celebrated the day's good fortune. But how we ended the night or where we slept is a detail lost in 26 years of other road trips.

Up through Kyune comes the Geneva coal loads. . .

84 loads with six motors cut in 60 deep. . .

and a proper Rio Grande caboose on the rear!

Sunset on Soldier Summit. What a great day of trains!

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