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Photo 1
First light shines on DRGW 3129 southbound at Whitewater, CO
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Photo 2
A trestle deep in the Gunnison River canyon, at old milepost 393.20
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Photo 3
Coming through an s-curve just west of Roubideau
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Photo 4
The Montrose Local meets a pair of SP ACs at Roubideau
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Photo 5
3129 and 3097 leaving Roubideau...
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Photo 6
Switching the south end of the Delta yard
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Photo 7
SP 186 and train crossing the north fork of the Gunnison at Austin
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Photo 8
Finally receiving a track warrant, SP 186 wastes no time coming through Delta
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Photo 9
What? I like geese.
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Photo 10
Coming around the curve on to true North Fork line
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Photo 11
Finishing up the day's switching at the local elevator
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  Trip Report: Western Colorado and Helper, UT - Chapter 1
  Montrose Local
15-Feb-2002
  From: Western Colorado and Helper, UT
Dates: Feb 14-17, 2002 Author: Nathan Holmes

Thursday was one of the worst starts to a trip I've ever had. Imagine a trip that takes seven hours between Colorado Springs and Grand Junction, CO, with everything between Gypsum and GJ at normal speed (50-75ish, depending on the stretch). That gives you all an idea of just how slow the Colorado Springs - Vail Pass segment really was... Partly due to iced and snow-packed pavement, partly due to traffic density (how many of us crazy people are trying to cross the mountains tonight?), and partly due to wrecks slowing things down further, I think I averaged 35 the entire distance. Not bad, but not pretty, either. Finally arrived in Grand Junction around 2330h, and after fueling and washing the truck, I hit the bed to get as much sleep as possible before the next morning.

The Montrose Local seems to usually leave between 0630h - 0700h, so I figured waking up about a quarter 'til six should do it. As it turned out, I met the local as the gates came down in front of me, somewhere around 0630h. A bit earlier than I expected, but still well before daylight. Not very useful for photography, but at least I had some idea where the local was and what it was doing. Just as had been happening for several weeks now, DRGW 3129 was in the lead with DRGW 3097 following along behind. That was it - just two Grandes and perhaps 10-15 cars.

From my best guess (okay, my GPS told me, I'm just not nearly that talented), I had a predicted sunrise of just after 7, so I figured 0730h would be enough to get light over the mesas. Still, I headed down to Whitewater (milepost 13) to wait, just to keep track of it. I guess I've gotten spoiled on the eastern Moffat, where crews call every control point. In unfamiliar territory, I'm always concerned that the train somehow got past me... Usually it turns out I'm well ahead of the train, but there's those few times I just don't want to take the chance.

As it turned out, there was a M-o-W employee out with a hyrail truck between Grand Junction and Whitewater, and his track and time kept the local in the yard until 0700h, when he shortened up to milepost 13 to Bridgeport. Let's see, 12 miles, 25mph speed limit, that gives an ETA of 0730h - perfect timing, if my guess on daylight was correct. Sure enough, right on cue, sunlight and 3129 both showed up around 0730h (in fact, within two minutes of each other - I could actually hear the train before I had direct sunlight - Photo #1). As a note, there's a spectacular morning shot of northbounds coming out of the canyon from the Whitewater boat landing - useless in this case, but thought I'd make a note of it.

I'd intended the next stop to be Bridgeport, another 12 miles down the line. However, due to road construction, the road was blocked with a large piece of Caterpillar's craftsmanship, some orange barrels, and something resembling a makeshift fence. Oh well, at that time of the morning, the light would have still been lousy that far down in the canyon. I should have known that...

The real next stop was somewhat of an experiment - road K50 off to the west of US 50. Supposedly it goes down to a point called Dominguez where it splits into two roads. However, all of those "towns" are more or less mythical - there's nothing there but high desert and junctures in the road, sprinkled with the occasional structure. However, the right fork looked considerably more promising than the left fork, so away we went...

The right fork off the end of K50 is a narrow, winding little road that follows the railway north through the canyon. Eventually it comes to a stop at a gate marking private property just beyond a wooden railway trestle still marked "393.20" (from the old Rio Grande mainline's mileposts). (For reference, the new milepost is somewhere around 30.3 and just after that talking detector.) A short wait later (it took me quite a while to find the spot) I managed to photograph the two working over the bridge. (Photo #2) At this point, I followed the local back to near Dominguez, where the road is perched on a narrow ledge just above the railway. I clicked off a few more (see the additional photos pages), and headed back for US Hwy 50.

I tried for another round of shots at the Escalante bridge, but missed the front end by about four cars. Blame road construction - the five minutes sitting and waiting on dirt-hauling trucks on US 50 didn't help. At that point, it was on to Roubideau, where I'd guessed the DS was setting up a meet with a loaded coal train off the North Fork.

I arrived at Roubideau in time to actually get west/north of the siding. I'd never been west of the siding, and was quite surprised to see a short silver through-truss bridge in clear view of the road, not to mention a great S-curve. Not much time to think, though - 3129's headlights could be seen peeking through the trees beyond the curve, and soon was over the bridge and slowing before the switch (Photo #3). After a quick meet with a loaded coal train (Photo #4), it was on to Delta for the day's switching. (Photo #5)

This was one Montrose local that wasn't actually going to Montrose. I'd hoped that it would, but the crew informed the dispatcher while receiving their work-between warrant that it was just Delta today. Unlike the last time I went out to watch the local, they switched the south end of the yard first (Photo #6), dropping the trailing boxcar at a lumberyard-like industry and moving some empties that were already there. While I went and got breakfast at the local McDonalds, they dropped off the rest of the consist. At that point, they were down to a handful of grain hoppers to be exchanged at the local elevator.

As I was plowing through my second hashbrown, though, the dispatcher was talking to SP 186 and crew, leading another westbound coal load approaching Delta. However, the DS couldn't raise the crew of the local, and consequently 186 couldn't get a track warrant through from milepost 57 through Delta. After finishing my greasy, starchy breakfast (Hey, I was hungry - there are a few things that override my railfanning urges...), I headed east to catch up with SP 186 and train.

I didn't need to look far - just beyond Austin I saw headlights peering around a corner above the highway. On the drive over, I'd picked out a perfect spot just beyond a bridge. Nice, long section, great older truss bridge, and aligned just the right direction for the sunlight. (Photo #7) Still no response from 3129, so shortly after passing the spot where I was taking the photo, the crew bought SP 186 to a halt short of milepost 57.

At that point, I decided to head back to Delta to check on the local's progress. While I was driving back, one of the maintenance personnel contacted the local's crew, and the whole track warrant thing got worked out. SP 186 received the warrant to proceed through Delta, and the local pulled into the yard to wait. I caught 186 one more time coming through Delta (Photo #8), and then wandered over to the park to photograph the flocks of geese sitting on the frozen ponds. (Photo #9)

After SP 186 cleared Roubideau, the DS once again issued a work-between order for the local, and the crew backed out on the main and headed east (Photo #10) My day with the Montrose local ended shortly thereafter (around noon) with watching them switch the local elevator (Photo #11). After that, they'd be reassembling the train and heading north - which, with a southern winter sun, would provide nothing but an hour of lousy photo opportunities. At that point, I decided to head west towards Helper, UT.

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All the images here are Copyright 2002 Nathan D. Holmes (maverick@drgw.net)
Note this doesn't mean you can't use them - In fact, I encourage people to use and enjoy them.
I'm placing them under the same license as RailARC images. Please feel free to copy, use, and distribute anything you find here, as long as I'm given credit for its creation.
All shots in this trip report were taken with a Canon EOS D30 with a Tamron 28-300mm F3.5-6.3.