We’ve spent the last week photographing the steam trains of the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad out of Chama, New Mexico, for an upcoming Colorado Life Magazine story. Today our photos went fowl as we began shooting recently arrived Galloping Goose Number 5.
For folks not aware of these birds on rails, let me explain. The Galloping Goose is a car-on-rails contraption cobbled together in the 1930s. It and a half-dozen of its nest mates kept the Rio Grande Southern Railroad (RGS) in business during the Great Depression and beyond.
Running from Durango to Ridgway, the RGS served the mining communities of Rico, Ophir and Telluride. The railroad was the most effective way to get mail, cargo and people to those remote communities, but with the economy sputtering, the cost of running steam locomotives over the mountains often exceeded income earned.
RGS employees in Ridgway came to the rescue. They converted an old car body into a rail-mobile sporting an auto frontend and a truck bed in back. Burning cheap gasoline and needing only one person to operate, their Frankensteinish creation immediately proved profitable. Six more were soon hatched.
Waddling down the tracks with engine covers flapping and horns sounding like goose toots, the machines quickly garnered their waterfowl nickname.
The galloping flock kept profits aloft for two decades. While other railroads experimented with gasoline-powered rail cars, none ever served so long in revenue service.
When the RGS finally lost their mail contract in 1949, they tried to operate as a scenic passenger line. The plan failed. The railroad folded and the Geese flew the coop.
Surprisingly, all but Goose #1 (which was scrapped in the ‘30s) remain today. Goose #4 rests in downtown Telluride and Goose #3 winged its way west to Knott’s Berry Farm in California. Geese #2, #6 and #7 all nest at the Colorado Railroad Museum in Golden, and a faithful recreation of Goose #1 now occupies the Ridgway Railroad Museum.
Goose #5 resides at the Rio Grande Southern Railroad Museum in Dolores when it’s not on the road. For the rest of this week, it will be plying the Cumbres & Toltec tracks. Our ride, which will mark the third time we’ve ridden the Goose, comes tomorrow.
Galloping through glades of golden aspen should be pretty spectacular.