Sunday, January 11, 2009

Railroading- a dirty business.

Yesterday, Saturday January 10th, 2009 saw another great effort by Brendon Hilton and the grading crew. Several more dump truck loads of rock were removed from "The Cut". There is every indication that we may see track laid through it soon. Brendon writes:

"Our work day yesterday was another big step forward on the cut project. A big thank you to the team. Mike, Robert, Tom, Lars, Eric, and Jon spent the day drilling, hammering, and mucking. It was great that the Tolins had mucked out the previous shot, so we were able to get right to work with the air tools. The results were impressive. Sunday morning, Mike, Dad, and I filled about 20 holes with Dexpan and it could be the last shot. We might need one more drilling session for clean up, but we're there! The dump truck fits through now, so everything else is just gravy."

Click for a Slideshow from Jan 10th.

Rita and I worked on the Pullman picnic shelter. Some of the siding generously donated by Eric Bauer was put up on the north side. More will go up next month.

In the meantime, please enjoy this account of life on the railroad in Ridgway, Colorado back in the day, taken from the Ouray News of January 7th, 2009. This account features the historic facility we are emulating for our Joshua Tree Grand Scale Railway, being built under the direction of our own Ken Eells. - Chris

Coal-darkened tickets tell dark side of railroading

They are more than 85 years old, but when you sort through them your fingertips turn black.

Some are coal tickets with lingering coal dust that were filled out by engineers on the Rio Grande Southern Railroad after having their tenders filled with coal. Others are dark lubricant-smeared oil tickets from the Ridgway trainyard.

Archived at the Ridgway Railroad Museum are Ridgway, Vance Junction, Rico and Ute Junction coal tickets from March 1920 and oil tickets from October 1916.They are part of the materials rescued by Bob Richardson, founder of the Colorado Railroad Museum and saved by Ridgway resident Smiles Dunn until the Ridgway Railroad Museum was established.

Coal was mined near Ute Junction. It was loaded into gondolas (cars open at the top) and transported by rail to loading facilities. At Vance Junction the coal was transferred to coal chutes, but at Ridgway the gondolas were stored until the coal was used.

The Ridgway roundhouse, where repairs and mechanical work were done, was located to the south of what is now Mountain Market, approximately where the hardware store sits. The coaling area was slightly beyond that, just east of the present Drakes Restaurant.

Even something as simple as a coal ticket has a story. Experienced and long-time RGS engineers signed-off on the coal tickets at Ridgway – names like Ervin, McDonald, Talbert, Phillips and Davies. According to Josie Crum in her book, "The Rio Grande Southern Railroad," Ervin and Talbert had been part of a three-engine pile-up in 1909. Davies had ended up in the bottom of a gorge by the Butterfly Mill under bridge debris after an engine derailed in 1910.

Engines leaving Ridgway needed to have full tenders to make the long climb over Dallas Divide and on to Vance Junction or Rico. The tickets showed that loaded coal ranged from one to five tons with most tenders taking on three tons.

In Ridgway, a gondola loaded with coal was placed on a raised track. The engine and tender were pulled parallel to the gondola on a slightly lower track. Coal needed to be shoveled up over the sides of the gondolas and into waiting tenders.

"Coal heavers" not only suffered from aching backs, but clenched fingers as well. Old timers told stories of fingers that cramped around the handles of shovels after hours of labor. At the end of the day, the fingers remained clenched and had to be pried open. Heavers were at the bottom of the pay scale were paid, in 1917, only 10 cents per ton of coal shoveled!

There were many jobs on the railroad that required manual labor, but in my view this was the hardest, with the worst rate of pay. Yet, tons of coal were shoveled daily to provide the energy for the RGS steam engines.

Vance Junction was a major coal loading facility. Handling large amounts of tonnage created a paper problem. RGS Employees frequently ran out of coal tickets. Oil tickets were substituted with the word "oil" crossed out and the word "coal" penciled in. The gravity-fed coal chutes, seven miles southwest of Telluride, can still be seen today.

A. Nordeen signed each oil ticket at the Ridgway shop. The tickets show which engine was serviced and its destination. Generally, 1-1/4 to 1-3/4 pints of valve oil and 2-1/2 to 2-3/4 pints of car oil were required.

Occasionally, cotton waste was also requested. Some oil tickets were for replacement of shop supplies as was the case on Oct. 3, 1916, when 16 pints of headlight oil was ordered. The coal and oil tickets also speak to the economic state of the Rio Grande Southern Railroad. Each one is imprinted with the words "Denver and Rio Grande Railroad." By 1916, the RGS was in receivership and under control of the D&RG. RGS forms were frequently "borrowed" from the larger railroad.

The archived tickets may be gritty and smeared, but they provide an interesting look at the heart of the Rio Grande Southern – and its day-to-day operation.