The difficulty of the squeeze of time, money and technology
By Rob Carrigan, firstname.lastname@example.org
A narrow gap, just wide enough between the black, hard-formed, rubber stripping above the chain and padlock that secured the bus doors on the old Goose in Flanders Park in Dolores, allowed a small (but fairly agile) youngster to squeeze through time and history, into the cab of the old Buick busbody. How many times — through that time and space, for a chance to pilot the wondrous, silver-painted, black-trimmed footnote in Western rail lore, I couldn't guess. But the alligator levers and ratty bell rope, and the over-sized steering wheel, and brown naugahyde-covered drivers seat, were all old friends until even a wee mite, such as myself, had difficulty in the squeeze.
Difficulty in the squeeze ... it was the story of the railroad, it seems.
Despite difficult terrain, extreme weather conditions, and a trainload of financial difficulties, the Rio Grande Southern (RGS) Railroad operated 162 miles of track between Ridgway and Durango from legendary Otto Mear’s construction efforts, beginning in 1890, until they went into receivership again and started pulling up track in 1953.
RGS built seven motors and one additional short-lived vehicle for the San Christobal Railroad on the Denver & Rio Grande Western (D&RGW) Lake City branch. The term “Motor” was officially used by the RGS, although by 1944, the term “Galloping Goose” was used locally.
The Galloping Geese were car-train hybrids that ran on the Rio Grande Southern Railroad (RGS) between 1931 to 1952. They traveled the narrow gauge rails carrying freight, mail and passengers from Durango to Ridgway, Colorado with a spur to Telluride. Built to lower the operating costs of the railroad, they kept the RGS going for an additional 20 years.
The Rio Grande Southern Railroad built by Mears in 1890-91 to haul ore from the mines in the San Juan. The silver crash of 1893 hurt the railroad and Mears lost control when it was forced into court-ordered receivership.
The railroad remained in business, but went into receivership again when the stock market crashed in 1929. To save money, Victor A. Miller, the new receiver; Forest White, RGS superintendent; and Jack Odenbaugh, the master mechanic, designed the Galloping Goose. A prototype was on the rails by 1931 and the first Goose went into service in 1933.
There were a total of seven Geese built for the RGS. The gasoline powered rail busses were made from a combination of antique autos and railcars in varying designs. Their light weight and small size required only one motorman and were less expensive to operate and maintain than a steam engine. "There are several theories on how the Galloping Geese got their name. One theory is that they looked like waddling geese as they swayed down the track. Another is that their hood covers resembled wings when they were propped open to prevent overheating. And yet another theory is that their horns honked instead of whistled," according to recent Blogs written by the Denver Post.
"There, of course, were incidents. At least once an unknowing motorman transported moonshine to the mines. Another time a runaway Goose forced passengers and crew to bail out. And memorably, a circus entertainer sent a load of snakes that escaped from the cargo into the motorman’s compartment," says the Denver Post.
Model builder, blacksmith, and architect Lowell Ross recently was restoring a precisely detailed, comprehensive duplicate of the original RGS Inspection #1, in his shop locally in Woodland Park. The car is being rebuilt from a converted Model T Ford, and the original served as an inspection vehicle for Superintendent W.D. Lee on the Rio Grande Southern.
“I am just about ready. Finally locating the wheels for the car, in the desert of Nevada,” Ross said.
Although not technically a Goose, the RGS Inspection Car #1, led to development of the storied line.
In early use, an out-of-control RGS Inspection Car #1 rolled into the Dolores River, and according to the lore in 1913, Lee and his wife jumped before it hit the water. Road Master J. C. Gilland didn’t, and was seriously hurt. Mrs. Lee reportedly refused to ride in it after that mishap, saying it bounced too much. In 1925, it was wrecked again, this time, beyond repair, and was scrapped.
Something larger and more powerful, anyway, was needed to provide passenger, mail, and LCL (less than carload) freight services to these remote mountain communities.
RGS hired auto mechanic Jack Odenbaugh for the Ridgway shop crew, and he built Motor No. 1 from a 1925 Buick Model 45 touring car in early 1931. It uses an extended frame, the front of the car body, and a stake bed.
Odenbough and his crew built two more motors in 1931. Motor No. 2 was built from a Buick four-door sedan with an enclosed freight body behind and Motor No. 3 from a Pierce-Arrow limousine. Motors 4, 5, and 7 were built similarly to No. 3, and Motor No. 6 was a work motor built similar to No. 1.
The RGS motors economically operated during World War II, repairing the “Geese” with war surplus bus bodies from the Wayne Company of Richmond, Indiana. The bodies allowed more passengers and had doors on both sides for entry, as some of the buses were built for use in right-hand-drive England.
Larger passenger trains were used to attract additional tourists to the scenic route, and the RGS finally began using the term “Galloping Goose” in advertising for scenic tours in 1950-1951. Books and articles about them as early as 1947 had referred to these vehicles as “Galloping Geese.” The Rocky Mountain Railroad Club began scheduling fan trips on the Galloping Geese in 1946, and a number of fan trips were run with the “geese.”
Unfortunately, too late to save the RGS, which again went into receivership under J. Pierpont Fuller. In late 1951, he decided the RGS was in too rough shape to continue operation. Abandonment was approved by the ICC in April 1952. The route was sold for scrap, and the line was ripped up by June 1953, with Motor No. 6 pulling the last rails up at Hesperus. The ‘Galloping Geese,’ as well as some other locomotives and rolling stock, survived the death of the RGS. The Colorado Railroad Museum in Golden acquired and restored No. 2, 6, and 7. Knott’s Berry Farm of Buena Park, California, bought Motor No. 3 and operates it in the amusement park, along with D&RGW 2-8-0 #340 and RGS 2-8-0 #41. Motor No. 4 is on display in Telluride. Motor No. 5, restored to operational condition in 1998, is showcased at the depot-museum in Dolores.
A railroad and engine type squeezed out of profitability, and practicality as it grew older and world changed, but still a fond memory.