The Galloping Goose No. 5 experienced some winter adventure during two February excursions on the Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad.
The Feb. 15 and Feb. 18 trips to Cascade Canyon were cut short because of snowstorms. The next week’s trips were canceled, including one scheduled to take Dolores fifth-grade students.
During runs up the Animas Valley, operators and passengers of the Dolores-based Galloping Goose No. 5 traveled through blizzard conditions at times, said motorman Joe Becker.
“It showed the challenges of winter mountain railroading and was a once-in-a-lifetime experience for everybody,” he said.
Despite following a snowplow train, the Goose still needed its plow and rail flangers to clear snow from the tracks. Onboard sanding equipment was also deployed for traction as the Goose went up the valley.
Arriving at Rockwood on Feb. 15, it was learned that the plow train encountered an avalanche over the tracks farther up the valley that it could not clear. The Goose and the regular scheduled passenger train both turned around at the Rockwood wye and returned to Durango.
The snowslide occurred near Tank Creek, and the railroad sent heavy equipment to clear it open.
On Feb. 18, the Goose was found frozen to the rails outside the Durango roundhouse. A sledgehammer was needed to break the icy bond. The Goose followed a snowplow train but was again turned around at Rockwood because of an avalanche danger farther up the valley.
Photo run-bys – stops where passengers disembark to take photos – were done near the High Bridge crossing of the Animas River.
Vintage steam locomotive SP-18, visiting from Independence California, also followed Goose No. 5 for photo run-bys on the horseshoe curve on the High Line overlooking the Animas River.
Becker said during snowy conditions, the Goose runs a bit slower because of the plowing.
“The whole time, we were keeping up momentum,” he said. “It was quite a scene – us plowing through a blizzard, spreading sand, with the windshield wipers flapping away. The passengers enjoyed it, and we had the wood stove going for them.”
The Goose has a main plow bolted to the grill that rides 3-6 inches over the rail. A second set of plows, called flangers, ride on the rail clearing snow. They can be raised and lowered from a lever in the cab.
The sander is also controlled from the cab. A lever releases sand down a tube in front of the first power truck.
At the U.S. Highway 550 railroad crossing at Hermosa, the Goose lost momentum and came to a stop.
“Operators got out and hand-shoveled and spread sand so we could get moving again,” he said. “The gate was down, and the bells were ringing. Waiting drivers were wondering ‘What is that?’”
Becker took video of the trip, which that can be seen on the Galloping Goose You Tube channel. The elementary class trip will be rescheduled, but a date has not been set.
The Galloping Goose No. 5 was one of seven that ran on the Rio Grande Southern Railroad from 1932 to 1952 carrying mail, freight and passengers.
Known as the “Galloping Geese,” the unique gasoline rail cars operated for 20 years and kept the RGS railroad economically viable until the railroad was abandoned in 1952.
The Goose No. 5 was originally built with a 1928 Pierce-Arrow limousine body and running gear. It was rebuilt in 1946-47, using a World War II surplus GMC gasoline truck engine and a Wayne Corp. school bus body. In 1950, the freight mail compartment was converted to carry 20 additional passengers for sightseeing trips.
Dolores began as a railroad town in the 1890s and grew up with the Rio Grande Southern Railroad, which extended 160 miles between Ridgway and Durango. The RGS transported ore, lumber and livestock out of remote areas of the San Juan Mountains.
In response to severe economic challenges during the Great Depression, motorized rail cars were built in Rio Grande’s Ridgway shop in the 1930s. The fully restored Goose No. 5 is the only Rio Grande Southern motorcar that regularly runs excursions through the mountains of Colorado and New Mexico.