Although now configured as a flatcar, Denver & Rio Grande Western 1826 was built by American Car & Foundry in 1903 as a gondola. 1826 was part of an order of 400 gondolas, numbered 1500 to 1899. The cars cost $780 new. In 1924, the Rio Grande rebuilt the cars with higher sides (going from four boards to five) and they gained the moniker “high side gondolas”. In 1943, 1826 was rebuilt again and received the heavy steel draft gear that it still has today.
In the early 1950’s the Rio Grande saw a major influx of traffic over its narrow gauge lines as an oil boom in the Farmington, New Mexico area saw a lot of oil drilling supplies being shipped from Alamosa, Colorado to Farmington. Among the supplies were lengths of pipe, which like most traffic on the narrow gauge, were shipped to Alamosa in standard gauge cars and then transferred to narrow gauge cars in the Alamosa yards. The pipe typically came in 40’ lengths, which fit just fine on the 40 and 50’ long standard gauge flatcars and gondolas, but not so much on the 30’ long narrow gauge cars.
To handle the pipe traffic, the D&RGW converted many of its high side gondolas into “pipe gons” by removing the ends. This allowed the longer pipes to overhang the ends of the car. Other gondolas had their sides and ends removed, and along with similarly cut down box and stock cars, became “idler flats” that were placed in between the “pipe gons”. During the mid 1950’s it would not have been uncommon to find entire 60-or-70-car-trains of oilfield pipe moving over the narrow gauge from Alamosa to Farmington.
1826 was one of the cars that became a “pipe gon”. One of the modifications included moving the hand brake from the end of the car to the side, which explains the inordinately long brake staff that 1826 has today.
At the end of narrow gauge freight operations in 1968, 1826 found itself in Durango. It was stored there until the end of 1970, when it was officially retired and sold to a scrapper. During that time, the car was one of several damaged by a fire that completely destroyed a boxcar next to it. (Interestingly, history repeated itself in June of 2005 when an arson fire destroyed D&RGW boxcar 3654 in Boulder, Colorado. 1826 was sitting next to 3654 and received a minor charcoaling in the fire.)
Around 1972, the scrapper sold 1826 to the Black Hills Central Railroad in Hill City, South Dakota, along with two other gondolas. All three cars had their sides removed, transforming them into flatcars, before being moved from Durango. As the Black Hills Central was no longer operating narrow gauge trains by 1972, the three flatcars just sat on a storage track in the Hill City yards for the next two decades.
Around 1990, 1826 and its companions were sold again, moving to Laramie, Wyoming, where they were displayed at the Territorial Prison Museum along with a Crown 4-4-0 steam locomotive. The short train was meant to be a representation of the construction of the original Transcontinental Railroad, which passes through Laramie. The locomotive left after a few years and the three cars remained by themselves until 2002, when they were purchased by Don Shank and the Denver & Rio Grande Railway Historical Foundation.
I purchased 1826 from Don in 2002 and moved it to the Boulder County Railway Historical Society’s site in Boulder, Colorado. In October of 2010, I moved 1826 to its present home in Bendena, Kansas.