Denver & Rio Grande Western outfit car 04953 began life around 1898 as a 30’ long 20-ton capacity boxcar, numbered 4953. The D&RG rostered 400 such cars, collectively known as the “4000 series boxcars”, and for a few years they formed the backbone of the railroad’s narrow gauge boxcar fleet. By the early 1920’s the cars were showing their age, and many of them were transferred to work service and configured as various types of outfit cars.
Boxcar 4953 was transferred to work service in September 1922 and emerged as Office Car 04953 (the “0” added to the front of the car’s number was the Rio Grande’s way of denoting non-revenue or work equipment). As an Office Car, 04953 served as the office and living quarters for the foreman of a track crew. 04953 would play this role for the next quarter of a century.
Around 1950, 04953 moved on its own wheels to the limestone quarry on Monarch Pass. At Monarch, the car was removed from its trucks and set on the ground, along with sister car 04951, to serve as shacks for the car inspectors. The steep grades of the Monarch branch demanded that the loaded gondolas were given a good once over and that the brakes were kept in top condition before the train began its descent from the quarry.
The standard gauging of the Monarch branch in 1955 saw 04953 briefly used once again as living quarters. When a drawbar was pulled from one of the track crew foreman’s standard gauge outfit car, the Rio Grande offered up 04953 as living quarters for him and his family. According to the foreman’s son, who also had the pleasure of living in the car, his mother burst into tears upon seeing their temporary “home”. One can only imagine what the car looked like inside after several years on the ground. 04953 was officially retired by the Rio Grande in November of 1955.
After that, 04953 and 04951 sat essentially abandoned at the quarry. The standard gauge track alignment was different and the cars were now alongside a road that had been the narrow gauge grade rather than the railroad. The cars survived fairly well, though 04953’s grab irons were removed in the early 1970’s. Around 1977, the mining company gave 04953 to the son of the foreman who had briefly lived in it 20 years before. Unfortunately, while he was planning to move the car, another individual took 04953 and moved it to the private Sundown & Southern railroad east of Fort Lupton. 04953 once again became a residence as its new “owner” lived in it for several years at the S&S.
04951 was also moved to the S&S and the two cars were placed on the ground across from each other. The two cars were intended to serve as quarters for students attending a never-realized plan to offer a railroading “school”, complete with an operating steam locomotive, at the S&S. For the next 25 years, 04953 sat, slowly sinking into the sandy soil.
In 2000, Don Drawer, the man who had created the S&S, died. By then, the man who had moved 04953 from Monarch was 14 years into what would become nearly 30 years in prison, and 04953 had long since become the property of the S&S. In July of 2002, the S&S was auctioned off and I purchased 04953 for $900.00. A week later, 04953 was on the move again, to the Boulder County Railway Historical Society’s site east of Boulder, where I spent the next few years putting the car back together.
In August 2005, I leased the car to the Colorado Historical Society and 04953 was moved to the Georgetown Loop Railroad, where it was placed in the Silver Plume yards for possible use as overnight quarters for railroad employees. 04953’s short move through the Silver Plume yards behind diesel locomotive No. 21 was the cars first move on its own wheels in over 50 years, not to mention the first time it encountered a locomotive not propelled by steam.
04953 spent a little over six years in Silver Plume before being moved to Kansas in November 2011. Today, 04953 is doing what it has done for most of its existence – it is sitting on a disconnected spur track serving as an office.