Like the proverbial fish out of water, former Denver & Rio Grande Western narrow gauge stock car No. 5654 sits in a parking lot alongside National Western Drive near Marion Street in Denver. Though somewhat out of context in its present location, the car once served as a reminder of the thousands of stock cars that brought livestock to Denver’s once bustling stockyards.
D&RGW 5654 was built in 1904 by American Car & Foundry of St. Louis, Missouri. The car was part of an order for 350 cars, numbered 5500 to 5849, that made up the Rio Grande’s narrow gauge stock car fleet from 1904 through the end of operations in 1968. Originally built as a single deck car for carrying cattle, No. 5654 was converted to a double deck car for carrying sheep when it was rebuilt in 1926.
5654 was retired and sold to a scrapper in Alamosa in 1967. As was fairly common then, the car was stripped of its metal parts (trucks, couplers and brake system) and the car body was then sold to a local for use as a shed. (For the last four decades of the 20th century, Colorado’s San Luis Valley was home to hundreds upon hundreds of narrow gauge D&RGW freight car bodies serving as sheds. The first decade and a half of the 21st century has seen the number drop off precipitously as development and old age catch up with the survivors.)
5654 was sold to a ranch near Alamosa and put to use as a cattle feeder. The car was set on some timbers on the ground and its doors, upper deck and portions of its lower body structure were removed. These modifications allowed the car to be filled with hay which was then at cattle-mouth height and sheltered from the elements.
The car continued its second career in the livestock industry for nearly 20 years before being acquired by Don Drawer in the early 1980’s. A house mover by profession, Mr. Drawer collected narrow gauge railroad equipment and built the “Sundown & Southern”, a private railroad near Hudson, Colorado. At the S&S, No. 5654 was placed back on trucks and set out on a siding, where it remained until 2002.
Don Drawer died in 2000, and along with him went the Sundown & Southern. All of the S&S’s equipment and track was sold at an auction in July of 2002. For whatever reason, 5654 was not included in the auction and I was able to purchase it from Don’s son Brian in early 2002.
Moving day for No. 5654 came on February 7, 2002. Using my pickup as a “locomotive”, the car was pulled to a section of straight track that was fairly well buried in the ground. The semi driver then centered his truck over the track, dropped the lowboy trailer on the ground and used the winch on his truck to pull the car up onto the trailer. A little over an hour later, the process was reversed as the car was unloaded at its new home, the Boulder County Railway Historical Society’s site just east of Boulder. At the site, No. 5654 served as a storage shed for various railcar parts.
Initial work on the car included painting it black and replacing its roof. As the car’s number was unknown at the time, I simply lettered it “Rio Grande” without a car number. It took over two years of detective work, including making a spreadsheet of all 350 D&RGW 5500 series stock cars, to determine that the car was No. 5654. No markings were present on the car and the only real clues it could provide were that it was double deck car that had been retired in Alamosa. By mid 2004, the car once again bore the number “5654”.
When 5654 was placed back on trucks at the Sundown & Southern, it was placed on a mismatched set; one truck had the correct roller side bearings while the other had the older wood side bearings. Luckily, the wheels in 5654’s trucks were good and in June 2003 I traded the Georgetown Loop Railroad the good wheelsets for worn wheels and another pair of trucks. One of the trucks from the Loop had roller side bearings, so after a quick truck swap, 5654 was riding on a set of correct trucks.
In late 2005, a gentleman that I worked with let me know that the National Western Stock Show in Denver was interested in having a stock car to display for the show’s 100th anniversary in 2006. The Stock Show was looking for a car that would have been in service in 1906, so a backdated Rio Grande narrow gauge car seemed to fit the bill. Initially, I had planned to purchase another stock car out of the San Luis Valley for this project, but that deal fell through so 5654 got the call to go to Denver.
I’ll have to finish this story later. Subscribe to this blog to be notified when I can publish the rest of the story.