Minor Colorado narrow gauge mystery solved

In his 2002 book “Rio Grande – Chasing the Narrow Gauge”, Colorado Railroad Museum co-founder Robert W. Richardson relates a story about himself and a guest having to spend a night in caboose 0500 as every room in the Narrow Gauge Motel was taken.

Richardson and Carl Helfin started the Narrow Gauge Motel, located just east of Alamosa on US 285, in 1948. In May of 1950, caboose 0500 was purchased from the Denver & Rio Grande Western and placed on display at the motel. Eventually the equipment collection at the motel grew. In 1958 much of the collection was moved to Golden to form the nucleus of the Colorado Railroad Museum. Caboose 0500 stayed at the motel for a number of years before moving to Cripple Creek and eventually landing at the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad, where it has been in service since 1994.

A leased D&RGW “Mudhen” (possibly 463 or 464) leads a Rio Grande Southern train through Leopard Creek in this postcard view made by Robert W. Richardson. Author’s Collection.
According to the story, the American Legion was having its state convention in Alamosa and the entire motel had been booked by the ladies auxiliary who arrived by bus. The bus driver was given the owners’ quarters and another customer got the office couch, leaving Richardson to sleep in caboose 0500 while Helfin slept on a cot in the shop. At that point Richardson relates that “up drove a railroader with a young Marine who had chosen that day to arrive by train in Alamosa”. With no other options, Richardson and the “young Marine” spent the night in 0500. No other details about the Marine were included in the book and his identity seemed to be lost forever.

In mid-April 2014, I purchased a postcard on eBay. The card is one of the photo cards that Robert Richardson produced in the early 1950’s, in this case showing a Rio Grande Southern train at Leopard Creek. The eBay description mentioned that the card had been mailed from Durango in 1952, but did not show a photo of the back. Upon receiving the card, I looked it over and indeed, it had been mailed from Durango on June 9, 1952. The recipient was noted railroad historian John Maxwell of Denver. That in itself made the card interesting, but the message on the card made it even more so.

The message reads “Dear John – Slept in the Caboose last night – Legion in town, the Motel is full – first time it’s been slept in since it left the D&RG. Wreck train (497) came in from Toltec this evening – salvaged all but two cars. Enroute to Durango – then will go to Montrose Monday – catch D&RG at Grand Junction to Salt Lake. Thanks again for your wonderful hospitality. Ed Cass”. This could only be referring to the same night that Robert Richardson related, as all the details match.

The reverse of the postcard, with the message filling in the details of the story told by Robert Richardson. Author’s collection.
This card appears to solve the minor, 62-year-old mystery, of who the “young Marine” was and what brought him to Alamosa in 1952. The “young Marine” was Ed Cass, who was obviously a railfan using his leave to tour Colorado’s narrow gauge country.

Former D&RGW caboose 0500 shortly after its arrival at the Narrow Gauge Motel in Alamosa, 1950. Robert Richardson photo, Author’s collection.

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