A Tale of Two Gondolas, Part III; The cars arrive. Now what?!?!

The two cars were moved to Como on July 26 and 27, and I got my first good look at them on August 2 when I came back to Como for a track workday. 1646 looked good at first, then I climbed the side and looked inside to see that most of the floor, along with a good portion of the frame of the car, was just gone. The coupler on one end is sitting six inches low because the center sills (the main backbone of the car’s frame) have broken just behind the truck, allowing the coupler to fall. Amazingly the side sills and walls of the car are still sitting straight, so the car looks OK until you really look at it.

Drop bottom 768 on the other hand is a good, solid car needing only some work on the floor and drop doors (the typical areas that rot on these cars). 768 will be perfectly displayable and useable with just a new floor and a paint job. I wish batting .500 was as good in railroad preservation as it is in baseball!

Clearly, the smart thing to do would be to scrap the rotten wreck that is D&RGW 1646 and sell the trucks and couplers to get my money back from this whole episode. Let’s face it though, if I were that smart, I never would have started this in the first place, let alone let it get this far. I just can’t bring myself to kill a car, even if it has already died a natural death. For the moment, 1646 will be stored in Como while I decide what to do next.

768 on the other hand was an easy decision. The new plan was to paint and letter D&RGW 768 and have it on display in Como and available for any future photo freight or other opportunities that may come up. I painted 768 in mid-August and lettered it a month later. The car is now “Denver, Leadville & Alma” (DL&A) 768 as a tribute to what might have been in Como; the DL&A was the name that Victor Miller intended to operate the former South Park Line under when he was trying to purchase it from the Colorado & Southern in 1936-37. The C&S backed out of the deal and abandoned the line in 1937. As far as I know, no equipment was ever lettered for the DL&A. In its new life as DL&A 768, the car will be used to hold water tanks and provide a mobile water supply for Klondike Mines No. 4 in Como.

Who the heck was Victor Miller??

Victor Miller was the court appointed receiver of the Rio Grande Southern Railroad, a narrow-gauge line that ran from Durango, Colorado to Ridgway, Colorado. Miller was appointed the Receiver of the bankrupt railroad in December of 1929. Through innovative cost saving ideas, such as the famed “Galloping Goose” fleet of motorcars used to replace mail and passenger trains, Miller was able to keep the RGS going through the 1930’s. When the Colorado & Southern proposed to abandon the Denver to Leadville line in 1937, Miller figured he could make it profitable by running it the same way that he had the RGS. Miller entered negotiations with the C&S and formed the Denver, Leadville & Alma Railroad as the company that would operate the line. Negotiations stretched on until 138, when the C&S pulled out of the deal and began to remove the track from the line. Miller successfully sued the C&S for backing out and was given 108 narrow gauge freight cars by the C&S as a settlement. The cars were moved to the RGS where some were placed in service on the railroad, most were sold when Miller left in late 1938. It is interesting to ponder what would have happened had Miller been successful with the Denver, Leadville & Alma and had succeeded in keeping the line operating into the 1950’s.


D&RGW 768 in Como, August 3, 2019.
A freshly painted D&RGW 768 prepares to go for a spin on the Como turntable on August 16, 2019.
Former D&RGW 768 shows its new identity as Denver, Leadville & Alma (DL&A) 768 on September 14, 2019.
D&RGW 1646 in Como, August 3, 2019. From this perspective, it is still s solid, straight car.
A look inside 1646 tells a different story. Of the six wood beams (Sills) that make up the structure of the car’s frame, only the outside two (side sills) are completely intact. Thus, just the side sills and walls are supporting the car and it is defying the laws of physics by not collapsing.
D&RGW 1646 goes for a ride through the Como yards om August 16, 2019. Amazingly, the car shows no signs of distress while being moved. A casual observer watching it go by would still conclude that it was in good overall condition and not in need of a complete rebuild. It is truly amazing how strong these cars actually are.

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