A Tale of Two Gondolas, Part V; The Life & Times of D&RGW 1646

D&RGW 1646 was built in December of 1903 by American Car & Foundry of St. Louis, Missouri. No. 1646 was right about the middle of a group of 400 gondolas, numbered 1500 to 1899 built for the Rio Grande between November 1903 and January 1904. No. 1646 cost the railroad $639.78 new and was rebuilt in January 1926 at a cost of $216.53. As part of the 1926 rebuild, No. 1646 received a fifth board on its sides, as did most of the Rio Grande’s gondolas, leading to the moniker “high side gondola”. The car received “new” steel draft gear, from a scrapped standard gauge freight car in December 1940, the last major work the car would see before the end of narrow-gauge freight operations in 1968.

The D&RGW kept a record car for each car that the railroad owned, this is No. 1646’s. (Thanks to John Tudek and the Colorado Railroad Museum for the scan of the card.)

What exactly No. 1646 did during its almost 65 years of service is hard to say for sure, although there are some surviving records that provide a little bit of insight. Amongst these records are some of the Dispatcher’s sheets from Alamosa dating to the 1930’s and a Chama, New Mexico Train Register book dating from the late 1950’s.

A Dispatcher’s sheet was used to record the movements of trains across the division during the time the dispatcher was on duty and contain a wealth of information about each train including the locomotive numbers, crew names, number of cars in the train and the reason for any delays. It is in the delay reports that individual car numbers will pop up as a malfunction with a car was often the cause of a delay.

Such was the case on December 13, 1936 when No. 1646 did its best to delay Extra 495 East as the train made its way from Gunnison to Salida. Extra 495 East, led by locomotive No. 495 with sister No. 499 as a helper, departed Gunnison at 10:55 am with 37 loaded cars. After a 20-minute delay at Crookton, in order to deal with a “hot box” or overheated wheel bearing on Gondola No. 1646, the train arrived at Sargent at 12:55PM. The train was broken into two parts for the trip to the summit of Marshall Pass, the first train, powered by locomotives 495, 499 and 497 (which had followed the train from Gunnison) to 19 cars to the summit, arriving there at 2:50pm. The locomotives then returned to Sargent for the last 18 cars, departing Sargent at 5:05pm and arriving at the summit of Marshall Pass at 6:35pm. Helper locomotives 499 and 497 then departed for Salida while the crew of locomotive 495 put the train together and took it on to Salida, arriving there at 9:30pm. Thanks to the Dispatcher’s sheet, and 1646’s meltdown, we know what the car was doing on December 13, 1936. Though the Dispatcher’s sheets do not list it, No. 1646 was most likely carrying a load of coal from the mines at Crested Butte or Baldwin that day.

Train Register Books were maintained at terminals and also contain a wealth of information about each train that arrived or departed, including a list of each car on the train, what (if anything) it was loaded with and where it was bound. From the July 1957 Chama New Mexico Train Register, we can learn that No. 1646 was the first car in a 57-car train from Alamosa that arrived in Chama at 12:30am on July 21, 1957. No. 1646 was empty for that run. A week later, on July 28, 1957 an empty 1646 once again found its self as the first car in a train arriving from Durango at 10:30 that morning. (It would be interesting to know why an empty No. 1646 kept getting shuffled between Alamosa and Durango!)

In 1970, No. 1646 was one of hundreds of narrow-gauge freight cars that the D&RGW sold to a scrapper based in Alamosa, Colorado. Scrapping the cars was a multi-year process and the scrapper sold many of the cars intact to anyone that wished to buy them. In late 1972, No. 1646 (possibly stored in Chama New Mexico) was purchased from the scrapper by Lindsey Ashby for use on the Georgetown Loop Railroad and moved to Silver Plume, Colorado in the fall of 1973.

Several high side gondolas were purchased from the scrapper for the Georgetown Loop and while many of them were converted into rider cars for the railroad, 1646 remained as it was and was used to store track materials and other parts during its 31 years on the Loop, most of which were spent in storage on the Hall Tunnel Spur. In 2004, the car was moved to a new storage location in Parkdale Colorado as a part of the switch to a new operator on the Georgetown Loop Railroad.

D&RGW 1646 on the loading ramp track in Silver Plume, shortly after arriving at the Georgetown Loop railroad in the fall of 1973. Ron Peck Photo.

In late 2017, the Parkdale site needed to be vacated and the cars still there, including No. 1646 were given to a preservation group. In November of 2017, No. 1646 was emptied of its load and moved to a new storage site in Florence Colorado. Almost two years later, In July of 2019, No. 1646 was sold to the author and moved once again to Como, Colorado to become a part of the ongoing project to rebuild the former Denver South Park & Pacific / Colorado & Southern division point there.

No. 1646 being unloaded at Parkdale, November 2017.
Making its first trip on its new home railroad in Como, No. 1646 rolls past fellow Georgetown Loop veteran D&RGW 768 on August 16, 2019.

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