A tale of Two Gondolas Part VI; A new home for D&RGW 1646, and a third gondola joins the fray

Long time readers of this blog may remember back in Part III of this saga when I decided that the thing to do with D&RGW High Side Gondola 1646 was to store it in Como until I decided what to do with it. As it turned out, less than a month after Part III was posted, a chain of events was set in place that ended six months later with No. 1646 off to a new home and yet another Rio Grande High Side Gondola taking its place on my seemingly never-ending list of projects.

In October 2019, I was in Durango, Colorado to work on three narrow gauge freight cars that the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad had donated to the South Park Rail Society for the Como Project. The cars – two stock cars and a burned out drop bottom gondola – had been stored for decades at Tacoma Siding north of Durango. Tacoma is only accessible by rail, and the cars needed some work done on them so that they could be moved on their own wheels a few miles to Rockwood, where they could be loaded onto semi trucks for the move to Como.

Among the cars at Tacoma was D&RGW High Side Gondola 1754, which was in such a severe state of decrepitness that it was starting to collapse on itself. The Durango & Silverton had donated No. 1754 to the Galloping Goose Historical Society of Dolores, which is working to build a collection of Rio Grande narrow gauge freight cars for display. (Located northwest of Durango, Dolores was a station on the Rio Grande Southern, a narrow-gauge railroad that ran from Ridgway Colorado to Durango from 1891 to 1951. For the last few decades of its existence, the RGS mostly used D&RGW freight cars, thus the Dolores group’s desire to have examples of the cars for display.) While 1754 was indeed a genuine D&RGW freight car, it was going to need a massive amount of work just to keep it from completely collapsing, let alone to make it look halfway decent.

Thinking about it a week or so later, it occurred to me that my gondola, No. 1646 would be a far better candidate for display in Dolores than No. 1754. While No. 1646 was in bad shape, it was at least complete and still sitting straight. With some reinforcements to the frame, a new floor and some paint, it would make a decent display car for years to come, whereas No. 1754 would need a complete rebuild to even look like a car again. On my end, viewing No. 1754 as beyond rebuilding, it would make a good source of parts for other projects and would thus not need immediate attention. As such, I offered to trade the Dolores group 1646 for 1754 and they accepted, a win-win for all involved. No. 1754 came to Como in November of 2019, along with the other three cars from Durango, No. 1646’s trip to Dolores being delayed until the spring of 2020 due to the fact that by November, the Como turntable pit was already filled with ice and snow and thus it was not possible to get No. 1646 into a position to be loaded.

On May 15 2020, D&RGW 1646 made a final trip through the Como yards and was loaded onto the very semi-trailer that had brought it to Como in July of 2019 for its trip to Dolores and a new home. That should be the end of the story, except that, par for the course in all things railroad, it was not.

A big part of my reasoning behind the idea of dismantling No. 1754 for parts was that there are quite a few (over 20) fully intact D&RGW High Side Gondolas in preservation already, thus the loss of one that had already rotted to death would not be a big blow to the historical record and the parts from the car could be reused in the restoration of much rarer cars. As with most plans though, it did not take long for a monkey wrench to be dropped in this one.

A few weeks after 1754 arrived in Como, the Durango & Silverton’s CMO, Randy Babcock (who had worked to get the cars at Tacoma donated to preservation groups), was looking through a book and noticed something that had escaped all involved until then, D&RGW 1754 had a very interesting, well documented and, at least in the small world of Colorado Narrow Gauge Railroads, important history. Thankfully, No. 1754 was only “mostly dead” (like Wesley from the Princess Bride) and it might yet be possible to bring the car back to life.

More on that next time.

D&RGW 1646 passes the remains of the “Stone Garage” in Como on its way to be loaded on a truck for its trip to Dolores on May 15, 2020.
Plymouth Diesel locomotive No. 5 pushes D&RGW 1646 down the “Gunnison Main” towards a waiting semi-trailer, May 15, 2020.
A brake beam that had to be removed in order to unload No. 1646 back in July of 2019 is placed back in the car while trucker Steve Disher reinstalls the coupler knuckle. May 15, 2020.
D&RGW 1646 loaded up and ready to depart Como for Dolores, May 15, 2020.
D&RGW 1754, the car that was traded for No. 1646 in Como on March 14, 2020, looking quite a bit worse for the wear.

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