TOWN OF RIDGWAY Preserving Ridgway's railroading past
Volunteers from across the country, including visitors from Texas and Arizona, worked to restore the Denver and Rio Grande business car at the Ridgway Railroad Museum on Monday, June 2.
Plaindealer photo by Bill Tiedje
By Bill Tiedje
Striving to preserve and educate the public about the region's historic railroads, a small group of dedicated volunteers is participating in the Ridgway Railroad Museum's annual restoration week, June 2-5.
"The world knows more about what happened here than the locals," said RRM President Karl Schaeffer.
Once based in Ridgway, the Rio Grande Southern Railroad was built in 1890 and 1891 by early resident Otto Mears and connected Ridgway with mining and lumber industries in the towns of Telluride, Rico, Dolores and Durango.
The RGS route, a narrow gauge steam line, is prized by railroad enthusiasts around the world because of its many high trestles and bridges, as well as for its history as the birthplace of a line of "rail buses" that carried mail and a small number of passengers.
A few of these rail buses, developed to save transportation costs when mining industries slowed, are known as "Galloping Geese,” perhaps because of their peculiar appearance.
After completing restoration of the "Ouray Caboose" and "Galloping Goose No. 4," the museum has begun restoration on an 1882 Denver and Rio Grande business car, another railroad line that historically ran from Montrose to Ouray as well as throughout the West.
With seating and bunks for four, this car had an onboard kitchen for the train's passengers as well as heat, lighting and a toilet.
Schaeffer said the car may have historically carried lesser railroad officials in addition to cooking staff.
Notably, the car once had highly compressed paper wheels, mounted in between a rim and hub made of iron, to give the car a quiet ride. This practice was soon after made illegal, noted Schaeffer.
During restoration week, volunteers are working to make the business car water tight and are painting its exterior.
With several years of restoration efforts to go, Schaeffer added that the museum is always looking for more hands to help with the work.
Volunteers are welcome to join in the efforts from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. on Thursday.
The museum hosts approximately 7,500 visitors each year, representing 47 U.S. states and 20 foreign countries.
In addition to displaying models and photographs that document the historic trains, people and railroads of the region, the museum also hosts special tours and children's events.
Publishing two books on railroad history, the museum boasts a research library with more than 200,000 Rio Grande Southern Company documents.
Open throughout the summer, with hours similar to the Ridgway Visitor Center, the museum remains one of the few railroad museums of its kind, free and open to the public.