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Remnants of the Rio Grande



I flew out of Newark, NJ on Thursday 08/17/00 bound for Salt Lake City, our plane landing just as the sun set over the Great Salt Lake. I rented a car there, and drove south on I-15 into the growing darkness. The flat, suburban landscape of Salt Lake proper soon gave way to looming, massive shapes, dominating the night sky. The sky was clear, I soon recognized that the shapes were moonlit mountains all around me.

It wasnít long before I came upon the U.S. 6 interchange, and thus a turn to the east for the climb over Soldier Summit. The flatlands quickly gave way to stiff grades, and I realized that the railroad was beside the highway as moonlight would occasionally catch the shiny tops of the rails. I passed a several trains in the darkness too, westbound on the western side of the slope, and therefore under full dynamic braking for the trip down to Salt Lake.

Eventually I passed Soldier Summit, and began the descent to Helper, UT, and the reason for my trip: the last bastion of Denver and Rio Grande Western locomotives on the old Rio Grande mainline. The road passes right through Helper at the eastern base of the Wasatch Mountains, and as I neared the town, I decided that I had to stop out of pure principle. Things were dark and quiet upon my arrival, and across the yard through some cars I could hear power, but couldn't see anything. Off to bed I went.

The alarm went off at 6:30 a.m. (I learned to really appreciate the 2 hrs gained flying out there from the East Coast) and I headed for Helper. The Book Cliffs and the Wasatch Mountains form an impressive backdrop. As I pulled in, there were 3 of the anticipated Rio Grande SD40T-2's in the engine facility. About a half-hour later, 7 more pulled into the yard from the west, having drifted back into town after being cut out of the middle of a UP coal drag headed for export.


More than a few photos are the result.


Amtrak also put in an appearance at Helper around 8:45 a.m. when #6, the eastbound California Zephyr, made a stop. The train left as quickly as it had arrived.



Amtrak #6; Helper, UT 08/18/00.

Amtrak #6; Helper, UT 08/18/00.


However, freight crews were busy around the yard. The switching in Helper seemed to consist of one of 2 things: either reorganizing the 10-15 SD40T-2's into various consists for pushing trains west over the Summit, or making up/breaking down the daily-except-Sunday "Dirt Train".



The dirt train westbound at East Wellington, UT 08/18/00.

The dirt train eastbound at East Wellington, UT 08/18/00


This train ferries municipal waste, delivered from the west each evening by the Roper Turn, east from Helper to a dump on the Sunnyside Branch, out in the desert. The Roper Turn also returns empty cars to Salt Lake.



D&RGW 5400 at speed; Sunnyside Branch, 08/18/00.

D&RGW 5400 at speed; Sunnyside Branch, 08/18/00


The dirt train is well known due to its dependable mid to late morning departure from Helper and its usual power: 3 Rio Grande Tunnel Motors, running in a "pure" set. This day was no different. The combination of great light, scenery, and incredible power provided a memorable chase east over the desert. Being my first experience with the Sunnyside Branch, it was somewhat challenging as I learned some of the tricks associated with railfanning the line. However, I got some worthwhile results. (Itís hard to go wrong with 3 D&RGW SD40T-2ís.)



Dirt Train westbound on Sunnyside Branch 08/18/00.

Dirt Train westbound on Sunnyside Branch 08/18/00


We chased the train back west as well. There is a decent shot just east of Wellington, UT, from a bridge embankment for a road that goes over the tracks.



D&RGW 5400 leads the dirt train west on the Sunnyside Branch.
Nice oldschool lights!! 08/18/00.

D&RGW 5400 leads the dirt train west on the Sunnyside Branch. Nice oldschool lights!! 08/18/00


I caught both the dirt train and DVROZ there, the Z had run ahead of the dirt train prior to its leaving the Sunnyside branch.



UP train ZDVRO (Denver, CO to Roper [Salt Lake City], UT Priority UPS Intermodal)
eastbound at East Wellington, UT 08/18/00.

UP train ZDVRO (Denver, CO to Roper [Salt Lake City], UT Priority UPS Intermodal) eastbound at East Wellington, UT 08/18/00


Then it was back to Helper where we caught the Dirt Train returning to the yard.



Dirt Train power & Book Cliffs; Helper, UT 08/18/00.

Dirt Train power & Book Cliffs; Helper, UT 08/18/00


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