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Memories of a Colorado railroader
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Memories of a Colorado railroader
(The following column, written by Virginia Simmons, appeared July 27, 2010, in the Alamosa, Colo., Valley Courier. Additional information added by UTU editors.)

It was my good luck to attend a barbecue this summer and get acquainted with some veteran railroaders, along with their families who kept the home fires burning when the men were on the job, sometimes for more days at a stretch than wives like to recall. The people I met are worth remembering as part of the Valleys history.

The event was celebrating the retirement of Terry Coombs after his 42 years of railroading. He proudly reported that he was the last trainman hired on the Denver & Rio Grande Westerns narrow-gauge freights at the time of the final runs between Alamosa and Durango in 1968-1969, shortly before the route across Cumbres Pass became an excursion line.

(Coombs is a retired member of Local 204, Pueblo, Colo.)

He started young and retired as a conductor, the guy who is boss of the crew and operation of his train, including the engineer. During his career, the D&RGW merged with the Southern Pacific system and next became part of the Union Pacific, accounting for the fact that his last run was on the UP from Pueblo to Dalhart, Texas.

An engineer is a hero to kids waving from the side of the track, who are usually unaware that the conductor really is the head honcho. Nevertheless, the D&RGW had some legendary engineers running the locomotives, and I met some at the BBQ.

One was Eldon Morgan, who began with the D&RGW narrow-gauge in 1946 as a fireman, shoveling the coal among other duties. He was on the train that was marooned in snow on Cumbres Pass for two weeks in 1951-52.

(Morgan also is a retired member of Local 204.)

Firemen often served an apprenticeship, leading to becoming an engineer, as Morgan did in 1955. Thirty years later, in 1985, he was still at the throttle when a diesel locomotive pulled the last cars of concentrate down to Alamosa from Wasson, near Creede. He retired after a career of 42 years in the Alamosa Division and is living in Alamosa.

Jim Pearce also began as a fireman like Morgan, hiring out of Durango in 1948, and became an engineer. He retired in 1994 after nearly 46 years of service and lives in Alamosa with his wife Vivian, who will be remembered as a teacher by many former students in Alamosa.

Ralph Hawkins of Sanford served from 1954 until 1989, and he too began as a fireman and soon became an engineer. Hawkins remembers being stuck with the OM rotary plow on Cumbres Pass in the snowstorm of 1957.

(Hawkins is a retired member of Local 204.)

Before automation was introduced, trainmen, riding in relative comfort in cabooses, had to get out in all kinds of weather, in daylight or darkness, to set brakes, open and close switches, couple and uncouple cars - hazardous tasks that could cause injuries. Brakemen still do this kind of work on narrow-gauge passenger trains.

Jeff Woodward, who catered the delicious BBQ at Cole Park, was the last trainman hired by the D&RGW on its narrow-gauge passenger trains on the Silverton Branch. He worked for the D&RGW, the SP, and the UP.

(Woodward also is a retired member of Local 204.)

David Stagner, now farming in the Moffat area, also worked for the railroad under all three of its titles. Starting in the yard in Alamosa, he then became a trainman for a total of 17 years.

(Stagner also is a Local 204 retiree.)

Laying track, maintaining it, and repairing it are the important jobs done by section workers. Fred Trujillo of Alamosa, who was at the BBQ, worked for 35 years on different sections, like Alamosa to La Veta, and he is still smiling.

A track patrolman for 34 years, Ruben Madrid of Sanford wore a cap to the BBQ with the logo of a cross-section of a steel rail, appropriately. A track patrolman rides in a little inspection car, or else gets a lot of exercise walking a section while looking for problems in the rails or the roadbed, and during the tourist season, you will see one following an excursion train to detect any fires caused by sparks.

Among the railroaders at the BBQ were three from the San Luis Central Railroad. This line has been running since 1913 between Sugar Junction (Monte Vista) and Center to serve the agriculture industry.

Danny Naranjo, an engineer, has been with the San Luis Central for 41 years and figures he will retire next year. Proving that women also have a hand in railroading were Francie Nye, who served as agent and next as administrative manager for a total of 25 years to date, and Patty Christensen, a former agent now working for the City of Alamosa.

(Naranjo is an active member of Local 240.)

Today, the original narrow-gauge tracks of the D&RGW are gone with the exception of the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad, but the San Luis & Rio Grande Railroad runs its freights and excursion trains on the former D&RGW standard-gauge tracks through the Valley and over La Veta Pass. An independently owned excursion car also runs on the grade beyond South Fork.

July 27, 2010


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Troll wrote:

Memories of a Colorado railroader
(The following column, written by Virginia Simmons, appeared July 27, 2010, in the Alamosa, Colo., Valley Courier. Additional information added by UTU editors.)

An engineer is a hero to kids waving from the side of the track, who are usually unaware that the conductor really is the head honcho.




confuseconfuse



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Old man, I just marked up and I'm your Boss-0-Train and don't you phukking forget it.

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Additional information added by Snippy.....

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Snippy wrote:

Old man, I just marked up and I'm your Boss-0-Train and don't you phukking forget it.



I've had that conversation. Didn't last long, either.



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Troll wrote:

Memories of a Colorado railroader

An engineer is a hero to kids waving from the side of the track, who are usually unaware that the conductor really is the head honcho.

July 27, 2010


And any time that honcho starts feelin bigger than his britches, I can order him to operate the radio, and call signals the rest of the trip.


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