Fortunately, none of the exhibits were damaged, Pettengill said, and repairs included repainting and adding two new exhibits. He was particularly excited about “a unique double dispatcher’s desk that came from either the Ridgway Depot or the Rio Grande Southern office building. It’s set up with its original telegraphy equipment,” making it possible for two operators to “work at the same time, because both sides of the desk are mirror images of each other, with identical equipment.
“We also have a wonderful new diorama of the Ridgway railyards,” Pettengill said, of the gift from the estate of Richard Dorman, the Santa Fe architect who authored 13 books about narrow-gauge railroads and a nationally known modeler, who spent the better part of 30 years building a miniature railroad modeled on the Rio Grande Southern that took up about 750 square feet of space in a specially built room adjacent to his home on Santa Fe's north-east side.
“We are very fortunate that his widow honored us by donating the Ridgway portion to us,” said Pettengill. “ It is incredibly detailed, and will allow us to show what things were like here when the railroad was still active. We had to build a lighted enclosure for the diorama, and the finished display is impressive.”
The museum’s most obvious new exhibit arrived last week – a very special railcar. “This car was donated to us by the railroad preservation group in Grand Junction,” said Pettengill. “They felt that it belonged here, because it operated on our railroads. This car is one of a kind. It was originally built for the Denver and Rio Grande by the Jackson and Sharp car shop in Wilmington, Delaware in 1882 as a kitchen and commissary car, with sleeping accommodations for six. It was one of three cars built for a special train to be used by D&RG General Manager David C. Dodge, and was known as Business Car C. It was finished inside with ash wood.
“Business Car A was a luxurious sleeping and observation car that was later sold to the RGS and later renamed the Edna. It has been fully restored and is at Knott’s Berry Farm, in California. Car B was a sleeping and dining car, and was destroyed in an accident. Our new project, Car C, was later converted to a railway mail and baggage car in 1906, and later into a bridge and building bunk car in 1926. We will restore it to its original glory as the railroad manager’s special kitchen and commissary car.”
Moving the new car to Ridgway was a major logistical exercise, Pettengill reported, requiring a crane in Grand Junction to load the car onto a lowboy trailer, which was then trucked to Ridgway, where another crane at the museum was used to lift the car onto its temporary base of ties. “This car was built with wheelsets [trucks] that are rare today,” said Pettengill. “Locating a set will be difficult; we may have to fabricate them from blueprints. This will be a long restoration project, but when we are through, it will be a very special piece of our railroad history.”
The museum is open daily from 10 a.m.-3 p.m., through June 1, when summer hours (9 a.m.-4 p.m.) go into effect. The Ridgway Railroad Museum is located at the Junction of US Highway 550 and Colorado State Highway 62; for more information, visit www.ridgwayrailmuseum.org.