TELLURIDE – A leading character in Telluride’s storied past has come home, as the Galloping Goose No. 4 railcar made the trip from Ridgway to its quarters on Telluride’s Main Street last week.
The piece of regional history looked neat and polished as members of Telluride’s Volunteer Fire Department helped move it back to its abode next to the San Miguel County Courthouse, after a more than four-year stay at Ridgway’s Railroad Museum. During that time, museum volunteers completely restored the historic railcar, helping to bring back some of its original luster.
“It’s a part of our heritage,” says Telluride Fire Chief Jamey Schuler. The railcar has been owned and maintained by the TVFD since it was retired from the Rio Grande Southern rails sixty years ago. In 2008, the Fire Department agreed it was time for the old girl to get a tune-up, and so the organization sent her to Ridgway where Railroad Museum volunteers spent the last four years completely refurbishing it, inside and out. Galloping Goose No. 4 even made the trip to the Colorado Railroad Museum’s Goosefest following its completion last summer, where it was united with five of its brethren and for the first time in history all six remaining railcars ran on the same track at the same time; and in Goose No. 4’s case, it was the first time since the RGS ceased operations in 1951 that this car had taken to the open rails.
The trip back to Telluride marks the completion of yet another chapter in this unique railbus’s story, a story that started in the 1930s. Touted as some of the most “original” railroad vehicles ever built, the creation of this prominent flock resulted from the necessity for the Rio Grande Southern, then on the verge of bankruptcy, to cut its operating costs. Conventional steam trains had become too expensive to operate, and thus the geese were fabricated in Ridgway utilizing very little money and lots of ingenuity, from spare car and other used parts.
The Galloping Geese were cheap to operate, and so helped the RGS continue service to this remote area of southern Colorado for another twenty years, providing freight and mail service as well as a picturesque ride for the few remaining passengers traveling between Durango and Ridgway.
Karl Schaeffer is the president of the Ridgway Railroad Museum board, and took the lead in the restoration of Goose No. 4 (he has also built a replica of No. 1, the only Goose no longer in existence.) He says the creation of the Galloping Geese represented an important turning point in regional history.
“This happened nowhere else in the world, and so by rebuilding [Goose No. 4] we are really celebrating the people who used initiative, industry, but not a lot of money to keep the railroad going for twenty years longer than it would have otherwise,” he says.
Because No. 4 was the only remaining Goose in the flock that had not been renovated, Schaeffer said it was important that original construction techniques were used in its recent reconstruction. Telluride’s John Bergtold rebuilt the engine, and all Museum volunteers donated their time – which accounted for roughly 3,000 hours over the last four years. TVFD footed the bill for materials, which came to over $30,000.
Galloping Goose No. 4 holds special significance for Schaeffer, whose parents actually rode that car from Ridgway to Lizard Head and back in August of 1951 – a ride that cost $5.25. That’s when his parents decided to move from Oklahoma, and soon afterwards settled in Montrose, with son Karl later going on to work for the Denver and Rio Grande Western Railroad for more than 22 years.
“It’s definitely been a labor of love,” Schaeffer says.
Schuler says that now that Goose No. 4 is back home, the TVFD plans to install an interpretive sign in front, and will likely take the Goose out for a ride from time to time.