Here’s a unique bit of railroad history from Colorado’s San Juan Mountain region. Forrest, Sprocket, and I have seen the replica of Motor #1 and the originals of Motor #4 and #5. I hope to see the others sometime in the future. I’ve included C.W. McCall‘s “The Galloping Goose” for your listening pleasure:
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Founded in Ridgway, Colorado in 1889, the Rio Grande Southern Railroad was a narrow gauge railroad founded to connect the towns of Ouray and Silverton. (Both of these towns were reached by branch lines of the Denver & Rio Grande Railroad but were not directly connected). Soon after the railroad was completed, the Silver Panic of 1893 took away most of the railroad’s traffic.
In an attempt to stave off bankrupcy, the Rio Grande Southern looked beyond the mines for a way to stay viable. In 1931, the railroad built RGS Motor #1 to be a cost efficient way to transport the U.S. Mail. The motor was built from the body of a Buick “Master Six” sedan. RGS Motor #1 could carry the mail, some passengers, or up to 4,000 pounds of freight. Motor #1 was so successful it paid for itself within a month. Unfortunately, the original Motor #1 was scrapped as parts for the other motors in 1933. A very exact replica of Motor #1 was built in 2000 by Karl Schaeffer and is on display at the Ridgway Railroad Museum. The replica is fully operational. (For more on the replica check out the Ridgway Railroad Museum’s Motor #1 page.)
The name “Galloping Goose” was not adopted by the railroad until 1950 but the name is believed to come from the “waddling” rocking motion the trains had going down the track. Another suggestion is that the air horns (compared to steam whistles) were compared to goose honking. Regardless, the informal name stuck while the railroad officially called them motors.
A larger Motor #2 was built later in 1931 using the same Buick body as Motor #1. In 1935, it was repainted silver to match the other Motors. In 1939, Motor #2 was revamped with a Pace-Arrow body and received many parts from a motor retired in 1939 from the San Cristobal Railroad (that motor was built in 1933 by RGS for the San Cristobal and is not considered one of the seven “geese”). Motor #2 was placed mostly on standby after its rebuild as newer motors were in use. Motor #2 undergoing restoration at the Colorado Railroad Museum in Golden, Colorado and is considered operational.
Motors #3, #4, and #5 were all built with Pace-Arrow parts. They had three trucks (the middle truck was powered) and articulated bodies. Motors #3 and #4 were built in 1932 and Motor #5 followed in 1933. Motor #3 operates occasionally at Knott’s Berry Farm’s Ghost Town & Calico Railway. Motor #4 belongs to the Telluride Volunteer Fire Department but is currently on display at the Ridgway Railroad Museum where it has been returned to operational status; its restoration is on going. Motor #5 is on display in Dolores, Colorado. Either in 1945 or 1946 (conflicting reports) Motors #3, #4, and #5 were refitted with Wayne bus bodies and WWII surplus GMC engines.
Motor #6 was built in 1934 mostly with parts from scrapped Motor #1. As a “work train” Motor #6 never saw passenger service. It is currently at the Colorado Railroad Museum and is considered operational.
Motor #7 was built in 1936 and is nearly identical to Motors #3, #4, and #5. Unlike the other motors, it retained its Pace-Arrow body when the others were updated to Wayne bus bodies. Along with Motor #6 it was used for scrapping the Rio Grande Southern operations. Motor #7 is located at the Colorado Railroad Museum and is operational.
In 1950, the Rio Grand Southern lost its mail contract (trucks took over the task of driving the mail) and Motors #3, #4, #5, and #7 were converted entirely to passenger operations to attract tourists. Large windows were cut in the freight compartments and seating was added. It was at this time that the railroad formally accepted the “Galloping Goose” moniker for its motors and added the goose logos. Passenger operations ceased at the closure of the railroad in 1951.