The heart of the railroad empire is its locomotives. Over the long history of the Rio Grande lines there were thousands of individual units and many different categories of engines that rolled over the tracks. As the locomotives grew and changed, they were given different class designations to distinguish size and type. Each unit was assigned a road number for identification purposes.
From the beginning of the D&RG in 1871 and on into the 1950's, the power that moved the trains was provided by steam locomotives burning wood or coal. The original locomotives were quite small compared with later models. They were just a little taller than a man. However, the locomotive represented the shiny new "high tech" revolution of the time. The engineers and conductors that ran the trains were highly respected and depended upon. These were the heroes of the day and they commanded the admiration of lesser locomotive-illiterates of the time. Trains were the number one means of moving people and goods. Automobiles did not exist in number for another 50 years and the next best thing was a horse and buggy.
In the first days of D&RG operation you could find 4-4-0 "eight wheelers" and2-6-0 "Moguls" puffing down the tracks. The older engines had considerable weight (25,000 to 60,000 pounds), yet they could barely pull loads that a pickup truck can handle today! These early locomotives ran on narrow gauge (NG) tracks that were spaced 3 feet apart.
Most of the Rio Grande steam locomotives were made at the Baldwin Locomotive Works and the American Locomotive Company. As the skill of the locomotive designers improved, the locomotives they built started to grow in size. From the 1880's to 1900, hundreds of larger 4-6-0 Ten-wheelers and 2-8-0 Consolidateds were added to the Rio Grande fleet. The consolidations became standard power on the D&RG for decades. They had twice the power of the moguls, and could still operate on the lighter track.
Beginning in 1888 the main line from Denver to Ogden was converted to standard gauge (SG) with the rails 4 feet 8-1/2 inches apart. The ties were treated with a decay resistant material like creosote and tie plates were added that helped anchor the rail to the ties. Better quality ballast rock was added around the ties for even more support. Over the next four years the railroad ordered over 100 standard gauge consolidations from Baldwin along with 33 ten wheel 4-6-0's for passenger service. With this conversion to SG, there was a large surplus of NG equipment.
In the beginning of the 20th century, the Rio Grande was busy hauling long trains of coal across the Rockies and the need for more power was stronger than ever. They hardly looked at the more powerful Mikado 2-8-2 and Mountain 4-8-4 locomotives that were the largest models on most railroad lines. Instead, they went straight to the biggest, meanest machines of the day, the 2-6-6-2 articulateds. These monsters began helper service pushing trains over Tennessee Pass and Soldiers Summit. A single engine of this size eliminated the need for three or four of its smaller siblings. In 1913 the largest engines in the world were 2-8-8-2 mallets and the Rio Grande purchased 15 of them. These went to work as road engines between Denver and Grand Junction. Eventually the mallets also replaced the articulateds in helper service.
Passenger locomotives normally operated at higher speeds and had larger driving wheels. In the early 1900's, over 50 new standard gauge 4-6-0's with 67" drivers were purchased and put into passenger service. The Rio Grande's only 4-6-2 Pacific type locomotives were delivered in 1913 for service from Denver to Grand Junction on the lines premiere trains. Baldwin made 14 new 4-8-4 Northern locomotives for the railroad in 1929. These engines were normally used for freight, but, the 70 inch drivers were the largest on the Rio Grande and therefore the locomotives were used on passenger trains. The Northerns ran from Denver to Salt Lake City without changing engines. In 1937, five more 4-8-4's were purchased with 73 inch drivers.
Switch engines were mostly 0-6-0 models and purchased from 1906 to 1909 by the Rio Grande. These were standard gauge engines for arranging cars and assembling trains in the larger rail yards. Besides these few switch engines the railroad generally used "demoted" regular service 2-8-0 locomotives for yard switching.
By the late 1930's the Rio Grande standard gauge was developing into a "fast freight" line. It began purchasing 4-6-6-4 Challengers from Baldwin. These engines had 70 inch diameter driving wheels and operated at higher speeds. They would also be the last new steam locomotives the Rio Grande would buy as the railroad began using more efficient diesel locomotives next. From 1950 to 1955 most of the steam locomotives were scrapped in the transition to diesel power. The last steam train ran in 1956 on the Creede Branch line.
STEAM LOCOMOTIVE NUMBERING SYSTEM
The numbers assigned to the Rio Grande steam locomotives has a complex history and is hard to understand. One can simplify the whole thing by thinking of the equipment in two time frames, before and after 1924. It was in 1924 that a major renumbering of the railroad equipment was made. Furthermore, the classification system that designated the weight of the locomotives was also revised in 1924.
Active rosters are presented here for the years 1891 and 1939. The 1891 roster uses the old numbering system and the 1939 roster uses the new. Most of the railroad's steam locomotives had been purchased by 1939 so this year gives a good cross-section in time to examine the equipment the railroad owned in the second half century of operation.
Beginning in the 1940's, the diesel locomotives proved themselves to be much more efficient on a cost basis than the steam locomotives and eventually steam was phased out. The diesels had a classification and road numbering system that was similar to the steam system. Each engine type had its common letter-number class or model designation and each unit had its own road number.
In 1941 the Rio Grande received court approval (since the railroad was officially bankrupt at the time) to purchase 15 switch engines from four different manufacturers. In the first years of diesel operations the railroad tried all brands of engines. But, eventually the only brand name the railroad would allow on the line was EMD. Of 509 diesels purchased by the Rio Grande, 453 were EMD units.
When the Rio Grande first began to acquire diesel engines, they attempted to number the units based on the horsepower (hp) rating divided by ten. Therefore the 660 hp Baldwin switchers were numbered 66 through 74 and the 1000 hp Alcos were 101 through 104.
In 1942 the first multiple unit locomotives began to arrive with the purchase of the 5400 hp EMD FT units. These engine sets came in groups of four and the railroad numbered them as 540 in keeping with the horsepower scheme. Each of the individual units in a set of four got a letter A, B, C, or D. One set of four units was intended to replace one 2-8-8-2 steam locomotive. Similar sets of F3 and F7 units were acquired and followed the horsepower numbering until 1949 when the lettering system became too complicated. In 1949 the units were renumbered, dropping the letters and increasing the numbering to the thousands. For example, 540 became 5401, 5402, 5403, and 5404. Number 548 became 5481, 5482, 5483, and 5484.
Also in 1949 the first GP7 (General Purpose) units were purchased from EMD. These 1500 hp engines could operate as a single unit. At this time, due to numerous logical problems, the hp number system was dropped all together. The GP7's were numbered 5101 through 5104.
In 1952 the RS3 models were added as numbers 5200 through 5204 and in 1955 the new GP9s were numbered 5901 through 5909. From this time on the units were numbered in a small attempt to group them into categories with road numbers ranging from the 30's to 6000's. The numbers were assigned more or less in the order they were purchased within major groups. GP units were given numbers in the 3000s and the SD engines numbers in the 5000s with a few minor exceptions.
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