Denver & Rio Grande and Denver & Rio Grande Western

Cumbres & Toltec No. 484 with passenger train (Dennis Adams)The Denver & Rio Grande Railway was incorporated in October 1870 by William Jackson Palmer, Alexander C. Hunt, Dr. William Bell and others. The three foot gauge railway was to become the model for numerous other narrow gauge railways in the western United States during the 1870's and 1880's, the smaller gauge allowing the builders of the D&RG to realize a savings in the costs of locomotives, cars, rails, ties, grading, etc. The remote mining regions could be reached more quickly and economically than if standard gauge were used. Construction of the D&RG began in January 1871.

The Rio Grande Western Railway had its beginnings in the Denver & Rio Grande Western Railway Company, incorporated in July 1881 by William J. Palmer and other backers of the Denver & Rio Grande as a narrow gauge extension of the D&RG into Utah. A separate company was needed because the charter for the D&RG did not permit the D&RG to build in Utah.

The Rio Grande Western ran west from a connection with the Denver & Rio Grande at Grand Junction, Colorado, to Provo, Salt Lake City, and Ogden, where it connected with the Central Pacific for through traffic to Nevada and Northern California, the Oregon Short Line or the Utah & Northern for points in Oregon, Idaho and Montana. To the East, the Denver & Rio Grande connected with the Santa Fe; Chicago, Kansas and Nebraska (Rock Island); the Missouri Pacific; the Union Pacific; the Burlington & Missouri River; and Kansas Pacific.

On August 1, 1882 the D&RGW was leased to the D&RG. Tracks from the east and from the west were joined at Desert Switch on March 30, 1883. An extension was completed from Salt Lake City to Ogden on May 12, 1883.

In July 1886 the lease of the D&RGW was dropped by the D&RG. The D&RGW leased the D&RG line from the state line to Grand Junction and chartered a new company, the State Line & Denver Railway, to acquire the new right of way into Colorado. The D&RGW and the SL&D were merged in June 1889 to form the Rio Grande Western Railway.

Incompatibility Proved Costly, Narrow Gauge Mainlines Converted

Denver Rio Grande No. 476 leaving Durango 1969 (Richard Boehle collection)The need to unload and reload freight from one size car to the other at each end due to incompatibility and inability to interchange cars with the connecting standard gauge railroads proved a costly weakness in hauling through traffic. Competition from other railroads forced both the D&RG and RGW to convert their mainlines to standard gauge.

Construction to support the standard gauge in Utah began in the spring of 1889, the mainline from Ogden to Provo (82 miles) was converted in 1889, with conversion of trackage from Provo to Grand Junction completed June 11, 1890. The line was extensively rebuilt and in some cases rerouted at the same time.

The branch from Sandy to Bingham was converted in June 1890, Sandy to Wasatch and Thistle to Manti were converted in 1891. The D&RG mainline conversion was completed Nov 14, 1890, allowing standard gauge traffic to pass along the transcontinental line.

New Cars Ordered for the Converted Line

With the conversion to standard gauge, new equipment was needed by the Rio Grande Western, car nos. Denver & Rio Grande Western Railroad Car No. 552, now part of the Orange Empire Railway Museum Collection, was part of a group of cars built by Pullman during this period. Part of a pair of identical cars, originally nos. 95 and 96, it included fine varnished oak interior woodwork, etched glass clerestory windows, hard wooden Hale & Kilburn reversible seats, Pintsch Gas ceiling lights and a baker heater. Both are believed to have seated 42 passengers. The cars were lettered "Rio Grande Western." in shaded lettering.

In 1898, the Official Railway Equipment Register listed seven standard gauge combination coach and baggage cars on the RGW, Nos. 91 to 97. According to RGW records car Nos. 91 and 92 were built in 1889 by the St. Charles Car Company, Nos. 93 through 97 were built by Pullman in 1891.

According to the 1898 Official Railway Equipment Register the RGW also owned 4 chair cars (nos. 400 to 403), 16 first class coaches (nos. 201 to 216), 14 second class coaches (102 to 114, 300), 6 mail and baggage cars (nos 1 to 6), 12 baggage cars (nos. 51 to 62) and 3 business cars. The RGW is listed as operating 566 miles of standard gauge road and 33 miles of narrow gauge road. Narrow gauge passenger equipment included only 3 coaches (nos. 100, 101, 140) and 2 combination baggage and coach cars (nos. 70 and 71).

In August 1908 the R&RG and the RGW were merged under the leadership of George Gould, son of Jay Gould, who had acquired stock control of both railroads. The cars were renumbered Denver & Rio Grande Nos. 551 and 552 following the merger, it is not currently known which of the identical pair became No. 552.

Car No. 552 Example of Car Modified to Meet Changing Needs

Like other cars, over the years car nos 551 and 552 continued to be modified to meet the changing requirements of the railroad. Part of the seats were removed and a mail room was added in both cars 95 and 96 by 1904 which allowed the cars to cary passengers, baggage and mail on lighter traffic branch lines. Wooden seats were replaced with upholstered ones, the Pintsch gas ceiling lights were replaced with coal oil lights and the baker heater was replaced with coal stoves. The mail room in Car No. 552 was subsequently converted to a smoking room, seating 8 passengers, in 1928.

Car No. 551 was vacated circa August 1928. Car No. 552 continued in service until 1945, reportedly used in mixed train service on the Rio Grande's Aspen, Colorado branch.

Pardon our dust. The track gang is still working on this page.

Sharing A Heritage   Railroad History   Train Technology   Railroad Operation   Railroad Time   Museums & Heritage Railroads   Railroads Today Text by Richard Boehle
Entire website copyright 2002-2013,, Burbank, California.