The Rio Grande Southern Railroad

Rio Grande Southern Double Header

Rio Grande Southern double header (2 locomotives) around 1940. Catalog number: 04.27.201

  • Encouraged by the success of his Silverton Railroad, Otto Mears, known as the "Pathfinder of the San Juans" began construction of the Rio Grande Southern Railroad in 1890.
  • The RGS was to connect Durango with the mining camps of Rico, Ophir, Placerville and Telluride. It would also connect with a northern extension of the D&RG Railroad at Ouray via the town of Ridgway.
  • The railroad was constructed in two sections. One team worked from Durango to the north while the other worked from Ridgway south.
  • An engineering marvel, the RGS climbed over four mountain passes on steep grades. It was completed in two years.
  • The first RGS train made a round trip from Durango to Rico and back on December 26, 1891. At first the railroad was extremely successful bringing ore from the mining camps into the smelter and making it easier for farmers and ranchers to bring their goods to market.
  • In 1893 the Sherman Silver Purchase Act was repealed which devastated the economy of southwest Colorado. Otto Mears lost control of the RGS in August of that year. The majority stockholder, the D&RG Railroad took over the line.
  • The RGS continued to operate, replacing steam locomotive power with the "Galloping Geese" during the Great Depression. In 1953, the RGS made its final run.

Goose #4 at Durango

Galloping Goose #4 at Durango around 1938 Catalog number: 92.16.6

During the 1930s, there was not enough traffic on the RGS to support steam powered locomitves and passenger trains. They were replaced by railcars made of second hand automobiles fitted with flanged wheels and usually freight compartments. Some say they waddled as they made their way down the tracks and were called the "Galloping Geese."

To learn more about the RGS and the Galloping Goose, visit the Goose Museum.

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