Ansel's Protégé
In March 1949, Denver & Rio Grande Western joined the Burlington and Western Pacific railroads to create the vista-domed "California Zephyr," which ran over D&RGW rails west of Denver until May, 1971 when the new Amtrak passenger service killed off portions of the CZ's route through other states. But the Rio Grande refused to join the Amtrak system, and instituted their own, shortened version of the CZ: The "Rio Grande Zephyr," running west from Denver to Ogden, Utah on Mondays, Thursdays and Saturdays, returning to Denver on Sunday, Tuesday, and Friday afternoons, with Wednesdays for servicing and maintenance in Denver. But loosing money each year, the RGZ itself was replaced in 1983 by a rerouting of Amtrak from its Wyoming Union Pacific route, and renamed the "California Zephyr" in honor of the RGZ's ancestor. The last Rio Grande Zephyr returned to Denver just before midnight April 24, 1983.

In the early 1980s, Never On Wednesday - the first decade of the Rio Grande Zephyr, by Richard Loveman and Mel Patrick (taking its title from the Zephyr's six day schedule), instantly became my favorite train book and a source of much inspiration. I was to make numerous forays west from Denver photographing the Zephyr. I especially recall an early attempt on a bright blue sky with fluffy white clouds mild winter's morning in January, 1981, my very first trip afield with my new Pentax 6x7. With black and white print master Ansel Adam's superb use of highlights and shadows in mind, I had a photo envisioned to capture the bright sun-lit nose of the Zephyr contrasted against a dark backdrop of shadows on a nice curve a little below Moffat Tunnel, a location that was near the road and easy to get to.

Arriving about 30 minutes ahead of the time the Zephyr would arrive, I hiked down the track a bit and planned my photo, experimenting with different compositions and carefully determining what I hoped would be the correct exposure to capture both highlights and shadow details, as I envisioned Ansel would do. Knowing the Zephyr went through the Moffat Tunnel around 9:15, I expected to hear the sound of its approach at any minute. 9:00 came, and no Zephyr. Allowing I could have mis-calculated a few minutes, I optimistically got ready for probably the 10th time, rechecking yet again my composition and exposure.

9:10, no train. 9:20, 9:30 - no train. About 10:00 I finally gave up and trudged disappointed back to my car, still expecting at any moment to hear the train. But it never arrived, even as I drove homeward alongside the tracks. Only later did I realize this "perfect" morning for my great Ansel Adams-style Rio Grande Zephyr photo was a Wednesday, the day the Zephyr never ran!

Leaving Denver.

Coming or going, the Rio Grande Zephyr was a beautiful sight. (Plain siding)

Tunnel 29

Zephyr westbound trips started at Denver Union Station, which, on winter weekend mornings,
was shared with the Ski Train.

Attendees always saw the Zephyr's matched set of stainless steel coaches
were clean, both inside and out.

Westbound by Rocky siding.

Plain siding westbound.

On a brilliant November morning, the chant of 567s and the smells of diesel exhaust and French toast
accompany the westbound Zephyr out of Tunnel 2 and into Tunnel 3.

The lighter colored rock wall is the scar of 124 foot Tunnel 28,
daylighted in 1951 due to problems with falling rock.

Moffat Tunnel, east portal.

Moffat Tunnel, west portal.



Byers Canyon

On the nights the Zephyr was in Denver, it was serviced overnight
at the Rio Grande's Burnham facilities.

22:58 PM, April 24, 1983. The last Rio Grande Zephyr arrives back
at Denver Union Station to be greeted by fans and a band playing
Auld Lang Syne and I've Been Working on the Railroad.

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Hanging Ten Into the Front Range      Thirty VS One      No More Hill Hell
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