2003 will almost undoubtably be the last year for seeing pure Rio Grande power operating Union Pacific trains. We, as fans, are lucky it's even lasted until now. Only thanks to the fine condition of DRGW power and the Southern Pacific's aversion to painting anything has it lasted this long - nearly 15 years after the Rio Grande disappeared as an operating entity. While we've certainly seen the end of large, mainline Rio Grande trains, several locals around the system are still reliable bets for drawing some, if not all Grande power.
Most recently, the Cañon City Local (UP symbol LDS53), running from Pueblo, CO, to its namesake town, has been drawing at least one, if not more Rio Grande GP40-2s. Normally, the run only goes as far as the Holcim cement plant at Portland, but on Mondays and Thursdays it travels clear to Cañon City, where it delivers coal to the local generating station. Last month, Paul Birkholz went out after it and posted a few photos on his website, Mountain West Rail. I've been putting it off, with work or poor weather often getting in the way of taking a Monday or Thursday off. Finally, following Paul's advice of, "Get ye butt down to Pueblo. You're less than an hour away! Don't delay!", I managed to cancel or pawn off several meetings and I got Thursday, 20-Feb-2003, to go chase. As luck would turn out, I managed to get three Grandes, for a perfect solid set, on Thursday's train. The weather wasn't the greatest, going from foggy to hazy to sunny to overcast (and repeating parts of the cycle), but even so it was well worth the time.
Next was my morning out with the Colorado Springs local job (UP symbol YCO65). This train serves industries in and around Colorado Springs, especially those north of Fillmore. While Rio Grande power used to be common on the job, lately it's usually been held by a UP or SSW geep. So, when the job got a Rio Grande again (DRGW 3109), I took a morning to go follow it around. It's not an overly challenging piece of railfanning, but it's some interesting industrial trackage, as well as a piece of the old Rock Island main through town. With only a short run of a few miles, there are limited photo opportunities, but it was a beautiful morning to railfan. The entire job for the day was to swtich about three industries north of the former Rock main, and then head back to the yard, but this took a few hours and provided a number of interesting shots.
Finally, Helper, UT's Dirt Train (UP symbol LJP45) is probably the best known example. Thanks to the dedication of several people, Helper has been the last bastion of large Rio Grande power. Four of the five remaining tunnel motors are based out of there (5377 is on the loose as I write this, wandering about Texas), and they have a very good record of keeping them and keeping them running. It would appear that, for the moment, it's a safe haven from the Armour Yellow paint gun and the endless onslaught of SD70Ms. On my way to California in late November to visit family, I routed us through Helper so that I'd have yet another morning watching the four motors work.