A Small Tribute to the
Equipment of the Rio Grande Zephyr
My Gallery of the Rio Grande Zephyr
Scott Diekman's Gallery of the Rio Grande Zephyr
My First Ride on the Rio Grande Zephyr
The RGZ on Thanksgiving Day, 1982
Ski Train - Official Site
Rio Grande Scenic RR (a.k.a. San Luis & Rio Grande)
Durango & Silverton - Jim's fan site
The Rio Grande Zephyr was born upon the demise of that famous train, the California Zephyr. The CZ operated between Chicago and Oakland from 1949 through 1970, as a collaborative effort between three railroads--the Western Pacific (WP), the Rio Grande (D&RGW), and the Chicago, Burlington, and Quincy (CB&Q, or Burlington). As passenger traffic declined, first one and then the other of Rio Grande's partners pulled out of the CZ, leaving only the middle segment. Rio Grande, however, decided to keep operating its portion of the route. The D&RGW also chose not to participate in Amtrak (upon its formation in 1971), so it continued operating the newly-renamed Rio Grande Zephyr independently . Its schedule changed to a thrice-weekly run between Denver and Salt Lake, using a single trainset. One day it traveled west, the next day it returned east.
Having begun as a remnant of the CZ, the RGZ quickly took on a personality of its own. Whereas the CZ had been a cross-country experience, the RGZ became primarily a local tourist vehicle, with most of its ridership traveling between Denver and Glenwood Springs. Not being an overnight train, no sleeping cars were included in the consist, but a first-class dining car and lounge service were maintained. And the vista-dome cars which made the CZ famous were still there too.
The definitive book on the Rio Grande Zephyr is "Never on Wednesday", by Mel Patrick and Richard Loveman (Passenger Train Journal Publishing, 1980). The full story of the train is told in wonderful photographs and text. The three weekly trips of the train dictated one day of rest for maintenance, which was Wednesday-- hence the title.
My introduction to the Rio Grande Zephyr came on November 7/8, 1981, via a ride from Denver to Glenwood Springs and back with my parents. Frequently thereafter, I could be found trackside with camera in hand, listening for the distinctive sound of the three F9 locomotives as they powered their way westward or whined downgrade coming into Denver. My wife and I rode the train on 8/14/82 too, as part of our honeymoon. But that was the last time; before our first anniversary came, the train had been discontinued.
A Note About the Photographs: During the time the train was still running, I did not yet own a decent camera (being a broke newly-married college student in 1983). Most of my own photographs which appear here were taken either on a 110 or a disk camera (with only a couple of exceptions), so the resolution isn't that great. But, Little is better than Nothing! Fortunately, I have had several people kind enough to loan me their high-quality photos, which greatly enhance the experience.
(c) 1997 - 2008, James R. Griffin . All Rights Reserved