A unique chapter of Colorado’s rich railroading history will come alive this weekend with the “Gathering of the Flock,” a reunion of Rio Grande Southern Railroad’s retired Galloping Geese, as part of Ouray County Railroad Days, through Sunday. The Geese will assemble at the Ridgway Railroad Museum.
Galloping Goose No. 4 usually resides in the little park on the north side of Colorado Avenue in between the county courthouse and the Miramonte building. On Tuesday, the fully restored and operable motor was fired up and No. 4 made her way down a length of narrow gauge rails that connected her to rails specially installed on a flatbed trailer. The route down Highway 145 and over Dallas Divide along Highway 62 to the Ridgway Railroad Museum follows the old rail line.
The original Geese were all built in Ridgway in the 1930s and were used in hopes of bringing RGS’s struggling enterprise back to profitability. Less expensive to operate than steam engines, the Geese transported passengers, light freight and the U.S. mail between Durango and Ridgway until 1951. The Geese — or motors, as the railroad officially called them — were cobbled together with spare car parts and other materials.
Galloping Goose No. 4 belongs to the Telluride Volunteer Fire Department (TVFD), said David Wadley, deputy chief of the Telluride Fire Protection District. The fire department paid RGS $250 in 1952. But soon, she fell into disrepair.
“(Former TVFD chief) Gary Bennett saved the Goose,” Wadley said. “Bennett and (former TVFD chief) Jamie Schuler.”
When the Ridgway Railroad Museum (RRM) reached out to the fire department with an interest in restoring No. 4, the TVFD readily agreed to financially support the effort, while RRM supplied the labor and expertise. No. 4 was moved to Ridgway in 2008 and four years of restoration work began. For a photographic accounting of the meticulous work that went into No. 4’s return to functionality, visit ridgwayrailroadmuseum.org/Goose4.
Wadley explained that mechanical aspects of Telluride’s Goose are original.
“The transmission is exactly as it was 70 years ago,” he said. “The transfer case is still sealed.”
The RRM’s restoration team, he said, “did an incredible job.”
Financing the restoration and continued upkeep and insurance for No. 4 has been made possible by raising money by “passing the boots” and from one donor — who, to this day, has preferred to remain anonymous — who wrote a significant check to aid the project.
This weekend’s “Gathering of the Flock” was a discussion that began in February, when the museum reached out to TVFD officials. The semi on which the Geese are carried is custom built, complete with narrow gauge tracks affixed to the trailer deck, and there are only a couple such trucks in the country, Wadley said. Scheduling the use of one must be done in advance. No. 4 will be in Ridgway for all of 20 days.
Ouray County Railroad Days has a full schedule of events to thrill any train buff, including hikes along former railroad routes, a model railroad open house, a talk on Saturday evening and rides on the Geese. Railroad Days officials also just announced that the Colorado Railroad Museum in Golden is bringing Goose No. 6 to Ridgway, bringing the grand total of Geese to five: Nos. 4, 5 and 6, Motor 1 and Inspection Car 1. There is a $5 fee to ride the operating Geese. It’s good for one day and children under 10 ride for free. Visit the RRM website for the detailed schedule.
Goose No. 4 is part of an impressive collection of lovingly restored, historic vehicles the fire department owns.
“The Goose is a big source of pride for the TVFD,” Wadley said. “It’s a part of our legacy, along with the hose wagon, the water wagon and the hose cart. They’re a big part of our heritage.”
Stored in various locations around the county, Wadley doesn’t rule out having them all under one roof for all to enjoy.
“Maybe one day we’ll have a fire museum,” he said.